Being a Marathon Spectator aka ChEAR Squad by @runDisney

After running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday, it was time to change gears from “athlete” to “spectator”. My amazeballs husband, Greg, was running the Marathon in his pursuit of completing the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge.
 
Now know this. We are not long-experienced runners, or experts in any way. We saw the amazing 20th anniversary Marathon medal and thought it was really cool. I thought it was cool, as in “Hey, look at that nice, shiny thing”. Greg thought it was cool, as in “Me want”. Then when he heard you get an additional Goofy medal for completing both the Half and Full Marathons in the same weekend, well… He Want.
 
So, without really considering all the implications, he registered.
 
He had a nervous conversation about it with Jeff Galloway at the Disneyland Half Marathon while we were there to get our Coast to Coast completion last year (we are bonus medal whores), and Jeff managed to allay his fears. Jeff told him, “You’re going to make it. You wouldn’t believe some of the people who do it, who look like they shouldn’t be able to – you’ll be fine. Just walk the half, then take it easy on the full. You get the same medal, no matter what, so make it fun.”
 
To be fair, I’d been telling Greg the same thing, but it sounds better coming from a former Olympian, I suppose.
 
Flash forward to 3:15AM on Sunday. For this weekend, that was actually considered “sleeping in”. I honestly don’t remember if I saw Greg off. I’d like to think I did.
 
Rachael and I got up after he left, and did the whole “quick, light breakfast” thing, decided what to wear (our Half Marathon shirts, medals and Sparkle Skirts with our ChEAR shirts and clappers in my runDisney Coast to Coast shoulder bag) and made our way to the bus stop. We opted to wait till 4AM, since the runners were supposed to pretty much all be gone by then. Even so, we saw a few runners hustling to the bus with their bibs on and getting in line behind us. We urged them to the front to make sure they got the first available bus seats.
 
The busses were moving quickly and efficiently, and before we knew it, we were dropped off at the Epcot parking lot. I thought about running into the Race Retreat tent (I’d bought the Platinum ChEAR squad package, my sister bought a Gold at the expo) to grab a couple of bagels (it really was a very light breakfast), but we had no idea how long of a wait we could expect at the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Centre, or from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, and Greg was in Corral B, so we figured we’d better get a move on.
 
Surprisingly, we were able to get right on the monorail, and we settled in for our trip to the TTC. There was a lot of shuffling, a lot of confused people who didn’t know where they were going, and so Rachael and I bobbed and weaved our way through the doodle-doots (our term for people who seem to just meander, aimlessly, humming “dooooodle-ooot-dooooot”) and quickly glanced up to see a large crowd heading up to the monorail to the Magic Kingdom. Another glance to our left showed us that there were only about 10 people waiting for the ferry, and it was on it’s way.  Off to the ferry!
Standing by for the ferry – see the castle waaaay back there?
We made it to the Magic Kingdom and hustled our way up Main Street, past the heaps of people waiting along the course, shoulder to shoulder. Immediately I was glad we’d bought the ChEAR packages because I knew we’d have a reserved cheering area in a “premium” location.
 
But of course, there was time for a couple of photos on the way.
Rachael and the Castle – still lit up for Christmas.
And ME!
The reserved viewing area was indeed “Premium”. It was right, smack-dab in front of the castle. There was coffee, tea, hot chocolate and cold beverages available. We had received blankets as part of our packages, which I didn’t bring along since I didn’t think they would be useful since it was so WARM, but when I saw people sitting on the ground on theirs… well.. duh… We cozied up on the blanket-less pavement with some hot chocolate and waited. I wasn’t entirely sure what Greg’s pace was going to be today, so we were at the mercy of the runner tracking via text and email. I knew his start time, but that was it.
 
When around 45 minutes past his start time passed, and I hadn’t received his 5K split yet, I started to worry. I realized shortly after, the splits were, of course, in MILES. That’s when it really hit me how far a Marathon is.
 
Now, people who come so early are dedicated and devoted to their runners. Some. optimistically so. We had to negotiate a temporary space swap with a couple of people whose runner was in the H corral so that we could be up front to see Greg when he came through the castle. I mean, their runners had barely just started at this point but there they were, right up front… Cute.
Here’s our front row view!
Before we knew it, here came THIS guy! (He’d also texted us a little along the way with his progress.
 
Ok, you can barely see him.
He’s a BLUR, he’s so fast!
Somehow he totally missed that I was trying to get him to go to the race photographers and get his photo done, but I didn’t want to keep him, so we checked in and sent him on his way. He was doing GREAT!
 
We tried to catch him on the roadway past the Polynesian, but realized when we got there that it had taken too long (but I did see Heather from Running with Sass and her husband, Bobby! Lookin’ good, you two!) 
We hustled to catch the Animal Kingdom bus. It was pretty full, and the driver warned us that it might take 45 minutes to get there (DARN), but somehow we made it just as Greg was entering the park, and we negotiated yet another front of the line spot with a family whose runner came through just before Greg.
 
Here he comes!
He’s taking a photo of me…
And I’m taking a photo of him… which Rachael took a photo of.
So meta.

We were torn at this point. Greg had reached the halfway point in about 2.5 hours. He’d been pushing to get as far as he could before the sun came up, and planned to slow down a bit now that it was heating up.

I was curious about the Mile 20 “surprise” that Disney had planned, and we thought about heading to the Wide World of Sports to try and catch Greg there, but then I was worried about  making it to the finish line in time if there was gridlock out that way.
So far the transportation had been amazing, but I’d never taken a bus to the WWoS, and I didn’t want to risk it, so we headed straight back to Epcot.

We knew we’d have some time to kill, so Rachael waited at the finish line in the reserved area for ChEAR package holders to watch the runners come in while I went over to the Race Retreat to try and snag us some snacks. Surprisingly (and this is my only complaint) the food was not available. I mean, it was out, but it was all covered and staff were shooing people away.  People who included some (from what I could see) pretty hungry runners. Not cool.

I hiked back to the finish line, hungry. I noticed a cupcake truck and purchased our second breakfast there. A peanut butter chocolate cupcake. Boo-hoo. Poor us. We ate it in the shaded area behind the ChEAR bleachers where there was cold beverages, private portolets, tables and stools, and materials to make cheer signs.

We weighed our options at this point. We knew Greg would be over an hour, and we were entertained at the finish line, but EPCOT was right there. And so we went! We hopped on the  new Test Track (Test Track goes Tron, in my opinion) and then made our way to Sunshine Seasons to get something for Rachael to eat. On our way in, a nice lady congratulated us on our medals and gave us a pair of Soarin’ tickets she couldn’t use.

Well, ok!

So we rode Soarin’.

Once we were done, I started to get antsy about the time, considering I’d have to walk all the way back to the finish line, so I left Rachael to grab her food and I made my way to the reserved viewing area, grabbed a bottle of water and waited. I got the notice that Greg had just passed 20 miles, so I settled in. Before long, Rachael found me. We made some Cheer signs, and watched the runners stream in.

Some ebullient, some in agony, all of them awash in joy.

One runner in particular scared the crap out of me. He was coming along at a good clip, when he suddenly stopped about 20-30 feet away from the finish line. He started moving in a very strange way – it looked like he was starting to do a jig, or trying to do the moonwalk. At first I thought “Ha, go dude!” but suddenly that turned into a “Oh no, dude!” as he collapsed to the ground, felled-tree-like, stiff as a board. I was a double barricade away from him, helpless. I looked up at the booth (he’d dropped right in front of it) and I thought I heard them calling for a medic. For what seemed like and eternity, he just lay alone on the ground. No other runners were coming in, so it couldn’t have been that long, but suddenly a couple ran to him, each putting one of his arms around their shoulders, and they carried him across the finish line. His legs below the knees were twisted inwards, his calves obviously cramping up terribly. Then, just as suddenly, the couple ran back across the finish line to the stands. They’d leapt the barrier to help this runner complete his race.

Wow.

About 10 minutes later, I got a text from Greg that he was close and before long I saw him jogging into view. Rachael and I hoisted our signs into the air and cheered. Greg high-fived Goofy and then continued on in his runner’s daze.

We ran after him, on our side of the barricades (you can only access the runners in the chute after the finish line if you have access to the reserved ChEAR Zone) and yelled his name till he turned around. We congratulated him and arranged to meet over by the Race Retreat tent.

Rachael couldn’t come in with her Gold package, so she and I planned to meet soon after at Mission: Space, she snapped a picture of Greg in all his glory, and Greg and I did the post-race chat in the Race Retreat.

So much BLING!!

He was pretty exhausted, blissed out and emotional. And proud. We were both very proud. I focussed on making sure he ate what he could, and drank water and Gatorade, and sent him back to the resort with instructions to take an ice bath as soon as he got there.
I had a momentary pang of guilt for not going with him, especially after he told me that a gentleman had collapsed on his bus on the way back. But he got there fine, iced up, and had a nice jacuzzi session and a nap.

Yeah, dude!

If you ever find yourself at Walt Disney World during any of the runDisney events, I would recommend making it a point to get up early and watch at least part of the race. It’s fun, inspirational and exciting.

If you find yourself there WITH a runner, I thought the runDisney ChEAR team package was pretty fun. I liked the reserved areas, I liked the beverages, I thought the T-shirts, clappers and blankets were cute, and if I were by myself I would probably made more use of the Race Retreat itself. Again, I wasn’t crazy about the fact that food wasn’t available right away when runners were coming in, but that’s my only complaint. It was a nice perk.

runDisney

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