Posts Tagged by tower of terror

The Villain’s Bash! A Terrifyingly Fun 10-Miler After Party

When you run a nighttime race at Walt Disney World, the fun doesn’t just end there…there’s an after party to go to!!  This is such a fun way to celebrate your accomplishment, show off your new bling and just let loose!  Jenn is back this week (you might remember her tips on prepping for a night race vs. a morning race) to share all the fun from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler after party, The Villain’s Bash!  It looks like she had a terrifyingly good time 🙂

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You’ve just run 10 miles! You are exhilarated, your muscles are sore…so now what are you going to do?   Obvious answers might be: “collapse,” “sleep,” or “eat my weight in doughnuts.” My answer? I’m going to the Villain’s Bash!

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But… what exactly is a Villain’s Bash? I truly wasn’t sure what to expect from this event. I imagined that some Villain’s would show up at the party, and I expected a DJ and some rides. But in my mind, I definitely didn’t do it justice.

The Villain’s Bash is truly the perfect ending to this themed race. As you may know, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler is the absolute best race for those people who are fans of the, well, wicked side of Disney.   All along the race route there are photo ops with a variety of Disney’s best bad guys. Dr. Facilier, the Hyenas, the Big Bad Wolf, the Queen of Hearts, and the Evil Queen in witch form are only a sampling of who you can meet along the route. It’s a Villain-lover’s dream (nightmare?)!

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But that was just the beginning! The Villain’s Bash totally upped the ante – but I’m getting ahead of myself. After the race, we claimed our medals and our snacks, and then began the rather lengthy trek back to Hollywood Studios. The path then diverged, one side heading to bag claim and the other straight to the Villain’s Bash. Although I was extremely excited for the after-party, my husband and I first made the obligatory detour to bag claim. We had stashed a little go-bag inside of the clear race bags with energy drinks, means to “freshen up”, and room for uneaten snacks; once we had this in hand, we was ready to go!

It is worth noting that there were conveniently located changing stations near Echo Lake for runners use; traffic flow took us directly past this area on the way back to the festivities. I realized that this was a very good thing, since the women’s bathroom lines elsewhere were extremely long.

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Party time! As you can imagine, there were people everywhere. The area on Sunset Boulevard near where they sell Toluca Turkey Legs was packed with people snacking on their post-race boxes. It was also packed because the rides were open! As you might imagine, we headed for the Tower of Terror, which happens to be our favorite ride. What can be better than riding the Tower with your Tower 10 Miler medal? Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was also open, and I later discovered that other rides, including Toy Story Midway Mania and Star Tours, were also open. Of course, this is a big draw to the Villain’s Bash. But believe it or not, the rides were not the focus of the party.

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I began to realize this as we left the Tower and headed toward the heart of the party. We noticed that the shops were open, and we headed in to check out the merchandise. Of course, in keeping with the evening’s theme, we paused in the store specializing in Villain’s merchandise; it also happens to sell some delectable sweets – guilt-free of course, since you’ve just run 10 miles!

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We also passed two wet bars on the way to the Sorcerer’s Hat, available for those participants wishing to indulge in an adult beverage after the race. This was certainly a detour from what I normally see in the Studios! Music from a live DJ permeated the immediate vicinity, and there were several people enjoying the music – even dancing, if you can believe it! Even after 10 miles, the festive atmosphere was energizing enough to overcome our tired muscles.

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We were taking it all in (and be-bopping to the music), when I noticed two lines off to the side.

As it turns out, the Villain’s Bash truly hosts a multitude of – you guessed it – Villains! Cruella de Vil was at that time welcoming her fans. I have never had the pleasure of seeing Cruella in person, and it was fascinating to watch her in action. I was informed by the Cast Member that Cruella was toward the end of her greeting period, but that the Queen would soon be coming in her stead; she would then return later in the evening. It seems the two were alternating on and off throughout the event. I decided to beat the rush and get in the line for the Queen, another larger-than-live Villain who I had yet to see! Since I had just managed to get a picture with the “old hag” version of the Queen, I thought it fitting to get her Majesty’s picture as well!

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I was so excited about the photo ops that I headed off in search of more! I headed back up Sunset Boulevard, and I located meet and greets with Gaston and Shan Yu (from Mulan). I have seen Gaston before, but never Shan Yu. This was one of the most fun character interactions I’ve had. I was amazed at how short the line was! Shan Yu is pretty much never out, so I decided to take full advantage of the photo op. Since Gaston was on his “off” period, I headed over to the opposite side of the Studios, near the old Soundstage and Star Tours.

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Next up, I found Pain & Panic from Hercules.

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As I left the line after my picture, I noticed another little merchandise area selling some apparel from the event.

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Then, I continued my journey in the pursuit of Villain pictures. I ventured over to Star Tours, and found, as you may guess, Darth Vader and two Storm Troopers. I have to say that I saw some of the best poses here before I had my turn. My favorite was the group who got on their knees with hands behind their heads, pretending they’d been taken hostage by the Sith lord and his cronies. As I continued on my journey, I also noticed that Boba Fett was receiving visitors nearby.

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Much of the Street of America was quiet, as was Pixar Place – even Toy Story Mania’s line was relatively short! Of course, at this point it was after 3 am, and things were starting to wind down. And I will admit, fatigue was most definitely setting in. Since we were walking back to our resort (a short walk, but I can honestly say it felt much longer!), we did a quick tour of the remaining shops and headed for the exit.

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The event was wonderful, and I had such fun getting my picture with so many infamous Disney Villains! The face characters were especially entertaining, but I have to say that all of the characters really did a fabulous job acting their … well, worst! Although there is currently no 10-Miler scheduled for next year, I truly hope the event will return so I can take part in it again!

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Jenn has been a lifelong Disney fan. Her passion for the Mouse has only increased throughout the years. She visits Disney Parks 2-3 times per year, often in conjunction with Disney Races. In addition to being a fan, she plans Disney travel for others, hoping to share the Magic with everyone. Through Disney-themed blog & Facebook pages, she regularly tracks new and exciting changes to the Disney parks so she can share them with others.  Check out Jenn’s blog DISining Memories and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

A Terrifyingly RAD First runDisney Race!

It seems like even the most seasoned runners always have a runDisney race on their bucket list.  I mean how could you not?!  They are so FUN!  The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler is a great introductory race for those new to runDisney and Cheyanne is here today to share her experience.  Let’s just say, she might have caught the runDisney bug…

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It finally happened: I registered for my first runDisney race! My boyfriend’s mom wanted to register for her first race in several years and we agreed that The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler would be perfect. A racecation (yes, I made that word up) at the happiest place on earth? Yes please! I’ve done many races in my life, including 7 half marathons and a bunch of 10ks and 5ks. A runDisney race was on my bucket list because it combined my love for running and all things Disney. It almost sounded too good to be true!

I learned through various blogs that most people wear a costume to the Disney races. I was never one to wear a costume, but I figured if I was going to do it, gotta do it big! My race costume was Princess Anna from Frozen! I know, the TOT is mostly villains, but I love Frozen and knew it would be somewhat easy to make. I got most of the costume from Sparkle Athletic, but knew the design on the top would complete the outfit. My mom is very talented and crafty, so she offered her help. She made the design using puffy paint and threw on some glitter. I may be bias, but she did a fabulous job! Thanks mom 🙂 Since I never wear a costume to races, this was exciting.

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Even though I am a seasoned runner, training for this race wasn’t the easiest. See, I live in Phoenix, Arizona where the Summer heat is BRUTAL! It is not unusual for it to be in the 90s at 4 or 5 in the morning June through the end of September, which means you either have to run very early in the morning, late at night (um, yeah not safe) or on the treadmill. I did a mix of treadmill and outdoor running. Shout out to the best running store in the nation Runners Den for hosting an amazing training group that motivates me to get out of bed every Saturday morning 🙂

Before I knew it, race weekend was here. I made sure to pack all my race gear in my carry on so I wouldn’t risk losing all my gear. My main concern about running a race in Florida was the humidity. Heat? Bring it on? Humidity? Yeah, we don’t have much of that in Phoenix. I checked the forecast the week of the race and saw the high chance for thunderstorms. Shortly thereafter, there was a message from runDisney warning about inclement weather. Lots of rain? NNNOOOOO!!!! One, I’m not used to it. Two, I had a cute costume to wear. My boyfriend’s mom was running the race too and was also concerned about the weather. Either way, we were prepared to run, even if it meant getting wet and muddy.

We flew in Orlando the night before the race, which was kind of a bummer given that we missed the first day of the expo. Hey, we did what we could. We stayed at the Shades of Green, which is on Disney property and is a great place to stay for military families. We went to the expo at the ESPN World Wide of Sports Complex bright and early the next day. I must say, the crowds weren’t nearly as bad as I read about. Like most expos, we spent way too much money on race gear. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Galloway. What a nice man! We also saw the tail end of the Haunted 5k taking place that morning. We were officially pumped for the race!

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After the expo, we took the advice to lay low. I snuck in a 2 hour nap, but I was too excited to rest more than that! After saying good bye to my boyfriend and his dad (they do not like those kind of crowds!) we headed over to the Polynesian Resort to wait for the bus. We got off the bus and saw the sea of runners dressed in awesome costumes! That crowd had an energy level unlike any race I’ve ever done. The weather ended up being a clear, beautiful night. Still more humid than I’m used to, but not as bad as the predicted forecast. I drank a lot of water that day hoping that would help. We stretched and waited for race time to begin.

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We got in our corrals to get ready to go. I was shocked to see we needed to be in our corral 45 minutes prior to the start. My plantar fascitis was not happy about this! I was set in corral D while my boyfriend’s mom was set in J, so we wished each other luck and got in our place. I was happy to see runDisney volunteers being firm about coral placement. I’ve been in way too many races where people were clearly in the wrong corral and that can be a pain. Anyway, it was getting to be time to go and we walked almost a quarter mile to the start. It was so cool to see the fireworks go off for every coral, but they didn’t do it for D! Boo! Oh well, I was about to run a Disney race!

I felt great getting started. There were a couple of hills the first couple miles (If you’ve been to Arizona, it’s pretty flat), but I was still feeling good. I was going between a 10 and 10:35 pace, which was good considering I was stuck in the 11 minute range for a long while. I was happy with my pace, so I originally decided against stopping for pictures with characters. I ran by the Queen of Hearts, the Hyenas from Lion King and Captain Hook. There was a line for each one and I was worried it would drop me below the 16 minute mile. I threw that thought out the window when I came across a picture opportunity with Jack Skellington and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. No way I was missing this!

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It was around that time I decided to let go of my competitiveness and enjoy what the race had to offer. I could run a PR at home, but I can’t take pictures with Disney characters at home! I got pictures with Stitch and the Haunted Mansion cast among others. Even though I stopped for pictures, I was still able to maintain a good pace.

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One of my favorite spots to run on the course was through ESPN World Wide Sports. My joints were thanking me. This was also the part where I really started feeling the humidity. I stayed hydrated with the water and Gatorade combo, which works well by the way.

Before I knew it, we were running back into Hollywood Studios. Yay, almost there! I loved the part where we ran by Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat and down the Streets of America. What a sight! The one rough thing was the sharp turns. Oh my!

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Just when it seemed like the finish line was a long way away, I was crossing it! Oh yeah, I did it! Loved the medal and the fact it glowed in the dark. I was so happy to be done with my first runDisney race!

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Even though I was done running, the walking had only just begun! Wow, we walked about a mile after the race. I know the volunteers had to keep things going, but wow! I walked over to the family reunion area to wait for my boyfriend’s mom, and she finished about a half hour later. Her goal was to not get swept and finish, which she aced! We met up and got ready to go on the Tower of Terror, but she decided to sit it out and told me to go on her behalf.  A couple runners learned the hard way that wearing their medal on the ride is not a good idea. Luckily, I tucked it in the seatbelt. I had to go get our bags and with it being 3 am, we almost missed our chance to get them! I hate to brag, but I got directions around the park from THE Jeff Galloway 🙂 We finally got on the bus and passed out at the hotel around 4:30 AM. Woo! What a night!

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We went to Epcot the next day in our race shirts. I didn’t know about the Food and Wine Festival, but that alone made the trip worth it. Whoever planned the race around that event is genius! All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I’m so sad to now learn that this race won’t be happening in 2015, but we already agreed to do the Wine & Dine Half Marathon and the Disneyland Half Marathon next year. No shock here, but I am officially addicted to runDisney! I’m already brainstorming costumes. Sorcerer Mickey, Merida, or Belle? Stay tuned 🙂

Prepping for a Night Race vs. a Morning Race

Most of us train and run during the day, so the night races that runDisney holds can be a challenge.  There are so many different things that come into play that you might not immediately think about when you are preparing.  Jenn is a veteran Disney runner, but had never run a night race before this year’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler.  She’s here today with some great tips on how to prepare for a night race and some of the differences you can expect if you are used to morning races.

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There is absolutely nothing like a Disney Race! The atmosphere, the fun, the characters – everything is impeccably planned and executed. In fact, Disney races are the entire reason I got into distance running. The thought of running through my favorite place, seeing things that are behind the scenes, and being part of the fun and excitement were all huge draws. The icing on the cake is that I get to take a vacation while I’m down there!

Up to this point, my husband and I have only participated in morning races on the WDW Marathon Weekends. So this year, we decided to try something new – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler! The Tower of Terror is our favorite attraction, so we decided that this was the perfect race with which to “branch out”.

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I have to tell you, I was so excited that this race was at night versus in the morning. Being a “night owl” by nature, the 10:00pm start time really appealed to me. I mean, waking up at 2:00am to catch a bus is rough – worth it, but rough!

But as the race date approached, I began to realize that I had never prepped myself for a night race – and it is a whole different ballgame than prepping for the morning races.

So, let’s start with the morning races. As every runner knows, it is important to learn how your body handles long runs. It is always a process knowing what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat it for maximum benefit. Too much food makes me sluggish, too little makes me feel sick. Over time, I have learned that for my morning races and long training runs, I need a nice balance of protein and carbs – nothing that weighs me down, but something that will stick with me. I usually opt for a meal replacement shake with lots of protein and some breakfast biscuits to munch on.   The slow burning carbs sustain me through the morning hours and the run ahead.

When I do morning Disney races, there is the added element of not tiring out your body. Disney has so many wonderful things to do; it can be easy to get caught up in the magic of the parks and overdo it before a race. I am always careful to take it easy in the parks the day before, have a nice dinner, then head back to the room to prep my gear and grab some sleep for the next day. Of course, the alarm going off at 2am is never a great sound, but it is amazing how the adrenaline begins to flow, waking me up more quickly than usual. By the time I’ve had my shake, I’m feeling ready to go. I bring my breakfast biscuits in my go bag to munch on since there are always a couple of hours before the corrals release.

So, this has been the perfect formula for my morning Disney runs. The excitement at the finish line keeps me going, as does the snack box the wonderful volunteers pass out. I even have enough energy to head into the parks for a few hours before the need for a nap overwhelms me.

Of course, this formula was of no help to me for the 10-Miler. I totally had to change my preparations. First up, it was more challenging to “take it easy” before the race. We had tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on Friday night, and so we were up late. Add to that the fact that we walked more than anticipated on Friday, and we woke up on Saturday a bit more tired than we had hoped.

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We had planned to go to Epcot that day; as we stayed at the Boardwalk, it was just a short walk to get there. We planned to stay just long enough to see the booths at the Food & Wine Festival and ride our favorite rides, then head back to the room for a nap. We pretty well kept to the plan, but as you know, Epcot is quite a large park. We did more walking than we should have, but after a nap, we were feeling good.

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Next came the tricky part. What on earth should we eat? We planned to walk over to the Studios at around 7:15 to experience the pre-race festivities, and so just a protein shake wasn’t going to work. By the time the corrals launched, I knew I would be starving. My husband and I debated back and forth. Finally, we grabbed a room service menu at around 6pm. There was a great looking salad – nice and light – but then I realized that there is nothing worse than being hungry in the middle of a run, so I didn’t want to eat something small. I decided that I had plenty of time to digest, so I settled on the pulled pork sandwich with homemade chips; my hubby opted for the grilled chicken sandwich (side note: both were fantastic!) with chips. We had water only to drink in anticipation of the race.

We sat down to dinner at 6:40pm, and then we finished our race preparations and walked over to the Studios via the walkway along the lake. I was pleased that the sandwich had been filling but not heavy. The salt in the chips was helpful pre-run, but I realized halfway over that I forgot a bottle of water in my race bag. Thank goodness for the water stations near the corrals!

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So, I’m sure you are wondering how things turned out. I have to say that overall, I was successful in my first nighttime race. I did notice that my feet were definitely sore by mile 3 – I attribute this to the fact that I did more walking than I should have during my park visits. This did not impair my speed too much, but I know that had I rested a bit more, I would have been more comfortable during the latter half of the 10-Miler. Food-wise, I was pleased. The balance of protein and carbs was still good, and the food stuck with me throughout the race. Don’t get me wrong, I was ready for a snack after, but I never felt hungry during the run. I was also able to enjoy the pre- and post-festivities due to my afternoon nap.

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I would say that if you have never done a night race, don’t avoid it! Be careful not to overdo it in the parks, and try to find a meal that combines the same elements you eat for your morning runs. They will take a different form, but the combination will work like a charm. I am definitely looking forward to more Disney races, whether night or morning!

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Jenn has been a lifelong Disney fan. Her passion for the Mouse has only increased throughout the years. She visits Disney Parks 2-3 times per year, often in conjunction with Disney Races. In addition to being a fan, she plans Disney travel for others, hoping to share the Magic with everyone. Through Disney-themed blog & Facebook pages, she regularly tracks new and exciting changes to the Disney parks so she can share them with others.  Check out Jenn’s blog DISining Memories and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Fueling for the Big Drop!

Night races can prove to be challenging when it comes to eating throughout the day leading up to the race. This is even more difficult at Walt Disney World when you are tempted by all the delicious but not so healthy menu items that can be found around the resort.  Today Shannon is here to go over her meal plan from last weekend’s Tower of Terror 10-Miler and how she stayed properly fueled all day and into the wee hours of the next morning.  If you are running the Wine & Dine Half Marathon in a few weeks, these are GREAT tips to help you get ready!

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ 10 Miler is always tricky. Ten miles doesn’t seem as demanding as a half marathon or as daunting as a marathon. It is easy to say, “It’s only ten miles. I don’t need to do anything special.” But I’ll tell you now, unless you are a seasoned long distance runner who also is a diehard Walt Disney World® guest and can party like a rock star till the wee hours of the morning, (and if you are all three of those, I hope we meet someday!) then you may not want to take this run too lightly. Perhaps I can explain it in a simple equation:

10 miles + 10:00 p.m. start time + 3:30 a.m. closing of the Disney Villains Hollywood Bash + 3 days in the parks + 90o typical Florida heat × 80% humidity proper prep work and fueling = potential disaster zombie. 

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Since this was my third Tower 10 Miler and I had a frightful time last year with my fueling, I was determined to fuel properly. I did some studying up on fueling for a night race and found basic standard advice for any race:

1) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Not just on race day but several days before.

2) Practice. Not just running but also fueling and never try anything new on race night.

And here is where it gets night race specific:

3) Rather than eating any big meals, eat several smaller carb/protein balanced meals of an easy to digest variety and avoid fats on race day. Don’t overeat, but also don’t let yourself feel hungry to avoid overeating or making a poor food choice, like the chili dog craziness that I was craving.

Speaking of which, I can actually sum this up in three words: DON’T EAT THIS.

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I was able to stick with my plan for the most part and stayed light on my feet when I couldn’t, which is key during a race-cation since you don’t have complete control of timing and food choices. So without further ado, here is how it went:

7:45 a.m. Our day started with an early Keys to the Kingdom Tour at the Magic Kingdom, so sleep won out over food and we ate on the move with a PROBAR and water for breakfast.

9:45 a.m. I made my own snack mix of walnuts, dried cherries, raisins, salted sunflower seeds and dark chocolate chips and I munched on that through the morning.

11:00 a.m. Lunch was at my favorite place, Columbia Harbour House where I devoured an Anchors Aweigh sandwich (tuna, multigrain bread, lettuce and tomatoes) and their yummy, freshly cooked potato chips with a large bottle of water.

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Throughout the day, I munched on snack mix and drank water.

I was on the hunt for a Mickey soft pretzel but didn’t find one. And though it was in my plan, I didn’t panic or jump at the next snack I saw – like a rice crispie treat – though that might not have been a terrible choice. I’ll try it next time!

4:30 p.m. I ordered a caprese flat bread pizza easy on the cheese, and a Fuse iced tea – it has electrolytes and a little caffeine to keep me running when I should be in bed.

5:30 p.m. As I changed into my costume, which took a while, I sipped on water and drank an Emergen-C before I left the hotel.

8:45 p.m. Between taking pictures with friends and the excitement of the moment, I managed to remember to eat a banana and munch on some mini pretzels (my back up plan for not having the Mickey soft pretzel) and continued sipping on water.

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9:45 p.m. I took my first gel. I like Endurox Accel Gel. They taste pretty good as far as gels go. I know that isn’t saying much!

During the race:

Normally at this race I would run with my own water, but because the weather was great I just used what the race provided – thanks to the volunteers on the course for keeping that water coming!

I took two sips of water at every stop and maybe more when I had a gel at mile 4 and mile 8. I go by miles rather than time for gels since I find it easier to remember. One tip I’ve learned over the years is to swish the water around in your mouth before swallowing. There is science behind this technique making your body think you have more water than you do and it cools your body temp. Don’t ask me how; I’m just sharing something that works for me.

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After the race:

I felt great and took advantage of a bottle of Gatorade and ate a banana within minutes of crossing the finish. About an hour later, I ate a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate milk.

So, did my fueling plan work? Though I stayed the course during the day, I needed the gels on the course when I took them. I did feel drained by the time I ate the post-race meal but that was as much from an IT band issue and the fact that it was well after midnight. I think the real measure of a successful fueling plan is that we shut down the Villains Bash once again!

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There is more and more info out there about night run fueling as this type of race rises in popularity. Here are a few worth checking out.

Competitor.com

Runners World

runwalkfastpassrepeat.com

runDisney Blog

I would love to hear about your night run race experiences – what worked, what didn’t??

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Hi, I’m Shannon.  I am wife, mother, lover of God and just about everything Disney – but especially the Disney Parks and runDisney.  Walt Disney World is my “home” destination, but I also love Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure and just to shake it up I have been to Hong Kong Disneyland, Disneyland Paris and plan to make it to all the Disney Resorts worldwide!   I enjoy helping family and friends plan their magical adventures to the Disney Parks and if you need convincing that you can take a “child-free” trip, just let me know. You can find me tweeting about Disney, running, and staying semi-sane at @PurveyorofPD and on Facebook at Purveyor of Pixie Dust. You can also visit my blog, Purveyor of Pixie Dust.

Running The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler All By Myself…Not Really

As many runDisney veterans can tell you, when you run a Disney race you are never really alone even if you start out that way.  The spectators, on course entertainment and overall friendly atmosphere make it the perfect place to run if you are a solo runner or if it is your first long distance race.  Well this past weekend, Holly found all of that to be very true as she ran The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler!  If you have ever hesitated to run a race because the distance seemed to long or because you didn’t have a running partner, you MUST read this story!

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10 miles…52,800 feet…633,600 inches…Could I really run that far? All by myself? In a crowd of 12,000 people? YES! How do I know? Because I DID it! And you can, too!

Saturday, October 4, 2014 was my first ever runDisney event, my first ever competitive distance over 3.1 miles, and most importantly, the first time I’ve ever run a race without a friend along for encouragement. My husband and I were vacationing at Walt Disney World for 11 days and my race was scheduled for day 10 of our trip. After nine and a half days of beating up my feet in the autumn heat, humidity, and rain, I was about to say goodbye to my husband and start on a two-and-a-half hour journey all on my own. This wasn’t just any race for me. There was a lot riding on this finish.

After running a 5K last year, I wanted to try a longer race, but I hate to run, so I really needed something that would motivate me to keep lacing up my sneakers again and again.  My friend Jessica suffers from a chronic form of cancer that she will be battling for the rest of her life, and I found that motivation when I decided to run for Jessica’s benefit. Every time we come home from WDW, Jessica anxiously awaits my report of all of the new things that are happening in our favorite place. But as her cancer recurs again and again, I’ve started to notice a change in Jessica’s eyes when we talk about these trips. It’s not jealousy or sadness, but a steely acceptance that she’ll only ever experience these things vicariously through me. With such an uncertain future, allocating money to a Disney vacation is just not something that her family can do. So I decided to take action. I decided that I would run a race to raise money to send Jessica and her family to Disney. When we arrived in Florida, we had already exceeded our fundraising goal of $5000 and all that was left was for me to finish the race.

On race night,we took the Mears event bus from Saratoga Springs Resort at 7:45pm and arrived at the staging area which is in the Film parking lot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We entered the event venue via the makeshift bag check line, but no Disney Cast Members were there to welcome us or give directions. The giant parking lot loomed in front of us with lines to sign the guest registry, lines to take a photo, lines to take a last minute potty break.

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I was too nervous to be in the mood for dancing, but a DJ was warming up the crowd and playing lots of familiar, inspiring tunes from both Disney and popular repertoires. While waiting in line, we met up with two other solo runners, but they were starting in different corrals, so I would have to say goodbye to my new friends once the race began.

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At 9:15, my husband and I went our separate ways. He went off to watch the start of the race from the big screen and I headed into my corral dreading the 10 lonely miles ahead and wishing that I had chosen the 5K instead so I could have been on my way to the Villain’s Bash instead of embarking on the torture trail. I kept my phone with me for comfort and because I didn’t want to do this run without access to a camera!

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At about 9:45, the corrals started to move out to the starting line. I had submitted my estimated finish time of 2:15:00, which had earned me a starting spot in corral H. Usually I can find someone to chat with in any Disney situation, but during the 30 minutes that I spent in the corral, I didn’t speak to anyone. I was just too nervous. Then at 10:00, the first corral was released.  I wanted to run away, but I had come this far and there was no turning back now. As each corral was released on 2-minute intervals, I felt more and more nervous. Then suddenly about 20 minutes into the race, our time had come! This time the fireworks were for corral H!

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At that moment, I was missing my training buddies. I wanted to chat away the 10 miles with them as we alternated between jogging and walking. I wanted to look forward to sharing the joy of crossing the finish line with them. I wanted their support and encouragement for the moments ahead when I was going to want to quit.

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Typically, I run 1-minute intervals, but as all of the people around me started to run, I got caught up in the excitement. I ran for nearly a mile and a half straight before I realized that I had better pace myself if I hoped to survive until the end. We ran all the way to Animal Kingdom before turning around on Osceola Parkway and heading back to ESPN Wide World of Sports. Between the mile markers, characters, music, and water stops, it was easy to get lost in the atmosphere and not pay attention to the distance for the first five miles or so.

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Somewhere around mile 6, running started to become difficult. I had only done three runs that were longer than 6 miles, so I expected to be tired by this point. Then the most amazing thing happened. We turned the corner into one of the baseball diamonds and spectators were lining the stadium to cheer for us. From the time we left that stadium, volunteers and families lined our route shouting words of encouragement, smiling, waving giant Mickey hands at us. Suddenly I didn’t feel alone anymore. These people were cheering for me! Encouraging me to keep running! I wanted to stop and hug each and every one of them individually for giving up their time to help motivate 12,000 strangers to accomplish something a goal.

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We made a left turn back onto Osceola Parkway and down the home stretch to Hollywood Studios. I wasn’t alone anymore. These people were rooting for me and my husband was waiting at that finish line, ready to tell me how proud he was of me. I was unstoppable! I had long since thrown the intervals out the window. I was running for as long as I could and walking when I needed to conserve energy. When we passed under the Hollywood Studios welcome sign, Hades was waiting for us and announcing that we only had a mile and a half to go!

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As we wove our way through Hollywood Studios, both onstage and backstage, the excitement started to build. We ran past the hat and past Toy Story Mania before looping around backstage to the finish line. All the while, people were cheering and it was such an amazing feeling! As soon as I crossed the finish line, a volunteer was waiting with a cool towel. Then another volunteer handed me a medal and another presented bottles of water and powerade. Down the line, more volunteers were waiting to hand me a snack box and a banana and someone else wanted to take my picture.

Twelve thousand people crossed the starting line for this race and when I crossed the finish line, every single person that I encountered made me feel like I won the race. It was a hero’s welcome so grand that I could barely feel the pain in my legs and feet. All of the feelings of being alone and scared at the start had vanished. I was inaugurated as a member of the runDisney club. I wasn’t alone after all. I had this huge network of strangers who cared enough to make me feel like I had scaled Mt. Everest. My time of 2:07:11 was good enough to finish 432 out of 1102 participants in my age group, better than I could have hoped for at the start of the race.

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In the end, I’m glad I was running by myself. I could set my own pace and shift my position on the course to avoid traffic without the burden of pacing myself to the group’s speed and ability. I was able to run when I wanted to run and walk when I needed to walk. The festive atmosphere and music was enough to keep the course fresh and interesting. I did not stop for any character photos because the lines were long and I didn’t want to risk falling behind the required pace, but seeing Jafar, Captain Hook, Queen of Hearts, Big Bad Wolf, Stitch, Dr. Facilier, the hyenas, and others on the course certainly helped to keep that atmosphere light. I will do a runDisney event again and I would readily run alone again. It was intimidating at first, but the tremendous volunteers and all of the fanfare made it a fantastic and memorable experience!

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*****

Holly Liska never thought she would be a runner. As a gymnast, she grew up competing in an anaerobic sport and struggled with the endurance required to run long distances. After one season of high school track, she didn’t care to ever run again, but a community event sponsored by the Real Estate Agency where she works inspired her to try to run a 5K. She’s been running regularly ever since and she just completed her first 10-mile race.

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