I’m excited to welcome Sarah Norris from Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free in WDW back for another runDisney 5K recap! Today she takes us along on the Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run, which was her first race ever! I’m beyond proud of Sarah for completing her first race and I know you will be too…
If you had asked me a year ago if I would be running a race, I probably would have looked at you like you were nuts. The idea of running used to be a completely foreign concept to me, but this past year – as many New Year’s resolutions are started – I wanted to try what I thought to be an unattainable fitness goal. I have to admit that running scared me, but I was quickly encouraged by Sarah who was inspiring me with her own running. Like Sarah, I also suffer from IBD and it was so inspiring to see her pursuing her fitness goals and dreams. She really did give me the courage to pursue my running. (Thanks so much!!!)
I decided to sign up for the Happy Haunted 5K held during the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler Race Weekend. A 5K seemed like a reasonable goal and with my training using Jeff Galloway’s walk/run method, I was ready to embark on a journey with running! I eagerly anticipated this race and was excited when the big day finally came.
The Happy Haunted 5K for the 2013-2014 race season took place in the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. It was considered a “trail run” meaning that it took place partially on a trail surrounding the perimeter of the complex. The race was scheduled for 7:30 a.m.
The day before the race, I headed over to the expo center at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to pick up my bib, race shirt, and check out the expo. Some of my favorite fitness places were there, like Sparkle Athletic (they have awesome sparkle skirts!), Fit2Run Fitness store and of course official merchandise. I got to the expo around 12:20 p.m. on Friday, and the expo center opened at noon. It was already really busy there! Of course, later I heard that this wasn’t bad at all, but as a first timer, I was definitely not sure what to expect. I waited in line outside to get into the center for about 10 minutes, and then they let me in.
In my personal opinion, the expo seemed rather small (smaller than I expected) and there were not a lot of booths. Because this is a smaller runDisney event the bib pick-up was also held in the Jostens Center as well. As I would learn later, bib & packet pick-up is typically housed in the HP Field House next door. I heard someone say that there were about 14,000 runners at the Tower of Terror Ten Miler and 5,000 at the Happy Haunted 5K.
Because bib & packet pickup were housed in the same facility, it was a little crammed. Thankfully, I was so excited to see it all the long line didn’t faze me. Once I got my bib, I got into the line to get my race t-shirt. I wasn’t planning on wearing this for the race, but I did want to make sure I picked it up. It was a really cute shirt too and makes for a great souvenir. While the packet pick-up and t-shirt lines were long, perhaps the longest lines were at the official race merchandise station. I have heard that they often run out of the merchandise, so it’s best to get there early. I have to say, based on the lines I believe that is probably true!
I tried to take it easy the day before the race, but I admit I was too excited! I was thrilled to see Sarah at her RAD meetup that afternoon and catch up and chat with lots of runDisney enthusiasts. There’s just something really special about other runDisney folks. I also got to enjoy dinner with some blog readers and just enjoy the evening. Early bedtime was mandatory.
My family & I got up at 5:30 a.m. and got to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex around 6:15 a.m. That gave us time to get in, look around, and get settled. We got to see all the fun entertainment, though I didn’t get a photo with Mickey who was greeting runners in his festive Halloween garb. Rudy Novotny and John Pelkey were busily keeping the race crowd pumped up with lots of music and fun, though I have to admit I’m never quite ready for dance music at 6:30 a.m. At about 7 a.m., I headed into the runners only section where the corrals were while my family waited outside. I was placed in corral C which was the middle of the road for corral placement. The corrals at this race were A-F, so I was glad I wasn’t dead last. They base corral placement on your time of registration, not your pace which is nice.
At 7:30 a.m. we had one spooooky surprise! The headless horseman came bounding through the stadium, at full tilt too. This is not the slow trot that the Headless Horseman does during MNSSHP! It was really cool to see and the music was just awesome! Once the Headless Horseman was off…ha literally with his head…it was time for corral A to go through. Then, soon came the time for corral C to head off. This was it! My family caught a great video of me leaving. I tried to stay to the side 1) because I’m slow and 2) because my family was over in that direction.
The race take-off went really smoothly I thought. There was minimal bottlenecking. The track was really good, so it was nice to run on. Once we ran through a portion of the track, we headed into wooded paths. These were definitely both fun & challenging. The sand on the paths can make it harder to run, especially if you aren’t used to running in sand. The paths weren’t too horribly narrow and thankfully, it was light outside so you could see well. Despite the tough trail for a newer runner, I felt really good and ran the entire first two miles—something I had not even done at home, as I was still utilizing walk/run in my running. It felt really empowering to be other with other runners of all levels and just out there having a good time. It was also a really hot and humid Florida fall day, so I made sure to take it easy on my pace and not push it. I also made sure to stop at the 2 water stations to drink. I knew that would be important given the heat.
Once you hit the last stretch of the race, you head back to the track again. There were tons of photographers there taking official photos. There were also a lot of opportunities on the trail and track to take photos with Disney characters, some villains and some in Halloween costumes. I didn’t get one photo with a character on this race. I was nervous I would be too slow and be swept by the race sweepers but thankfully, I finished right about the middle pace, clocking in around 55 minutes. It was amazing to see how people just cheer you on through these races and encourage you. From the fantastic volunteers to the folks watching, each of them went out of their way to cheer everyone on!
As soon as I finished my race, I made sure to get my medal (which was adorable), my water, banana, and fitness box. It’s nice that Disney provides these to runners after they finish. One thing I learned as someone with dietary restrictions (I can’t have gluten or dairy in additions to my Crohn’s disease restrictions), that I needed to bring some of my running nutritional support from home. I also enjoyed a big breakfast at Kona Café after the race!
As far as theming and organization, this race was really well done. The Halloween touches and overall ambiance really made this race special, and I was really pleased that this was my first runDisney race experience. Disney really knows how to put on a race, and I have to say, I officially have the runDisney bug now!
Make sure to read Sarah’s recap of her second race, the Jingle Jungle 5K, and cheer her on in January for the Disney Family Fun Run 5K!