Better late than never – for both childhood dreams of going to Disney and the writing of race recaps.
I’d heard about RunDisney but didn’t pay much attention until the words “Star Wars” came up. Running the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World (the light side having been run in California at Disneyland) sounded too cool, and hey, it was Orlando – I love you! Orlando! Sea World and Disney and putt-putt golfing! But I digress. Jim and I joined 43,000 other registered runners for the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend—The Dark Side.
We also totally made a holiday out of it this past April, staying for a week at Disney’s Pop Century hotel. Talk about havin’ a time! From the pineapple beer at the race expo to crossing the finish line at the half marathon = all was amazing.
With 19,500 runners registered for the half marathon, it’s the largest race I’ve ever participated in. And it was STAR WARS. How absolutely nerd-tastic was this?? I’m hands-down impressed by the sheer logistics of the races hosted by Walt Disney World in Florida. Despite my coping issues with crowds, for some reason I didn’t really feel the sheer humanity present at the race. (Disney seems to have this skill down to an art form, races or parks in general).
To give you an idea of the people-moving skills required, it was suggested you be on the bus out to the race launching area by 0330 hrs at the latest. So, I was up by 0230 hrs (having gone to bed by 2300 hrs) and on the bus leaving my Disney hotel by 0300 hrs. After a dark 10-minute walk from the bus drop off to the launch area, the parking lot had transformed into a massive party with John Williams’ finest pouring from the speakers, a big screen & stage with pre-race hosts and epic movie clips from all the Star Wars films, tents for last minute coffee, snacks and runner’s fuel and stacks and stacks of port-a-potties! (My fave mash-up tune was “shotz, shotz, shotz, shotz-shotz” in tune with blaster fire…)
Walking from the launch area to the starting corrals must have been another 20 minutes – I kid you not! I was down in corral G – I believe it went all the way to J or K. The start time was 0500 hrs. The temperatures – even in the wee hours – were deliciously balmy. For a Canadian accustomed to freezing pre-race and having to bring coats or throw-away tees, this was a pleasure. Fireworks heralded the start of every corral’s gun. It was all just so epic.
The half marathon course snaked it’s way through three Disney parks – Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – with the finish line at ESPN. All pavement. Barely any grade to the course. LOTS of distractions! Epcot sparkled in the dark night as we ran through the back lots and onto the main route around the lake and past all the pavilions. There was only one super-tight walkway where faster runners were getting bottlenecked (and one rather mouthy guy pushing his way through with rude comments was booed – long live ‘merica), but otherwise it was easy going.
Every park had Star Wars music booming from the sound systems, and spacious boulevards connecting the parks were dotted with giant screens playing Star Wars movie clips; plus there were photo opps with R2 and Chewie (long lines for these!). Hollywood Studios sported a whole selfie station with tons of beloved Star Wars dark side characters like Boba Fett, Storm Troopers, Imperial guards, etc. hanging out. As the sun rose (remember – I’m a slow runner) the road in and out of Animal Kingdom seemed the longest, but it also had movie screens, and a special aid station with tubs of serve-yourself pump-action BioFreeze (lifesaver!). ESPN welcomed runners to the finish with loads of cheering and supporters, snack boxes, aid stations and the opportunity once again to take more photos with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and all their dark side buddies.
Despite the staggering amount of people and production behind this event, I didn’t really have my usual run-freak-out. Pretty relaxed, I went into this with a certain giddy merriment, and it seemed like everyone else was there to have a good time as well. Tons of runners were using the Disney-endorsed Jeff Galloway walk/run methods, as confirmed by the endless interval beeping from watches, and runners throwing up their arms indicating they were about to walk (I’d never seen that done before).
Stocked with plentiful aid stations, the course kept runners hydrated with loads of water and I guzzled H2O and electrolytes at every opportunity. RunDisney material reminded runners that the heat and humidity impacts your bod and your time, and I’d been seriously worried that hydration was going to do me in. Instead, I ended up drinking enough that I even used the loo 4 times along the route (port-a-potties plus open washrooms in the parks: thank you, Disney). As the sun climbed into the sky, it became more challenging for me due to the heat, but I just kept trotting along. The Star Wars music was ridiculously inspiring.
When my knee hurt, I pushed through. When I was tired, I gave myself a minute walking break. When I was hot, I thought about the finish line. When I felt soooo middle aged wearing a sun-visor (hey! It’s Florida!), I pretended I was… in costume. I’d kind of decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap at the end of the Dark Side half marathon – I wanted to feel good about the run. I took off performance pressure (knowing full well that I am just soooo slow this year) and in the end, finished at 3:26:59. I came in, like, 14,522nd place. Hahahahahaaa. SO MANY PEOPLE! But it was FUN.
And, just FYI, I’d have to run another 31 half-marathons to lap the second Death Star.
Competitive me, of course, must point out that this is my longest ever half marathon time. EVER. I’m still struggling with weight and performance. I still hate that I’m not improving upon my best half marathon times from two years ago. But I know this is all a work in progress. And another “but” —> but I know this has to remain fun to some degree or why do it? I’ll keep working on it. Summer has barely started – plenty of time to train.
Would I do it again? YES! RunDisney is a pretty slick operation and registration – while not cheap – sells out quickly. It makes for a great holiday and a fun, fun, fun experience. I totally felt like a kid all over again from the costumed runners, collectible medals and snagging exclusive RunDisney/Star Wars stuff at the runners’ expo to the overall holiday experience where there were wild rides, mouse ears and ice cream. And bonus: it’s a great family thing – Jim and I also did the 5K together, which was cool. Next time, I’ll have to make sure we time it so the boys will join us!