Running in the Shadowsby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
With the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler just a week away and the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon a little over a month out,, it seems timely to look at some tips and tricks for safely completing a nighttime runDisney event.
While many of the standard daytime preparation tips hold true for night running, nighttime events have their own challenges, both visually and physically. But with a little preparation and planning, you can still experience a magical runDisney road race.
How should I acclimate to running at such a late hour?
Unless you are used to running late at night, experts such as runDisney’s official running coach Jeff Galloway and Competitor’s Medical Director P.Z. Pearce, M.D. recommend:
- If possible, stay up later and sleep in. This works extremely well for West Coast runners who have a three-hour time difference in WDW. If you are planning on sleeping in, just make sure to ask for a room away from the pool or other noisy gathering spots at the hotel; it is amazing how early the volume outside picks up.
- A day or two before the event, go for at a two- or three-mile evening run to introduce your body to the concept of running late at night. If you are staying on property, there are a lot of trails around the various WDW resorts that are available for running—the concierge (or registration) desk can often show you a good course on the resort map. Make sure, however, use reflective gear (such as a vest) so you are visible to traffic, and carry a headlight or flashlight, as the trails are not well-lit.
Do I need to wear reflective gear for the race?
There are areas along both the Tower of Terror 10-Miler and Wine & Dine Half Marathon courses that are darker than you might expect. Being seen by other race participants as well as spectators, volunteers, and course marshals can alleviate potential accidents from happening.
- Be visible – while you don’t need to be lit as a Christmas tree for either of the night runDisney events, it is safer to dress in clothes that are light-colored and reflective that will pick up what light is available. If possible, avoid dressing in all black or in dark colors, as you will blend into the night.
- Avoid headlamps – although you could wear a headlight (and I have seen runners use them in both Tower of Terror and Wine & Dine events), use them with caution, as they can actually impair the vision of other participants on turnaround sections of the course.
- Consider glow sticks – glow sticks and other bright neon decorations are gaining popularity at night runs and are easy and light to carry or wear if you really want to stand out.
What should I do to keep myself busy the day of the race?
As tempting as it is to visit the Walt Disney World parks on the day of the race, it is important to rest and stay out of the sun. The last thing you want to be is tired and sunburned for the race later that night:
- Find a relaxing alternative – try to keep the mind busy especially if this is your first night run, your first runDisney event, or even your first long run. Worrying about what may or may not happen will do you no good. If possible, go to a movie. Meet with friends. If you do venture into the parks, sit as much as possible and try to stay off your legs. Take a boat ride between the parks. Catch Finding Nemo- the Musical at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This is not the time to see how many miles you can walk.
- Take a nap an hour or so before you head to the start. If you can’t sleep, at least kick back in your room with your feet up and relax.
- Set expectations with your supporters in advance – finding friends and family in the crowds along the course is always a challenge but especially so at night. This is a great time to set clear expectations of where they will be and determine what they will be wearing. If possible, have them wear a piece of reflective clothing or other easily distinguished item to make them easier to spot in the dark and the crowds. And make sure they know what you will be wearing as well.
- Set meeting details – this is also a great time to set a location to meet up with family and friends post-race. Most likely you will be tired from the run and trying to find everyone in the dark when you are exhausted without a plan can be an extremely frustrating activity. There are also the occasional cell phone ‘dead zone’ in the parks which can complicate communication. Make sure your meet-up locations are clear and specific (which side of the Sorcerer’s Hat, where in Paris, etc).
- Pack a gear bag with a fresh change of clothes for after the race. Even if you are not staying in the park for rides and food, a light jacket and dry clothes will make the trip back to the hotel much more pleasant and comfortable.
- Stay hydrated with water and an electrolyte drink. Avoid liqueur until after the event. Running in the heat and humidity is challenging enough; adding in booze can add an extra layer of complication for your body to manage.
What if I’m participating in the 5K Family Fun Run/Walk in the morning?
For those of us silly enough to attempt the morning 5K race the same day as the evening 10-miler or half-marathon, this naturally lends a bit of complication to resting and/or sleeping in. The good news is that it can be done:
- Have your typical pre-race meal before the 5K, such as a bagel or a banana, then have a full breakfast after the 5K, such as a waffle.
- Don’t push your pace. Enjoy the sunrise. Stop for character pictures. runDisney does not track finish times for the 5K so kick back and have fun.
- If you are considering wearing a costume, this is the race to do so. It’s a short distance, so even if it’s already hot and humid, you won’t have long to be uncomfortable. I guarantee you’ll see more costumes at the 5K than at the night race.
- Wear a different pair of running shoes for the 5K than what you plan on wearing for the night race. This is especially true if you are running the Happy Haunted 5k Trail Run, as your shoes will be caked with mud and grass when you are done. If it has been raining, they may even need to dry out. Better to have a second pair than be uncomfortable in a muddy, wet pair.
- Be very careful on the 5K, especially the trail run. A runner went down with a twisted ankle not a mile into the run last year, which totally blew the 10-miler for her that night. The 5K should just serve as a fun warm-up.
What and when should I eat pre-race?
One of the most common questions regarding night runs is when to eat. Experiment to find the meal timing that works best for you. Given the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will be operating during both the Tower of Terror 10-Miler and Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekends, you may be tempted to eat your way around the world. Avoid the temptation until after you have completed your event(s).
I recommend the following schedule, which both Galloway and Pearce suggest:
- Eat your biggest meal of the day at breakfast, if possible around 10:00 a.m.
- Have a light lunch four to six hours before the race.
- Have your final pre-race meal or snack roughly 90 minutes to two hours before the race. Half of a big Disney pretzel can make an excellent final carb top-off.
- Avoid foods that are high in fat or high in fiber, both of which may cause tummy troubles during the race; instead, choose foods that are simple and easy to digest.
- If you can't find your favorite pre-race foods onsite, bring them with you.
What should I do during the long wait until the race starts?
If you are taking WDW transportation to the race start, expect to have at least an hour (if not two) of wait time in an open field without seating before the corrals even start queuing. To best deal with this:
- Bring a cushion (an old towel, etc) to sit on that you can discard at the race start. Your bum will thank you.
- Don’t just stay seated, as your legs may stiffen as the temperature drops. Walk a bit and/or take part in the pre-race warm-ups. Seriously, you won’t see most of these people ever again. Go for the Macarena or give the Electric Slide a try?
- If you want to catch a few zzzs before the race start, bring a pair of ear plugs to keep out the loud music and the crowd noise. If you choose to lie on the ground, make sure you are wearing reflective gear, and/or out of the way, so you are not stepped on or tripped over. If you are over in a secluded area, set your watch alarm so you don't miss the start!
- If there is even a small chance of rain in the forecast, bring a cheap toss-away poncho or a big garbage bag. The $1.50 you spend at Target for one is money well spent if one of Florida’s sudden rain storms come charging through as you wait for the race to start.
What is it like running at night in Walt Disney World?
While it may be hot and humid at the start, keep in mind that the temperature will actually get cooler as the night goes on. And although the parks are visually stunning at night (the Tree of Life is breathtaking) and runDisney usually does a great job of keeping the course well-lit, your visual acuity may be off since your eyes may not be accustomed to the dark, and the surroundings can be difficult to see in detail.
- According to Patrick McCrann of the Marathon Nation for Active.com, running at night plays tricks on your visual perception, which can make it feel like you are running much faster than you actually are. Later in the race, this same visual perception issue may make you feel like you are increasing your effort when you are actually slowing down. You may find that you need to run at a harder effort to stay on your pace target. Unless you are trying to set a personal record, you may simply take this opportunity to enjoy the sights and character photo opportunities of a runDisney event without the pressure of a fast finish.
- Shadows and random noises can seem closer and be more startling in lower light conditions. Keep your imagination in check so you don’t totally freak out if you become spooked. Watch out for local animals such as armadillos, which may come out at night to check out the runners.
- Being a runDisney event, there will be a lot of music along the course. Given that your senses are already challenged with the darkness, consider running without listening to music from your smartphone or MP3 player so you can concentrate on the course and not zone out to your playlist.
- Be vigilant in keeping your eyes peeled for things you might trip over. Listen to the course monitors as they call out potential hazards and try not to become distracted as you move from dark to light to dark again. All it takes is one rogue speed bump and you may find yourself scraping the ground on your hands and knees. Trust me on this one (I still bear the scars from last year’s Tower of Terror 10-Miler).
- As you can imagine, there will be numerous character photo opportunities during both road races. Unfortunately, taking pictures at night can be challenging, as there is a variety of lighting conditions along the course. To ensure the best pictures possible, make sure your camera has a flash, and test the camera and/or phone you will carry prior to the event. Some people choose to carry a small camera rather than rely on the cameras on their smartphones because dedicated cameras usually respond faster and have better flashes (not to mention you won't drain your smartphone's battery). I’ve even seen runners carry and use mini-tripods to capture clear nighttime pictures, especially in the parks. And as always, if there is an official photographer taking shots; ask if they will also snap one with your camera. It’s always better to have a second picture option than to rely on a single shot turning out perfect.
What about post-race?
Do you plan to attend the after-run event? While both Disney Villains Hollywood Bash and the Wine & Dine Finish Line Party are a great opportunity to celebrate into the early morning hours with good food and fun rides, remember that you just pushed your body to run 10 to 13.1 miles, and it may not yet be ready to party.
- Make sure to change into fresh, dry clothes (which you pack into the gear bag you checked in before the race) to avoid becoming chilled. Even a hot and humid night will seem cooler once you have stopped running, your body temperature cools down, and you realize your clothes are sweaty. And who wants to stand in line with a sweaty, stinky runner?
- While rides may sound like fun, the heat and humidity may impact your body's ability to enjoy them (especially on stomach-churners like the Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster). Experienced runDisney night runner Mary Harokopus advises not to immediately jump on a ride after crossing the finish line; take the time to relax, eat a recovery meal high in protein, and let that settle before attempting a drop or a corkscrew. You’ll have a much better ride experience and the Walt Disney World biohazard team will thank you for it as well.
Above all, enjoy!
There is no race like a runDisney race. Enjoy your night runDisney event, wear your medal proudly, and check back on MousePlanet for recaps of the 2013 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler and 2013 Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekends!