How a Stranger Carried Me To the Finish Line of the Walt Disney World Marathon

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Medal

Her husband is never going to talk to me again! That’s all I could think of as my increasingly quick strides carried me farther away from the girl I had started this 26.2 mile journey with.

It was around mile 11 that I heard the paramedics on bicycles behind me talking over a radio. “The SAG van just left the speedway” said the voice on the other end. “How far back are the SAG vans?” I shouted. “About 10…15 minutes behind. You know SAG?”

Yeah I know SAG. My girlfriend works SAG for almost all of the runDisney races. What is SAG you ask? An acronym for Support and Gear…It’s the thing most mid to back-of-the-pack runners dread on race weekends. The sweeper vans. The support crew that picks up runners behind pace and drives them to a tent just outside the finish line. I was determined to earn that Dopey Medal. No SAG was gonna catch me.

We had traveled almost 12 miles by this point. My girlfriend and I had started this race together and we were supposed to finish it together. We approached another crossroad and I saw it there on the side of the road. PARADE BUS, as the yellow electronic letters above the windshield displayed. Shit! I yelled over to the driver standing outside of the bus. “How long before you guys get on the road?” “Oh, about 10 minutes.” I could feel our time cushion slipping away like sand through an hourglass.

I was walking at this point but I wanted to run. I looked back at my partner and saw that she was struggling. “Can you run?” She shook her head no. She motioned for me to go on without her. Bless her heart. This woman that had given me so much encouragement in the days leading up to the marathon was now struggling with her race nutrition and having a low-glycemic moment I would come to find out later on. I had promised her husband that I would stay with her till the end and now she was telling me to go on without her. What to do? If I ran on I would feel crushing guilt. If I stayed and we ended up getting swept she would feel crushing guilt. So I put in my earbuds, cranked up the music and forged on ahead.

Once I reached the back of Animal Kingdom my legs felt like they were bionic. I was moving along at a pace much quicker then the preceding three hours. Miles 13, 14 and 15 went by swiftly. By the time I had reached the entrance to the ESPN Wide World of Sports I was starting to feel a little drained. For me, this part of the marathon is the suck. No shade, lots of twists and turns and nothing exciting to look at.

I had stopped doing my timed run/walk intervals and just started doing it willy-nilly. It was on a run segment around Mile 17 that I was trying to pass some other athletes and hopped up onto the curb on the right shoulder of the road.

I looked to my left and saw a runner wearing an Inaugural Dopey Challenge shirt from the previous year. This fella was doing intervals and I could hear his Gymboss beeping signaling that it was time for him to run. We started chitchatting and I asked him if he was doing timed intervals and he said yes he was doing 15/45’s. We continued talking about similar races we had completed and I asked him if he minded if I ran with him and he said sure.

The next four excruciating miles turned into something extraordinarily fun. The dreaded wall that most people hit in this section of the marathon faded away into the shadows as my new running friend and I swapped race stories, Disney family vacation memories and general running banter. There were times when I didn’t even think I could do the 15 second run portion of our intervals but I wanted to keep up with him so badly that I forced myself to increase my pace. Just 15 seconds. Just 15 seconds.

I was feeling a tad bit delirious at this point in the race but thankfully my running angel had a monogrammed backpack on so I could shout out ” I’m right behind you Bob!” Yep. Bob. My runDisney angel. Bob had told me that his wife would be waiting for us somewhere around Disney’s Hollywood Studios and she would have snacks!

We rounded the turn out of Wide World of Sports onto Osceola Parkway approaching Mile 21. I always get emotional at mile 21 if you’ve ever heard my 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon story you’d know why. Right after mile 21 is a big embanked hill. I’m a Florida runner. We don’t do hills. Bob felt the need to run up the hill, but needed to walk down the other side. I on the other hand, had to walk up the hill and run on the downside. Each time we approach a hill Bob would call out to me “see you on the other side!” He would run then walk and I would walk then run, always meeting up with him at the bottom of the hill.

We turned onto Buena Vista Drive and started the approach towards the back entrance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Tower of Terror. Bob had been texting his wife, not sure if she would be meeting him inside the park or outside. We kept on at our 15/45 intervals. Up until this point we had had fantasticly overcast weather. We’d also been running for five and a half hours. We entered into the dreaded, dark, disco ball, seizure inducing, costuming tunnel and emerged on the other side with the sun shining brightly in our faces. Ugh. Midday sun. A distance runner’s worst nightmare. My legs felt like lead. But we were out of danger of being swept… Or so I thought.

Nope. As we shuffled down the Streets of America Bob told me the story of how one of his family members was swept at mile 24 in the Disney’s Hollywood Studios parking lot. We still haden’t made it to that point. Time to get my shit together mentally and keep moving forward. Besides, the promise of Bob’s wife having snacks was on the horizon.

As we exited Disney’s Hollywood Studios I looked to the right and saw the line of parade buses waiting to carry runners to the SAG tent. OH HELL NO was all I could think of in my head. I couldn’t imagine being swept at this point after going so far. We found Bob’s wife and I profusely thanked her for having such a wonderful husband to get me through the last six miles. She was able to hop on the course with us at this point since we were on a public walkway from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to the Boardwalk. We were walking by this point. So was everyone else. No more run walk intervals. Praise Jesus!

As we got to The International Gateway entrance to Epcot Bob informed me that his quads were getting tight and he couldn’t walk anymore. We had to go back to our run walk intervals. And run walk we did. Right into Epcot’s World Showcase. The energy from spectators was palpable I started seeing people that I knew. A few of my online runner friends spotted me and yelled out cheering me on. A big grin stretched across my face. We passed France. Morocco. Japan. America was a blur… so was Italy. Mile freaking 25.5!!! Germany! And then it was as if all the life force had been drained out of me once we got to China. I couldn’t run a single step more.

You’re going to have to go on without me I yelled out to Bob. I can’t run. I’m going to have to walk the rest of this thing. I was so close. So close to having that angel carry me across the finish line, but like my girlfriend had done earlier in the race I motioned for him to go on without me. For him to run his own race and finish strong. I watched as he disappeared into the distance and 10 minutes later I crossed the finish line. Arms raised in victory.

Thank you angel Bob. I couldn’t have done it without you.

This! This is why we run!

2 Comments

Comments are closed.