It all began with a routine Sunday. Well, one thing was outside of the routine. On Sunday, October 23 I went running. I knew it would be my only chance to fit in a 9-mile run outside during daylight hours. The run didn’t go very well and as I ambled through the last mile at a 13-minute pace I wondered how on earth I was going to complete a half marathon six days later. For the first time I experienced pace-killing pain in my feet – and this was only a nine mile run! After I got home and took a shower I tried to put my worries on the shelf and get back to my normal Sunday routine, hoping the pain in my body was just residual from playing soccer the day prior. Before I fell asleep on Sunday I tried to soak in every bit of tranquility this ‘calm before the storm’ had to offer.
On Monday I had a very specific list of tasks to complete at work and it all had to do with Halloween. Why might I be so worried about Halloween? The reason is because at work we throw a huge (and I mean huge) trick-or-treating event for our families and friends. Every department chooses its own theme (i.e., Star Wars, Superheroes, Pac Man, etc.) and receives a generous decorating budget. We use the money to completely transform our workspace – wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Each employee dresses up according to its department’s theme and is allowed to bring up to six guests to trick-or-treat through the building. Since 800+ employees work in my office (divided up between three buildings) that means we can easily anticipate having 5,000+ people come through for trick-or-treating. Not only do we have to decorate to the nines and dress to impress – we also have to bring in a few tons of candy so no one walks away empty-handed.
This was my fourth year heading up the marketing department’s Halloween decorations. (We did Wild West, Las Vegas, and Cereal in the past. That’s right, I said “Cereal.”) Normally we choose our theme 4-6 weeks in advance but this year I kept pushing off the inevitable. We finally had a team meeting three weeks before the event and squeezed out a few theme ideas (Angry Birds, Alice in Wonderland, Quarantine) but when I tried to submit the first two themes HR told me they were already taken. Although it was my team’s last choice I must admit Quarantine was my first choice because I thought of it. I believed we’d have a blast if we all dressed up as zombies and decorated our area as though it were a condemned site. I knew most of the responsibility would fall to me and I wanted to be able to work through a theme I was excited about. (I never play Angry Birds and I knew Alice in Wonderland would be extremely ambitious.) The only thing I wasn’t excited about was the date chosen for our over-the-top Halloween celebration: Friday, October 28th. That’s right folks – ‘Halloween’ landed smack dab on my birthday this year. Not only that – I was registered to run the Provo Halloween Half Marathon the following morning.
I have to stop right now and tell you that I love Halloween. Or I did. Or I do. It’s one of those two. When I was a kid I looked forward to Halloween all year. I drew sketches of costumes with my best friend Naomi and searched through pattern books at the fabric store with my mom. Oftentimes I had a birthday party on the night of Halloween or a costume party just a few days prior. Halloween is forever fused with good birthday memories – everything from receiving my dream Ariel doll from Naomi and Bonnie when I was a kid to getting an Airhead- and Sour Gummi Worm-slamming sugar high when I was in middle school. Halloween never failed to flood me with creative enthusiasm and leave me in a chocolate-chomping stupor. This pattern continued through my first two Halloweens at my current place of employment. However, somewhere between ‘Cereal’ and ‘Quarantine’ Halloween kind of lost its mojo. Really what I’m trying to say is it became too much work.
When I signed up for the Provo Halloween Half Marathon I thought to myself, “This will work out fine as long as I don’t do anything to celebrate my birthday.” I really did try to sell myself on this idea but Solange, one of my good Brazilian friends who is exactly two days younger than me, talked me into having a joint birthday party on the same day as the half marathon (Saturday, October 29th.) In short, at the beginning of last week not only did I have to worry about finishing my department’s Halloween planning – I also had to worry about the actual set-up (all day on Thursday, October 27th), the execution of the event (Friday, October 28th), waking up early and running my first-ever half marathon (Saturday, October 29th) AND keeping myself together long enough to celebrate Solange’s and my birthday on Saturday night. Oh and somewhere in there I had to bid the age of 27 adieu and deal with a new age. No big deal!
Okay, okay. Back to Monday the 24th. I had a monumental set of tasks ahead of me. Thankfully I was able to work in some fun. On Monday night I got to carve pumpkins with my ward (I carved an Angry Birds pumpkin in homage to ‘the theme that might have been’). I blinked and it was Tuesday. I tried my best to complete all of the normal tasks for my job but as the week went on it got more difficult. I sneezed and it was Wednesday. My co-lead for Halloween was planning to stay late and begin some decorating but I just didn’t have it in me to stay – plus I had to go to violin. Leah called me and said that her family had an extra ticket to see a play that evening so after my violin lesson I drove straight to the theater. At this point I was getting a little hyper thinking about all of the fun I’d have the next day decorating. I just had to make one more trip to Wal-Mart…
I opened my eyes and it was Thursday. I got to work and did ‘normal’ work until noon. At 12 the team gathered for lunch and a decoration plan briefing. The turnout was tiny but I still had hope we could complete the decorations by 7 pm. Boy was I wrong. My co-lead is in charge of Facilities and as a result everyone and their grandma was calling him for tools, ladders, help and spiritual advice. Okay I’m kidding about that last one but whenever he got a call he was gone for at least an hour. There must have been at least one spiritual emergency in that time. (He later told me he got upwards of 125 calls that day alone.) At one point in the day I went back to my desk to find it was completely barricaded by black plastic, strips of secured wood, and a neatly arranged line of corn stalks. If that weren’t enough there was only a 12” aisle between my now invisible cube wall and a 6’ tall pyramid of hay bales. (My work area fell into the hands of another team which was decorating the place as a haunted corn maze. To say the least it was a complete transformation. The only thing missing was a P-O’ed woman screaming at the top of her lungs, “Where’s my desk? I need to get into my desk!” Let’s just say I filled the niche.) After a colleague cut a 2’ vertical slit at the bottom of the plastic and I crawled inside I decided to stay put for a while.
Finally around 6 pm my coworker was freed from his endless calls and we were really able to get to work. There were only about six other people left by then and as our numbers continued to taper off the hours just rolled on by. I fit in that last trip to Wal-Mart somewhere between ‘second wind’ and ‘I’ve just gone insane’ and we called it a night at 11:30. I crawled back into my desk and finished as much work as I could before I started imagining ghosts sneaking up on me. I went home at midnight. Ah, midnight – my birthday arrived after all.
After all of the preparation it was time to have some real fun. On Friday morning I arrived at work in time to do my boss’s make-up and review the plan for the show we wanted to put on for the judges (a panel of our company’s executives). They were due to come anytime between 11 and 12 and I waited out front for them. I was wearing a white blood-stained biohazard suit, a white beanie and a gas mask. When they came up the stairs I warned them the area was quarantined and no one was to go inside. I pointed their attention to looping video of the emergency broadcast message my team had filmed on Monday. I gave them two options: ‘search for survivors’ or ‘save yourselves.’ Of course they opted out of taking the evacuation route and instead entered our area which was full of zombies waiting in the wings to scare the crap out of them. I think I got the biggest kick out of hearing the GM scream a couple of times. I even got to scope out a hiding spot and scare one of our tech execs. After they passed by a grisly laboratory scene they went into the zombie shooting gallery and fired ‘live’ (Nerf) ammo at five zombies wearing t-shirts with our competitors' company names on them. Before leaving our area they were encouraged to vote for the next zombie president. (The two candidates were Barack and Mitt.) It was great.
Once the judges were gone I got to run through the rest of the buildings and take pictures of the other themes. Then everyone gathered for lunch and the judges announced the winners. Alice in Wonderland and Angry Birds took two of the top four prizes. (Harry Potter and ‘Revenge of the Pumpkins’ took the other two.) Before I knew it guests were gathering in lines outside the building and I had to take my place to greet trick-or-treaters. I decided to go back to the entrance and stand there with a bowl of candy. My dear coworker took one look at little exhausted me and said, “You don’t want to do this anymore, do you?” I replied that I could keep going for another four hours (trick-or-treaters come from 2-6 pm) but instead she offered me a chair. I gratefully took it and sat down. As a joke I leaned over and put my face it the candy and it was so comfortable I just decided to stay there. I heard people approaching at the bottom of the stairs (they were talking excitedly about their Angry Birds experience) and I tried to gauge how quickly they were coming. The gas mask cut off my peripheral vision but my coworker whispered “Amber” at the perfect moment and I bolted upright. I scared everyone and told them to “take the vaccine” (a packet of Smarties) before entering. Over the next four hours I had a blast sitting in my chair, dying at various intervals and jolting awake as people approached or reached for candy. Talk about a sweet gig.
Six of my friends came through as trick-or-treaters and it was great to see them. We planned to go to dinner afterwards (something quick and easy so I could get to sleep early) but first I had to pick up my race packet at the mall. I drove straight there and as I walked into Nordstrom in full zombie attire I checked my pride at the door. As I walked through I heard tons of people say, “Look at the zombie!” After I got my packet a little boy asked me, “Are you a zombie?” and I happily said I was. Luckily I had time to go home and take a shower before going to dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant I asked my friends how they liked the event. One said she loved it and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I’d have the same problem that night. I was supposed to be back at the mall to catch a bus to the start line at 5:30 the next morning. I had no idea how I was going to pull that off.
After a few hours of distraction it was time to go home and get my stuff together for the race. I kept staring at the neat pile of running clothes and accessories with the price tags still attached. I placed everything as carefully as possible but I knew no amount of extra organization was going to help me wake up the next day. I finally collapsed in bed and when my alarm went off I couldn’t get up for 30 minutes. Finally at 6 am I rolled out of bed and called my friend who was also running the race. She scared me half to death when she told me she was already on the bus (the race was starting until 9 am) and I had better get to the mall as quickly as possible. I did exactly that and arrived at 6:28. I was panicked that I would be turned away and I’d have to call one of my friends to give me a ride to the start line which was way way up on a mountain above Provo Canyon. When I pulled into the mall I saw a ton of cars in the parking lot but I didn’t breathe easy until I got out of the car and saw there were at least a thousand people standing in a line that spanned hundreds of feet. Great, another line. Good thing I (unknowingly) prepared for this part of the marathon in Disneyland two weeks prior.
I stood in line, in the dark, in the cold, in a daze for 1 hour and 10 minutes. No more and definitely no less. There was apparently some problem with the first round of buses and they missed a turn and took a 30-minute detour. I’ll never know if that story was completely true or just a rumor the bungling race organizers spread through the herd of rabid runners. All I knew was I was grateful to finally board a heated bus and make the ascent to the start line. I arrived at 8 am but it took me almost 20 minutes to find my friends. I only knew one other person in our group of six but the other four quickly became my sisters as we prepared ourselves for this daunting task in less-than-ideal circumstances. We huddled in the event tent and stretched and laughed nervously. When it was finally time to go outside and stand in line for the port-a-potties I had gained enough mental control to harness the creeping stress and start churning positive energy instead.
The six of us followed the mob to the start line and chose our positions within segments of racers demarcated by people holding pacing signs. I picked a spot behind the person holding the bright green “2:30” sign. The race began and it was a hoot watching all of the characters zoom by me. Racers were heavily encouraged to wear costumes which made for great people watching. Using my Garmin Forerunner watch I kept myself to a strict 11-12 minute pace. The first 2.5 miles or so were downhill and I heard people on the bus warning each other to take that segment very slow or else they’d be toast for the rest of the race. At the 3-mile mark I lost sight of the pacing sign. I tried to not let it get me down. I made a mental note to stop for a short break somewhere between the 6 and 8 mile mark.
It was a beautiful day – definitely chilly enough for calf-length pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a beanie – and the canyon was as gorgeous as ever. The 6- and 8-mile markers came and went and I realized I could complete the race without stopping. That made grabbing water at two stations rather difficult (drinking out of a cup while running is nearly impossible) but it worked. Every time my GPS watch buzzed at a mile mark I grinned in delight – especially the 10-mile mark. (I never in my life thought I could run this many miles. I remembered back to March when my mom suggested I run the 10K in my home town and I told her there was no way I could run 6 miles.) At the 11-mile (1 hr 10 min) mark I gauged my remaining energy and decided to push myself to finish the race in 20 minutes. The end of the race was great, grueling fun and the only frustration I experienced was searching for some indication of the finish line. I wanted to see a giant balloon arch or a stampede of elephants or people being shot out of cannons or something. Instead we had to make three right turns, squeeze onto a sidewalk and find the finish line in a wooded area.
As I neared the finish I searched for Bonnie who had driven 45 minutes to cheer me on. Just before the 13-mile mark I caught sight of her familiar hair, glasses and smile. I yelled out her name and when she spotted me she yelled, “Yeah! Go Amber!” Finish line or not, that was all I needed. I could go another mile if I had to, even though I really didn’t want to. I finished the race just shy of my goal – 2:31:28. I was so happy to be done. Bonnie found me and we took pictures as we waited for the rest of my crew to come in. Bonnie drove home for her granddaughter’s 1st birthday party which I was very sad to miss. (If I could have changed anything about last week I would have found a way to fit in that birthday party.) My crew reunited and we all took the bus back to the mall. The day was far from over but I’ll try to wrap up this blog as succinctly as possible. I did some grocery shopping for the party, I took a nap, I woke up feeling nauseous, I was late getting to my friend’s house to help set up, and the party started with a bang at 8 pm. I was feeling a little better but Solange had to snap me into shape before I really let myself have fun. This was her first-ever Halloween party and it didn’t take much coaxing for my mind to wander down memory lane – when Halloween was synonymous with birthday euphoria, when age was a cause for celebration, when the promise of candy sped my stride, and when a pinch of imagination could transform my world into a thousand endless fantasies. There my body wanders and there my mind rests.