Entries Tagged as 'Race'

CHEERING IN BOSTON

Sunday, April 21, 2013

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Every November I look forward to the television special highlighting the Ironman World Championships at Kona.  Without fail, these two hours of television restore my faith in humanity and so perfectly display the essence of the strength and courage of the human spirit.  Every time I watch the event, I am pulled into the stories of the competitors – men and women entirely dedicated to something so big and crazy, an event that demands every fiber of their being be fine tuned in preparation.

This is exactly the same reason that I love cheering at marathons.  This is exactly the reason that I was in Boston on Monday morning.  I find the 26.2 mile distance to be one of the most beautiful forums for the display of the human spirit.  By any standard, the marathon represents a crazy idea, and yet so many of us set out each year in pursuit of a goal that up until completion always feels just the slightest bit out of reach.  The distance pushes us, scares us, refines us.  And in the end, as we cross the finish line, we whisper quietly to ourselves that we have really done it – that we are strong enough to have stared down our own self-doubt and fear and we have come out on top.

In the midst of Monday’s tragedy and chaos, there were so many stories of beauty and hope and strength unfolding.  Runners lined up in Hopkinton that morning each for their own reason – in honor of an uncle battling cancer, in remembrance of a fallen comrade in Iraq, in celebration of a hard fought PR qualifying time.  I can think of no better event than the Boston Marathon to celebrate the culmination of these stories.

In the aftermath of the explosions, the injured were triaged and treated. As the chaos unfolded, needs were addressed in order of their severity – first, those most severely affected, then those with less threatening injuries, and then care for runners held back from crossing the finish line after it was transformed into a crime scene.

After the explosion, runners and families searched for each other, desperate to find loved ones.  Reunions occurred in the streets – tired marathoner legs gave one final sprint as loved ones were spotted down the street or around the corner.  Embrace, tears, words of gratitude.

A few spectators offered words of congratulations to runners wearing medals.  These words were met with mixed emotions.  Some runners nodded in response, others offered a quiet thank you.  Some just shook their heads.  Runners are a selfless bunch and I think that many just couldn’t accept congratulations in the midst of so much sadness and grief.

I offered my cell phone to a few runners desperate to connect with loved ones.  As I did, I also offered a few quiet, somber words of congratulations.  “Congratulations on your run.  I know this is not what you imagined, but nevertheless congratulations on your accomplishment.”

To be certain, there were much more important priorities than finishing the last half mile of a marathon on Monday afternoon.

I will never forget the things that I saw in Boston on Monday and my heart is broken for the families of those injured and killed.  But, as the images of the tragedy are seared in my mind, I also want to remember the reason that I decided to be in Boston in the first place:  the incredible the beauty of the human spirit that the marathon displays so uniquely.  As much as I bore witness to the fear and terror that the bombings brought, I was also a spectator of the strength and beauty of the human spirit in a way I have never seen – the courage of first responders, the selflessness of race volunteers, and, of course, the resolve, strength and determination of the runners.  Even in the midst of such dire circumstances, with loved ones unaccounted for and with tired, cold, dehydrated bodies, these men and women showed extraordinary courage, strength and selflessness.  So quick to set their own needs aside and lend a hand wherever they could, no mention of their own dreams of a Boston finish deferred.

What I am trying to say is that I will not let the tragic end to the marathon unravel my intention of being in Boston to cheer for the incredible accomplishment of each and every runner.  Nor will I let the explosions derail my intention of celebrating the strength and courage of the men and women who ran Boston.  Because, in the end, what the runners were asked to endure was so much more than a marathon.  No matter where each runner’s race ended, be it at the finish line or at mile 25.8, the display of the human spirit and of the runner’s heart on Monday afternoon is something worth celebrating, worth holding up and worth cheering for.

[ BOSTON MARATHON ]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

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This post was supposed to be a post about how we started our morning taking the T to Boston College.  About how we walked from the T station to Starbucks where we staked out a table large enough to accommodate two sheets of poster board so that we could make cheer signs for our friend Scott.   I wanted to write about how the line was so long in Starbucks and about how those waiting in line giggled when they read our silly signs.  This post was supposed to be about what an incredible spot we had to watch the elite men and women run past us at Cleveland Circle.  About how we crossed the street and stood outside Cityside Restaurant peering through the open windows to watch the elite women cross the finish line on television.  After reading the Runner’s World article about Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher (and having just seen them run past), we were excited to see who would come out on top.  After that, we walked to the top of Heartbreak Hill, silly signs in tow, with the goal of bringing a little humor to the runners after the grueling climb at mile 20.  We stood and watched.  We went crazy as our friend Scott went past.  Once he went by, we talked about how we needed to get moving to get the finish area so we could meet Scott.  For whatever reason, we hung around a while longer.  Runners were amused by our sign, I mean laughing out loud at mile 20, so we lingered.

Our train was evacuated at the stop before we reached the finish area.  We exited the station and had no idea what had happened.  It was eerily quiet.  The only sound I remember was the helicopters overhead.  The race was still going, but was halted within just a few minutes.  Our phones populated with text messages asking us if we were safe.  We still weren’t exactly sure what was happening.  Details started to emerge.  Two bombs had exploded near the finish area.

Whereas we had excitedly crowded the open windows at Cityside Restaurant to watch the first marathoners finish just a few hours earlier, we now found ourselves congregated around a bar window looking inside at tvs showing that same finish line, now littered with debris and injured spectators.

It’s impossible to describe the events that happened that afternoon – the fear, the uncertainty, the sadness.  To be honest, I felt more like I was on a movie set than situated in reality, but then again everything was also so acutely real – the runners trembling and searching for loved ones, the tearful reunions when they found one another.  More ambulances than I have ever seen, lined up and then in minutes, each ambulance was occupied, sirens sounding and driving off to a hospital.  The selflessness of hotel workers, police officers, race volunteers – lending whatever they had be it a blanket, fluids or a cell phone.

I am profoundly saddened.  I find my mind drifting back to the events of that afternoon, and it feels like they can’t fit inside my head.  They don’t make sense; I don’t want them to be true.

It’s now been 72 hours since the bombing and already the running community in the Baltimore area is organizing races for this weekend to benefit those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.  I find this to be particularly poignant, because this is exactly what we do – we, the running community, come together.  In the face of a tragic event that literally sought to create violent separation, we create venues for togetherness, community, solidarity and healing.

We come together to race and run.  In so doing, we talk, we listen, we cheer one another to PRs and we comfort one another through injuries.  And, perhaps most importantly of all, we accompany one another.  We accompany one another through events that leave us breathless with pain and we accompany one another over the grueling terrain that life sometimes presents us.  In the aftermath of something so destructive, let’s find ways to huddle with our community, to accompany the heartbroken and to come together to do whatever we can help shoulder the burden of those suffering.

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I found these words by Kristin Armstrong to be such a meaningful call to action:

Today our running community, our family, was attacked.  No matter where we live, what we do, how fast we are, what our dreams are, what we are running from, or where our miles lead – we are a running family.  We mark miles, we ache, we try, we fail, we triumph and we endure.  I don’t know if our family was the target, or if the splendor of the event or venue was the intended backdrop – but it doesn’t really matter.  We are hurting.  We are wounded.  We are wondering.  We fear.  We grieve.

The ultimate goal of any terrorist freak is to cause division.  Because division causes weakness, and weakness yields another target, and another target is an opportunity for evil and destruction to prevail.  Even if the target is the brokenness of the human heart, the distortion of dreams, the invasion of fear.

So I have this to say today, on Patriot’s Day.  We cannot undo the evil that was done.  But we can inhibit the goal of division.  Let’s do that.  Let’s not give them the pleasure of our division, the foothold of our futility.

Let’s instead do what runners do best.  Let’s be strong.  Let’s be patient as information comes in.  Let’s pace ourselves.  Let’s endure.  Let’s close the gap and tighten up the pack.  Let’s recover together.

The road ahead is long.  But little do they know, we’re good with that.

[ HAT RUN 50K ]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

He mentioned the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Hughes Galeano, who once likened the ideal of Utopia to the horizon – goals that retreat even as we chase them.  “The important thing is not to catch something,” said Jornet…What matters in life is the pursuit, and everything we learn along the way.  “The important thing,” he said, “is moving.”

Excerpted from “All-Terrain Human” in the New York Times

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It was a Saturday morning in the spring of 2009.  I was training for my first marathon.  We got out of the car at the local running store and said our hellos to the other runners gathered and about to set out on their long runs.  I remember having the usual amount of dread that comes with the increasing mileage of marathon training.  There was a young couple there that morning that I hadn’t seen before; Ryan introduced himself and welcomed them.  I am not particularly chatty at 6:30am, so I said a brief hello and headed to the trail.  Ryan set out alongside the couple who I would later come to know as Josh and Shannon.

What I didn’t know that morning was that Josh has finished a grueling regiment of chemotherapy and radiation just weeks earlier.  He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and underwent 6 rounds of IV chemotherapy, 4 rounds of spinal tap chemotherapy and 24 rounds of radiation therapy.  Side effects of treatment left him in so much pain that a dark, silent room was the only space he could tolerate.  Josh experienced this level of pain for an entire month, as pressure on his brain and spinal column persisted after treatment.

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Josh now shares his story with Team In Training participants.  In October, I had the privilege of watching Josh speak to a group of about 500 runners the night before the Marine Corps Marathon.  To say it was powerful, would be an incredible understatement.  One thought from his speech has stayed with me since that night.  I’ve tumbled it over and over in my head during runs since then.  Recounting the excruciating side effects of treatment, Josh said, “But the pain let me know that at least I was still alive.”

Josh tells his story with a distinct sense of humor and encourages people to feel the freedom to laugh.  Bringing levity, Josh jokes that what Ryan didn’t know during that first Saturday morning run was that he had never run more than a couple of miles.  That first morning they ran four miles.  Josh jokes that about 10 minutes into the run he stopped talking (out of necessity and in order to keep breathing) and he forced Ryan to carry the conversation.  Josh never told Ryan that this was further than he’d ever run.  Josh says that instead, on that Saturday morning, he decided he was going to run and he was going to finish.

On Saturday we drove out to Susquehana State Park to cheer for Josh as he ran his third 50k race.  Ryan was supposed to run with Josh, but was sidelined with an injury.  Indeed, it was Ryan who convinced Josh to sign up for the race in the first place.  At mile 21 we saw Josh at a water stop.  He looked sternly at Ryan and said, “Go get your stuff on.  You got me into this mess and you are going to feel some of the pain of the last five miles.”  Ryan hopped in with Josh at mile 26 and accompanied him to the finish line.  I was a little nervous about Ryan running six miles having not laced up in more than three months, but my anxiety seemed inappropriate given the context.  After Josh crossed the finish line we joked about the poetic justice of the situation – that first Saturday morning long run being atoned by Ryan’s participation in the final stretch of the 50k.

Yesterday, as I sat watching the runners, I wondered why Josh runs and why he pushes further and further.  He’s now completed three 50ks and has plans for a 50 miler next month.  This morning as the New York Times arrived and I sat reading the article quoted above, I couldn’t help but think that the words might resonate with Josh.  I wondered if there might be a connection between the sense of gratitude he was able to cultivate for the pain that represented his aliveness and the expression of that gratitude as he continues to pursue movement today.

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To be clear, this is Josh’s story and not my own.  If I am honest, I can really only relate in the most tangential ways to his story, to the depth of pain that he and Shannon have experienced together.  But, watching Josh yesterday, I was reminded of what a gift it is to be able to move.  And, that regardless of what propels us forward, movement really is worth pursuing.

POST RACE [casa rio on the riverwalk]

Thursday, February 28, 2013

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After a half marathon there are only two things that I want.  Number one:  Coca-Cola.  Number two:  potato chips.  This is one of the benefits of running with Team In Training – I can almost certainly find both of these items in their tent at the finish line.  I hobble over and navigate the food line quickly, scanning the spread to ensure that the trusty yellow Lay’s bag and cans of Coke are present.  In my mind, this sweet and salty combo can’t be topped.

After the Herothon Half Marathon, I decided to switch things up a bit.  Because, after all, we were in Texas.  And when in Texas and one has just run a half marathon, one should take it upon oneself to eat as much queso as possible.  Queso and a Coca Cola, I knew I was onto something here.

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Guided by several recommendations and its nearby proximity to our hotel, we headed to Casa Rio.  I think this restaurant may be about as tourist-y as you can get on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, but I really didn’t care.  I was in it for the queso.  And, if I’m going to go to a really tourist-y spot, I prefer it to be waterfront on a beautiful 75 degree afternoon in January.  The stars were aligning.  Well, at least until I ordered a Coke and was told by the waiter that they only served Pepsi.  To say I was deflated would be an understatement.  While I am willing to substitute Lay’s potato chips for tortilla chips and queso, I am most certainly not willing to substitute Pepsi for Coca Cola.  A girl’s got to draw the line somewhere.  Water was probably the best choice anyways, and so that’s what I had.  While I felt like my post-race indulgence had been a bit undermined by soft drink availability, the queso was delicious and we sat and chatted and very much enjoyed the afternoon anyways.

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RACE DAY [herothon half marathon]

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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The first quarter of this race was fantastic.  We started at the Alamo Dome, then headed north passing the Tower of the Americas, similar to the Seattle Space Needle.  It was built in 1968 as part of the World’s Fair hosted by the city.  Mile two brought runners past the Alamo.  I’d never visited the Alamo so I stopped for a quick photo opp.

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After lollygagging my way through the first four miles, I had the not-very-profound realization that this race was going to take an eternity if I didn’t get moving.  A pace group came along and I tucked in, deciding that I needed someone with a watch to make me get to the finish with any sort of expediency.  Truth be told, I’ve never run with a pace group, but I rather liked it.  There’s camaraderie and consistency – both are good things when you made a last minute decision to run and show up to a race without a game plan.  The pacer was fantastic.  She had a good feel for the group and seemed to know when to talk and when to shut up.  This is critical, as there is nothing more frustrating than someone chattering away in the last miles of a race when patience wears thin and you are concentrating all of your energy on taking just one more step.  This was a nonissue with our pacer and for that I was extremely grateful.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that by the end of the race I was hurting.  Therefore, my recall of details about the course is fuzzy at best.  There was a mariachi band.  There was San Pedro Park.  There was a cruel hill in the form of a bridge around mile 12.5.  And then, it was over.

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There were two race highlights that I do remember.

[1] The number of runners wearing capes.  The race had a superhero theme and people took this very seriously.  Capes and spandex were plentiful, as were Wonder Woman and Super Man costumes.  The best part was watching the state of the super heroes in the finish area.  It looked like everyone had just fought an epic battle – Batman sprawled out on the pavement, Spider Man limping around, Mr. Incredible keeled over.

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photo courtesy of the leukemia and lymphoma society

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photo courtesy of the leukemia and lymphoma society

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photo courtesy of the leukemia and lymphoma society

[2] The Heroes’ Mile.  The race was put on by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society whose mission is to “cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”  In that spirit, at the expo runners with a connection to this mission could make signs honoring patients currently battling a blood cancer or in honor of those who had lost their battle.  Hundreds of signs lined a mile of the course.  It was powerful.  Some runners stopped to walk so that they could read the names and notes.  Others were propelled forward by the messages, visibly pushing themselves as they connected with the notes and stories that the signs represented. 

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photo courtesy of the leukemia and lymphoma society

The Heroes’ Mile of the course was an out and back, so runners could see the signs from both directions.  When I turned to come back, I watched the stream of runners coming from the opposite direction, each running their own race and having their own experience.  Each representing their own story, their own reason for being out on the course that morning and their own connection to the signs they were running past.   I felt such gratitude for the folks out on the course.  Each runner comes to the race for her own reason, but in the end, be it through a direct connection to the mission of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or be it through an entirely separate motivation to run that morning, each runner who had laced up lent their support to a great cause.  One for which I was so grateful to be a part.

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BY FOOT [southtown, river walk + beyond]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

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Let me be honest:  San Antonio has never been at the top of my list of cities I would like to visit, not even close.  I’m not sure what my mind’s eye pictured this city to be, but I was fairly certain it wasn’t for me.  That’s part of why I decided to come.  Well, that and I had some available frequent flyer miles.  And Ryan has been working so hard over the past six months to bring to life a brand new half marathon presented by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Alas, here we are.

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Last week I booked a flight to come down to San Antonio for the weekend and I am so very glad that I did.  Having run the Disney Half Marathon two weeks ago and still having a bit of residual foot pain, I didn’t think I would run this weekend’s half marathon, but decided to come anyways.  The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is putting on their first race, the inaugural Herothon Half Marathon, and I wanted to watch it go off.  Ryan has poured so much into this event and I wanted to be here to cheer for him, as much as for the runners.

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We had a fantastic first night in San Antonio.  It was warm and we walked to Southtown to eat at The Friendly Spot.  We sat outside at vintage picnic tables with peeling paint drinking IPAs and eating nachos and black bean burgers.  The bartenders were friendly and provided great beer recommendations.  The bar on the back of the property had only been open for four days and boasted 47 craft beers on draft.  Cyclists gathered after a ride and couples chatted over pints of beer.  I began to get the feeling that I had a very wrong perception of San Antonio.

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We’ve spent the past few days enjoying the view from our hotel room patio and walking around the city.   And, of course, within just a few hours of being here, I signed up for the half marathon.  I’m really looking forward to a nice long run around this city.

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BY FOOT [disney world’s animal kingdom]

Thursday, January 24, 2013

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We spent our last day in Florida at Animal Kingdom.  Ryan and James both (unintentionally) wore t-shirts that they brought home as souvenirs from different trips to Tanzania (Meaning:  They took separate trips to Tanzania where they each purchased a t-shirt featuring safari animals and then both wore their t-shirts on the same day).  Neither gave any forethought to the fact that he would be wearing an African t-shirt on “safari”…in Disney World.

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My brother is our resident animal expert.  When he was in Tanzania at Serengeti National Park, he spotted a Serval cat.  If you’ve ever been on safari, you know that it’s nearly impossible to spot cats, let alone a cat that looks like a larger version of a domesticated house cat.  I’ve never even heard of a Serval cat, but James had and he pointed it out to the driver who responded by saying that he had only ever seen two or three in the wild.

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[ Serval cat spotted and photographed by James // wildlife spotting ]

James knows more wildlife facts that anyone I know.  Did you know that 2.5 million East African Lesser Flamingos breed at Lake Natron in Tanzania?  Did you know that giraffes have the same number of vertebrae as humans and that their front legs are longer than their back legs?  Neither did I until James told me.

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We enjoyed the warm weather, ever aware of the fact that in a few hours we would hop on a plane back to chilly temperatures at home.  We strolled around admiring the animals and learning wildlife trivia from James.  It was a great end to a fantastic weekend.

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POST RACE [walt disney world half marathon]

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I was fixated on one post-race treat after the half marathon:  Dole Whip.  This soft-serve pineapple ice cream is tart, cold and delicious and sold at only a handful of places worldwide.  It’s been a bit of a tradition since we traveled to Hawaii as kids and visited the Dole plantation.

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I found an article in Food & Wine magazine about good eats in Disney World and was excited to discover that the Aloha Isle food stand in Magic Kingdom carries the dessert.  Post-race we rode back to our hotel, hopped in the pool, gorged ourselves on a greasy lunch and then headed into the park.  The Dole Whip did not disappoint (and I was too busy enjoying it to snap any pictures).

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We didn’t indulge in post-race libations until the following day when we sought out margaritas from La Cava del Tequila.  This was another tip from the Food & Wine article and, again, it did not disappoint.  We ventured inside the Mexico pavilion in the World Showcase at Epcot and we each ordered a margarita.  The bar is small and a bit cave-like, and it was packed with runners who had just finished the marathon.  I went with a suggestion from the bartender and ordered a frozen avocado margarita with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim.  It was creamy and perfectly complemented by the salty, floral tasting rim.   You can enjoy beverages on the terrace of the pavilion and this is just what we did.  It wasn’t crowded and we leisurely sipped our drinks and people watched.

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RACE DAY [walt disney world half marathon]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

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It felt so good to run the half marathon this past weekend.  I think I almost forgot how good.  It’s been so long since I’ve summonsed the willpower to move across that many miles.  It’s been so long since I’ve felt carried by the collective energy of the crowd and participants.

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The most difficult part of races at Disney is the start time. Ryan was sidelined with an injury, so my brother James and I made our way to the start around 3:45 while Ryan got a few extra hours of sleep.  We munched on bagels and granola bars and complained about how early it was as we rode the bus from the hotel to the start.  We arrived at the staging area and even though we knew it would make for a hot second half of the race, we were grateful that it was 66° — much warmer and much less shivering than last year.

We walked the mile from the staging area to the corral, arriving just in time to hear the national anthem.  James and I hugged, wished each other good luck and off we went.  It was special to spend those few moments with my little brother – to watch him take off after a goal, to watch him excel, to watch the beauty of the try.  Sometimes these things are seen so much more easily as we cheer for those we love.  I continued to think of him throughout the race – what milemarker he was at, if he was on pace for a PR, whether his ankle would bother him.  And, as the pain inevitably set in for me, my mind reflexively went to him and his race.  I think this is one of the most powerful aspects of running – the ability for our own pain to remind us of the pain of others.

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The first half of the race is dark.  The darkness eases you into the run; it’s less harsh than being met by full sun in the grogginess of the early morning.

First light came around mile 5, just as I entered the Magic Kingdom.  This is a real turning point in the race – the crowds become more consistent, the miles become more scenic.  The course leads you into a side entrance of Magic Kingdom, you turn a corner and run down “Main Street” right towards the castle, then curve around behind it and run right through it.

Once you come out of Magic Kingdom, you’re halfway done.  A few miles until Epcot and then the finish line is just on the other side of the park.

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I saw Ryan cheering a few hundred feet before the finish line and then met up with my parents and James just after I finished.  James and I plopped down and traded stories and race highlights, as we sipped Powerade and took pictures.

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Disney-World-Half-Marathon-Finish-WHATCH 650 It took several years to convince James to run a half marathon, but I’m so glad he finally caved and registered for one.  While we didn’t run the race together, it was so neat to know he was out on the course covering the same miles and that on the other side of the finish we would see each other, hug and celebrate.  And, in so doing, acknowledge that the 3:30am wake up call was oh so worth it.

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