Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler - Race Recap!

So, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler has come and gone and I’m happy to report that I was a finisher.

I think.


About the “happy” part, I mean, not the finishing.  I did finish.  I’m not sure if I’m happy about that, though.

Here’s what happened…

Race Day, Part One: Packet Pick-up/Expo and Dinner

A childhood friend and the gal who got me into running Disney in the first place, Nancy, also ran the race and graciously shared her villa at Saratoga Springs Resort with me.  So on race day morning, I made the drive form home to WDW, found Nancy and unloaded my car before we set off for the expo.  Let me tell ya – shopping the expo is a lot more fun with a girlfriend than with a kid!  It was great to verbally work out race jitters and excitement with each other as we wandered about and did some shopping.  I felt like the size and scale of the expo was a bit smaller and more manageable than that of the 2012 Princess Half-Marathon weekend, which was great; I get overwhelmed by too much noise and visual stimulation, plus I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet before the race, right?

Ooo, skeery... oh, and have I mentioned that I'm blonde now?
Yet another giant, man-shaped, scratchy race shirt. But... it glows in the dark. of my drawer. where it'll stay forever.

After a quick lunch at Wide World of Sports (WWOS) complex, we went back to the villa with every intention of napping until 5pm.  I. could. not. sleep.  Too excited, too nervous about my knee situation, too amped up with adrenaline.  It was a relief when my alarm went off at 5pm.  FINALLY, I could get dressed in my race outfit and feel like we were getting somewhere.  Of course, we still had 5 hours until the start…

Since we weren’t staying at an official race host resort, and neither of us was excited by the prospect of traversing the big, dark WWOS parking lot (where anyone driving to the race would need to park, then take a shuttle bus to the start at Hollywood Studios), at 3am, we chose to make the very short drive to Port Orleans Riverside (which was a host resort with buses to the race start), park there, eat dinner, then take a bus to the race.  This worked out terrifically!  I had a yummy plate of pasta around 6pm, along with lots and lots of Nuun-infused water.  At shortly after 7pm, we got on the bus outside the resort lobby and were off to the race!

Race Day, Part Two: The Race!

I was really, really impressed with the pre-race staging area.  There seemed to be ample room to move around with 12,000 or so of our fellow racers and their families, plenty of porta-potties, and lots of good music playing to get us pumped up.  Maybe a little too pumped up.  At risk of sounding judgmental, I was shocked by how many racers were dancing up a storm before the race.  Nancy and I sat there watching them, wondering aloud how anyone could possibly muster the energy to run 10 hot, humid miles after an hour of dancing?!  And by “hot” and “humid,” I mean HOT and HUMID.  Honestly, it was business as usual for me; it felt no different than any of my training runs all summer long, save for the lack of scorching sun on top of it all.  But I can’t imagine how awful it must have felt to anyone not acclimated to our delightful Florida climate in September.  I sat for a good hour, saving my legs and feet, eating a small snack, and downing more water.

We chose to get into our respective corrals (A for Nancy – way to go! – and C for me) before instructed to do so, and I’m glad we did; we avoided the mass of humanity moving into their corrals and I was able to use a porta-potty with minimal waiting.  This, I must point out, Disney got so, so right – porta-potties in EVERY CORRAL!  Oh, how I hope they’ll do the same for future races, because it was ever-so appreciated.  I have to admit that waiting alone in my corral was lonely.  I didn’t want to waste my iPhone’s battery, so I didn’t have that for distraction, and it was past my usual bedtime; I was getting sleepy.  I was thankful when, at 9:30pm, the call came to exit the corrals into the road at their other ends, from where we, staying in our corral groups, walked down the road to the starting line.

Before long, the fireworks went off for the first group of wheelchair racers, then for the second group, then for A corral, and B corral.  We C folks moved up and I stuck to the far left side of the road, from where I could lean out to my left a bit and see what was ahead… I was a bit in front of the halfway point of our corral and the starting line was actually the toll booths for the Studios parking lot. 

The first 5 miles of the course took us out of Hollywood Studios and out-and-back on Osceola Parkway before turning into the WWOS complex.  I knew I had to walk every other quarter-mile stretch to save my knee, but waited to see what the crowd did before deciding whether to start with a quarter-mile walk, or start running first – we mostly had to walk through the start line, but then the crowd picked up to a jog, so I did, too.  A funny thing with IT Band Syndrome (ITBS) is that going uphill is fine, but the downhill kills.  So I ran up the ramp to Osceola Parkway and started my walk on the downhill.  And that, folks, is just annoying as hell, to not take advantage of gravity and gain some speed on the downhill.  People were flying past me as I slowly walked down, hugging the inside of the curve like it was my long-lost lover.  But once we hit the flats again, I was back to running and felt great!  I was warm, but nowhere near overheated, felt perfectly hydrated, and as strong as an elite athlete.  There was a decided lack of themeing along those stretches of highway, but it didn’t bother me in the least as I found my happy pace, alternating quarter-mile stretches of walking and run-walk intervals.  I was passing other racers left and right, which is always good for the runner’s psyche, right?

Passing the marker for Mile 3, I allowed myself to wonder, “Maybe I finally beat ITBS into submission – maybe I’ll nail this race after all!”  All of my training seemed to be paying off and I felt the best I’ve ever felt while running.

At 3.25, I felt a familiar tightening in my left leg.  At 3.5, it felt like an ice pick was jammed into the outside of my knee by the end of every 1-minute run interval.  ITBS struck again.  Still, I was able to run 50 seconds at a time without pain, so “Maybe,” I bargained with my body, “if I skip every other run interval and only run 45 seconds at a time when I do run, I won’t have to walk the rest of the race…”  It worked for a while, but by Mile 5, I was down to running 30 or so seconds every 5 minutes.  And it HURT.  Piercing, excruciating, sob-inducing pain.  I’d put the pain level on 11.  Out of 10.  But, magically, the pain went away when I switched to a walk.  I knew what I had to do.

Only halfway through the race, I was hobbled to a walk and, truthfully, I should have parked my fanny on the side of the road, cheered for my fellow racers, and hitched a ride on the sag wagon when the sweepers eventually came through.  The experts say often that distance running is a huge mental game; that it takes some serious mental strength to veto the bad thoughts sent by our brains, telling us to quit.  I, strangely, found myself in the exact opposite position: my mental toughness wasn’t tough enough to pull the plug and save myself from further pain.  My brain was insistent: “You trained for this.  You’ve already done the distance.  Don’t quit now – earn that medal!” 

The crowd around me was almost exclusively walkers at that point; I’d been passed by the runners I’d passed earlier.  We all walked down the dark, creepy dirt path that was decorated with the occasional skeleton in a cage and large, fake bug.  I’d put the decorating on par with a stroll through Michael’s craft store this time of year.  Definitely not up to Disney standards.  As we entered WWOS, every field was lit and, coming in from the dark, I felt a bit of renewed energy.  By the time we entered the baseball stadium to run the bases, I picked it up and pulled off a sad, limpy jog for the photogs along the diamond.  But the pain from that was so debilitating, I crawled to a slow walk as we exited WWOS. 

Pulling off the course to stretch my leg, I looked back, almost hoping to see the sweeper so I could end the agony, knowing that I’d done all I could.  Nope.  Not a sweeper in sight.  With a sigh, I started walking again, head down in defeat.  We were back on a dark stretch of highway again for a couple miles and the crowd around me was quiet and subdued, all of us inwardly-focused on our individual ailments.  It was rough, rough going as we climbed the ramp back to Hollywood Studios.

And that’s when I got mad.  Really, really mad.  I had trained for that race!  And I’d hydrated properly and felt fantastic, apart from my stupid knee.  I wasn’t sick, my heart rate wasn’t even reaching the point of aerobic, let along anaerobic.  And a “little” lousy pain was keeping me from reaching my goal of finishing strong?! No sir-ee.  Winding through Hollywood Studios, I did the stupidest thing possible at that point: I ignored the pain tearing through my leg and ran my way through the finish line.  I was strong, fierce and every bit the Badass Mother Runner my race shirt advertised. 

My version of a finisher's photo.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.  That last run did nothing to help my final time and left me unable to bend my knee at all without intense pain.  I got my medal, skipped the finisher’s photo, grabbed the food and water someone handed me, took a bag of ice from the medical tent and, in a daze, slowly limped to the spot Nancy and I had designated to meet after the race.  I sat on a ledge, icing my knee and trying not to cry until Nancy appeared, haloed in light from a spotlight behind her and carrying an ice-cold Corona, complete with lime wedge.  Exactly what I needed – a beer and a friend to make me smile!

Eventually, the ice, beer and an Aleve got my pain under control and I retrieved my bag of fresh clothing (thanks a bunch, Disney, for making us go down, and then back up, a bazillion STAIRS to get our bags after running 10 miles), so we could enjoy the after-party.  We had a great time riding Star Tours and the Tower of Terror, and taking a picture with Lord Vader.  

Getting whacked in the face with our heavy, glow-y medals.

At 3am, after killing yourself to run 10 miles in 80-degrees and 89% humidity and downing a beer or two, "using the force" with Vader sounds really badass.
By 3am, the adrenaline wore off, fatigue set in, and we boarded a bus back to Port Orleans, where we got in my car and drove back to our villa.  We spent the next day showing off our awesome medals and slowly making our way around the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot.  It was the perfect recovery day – small, frequent bites to eat, slow walking to stretch the legs, and a fun friend with whom to chat.

The Aftermath

So I’ve had a few days to digest my race and I’m still finding it hard to feel good about finishing.  I think, had I never before run that far, maybe I could be satisfied with finishing in 2:42:07.  But knowing that I’ve already done the distance in training, and that I did it in 2:13:55, makes it tough to celebrate.  Had I quit when the pain hit, at 3 miles, I’d still have received the cool medal, I’d have had more time and energy to enjoy the party with my friend, and, most importantly, I’d have done no further damage to my knee.  I’m now off running altogether for a while to let the inflammation go down and then I’ll be starting from scratch.  I can’t honestly think of anything about the race that was worth doing myself in like this.

And that’s a big part of my disappointment: bad enough that my body let me down – Disney let me down, too.  Leading up to the race, I kept telling myself that, even if I had to walk a lot of it, the incredible entertainment that Disney routinely throws into its races would keep me distracted from my slow pace.  I didn’t want to stop for pictures, but I’d have enjoyed seeing others do so and would have gotten a kick out of some performers doing their thing on the sides of the road… but there were only a couple of photo ops along the course and they were of the jump-in-take-a-pic-jump-out variety; not much to look at as a passer-by.  No characters at the start or finish, either.  The lack of entertainment coupled with not being able to perform as I knew I could when uninjured made for a whole lot of frustration.

I hope that my feelings about my own performance aren’t confused with my appreciation for the efforts of everyone else who took on the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, though.  I think every person who finished that race was amazing!  And maybe I am, too.  I might just need a little more time to process it all.

So… now what?

Now, I heal, strengthen, and start running in teeny-tiny distances that don’t hurt, hopefully building back up in time for the Princess Half-Marathon in February.  I’ll change my habit of running always with the road slanting down on my left, which seems to have been the catalyst for ITBS in the first place.  I’ll admire the 10M sticker on my car, knowing that I can go the distance, even if not as I’d envisioned doing it.  And I’ll wear my “I did it!” race shirt with pride.  But I’ll never, ever run injured like that again.


  1. Congratulations on finishing, despite the ITBS. It was a tough race in that heat and humidity, even for Floridians. I didn't fare as well as you did, but had fun anyways.

    See ya at the Princess!!

  2. Thanks for the recap...I was one of the ones that was swept at Mile 3 due to a pulled psoas/hip flexor. It still bothers me today. I wish I had your mindset to keep going...I know I could have finished but I was so defeated and sweaty from that heat that I just couldn't make myself go on.

  3. Sabrina, thank you! I'm feeling better about the experience now :) On to the Princess!

    Tippy, I'm so sorry. Please, though, feel good about NOT pushing to finish; no race finish is worth greater injury. Hope you're healing well!