The Third (and Final?) Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekendby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
Picture if you will, a race weekend filled with ghoulies, assorted Disney Villains, and even a rabid NFL zombie fan or two. They were all there for the third annual Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler in Walt Disney World. Held on Saturday, October 4, the races coincided with the start of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween parties in the Magic Kingdom as well as the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, both of which provided race participants with more treats than tricks. What started out as a hot and humid weekend in Orlando ended with a perfect night for a run.
Get them while they are hot
Aside from the Expedition Everest Challenge, which is a 5K obstacle and scavenger hunt held in early May, the two Tower of Terror Weekend races are the smallest runDisney events currently held in Walt Disney World. And, as befitting the smaller number of participants, both the packet pickup and health expo were also smaller with fewer vendors in attendance. Even runDisney event-branded items seemed to be limited to a few shirts, a jacket, water bottle, and hat.
And then there were the race pins. Unfortunately, if you didn’t make it to the expo before 5:00 p.m. on Friday, all event pins were sold out. It’s becoming very clear that if you desire commemorative items such as a race pin and are unable to be at the expo at opening, it’s worth the extra few dollars in charges or foregoing the Annual Passport discount to pre-order them for expo pickup with your packet instead of taking a risk that they will still be around when you get there.
After two years, runDisney retired Stitch as the official race character and brought in Maleficent in his place. I will say that the “I did it” shirt as well as the for-purchase wine-colored tech shirt—both of which featured the fire-breathing dragon at her best—are among the nicest-designed runDisney events shirts I own. And while the gray 10-miler race participant tech shirt is rather a "meh," the 5K race participant cotton T-shirt, with a design featuring the three hitchhiking ghosts from the Haunted Mansion, is wonderful—and even glows in the dark.
The remainder of the day after the expo was spent in the parks, where I scored four single-rider trips on Test Track at Epcot as well as one final trip to Maelstrom before it’s turned into a Frozen wonderland. Over in the Magic Kingdom I took a turn through the Haunted Mansion and enjoyed a not-to-be-missed orange-and-vanilla-swirl Dole Whip. By midday, the weather was brutally hot and humid, and I decided to head back early to the hotel to rest up for Saturday’s race events.
Rain, rain go away… oh never mind
The Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run actually does run on trails at the ESPN Wide World of Sports and I wondered, based on the warning email from runDisney about potential muddy conditions, how nasty the course would be. The skies were clear early Saturday morning when I left the hotel room to catch the 6:00 a.m. bus to the start, but I had no more than sat down when the rain started. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but like the majority of folks on the bus, my rain poncho was sitting back in the hotel room. Oh well—what’s a little Disney rain and mud first thing in the morning?
There were around 3,700 race participants in the 5K and we were split into five race corrals. I was lucky enough to be in corral A, and by 7:15, it was time to leave the protection of the table umbrellas and building ledges we were huddled under and move out into the rain to get in position for the race start.
Shortly before the 7:30 a.m. start, corral A was moved into position up by the race announcer stage. And at that moment, as fast as the rain had started, it stopped. This opened the opportunity not only for a scarecrow-themed Mickey Mouse to join in the festivities, but also allowed a certain visitor to come dashing across the field. If you have ever seen the parade at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, you may recall an appearance by the Headless Horseman down the parade route. Well, that morning, with cape flying behind him and his pumpkin head in hand, he made his way across the ESPN fields to help kick off the Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run in perfect Halloween style.
After all the pre-race excitement, the horn sounded and we were finally on our way. Given that I was nursing my knee from the Dumbo Double Dare a few weeks earlier in Disneyland, I was determined to take it easy and enjoy the run as a photographer. Yeah, right. I ran the first mile in around 9:30, and that included stopping for pictures. I put in the brakes and took it easy the rest of the way in. I still had 10 miles to run that night!
The first part of the 5K course circles one of the ESPN fields, and then moves on to the trails. It was obvious from the fresh sawdust in places on the roads that cast members had been through recently to make the course more hospitable to running and walking. Waiting for the race participants all along the 3.1-mile course were the Evil Queen/Old Hag (complete with a tempting shiny red apple), the Big Bad Wolf, Brer Fox and Brer Bear, and a couple of Haunted Mansion Grave Diggers.
Just before the final turn for the finish, race participants were "greeted" by a small posse of NFL fan zombies, including a Green Bay Packer fan whose cheese-head looked a little worse from the wear with mold. With a "say moldy cheese head" call, I snapped a quick picture and headed off to the finish before they could climb the chain link fence and get me, as I had no brains to spare. I crossed the finish line with knee intact and happily collected my glow-in-the-dark rubber 5K finisher’s medal. Then it was back to the hotel for a breakfast of Mickey waffles. Yum!
Saturday night’s all right for running
Prior to boarding the race bus on Saturday night for the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, I had the pleasure of meeting Team MousePlanet member Heather Yamagata and her sister Autumn. The sisters,who were doing their first Tower of Terror 10-Miler, were decked out in matching tutus that Autumn had made. Since the buses tend to get race participants over to the starting area hours before the actual race start, we had plenty of time to admire all the costumes on display (and occasionally avert our eyes as well) and chat about running, races, and families. Around 9:30 p.m. it was time to say goodbye and good luck as we started the trek to our respective starting corrals.
I felt fortunate that I was in corral E—almost smack in the middle of the 10 corrals holding close to 11,500 runners and walkers. The weather, which earlier in the day had been hot and muggy, turned relatively cool (68 degrees in Florida!), and the humidity lessened to a very manageable level. While I wasn’t at full running potential, the perfect-for-Florida running weather made me want to see if I could break my finish time from the first two years of the event that were only seconds apart.
The corrals were released in two-minute intervals and before I knew it, it was time to hit the roads. The Tower of Terror 10-Miler course runs from the gates of Disney’s Hollywood Studios out on the highways to ESPN, where we run through Champion Baseball Stadium, out on the oval quarter-mile track, and then back to the Studios, where we finish the last miles on the stage for Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show (which is closing), run down New York Street which is in the process of turning into the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, through the backstage costume tunnel decorated with flashing lights and disco balls, and out into the streets of Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we run past Toy Story Mania, by the Mickey Sorcerer’s Hat, and finish in the shadows of the Tower of Terror attraction.
While there seemed to be fewer characters out along some of the long, dark stretches of highway, there were still a wide assortment of characters and ghoulies, including a floating eyeball, Jafar from Aladdin, a giant (and I mean giant) black spider just hanging around the overpass, Doctor Facilier from Princess and the Frog, and Captain Hook from Peter Pan.
The Nighmare Before Christmas' Jack and Sally were also on hand for pictures, as were the Haunted Mansion Grave Diggers, the NFL fan zombies, ghoulish dancers from the Halloween parade, and Hades who—located on one of the final bridges we went under—was on a roll with his zingers to the race participants ("What… I said nice sash" was just one of his overheard comments). All-in-all it was a great 10-mile race, and as I ran across the finish line (knocking three minutes from my previous finish times), I was already planning on returning in 2015 to keep the race streak alive.
While I have completed all three Tower of Terror 10-Miler races, looking back, the first two years were challenging. In 2012, the inaugural year of the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, it was hot and muggy, and I took a nasty tumble on a speed bump at around 8.5 miles that did major damage to my knees and hands (and RIP my poor little camera). In 2013, the second year of the race, the weather was so hot and miserable that race participants were dropping like flies along the course, and the medical tent at the finish looked like a heavy-casualty M*A*S*H unit with many finishers suffering from severe heat exhaustion. This year, the weather was perfect, I didn’t fall (woo hoo!), and the medics at the finish looked pretty bored as they tended to a few injuries, but were mostly there handing out tiny packets of pain reliever. It could not have been a better night to run in Walt Disney World.
It’s the end of the race as we know it…
And now, just days after one of the most fun race weekends in WDW that I can remember, comes the sad and totally unexpected word from runDisney: The 2015 Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend is "suspended." At this time, no one seems to know (or will admit to knowing) if the race will return in 2016 or not. The recently released runDisney calendar of events only goes out to the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend in May 2016, so right now, speculation on social media is running in all sorts of directions.
Is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler weekend just taking a break while Disney’s Hollywood Studios goes through a major construction? If this is the case, what about November's Wine and Dine Half Marathon and January's WDW Marathon, both of which are scheduled for 2015 and run through many of the same areas in Hollywood Studios? If the Tower of Terror 10-Miler race weekend does return, will the race itself look different (perhaps a new theme or a new half marathon distance)? The race originally started as the Tower of Terror 13K, so change isn’t out of the question.
Or perhaps runDisney is clearing the late-September-early October weekend for a potential, long-rumored Disney Paris Marathon? Right now, your guess is as good as mine. I would be extremely sad to lose this race from the runDisney line-up of events but if it does not return, I am proud to say that I’m three-for-three, which I guess makes me a Perfect Terror. How appropriate, eh?
No matter what the final outcome, congratulations go out to Heather, Autumn, and all the 2014 Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler finishers! We did it!