Thursday, January 17, 2013

The One Where I Meet a Survivor Winner and Run my First Marathon...

I am not one to use hyperbole often...so believe me when I say that this past weekend may have been one of the BEST.WEEKENDS.OF.MY.LIFE!

No, seriously.  What started out as a Disney vacation turned into something truly...well, since it was Disney...MAGICAL.

But before I recap my first full marathon experience...and let's be honest...if you're going to run a marathon, might as well be through the Disney parks...

...let's talk about what happened before.

Now, for those of you who don't know me...I am OBSESSED with the TV show "Survivor."  I have seen every single episode.  I could recap for you some of the best and worst moments and probably tell you every single winner.  In college, me and my friends would host "Survivor" premiere and finale parties.  I furiously text my friends as episodes are going on.  I am PASSIONATE about the show.  I experience rage when contestants I hate don't get voted out and I experience amazing joy when a contestant I've cheered for and liked from episode 1 wins...

Now, imagine how I felt when I was presented with the opportunity to not just MEET a "Survivor" winner...but hang out with him.

There I am, using a gay social networking app...Disney cast members all over the place...some creepy old men...lots of other marathoner runners...and there's a familiar face.

Holy shit...that can't be...no, no, no, it is...it's Todd, the winner of "Survivor:China."

Todd is my THIRD favorite "Survivor" winner...Third to Tina Wesson and Sandra Diaz Twine.  And here he is.  Now, here's where the cynicism sets in and I say to myself - "Self, it's probably just a creepy fat guy who Googled cute gay Survivor contestants" and threw that pic up there...

...but, I also know that I would regret missing out on an opportunity to meet one of my favorite.Survivor.contestants.ever.

So, I message him...and he responds...and swears it's him.  Next thing I know...we're texting...he's calling me...and we agree to hang out at my resort...grab a few drinks...swim...whatever...

And I.AM.DYING!  Literally dying.  What do I say?  What if I act like a total fan girl?  What if he hates me?

...and next thing I know, I'm meeting him in the lobby of the Port Orleans: Riverside.

And since we're being honest here...It was awesome.  He is probably one of the most genuine, honest, and kindest people I have ever met.  It's rare that I just feel at ease with someone.  Not to mention that he was completely willing to listen to my rants and raves about "Survivor."  It's rare that someone will buy into my craziness. But I think it takes a unique person to allow people to just feel at ease.  It helps that he is incredibly, incredibly cute.

Before one of the biggest moments of my life...ya know, running 26.2 miles through all 4 Disney parks...here I am, drinking Angry Orchard and LI Teas with someone that Diana and I were OBSESSED with when his season aired...and another big moment in my life is being created.

Here is photographic proof - and yes...I'm wearing home-made jorts...don't judge, they flatter my legs..

I mean...that smile on my face is genuine.


So, we're sitting at Muddy Waters...and Todd brings out his Bucket List that he wrote in 9th grade...and he has all these amazing things crossed off...two of which were "Interview for Reality TV" and "Meet Jeff Probst."  And it happened!

I mean, it was inspiring.  You have this kid, who at the age of 22, managed to beat out 15 other people to win a million dollars...and is now able to do a job he loves and live in a great area.  All because in 9th grade, he wrote how much he wanted to get onto reality TV.  He made it happen.

Here I am...30...not always happy with my job...who has only made one half-assed attempt at getting on the show.  I always tell myself how much I can't do things...and how no one will like me...etc..etc...I always have an excuse.  How can I not feel motivated to do more?  I want to do an awesome video (how do I condense myself into 3 minutes?) and I want to look at putting together a legit bucket list.

And the funny thing is, I remember years ago, I attempted a Bucket List.  I remember typing "Run the Walt Disney World Marathon" and I backspaced it because I said to myself "I don't think I'll ever be in a place to do that."  I replaced it with "Run the Disney World Half Marathon"...and years later, I am hours...HOURS away from running something I never though I'd have the ability to.

Seriously...best.night.of.my.life.so.far.

Now, on to that whole pesky Marathon thing...

26.2 miles...that begin with a 2:30 AM wake up call...

...and then a shuttle ride where all I keep saying to myself is "Eric, you are an idiot...why are you doing this?  You have no business running 26.2 miles.  They are going to have to carry you across the Finish Line.  Really, just start crying and ask the shuttle to turn around.  Get back into bed, sleep until noon, drink your body weight poolside...and then jump out of the bushes, frighten someone, and steal their medal.  This is such a stupid, stupid, stupid idea..."

...and this conversation repeats itself as I make the 15 minute walk...to the start corral...and that walk...it smells like a combination of fear, regret, and human urine (because apparently, both male and female runners have ZERO problem relieving themselves in the bushes...in plain view of everyone...)

I'm in Corral D.  There is still time to just turn around...it's probably less than 26 miles to my resort...so, I can still say I ran for the weekend, right?

Corral A starts...then B...then C...

I am experiencing a combination of excitement, utter fear, abject misery, some disbelief that I friggin' met TODD FROM SURVIVOR, and five million other emotions about this adventure I am about to embark on with 67,000 other people...

Alright, I'm moving...and HERE WE GO!  So it begins.  No turning back.  However, maybe, if I pass out at Mile 13.1, they'll give me credit for running the half?!  I'll still get the Donald medal.

In preparing for the race, I programmed almost 7 hours of music on my iPod.  I was shooting for an overambitious 5 and a half hours to finish, but nothing wrong to be prepared with enough songs to get you through. 

...and normally, I plan out my runmix, so certain songs line up with how I think I'm going to be feeling at that point in the race...but, this time, I knew I just needed to trust the shuffle.

So...Disney has already played "Go the Distance" from Hercules to get it started...I click the shuffle button...

...and I am kicking off my first marathon experience with "Fighter" by Gym Class Heroes and Ryan Tedder.

...at that moment, I knew I'd be able to do it...

...and it is abundantly clear that the running and iPod gods were with me, because there were just PERFECT songs for PERFECT moments during the run...

..."Start a Fire" by Ryan Star giving me the power to start pushing myself harder at the beginning of the race and getting ahead of the crowd...

...as I'm running on Main Street in Magic Kingdom, Cinderella's castle in the distance, all random strangers cheering me on...the Glee cover of "Heroes" comes on...it was fate...

"I...I will be king...and you, you will be queen"


..."Scream and Shout" by Britney and Will.i.am coming on when I was VERY close to stop running outside the Animal Kingdom...

...and "Defying Gravity" getting me moving as I neared the 13.1 marker IN the Animal Kingdom...

..."I Got You" be Leona Lewis, "Hall of Fame" by The Script, "No Boundaries" by Kris Allen,  "Dance My Pain Away" by Wye Oak...all when I needed to smile and remind myself that I was achieving an amazing life goal...

...and even the irony of "The Animal Song" by Savage Garden playing as I am running through the Disney Conservation Center, and you have cast members holding snakes, owls, goats, mini horses...I mean, it was clear that trusting the shuffle was the right decision...

...and on a side note, I'm obsessed with Ryan Star's "Stay Awhile"...and I had that on the run mix because I needed to remind myself how awesome the night before was...and how awesome the miles ahead were going to be.

So, the actual race...well...I mean...the first 13.1 were pretty easy.  It was the whole second half that was a bit of a challenge.

Ummm...wait...where's the finish line?!


I just remember hitting Mile 14...and realizing..."This is the longest I've ever run...but you have 12.2 miles to go.  You can do it, you can do it, you can do it..."



Then Mile 16 happened.  Running on a highway.  I broke down.  I cried.  I couldn't believe I was actually doing this.  I was excited, scared, nervous...and I also couldn't believe I still had 10.2 miles to go. 

It's almost funny how you start to break down a race mile by mile, song by song.  You know what ones were the best, and you know what ones you never want to experience again.

For me...it all started with this...

Eff...Em...Ell
3.1 miles is a 5 k.  A 30 k is 18ish miles.  Miles 18 to 22...were bad.  Very, very, very, very bad.  Like, texting my friends with "I don't want to do this anymore, bad."  To Ray - "This is what it sounds like when doves cry..." bad.

Your arch is tacky and I hate you!
I ripped my ear buds out.  "Running Up that Hill" by Placebo didn't help much either.   I didn't even want to listen to ANY of music.  I was taking a leisurely walk at this point.  I was angry.  People were passing me.  I didn't even care about the awesome "Celebration Mile" at Mile 20 (for the 20th Anniversary)...

I hit the wall.  It happens.

What I did know is that I was closer to the finish line than I was to the start.  I was only 6.2 miles away from achieving a goal that I never thought I'd be able to.  235 Pound Eric NEVER would have been able to do this...nor would he have had to confidence to do this.

Mile 22...I decided to stop being such a wuss.  4.2 Miles left?!?!  My typical run was 5 miles!  I could do this.  A few weeks ago, I had ran 6 miles...on the beach...in the sleet and rain...against the wind.  I could do 4.2 miles in beautiful weather...

...the iPod went back on...and I trotted.  I didn't run, because my legs were ON FIRE at this point...but I trotted.  I sang at the top of my lungs when I needed to keep going.

We were nearing Epcot.  Which means an end was in sight...But, did you know that it is a mile from France to the giant Epcot ball.  When it is the last mile of a marathon, that may be one of the  longest miles I have ever run.  It's almost like the ball just got further and further away...

Now, I'd like to introduce you to Joe. 

Oh hey...Runner McHottie



Joe and I started together in Corral D...throughout the race, we just kept pace with each other.  When I though I'd pass him, I'd see him up ahead...so I'd work harder to catch up.  I'd be walking, and all of a sudden he'd walk past me.  It was crazy.

So, we're running through Mexico, and Joe starts talking to me.  "It looks like we started this race together...and we're going to finish it together."  "Looks like we are."  "It was hell."  "Yes, Joe, yes it was."

It was pretty awesome, though, to have someone on the journey with you...
...and in my defense, I actually beat him because once I saw that finish line, I sprinted past my buddy to finally end the race.

So, I did it.  I crossed that finish line...and it took EVERYTHING in my power not to collapse and bawl like a baby and kiss the ground.

I didn't collapse...I didn't kiss the ground...but I did get a LITTLE emotional when they put that medal around my neck...

...but I had finished a marathon...I was a marathoner...and I did it in 6 hours and 19 minutes...Which means I set a Personal Record...and it's a PR I am completely comfortable with.

Let's ignore the fact that I'm showing you the BACK of the medal...



And I got to meet some awesome Disney characters...


I said he was friggin' creepy as hell...Jack said he was Spooktacular

MADE.MY.LIFE!!!

I missed out on this during the half last year...Wasn't making the same mistake twice!



And here's what's inscribed on the medal - "All our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them."

I firmly believe that.  Somewhere in my journey to be a thinner, fitter me...I told myself I wanted to do a full marathon.  For years, I wanted to meet someone who had been on "Survivor."  Here I am in Florida, making both happen.

What if I had decided that I didn't want to meet Todd?  What if I had allowed my own insecurities keep me from deciding to meet him?  I wouldn't have had one of the most awesome nights of my life...ever.

What if I had stopped at Mile 22?  Just within reach of that Finish Line?  I'd never know the joy of wearing that medal.

With 6 hours to think, I thought about my Weight Watchers journey.  What if I stopped going to meetings?  What if I gave up when I was 5 pounds within getting goal?  What if I decided "This is too hard...I'm just going to let the weight go back on."  I wouldn't have been in the position to finish a 26.2 mile run...and I honestly would not have been comfortable meeting my "Survivor" crush with an extra 50 pounds.

Now, after I had finished the race, I told Ray (congratulations on running the Disney Half, buddy!) that I would NEVER run a marathon again...

...then I remembered that I had to run the NY Marathon for Team Boomer in November...

...and then I spoke to my Mom on the ride from the airport...

Mom - "Eric, I know you...You are not going to be happy going backwards.  You are going to want to move forward..."
Me - "You're right...I wouldn't be happy just doing the half next year.  But don't think I'm doing the Goofy Challenge."
Mom - "No...no...You aren't that crazy."

Yeah, I don't think you will ever see me in a position with running a half marathon and then a full marathon the next day.  Because my idea of a good time after a race is drinking lots of Angry Orchard and girly drinks poolside...and you can't do that if you need to wake up at 2:30 AM for the second day in a row to run 26.2 miles.

So, I have already started planning my Racecation with Jenna for the 2013 "Tower of Terror 10 Miler."  I am so serious about it...that it may mean a hungover morning flight to Florida the morning immediately after my Sister's wedding.

I will also be in Disney in January 2014 for the Walt Disney World Marathon.

And I need to keep telling myself - "All our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them."

...and maybe, if I'm lucky, you'll see me on a future season of "Survivor."

-e






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