Thursday, March 6, 2014

WDW Marathon Weekend 2014 - PreTrip (Part I, Chapter 1, Subsection B)

Day 1, Part 1 can be found HERE.

Now all I had to do was be healthy and hope the weather was okay…


As every runner knows, the smallest ache/sniffle/cough sends one into an absolute panic in the last two weeks before a long run.  I was no exception.  I was back on the NSAID making sure that the foot was going to survive the marathon, and I felt like I was playing chicken with my foot and running.  I did ultimately get two more runs in before the race inside the rec center.

As every runner knows, the slightest change in the weather patterns at the race site sends one into an absolute panic that last 10 days before a long run.  I was no exception.  I knew that the forecasts lost accuracy anything more than 48 hours out, but I still found myself checking every hour or two for a hopeful one or two degree decrease in the forecasted high on the marathon.

I should have been worried more about the more immediate weather patterns here at home in the days before the race.  5 days before I was to leave, we got hit with a strong winter storm, ice, and the first edition of the polar vortex hit us with -15 to -20 temps and -40s for the wind chill.  Across the nation, people heading down for Marathon Weekend were in a dead panic trying to deal with canceled flights.

Taking Team AllEars Captain Mike Scopa’s advice from my first marathon weekend, I started backing up my wake-up times to prepare for the (VERY) early times needed for Marathon Weekend.  I watched as most everyone who was running Dopey started heading down on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Local Teammates Stan and Pam Harris had their flights canceled, so they made the decision to drive down.  Teammate Dave Dunkowski was in a bind with canceled flights out of Buffalo and a reported earliest departure after the 5K on Thursday.  Luckily, he was able to make it to Rochester and get a flight out to make it for all 4 races.  A lot of this was done in the wee hours of the morning, when I was the only one up in the house.

Thursday morning involved last-minute packing and final work on the boys’ pinewood derby cars.  Their derby was Saturday…the same day as my wife’s birthday…when I was going to be down in Florida…and they were in sub-freezing temps…during the absolute busiest time of her job when she really can’t afford to take any time off.  As you read this, most likely my name is still Mud.  I watched the 5K results come in via Twitter and Facebook and couldn’t wait to get down there…

…there was one additional problem, though.  The forecast for our area had freezing rain when I was supposed to be leaving.  I was working on contingency plans in case my plane couldn’t arrive the night before.  I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief when I saw the flight had departed Atlanta that night.  It meant that, unless there was a diversion, there would be a plane for me in the morning.

The weather in Florida was looking pretty good…hot Friday and Saturday, but cooling for the race on Sunday.  I changed the clothes in my suitcase about 30 times, much to the delight of Sheri (who usually is packed 4 months in advance of an upcoming trip and would have already included ¾ of our wardrobe). 
I made some last tweaks to my schedule and realized that I was completely booked the entire weekend!   

Here is the arrival day schedule:

  • Depart BMI, arrive ATL
  • Depart ATL, arrive MCO
  • Magical Express to CBR…meet up with my room-mate, Steve Cantafio (friend, MEI agent, and fellow Team AllEars member)
  • Packet Pick-up and Expo – hope the timing’s right to meet Rudy Novotny and Joe Taricani
  • Head off-site for supper/party with the Nerd Herd at "the Nerdery"
  • Back on-site to the Contemporary Resort for a quick drink with former students of mine who were getting married that weekend.
  • Back to CBR to unpack and collapse.

(Yep…zero down-time…that’s how I roll!)

Friday morning came…DEPARTURE DAY!!!  I, of course, was up 1.5 hours before I needed to be for my flight (thanks, Scopa).  I tried to stay as quiet as I could to not wake up anyone (especially Wifey, who was (rightfully so) getting more surly at my impending departure and her arrival into single-parenthood). 

Does anyone else have the problem where, when you try to be as quiet as possible, you end up making more noise than a B1-B Lancer doing a full afterburner takeoff?

I checked my bags one last time to figure out what I forgot, hopped in the car around 4:15 am, and pulled out of the garage.

When I pulled into the parking lot at the Central Illinois Regional Airport, I couldn’t help but notice that my fuel mileage indicator was at 26.2…foreshadowing?  Everyone’s favorite shuttle driver Marv was waiting for me behind the car…a short 2 minute ride to the terminal, and I was in warmer weather!  I immediately headed for the bathroom and changed out of jeans and into shorts (I didn’t want to die, or worse, chafe in Florida when I arrived).

I/we left on a Thursday for the last two Marathon Weekends.  This year, with the addition of the 10K and Dopey Challenge, the vast majority of people headed down on Tuesday/Wednesday.  I left on Friday, and I think I was one of only 2 people on the BMI-ATL flight heading down for the races.  In fact, I was one of only 3 people on the entire plane! 

Okay…so I may have been a bit early. 

I always like getting there early to avoid crowds, give me time to run home when I realize I forgot something, etc.  Sheri (as is often the case) couldn’t go back to sleep after I left, so we texted a few times, argued on FB, and played Words With Friends (typical marriage, right?).  One of the funniest FB posts I got while waiting was from Holly Aulen, who simply said, “Hurry up and get here!”  While I was waiting, I got to read all the 10K posts and saw all the pics…I was really starting to get antsy to get down there!

 The flight was about 80% full, and there were no problems getting to ATL, though we did the standard touring of the entire airfield after landing on 9L.  Eventually we made it to the gate, and I rushed off to try nabbing a standby seat for an earlier flight.  One flight was already at 100% with a significant waitlist, so I bypassed that and shot for the next one.  I was one of the first to get on the standby list, but my priority was low, and I ended up get bumped lower and lower as more requested it.  I had time, so I grabbed a snack; two people working and two customers asked if I was a radio announcer with my voice (Michelle Scribner-MacLean would love hearing that).  I had one of the Team AllEars cowbells in my camera case, and it was clanging with every step I took…some of the looks I got from people in the terminal were classic!  Yeah, I might have stopped and started a couple more times than I needed to…just to get that bell making noise.
I made it back to the gate and watched.  I knew I was a long shot, but  I had one thing going for me, though: I was a single, and a number of people ahead of me were in groups of 4-5.  As they cleared the standby list, I got up to 11th, and a call for a party of 5 that they called for didn’t show up to claim it. Up to 5th, with a party of three and a party of 2 not on board yet………aaaaaaand the party of 2 showed up. 

I was that close.

Okay…so ended up on the flight I was scheduled for.  This flight had a much higher percentage of Marathon Weekend people, many first-timers.  Most had no idea what corral they might be in, so I helped them try to figure it out.  A bunch had never used Magical Express, so I told them what to expect.  They all agreed to just follow me off the plane.

The flight was uneventful…I listened to a little bit of one of the Marathon Show episodes and a couple of Mickey Miles Podcast shows enroute.  As we started our approach, I could tell that we were landing south.  Being an avid aviation freak, and having flown into MCO a number of times, I knew this was a best-case scenario.  First off, we didn’t have to circle around to land north (usually 36R).  Second, I knew the taxi to the gate was going to be about 5 minutes shorter.  Yeah, I’m channeling my inner Jay Griffith here (Jay is a fellow Disney and running enthusiast who happens to have the job I dreamed of for years…he’s a pilot for Delta Connection.  He’ll show up again in the report later).

My entourage and I departed the plane, and, after making sure that nobody had to hit the restroom (you NEVER do the restroom by the gates…you get on the tram ASAP before everyone else does), we hopped on the just-arriving tram to the main terminal and blew past everyone at warp speed.  Down the escalators…down more escalators…and into an open elevator.  BAM!!!  We were on the lower level in no-time.  Those of us with Magic Bands bid those without the bands adieu.   Now for the big test…will the magic band work?

I placed it on the Mickey post….aaaaaaaannnnnd..........nothing.


Granted, the other person from the entourage in line with the band also had problems.  We were both directed to a cast member who linked up the reservation and ticket to the band, and it worked without a hitch.  The funny thing, though, is that the group of us who didn’t even have Magical Express tickets ended up beating us to the buses. 

I hopped on the good bus, and we were on our way.  We stopped at several resorts first, including Yacht and Beach Clubs…I talked to a couple from Chicago about the races and Team AllEars…they were impressed with the Team and said they would look for us on the course.  FINALLY I make it to the Custom House...about 1 hour and 40 minutes from taxiing to the gate at MCO to the check-in area of CBR.  I didn’t even have to check in as Steve had already been there a night, so I went straight to the internal bus queue. About 10 minutes later, I tested out the Magic Band for real (Magical Express was just a test, right?), and IT WORKED!!! 

Steve was awesome enough to grab some miscellaneous paraphernalia for me from one of the main organizers of Team AllEars, Melanie Camphouse at a meet-up the night before.  Granted, I only looked for a moment, because Steve and I had plans to get to the expo and packet pickup quickly so we could make it to the Nerdery.  We made our way out to the bus stop, and the Expo transportation was there within 5 minutes (cool!).  We caught up on everything over the past couple of years as we made our way to the ESPN Wide World of Sports.  We grabbed our stuff, and, when I looked at the bib for the first time…

…what I was about to attempt really hit me.  I always had a running joke on Facebook (bad pun…I know), where, as the race got closer, I’d make “holycrapholycrapholycrap…” posts.  When I posted the pic of the bib, I included another round of holycraps.  That elicited a flurry of responses, both excited and mentoring.  Gordon Harvey again gave some awesome advice: “dude… when I got my bib for my first I called my friend/coach and said "wth am I doing!? These people here look like real runners!" and she said: "take a breath. YOU are a runner. YOU will do this."  Then he immediately followed with, “Hey Chris: YOU WILL DO THIS!”

Gordon…you rock, man!

We headed over to the HP Center and looked around the expo for a while.  I knew I was already nearly at capacity for storage, so I resisted the urge to buy a ton of stuff.  I remember reading dozens of race reports about how brutal the sun could be during the last half, so I broke down and bought a visor (and cursed myself for not getting a Team AllEars one when good friend Tom Troost was selling them).  My goal was to see if Rudy Novotny (we heard him but didn’t see him) and/or The Marathon Show’s Joe Taricani was around (Joe didn’t arrive until Saturday).  After about 15-20 minutes of browsing (and contemplating getting a pic with the Chiquita Banana girl), we headed upstairs, where Bart Yasso was part of a panel talking about running (kewl).  Steve got a text from Nerd Christine about wondering how to tell when the Portuguese chorizo was done (for the cookout).  The pervert in me gave a response that had Steve nearly in tears, but he didn’t relay it to Christine for some reason.

Steve and I exited the Expo and grabbed a cab to head to the Nerdery for the cookout.  It taxed the GPS, but it actually was pretty close to the Sherberth Road access into WDW.  For those who have stayed in an All-Star Vacation resort, the Nerdery was in the same area.  We went through security (they took it seriously there!) and arrived.

Now, I need to pause for a second to bring you up to speed on the Nerd Herd.  This crazy group started off as an off-shoot of Team AllEars members who continue to raise money to fight cancer. Their recipient organization is  Last year’s virtual racing series brought in a fantastic amount for StupidCancer…the fundraising was far more successful than any member had anticipated (W00T!!).  When they were planning for Marathon Weekend 2014, they priced out options and found that renting a large vacation house off-site was the most economical way to go (read HERE for more information).  I was invited to stay at the Nerdery early on, but the initial plan was to have the entire Mushfam down for the weekend, so I passed.

I knew most of the nerds there, though there was a member or two that had I not yet met.  I hadn’t seen most of these folks in nearly 2 years, and I was really excited to catch up with them!  There was another reason, though.  Fellow Central Illinoisian Sara Rhodes had one of the most emotional days of her life on Thursday after the 5K.  I’ll let the Nerds’ post on their site recap it as it was done very well.  As I watched (on Facebook) the balloon hand-out to the kids to honor Sara’s cousin, Cale, I had allergies starting to hit me.  That was an amazing gesture! 

Oh, and, yes, I’m a nerd again this year with their 2014 virtual racing series (like there was any doubt).
Back to Florida and the Nerdery…we run in, and immediately Mike Paxton is there to give me the first of a plethora of hugs from people.  Team Heller-Yeah (Jeff and Erika), Garf (Brad), Jamison and April, Joelle (Mike’s wife), Erinn, Ermagerd Christine, Julie, and, of course, newly-engaged Sara and Jack, were all there, along with Christina (who I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to, unfortunately).  Several members from the team were also there…I’m afraid to try naming them all, because I know I’d forget one or two.  Tim & Dan, Lee & Laura, and Dave & Nancy (and the rest who I forgot) hung out for quite a while – it was great seeing everyone!!  I haven’t laughed that hard in a looooong time!  The food was great, and many, many beers were offered my way.  I passed on both the beef and the beer to avoid a potential gout attack less than 36 hours before the race.  I loaded up on chicken, fruit, chips, and water.

As the evening went on, I realized that there would be no way that I would be able to make it back on-site to meet up at the Contemp with my former students who were about to get married.  I fired off a quick message via Facebook to them and apologized for not being able to make it (about 45 minutes before we were supposed to meet).  They were completely fine with it – I think they were already a little exhausted.

The pool was starting to hop, and I intentionally left my swimsuit packed at the Caribbean Beach Resort.  Wait…no...strike that.  I’m not saying I was going au naturale.  I just wasn’t in a swimming mood, and I didn’t want to have the hot tub filter get clogged up when I jumped in.  I did have the opportunity to meet a newer Teammate, Brian Thompson, and his wife, Laura, as a group of us conversed around the table.  Their story is another one of those very inspirational ones, and they recently completed their first races on Thursday.   

Congrats, my friends!!

I could have stayed at the Nerdery until morning, but I knew that both Steve and I had to get at least a little sleep.  Steve was attempting the Goofy Challenge for the first time…for those not attuned to Marathon Weekend-speak, the Goofy Challenge is 39.3 miles…a half-marathon on Saturday and a full on Sunday.  Steve called for a cab, but Mike offered to take us back instead.  The cab was canceled (but he still showed up), and we got to talk with Mike for quite a while on the way back to the resort.  We bid Mike adieu and got ready for tomorrow.  Steve and I come from the same mold…we threw SportsCenter on and turned on the sleep timer!

Tomorrow is cheering day for the half!

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