Why Buzz Lightyear and I are on the WSJ Sport Page

How on earth did my photo end up on the WSJ Sports Page?

A few weeks ago I was ducking out of my office early to head down to Walt Disney World for the Tower of Terror 10 Miler. It was then I received a very surprising e-mail.

Somehow he had stumbled upon my blog post recapping race day.

Since that e-mail, I had several conversations with this reporter about my running, runDisney events, visits to Disney, my run/walk interval training, and especially my Princess Half Marathon experience - among other topics.  To a journalist that normally covers elite athletes and high-profile events, and an accomplished runner and triathlete in his own right, the concept of being swept or nearly swept at a race was entirely alien.

Last month, Wall Street Journal reporter, Kevin Helliker, authored a controversial article entitled: "The Slowest Generation".  It reported on the rise of non-competitive running events or 'fun runs' in the younger generation, and suggested apathy is the cause of declining overall performance.  This was much discussed in the social media circles of the running community, and proved to be a rather divisive topic.  We even had a little discussion on the Running Happily Ever After blog's facebook page about this at the time.  It appeared to put race participants into two types:  the hardworking goal-oriented competitive runner or the apathetic, non-athletic hipster (ignoring the fact that merely registering for a running event - even a 'fun run' is neither apathetic, nor hip).

What is missing is the perspective from a third type.

You know the one.  This runner is someone who wants to get in better shape. She is not a gifted athlete, but she puts in training miles and works her butt off for each and every gain, however small. None of it comes naturally - or easily.  She has a favorite race distance: be it 5K, 10K, 13.1Mi, or something else.  Being a podium finisher seems completely unattainable. (But she dreams about it sometimes.)  She enjoys solitary runs, but welcomes the idea of running partner or group.  A fun run seems like a good chance to get family and/or less-active friends involved in a non-intimidating fitness activity.  She not-so-secretly hopes they will love it, and ask to train with her.  

Now we all know the first type, the competitive runner - a star athlete.  But I doubt that the second type: apathetic hipster even exists.  More than likely, if you are reading this blog, chances are you recognize yourself in the third, unnamed type. You may be middle or back of the pack.  You may have some of the competitive streak, but you are definitely not a hipster.

So it is the voice of that third type that was missing in that article.  And wow! There are a lot of us.

His follow-up article: "The Slowest Generation Strikes Back" addresses the backlash from the first.  And he gives the 'recreational' runners their voice.

His most recent article, "Dodging the Balloon Ladies", published on Oct. 16, 2013, goes even further and highlights the challenges of the back-of-the-pack runner.  You see, not everyone at the 'back of the pack' is a non-athletic hipster. The competitive runners will never see a balloon lady or a sweeper. But, there many  people like me, and fellow bloggers also quoted: DisneyWithChildren.com's Beth Barbara and The Incredible Shrinking Krista that have.    


We are that segment of runners and walkers that train for months - and still struggle to keep a pace at or near the cutoff of 16min/mi that runDisney has put in place.  I can't say I am proud of my 2013 Princess Half experience, because I am not and never will be.  Of course, I'm very grateful I wasn't swept.  But I want so desperately to do a race without constantly looking over my shoulder for the balloons or sweeper vans.  Until that day comes, I can't really relax, can I?

Not knowing what to expect, I was apprehensive about the balloon lady article coming out.  I didn't know how, or if I would even be included.  I was not worried that the reporter would make me look bad.  He was extremely cordial, and very complimentary about my race recap and writing.  Quite honestly, I feared public mockery that might come from a bigger audience.  

This little blog here is followed almost exclusively by other runDisney aficionados and running/fitness bloggers.  And this community is the best I have ever encountered.  Those of you whom DisneyGroom and I know in real life, and also through social media are supportive and compassionate and encouraging to all: runners, walkers, and wheelchair athletes.  I can openly say I am slow - but I am out there trying and keeping at it.  And I get thumbs up and "keep at it" in return.  This is a warm, happy, safe place.

A national newspaper - well, I would be exposed as the next-to-last-to-cross-the-finish-line participant that I am.  To readers that have never experienced a Disney race.  To readers that don't know how much I prepared - and still came up wanting. I would be the fat girl who just barely dragged herself across the finish.  That is not who I want to be.

So it's been a few days, and the negativity hasn't come.  The article was not controversial like the previous ones.  In fact, to someone that doesn't run Disney events, it probably is not even very interesting.  

Jeff Galloway was quoted as saying competitive runners "don't realize... that these races are serious athletic events for back-of-the-pack runners".  Faron Kelley, runDisney marketing director, calls us "athletes", and recognizes that staying ahead of the balloon ladies is an accomplishment.  These guys see us out there at every race.  Jeff's training plans have helped thousands, including me, to start and finish what we set out to do: complete the race and cross that line.  In many ways, these two guys are my Running Fairy Godfathers, as they showed me the path I am currently following. (Although I doubt either would appreciate that particular honorific.)  

Some reactions to this article I have heard is the same criticism from the first two articles. That the WSJ 'just doesn't get it' - it meaning the back of the pack experience.  Yes that is true.  They didn't get it 100% right.  It isn't enough to walk briskly and avoid the photo stops.  That may help some, but it won't work for everyone.

In my efforts to keep this blog upbeat, I focus on finishing my races.  I don't focus on the fact that in some small local races I occasionally get a "police escort" - a special kind of honor guard reserved for a last place runner, as local law enforcement re-opens the roads behind you.  I can tell you it is embarrassing and frustrating, and many of you will feel sympathetic.

But until you have run a mile in my running shoes, mine or any members of the Back of the Parade Brigade, can you really understand what it is like to have sweepers at your back?  Probably not.  But I am grateful to a national newspaper for taking enough interest to try, I am grateful they've acknowledged the struggles we have. 

And I am grateful for the love and support from friends, family, and our bigger circle of running friends and blog readers.  I've come a long way since the Princess Half, and I still have a long way to go.

Thank you.  For following the highs and lows. For sharing your stories. For sticking with me on this journey.


This story made around the cast members at Disney and I know I shared it with my running buddies. As a back of the packer that has had encounters with the balloon ladies I completely understand. Thanks for sharing your story!


Wonderful and inspiring story!


Thanks Amanda! That's so cool you are a castmember! When is your next runDisney race?


Thanks Naomi. I kept saying there are many runners with stories much more interesting than mine, and I provided the reporter several other blogger names to contact. Feeling very humbled to have been included at all.


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