by Team AllEars Member Chris Mushrush
If someone would have asked me in January of 2010 that I would run a half marathon a year later, I would have laughed in their face and questioned their sanity. Even when I was “in shape” back in the Stone Age when I was an athlete in high school and as a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I struggled mightily on anything more than 400 yards.
I found myself at 37 years of age, grossly overweight, and fairly sedentary. Add to that a family history (both sides of the family) with heart disease and…yeah, it’s easy to see why I thought that there was no way I’d ever do a long distance run.
In the back of my mind, though, I remembered hearing a person by the name of Michelle Scribner-MacLean appear on an episode of the WDW Today podcast, and, in passing, mentioned something about “Team AllEars”. For some reason, that random episode stuck with me, even though I really didn’t know much about the Team (it may have been the “Boom Boom Pow” playing in the background during part of the episode…that was the theme song for the 2010 Team).
The 2010 Marathon weekend came and went, and I read the accounts via Twitter and Facebook of some of the experiences with the weather. I then listened to an episode of Gordon Harvey’s Running To Disney Podcast, where he played call-ins about the race. About 15 minutes in,
I hear Holly Beck Aulen report about being a member of Team AllEars and doing the Dopey race. Then I heard a very inspirational report from Byron Hall, who completed his first half. A couple of race reports later, I hear Jorge Romero talk about joining the Team and his training for his first half. I distinctly remember playing back several of these race reports to listen to all that was being said. Some of these people sounded kind of like me, and they were able to do it.
While I have always halfheartedly had running a marathon on my bucket list, I never put any thought whatsoever to actually make a move towards accomplishing that. Hearing the reports coming in from the 2010 Marathon Weekend, however, got me thinking that perhaps doing something like this could be within my reach.
After letting it sit on the back burner for a few weeks, the idea of participating in a race started creeping back into my mind, and, in late March, I decided to hop over to the high school track in my back yard and see what one mile felt like after an 18 year hiatus. I walked almost all of it, but I was under the 16:00 pace that Disney requires you have for their races.
Soon afterward, I noticed that Michelle had posted something online about a live call-in event for Team AllEars. Curiosity got the better of me, and I contacted her about following the team and seeing what needed to be done to be a part of the 2012 team (I had assumed that the 2011 team had already been assembled, and I had no intention of running this year). She informed me that the team was just getting set up and that there was plenty of room if I wanted to be a part of the team. I decided to listen to the call-in show before making a decision.
Deb Wills started off the show with the reason the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer was so important to her – up to this point, I never realized that she is a breast cancer survivor. The story of her battle, her beating the odds, and her perseverance to do whatever she could to help out hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. While nobody on my side of the family has ever had to experience breast cancer, both sides of my wife’s family has done so, and both went through the treatments in the past few years. I made the decision to sign up before I could second-guess myself.
And so I became a member of Team AllEars 2011.
I was definitely nervous – partially about being a new runner in the online presence of some darn good athletes. My fears were allayed in no time as the veteran runners of team took plenty of time helping the multitude of new runners. After picking out a training regimen, I started working on getting some weight off and getting some miles in. I noticed several surprised glances and restrained laughs from many people when I told them I was going to try to run my first half marathon.
I had about 30 weeks before the race, and I knew I was going to need nearly all of them for training. 13.1 miles seemed such a long distance, and I was barely able to do 2. Still, as suggested by most everyone, I slowly increased the mileage by ½ to 1 mile a week until I got to 6 miles. The weight was starting to come off (I was down about 17 pounds after about 3 months), and the pace was starting to come down.
It was about this time-frame that I started the fund-raising efforts for the Team. Initially, I wanted my goal to be $1,000 (never mind the fact that money was very tight across the nation). I revised my lofty goal to $500 after having raised $70 with only 3 months to go. Still, as a member of the team (Jamison) said, every dollar is 1 dollar more than we had before! As I made it to double-digits in training, I started to get more confident in finishing the race and less confident in making the fund-raising goal.
Then came the month of December.
In the last month of fund-raising, the outpouring of support reached a level that, to this day, still leaves me speechless. Donations came in from places that I never imagined! From a former student to our daycare provider; from breast cancer survivors to a childhood friend currently battling her own disease; from the Postmaster of my small hometown to a fantastic group of online freaks who used to hang out and have fun at the same boards; from colleagues at work to hometown friends; and from family members to a family I met but one time in passing in the Disney World parks last June, the contributions totaled well over the $500 goal.
The confidences again switched…due in part to weather and in part to sickness 2 weeks before the race, I was really getting nervous about successfully completing the half. Though I had run 13 miles once before (in November), the longest run I could complete in the month prior to the race was 11 miles (with significant leg cramping at the end), and I was still a bit weak as Marathon Week arrived.
My wife, Sheri, and I flew down on Thursday and hit the Expo to get all the race materials. It was about this time that the realization hit me that I was actually going to try doing this.
The first major highlight of the weekend was the first Team meet-up at YeeHaw Bob over at the Port Orleans Riverside resort. There, I finally got to meet people I have known online for months actually in-person for the first time. It was fitting that the first people we saw were Michelle and Mike – the team Captains. We sat with Stephanie and her friend, Debbie that evening. I was beyond ecstatic when Deb arrived and went around to all the tables – I finally got to meet this amazing woman who has impacted the lives of so many people on multiple fronts. While my wife might argue that seeing me try to do YMCA in front of everyone was the highlight of the night (I tried staying off to the side of the stage, but I got pushed to the very middle next to Mike, who stands a good 6-8 inches taller than me), my highlight most definitely was meeting Deb.
Friday was to be a relatively slow day for us, and I tried to get to sleep by 10 pm for the 2:45 wake-up call. Expecting to get absolutely no sleep due to nerves, I managed a good 3+ hours of fairly restful sleep. The alarm went off, and I was out the door by 3:00. As I walked to the buses at Port Orleans French Quarter, I met up with a woman also preparing for the race. She had somewhat of a resemblance to another Team AllEars member, so I asked her if she was on the Team. She wasn’t, but she knew exactly what the Team was and was excited for what we were doing. THAT was an awesome way to start off the day.
The bus got me to the Epcot lot around 3:30, and I mulled around and took in the sights and sounds of all that was going on in the staging area. As I talked with some of the Team members before the group picture, I could feel the electricity and the excitement all around me.
I took the opportunity to add the names of my wife’s cousin and aunt to Shawn and Jodie Moffett’s banner, which had dozens of names of people we were running on behalf of. As we waited, we mingled with the WDW Radio’s running team (and I even got to meet Beci Mahnken that morning!). After the pictures and motivational pep talk from Deb, we all started to head out for the long walk to the corrals.
Several of us were assigned to Corral F (Julie, Melanie, Erwin, Heather, Mike, Shawn, and me), so we all made the 20 minute walk together, and we all got to know each other better during this time. Since I was running with another friend, we wished each other good luck when we reached the Corral and parted ways. Once I found my friend, we made our way up the Corral to find the rest of the Team, but I couldn’t find them.
I’ve seen videos of the start of the race, but I cannot put the actual experience into words. The characters…the jets of flame…the fireworks all around us…it was jaw-dropping!!! We crossed the start line, and my friend, Maureen, let me dictate the pace. I had been training for a 14:00-14:30 pace, with a 3:00/1:00 run/walk ratio. This pace and ratio worked out really well for the area I was in; since it was crowded, we wouldn’t be able to run much faster without doing a lot of weaving around early on, but we weren’t being passed by everyone.
A little over a half-mile in, I see Team members (and sisters) Melanie and Julie pass us by, which meant I went past the group in the Corral before the start! A little ways past the 1 Mile marker, the Team AllCheers squad had a spot set up, and they were absolutely insane!!! They were clapping, ringing those cowbells, calling out people by name…AWESOME! I gave many in the group a “running five” as we went by and set in for the rest of the run to the Magic Kingdom.
The pace was pretty much right on target for the first few miles, and the excitement progressively ratcheted up as we approached the Ticket & Transportation Center. Disney had entertainment set up every so often to keep the motivation up, and the crowds swelled as we got closer to the Magic Kingdom. I made a mistake as we went under the water bridge near the Contemporary resort…as I ran, I was hitting the pavement really hard instead of taking smaller, lighter steps, and, at around the 5 Mile marker (before entering Magic Kingdom), my right quad started getting pretty sore. I was dealing with that as we entered Town Square, so I was a bit distracted, until the turn onto Main Street, USA towards the Hub.
The spectators were packed on the road to our left, and they were having a ball cheering for everyone! As we made it to the hub, I started looking for the Team AllCheers spot where Sheri would be at. I looked but couldn’t find her, so I found who I thought was Allears.net staff member Barrie Brewer and stopped momentarily for a “memorable” introduction (“Are you Barrie? Good! I’m Chris…do you know where my wife’s at???”) I found Sheri near the bridge to Tomorrowland, and we talked for a minute and got a couple of pictures. Stephanie was just a few feet away, so I got to wave to her as we passed by. The fascination that goes with running through the Magic Kingdom allowed me to temporarily forget about my ever-throbbing quadriceps…I even had goosebumps as the trumpeters heralded my arrival to pass through Cinderella Castle.
I passed another team member in Frontierland, Tom, who, while not moving at the moment, gave the thumbs-up that he and his wife, Molly, were doing fine. Maureen and I headed off-stage, and, with the excitement of the Magic Kingdom behind us, the quad pain made itself known again.
At the halfway point, I pulled out my phone to check my pace and noticed that my text inbox was nearly full. I started deleting texts during one of my walking intervals when I heard someone nearby hollering at me to “put the phone away and get running!!!” Tom and Molly had to pass me at that very instant when I had the phone out (I had the phone out for less than 10 minutes the entire race). That ended up becoming a running joke between us the rest of the weekend (no pun intended).
A little before the 7 mile mark, we caught back up with Melanie and Julie, and we chatted for a brief moment. Some walking stretches seemed to help my quad a little, so we bumped up the pace a bit, and we did mile 8 at a 14:20 pace and mile 9 at a 14:32 pace – my 2 fastest miles. The quad then started tightening up a bit again, and the pace slowed considerably, with the throbbing combined with a bottleneck where the course was reduced to 1 lane of traffic.
Much of the 11th mile consists of the off-ramp from World Drive to Epcot Center Drive. I heard horror stories about this one, so we took it slow until I thought we were done, and then we picked it back up. The only problem was that we were not quite half-way up the incline yet. With the vast majority of the crowd walking now, we try pushing it a bit and weaving around a little; that decision was a costly one as my left calf tightened up. We immediately slowed down in the hopes that I could avoid a full-blown cramp.
Just past the 11 mile marker was the Team AllCheers squad, still out there and still as loud as ever. Helen Norlund’s husband was catching as many Team members for a picture and got a good one of Maureen and me. Though Deb wasn’t running the half, she had to have exerted just as much energy from all the constant cheering and jumping…that was a great sight to see at this point. I could tell that many of the other runners around us were feeding off of the enthusiasm from the cheering squad.
With only 1.5 miles to go, it seemed like this was in the bag. One of my Corral F Team members, Heather, caught up with me, and we talked a bit as we neared the 12 mile marker. At mile 12, though, the left quad tightened up on me. I wished Heather good luck for the last mile and started figuring out how to finish with both quads and a calf hurting. I threw out the 3:1 run:walk interval and switched to a “run when you can and then walk for a minute” strategy.
When we made the turn at the tree in Epcot, the realization hit me that this was actually going to happen. I was hobbling, but I knew I could crawl the last 600 yards if need be. Just before the 13 mile marker we saw Maureen’s family, and we waved with big smiles on our faces. Sheri was about 150 yards from the finish line, so we looked for her and gave even bigger smiles as we passed her. There it was…THE FINISH LINE!!!! We picked up the pace a bit…and both quads and the left calf seized up on me (ARGH)! I was not going to walk across the finish line, so I bit my lip and almost hopped across.
The moments that followed were almost surreal. I remember hugging Maureen and talking to the volunteer who presented me with the medal. I also remember staring at the medal for several minutes after she placed it around my neck. Other than that, well, it was pretty much a blur. I caught up with Tom and Molly as well as another Team Member, Julie Olson, who were all waiting for transportation back to the resort.
I thought the day could not get any better than it already was; I could not have been more wrong on that prediction. Later on in the day during the Team AllEars meet-up, I got to talk to a bunch of the members and have a good time with them. My only real regret I have from the weekend was that I was unable to meet all of the Team. There were several that I knew were there, but there just wasn’t enough time to talk to all of them.
As the main meet started, we got to hear some heart-felt speeches from Deb, Michelle, Mike, and other coordinators of the team. When it came time for the reveal of the total amount raised at that time, Deb gave us one number at a time. At the #?6,667 reveal, I was really happy in my assumption that we broke $35,000…until I saw that the hidden number was not a 3…it was a 4!!! Very few eyes were dry at that point, and I saw Mike, without a word, simply put his arm around Michelle for a well-deserved congratulatory hug.
Deb surprised us all with special “Team AllEars” medals, and I honestly am just as proud of that medal as I am of the one signifying the completion of the half. Probably one of the greatest moments came on Sunday when we were on a bus and sitting next to a couple of families who were talking about the distance events. They saw my medals and recognized the one in the shape of Donald. When they saw the Team AllEars one, though, one of the women’s faces perked up and asked if I was a member of the Team. When I smiled and answered in the affirmative, she started talking excitedly to everyone else about Deb, her site, and our team and what we were doing this weekend. The recognition of our Team is out there, and I am as proud as one can be to have the honor of being a part of this group of people.
Marathon Weekend will forever be etched in my memory. I ran for myself for the experience. I ran for my family so that I may start down the path to a healthier lifestyle and be around for them for a long time. I ran for Deb. I ran for Cathy Carney and for Mary Bargmann. I ran for friends and for many, many others who have battled or are battling breast cancer. And, yes, I hope to continuing running for all these people for years to come.
If anyone is considering running their first distance event and/or becoming part of the team but unsure if they can do it, please use this as a springboard to do it; if I can do it, anyone can!