So on September 29th, 2012, I completed the inaugural Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler, held at the Walt Disney World resort. The 10-mile course, which commenced promptly at 10PM that night, started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, ran down the Osceola Parkway to the Animal Kingdom, back around to Disney’s ESPN complex, through their fields, baseball parks, and parking lot, and then back and through the Hollywood Studios to the Finish line.
I was really looking forward to this race. Being “only” 10 miles, it was going to be less stressful, and the mileage itself was exactly what I needed to run that day, according to my Full Marathon training plan. Plus it was a NIGHT race! No waking up at 4am, no having to Xannie up the night before… seemed a lot less impactful to me.
Of course, this meant that something was going to go horribly, HORRIBLY wrong.
And it did.
They day of the race was mostly low-key. Boots & I spent the previous day at Epcot enjoying the Food & Wine Festival, and we spent Saturday mostly doing nothing. As I didn’t want to eat a carbed-up meal too close to the start of the race, we hit Uno at around 2PM that afternoon. I ate a simple pasta with lemon chicken entree to keep the glycogen flowing freely. Dessert was a must, of course. Then we headed over to Rock and Roll Heaven to browse some vinyl LPs and head back to the hotel to chill around 5 or so.
I was feeling pretty chipper at around that point.
Eventually I changed into my running regalia and we left the hotel at 8PM, making our way to the ESPN complex (no one was allowed to park at Hollywood Studios). We hit a complimentary shuttle with several other runners (and their fans/support groups) which took us to the Studios. The lot was filled with runners, MANY of them in full costume, as well as the expected DJ and pre-run party hijinks. We mostly people-watched to kill time. Eventually I bid Boots goodbye and made my way to my corral (Corral A! First time at the front!), and we did the slow march to the Start line.
To give you an example of the kind of mood I was in:
So yippie skippy, I’m in an upbeat mood. Something in the back of my mind though… something is warning me. Alerting me. Letting me know that Something Is Not Quite Right. I feel fine. I’m excited. I have energy (thanks to a quick downing of my Advocore Spark drink). I want to tackle this. But… there it was. Warning bells. Not quite sure why.
By the way, here are three things I am not only entirely sick of, but the presence of such in any capacity should be grounds for a swift kick to the face to any and all perpetrators. Start Line DJ, this especially includes you:
- “Gangnam Style…”
- “Hey I just met you, and this is crazy…”
- “I’m sexy and I know it…”
So here comes the national anthem, the fireworks, the wheelchair athletes take off, and FAPPO Corral A takes off from the Start Line, me included. I’m not going to bother with a mile by mile breakdown of the race. Weather conditions were ridiculously humid, even for Orlando, but especially in October. It felt like the height of July. But it was clear and somewhat breezy. I’ve trained in much worse.
Here’s a satellite overview of what I ran, courtesy of my GPS and Endomondo (click to embiggen for detail):
Now the first 5K split I did pretty decent: 29 minutes, at long-run pace. I totally hit the ground running, quick, light on my feet, easy breathing, endurance strong. I was definitely pleased with myself and vowed to keep the intensity up without burning myself out or improperly pacing myself. Maybe even get a strong negative split.
Well, that didn’t happen.
Right between Miles 3 and 4, it started. Sudden, sharp cramping in my side. At first, I was paying it no mind. Running cramps happen all the time. Usually you just push through them and they eventually go away. No biggie.
But… it didn’t go away. OK, I figure maybe I should stop at the next porto and take care of business. So I do, but to my sudden shock and surprise… I end up suddenly and rather violently hurling.
Still, not ENTIRELY unprecedented. Physical exertion in unseasonable heat/humidity can make one throw up. I figure it’s probably for the best; I was near a hydration station, I’d get some water and Powerade, replenish, slow it down a bit, and continue. And I did feel a little better afterward. The cramps subsided somewhat, and although I was drenched in sweat… who wouldn’t be? It was 8 zillion degrees out with nearly 90% humidity.
I jogged slowly to the hydration station, got my water and Powerade, walked for a minute, got my second wind, and started up again. But now, I definitely wasn’t feeling right. My legs felt heavier, my breathing more forced, my endurance much lower than before. And soon after the cramps started up again. I’m thinking maybe I had some indigestion, although I hadn’t eaten since about 8 hours earlier except for a power bar and some GU, basically keeping my glycogen stores filled for the run.
It got progressively worse as the run progressed. I was slowing down, stopping at every other porto unit, sometimes hurling, sometimes just heaves, but I something was very, very wrong. The cramps stayed with me the entire time, some times more pronounced and painful than others, sometimes just a dull but omnipresent reminder. I was determined to finish, even if I had to skip, walk, or crawl past that Finish line. Covered with sweat, I started to get slight chills, even in all the heat.
I didn’t realize later what I was going through, although in retrospect it should have been blindingly obvious.
I mean honestly… lemon chicken pasta at UNO was the obvious culprit. It was safe pre-run entre: nothing too heavy, nothing spicy, nothing with too much fiber. The chicken was, most likely, under-cooked or left out too long or something. And as far as food poisoning goes, it turned out to be, thankfully, a rather mild dosage of the cursed malady. To put it as delicately as possible, my body was only rejecting it through one end. I didn’t have to ride the porcelain bus, just drive it, n’est-ce pas?
It still didn’t make that run any easier. My 10K split was 1:05, which means the second 5K took me about six minutes longer than the first. I remember distinctly thinking at Mile 6 — smack dab in the middle of the EPSN Zone, between the running track and the baseball diamond — that I might consider dropping out. Just to be on the safe side. I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone but myself about it, and given what I was going through, there’d be no shame or defeat involved.
There’s no Rocky-esque dramatic surge here. I didn’t start pep-talking myself as the canned Bill Conti music rose to a crescendo. Nothing so inspirational. I just kept on going at my slower pace. I don’t think giving up was ever really an option, just a thought that I entertained for a moment. It wasn’t really agony at this point, not even close. Just a great big pain in the ass. So what if I wasn’t going to set any records? Perfection is boring anyhow. I’m no athlete. I’m just a guy who likes to run.
Not much else to report, really. I kept going, stopping for fluids every time I could and taking scheduled walk breaks a little earlier than planned. Finally I’m re-entering Hollywood Studios and I pass Mile 9. This is it. One more mile and I’m done.
Of course, my body BEING my body, the last mile is when my metabolic systems begin a sudden epic and dramatic meltdown. I’m fighting a HUGE wave of nausea. I need a bathroom. I am fighting down the urge to stop and hurl somewhere, ANYWHERE. My legs feel like they’re enmeshed in cement. I have no energy. I’m chilly from sweat, maybe a mild fever? I don’t even know. Unfortunately, the park is LINED WITH SPECTATORS, all cheering and waving. Several of them see my name on my bib and cheer me on by name. How can I stop now?? This is the money shot. PLUS there are no portos available, no bathrooms on the course, not even a set of trees or bushes. I just have to push on for the last mile. Slow, steady, whatever. Just go.
I make my way through the Stunts Spectacular set, down the backlot facades, past the Sci-Fi Drive-In restaurant, and around the famous Sorceror’s Hat in front of the Great Movie Ride. It’s filled with cheers, music, dancing, the works. I keep pushing, making my way into the Pixar area. As I pass Toy Story Mania, I see Boots and she snaps a quick picture of me. I run over to high-five her and keep moving, now backstage again, through the tour area. I hear that stupid 70s disco Twilight Zone song over and over again. My head is spinning. We’re behind the park now, through back offices and employee lots and there’s not more to go. Keep going, dude. Every turn seems to take forever, but there I see it.
The Finish Line.
I’m not even pushing anymore, to get that final burst of speed in. I don’t even recall passing the Finish Line. I just do and see a spot of bushes in the corner, behind a barricade, I run over there and just heave. Mostly just convulsions at this point, but I don’t stop until I feel my insides settle. A Disney employee runs up to me and asks if I need any assistance. I wave him away and say in a voice louder than I probably should have, “BAD CLAMS!!” I didn’t even eat clams. I can barely think.
After a few, I straighten up, grab a water from a volunteer, get “knighted” with my brand-new and hard-won medal, and make my way through what seems to be the longest chute ever.
I was done. It was an endurance battle I never dreamed I’d be fighting that evening, but dammit I won.
Let’s take a look at my stats:
Well, 1:49:24 isn’t bad, considering. I was hoping for something closer to 1:35 or so. Given the circumstances, I should be really pleased with myself for finishing, period.
But here’s the strange part: percentage-wise, these are my best stats ever!
Overall, I came in the top 21%. For men, the top 33%. For my division (Men 40-44), the top 32%. But compare that to my recent Disneyland Half-Marathon, where overall I was 24%, Men 37%, and Division 42%!
I can chalk this up to a ton of things: maybe this race had more walkers, that because it was less distance there were a lot more first-timers, or that the unseasonable wretched humidity worked to my advantage, since I live, breathe, and train in it, as opposed to visitors from around the country, if not the world, who aren’t used to the sub-tropics at their worst.
The rest of the night was no picnic — we couldn’t really stick around for the after party, although we managed to hit two rides with no wait whatsoever. Leaving took forever, mostly because halfway through the parking lot I had to turn around and find a men’s room again until the heaves subsided. No matter. I had finished. I succeeded. I did what I set out to do and rolled with the punches when they came outta nowhere. Not to sound too self-congratulatory, but Millheiser freakin’ rules! I mean the shirt says it, so it’s gotta be true…
(And the next night we went to Halloween Horror Nights over at Universal Orlando, and I was feeling fine and skippy, and had a FANTASTIC time. So all’s well that ends well!) And here’s the video: