by Michael Miller
One of the oldest, most respected distance races in the world is the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. A 56-mile race, Comrades has a very strict 12 hours cut-off, which most people cannot even imagine making. That being said, one of the key things that have helped people complete this race was the creation of the concept of “The Bus.” To some, The Bus is a fancier term for a pace group, which has become more common in races of all distances; however the Bus is more than that.
The Bus is a group of runners who develop an identity over the life of the race, setting a pace and tone that get the whole group across the finish line. And unlike the pacesetter in a pace group whose sole purpose is to get people across the line at a specific time, the Bus Driver's sole purpose is getting everyone through to the final destination... before the cut-off. Besides having to run their own race, the Bus Driver often becomes responsible for the races of others.
This past Wine & Dine race at Epcot, 12 of us Team Allears Members were fortunate enough to form our own bus for the race. Rich Gairing was the Bus Driver who got us all to our final destination. When the team aggregated in Corral H for the race, we did so with the intent of running together. However as often happens with large groups, I am certain quite a few questioned the sanity and ability of a dozen people trying to run together for a night race through crowded/narrow parks. All I can say is that while our group was a cross-section of various speeds and abilities, it didn’t matter as that night we weren’t fast runners, or slow runners -- just runners dedicated on the journey itself versus focusing on the finish.
Rich was the ideal Bus Driver. Not just because he wielded The Glow Stick of Destiny as we called it -- a blinking plastic sword with a Mickey-shaped handle, sold to kids every night in the parks. It had to do with the fact that Rich legitimately wanted to spend time with everyone in the group. As for the group, it was easy to follow Rich, not just because he was carrying a three-foot blinking light sword (oh, I wanted to write saber), it’s because quite simply, he is one of the nicest, most giving people you could meet. He was more than willing to do the work of timing our run-walk intervals and would constantly verify that we were together as a group.
Like most Disney races we had to navigate large crowds, narrow choke points, uneven pavement and a myriad of other issues that could have broken up our group. However through it all, Rich would wield the Glow Stick of Destiny to tell us when we should walk (stick held horizontally, high above his head); when we should run (stick held vertically in front of him); and when we should sashay (whenever there was music or entertainment). Besides using the Glow Stick as a beacon when we would spread out in the narrow parks, or when people peeled off to do their business, Rick also worked with the team to ensure we were together. For instance, due to the very narrow paths of Animal Kingdom, our group had to separate somewhat. However when we exited the park, Rich moved to the side and waited for everyone to collect back together, wielding his Glow Stick like someone using a red flashlight to direct a plane in from the runway.
Overall, running as a large group could have been an annoyance or even a hindrance to others running the race. Once again though, our Bus Driver went to great lengths to ensure this didn’t happen. Rich was able to keep everyone around us aware of our intent through counting down to our run/walk breaks, as well using the Glow Stick to signal our intentions. Throughout the race, we were more often than not asked if we were a pace group that could be joined versus a large group that was in the way. And near the end, we even received some comments from strangers about what a great group we were.
For the 12 of us who ran together, it’s safe to say we had fun. While we quickly dispersed after crossing the finish line in three waves of four -- hands held together and high -- from the first step to the last, our trip was a collective one. And not unlike those people running the Comrades Marathon (albeit we were running a lot less mileage), it’s thanks to our Bus Driver, Rich Gairing, that we got to our destination together.