Since serving as a guide for a runner has different tasks for each athlete based on his or her needs, I wanted to make sure that I was able to fulfill the pace at which the runner was looking to do for the 5K. After talking with the Cigna team a bit about what expectations were for the athlete that I would be running with and a little bit about her story, I knew that I could do this and this is something that I most definitely wanted to take part in.
I was partnered with a wonderful woman, Debbie, and her 17-year old daughter, Natalie. In the weeks leading up to race weekend, I chatted with Debbie several times via email about what to expect at the 5K and answer any questions that she had about the race and the weekend in general. We also talked about her goals for the 5K and about the expectations that she had for herself as well as her guide.
I didn't get to meet Debbie and Natalie in person until the evening before the 5K at the Cigna team dinner. From the moment that the three of us met, we just "clicked". Even though we meshed well via email, I was hoping that the bond would be just a great in person (spoiler: we totally did).
When she returned to work, Debbie noticed that the pain from her accident was causing her productivity to decrease. After working with her employer to research resources to assist her with her health and professional goals, at this time Debbie was partnered with a Cigna vocational coach. After focusing on little changes such as using a sit-stand desk and walking more at the office, Debbie was able to increase her physical activity during the day.
Debbie’s vocational coach nominated Debbie to be an Achilles athlete at the Disneyland 5K over Labor Day weekend and was selected by Cigna to be a part of Team Cigna for her dedication for living a healthy and active lifestyle. Debbie described the opportunity to participate in the 2016 Disneyland 5K as being a “celebration of health and making my health a priority.”
Natalie: I was at home when my mom called me and said Cigna had offered to sponsor her for a 5K run in Disneyland, I was thrilled for her. Then she asked me to go with her and I became ecstatic. I thought it would be so amazing to run through Disneyland not only because it’s Disneyland, but because it would be a great experience to have with my mom (especially because it’s my senior year).
Debbie: I immediately signed up for a 5K in our town. I walked the 5K, but had a pretty good pace and most importantly, I had a lot of fun! For cross training, I participated in exercise classes 3 times a week at the hospital where I work.
Natalie: I started training back in May with my mom. We would work on both running and walking. I enjoy long distance running at my own pace and I was trying to help my mom get to that point because before she had only been walking. I also tried to be very active over the summer by going swimming, playing tennis, and walking everyday.
Brandi: This was my 3rd year running the Disneyland 5K (and 4th Disneyland Half Marathon weekend) and each year has come with it's own set of memories made along the way. I was most excited to get to be there for someone as they completed their first runDisney race, but the thing I was most looking forward to was their reaction to running through Sleeping Beauty Castle and down Main Street. These are two of my absolute favorite parts of the course and I was looking forward to sharing that with Debbie and Natalie.
Natalie: I expected our guide to help us not get lost and stay with us throughout the whole race which Brandi did a great job of doing.
Brandi: To be completely honest, I was a bit nervous going into my first guide experience. I never want to feel like I let someone down. After chatting with Debbie about their goals for the 5K, I felt a lot more confident especially when I knew that their top two goals were (1) finish and (2) have fun. Before getting to race day, I shared a lot of different tips about race day prep as well and the race in general to Debbie to help her feel confident that we will get this done together. Along the way, I was really cautious of pointing out uneven spots along the way (reflectors, uneven pavement, railroad tracks, etc) to keep her aware of potential hazards. My biggest part was definitely just sharing words of encouragement to Debbie and Natalie. Sometimes we all just need to hear "you are doing great" so I made sure she knew how great she was doing.
Debbie: It helped so much speaking with you prior to the race so that you could let me know a little bit about what you and Angelica would be doing. It was nice to know where the course was and about the elevation.
Natalie: Speaking with our guide before the race was awesome. I got to known her and she was able to answer my questions about the race and the parks themselves. Things like where to eat at the parks, what the best rides were, and what the race path looked like were important questions that were answered during the meeting before the race.
Brandi: Before heading to Disneyland, Debbie asked various questions about the race (number of runners, what the course is like, elevation/hills, etc). Since I have ran this race previously, I was able to share some insider knowledge on the course. Due to construction, the course was altered this year, but it was still a lot of the same course so I was able to give some insight prior to the race.
Natalie: Having a guide during the race ensured that someone was with us at all times and that provided us with plenty of amazing support. Having Brandi on the run also provided us with good conversation and some prime selfies.
Debbie: It was all so much fun but I think the best memory was seeing the sun rise in Disney as we ran through. I also loved being able to stop for photo ops and selfies along the way...how often do you get to do that during a race?
Natalie: My favorite memory was when we were about to run through the castle in Disneyland and everyone around my mom and I were freaking out that we were going to run through the castle. This was my first time to Disneyland and having been to Disney World multiple times I was expecting a huge castle. Instead, we ran through this itty bitty castle. It was so small that we ended up joking at the end of the trip that it was baby castle. We were both bewildered by the excitement over this tiny castle. Imagine the reaction people would have if they ran through Disney World!
Brandi: Hands down, running through Sleeping Beauty Castle and down Main Street. With the revamped course this year, this was not until the final half mile or so of the course, so it was like a 'grand finale' just before we got to the finish line. Watching their reactions was absolutely awesome and priceless. This made the experience even better (if at all possible).
Debbie: I really was inspired by your story of running every day with your mom. Also, since getting to know you a little on social media and seeing the events you do every few days (even with a bum knee!), I'm encouraged to get out and do my very best every single day and to push myself harder.
Natalie: I took away how running with someone is better than running with yourself. I also took away that it is good to make goals for anything you do whether it’s for running or school.
Brandi: I knew that this was going to be a really awesome experience and something very different for me. However, I didn't expect it to have this much of an effect on me. Serving as a guide gave me a whole new outlook on much runners can encourage and support one another. We each have our own story and goals, and it is amazing to share them with others. Being a part of Debbie and Natalie's 5K experience is something that I will always be thankful for and I will never forget the smile on Debbie's face when she crossed that finish line.
I always talk about how encouraging others and showing that running can indeed be fun is a goal of mine (and the premise of Funner Runner), but this experience completely outdid everything that I could have dreamed of.