We ran to Tahiti. After four years, nine months, and 1 day of dreaming, running, and planning, we are in Tahiti. We ran 4,109 miles to Tahiti and now we are here. Friends, family, and perfect strangers have cheered us on. And we are here.
I very much dislike the phrase “there are no words…” I’m guilty of using it, and at the very least feeling tempted to use it, especially on significant occasions. My wedding day. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon. Running to Tahiti. To feel so much all at once, each sense stimulated, oh how VERY tempting to sit back in that cornucopia of wonder and proclaim “There are no words!”
There are words. There are always wonderful words. Just as there exists a perfect combination of pigment to capture every color of the rainbow, there exists a perfect combination of words to describe every human experience under the sun. There are words. There are always words. What is undeniably difficult is putting them together in the right order – mixing the pigment. In moments such as this, having just returned from a day of snorkeling with dozens of blacktip sharks and kissing sting rays in a crystalline blue lagoon, the right words elude me. Having escaped to picnic on a tiny motu encircled by a seemingly infinite spread of coral reef, and having watched a Polynesian man named Siki teach my husband to open a coconut with his bare hands and a stick, and meet a real life Nemo in a mustard yellow anemone, and kiss a tiki God left stranded on the beach, and learnt to make ceviche from scratch, and stared in disbelief at the electric shade of turquoise that water can be, and did I mention the swimming with sharks? The words are tricky.
Words transported me here. In every story about a far off land. In every tale about a found paradise. Words are our first wings. We read and our minds travel where our eyes can’t yet go. One day we decide to seek the worlds our minds have created. We go in search of Hemingway’s Paris, and Dickens’ London, and Fitzgerald’s New York. We seek Tahiti – the island to which our imagination is already well acquainted. And when we do, we remember that words took us there first.
There are always words. Find the right ones in the right combination and take us where you are. We all want to go. Since I am currently in a magical land, I’ll go first.
I write this from the balcony of the oldest hotel in Moorea. It’s called Club Bali Hai and the lobby looks like a real life Enchanted Tiki Room. Each time I all but hear the name “Club Bali Hai” I sing the mysterious ballad from South Pacific. I bet you are now too. Since this is Moorea’s oldest hotel we are certain it’s haunted. The sun is set and there are only two lights I see in Tahiti. Brad and I of course, but mostly a mysterious pair across Cook’s bay, blinking on and off as if transmitting a code across the sea. I think about Gatsby, and the green light. These aren’t green, they are white, but just as mysterious. Why are those lights blinking? Who lives there? Do they know their lights are communicating? Below us, stray but friendly cats and dogs stroll across the lawn as if on a promenade. There are so many stray cats here, they ease the missing of my own two fur babies back home. How sad Sharky and Mr. Wizard can’t go on adventures. I’m certain they would rather be Polynesian cats chasing crabs. Crabs the size of mangoes that try to hide their presence creeping from hole to hole, which they’ve burrowed so desperately in the ground. How reluctantly these curmudgeonly crabs traverse where sky meets land. They so clearly prefer the under. Under the soil, under the sea. Why must they come up at all if perhaps only to show us that they exist? When the sun sets in Tahiti every other soul disappears. I swear Brad and I are the only humans on this island. All is quiet except the buzz of bugs, the click of crabs, and the gentle flutter of a man-made waterfall in a nearby swimming pool. The ocean is silent. The sun sets and each set of people obviously transports to an alternate dimension where they are the only inhabitants in their world, sitting on balconies in haunted hotels in the middles of the world’s largest oceans – waiting for the sun to rise, and the chance to collide with other sets of peoples in one shared paradise. Tomorrow a rooster will crow at approximately 6:30 am. Tomorrow we will dive below, and see what words can be said about Moorea under the sea.
I’m no master wordsmith but I believe such masters exist. Perhaps for me, and for you my readers, perhaps there are no words I can adequately assemble to paint you the picture of this paradise. I will keep trying, but until then… some terribly inadequate visuals to accompany my inadequate words. I finish today thinking of one word in particular. Gift. What a tremendous gift.
I’m not bad with money, per se. Not horrible. I pay my bills on time, always, and keep a very organized record of my accounts. My problem is that I have bills in the first place. My problem is that I enjoy spending money and usually on things. I love things. Aren’t things awesome? I love shoe things and clothes things and book things. Yay things! Then I run to Tahiti, and I realize that things are not actually purchased with money. They are purchased with units of my life. Yikes. My life is made up of a lot of running shoes.
Money is just an invention, right? It’s a placeholder, but for what? For time. So when I spend $80 on a pair of discount Asics that I don’t reeeeally need I’m not giving away $80. I’m giving away approximately 4 hours of my life. You may be willing to trade cold heartless cash for cool stuff, but are you willing to trade your time?
Five days a week I trade in my time, eight hours a day, for money. Why? The marketing machine that is commercial capitalism wants you to believe that you trade your time in for money so that you can go out and buy things. Things will give you meaning (false). Things will fulfill you (false.) Things will make you happy (ok SOMEtimes). Then the rush of those things wears off and you have to go out and buy more things to feel that false sense of fulfillment. You have to work harder to get more money to buy more things, but you’re working so hard to buy those things you barely have time to enjoy them so their meaning diminishes even more but the quest for happiness does not and so you do it. You work harder, you take on another job, you trade in more of your lifetime, (Think about that word. Life. Time.) to acquire more things that continue to fail to give your life meaning. You’ve given away the precious time of your life for the acquisition of ultimately meaningless things.
Is that what I want my life to be? Running shoes and book bags? (Dammit if I don’t LOVE a good book bag). Not if I don’t have time to go running or to read the books I’ve put in my bag. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country and a time that afford me the ability to work for a decent income; one that gives me a roof over my head, a steady stream of food on the table, a car to get around, cat food for the furry babies, and a little extra for a new hat. Good lord I’m practically royalty. Grateful grateful, I’m very grateful. I have just what I need to be comfortable, and then some. The trick is to not spend the “then some” but earmark it for an investment in a meaningful life.
This all seems rather logical but we’re brainwashed in the western world from such an early age to value things. Toys, video games, treats, presents. These are the epicenters of many an American child’s world. I don’t necessarily believe in complete deprivation of material goods to combat this. I truly loved my Teddy Ruxpin doll and Little Mermaid sleeping bag. At some point it’s an important lesson to learn however that these things did not make me who I am. What made me who I am are the friendships I cultivated at the slumber parties where I used my Little Mermaid sleeping bag, and the imagination sparked in my mind by talking to a teddy bear who could talk back. Friendship, imagination, kindness, play. These are the elements of my childhood that made me who I am, despite the fact that Disney and Toys R Us would have me believe it was the things themselves.
And so no, I do not completely discredit the value of things. I am more likely to write a better story in a beautiful journal with a fancy pen than I am on a boring black and white composition notebook. I will walk with more confidence in an outfit that makes me feel beautiful than an ill-fitting dress I’ve had for 10 years. Just remember it’s the story that matters. It’s the confidence. The things are just tools.
A light bulb goes off as soon as we start planning our trip to Tahiti. This four-year endeavor has been its own form of internal currency trade, but I never realize the weight of that until I begin to think about giving the currency away. Each dollar we put into savings represents a hard-earned mile. So a couple of months ago as I research the cost of a diving expedition in Bora Bora, I feel this overwhelming resistance to lay down the $200 to pay for it because it’s not two hundred dollars I’m giving away. It’s two hundred miles! It takes us a lot of time, sweat, and energy to run two hundred miles and come time to give it away I have to make absolutely certain that it’s worth it. And that’s when it hits me. ALL of my money should be this precious. Why is it so easy to justify a quick afternoon blowing $50 on Zappos when it is so difficult to put down $200 for a once-in-a-lifetime experience we’ve been saving for years to have? Damn, my perspective is OFF. In that moment my paradigm did that shifting thing it sometimes does, and I no longer saw the numbers in my bank account as just numbers. I saw them as units of time; of my life. Very precious.
So what IS the point of money? Can’t we just get rid of it and all live in a utopia where money is obsolete and we help each other do what needs to get done? Then we don’t have to worry about all of this trading of time and money thing and we’ll just get straight to the happiness and meaning part. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not the way our world is set up and frankly I’m not interested in changing the structure of society. What I am interested in is a meaningful life. Stripping away things for only a moment brings quickly into focus what gives my life meaning: My family. My friends. Art. Connection. Travel. Animals. Books. Sunsets. Spirituality. Great stories. Adventures. My husband. My cats. Service. So what do I need money for? I need it for the security it affords me to spend time with my family. To see the rainforest before I die. To be with my community. To make art. To insure that the last 20 years of my life won’t be spent stressed out and panicked about debt but relaxed, and enjoying the people I love and cherish. Just the right amount of money can give me the security to infuse my life with an abundance of meaning. Too much (or too little) can make me mistake the money for meaning itself.
So thank you, whatever inspiration visited my brain and gave me the idea of Running to Tahiti. Not only has it been an incredibly fulfilling journey unto itself, it’s given me perhaps the most important life lesson I’ve encountered. Money can buy you happiness… if you spend it on a hard-earned plane ticket to Tahiti where you’re sure to have a truly meaningful adventure.
But only if you don’t blow it on running shoes first.
I’ve convinced myself that what happened at the race on Sunday happened so that I would have great material to write about for my blog. Who wants to read about something going as planned? Don’t worry, you won’t.
Running has given me life lessons at every turn and last weekend’s half marathon is no exception. You can plan and plan and plan for something and when it comes right down to it you can’t control what happens at go time.
I start the weekend with enthusiasm and confidence. I know I have trained hard and I have trained strong. I am ready. More ready for a race than ever before. There is practically nothing that can stop me from murdering my personal record.
I am so excited about my costume choice and have even convinced Brad to dress up as the White Rabbit.
We make it down to the starting corral at 5:00 am and the nerves start to kick in. Not everything is perfect after all. I have a pinched nerve in my back that seems to flare up only at times it is unwelcome. Despite my best efforts to get up extra early and drink copious amounts of coffee I have not yet “gone to the bathroom.” Pardon me for the crudeness but this is a very important issue for runners. And lastly, I remember that my last long race was not strong at all. It was an 8 miler and it almost got the best of me. These things start to play on my confidence and I feel it wane a bit.
I suffer from allowing my race day energy to disguise itself as worry as I wait in my corral for the 45 minutes before we start running. Something I need to work on. Thankfully the energy is quickly put to good use as we move across the starting line. I feel the nerves turn into running fuel. We start strong. 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1.. GO! The race is off.
At just a 1/4 mile into the race Brad and I hear a loud smack and see a poor runner just to our right take a nasty face-plant into the pavement. Those street lane bumps, they’ll get you every time. It’s a bad spill and I feel so sorry for her. She gets up rather quickly, although I don’t know if she is able to stay in the race. I think to myself “Geez I’m glad that wasn’t me,” coupled with an eerie shadow of foreboding. I shake it off and keep running. Watch your footing, I tell myself.
The race is fantastic. I feel so strong. We’re passing people left and right which clearly means we’re going to pace out with a group much faster than in previous year’s. We do have to stop in Fantasyland for a bathroom break (dang coffee, NOW you kick in!) but luckily there is no line so it’s only about a 3 minute delay. Still. 3 minutes mean a lot to a runner trying to beat a PR. But it can’t be helped.
There’s not much else to say about the next 5 miles. They are incredible. I feel strong. I feel fast. I even feel a runner’s high start to kick in. I have a killer playlist to boot. Amazing what music does to put pep in your step. Good, good, better, better. Let’s skip to mile 8, shall we?
We turn the corner to enter Angel Stadium. This is one of Brad and my’s favorite spots on the course. There are so many people in the stadium there cheering us on. It’s exactly the burst of energy we need at mile 9 to get through the next 4 miles. We turn the corner to exit the stadium and that’s when it happens. I fall down the rabbit hole. The operative word being fall.
I have a fair amount of Disney music on my half marathon playlist. What can I say? I love it. Have you ever run to “Out There” from Hunchback of Notre Dame? Or even better, “Go the Distance” from Hercules? You’ll never run faster. I have one song on my playlist to pay homage to our costumes for the day. This song:
This is the song that Alice sings right before she falls down the rabbit hole. This is the song that plays as I turn the corner out of the stadium, catch half of my foot on the cement walkway and half on the dirt sidewalk, and fall on my face. This is the song that plays as I fall down a rabbit hole of my own, I kid you not. Not only do I seem to live my life in metaphors, I seem to actually BE Alice.
Many emotions and thoughts race through your body and brain when you fall in a moment like that. Amazingly you run the entire gamut of emotions in just the few short seconds it takes you to hit the ground. Forgive the dramatics as I describe this experience but the reason for them is that I have huge expectations for this race. I know what stellar shape I’m in. I know that we’re ahead of our PR and if we just keep at pace, we’ll beat it by a landslide. As I fall, first I feel denial. I feel that I can stop myself. I feel that I can catch my footing. Then I realize I can’t. Then I feel embarrassment. Good lord how embarrassing to fall in front of all these runners. And in a petticoat no less. I suddenly feel silly for wearing it. Then I feel dread. Oh no. I can’t believe I just fell. I can’t believe that just happened. What does this mean? I try to assess the damage but I can’t tell yet. Oh God what if I can’t finish?? I look down and see that I’ve scraped my knee rather dramatically. What just a moment ago was was a gleaming pair of white tights is now a torn dirty bloody rip across my knee. I don’t care about that. I can run with a scraped knee. What I care about is that I can tell something is wrong with my ankle. A new level of denial kicks in. No way. My ankle is FINE. I give it a good rub. A runner who is right in front of me when I fall is so kind. Even though she sees Brad is there to help me, she stops and helps me up and shows true concern on her face. She tells me just to stand for a few minutes before I start running again. There is something about her. She doesn’t show me pity. She looks truly concerned. She shows solidarity. I read in her face “girl, this happens to everyone at some point.” I won’t forget that woman and her random act of kindness. It really comforts me in that moment.
I take her advice and Brad and I stand there for a few minutes to see if I can put weight on my ankle. In the back of my mind I know it doesn’t matter. I am finishing this race if I have to crawl to the finish line. A few minutes of walking and I start to pick up the pace again. The tingling in my ankle seems to have stopped and I feel pretty much fine putting my complete weight on it and getting back to our previous pace. I figure I’m lucky. That I just escaped really twisting or spraining it and won’t be injured at all other than my bloody knee. I underestimate the power of adrenaline. Looking back I know now that a huge dose of the wonder hormone surged straight towards my bad ankle and let me finish the race. Adrenaline is an amazing thing. Human bodies are amazing things. Of course a day later I’ve got a knot the size and color of ripe plum on the side of my foot, but in that moment I think I’m in the clear.
Within just a few minutes we’re flying again. I feel strong and fast and I’m doing my best just to laugh off the fall. Focus and determination to cross that finish line prevent me from looking back. Prevent me from playing the moment over and over again in my head and trying to undo it somehow. That would come in time.
I do my best to really pick up the pace these last few miles. I know we lost at least 4 minutes with the fall. We turn the corner at the end of mile 12 and I can’t believe how amazing I feel. I see a group of runners doing burpees at the mile 13 sign. Ok, so I don’t feel THAT good, but by my standards I’ve never felt better. The finish line is in sight and I fly toward it. At this point I try not to think about my time and just focus on finishing strong. I’ve never experienced the half marathon finish like this. Not a single ounce of nausea. Barely any fatigue. Minimal muscle tightening. I really could have gone farther. We fly through the finish line, Donald and Goofy cheering from the sidelines. Brad feels good enough to proclaim that he feels like he could run a marathon right now. Now there’s an idea.
Not too much time goes by and thoughts previously put at bay by determination and adrenaline start to creep into my mind.
WHY DID I HAVE TO FALL?????
Ugh. Why? How hard is it to put one foot in front of the other? How could I fall? I try to visualize it in my head in slow-mo and I can’t figure out how it happened. One minute I’m running, the next minute I’m eating dirt. If only I had been more careful with my footing. If only I hadn’t been so over zealous in trying to pass people. I would have stayed more on the center of the track and not gone near that lip that tripped me. If only I hadn’t chased that white rabbit. If only… if only… if only. I know it’s just the Disneyland Half Marathon. I know it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But I was doing so well! Why did I have to fall on my best run ever? Why couldn’t I fall on a mediocre run when there was less at stake?
I immediately start thinking about the Olympics. So many Olympian runners have fallen at clinch moments. 1st place with just 200M left and a hurdle gets ’em. Down they go along with their dreams of gold medal glory. If I feel this bad after falling during the Disneyland Half Marathon, I really can’t imagine how those Olympians who have suffered a similar fate felt when their life’s dreams slipped away. Truly. My heart goes out to you.
Even with these thoughts running through my head trying to undo what happened, the truth is I don’t feel terrible. I feel awesome. I feel better than ever before and though I don’t share Brad’s immediate confidence that I could run 26.2 miles in that exact moment, for the first time ever I start to think that one day I probably could.
Then I start thinking about our time. Brad used the Nike+ running app (which he is now completely converted to thanks to my review), to track our time so we’d be able to see our splits. We look at the final results. 2:33. Last year’s time, 2:43. That’s not bad. We didn’t shave 15 minutes off but we shaved 10, and that’s pretty darn good.
This realization is bittersweet. I know that this will not be our official chip time. Brad paused the app during our bathroom breaks and during my stumble incident, so while this is an accurate depiction of the amount of time it took us to literally run 13.1 miles, it’s not our official time. 2:33 is the time it took us minus all of the obstacles that got in our way, but it’s the obstacles that get in your way and what it takes you to overcome them that give you your real record. That’s why official times matter. Because you can’t subtract the obstacles from your life to measure your success. They have to factor in or the success is not real, it’s sterilized.
So how long did it officially take us to run the Disneyland Half Marathon this year? 2:39. Even with two bathroom breaks (one extra long) and a pretty dramatic tumble in Angel Stadium, we still shaved 4 minutes off of our race time. We still finished with a personal record. So why am I so dissatisfied?
Last year’s race and this year’s were so different. Last year’s training regimen was weak. We ran the race with zero stops, bathroom breaks or otherwise, and finished at 2:43. If what had happened this year on the course had happened last year I know that 2:43 would have been closer to 2:55. So somewhere in my heart I know that I actually did cut 15 minutes off of my race time. But it doesn’t count. What I did was cut 15 minutes off of my ability, and there’s value to that, but the official time is the official time. We run races for a reason. A race is what you do with 15,000 other runners around you. A race is what you do with a course you’ve never been on before. A race is what you do in a sudden rainstorm, or freezing weather. A race is how fast you pick yourself up when you fall down. A race is what you do knowing the clock won’t stop to make it easier. You can train for years and when it comes right down to it, you can’t control what happens on race day. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control your bowels, you can’t control if you fall (well, you can control it but you definitely can’t reverse it). You can never run in perfect conditions. This is why runner’s run races. Because life isn’t sterilized. Life doesn’t hand you perfect conditions so when you succeed in spite of the challenges, the success is so sweet and so worthy of celebration.
When a race doesn’t go exactly as planned, the challenges that got in your way motivate you to try again and circumvent them completely. Yes we finished with a new personal record. In the face of the obstacles presented to us we did incredibly well and yes, without those obstacles we would have done even better. Without those obstacles I would have accomplished what I set out to do, and that is cut 15 minutes off of my official time. Knowing that I’m ready to achieve that motivates me like crazy. We did everything we should have done. We trained right. We ran strong. Everything else was out of our control. Let’s just say, I’m counting down the weeks until Half Marathon 2013. I will not be falling again.
Next installment of Running to Tahiti, “my visit to Wonderland.”
Half Marathon training week 5 has come and gone! We are officially halfway to race day. So sorry that I didn’t post a schedule last week. I was too busy running! That’s no excuse. There may be at least one person who reads this blog and tries to keep up with the training schedule. To that loyal runner and reader, I apologize. Let’s get back on track here in week 6! But first, some great highlights from the past week and a half.
I ran 10 miles!!!! 10.5 to be exact. I could not believe it when Saturday approached and I looked at the training calendar. How did we already make it to the double-digit runs? Time has flown by and yet, Brad and I have not let the training schedule fly by with it. We’ve been scrupulous this year, following every training mile to a tee, and it’s paying off. The added miles are getting easier, the pace is slowly quickening. (Slowly quickening? Jumbo shrimp? Whatever it makes sense to me.)
So there I am on Saturday morning, knowing what challenge lies ahead of me. I intend to get up early and hit the pavement so as not to encounter that evil midday sun.We all know how that goes. But I wake up at 8:00 am with a cat snuggling on my belly and come on, I simply cannot move him. It would be cruel!
So I close my eyes for a few more minutes and before I know it, it’s 11:00am. Looks like it’s going to be a midday run whether I like it or not. I pray for marine layer, or at least a cool breeze. I get up and make a plan for the day.
11:00 – 12:00 slowly get up and get dressed
12:00 – 1:00 fuel up. Lots of carbs and water.
1:00 – 2:00 take a walk down Main Street and burn off some of the carbs so as to avoid a sideache during run.
2:00 – 4:00 RUN!
Steps 1 – 3 go off without a hitch. 2:00 approaches and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about the impending workout. Like I said, I have notoriously mixed results on these long training runs and today I will be in trouble if I get sick. Brad is out of town so there will be no one to come rescue me if I collapse on the sidewalk in heat exhaustion. I make a couple of promises to myself and I’m certain it’s these promises that make for such a successful run.
1) Don’t worry about speed. Go as slow as you need to, especially in the beginning. Don’t. Worry.
2) Don’t be an idiot. If you start to feel sick or weird, just stop and walk home. Don’t. Be. An. Idiot.
These things may sound obvious but to my stubborn brain they are not. I have before run to the brink of hospitalization so I need to actively remind myself that it’s simply not worth it. What I fear most about running long distances is not that I will get sick or die, it’s that I won’t be able to finish. Kind of twisted, isn’t it? In giving myself permission to fail, and to not finish, I feel the anxiety about the mileage ahead quickly evaporate and I take off on my run, fearlessly.
I want to take you through every moment, but I know I can’t capture them. What I’ll say is this, every moment was full. I ran for two solid hours and I’ve never felt so present and grateful for time. I often spend my running time daydreaming. Not so much on these 10 miles. Or rather, it was a different kind of daydreaming. Rather than imagining far off lands and distant dreams, I was inspired by the land around me. I didn’t listen to any music or podcasts. Didn’t have my ear buds in at all. Just ran in the moment listening to the world around me, occassionally talking to myself, and taking in the beautiful California landscape.
I started this blog because I originally wanted to write about running and travel. I love to travel. My favorite way to explore a new place is to run in it. It gets in your blood that way. When you run you inhale so much oxygen into your system and your brain releases so many happy endorphins that I believe you literally breathe in the world around you in a deeper way when you run through it as opposed to drive or even walk. I looked out at the sea I ran next to and it looked more beautiful to me than the day before. I looked up at the blue sky and felt the sun seep into my skin. (My spf covered skin. Wear sun screen!) I felt the sea breeze blow across my face and was incredibly grateful for its cool kiss. I let myself off the hook for running fast and I freed myself from the fear of getting sick, and in return I got the most exhilarating two hours to myself that I will draw upon whenever I feel overwhelmed or anxious. I’ll remember back to that Saturday run that it was just me and my breath and the pavement and the sky.
I finished strong. Achy and THIRSTY, to be sure, but strong. 10.5 miles of presence. 10.5 miles of bliss.
Some survival tips for a long run. Before I left for breakfast I filled both of my belt bottles with water and stuck them in the freezer. That way I was ensured ice cold water for almost the entire 10 miles. I know there are trainers out there who will caution against drinking ice water when you’re exerting so much energy. It can be a shock to the system but it’s also a lifesaver if you start to overheat. For me, I’m all about ice water. I also made sure to wear my hat which kept the midday sun out of my eyes and off my scalp. And last but not least, sun screen. So crucial. The last thing you want is burned skin after a long hard run. First because it’s just plain bad for you. Cancer anyone!? Second because your body is going to be so heated after your workout and burned skin will make it that much harder for your body temp to come down. Not to mention how uncomfortable you’ll be. Don’t think twice. Just wear screen.
At the end of this post I’ll list the training schedule for both the Half Marathon runners and those on the Couch-to-5k™ program for this week. But first, I wanted to share some photos with you. This is why I love where I live. Look where I get to run!
And here’s the schedule for this week:
Monday – 4 miles
Wednesday – 5 miles
Thursday – 4 miles
Saturday – 11 miles
Family Fun Run 5k
Monday – Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
Jog 3/4 mile (or 8 minutes)
Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
Wednesday – Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes)
Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
Jog 1 mile (or 10 minutes)
Friday – Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then: jog 2-1/4 miles (or 22 minutes) with no walking.
Do you have a blissful running moment to share? Write them in the comments below and inspire us all!
Today marks the 57th birthday of The Happiest Place on Earth. What a brilliant tagline. Walt Disney was pretty good at that. Branding. He was good at many things and while there are many who fault him for this or that, I can’t help but admire the guy. Through the desire to create and innovate he developed, well, the happiest place on earth. There may be things wrong with the Disney company. It is one of the largest corporations in the world. What large corporation is perfect? (are you reading this on your iPhone?) I won’t focus today on what Disney could do better, though I’m sure there is a list. Today I focus on what Disney does better than anyone else.
If you have followed my writing at all you must know that I am a bonified Disney nerd. Why? Why do I like it? I’m sure many of my friends and family wonder that. Why do I like something that is ultimately made for kids? I’ve never really been able to articulate a proper answer to that question. Why do I love Disney and specifically Disneyland so much? Sure there’s the obvious answer. It’s a theme park. It is by definition a place to have fun. There are rides. There is junk food. Six Flags has those things too. As does Universal Studios. So what makes Disneyland special? I shall try to put it into words.
Passion, love and ideas are the driving force of life but they aren’t worth anything if one can’t find a way to communicate them. This is what art is for. This is what literature is for. Heck, this is what science is for. (Carl Sagan communicates more passion through his study of the cosmos than I read in most plays or hear in most songs). I admire deeply the masters who can articulate exactly how and why they feel something. Whatever the feeling is, doesn’t matter, if what they communicate makes me understand them, I’m on board. I’m moved. I admire that ability greatly perhaps because I count myself bad at it. I’m an actor. I need other writer’s words to be able to communicate my passion. I just finished playing Mary Warren in The Crucible. My favorite role to date. Mary Warren told my story more than I could have told it on my own. I’m grateful to Arthur Miller for writing it. So what am I getting at here? I’m trying to build up the courage to explain why I love Disneyland so much and prefacing it by saying that I’m not sure I’ll be able to. Yet, I think there’s something in my love for the place that goes beyond the place itself. I want to share it. So here goes. For its birthday I bestow upon the Mouse House a humble gift, a love letter to Disneyland. I don’t have the skill to compose a song about it. I don’t have the skill to paint it. I don’t have the money to make a movie about it. But I can write. I can write about it and hopefully you will read it, and you will look for your own Disneyland in life. Your own place that elicits imagination and possibility. Here goes…
I don’t remember my first trip to Disneyland. I believe I was 5. I know it was a big trip with aunts and uncles and grandparents. I know we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel. I know we made the obligatory day trip over to Knott’s Berry Farm and counted the hours until we went back to Disneyland. These are things I’ve been told about the trip. They are not things I remember. I have a vague memory of feelings. Can you remember feelings? I think so, but not until you feel them again. That’s when you’re reminded that you’ve felt them before. When the familiarity strikes you like lightning. This, I believe, this mingling of faint memories to emotions is what ultimately made Disneyland a mythical place in my life.
About 5 years after that first trip, we started planning another with my brother, my mom, and our family friend Erin (a fellow lifelong Disney fan). My brother gets excited about things. Really excited. Perhaps obsessive. Especially as a kid. Perhaps only as a kid actually. I haven’t seen the same level of unbridled frantic joy about anything since those years. When he visits me in L.A. I always ask him if he wants to go to Disneyland in the hopes that I’ll rekindle some of that fire in him. It doesn’t really work. He’s grown out of it, I think by choice. Or maybe he really is, just, over it. Nowadays he just makes fun of me, for I have chosen not to grow out of it. And I think I’m the better for it.
In the weeks leading up to our trip down south, we would get home from school every day and watch Disney Sing-a-Long: Disneyland Fun
When I say repeat, I mean, literally, repeat. A couple of times a day, every day, for several weeks. So here is my first point of analysis. Why did this excite me so? Why did I love this video so much and why did I get more excited about this trip to Disneyland than I did about a new Barbie, or a trip to the State Fair, or Knott’s Berry Farm. It must have been those cloudy feelings that I couldn’t put images to from when I was 5. I think my 10 year old self yearned to remember what it was that made me so deliriously happy. There was mystery in it and that intrigued me. I couldn’t wait to get there, and to remember.
I won’t go through the details of this trip to Disneyland. It would take me the entire chapter of a book let alone a simple page on a blog. I will say this. It was the trip. You know which one I’m talking about Disney fans. You all have one. That one trip that cements your status as a Disney nerd forever. You can repress it for the rest of your life but once you’ve had that special trip, somewhere within you there will always be a little kid who wants to go to Disneyland. You can let that little kid come out once in awhile, or you can bury it. I let mine out quite frequently.
I was thinking a few weeks ago about how there is something inherently sad about being a Disneyland fan. Let me explain. I can’t remember being as in awe of anything as a child as I was when I first stepped foot back on Main Street. I’ve had more awestruck moments as an adult. Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Looking at the Sistine Chapel for the first time. Hearing Brad say “I’m falling in love with you” for the first time. These awe struck moments are treasured; but of my childhood memories that moment on Main Street takes the cake. We walked through the gates. “Here you leave today, and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” It was a perfect place. I could dream there about anything and everything and there would be no limit to my imagination. What more could a kid ask for?
Have you ever been to a place, or had a dream about a place, that felt so familiar yet you had no memory of it. Every time I turned a corner I uncovered something about the park that felt so familiar to me and brought back a flood of happy feelings, yet I couldn’t place them so I still enjoyed the place as if I was discovering it for the first time. In that way this trip was better than the first, for how many times in life do you get to rediscover something you love as if for the first time? You get one first love, one first kiss, one first trip to Disneyland. Not me, I felt like I got two. Going back to my previous comment, why is this sad? Because I can never get that back. I think many Disney fans spend lots of time in the parks waxing poetic about their previous experiences there, feeling nostalgic, and trying to reclaim that feeling of being 10 and like you’d just stepped into heaven. But you never can. As much as I love going to Disneyland to this day, obviously, it will never be like that again. Even if I didn’t go for the next 10 years and tried to forget everything, it wouldn’t be like that. I know almost every nook and cranny in that park. I will never again turn a corner and not know what I will find. I will never be in awe of Fantasmic like I was for the first time. I will never get the same giddy bubbles in my heart when I’m driving down the 5 and see the Matterhorn poking up next to the freeway. I will never be 10 years old and be allowed to express that kind of unbridled excitement. There is something sad about growing up. Going to Disneyland now is both a bittersweet reminder of that fact as well as a welcome allowance to get back in touch with the wide-eyed little girl I once was.
There are ways to deal with this inherently sad aspect of being heartsick for a child’s view of Disneyland. You become an annual passholder like me and go three or four times a year to try and capture a fleeting moment of that joyful nostalgia, and in the other 59 seconds of every minute you enjoy a new kind of Disneyland experience; one where you know every window on Main Street and know what the light in the window of the firehouse stands for. Or you don’t really go anymore but you hold on to the memories of loving the place as a kid. Or you go there once maybe every 5-10 years if you’re invited by a group of friends or an event of some sort. Or you bury that child within you and try to focus on being an adult. Adults don’t go to Disneyland. Adults don’t play with toys. Adults don’t get nostalgic. Adults move forward. Or, you never liked Disneyland in the first place, in which case, I hope you have some place or some thing from your childhood that was the equivalent.
What else is it? It must be more than just memories that make a place special? And why DO kids like it so much? I asked my brother that one time and he answered with this, “Because it’s theatre. Disneyland is theatre.” And that’s exactly it. The theatre is a place of dreams and ideas and fantasy reflecting off of reality. Everything in Disneyland is fake, and I know this is what turns a lot of people off of it. It’s what turns me on. It’s the most elaborate theatrical set I have ever seen. Every cobblestone on the street, every boulder, every door, every piece of music playing in the background is all part of an elaborate artistic design to tell a story. Many stories actually. Many stories that make up one story, the story of Disneyland. I mean how incredible is that? In real theatres, we get one stage (Most of the time anyway. I once went to a play in London that took place in the underground tunnel system and we walked through several tunnels to see the play, but that’s rare.) Most of the time, you get one stage, and you get the best set designer possible to bring your little empty space to life. Disneyland is an entire LAND. You get to look at it up close and inspect it. You get to pretend you’re part of the fantasy. It’s immersive theatre, and it’s done well. It’s sensory. Every sense. Not enough can be said about the execution of this theatrical experience. I’m an annual passholder. I go to the park about 4 times a year. I’ve been going since I was 5. I always discover some new small detail I never noticed before. Even if you don’t like the “play” itself, you have to appreciate the artistic execution.
On top of everything and maybe most of all, I’m a dreamer. I have passionate dreams for this world and my place in it. Life is hard and drags down these dreams often. When I’m in Disneyland, it welcomes them. Disneyland fulfills a fantasy and a dreamer’s sensibility at every stage of her life. When I was young, the fantasies were imaginative. I was a princess, I was a dragon, I was fighting off snakes with Indiana Jones (who am I kidding? I still fantasize about that). When I was a tween, I fantasized about being independent and going places with my friends. When I was a teenager and finally went to Disneyland just with my friends, I fantasized about being in love, and going to Disneyland with a boy. Now I go to Disneyland with a boy, and we hold hands and watch the fireworks. Now I’ve started to fantasize about one day going to Disneyland with my kids. (Don’t worry sweetie, not quite yet). One day I hope to fantasize about going to Disneyland with their kids. Disneyland makes me interested in storytelling. It makes me interested in people. It makes me interested in history. It sparks creativity. Everything I’ve ever dreamt about accomplishing in life I would love to celebrate in Disneyland. Love, marriage, kids, career, family. I want it all, and I want to celebrate in the land. Because it’s there that we can let our freak flags fly. It’s there that we don’t have to worry about anyone telling us we can’t. Or anyone telling us we look stupid, or aren’t right, or aren’t being realistic. How many places can you go and find dozens of Monday thru Friday Executive types wearing Mickey Mouse ears? How many places in the world do you go where thousands of people all at once are full of joy, love, and excitement? How many places in the world do you go where thousands of people squeezed next to each other are all happy? There’s something to be said about that.
Disneyland started from an idea Walt had one day while watching his daughters on the merry-go-round at Griffith Park. He imagined a place where parents could take their children, and enjoy the day just as much as they would. Reeeeally enjoy it. Not just fake enjoy it because the kids are occupied and having fun. Disneyland is not just a place for kids. It’s a place for people who need to remember what it’s like to be a kid. What it’s like to dream, and to let the sky be limitless. After all, “Adults are only kids grown up.” -WD-
I’m certain that Disneyland does not and could not mean this to everyone, but this is what it means to me. If you don’t have a Disneyland, find one. It may be a book, or a song, or a city, or a park, or a toy. Hold on to what made you joyful as a child, for chances are the same will make you joyful today. And it will be a pure joy, full of possibility. So after 57 years of making billions of people all over the world smile, thank you. Happy birthday Disneyland.