Last Tuesday evening Preston and I flew down to Orlando. We had planned on leaving for the airport shortly after I finished up at school for the day, but Monday night around 5pm we got the welcome surprise of a “Snow Day” due to the subzero temperatures and even colder wind chills. My school district was fearful of students standing outside in the cold. Alas, our last minute packing wasn’t so rushed since I got to spend Tuesday at home while Preston went to work for most of the day.
We had booked our flights on Tuesday for two reasons. One – when we booked our flights back in September we were fearful of the potential of weather delays, and after the travel nightmare I had gone through the weekend prior flying to Illinois and back for my Mom’s surprise birthday party, we were very happy we had made the decision we did. Also, after we had heard about the nightmare that the Disneyland Half Marathon expo had been back in August and the lack of Dumbo Double Dare merchandise that was left only a couple of hours after the expo opened, we wanted to ensure that we could get to the expo before it opened.
Fortunately, our flight on Tuesday was only slightly delayed. We made it down to Orlando to find the “cold” Orlando weather (it was in the high 30s) a welcome relief from the single digit temperatures we had left behind in Virginia. After we landed we headed to Target to stock up on water, Powerade, and other race essentials, including our preferred race morning breakfast of peanut butter (and jelly for Preston) sandwiches. Because we had a rental car, we opted to stay off property Tuesday night, at a cost of about a quarter of what we paid for our room at Coronado Springs, which is where we stayed for the rest of the trip.
Wednesday morning we checked out of our hotel and headed to ESPN Wide World of Sports, where the expo was held. We arrived around 9am, thinking we were an hour early, to find out that the expo had a soft opening an hour early before the published time. We were very excited to find out that we could head straight inside and not have to wait outside in the cold. On our way into the expo we stopped for obligatory prerace photos in front of the race banners.
Our first stop at the expo was at the HP Field House. While walking towards the Field House, we passed the New Balance display with the new runDisney shoes. Although I had been initally excited about the new shoes when they were first introduced at the On the Road to Disney Meetup in Atlanta back in November, the reveal of the full designs left me feeling disappointed. I was impressed with the 2013 Mickey and Minnie Mouse designs, which gave me high hopes for the 2014 designs, but sadly I was left wanting more when the full designs were released the week prior. Seeing the shoes on display at the expo only further confirmed my disappointment.
One we arrived inside the Field House, we immediately headed towards the official merchandise area. Preston and I both knew that we wanted to get our hands on Dopey Challenge merchandise for him and half marathon merchandise for myself. I was initally disappointed to not see any “I Did It” shirts but I suspected that there might be some available at the merchandise area in the Jostens Center. I was also disappointed in the lack of 10k merchandise, given that this was the inaugural year for Minnie’s race. We did purchase a Dopey Challenge t-shirt, dry fit shirt, and car magnet for Preston, a half marathon jacket, two magnets, and a Sweaty Bands headband for myself, and decided that we’d look for more when we got to the Jostens Center.
After we paid for our merchandise, Preston’s cousin Craig and his wife Sara arrived at the expo. Both Craig and his friend Gene ran the marathon last year with Preston, but had opted to run just the half this year. Once we met up with Craig and Sara we began our booth hopping, picking up all of our bibs and other essential items for the weekend. After how quickly Dumbo Double Dare had sold out in 2013, we opted to register Preston for the Dopey Challenge through the early registration with Runner’s World Challenge. Although the hefty price tage seemed outrageous at first, when we added up the additional costs of the add ons included (post race breakfasts for the 5k and 10k, Race Retreat for the half and full, and Pasta in the Park), we found that the Runner’s World price tag was actually very reasonable. The only add on we didn’t utilize was Pasta in the Park, but when Preston retrieved his Dopey Challenge envelope we were surprised to find two vouchers for two 10 minute post race massages. These weren’t initially advertised as part of the Dopey Challenge package, so we felt as though it covered the “money lost” for not using the Pasta in the Park ticket.
After a stop at the Runner’s World booth, we went to the 10k and half marathon booths for my bibs, Race Retreat to get my wristband for the half, and ChEAR Squad for my wristband for the full and my parents’ wristsbands for both the half and full. Between our official merchandise bag as well as three ChEAR Squad bags for myself and my parents, we headed to the Jostens Center with very full hands.
Once inside the Jostens Center, we were baffled by how crowded the New Balance area was, especially given my disappointment about the shoes. Clearly, I’m in the minority about the shoes, but we were thankful to skip over this part of the expo.
Our first stop at the Jostens Center was the shirt and gEAR bag pickup area. Although Preston had gotten all of his Dopey Challenge shirts at the Runner’s World booth in the Field House, Craig and I needed to pick up our shirts and bags. With three more bags, Craig and Preston made a run to the cars while Sara and I browsed some of the booths. Our first stop was at Lasting Commemoratives so that I could pick up the complimentary photo card for the weekend. Afterwards we headed to Sweaty Bands so that I could pick up a Minnie Mouse headband to complete my 10k outfit (the one I got at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach expo wound up being too big).
By this time, Preston and Craig were back from the cars and we started exploring the rest of the expo. Our first stop was the second offical merchandise area. The one inside of Jostens Center was much larger than the one at the Field House, and I was thankful to find an “I Did It” shirt for myself. Preston was disappointed that the only men’s “I Did It” shirts were dry fit, and opted not to get one for himself.
As we left the merchandise area, we walked straight into the runDisney booth. We took some time to look at the medals that we’d be earning throughout the weekend, and admired the other race medals. Before leaving the runDisney booth, we got the opportunity to meet Jeff Galloway, the training consultant for runDisney. He congratulated me in advance of Saturday’s half marathon, and gave Preston some last minute Dopey Challenge advice, mainly to take the 5k, 10k, and half easy and to walk as much of those races as possible.
After leaving runDisney, we continued on through the expo. We saw a long line at the Cigna booth for free prerace photos, and opted to pass. We did get free samples from Dannon and Clif, and checked to see if Thorlos was running an expo special on Experia socks (their special wasn’t any better than the deal that Dick’s Sporting Goods had over the holidays). By this point, the expo was getting pretty crowded and we opted to head outside to Champion Stadium and check out the last part of the expo.
We immediately headed to the Cigna Inspiration Station and stocked up on poster board and buttons for the weekend. Preston also signed the inspiration board.
After we left the inspiration station, we walked around the stadium for a few minutes, but weren’t very impressed with the booths there. Hunger was starting to take over, and we decided to head to Downtown Disney for lunch instead of spending more time at the expo. Preston was craving a burger, so we ate at Planet Hollywood before we parted ways with Craig and Sara. We headed to Coronado Springs to check in and empty out the car, and then made our way to the Magic Kingdom for the rest of the day.
At Magic Kingdom, we spent the afternoon on some of our favorite rides, including Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Jungle Cruise, and ended our day with dinner at Be Our Guest. I was very fortunate that back in July I had been able to get us a dinner reservation at Be Our Guest, and despite mixed reviews that we’d read about the restaurant we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner there.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. Preston laid out his race clothes and bib for the 5k, and we set our alarm for the first of many early mornings.
QOTD: What are your favorite booths to visit at race expos?