I’ve never been a runner, so when my friend Trish initially suggested I join her in running the inaugural Tower of Terror 10 mile run, I declined. I’d be happy to come along and cheer, I said, but running 10 miles was not even a remote possibility.
But despite my initial response, the idea did stick with me. I knew I needed to be doing something for exercise. And I’d heard good things about the Disney runs … my brother Marcus did the WDW Marathon years ago, and on various Disney discussion groups and podcasts it’s impossible to miss mention of the various runDisney events, and they always end up sounding like a lot of fun — except for the bit about actually running.
I was intrigued enough to start poking around on the internet and looking at training plans … wondering what, exactly, I’d be committing myself to if I decided to do this. I started, as many do, by looking at the Couch-to-5k training plan. And I decided to start with that. This was early January, and registration for the Tower of Terror event opened February 14th. I figured I’d start training and see how my progression went over the initial four or five weeks, and then decide whether I could do it.
As a non-runner, my initial progress was disappointing. I continued to look at other resources, and picked up Jeff Galloway‘s book on my brother’s recommendation. There I found the idea that I didn’t need to run 10 miles — I could use a run/walk strategy. Suddenly it seemed much more feasible — I didn’t need to run 10 miles, I just needed to run a few minutes at a time, take a walk break, then run a few more minutes. Another friend, Bobbi, recommended the Chi Running website and book, and there I found the technical details on form and technique that would allow me to train and run without injury.
I don’t mean this to be a recap of the entire training process, so I’ll just briefly summarize. I used Chi Running for my running methodology; I downloaded Galloway’s race-specific training plans from runDisney and decided, somewhat arrogantly, to follow the training plan for experienced runners looking to improve their time rather than the beginning runner’s plan. I played with different run-walk intervals and eventually settled on 1 minute run, 1 minute walk. My longest training run was 13.5 miles — shorter than what was called for in the training plan, but long enough to give me confidence about the 10 miler. I headed to the race feeling good about my preparation.
During the months of preparation, our running group had expanded; Trish recruited her friends Amanda and Sarah, and I recruited my brother Marcus and my ex Debbie. So we had six runners of varying ages and abilities joining the more than 10,000 other runners ready to tackle the course the night of Saturday, September 29, 2012.
Almost all of my training (and all of my long runs) had been morning runs, and all in relatively mild weather (I usually start running before sunrise with temperatures no higher than low 60s). The ToT race was an evening race, starting at 10 p.m. At race time the temperature was 80, as was the humidity. While I’d rested most of Saturday, the previous days had been full-on Disney park days, and I was starting out with tired legs and a blister on one toe. The heat, humidity, and initial tiredness made me realize I probably wouldn’t be doing this 10 miles as fast as I had done my training runs … and my training runs were really just trying to be fast enough to stay ahead of the “sweepers” who come along and pick up anyone who doesn’t keep the required pace of 16 minutes / mile. During training I averaged about 13:30 minutes / mile for my longer runs. I thought this would give me a cushion sufficient to allow for any slow-down due to heat, and also the opportunity to stop for photos along the way.
Our group of runners was spread out from Corral A to Corral D, so clearly we wouldn’t be starting together. And given our different paces and the large field, I really didn’t expect to be seeing others during the race … so it would have to be a big reunion at the after-party.
But I was in the same Corral as Marcus, so we filed into the Corral B together to await the start. Just after we had gotten into the corrals they started walking us out to the starting line. There were a bunch of announcements and it seemed the time went by quickly — before long, the fireworks went off marking the start of the race for the wheelchair racers. Just a few minutes later, the fireworks went off again and Corral A was off. And then five minutes later, it was our turn, and the group surged forward through the parking entrance that marked the race start.
We went straight only a little ways before making a sharp turn and heading up a cloverleaf section of the interchange between World Drive and Osceola Parkway. I’d done some practice running hills, but the ramp was tilted quite awkwardly side-to-side which I really wasn’t prepared for. I ended up walking a lot of the ramp and then tried to get into my rhythm once we got onto the level surface of the overpass. We headed toward the Animal Kingdom. When I hit Mile 1, my pace was 14:00 — that was slower than almost every training mile I’d done. But I had planned to start out slow so I didn’t worry about it. But as it turned out, that would be my fastest mile of the night.
A little past Mile 2, we passed the entrance plaza for the Animal Kingdom. (I can still hear “Attention Runners: Speed bumps ahead” repeating endlessly). After the turn we were headed back the way we came on Osceola Parkway. It was a chance for me to see how many people were behind me, and I was happy to see I wasn’t in last place.
The Osceola Parkway sections of the run were pretty dull, which is unfortunate since it made up the bulk of the race course. Around mile 5 we turned off onto a narrow trail. This was probably the best-themed area of the course, a narrow trail leading into the Wide World of Sports complex. Spooky lighting, things hanging in trees, and music fit the theme. But the trail was very narrow, forcing everyone down to a walk. And the trail surface was rock and gravel — I was running in very thin-soled Vibrams so it was not a fun surface to walk or run on.
We emerged from the trail into the bright lights of practice fields at the WWoS complex. We ran most of the way around the quarter mile track ( a much nicer running surface! ) and made our way over to Champions Stadium, where we were “cheered” on by a handful of spectators who had come to watch. (One sign I spotted read “Worst. Parade. Ever.”. We were being broadcast live onto the JumboTron but I didn’t try to spot myself, at this point (a bit more than six miles in) I was really just focusing on moving forward.
We finished mile 7 and headed back out to Osceola Parkway again, and turned back toward the studios. At this point I’d slowed pretty much to a walk with an occasional minute or so of running thrown in every quarter mile or so. Mile 8 went by, and then we started backtracking, running down the same tilted cloverleaf ramp that we’d covered at the start of the race. Just before Mile 9 we entered into the Hollywood Studios near the Lights, Motors, Action attraction and ran in front of the bleacher seating for the show. Right around here, Debbie, who had started 2 corrals (and 10 minutes) behind me, caught up with me and we did the last mile together.
From there, it was down the backstage New York street, and then a turn to come down the alley way behind the American Idol attraction. We looped our way around the Sorcerer’s Hat, thru the archway leading to Animation, and down Pixar Place. There we turned backstage and began making our way toward the Tower of Terror finish.
The backstage part was uninteresting and we mostly walked, but when we rounded the last turn, there was the finish line, and suddenly our legs were ready to run again. We crossed the finish line with arms raised in victory and received our finisher’s medals from the volunteers. Beyond this we were handed bananas, PowerAde, and a goodie box with other snacks. Cruelly at this point we had to walk up a steep hill to get to the setup where finisher photos were being taken with the medals.
After the photos, we had to make our way over to the bag check which was at the Indiana Jones Adventure. Never has it seemed so far from Tower of Terror to Indiana Jones … with the race done, all motivation to move had left me. But we made our way over. I made my way down the IJ steps like a 90-year old man, retrieved my bag, and sat in the bleachers for a few minutes before making my way to the changing tents. After changing we met up with Marcus and his wife Ginny at Toy Story Mania. We walked up to Rock n Roller coaster, where we ran into Trish. I really wanted to do Tower of Terror post-race, but the wait suddenly went from 20 minutes to 55 minutes while we were standing around talking, and I decided to catch it another time. As it turns out, I ended up not getting on a ride during the after-party, just standing around and talking (we eventually ran into Amanda and Sarah also, so the entire party was accounted for and everyone had finished without injury or incident).
I was really happy to finish my first runDisney race, and I’m looking forward to the WDW half-marathon in January, where I’m hoping the heat and humidity will be friendlier and I’ll put in a performance more in line with what I’ve seen in my training. But since it’s my first 10-miler, it’s a PR, and I’ll take it proudly.
- The Inaugural Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler: Race Recap (runningatdisney.com)
- Tower of Terror 10 miler (runningtodisney.wordpress.com)