Need Not Be Present To Run
You make a 4:30 a.m. phone call. You hear heavy breathing, moans, and squeals of delight as the person on the other end of the call is experiencing unseen thrills. While others have to pay for lewd 900-numbers for this kind of vicarious excitement, my family and friends simply needed to sign up for my Virtual Running Buddy program as I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon. That's right. You heard it here first! Once the readers of Colorado Runner hear about this, I'm certain that it will be the trendiest running fad since the walkman.
The beginnings of the idea took hold during one of my VERY long training runs; one which, unfortunately, I was running alone. Social runner that I am, conversation during long runs keeps me as happy as the Energizer Bunny. I just keep on going. On the other hand, running alone seems to have the power of causing time to go through some magical time warp. Suddenly, it's like running in some alternative world where clocks run at least 10 times slower. I was depressingly pondering the fact that I would soon be running a marathon for an estimated "real time" of 4.5 hours. Once I converted that, taking into account the magical slow-down factor, I calculated that, indeed, I would be running for what would seem like at least 45 hours. This could result in a very dangerous brain condition called insanity.
I tried to convince friends and family to join me in Orlando. They wouldn't have to run with me. Simply cheering me on from the sidelines might be enough to fuel my brain, hopefully enough to keep me from complete dementia. But, money, jobs, geography, life, and a fear of practicing sideline-brain-support without a license prevented anyone I knew from accompanying me on this life-and-death adventure.
How unfortunate that my Mom and sister, both of whom can talk on the phone with me for hours, were not runners. They certainly could send me a good burst of conversational brain fuel. Suddenly it came to me! I work for a company that promotes working from anywhere thanks to new technologies. In this age of laptops, PDAs, and cell phones, who needs to be physically present any more? We have virtual meetings. Why not virtual running buddies? Running with a cell phone and headset, auto-answer option enabled, I should be able to talk to friends and family throughout the whole marathon.
I emailed a wide distribution list describing my plan. Given the very early hours, especially considering time zone differences, I knew I'd need to use my powers of persuasion to get callers. I promised my potential VRBs 5-10 minutes of marathon experience without having to leave the cozy comfort of their beds. I appropriately set expectations, warning that I might not be doing much talking. There were some that welcomed that aspect of the program! I encouraged creativity, a comedy routine would be fine, thank you, but anything to distract would do. However, yawning, farting and burping were not allowed. I do have SOME boundaries. Normally, I would not have to mention such things, but my 11-year-old son was on my list, so I didn't want to take chances.
Responses were better than I could have hoped for. People from every chapter of my life signed up. Ages of my VRBs ranged from 11 to 70. Friends ranged from those I'd met in childhood to those I barely knew. There were friends I hadn't spoken with in years and those that I speak to daily. There were friends from school, friends from work, running friends, gal pals and flirt buddies, kids, siblings, and parents all ready and willing to be a VRB. As the email responses flew in, teasing me for my crazy ideas but supporting me with moving words of admiration, I suddenly realized I was in the middle of the biggest virtual party of my life.
My VRBs didn't let me down. Calling promptly at their appointed times, I was entertained throughout the entire 4.5 hours with songs, poems, quotes, quips, and even a sexy survey from Cosmopolitan. (For the record, I scored quite well.) For the first 20 miles or so, I described with high energy the sights and highlights as I passed through the theme parks and water stops. I delighted in proclaiming my perfectly paced timing... right on schedule at each mile marker! As I got closer to the end, my own ability to converse dwindling down to mere grunts of acknowledgement, I'm afraid my final VRBs didn't hear much more than the cheers from the crowds. There were times that I couldn't hear a word my VRB was saying, but I was loving that they were with me, whatever they were saying, hopefully feeling a fraction of the excitement that I was experiencing.
I realize now that there was no reason to fear the magical slowing of time during the Disney World Marathon. I didn't need my VRBs to provide entertainment. What they did provide was my own unique and wonderful cheering section throughout the race. I felt like I was experiencing some surreal version of "This is Your Life." They told me they were proud of me. They encouraged me to keep going. And they allowed me to share the wonders of an incredible experience virtually, but in real time. And in the end, four and half hours passed way too quickly.
- Yvette Francino