Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler - Race Recap!

You know the saying "Third time's the charm" right?

Well, it was!

This was my third running (2012 here, 2013 here) of the runDisney Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler (TOT from here on out) and I don't think I could have have asked for a better race. Why? What made it the "charm"? Let's start at the beginning...

Best Race Hotel Stay Ever!

A week before the race, I decided to head to WDW a day early. Which meant hotel shopping. And long story short, I wound up adding a night and moving to a new resort for the whole stay. I booked three nights at the Hilton Bonnet Creek (HBC) resort. I've stayed at HBC in the past, but never for a race... but I'm ready to book ALL of my race stays there now! It was a superb choice... I felt so pampered the whole stay, between a lovely room, comfortable bed, fluffy towels, and deluxe amenities. But what really made the stay special was the staff: every single employee there was friendly, eager to assist, and clearly dedicated to making each guest feel welcome. It was a HUGE departure from my recent stays at WDW resorts.

My room view! See Tower of Terror back there? Motivation.

HBC offers race transportation and it looked easy and efficient. I opted to drive, though, because I wanted dinner elsewhere before heading to the race. Returning at almost 4am, I was a tad concerned about walking from my car to the hotel in the parking garage, on my own, but I needn't have worried: it was well lit and open and I felt perfectly safe.

Info and swag for runners!

HBC offers Marathon Weekend rates for WDW race events. Check them out - I highly recommend the place!

Killing time...

Arriving a day early worked out beautifully! I spent Friday driving to WDW and hitting the expo. The expo was, as with previous years, quite calm compared to other, bigger races, and I was able to get what I needed (namely my bib, race shirt and a new Sparkle Skirt, thanks to a coupon in the iGiftBag!) quickly.

This was a welcome sight - the weather forecast called for a cold front to come through!

Love, love, LOVE this year's race shirt! I think the design is fantastic and... LADIES' CUT, finally!!!

I spent the evening at Hollywood Studios with friends, which wound up being a great way to calm pre-race nerves, stretch the legs, and get a few motivational rides on. 

I got to bed around 10pm that night and slept until 8 the next morning.  I woke up to this:

and agreed 100%! I spent the morning lounging around my room, watching ESPN Gameday uninterrupted by chores or child. I wandered off to Saratoga Springs Resort for some lunch, then went back to my room for more lounging, napping and resting before getting up around 5pm to start getting ready. Yep, arriving the day before the race was a good decision!

Time to race!
After grabbing dinner at the Caribbean Beach Resort, I hopped a race bus and was off to the pre-race staging area to meet my running group. As with the previous two years, I found the TOT pre-race area to be relatively open and unstressful. I think the late hour makes TOT feel more like a big party than an uber-competitive race, and the dark skies and DJ spinning tunes adds to that. Spending time chatting with folks I haven't seen since Princess Half-Marathon weekend was wonderful, and the time went by much too quickly - before I knew it, it was time to get into corrals and we were off!

I was assigned to corral E... and I was a little nervous about that. The great thing about E? A large number of my friends were in it, too, so we all got to start together. Yay! But I planned to run slower than any of them, and I presumed slower than most of the corral. I was concerned about being the "slowpoke" everyone in E would leave in their dust. But runDisney knew what they were doing; I never felt too fast or too slow during the race and think I was seeded just right! I always had room to maneuver to pass slower folks, and they always had room to pass me when I slowed down. I know that's a major concern for lots of folks, and I'm happy to say I thought there was ample room for us all out there. Good job, runDisney!

I had a Plan for this race: First, it was a training run above all else, NOT a race. I have the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon in five weeks, so no need to push hard at TOT and risk injury, right? Second, I wanted a few pictures. As you may recall, I've yet to stop for pics in this race. And I was determined to change that this year. So I had it in mind to aim for an easy first mile to warm up well, pick up the pace down Osceola Parkway, and then take my time through Wide World of Sports (WWOS) and Hollywood Studios.

Miles one through five? Nailed it! Hit my times right where I wanted to. Even with pulling over to take this very bad photo, which took 3 tries to achieve...

Scary inflatable spidey
And this equally bad shot of mile 5...

Halfway there!
Mile 5 began the "trail" portion of the course, which is actually a dirt and gravel road into WWOS. I was feeling pretty good at that point... my stomach had not felt its usual self all day and was fairly uncomfortable through the first few miles, but seemed to calm down by mile 5.

I love the short trail portion of the course. It feels good on my feet and legs after so much time on the asphalt, it's dark and creepy, and if you're very lucky, you can end up in there with a fun crowd willing to poke fun at silly decorations and make scary-monster-in-the-woods sounds!

Once through the trail, it was time to prepare for the second half of my plan... photo opps! My race outfit paid homage to the Haunted Mansion, and I had my heart set on a couple of special pics to mark the occasion. 

I was expecting the Haunted Mansion Undead Butlers to be in the track oval, as they'd been the past two years, but they surprised me by showing up on the right, before the track. Luckily, I saw them before I passed and pulled into line. It took a few minutes for the folks ahead of me to get their photos shot, so I had time to wrangle my phone out of its armband, pause iSmoothRun, and disconnect my headphones. And then, this...

I wanted to pose with a shovel, but they weren't giving those up. Drat.
Next stop was Champion Stadium, where the official cheerers for my running group were stationed with sweet treats to lift us up and put some pep in our step!

i haz gummy bearz!!!
I was running ahead of my expected pace at that point, and was getting lonely out there on the course by myself. Running by myself isn't normally a problem, but I've run this course twice already; the thrill of wondering what might be around the next bend was gone and I was - dare i say it? - a little bored. So when I saw my awesome, sweets-sharing friends, I pulled over to chat. For about 5 minutes. Uh-huh. I pulled over, chatted, waved at other runners as they passed, and was totally unconcerned with the fact that I was, you know... in a race. And THAT is why I like running Disney races! No pressure, people.

Eventually, though, I was told to get a move on (thanks again friends!) and I hustled on out of the stadium and on to my next planned stop.

But before we get to the epic result of said stop, let me pause here to talk about the weather. Because if you've read my 2012 and 2013 TOT recaps, or if you've heard pretty much anyone talk about those races, you know the weather has historically been... HOT. And. HUMID. Insanely HOT and HUMID. Beastly HOT and HUMID. Now, this year was a little humid; I mean, there was legit fog banked over the fields of WWOS. The air was damp. But a cold front chose the hours of the race to move through: it was comfortably warm at the start and through WWOS, but when we exited back out to the open road? HOLY ZOIKS! Hellooooooo cold front! My clothes and hair were soaked with dew and sweat and when a blast of chilly air hit, I was cold. Like, goose bumply, shivering cold. To be clear, I'm not complaining; it's been a loooong summer here in Florida. But the unexpected cold, to which I was in no way acclimated, did impact my running. My knees don't enjoy being chilled and they got pretty achy pretty fast. My shoulders tightened up to keep from shivering and that became increasingly uncomfortable. I was really ready to be DONE with the race and changed into dry, warm clothes by mile 8. Which made for a rather long feeling 2 final miles...

Still, there was the EPIC photo stop. And it, alone, was worth running for.

Undead at the ball, y'all. Booyah!
Seriously, I adore this shot. LOVE it! There were a few people in line ahead of me and a couple of the undead dancers left their post to start roaming and interacting with us in line, as well as with folks who slowed down to see, but didn't fully stop. Hanging out there for a few minutes was a BLAST! Totally worth a painful right foot, cranky tummy, and cold limbs.

With that stop accomplished, I had only to pick it up for another mile, then relax through the final one in Hollywood Studios. 

Last year's fireball, that would have been so welcome with its blast of heat as the temperature plumeted? Was absent. Replaced with a big, inflatable... eyeball. D'oh!

It didn't even growl. (RIP growling plastic gator.)

Hades was stationed on the overpass leading into the park, shouting out "encouraging" words like, "What're you... walking?! This is a RACE, people, let's get going!"

I made a point of taking my time through Hollywood Studios, soaking it all in. We ran through the Lights, Motors, Action! soundstage...

...and up the New York street scene...

If I can make it here...

...through the "Disco Hallway", full of actual disco tunes, mirrored balls and lotsa lights, a few turns, and then... the Finish! Of which I have NO picture. Camera was on the right, I was on the left, no photo for V. <sad trombone>

It ain't over yet!
I thought the finish chute went smoothly this year and I had my bag retrieved and was on my way to a restroom to change in no time. I couldn't stop shivering at that point and getting into dry clothes was my #1 priority, though I did down a bunch of glucose on the way to stave off a big ol' sugar crash.

Warm and dry in several layers, I reunited with my friends and we proceeded to take group pics, ride rides, eat snacks and have a really, really fun time at the after-party! Unlike last year, I wasn't nauseous or dizzy, I wasn't in pain, and I wasn't even all that tired. I ended the race day with a hot shower back in my room, a glass of cold milk and a cookie the size of my head. Grand rewards for a grand effort.

Final thoughts...
The third time really was the charm. My first run of TOT was hampered and blighted by the intense pain of injury. Last year saw a massive PR, but also heat illness and a distinct lack of the elements that make a Disney race special. This year? I finished in a time that, excluding photo stops, would have been a PR. I got a few really cool photos. I had fun with friends. I didn't suffer from the heat. And I finished UNINJURED! What more could I ask of the race?

Nothing. I can ask almost nothing more. Which is why... I think I really am done with this particular race. I feel like I've gotten from it everything I wanted and feel no need to do it again. I know, I know - I've said "no more!" before. But that was out of frustration. And discomfort. And fear. This is different. This time "no more!" is about having met my goals, and feeling good about my performance, and a calm, deep sense of accomplishment. I would love to go back next year to cheer for friends and celebrate their racing, but I think I can happily walk away from racing this one again for a while. And that's a pretty neat feeling!

So now, it's time to set my sights on the next race in my lineup: the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon - my first time running it! Stay tuned...