Editor’s Note: This blog comes to us from Todd Carrier on his review of the Inaugural Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler race last month. Thanks Todd!
A hauntingly good time or sinister loss of magic?
When this race was first announced, I was rather excited. I seem to be addicted to runDisney events. Due to financial responsibilities and lack of vacation days, I thought I would be unable to take part in the inaugural running of this event; however, the fates aligned and I was able to set it up and secure a bib just days before the race sold out. The ToT10M would be my 9th runDisney distance event. I arrived with plenty of expectations. Having done a fair number of long runs on Disney courses, I felt assured there would be plenty of on course entertainment. I was also aware that this was an inaugural race, so there would undoubtedly be a hitch or two.
The Health & Fitness Expo is a mandatory stop for all runDisney events, as it is where you pick up your bib, race shirt and assorted swag. It also gives you a chance to listen to presentations by experts in health and fitness (with a focus on running) and peruse assorted race sponsor’s displays and vendor’s wares. The offerings and booths were slim for this expo–even for an inaugural event. The volunteers were pleasant and picking up bibs et al went smoothly and efficiently.
Because of my addiction to runDisney, I had registered for the 5K event that is paired with every distance event, Mickey’s Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run. It took place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, Saturday September 29th at 7 o’clock in the morning. For the first time at any of the 5K fun runs, there were actual hard placed corrals to which you were assigned. The course wound its way around the WWoS complex, through back wooded areas, around baseball diamonds and soccer fields, even a jaunt for ¾ of the race track. Due to the location of the run, as well as weather and course conditions, there wasn’t much for on course entertainment. In quite a few spots the course got quite narrow and was completely covered in water or mud. It was after sunrise so it could be easily seen and accommodated. The run was extremely well organized and flowed well. I would not choose the WWoS as a location for a race based on sights or WDW magic, but the venue was constructed with sporting events in mind and that shone through during the 5K run.
At 7 o’clock in the evening, I was finishing my pre-race prep with my running mates at the Boardwalk Villas. The ToT10M wasn’t slated to start until 10, but with travel time to the race, pre-race obligations and staging it was almost time to go. Walking from the Boardwalk Villas to the parking lot of Disney’s Hollywood Studios was a breeze—it took less time than I expected, even though we were sauntering lazily as not to expend too much energy. The entire Goofy/Film area of the parking lot was taken over by racers, spectators, port-a-potties, bag check and even a few food trucks. RunDisney had the DJ pumping up the crowd and getting people to dance and keep them energized. Unlike most other runDisney events, there were no characters that I could find or heard about to have a photo opportunity. There were two spooky Tower of Terror gates to pose for pictures and two oversized Guest Sign-In books to sign, both sets had extremely long lines. Upon entering one of the four corrals, it was a nice improvement to see port-a-potties. They were not just in the ominous row along the side of the parking lot. However, the chances of finding one anywhere both pre-race and on course, stocked was about 1 in 20. Around 9:30, they started to walk the corrals from the parking lot, out the driveway to the start line, which was the official entrance to the Studios. It was at this point I could tell things were not going to go smoothly. We were crammed. I felt like a wildebeest from the Lion King, just before the stampede. The national anthem was sung, the wheel chair waves were released and after a moment of waiting, BANG, the first wave (Corral A) was released. We cheered. We plodded up to the start line and waited for our set of fireworks to mark the start of our wave.
Then ten miles passed. It passed with hairpin turns. It passed with sweltering heat and suffocating humidity. It passed with empty open road. It passed with lack luster sparse on course entertainment. It passed with turning off the paved road and taking the backwoods trail (still water and mud covered) that I had done that morning during the 5K run. It passed through the baseball diamond, showing the racers on the big screen. It passed with even more empty open road. It passed with lights shining up into your face. It passed with the foul stench of the Studios dumpsters full of decaying trash. It passed with running through the Lights! Motors! Action! arena, again being shown on the big screen. It passed with the backstage view of non-descript buildings in the Studios. It passed with the inevitable trod down the costuming tunnel. It passed with a finish line that was understated at best. It passed without any characters or cast members or bell hops at the finish. It passed with a feeling of crowdedness up until the last ½ mile and then quadrupled immediately after receiving the medal.
Post-race was not planned well either. After getting our goodie box and power-ade, we had to mount the hill that helps keep the backstage area of Tower of Terror hidden from view for the normal park guest. Three people fell while I was there. One serious enough, it required the assistance of an Alpha Unit. If you checked a bag, you had to cross the park and retrieve it from the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular soundstage. Whether you checked a bag or not, you were let loose into the Villains After Party. I had every intention of closing the party down. Riding rides and taking up the park until they kicked me out. That was until I stepped foot onto Sunset Boulevard. It was Osborne Lights crowded. Fighting our way towards the Sorcerer’s Hat the mass of bodies didn’t dissipate. I have heard that the Streets of America and Pixar Place were less full of people, but I did not want to find out. I wanted to have a little bit of breathing room and to be able to stretch and cool down. So around 1:30 or 2, we left the park. My mates took the bus and I lumbered back to the Boardwalk Villas. By the time I got there, I had enough fresh air that I climbed the four flights of stairs to the room.
Overall, my opinion of the race is that it is passible. It was ordinary. With the exception of the last bit being run in the Studios, this race could be recreated almost anywhere. It fell severely short of what I was hoping for; all the while hammering in the fears I had of it being an inaugural race. I am glad that I ran it. Would I do it again under the same circumstances without issues being addressed? No. That being said, I am optimistic. RunDisney does listen to its athletes. This is not the first inaugural race where there were significant issues. They reach out to the runners who contact them, listen to the criticism and come back with a better, strong race the next year.