A few days after Christmas a crazy idea started forming in my head.
My brother (a.k.a. Uncle Jeff) signed up to run his first marathon in Disney on the second weekend in January. Doug was supposed to run as well, with Lizzie tagging along for the adventure. However, since she is currently living in the hospital working hard to grow those twins as long as she can, Doug decided he couldn’t leave her, even for just a few days. Totally understandable.
Knowing that, and also knowing how dedicated Jeff has been to this goal of his, I felt really bad that he would be going over to Florida all by himself. I know he’s a big boy and could have handled it on his own just fine, but I felt like someone should be there to cheer him on and to celebrate this huge milestone with him.
Kenny agreed to stay back and take care of the boys, and Nola and Nopsi couldn’t go for one reason or another, so I turned to my good friend Dana. Well, the stars aligned freaking perfectly: she was not on call that weekend, we found a really reasonably priced flight, and we scored a room in the same hotel as Jeff.
After discussing with our husbands to make sure they were okay with this crazy, impromptu trip of ours, we booked everything on January 1. Boom. Done.
We left super early on the morning of January 9. We had to fly through Charlotte and arrived in Orlando around 11am. We caught the Magical Express to our resort, the Art of Animation. Jeff was already there and at the runner’s expo, but he met us outside of the resort restaurant where we were having a late lunch (including cans of my favorite beer, Yuengling). It was almost go time for him: he had his race bib in hand and was ready to rock.
Jeff had to catch the shuttle over to the start of the race by 4am, so he went back to his room to rest and then have an early dinner before attempting to sleep. Dana and I, on the other hand, hopped on a bus and went to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).
Neither of us had ever been before. It’s a gigantic outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment area. We ended up being out there for 7 hours, wandering, shopping, eating, and drinking. We found things for our boys at the Star Wars Galactic Outpost, Dana bought Claire an Alice in Wonderland tea set, we marveled at the displays outside of the Lego store, we drank beer at an Irish pub (the Raglan Road stout was tasty), we had dinner in the bar at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant (delicious BBQ chicken pizza and Yuengling on draft!), and finally we treated ourselves to salted caramel hot fudge sundaes from the Ghirardelli shop. Such a great day. Even with the long walk back to the bus in the rain.
I signed up to get text updates as Jeff ran, and the first one came through at 6:33am. He was officially underway! Dana and I got up and dressed, had a quick breakfast at the resort restaurant, and then headed out around 8:45am. We had gotten updates at the 5 mile, 10 mile, and halfway points, so we had a good idea of his pace.
The nice thing about staying at Art of Animation is that the course took the runners on a loop right down the street from the resort. Dana and I had an easy, half-mile walk up to the corner and found a spot in the median where we would be able to see Jeff run by twice, once on his way into the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex (between miles 16 and 17) and once on his way back out (between miles 20 and 21). It was perfect. Big thanks to Lizzie and Doug for the advice on the best places to see him; y’all were a huge help!
I also enlisted the help of a few family and friends to make a poster to hold up as Jeff ran by. Twenty of us contributed words of support and encouragement that were scattered around big block letters spelling out my catchphrase for the weekend: GEAUX JEFF! It ended up looking really awesome; I’m so glad I thought of the idea to do it. And Dana laminated it at work once we got home so Jeff can keep it.
We waited about 15 minutes or so before Jeff finally emerged from the crowd at a water station and rounded the corner towards us. I had forgotten to ask what he was wearing, so we were frantically scanning everyone for him. In fact, we almost missed him because of a guy in a full unicorn get-up just in front of him. I’m so glad Dana caught the unicorn guy in a pic with Jeff as he ran by. Too funny. That was just one of many amusing costumes we saw!
Once he passed us, we had about 40 minutes until he came by again. But there were lots of other people out there cheering the runners on, plus a DJ at the corner spinning some great tunes. We danced and cheered and encouraged and the time went by really quickly. Then I got another text update at 20 miles, so we knew we only had a few minutes to wait until we saw him again.
Dana took my phone to video and take pics again, while I took the poster and walked up towards the flow of runners. We spotted him much earlier this time since we knew what color he was wearing (I also got lots of “Go Tigers!” all day on account of my LSU windbreaker). He was singing along to his music as he ran right up, put his arm around me, paused for a few seconds, and then was off again. I told him afterward that I didn’t expect him to do that, and he said, “I didn’t expect it either; it just happened!” Such a fun moment. He also looked really strong and focused; I was so proud of him.
After that we packed up and hightailed it back to the resort to catch a bus over to the finish line at Epcot. We figured we had just under an hour to get over there before he crossed. Luckily, a bus pulled up just as we reached the loading area, and we got right on. (Even though there were a lot of people in front of us and I worried we wouldn’t make it.) We made friends with other families going to the finish, and we even saw runners along our ride to Epcot. But the best part was when the lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Look, there are more runners right over there.” I looked to my left, and lo and behold, there was Jeff, about to run into Hollywood Studios. I screamed out, “Oh my God, that’s my brother! Right there! GEAUX JEFF!!!” Everyone around us on the bus laughed and cheered. I couldn’t believe the incredible timing for that to happen. One or two seconds earlier or later and we wouldn’t have seen him. So crazy.
We arrived at Epcot in plenty of time to walk over to the finish area and find a good spot to watch for him. We ended up at mile 26.1, with a good vantage point that allowed us to see him come out of Epcot. I made friends with the people right by the barricade, and they let me come up front when he was approaching. I got the poster out one last time, Dana took another video, and we both cheered as he passed us and rounded the final curve to the finish. He looked pretty tired at this point and even put a finger to his head in the universal sign for “kill me now.” I knew he was so done, but he was almost finished!
We didn’t actually see him cross the finish line, but we were able to walk back to the family reunion area (not surprisingly, Disney puts on a really great race with lots of attention to detail) and meet up with him after he got his medal, water, Powerade, and food pack. Jeff finished his first marathon with a time of 4:20:20, pace 9:56. Baller. GEAUX JEFF!
We sat down in the parking lot and chatted with him while he tried to get feeling back in his legs. He talked to Erin and Kate, stretched a bit, worked out a few charley horses, read his poster, and recapped some of the day for us. When he was finally able to stand up again, we took some pictures and then bid him goodybe. He went to catch a shuttle back to the resort so he could shower and rest.
And Dana and me? We spent the rest of the day in Epcot. I was determined to ride a few things I couldn’t the last time we were there, in 2012 when I was pregnant with Rory. Soarin’ was unfortunately closed for refurbishment (boo), but we rode Test Track multiple times. So much fun.
We also rode Journey into Imagination with Figment (both of us love him), popped in to see Baymax, and did Mission Space (intense). Then of course we spent the rest of the day drinking around the World Showcase. We didn’t have any fun at all.
We heard from Jeff just after 4pm. He said he was going to get a bite to eat at the resort and then come meet us. We were still working our way around the countries and finished all but one (Canada, eh) before we walked up front. I handed off my beer to Dana and went out to buy his ticket. When I found him and we got through the gates, we discovered Dana had found a special seat. SO FUNNY.
We took a pic with the big ball, took Jeff on his first ride on Test Track, and then went back to Canada to get him a much needed and well-deserved beer. We all got something different and they were all really good: Moosehead for me, La Fin du Monde for Dana, and St. Ambroise oatmeal stout for Jeff.
We wandered over to England after that and ended up snagging a table outside of the Rose and Crown restaurant. We switched to Bass and Harp beers and had fish and chips for dinner while we chatted and people watched. It was awesome.
The temperature dropped noticeably while we were eating, but we decided we might as well stay for the 9pm fireworks show. So impressive.
We bussed back to Art of Animation and said goodnight and goodbye. Dana and I had to be on the Magical Express at 6am the next morning. Our flight home left at 9am. But hey, at least we scored a free upgrade to the exit row!
It was a quick, quick trip, but it was SO worth it. Words cannot describe how happy I am that we went. The whole experience was so much fun; I’m so glad we could be there when Jeff checked MARATHON off his bucket list. I’ll remember this trip for a long time.
And I’m already down to go again next year. Whaddya say, Jeff? Wanna run it a second time??? And who knows: maybe Dana and I will even do the half marathon. We actually ended up walking over 11 miles on Sunday, so we could totally do it.
Big, HUGE thanks to Kenny, Grandma, Nola, and Nopsi for keeping the boys while I was gone. I so appreciated it!