Dropping in on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Milerby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
Disney Villains and their associated henchmen (and women) were out in full force on Saturday, October 5, at the second annual Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler in Walt Disney World. On a very hot and very humid night, 11,000 runners and walkers braved not only villains but the weather to try and earn the coveted Tower of Terror finisher’s medal, and have a chance to party until the wee hours of the morning in Disney's Hollywood Studio. It was, indeed, a night to remember.
Boo to You
The weekend festivities for me started shortly after I landed in Orlando Thursday evening, when I attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom. Interesting enough, they had not sold out of tickets to Thursday night’s event (or Friday’s, for that matter) with an estimated crowd of only 10,000 or so paid attendees. While some park areas seemed a bit congested at times, the light numbers meant almost no queue for attractions; anyone who desired to could just walk onto any ride that was open.
After going through Big Thunder Railroad withdrawals for the past few months, I have to say it was great to take a few trips again on the "wildest ride in the wilderness!"
The party officially got underway at 7:00 p.m. as trick-or-treat stations opened for business throughout the park. Perhaps it was my dorky Mickey spider hat, but I quickly ended up with a very full bag of treats.
Most of the children were delightfully polite to the cast members who were handing out candy, but I was amazed at how many of the adults were so rude. From complaining about the type of candy they received (and physically rummaging through the barrels to find the specific type they wanted) to demanding multiple handfuls, these adults were setting an example for the kids on how not to behave.
I even overheard several guests discussing how they were collecting as much candy as they could so they could hand it out to trick-or-treaters themselves on Halloween!
Half the fun of the Halloween party is watching the parade of costumes that people wear into the park. From a simple costume consisting of a shirt that says “This T-shirt is my costume,” to very elaborate Belle and Cinderella gowns that featured tiny sparkling lights, just about everyone got into the act.
One of the most interesting costumes I saw was a tiny boy dressed as a vampire. The costume itself wasn’t unique, but his pacifier sure was. It was the first one I’d ever seen featuring a very impressive set of vampire fangs—the look definitely warranted a double-take.
After finishing trick-or-treating, I spent the remainder of the evening watching Mickey’s Boo to You Halloween Parade with its famous Headless Horseman doing his pre-parade ride-by. I also took in two "Disney Villains Mix and Mingle" shows (if I were 30 years younger, I would have loved to have been a dancer in that show), and finished up the night with Celebrate the Magic and Disney’s Halloween fireworks spectacular, Happy Hallowishes.
During the parade, I sat next to a very charming sister duo. With their mother’s blessings, I gave them my bag of candy. Spending the next couple of days noshing on even miniature candy bars wasn’t the best way to get the necessary fuel to run. With a hug from the mom and kisses from the girls, I reluctantly called it a night and headed back to the hotel.
Busy, but not too busy
The race expo was scheduled Friday from noon to 8:00 p.m. at the Wide World of Sports Josten Center. After spending the better part of my morning putting out work fires (wait, wasn’t I supposed to be on vacation?), I made it to WWoS just as the doors were opening.
Unlike the larger Florida runDisney expos where bibs are in a separate building from the vendors, everything was self-contained in one building. This had me very nervous because the line at opening went clear down to the road… would there be yet another expo debacle (with overcrowding, sold-out merchandise, and hours-long waits for cash registers)?
Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised—the expo seemed to go very smoothly. Very few people went shopping before picking up their packet, which made the official runDisney merchandise booth very manageable.
The selection this year of Tower of Terror-branded merchandise was not only more extensive than last year's, but better-themed as well, with Stitch as the primary character. And while the various items were selling briskly, the inventory seemed to be well-stocked.
In addition to event-specific gear, runDisney also offered its latest runDisney and Coast-to-Coast apparel, which was also selling very well. Given that the runDisney booth footprint was smaller than normal, the purchase line quickly wound through the booth and wrapped out the door. Fortunately, the cashiers kept the line moving, and within 15 minutes, I was on my way to packet pick-up, which was located at the back of the room.
Surprisingly, the lines for packet pick-up were also marching along at a good clip thanks in part to volunteers conducting the ID check in line instead of waiting for guests to get to counter for the actual waiver-for-bib exchange. I grabbed my bib and tech shirt, and spent a bit of time wandering through the vendor booths. With only 32 vendors in attendance (down three from 2012), it was easy to breeze through the booths in no time.
Taking my own advice for a change
Perhaps because I've been so busy with work this year, I’ve been more scattered on completing tasks such as race registration. While I successfully registered for the weekend’s 10-mile event, I totally spaced out and forgot to sign up for Saturday morning's Happy Haunted 5k Trail Run.
Still, I had planned on heading over in the morning just to see everyone off (and to wear my infamous bright orange braids), but I actually took my own advice and instead slept a few more hours. While I missed out on getting another very cute rubber 5K medal, it let me save my legs for the night event.
By 8:00 a.m. I was rested, up and out the door, and looking for breakfast—which turned out to be quite the adventure, given that I was staying at the All-Star Sports resort, and its cafe is under renovations. While there is a grab-and-go cold item option, the majority of hotel guests were hopping on shuttle buses to All-Star Music or All-Star Movies to get their hot meal.
Needless to say, the extra service demands created incredible gridlock where the line just for a simple waffle took almost 30 minutes to navigate. And for families with small children, it was just another bus ride and line to navigate. Frankly, if you're going to take a bus ride, why not head over to the Epcot Wine & Food Festival instead?
It was hot, hot, hot
Early Friday evening, runDisney announced a heat advisory warning that temperatures Saturday night might be higher than expected. Since just about every runDisney race this year has been unseasonably hotter (and more humid) than normal, I was bummed, but not surprised. After my disastrous experience with this year's Disneyland Half Marathon last month, I was extremely nervous that this race would be another debacle, but I knew no matter, what I would finish.
The pre-race warm-up was in full-swing by the time I arrived, as thousands of race participants were dancing along to the tunes spun (loudly) by the DJ. In addition to the usual run staples ("Cupid Shuffle" and the "Chicken Dance" are always on the play list), the "Time Warp" from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" were added into the mix which had everyone up and moving.
The runDisney TV crew and Dennis Marsico were missing in action, but otherwise, it was business as usual for race announcers Carissa Bealert, Rudy Novotny, and John Peikey, who somewhat entertained the crowds with their usual silly skits and patter.
I will say, the race was extremely well-organized. By 9:15 p.m., we were herded into our respective corrals (there were 10 in all), which were closely monitored by Disney volunteers to keep everyone in the right area. The corrals were then marched out one-by-one to the start line (similar to how guests board Soarin over California in groups).
Unlike most of the other WDW runDisney events that start out in the boonies at Epcot, the Tower of Terror 10-Miler starts in the Film Lot at Hollywood Studios. This allows spectators to stay up close and personal with the runners at the start, which added a fun and festive element of signs, hugs, kisses, and cow bells. The participants themselves represented 49 of the 50 states (North Dakota was the only no-show), and there was a high female quotient, with over half of the race participants being women.
Jeff Galloway, official runDisney Running Consultant, was there at the start to provide a few words of encouragement and to remind everyone to take it easy in the heat; this was not a race in which to try to set a personal record. For most of us, we honestly didn’t need the reminder. The temperature at 10:00 p.m. was still hovering around 75 degrees, with humidity coming in around 85 percent.
After a performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the wheelchairs took the course, followed five minutes later by Corral A. One-by-one in two-minute intervals, the remaining corrals started on their 10-mile journey. I was in Corral D, and by the time we reached the start line, many of us were already overheating from the heat and humidity. The person to my right had beads of sweat on his face, and the person to my left was already soaking through his shirt—and we hadn’t even started running yet. This was not an "I don’t sweat, I sparkle" moment. No matter—it was show time. With a burst of fireworks (and my own prayer that it would be a good run), we were off.
Pay attention to the road
As we ran through the Auto Plaza entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I watched in horror as a runner just ahead of me was so busy concentrating on her smartphone that she tripped over the speedbump. Fortunately, she landed smack into the runner ahead of her—however, it caused a short domino-style chain reaction that could have been devastating, as that runner fell into the next one, who then fell into another runner. Luckily, everyone kept their footing (and the smartphone was quickly put away), and we continued on the journey to the Osceola Parkway westbound ramp, where we took to the roads.
Along the way, we were met with green lasers (as we entered the Twilight Zone), a giant inflatable spider lurking on an overpass, and a variety of Disney entertainment and music. Each mile marker was represented by a Disney villain, who was also conveniently there for photo opportunities and really quick meet-and-greets.
Miles 1 thru 4 are the longest stretch of the course, with a turnaround between miles 2 and 3. We waved at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as we ran by the park; no stopping to see the Tree of Life at this hour.
One of the changes from the 2012 course was the tour around and through Wide World of Sports. In 2012, the course was more of a loop around the complex; in 2013, participants did more turns as they wound through the complex. It was obvious from the comments that many participants were unaware that part of the course in this area is run on a dirt trail (part of the 5K course from earlier in the day). It can be dusty, dirty, and dark although runDisney did have many more large lights placed along the route than in 2012. Unfortunately several of the lights were out, which, even with the flashlights held by cast members, made this particular area rather challenging to navigate without taking a tumble.
Finally, the dirt of the trail gave way to the bounce of the oval track, where we ran part of a lap on the cushy surface. I started to seriously fade around this point, and later found out that the humidity actually spiked higher about this time—it's amazing how a body can be so sensitive to changes in the weather.
Before leaving the Wide World of Sports, we took a run around Champion Stadium, where we were greeted by very sleepy spectators and a mock announcement that something terrible was happening on the field. It was very loud and frankly not exactly original or entertaining, but we were quickly through the stadium and back out heading towards the home stretch and Hollywood Studios.
We meet again…
It was here that I faced my nemesis—the speedbump at the entrance to Hollywood Studios that made my Tower of Terror run so miserable in 2012. It was not going to get me this year!
I could hear the annoucement advising runners to be careful and watch the road. As I approached the entrance, I moved to the far side of the road so as not impede anyone, stopped, and carefully stepped over the bump in the road. I know I must have looked odd, but it was such a huge relief to get past that literal "bump in the road." Last year, I was in so much pain from my fall that I remember nothing of the park or the remainder of the run; this year I thoroughly enjoyed the last 1.5 miles. Spectators lined the streets to cheer us on as we ran through Hollywood Studios, down New York Street, and past Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat. It was magical.
I turned the final corner and there, just past Hades holding court for one final picture, was the finish. I ran over the timing mat and immediately headed over to the fence along the finish chute as the heat and humidity finally got me. I was on the verge of collapsing and needed something fast to cool me down (and hold me up). The only ice to be found was further along the road at the medical tent, which didn’t help my immediate need—so I wandered over, gripped the metal fence, and put my forehead down on the edge; I can’t tell you how good the coolness felt.
Once I got my bearings back and could safely move again on my own, I continued up the road, got my medal, and a much-needed bottle of water. The medical area was packed and the line to get in was long; medical staff were icing just about every available body part they could to cool down the finishers. From the looks of many of the runners there, it had been a difficult race. In the distance I could hear the sirens of ambulances transporting participants to the hospital where many were treated for extreme heat exhaustion. As Jeff Galloway said at the start, this was not a night to try and run a PR.
Loved the run, hated the run
Team MousePlanet member Chewyswimmer really said it best when he posted, on our MousePad discussion board, "Loved the run, hated the run." It is easy to love the course, the theme, and the entertainment. The weather, well, there is not so much love, but it's nothing that runDisney can change.
runDisney did a great job supporting the runners from the moment we arrived until we returned to our hotels. Throughout the course, the wonderful volunteers offered Powerade and water, as well as medical assistance and support to anyone needing it. It was obvious that more water stops had been added on the course due to the weather conditions, and they were all well-stocked and fully staffed.
I made good use of the cups of water to try and keep my temperature down. Halfway through the race, I started dumping the water directly down my back and over my head (I swear I could almost hear a sizzle as the water hit my skin). I gave one volunteer a good laugh when I dumped the entire cup of cool water on my head—but oh, it felt good. Large electric fans were also placed in various locations along the course to provide a momentary cool breeze. The effort of the volunteers along the course helped make the event safer for everyone who hit the roads that night.
Of the almost 11,000 participants who started the race, just over 9,400 crossed the finish line. Congrats to Team MousePlanet members Chewyswimmer and ssmores, and MousePlanet reader Aaron Matthews, as well as all the finishers on completing their 10-mile journey. I hope to see everyone in 2014 for the 3rd Annual Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler!