Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year! To Resolve or not to Resolve?

I’m both a perfectionist and a realist, with the former being a natural tendency and the latter a learned response to deal with the former.  See, life is a lot easier for the perfectionist when approached with an attitude of “be prepared for the worst and enjoy the delightful surprise if things turn out better than expected.”

As such, I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions.  Why make a list of promises that can so easily become derailed, ending in extreme disappointment?  I get why others engage in the annual resolutions, but it’s not my thing.


I find myself considering a few running-specific goals as 2013 rolls to an end.  

Yesterday, I went for a little run and found myself playing a game called Try-To-Ignore-The-iSmoothRun-Voice-Every-Time-She-Says-“Walk”-For-As-Long-As-Possible.  The more walk breaks I ran through, the easier it became and a couple miles in, it hit me: maybe I can someday run an entire 5K without walking.  And if I can do that, maybe I can do 10K.  A half-marathon, maybe?  Maybe.  I smell a 2014 goal.

I’ve also found myself lately kicking my own behind when I blatantly ignore a lifetime of experience and try something new to me because the “experts” say I should.  It almost never works out for me, hence my new blog series on “Breaking the Running Rules.”  So there’s a goal right there – to rely on what I know works for me and tune out the naysayers.

And then there’s Leo, my 11-year-old son.  The kid who got me started with this running stuff in the first place.  The kid who’s been left in my dust as I discovered how much I really enjoy distance training, even as he’s discovered he really doesn’t  enjoy it.  Or does he?  I’m not real sure anymore; these ‘tween years are a challenge.  But I aim to find out just what he enjoys and see if I can’t help him also find the peace and strength physical activity brings to my life.

So there you go – three solid goals for 2014.  All achievable?  I don’t know.  And that’s pretty scary to a perfectionist.  But I’m willing to give it a try.

Wishing you all a Magical 2014!

How about you?  Do you have any running resolutions for 2014?  Let’s hear ‘em!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Breaking the Running Rules #1: “if you want to run more, you have to run more”

If you’re a runner and haven’t heard that idiom yet, I’m guessing you’ve been running under a rock.  Another variation has it that, “if you want to run faster, you have to run faster.”  I’m completely on board with the second variation, but I’m finding that the first is questionable.

The standard beginner’s distance race training plan has a runner add on miles over a number of weeks in preparation for a race, and usually advocates an easy, comfortable pace.  Some plans add miles each week, while others up the ante every other week, but generally speaking, they have you run steadily increasing miles in order to… well, run more miles.

I’ve been following plans like that for the better part of two years now… and I’m ready to shake things up.  Because this runner’s body doesn’t seem to respond well to that approach.

After battling yet another painful and irritating round of overuse issues, this article caught my eye: Can reducing your mileage and relying on short and fast intervals put you on a path to better running?

Back when running was just part of my overall fitness routine, and not something for which I was specifically training, I would generally walk quickly for around 10 minutes, alternate short sprints and shorter, slow recoveries for 5-10 minutes, then walk comfortably for 10-15 minutes to cool down.  Apparently I’d been doing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for near-on 15 years, long before it had a commonly-recognized acronym.

Know what happened to my knees/back/hips/ankles/shoulder over that 15 years?  Nothing.  Not a single injury.  In the two years I’ve been piling on miles at a slower, but steadier, pace?  IT Band Syndrome.  Runner’s Knee.  Bursitis.  Piriformis Syndrome.  Hip flexor strain.  Frozen shoulder.  Hmmm…

Given that I only have four weeks left to train for my next race – the WDW Half-Marathon, Jan. 11 – now seems like a good time to start breaking some rules and try a new approach.  Instead of running long and slow on weekdays, I’m aiming for more HIIT-like workouts.  And instead of adding on small amounts of distance over a longer period of time, I’m ramping up quickly: five miles two weeks ago, seven last week, and I’m aiming for nine this weekend, with a cut-back to four next weekend before going back up to eleven the weekend after that.  That will leave me with two weeks/one weekend before the race; I’ll go by feel for that – but I doubt I’ll increase my mileage any further and will probably stick with short and fast.

I’m feeling pretty optimistic about this approach.  If it works, well… I’ll start looking at my next round of training with an eye for breaking the rules again.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Route Review: McGough and Bonner Parks, Largo, FL

I’ve been a visitor of George C. McGough Nature Park for years, and have used its paths for a number of short runs, including the Turtle Trot 5K race held annually to benefit the park.  It’s a lovely area full of old- and new-growth flora and lots and lots of fauna, such as wading birds, woodpeckers, fish, bunnies, squirrels, snakes and, prompting the park’s “Turtle Park” nickname, a healthy population of turtles and tortoises.  Additionally, park volunteers have rescued and rehabilitated a number of wild birds, a few of which, with injuries that prohibit their return to the wild, have become permanent residents of McGough Park and can be viewed in their spacious enclosures.

The John R. Bonner Nature Park is located a few blocks away from McGough Park.  Playing host to a large and diverse number of migratory birds, Bonner Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.  In addition to dense forest sections, the park also provides picnic and playground areas.

Note that these parks reside within one of the most densely populated and developed counties in Florida.  Outside of well-manicured lawns and roadways, it’s hard to find much greenspace where I live.  Even harder to find good trails to run.  So, faced with a 6-mile training run on a hot, sunny day a few weeks ago, I opted to enjoy the shade of the parks and run a route that incorporated both parks and the residential neighborhood between them.

I began in McGough Park, which features paths and trails composed of asphalt, wooden boardwalk, hard-packed dirt, and loose gravel.  

Staff and volunteers do an incredible job of keeping the paths clear and free of litter.  Two pedestrians can comfortably walk/run side-by-side or pass freely on the paths, while the boardwalk sections are a bit tight for more than one person at a time.  

One of the things I love most about this park is the sheer variety of plant life in such a small space.  Starting at the front of the park, I ran amongst tall, old-growth pine and oak trees, which gave way to ground-hugging saw palmettos as I made my way toward the back of the park.  At its far side, McGough ends at the Intracoastal Waterway, which separates the mainland from the barrier islands.  There, on the west side of the boardwalk paths, the landscape changes to mangrove swamp and any number of crabs, fish, and wading birds can be seen swimming or fishing amidst the roots.

Just a few slithery creatures one might encounter at McGough.

Heading back to the park’s entrance, the path turned to asphalt and led me to the parking lot, from which I exited and ran up and down several streets between McGough and Bonner Park.  I learned a few things on those streets: 
  1. They are not particularly shaded.  And I did not wear sunscreen.  Oops.
  2. We have hills in Coastal Florida.  More accurately, we have a bluff.  And it runs through that neighborhood.  I wasn’t planning to run hills that day.  Oops.  Again.

I knew from my Turtle Trot experiences (the race goes through both parks) that Bonner Park boasts an actual, unpaved, single-track trail that snakes through a small, lush corner of the park.  The Turtle Trot 5K takes place in early May – a typically dry month following a cool to sometimes cold, dry winter.  In mid-October, following an exceptionally rainy summer, that section felt deep, damp and far removed from the congested civilization surrounding it.

Several bridges have been built to cross over small, babbling brooks, but there were places, too, where water trickled freely over knotted roots and rocks that littered the trail.  The landscape inclines and drops steeply through the trees, turning sharply around giant old oaks, and thick ground vegetation had spread out into the trail.  Theoretically, the trail eventually curves around to a second entrance/exit in the park, but when the vines that looked eerily like poison ivy become so thick that they crossed the entire trail, I backtracked my way out to where I’d first entered.

I made my way through a section of well-maintained asphalt paths in Bonner, where I saw a few woodpeckers hard at work, then headed back out through the neighborhood for a final loop through McGough Park.

I absolutely looooved this run.  It was hot and felt entirely too much like summer for, you know, fall… but I’m finding that my favorite runs are in natural settings.  

Trails make V happy.

I’m looking forward to a repeat visit to Bonner and McGough in the future, not least of all because I can end my run with these guys…

The famous McGough turtles.

Meet Matilda, the rescued owl.

And Shay, the Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon / Jingle Jungle 5K - Race Recap(s)

I know you're all like "Whaaaaat?  V never said she was running those races..."

I didn't.

And, after hearing so many folks rave about the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon, I'm pretty bummed I skipped it.  I "ran" the Jingle Jungle 5K last year - but my experience was hampered a LOT by injury and 'tween antics.

I have a feeling I'll be signing up to run the Wine & Dine next year, though.  Until then, I enjoyed spending this week reading all about the 2013 races, so in the spirit of #FollowFriday, I'll share with you the recaps from some of my favorite Disney-running bloggers!  Enjoy!

Margaritas, Miles & The Mouse: Wine & Dine Half

Plus the Magic: Jingle Jungle 5K  (Okay, she hasn’t posted the full Jingle Jungle Review yet… but it’s coming.  And.  She’s a fabulous blogger. So click through anyway, and read some other awesome stuff while you wait…)

Run. Walk. FASTPASS. Repeat.: Wine & Dine Half

Pink Elephant on Parade: Wine & Dine Half

We Run Disney: Jingle Jungle 5K

Mom’s Magical Miles: Wine & Dine Half

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

15K views! And Fuzzy FastPass+

I don't have anything new and exciting to report about running.  But I do have an exciting announcement about this blog...

It just hit over 15,000 pageviews!  I'm not a numbers gal, and not even the Fuzziest of math will ever help me analyze web data, but 15,000 is a pretty big number for a dinky little blog.  So thanks for reading, sharing and making my Fuzzy world feel warm and, well... fuzzy!

Note: Googling "warm fuzzy" is interesting... in a super creepy way. This was the least creepy image I saw. Shout-out to oopsydaisyblog.com for being fuzzy, not creepy.

And now, I'd like to direct you to my other, non-running-specific blog, for some Fuzzy FastPass+ info.  I'm off to the Mother Ship, Walt Disney World, this weekend and will be trying out the whole Magic Band/ FastPass+ thingy.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Change of Plans. Again.

With the Tower of Terror 10-Miler behind me, it’s time to look toward my next race.  Which was supposed to be the Halloween Halfathon on Oct. 27.  It’s not anymore.  The race is still happening… but without me.  

After training hard through the HOT summer for the 10-Miler and dealing with my recent hip problems, I felt beat-up and tired.  Bone-deep exhaustion.  I felt physically ill at the prospect of tackling a half-marathon three weeks out from the 10-Miler.  I knew what I needed most was a rest, for both my body and my mind.  Fortunately, Florida Gulf Beaches Road Races offers a stellar refund/transfer policy and, while I’m a little bummed to miss the Halloween event, I am pleased to say that I’ve transferred my registration to the Beach Halfathon in late March.  A mere four weeks after the Glass Slipper Challenge and its cumulative 19.3 miles.  Whatever; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

So now my next race is the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon in early January.  That little change gave me a few weeks to scale back mileage and recover from the summer.


To develop a new training plan.

Yep, another one.

My last plan was entirely too ambitious for the summer heat and got scrapped a while ago.  Add in my change of race plans, and the rest needed some tweaking, too.  Also, I listened to an awesome Another Mother Runner podcast interview with Greg McMillan, in which he explained the ins and outs of his training approach.  What really struck me was the conversation about how important the need is for slower-paced runs in one’s training program.  That’s something to which I’ve never before subscribed, other than when hobbled by impending heat stroke; on the contrary, I’ve spent the past year and a half thinking every run needed to be run at the fastest pace I had in me in order to get faster.  Well Mr. McMillan?  You talked some serious sense into this lady.

I spent some quality time on www.mcmillanrunning.com, where I first used McMillan’s world-famous calculator to find my best training paces.  It works like this: enter your best time at a certain distance, preferably a distance as close as possible to the distance for which you wish to train, and then enter the distance you plan to race and the time in which you hope to finish it.  I entered my last 10K finish time of 1:16:23 and a hopeful 2:31:12 finish for the upcoming WDW Half, identified myself as a “Speedster” (easily able to go short and fast, but challenged by endurance) and got this list:

Pretty nifty, no?!  But… what do I do with it???

First, each type of pace – Steady State, Long Run, Tempo, etc. – has a video explanation here: www.mcmillanrunning.com/tips.  I took a few notes on each, to have as a handy reference when my mom-brain stalls next week and I can’t remember what in tarnation heck I’m supposed to do with "Tempo Intervals."  Then, I moved on to McMillan’s detailed explanation on how to create a training plan.

Okay, let me say this: it’s intense.  And complicated.  And riddled with ~shudder~ math.  Of the non-Fuzzy variety.  But as I read on (and glossed over the math, as I realized it wasn’t really imperative that I understand the numbers, only that I trust them to work), things started sliding into place in my mind. 

  1. Figure out my weakness – stamina, for sure.  And make strengthening that the core of my training plan. 
  2. Add in some speed because A. that’s my area of some talent and B. increasing speed can only be beneficial in the long run.
  3. Figure out how many weeks I have until race day and create a spread sheet listing each week; include columns for long runs, main workout short runs, secondary short runs, and, for the Glass Slipper Challenge, back-to-back runs later in my schedule.
  4. Assign each week’s training runs, based on a couple weeks of base-building, a larger portion of stamina-building weeks, a small chunk of speed-building weeks, and a couple weeks to taper.

At the end, BOOM!  I’ve got a plan that looks very do-able, is very specific to my individual needs, will fit in nicely with my cross-training days, and just may lead me to a nice PR.

McMillan also offers training plans for purchase, which I imagine takes out a lot of the work, and I’ve heard very, very good things about those paid plans… but I’m broke. And I really think my customized plan will be good for me.  I started using it already and I can’t say enough good things about knowing what pace range I’m aiming for before each run, depending on what type of run it is.  Knowing that an expert says to aim for a certain pace removes from the equation the mental anxiety of worrying that I'm not doing enough.

Last Saturday, for instance, was a 6 mile long run; I checked my chart before heading out and knew I should aim for a pace between 13:17 and 14:17/mile.  It was hot and humid, so I aimed to hit the slow end of that range… and I did!  Before, I’d have tried hard to push my pace down to where I hope to race in January, and would have spent those 6 miles courting heat exhaustion.  This time, I felt like I was putting in some effort, but comfortably so; no gasping for breath, no muscle cramping, no dizziness.  It was a tough run, thanks to some overgrown trails and scorching sun, but I recovered from it quickly and was able to spend the rest of my day getting non-running things done and enjoying some quality time with my son.  This new methodology may make me a better distance runner… and a better Mother runner!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tower of Terror 10-Miler Recap, Part Three

To conclude this very log-winded race recap, I want to offer my thoughts about the race from a personal perspective, as well as a list of pros and cons that may help others considering a future Twilight Zone Tower ofTerror 10-Miler race.

If you read my recap and its follow-up from the 2012 Tower 10-Miler, you know that the 2013 race carried a lot of emotional baggage, through no real fault of its own.  I wanted redemption this year, and I wanted it badly.  So, did I get it?

Yes!  Kind of.  My fantasy goal was to run this in two hours or less, but I knew with a bum hip that was highly unlikely.  My wish goal was to run it in less than two hours, fifteen minutes.  I didn’t quite make that, officially… but Disney’s timing chip and my Garmin have different ideas of how much time it took me to finish the race: my Garmin reported 2:14:48. That’s despite turning it on just before crossing the Start line, and turning it off at least 30 seconds after crossing the Finish.  So, while my official time may say otherwise, I know that I did, in fact, make my wish goal.  And I beat my base goal of sub-2:30:00 in any case.  So redemption?  Yeah, baybee!

I've had my eye on a Hollywood Tower Hotel bell for years - I got one for my work desk
to celebrate this year's race finish!

I’m so glad I opted to run this race again.  In addition to feeling like I got a second chance at running it more like I know I can, I also got a first-hand look at the changes runDisney implemented after receiving feedback last year.  More on that below, but they got an awful lot very, very RIGHT this year.  I absolutely recommend this race going forward!

That said, I have no plans to run it again next year.  I think the race itself was great, but the late start combined with my pre-race anxiety and early-to-rise schedule, plus my body’s total breakdown in the face of too little sleep, is a bad mix for me.  I don’t love the super-early start races, either, but I can at least take a nap after those and recover pretty quickly.  I also don’t want to train hard through another Florida summer.  I’m convinced that the heat takes a major toll on my body and makes me more susceptible to injury.  I look forward to scaling back both the distance and intensity next summer to give my body the break it deserves.

But for those thinking of running the 2014 Tower 10-Miler, here are my Best and Worst parts of the race this year...

  • Photo opps: Disney listened and added a TON of photo stops to the course.  I don't stop for character photos in the parks, let alone in a race, but I was glad to see they stepped it up, anyway.  
  • New corral system: Breaking up the field into more, smaller corrals really seemed to help with course congestion.  Nancy and Peter reported that they had ample room to run without much weaving in corral D.  Starting from G, I encountered some congestion, but less than last year, and MUCH less than I found starting in C for the Princess Half-Marathon this year.
  • Bag check: As with last year, dropping off my bag pre-race was quick and easy.  Unlike last year, picking it up was also a breeze this year!  Instead of going through the park and then down and back up entirely too many stairs at the Indiana Jones amphitheater, this year we passed through a backstage finish chute right into the amphitheater's floor, where a super-efficient crew retrieved our bags.  Brilliant!
  • Post-race snack box:  Okay, I'm still not a fan of the box format, but this year?  The boxes had HANDLES!!  Much easier to hang on to, along with water, a banana, a medal, etc., as we made our way through the finish chute.


  • New corral system: Yeah, I just listed this as a best, and it was... but Disney let me down by not having porta-potties in every corral, as they did last year.  I guess they really couldn't make them smaller and keep banks of potties in each, but it was a really nice feature and I was bummed to see it gone.  
  • Weather: This is beyond Disney's control, unless they change the time of year they hold this race.  But it was still a negative to me.  The weather just changed down here in FL - finally! - and I'm getting a taste of what 5-10 degrees cooler plus lower humidity does for my running experience... it's nice.  Really, really nice.  I never want to run in TOT 10-Miler conditions again.
  • Gear bag:  Disney cheaped out on gear bags this year.  They look the same - clear plastic with a nylon drawstring - but they were nowhere near as sturdy.  Peter's tore almost immediately after he got it.  Nancy's not long after.  Mine survived the race, but tore all down the side as I walked away from bag pick-up.  Fortunately, I had all of my things inside a backpack, inside the gear bag, so I just tossed the gear bag and carried on.  But it would suck to lose all of your stuff if it was loose in there.
  • Loudness: I think this is probably just my hang-up.  But the sound level of pre-race festivities did a number on me; I was battling a fierce headache by the time the race started.

I think my "bests" far outweigh my "worsts," even if I have no interest in running this one again.  Angry Running Mickey agrees.  If you ran it, what was your Best and Worst?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler Race Recap, Part Two

Part two: in which I actually, you know, run the race.  And other stuff.

Okay, before I start, I have to ‘fess up:

I had pretty good intentions of taking a bunch of photos this time.  That didn’t happen.  I'll post what I got and add some from runDisney where applicable, but if you want a better visual trip through 10 miles of “terror”, check out runDisney’s Facebook album.

Also, this is going to get long.  Very long.  Because I'm going to make up for the lack of actual photos by painting a visual with words.  Or something. 

Still with me?  Okay, here we go…

Nancy, Peter and I grabbed a light dinner at the Caribbean Beach Resort’s (CBR) food court around 6:30pm and hopped a bus to the race shortly after 7pm. 

(For those, like I, who stress about how the whole race bus system works, note that the race buses were fancy Mears-type coaches, not regular WDW buses. The race buses had signs in their front windows denoting them as race transportation, and at CBR, those buses went around to each of the regular resort bus stops.  This is not necessarily the case at every resort, so it’s best to inquire about how your WDW resort will be handling race transportation.)

I tend to become Piglet when planning my arrival to something with a firm time target: very worried and terribly nervous.  I’ll always choose to be early rather than chance being late.  So I was quite pleased when, after picking up a few more people at other stops, we took off and quickly arrived at the pre-race staging area, located in a parking lot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS).

By then, it was maybe 7pm… and I had until 9:15 before getting into my corral… to wait another hour before my start.  We were so early, the DJ hadn’t even started doing his thing.  But, Disney listened and there were many more photo opportunities than last year, so we indulged.

Help, I’m slipping into the twilight zone…

Or is it, “Help, I’m about to be eaten by these giant clumps of sea grass, which have nothing at all to do with the Twilight Zone, the Tower of Terror, or running!”???  The mind boggles.

A few people complimented our awesome shirts, and one simply didn’t get it.  That would be the photographer in front of a large, lit screen.  He had a fairly short line, so we got in and waited, not really knowing what it was all about, but pretty sure something cool would come of it.  As we waited, an assistant came through, telling folks who weren’t in costume, “This is for costumed racers only.  If you’re not in costume, you can’t get a picture here.”  We thought that was weird, but he didn’t tell us to leave, so he clearly got our LOST theme.  The photographer, though, did not.  Get it.  He took one look at us and said, in a disdainful tone, “This is for costumes only.”  To which we replied, “We are in costumes!  Team DHARMA?  The DHARMA Initiative?  You know, LOST – on ABC, a Disney affiliate?!”  Nope.  Not a sign of recognition in his face.  Unwilling to argue, he waved us up to the screen and we posed for our magical picture.

Guess what?

No picture.  Not in my official race photos, not in Nancy’s race photos.  Not in Peter’s race photos.  That jerk-head photographer probably never even clicked the shutter.  Hmmph.

Anyway, we took some pictures, then milled around until we found a good spot to sit and wait.

(Note: I brought with me an "ear" from the Mickey towel art in my resort room – for sitting.  And I was glad I had it: the DHS parking lot looked to have been coated in Brill Cream.  It was shiny and, as I discovered upon pulling up my towel an hour or so later, sticky.  I was pretty glad the fresh blacktop stuck to an easily laundered towel and not my running skirt.)

The DJ had started spinning his very, VERY loud tunes and a ton of people were dancing up a storm.

“Place your hands on your hips… and pull your knees in ti-ight!”

And I once again wondered how they could possibly have the energy to run 10 miles after a two-hour dance workout in 77 degrees and 86% humidity.  I’d love to know the percentage of non-finishers and finishers who danced first.

As the time neared to start loading corrals, we took our show on the road, hitting the gigantic bank of porta-potties near the corrals.  I’ve read complaints from others about waiting a long, long time in potty lines that night, but I waited a grand total of 30 seconds.  Disney had the potties laid out in a T formation, but you really wouldn’t know that unless you went around the bottom of the T and discovered the nearly empty left side of it.  Back in that corner, there was virtually NO waiting at all. Always tour the full spectrum of potty options at a race; you never know where there may be an overlooked bank of ‘em.

Last year, the Tower of Terror 10-Miler divided runners into four huge corrals, each holding about 2,500 people.  The result was massive congestion and rampant frustration when faster runners couldn’t get by much slower people ahead of them.  This year, the slightly larger field was divided into 10 corrals, A through J, with about 500 runners each in A, B and C, 1000 each in D and E, 1500 each in G and H, and about 2000 each in I and J.  I was seeded in corral G, which was designated as the corral for expected finish times under two hours and five minutes, a 12:30/mile pace.  With all of my hip issues going into the race, I knew I wouldn’t be moving that fast, so I placed myself toward the back of the corral.  But when I heard a girl behind me say that she’d never – NEVER! – run before that night, I thought twice about my plan and started moving toward the front of the corral as we all, A through J, began the move from the staging area to the start line.

Photo courtesy of Larry Wiezycki

(This is different from other WDW races and it gets mixed reviews.  For this race, we entered the fenced-in corrals and hung out for a while.  Then, about 30 minutes before the first wave started, the far ends of the corrals opened and we all moved onto a road, still in our corral groupings.  As a whole, we all walked about a quarter-mile down the road, to the DHS parking lot tollbooths.  As each wave started, the other corrals moved up for their own starts.  I liked that walk to the start.  It gave my legs a chance to loosen up and felt more productive than sitting around any longer.  Yes, it did add to the overall distance, but in a relaxed, untimed way, just like I warm up before each training run.  I’d love for every race to start that way.)

Unfortunately, somewhere during that long walk to the start, I lost my place in the middle of the corral and wound up in the very back.  I still can’t figure out how that happened!  I kept up with the people ahead of me, and I thought we kept pace with everyone else, but when the fireworks went off (fireworks for every corral’s start – yay Disney!) and the announcers called out for corral G to “GO!”, I found myself in the very back of the group.  “Oh well,” I thought, “less pressure to go out too fast.”

As you can see on the course map…

… we quickly came to the first of two trips up and around a cloverleaf ramp.  My plan for the cloverleaf had been to hang toward the outer edge and leave room for the fast folks to run the inside tangent.  My plan got tossed faster than a liberal bill on Capitol Hill.  There really weren’t any faster folks running the inside tangent at that time, and the outer edge’s extreme angle was killing my right hip (the bad one) and my left ankle.  So I angled my run down toward the inside curve as I kept moving forward, passing a good many folks in the process.

(About that cloverleaf… in the center of it is a retention pond, used in Florida to capture stormwater runoff.  In the center of that pond, a large fireball was being sent up into the sky at regular intervals.  I have to question the thought process behind that “entertainment” – who thought it was a great idea to send more ambient heat into an already very warm race?!)

Okay, it wasn't that big – but maybe that hot.

My intention for this race was to take my time, enjoy the sights, and use it as a training run heading up to a half-marathon later in the month.  But at the end of the first mile, I felt really good.  After two miles, I felt great.  Bye-bye slow and scenic – hello redemption!  I knew at that point that I had a really good shot at beating my base goal (to finish under 2:30:00), and to maybe meet my wish goal (to finish in under 2:15:00.)

So, yeah – no pictures.  From start to finish, I never stopped.  Not to take pictures, not to use a porta-potty, not even to smear some Biofreeze on my hip.  (Yes, I was that chick walk-running past the med tent  with her hand down her shorts, trying to get Biofreeze on her hip.)  I recall seeing MANY more photo opps and props along the way.  The Queen of Hearts was out, as were the Haunted Mansion butlers and dancing ghosts, a ghostly football team, the Hag from Snow White, Jack Skellington and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog, and the hyenas from The Lion King.  I also saw a giant, inflatable spider hanging above us and the Evil Queen sending curses our way from overpasses.  There were laser lights and strobe lights and twinkling lights and spider web lights and balloon-y lights. 

Even without stopping for pictures, I found my head turning and my eyes darting here, there and everywhere, just trying to take it all in.  Disney clearly listened to last year’s complaints of less-than-expected course entertainment and stepped things way, WAY up.

As for me, up to mile eight, I kept feeling better with every passing mile.  I kept skipping walk breaks and my speed kept increasing.  Every ten minutes or so, I’d feel my heart beating a little too hard, and that cool, clammy sensation that screams impending heat exhaustion, so I’d slow down and drink my Nuun until it passed.  I picked up water at almost every stop: one cup went over my head and down my back, and two more went into my bottle. 

I really enjoyed the out and back on Osceola Parkway, and especially loved shouting out to Nancy and Peter (who had started ahead of me in corral D) as I saw them pass on the opposite side of the road.  The dirt road leading into the Wide World of Sports (WWOS) complex was my favorite portion of the race this year.  I had room to run, the dirt gave my joints a break from the asphalt, and it was way, way cool and eerie in there.

Photo courtesy of runDisney

Running through WWOS was a lot more fun this year, not being in gawdawful pain, and I appreciated the spectators in the baseball stadium with funny signs that gave me a few good laughs.  Apparently the big thingy in the middle of the baseball field was a tesla coil.  I didn’t know that at the time, though – it wasn’t working and I just saw a couple official-looking guys standing near it.  Apparently, it looked like this when it was working:

Leaving WWOS, I’d been rolling along, feeling terrific for eight miles, and then…


I hit a wall.  Not a typical, glucose crash wall, but an oh-my-god-I’m-freaking-EXHUASTED-from-too-many-days-of-anxiety wall.  I was properly fueled and hydrated, and no muscle groups or joints were protesting loudly, but I could have pulled over and been asleep on the pavement in seconds.  I could actually feel days of built-up adrenaline flow on out of my system, as if someone had pulled the stopper in a sink full of water, leaving me feeling drained of all remaining energy.  I swear, I think my brain concluded that I was totally going to finish and there was really no reason to continue its work keeping me awake.  It took monumental effort to get through those last two miles, more than I’ve ever put into a run.

In a daze, I powered through the cloverleaf again and through DHS, trying hard to find a little extra juice to run all of the final half-mile; I was within minutes of beating my wish goal.  There just wasn’t anything left to give, though.  I allowed myself to walk ten steps, then pick up the run again, only to find my legs walking again a minute later.  As I heard a volunteer shout “You’ve got this – the finish line is just around the corner!” I walked a few more steps, took a deep breath and willed my body to run just once more, around the corner, past the Tower of Terror, and to the finish, giving Goofy and his filthy white glove a big ‘ol high-five just before I crossed.

At that moment, I didn’t even care about my time goal.  All I wanted was to get my medal and sit.  Anywhere.  My hip began to hurt immediately after finishing, I'd been battling a headache since before the race started, and that tremendous exhaustion was being supplemented with a fine shaking of every muscle in my body.

Disney, wisely predicting a good many people would feel the same way, did not let me, or anyone else, flop down after the finish line.  We needed to keep moving and Disney made sure we did... A medal was placed around my neck, a bottle of water pushed into my hand, and I grabbed a banana and tore into it like I hadn’t eaten in a week. 

I honestly had no idea where I was or where I was going at that point, but I just kept shuffling along in the direction pointed to me by the volunteers.  I saw a man to my left, leaning against a metal barricade, head down as his companion rubbed his back and looked intently into his face.  And then he went down, head slamming into the barricade as the woman with him began screaming for help.  My brain woke completely with that and sent a message to run to the couple, but my legs just stopped in place.  That was really, really weird – they just didn’t respond.  I saw that a man in much better shape and size to handle things had gotten there, anyway, and we were all screaming for a medic, so I kept shuffling, knowing I’d only be in the way.

It was scary, seeing that go down, and was a reminder that running in our special brand of heat here in Florida can be dangerous. 

At the end of my long walk from the finish, I found, was the bag check retrieval point.  Disney listened again: no stairs to climb this year!  Bag check was still in the Indiana Jones Theater, but we’d been funneled to its floor from backstage, avoiding the gazillion stairs in the theater itself.  Well done, Disney; well done.  My bag retrieved, I grabbed a seat on the pavement, a little way past the theater, still backstage, to swap my running shoes for flip flops before finding somewhere to change into dry clothes.  Between shoes, I took a moment to slug down more Nuun and looked around… bodies, everywhere.  Some sitting, some prone, some looking as if they’d been cast there by tornado.  A few looked like me, industriously, if slowly, getting things together before moving on.  Most looked catatonic, like they might not move until sunrise. Again, scary.

My feet freed from their confines of socks and laces, I hobbled off to the changing tent, where I sweated more in five minutes than I had all race.  Epic fail, there.  Really, no one thought to put a FAN in there?!

Shortly after, I met up with Nancy and Peter and we went to grab some food before meeting up with our running group.  It kind of all went south for me at that point.  I was standing in line with Peter, chatting, when I felt myself go cold from head to toe and my hearing suddenly felt muffled.  I was going to faint, I could tell.  So I went to sit at our table, head down until the world stopped spinning around me and the light-headedness passed.  Food no longer sounded good, but I managed to drink some chocolate milk and perked up enough to go to the Tower of Terror for group pics and a ride.

I made it through some pictures and conversations, but it hit again – the overwhelming sense that I was going to faint.  I sat down until it passed again and then pulled the plug; I was DONE.  I took an unofficial finisher’s photo in front of the tower, hopped a bus to CBR, drove back to my resort, Coronado Springs, took a shower and fell into bed around 4am, 24 hours after I'd started the day. 

Still to come: final thoughts, my official time and will I race the Tower 10-Miler again?  Stay tuned! (Part Three here...)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2013 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler: A Race Recap in Two (Maybe Three) Parts

Part One: in which I do not die from pre-race anxiety, do receive a room upgrade, and survive the race expo.

Wowwowwow, what a weekend!  If you were following along on Facebook and/or Twitter, you already know… I finished!!!  But how did I finish – was it a repeat of last year’s pain, or did I find redemption?  Read on…

My journey to the fifth dimension began around 4:30am, Oct. 5 – when I awoke to the delightful refrains of a cat about to yak on my bed and a giant surge of anxiety-fueled pre-race adrenaline that didn’t let up for almost 20 hours.  After hugs and goodbyes to Gramma (my mother, who was in charge in my absence) and Leo, I pointed my car east on Interstate 4 and enjoyed a calm, speedy drive to Walt Disney World.

My resort of choice for this race was Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (CSR), a longtime favorite, though it was not a designated host resort for the race.  Truth be told, I enjoy all of Disney’s moderate level resorts and usually book whichever one I can get most cheaply.  In this case, I scored CSR through Travelocity with a coupon code for $50 off and almost $20 cash back and a $10 Target gift card by booking through Ebates, on top of a general pubic discounted rate from Disney.  Nothing Fuzzy about that math! Alas, my room was not yet ready when I arrived, but the Cast Member checking me in, upon hearing that I was there for the race that night, told me to come to the desk and ask for a supervisor if my room wasn’t ready by the time I was in need of a nap; they’d find a room that was available to ensure I’d get the pre-race rest I’d need.  That was very sweet and very much appreciated, given the early start I’d already had.

My next stop was the Tower of Terror 10-miler race expo at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, where I had only two goals in mind: 1. Pick up my race bib, gear bag and free shirt, and 2. Purchase a couple Sweaty Bands to tame my growing-out-a-short-haircut-choppy-mess ‘do.


After seeing first-hand the fiasco that was the 2013 Princess Half-Marathon race expo, and hearing second-hand of an equally insane Disneyland Half-Marathon race expo, I was a little worried about this one.  The Tower 10-Miler is a much smaller race, with only around 12,000 participants in the weekend’s events, but it seems a bunch of unscrupulous Disney traders have caught on to the race expos and have been swamping them to gobble up merchandise, which they then sell for quadruple the price.  Not cool, and I wish runDisney would take some steps to curtail that.  But, to my delight, this expo was quite calm by the time I arrived.  There still seemed to be plenty of official and unofficial merchandise available, I never waited in a single line, and the atmosphere did nothing to elevate my already edgy nerves.  I had my stuff in no time and headed out.

With plenty of time to kill, I decided to sit a spell and do a little social media-ing.  And I found a lovely spot in the shade, with a nice breeze, right here…

Champion Stadium, where we’d later be running!

It was, by then, coming up on lunch time and I was getting hungry.  Not knowing just where I’d be around noon, I had no plans in mind for lunch.  An online running group of which I’m part was having a pre-race meet-up at Downtown Disney (DTD), so I started heading that way… but traffic was a big, fat MESS that way.  Much of DTD’s parking area is torn up right now and there were looooong lines of cars trying to get in on each green light.  My blood sugar was dropping and I needed to eat quickly, so I had to pass on the meet-up.  Since I was already heading that way, I kept going and turned past DTD, making my way to Saratoga Springs Resort, my Disney Vacation Club Home Resort.  For now… I’m trying to sell my DVC contract, so it seemed a fitting “goodbye” to have lunch there. 

I’ve enjoyed every dish I’ve tried at the Artist’s Palette quick-serve restaurant and this was no exception: my flatbread topped with mozzarella and tomatoes, with a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette, was delish. It wasn’t too busy there, so I took my time eating and stayed another 15 minutes or so, reading my book to kill time while waiting for a text message saying that my room was ready.

It was nearing 1:30pm at that point and I was anxious to get into my room.  So I drove back to CSR and parked by the main building to see if someone could help speed things along… when I received the text I’d been waiting for!  How’s that for some Disney magic?!

I was assigned the Casitas section, which comprises a few, four-story buildings near the lobby and restaurants.  As seems to be the case at most Disney resorts, it was a long, convoluted, confusing walk to my room, but I did eventually find it (though I’d get lost later…)  And what awaited me was a surprise… I’d been upgraded to business class!  Sort of.  No one ever told me that, so I’m not at all sure I’d have had access to the lounge or anything, but my room did come with these:

It also came with this killer view…

And a large assortment of, um… er… interesting towel art.

I got myself settled, pulling out and organizing everything I’d need for the race: outfit, bib, waist pack, armband for my iPhone, change of clothes for the after-party, cookie sheet…

Yes, a cookie sheet.  More on that in a bit.

With everything ready to go and a couple hours before I needed to head out, I got comfy and tucked myself into bed for a good nap.  The race wouldn’t start until 10pm, I’d be running for more than 2 hours, and the after-party went on until 4am the next day… and I’d already been up since 4:30am that day – I NEEDED some sleep!  Sleep eluded me.  Again.  I laid there for a while, feeling my heart pound, as it had been all day, and my nerves tense.  There was just too much adrenaline flowing to calm down and get some shut-eye.  I read for a bit, then watched some college football (Go Gators!).  Finally, I gave up and took a quick shower, hoping it might ease some tension, even if I couldn’t get any real sleep.

After getting dressed and checking once, twice, three times to be sure I had everything I needed, I left and drove over to the Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR), an official race host resort, to meet my friend Nancy, who got me started on this runDisney stuff.  Carrying my cookie sheet like the Log Lady from Twin Peaks

One day my cookie sheet will have something to say about this.
… I found Nancy’s room, greeted her and her boyfriend, Peter, and got to work: there was costume prep to be done. 

Before this past summer, I’d never seen LOST.  When it premiered, my life was too busy to watch.  By the time I had time to watch, the show was too far along and I’d be more lost than the characters.  But, thanks to the magic of Netflix and some free time this summer, I watched all six seasons and fell in love with the show.  Nancy, too, is a big LOST fan and it was she who thought up our brilliant-but-suitable-for-running-in-the-heat race outfits' theme.  I did the designing and when I arrived at their room, ironed-on their shirts.**  

We were: Team DHARMA.

Disney is my constant.

Costuming complete, we grabbed some dinner at the CBR food court, and then hopped a bus to the race.  Race time had finally arrived!

Stay tuned for Part Two... when we actually, you know, race. (Part Two here...)

** Enter the cookie sheet. The iron-on paper required a flat, heat resistance surface, NOT a squishy ironing board. So I brought a cookie sheet.  And it worked beautifully. :)