NEW YORK, December 13, 2012 — If Disney characters were runners, what kind of runners would they be? Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella — they all represent a different kind of runner.
Every week, I’m counting down to the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 13, 2013 with the Disney running profile of a different Disney character. Last week, we looked at Sleeping Beauty as the runner who needs to take a few weeks off, even if she doesn’t want to.
This week, we are falling down the rabbit hole with Alice.
Alice in Wonderland: The Newbie Runner
Falling down the rabbit hole has become a euphemism for good reason. It’s exactly what we do when we take those first steps toward becoming a runner.
When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she enters a strange new world filled with odd characters, funny names, magical food, and all sorts of “silly nonsense” as she calls it. Despite the “very good advice” Alice gives herself, she is compelled to chase the White Rabbit.
“Oh, Mr. Rabbit! Wait! Please!” Alice politely shouts before running after him.
While Alice is chasing her curiosity, the new runner is chasing a goal. The White Rabbit is whatever motivates us to start running in the first place. For some of us it’s losing weight and for others it’s something else entirely.
But when we start out as runners, we are all chasing our own White Rabbit. We chase him right down the proverbial rabbit hole into the strange new Wonderland that is Runnerland.
I remember being a newbie, completely overwhelmed by the world I’d suddenly found myself in. When I signed up for my first race, I didn’t know a single person. I remember standing there in my — gasp — cotton socks, a pair of rowing shorts and cotton tank top, and looking at the few thousand people around me, who were chatting happily with each other in their technical gear. “Who are all these people?” I thought. I had a lot to learn about this new world.
For starters, there were all sorts of silly-sounding new things like Alice’s Mome Raths: fartleks, bonking, Pikermis, bandits and acronyms galore—PRs, DNFs, LSDs, and more.
“Everything is so confusing,” Alice says to the Caterpillar.
Runnerland also has its own new tastes to acquire like Alice’s magical mushroom and shrinking potions. Remember the first time you ever tasted a gel? They sure are funky, but they help runners accomplish magical feats.
In Wonderland, the characters that Alice meets and the perils she faces are much like the ones any newbie confronts. Runnerland is also filled with traps and temptations that sideline our new runner.
The Mad Hatter’s tea party could be any party on a Friday or Saturday night that the new runner now must forgo if she wants to get up early the next morning for a long run or a race. Amidst the sensory overload that comes with falling down the rabbit hole, new runners often lose sight of our White Rabbit as we detour through the running Wonderland, just like Alice.
But we keep in him our mind as we face one seemingly insurmountable challenge after another. After all, Alice had her share of tasks to overcome. Being shrunk, growing to a giant, getting locked in a room where the key was unreachable — Alice faced it all. Running intervals for the first time? Signing up for that first race? Training to run 13.1 miles when you can barely run six? Just like Alice, newbies keep on plugging so they can continue chasing their White Rabbit. Like the doorknob tells Alice, “Nothing’s impossible!”
And this new running world is populated by all sorts of strange and sagely characters.
“Most everyone is mad here,” the Cheshire Cat tells Alice.
Perhaps, it’s true for Runnerland too. To become a runner, one must be a little crazy. I know I feel crazy when I’m lacing up my shoes to go for a run in a snowstorm. Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Caterpillar and Cheshire Cat all share something in common: madness.
In the running world, there are marathon maniacs, streakers, and ultrarunners alongside weekend warriors, team racers and charity runners. We’ve all got something in common too: running. Running is our form of insanity. And much like in Wonderland, everyone had advice to give.
The most pernicious character Alice encounters is the Queen of Hearts. In our parable, she is anyone who hates runners. Sometimes, like the Queen, they are even people in positions of power. Take Toronto’s embattled mayor, Rob Ford, who made headlines for his anti-marathons-in-the-streets stance.
But like Alice, the newbie runner is undeterred by the haters. The newbie keeps chasing that White Rabbit until Runnerland is a Wonderland no more, but a regular part of her world.
At its heart, Alice in Wonderland is an existential quest for self. The Caterpillar continually asks Alice, “Who R U?”
“I hardly know sir,” Alice replies.
But once she’s no longer a newbie, she can smile and say, “I’m a runner.”
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runner’s weekly lifestyle web show about running. She has completed five marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.
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