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...)

1 comment:

  1. great job! i loved reading your review of the race. TOT is on my list for someday!