What nobody told me (but I should have known) was that marathons start real early in the morning. If you want to watch your runner take off from the starting line, you need to be up when they are. What nobody told me (but I could have figured out) was that the Disney Marathon aims to finish as many people as possible before the parks open. My only marathon experience came from watching the Boston College leg of the Boston Marathon, which, by 10 AM every year, would pass within twenty feet of my front door. Getting up before sunrise and standing in a dew-soaked field with a bunch of strangers reminded me of the worst parts of Boy Scouts: a combination of too-cold, too-early that left me dreading the afternoon.
And yet 3AM found me on a bus full of marathoners, all of whom were talking about prior runs and upcoming runs and their love lives in New York1. 4AM, the worst time to be awake2, found me standing on the shoulder of Epcot Center Drive, bumping elbows with similarly crazed friends and family. By 5AM, Rachel’s dad and our friend Vickie had joined me. We waited patiently while the pre-show DJ played Wham and while the show hosts attempted the worst satellite chat ever with Camp Victory3 in Baghdad. The GIs were running a half marathon simultaneous with the Disney crew, and more power to them, but being interviewed by a peppy Miami DJ over a 3-second satellite lag was the biggest clusterbomb imaginable. Fifty thousand people were wincing.
And then they were off. Somewhere.
The spectator lanes were set up on the southbound shoulder of the four-lane parkway; the marathoners were running on the northbound lane. It was eighty yards away, the sun hadn’t come up yet, and they were running in packs of a few thousand at a time. Rachel had her cell phone with her and texted when her wave was about to debark, but otherwise we had no idea where she was. “WHOO!” we yelled.
Plan B: fall back to the Magic Kingdom. We saw the sunrise over Bay Lake as we rode the monorail across Disney’s property. We whipped through the Disney Contemporary Resort (site of my last visit, almost twenty years ago) while guests were rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. When we hit the Magic Kingdom, we passed the crowds lining Main St and elbowed our way to the bend in the racecourse just outside Cinderella’s Castle. And we waited.
Then we saw her.
“Rachel!” I yelled, waving my camera. “We’re over here! Come get in a picture! Right here! Rachel! Come back here! Rachel! … god damn it!”
She’d seen us, but she wasn’t slowing down. She hadn’t seen the lines of runners queuing up to get their photo professionally taken with Cinderella Castle in the background. She was 10k into her half-marathon and she had her eyes on the prize. She smiled, waved, and kept on trucking.
1. The couple behind me were a mother of at least one young child (not present) and a single woman. “Things went a little fast,” she was saying, “but I figured, whatever. And he said he’d call after the holidays, which makes sense, but weeks go by and I hear nothing. Then I tell him I’m going to Florida and all of a sudden he’s all ‘good luck, have a great trip, let’s hang out when you get back.’ I don’t even know.” I wanted to tell her that He Just Wasn’t That Into Her, but marathons are tough and I didn’t want that lingering in her head for five hours.
2. According to Lee Child, author of One Shot, it’s when your body’s biological rhythms are at their slowest. I’ll take his word for it.
3. Named after the Victory Corps stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, so it’s not in bad taste.