Category: Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend

A Look at the Kessel Run Challenge

When I first heard about the Kessel Run Challenge, I immediately added it to my bucket list of races to complete.  Not only because I love Star Wars, but because the medal is AMAZING!  Zach just completed the Inaugural Kessel Run Challenge and is here to share some of the high and lows of both races.  Let’s go for a run!

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Kessel Run Challenge

Star Wars was my first love.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the movies – I immediately fell for the feel, look and spirit of the films.  They stuck with me through countless novels, comic books, video games, prequel movies, an animated series, and the exciting announcement – in October, 2012 – that Lucasfilm had been acquired by the Walt Disney Company.

That month I was training for my first marathon and first runDisney event: the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon.  I daydream when I run, and it was hard not to get lost in a galaxy of imagination: What would the new movies be like?  Was Disney planning an expanded Star Wars presence in the parks?  How would it feel to run a Star Wars themed race?

That last question was answered in just a little over two years!

I completed the first two Star Wars Half-Marathons in Disneyland, but I didn’t plan to participate in the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World – I’ll tell you why before I wrap up.  However, when runDisney unexpectedly reopened registration in mid-February 2016, I couldn’t help but sign up for the Half Marathon and see if I could earn the incredibly cool Kessel Run Challenge medal.

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What runDisney has given us are two fun, wonderfully-themed races on fast courses with great entertainment along the way.  Each has high points and low points, and I thought it would be helpful to discuss those for the uninitiated in three areas: Course, Entertainment, and Medals.

COURSES

I dare anyone to not love the first five miles of the Star Wars Half Marathon in Anaheim.  That portion of the course is almost exclusively through Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, or through backstage areas.  No one has ever written a review of a west coast runDisney course without using the words “once you leave the parks, however…”  This course is no different.  Around mile 7 it turns through a residential neighborhood as bathrobe’d (NOT Jedi robe’d) residents stumble out to the curb for their morning papers.  From there, it gets weirder.

At one point during the race I noticed a man in a wheelchair struggling to get up a ramp to the door of an adult bookstore.  I instinctively veered onto the sidewalk to help him, but thought again when I realized that – considering I was dressed as Luke Skywalker – it would have been one of the strangest things happening on the planet at that moment.  The entertainment makes up for the oddness of the course, and I’ll get into that in the next section.

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When I signed up for the Dark Side half on the East Coast, the course was not yet public.  A little detective work on the runDisney site revealed a start at Epcot and a finish at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.  My quick conclusion was that we were getting a reverse Wine & Dine course, and the eventual map release essentially confirmed that, with a few notable exceptions!  Most importantly – and maybe the highlight of the race – is mile 2 through World Showcase in Epcot.  It’s dark.  The torches are lit.  Other than the music and sound effects it is eerily quiet other than the sound of shoes.

After Epcot was the part of the race that had my crowd concern antenna up – the narrow path between the Boardwalk and the ‘Studios.  I had heard this was wingtip to wingtip during the 10K, but I thankfully had no problem keeping my pace up into what’s currently left of Hollywood Studios.  Animal Kingdom is always a joy to run through in the dark, and then the final surprise of the course was a dirt path into ESPN WWOS off Osceola Parkway that I didn’t know existed!

Both courses are flat, fast and offer solid opportunities to run through Disney Parks.  What excites me is that they’ll only get better when runDisney can route us through finished, immersive Star Wars lands at each resort in just a few years!

ENTERTAINMENT

Again, the early portion of the Star Wars Light Side Half Marathon really shines.  Star Wars music comes from everywhere, and characters are projected stories tall on buildings.  The course runs through a tunnel underneath the Disneyland Railroad that has been lit lightsaber red and filled with the ominous sound of Darth Vader’s mechanical breathing.

In California Adventure, World of Color lights up Paradise Pier.  Several character stops mark the way, the most popular of which this past year was easily BB-8 in DCA.  I stopped during the 5K, 10K and the half, and never faced longer then a 5-10 minute wait.

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Other stops include giant set pieces that allow runners to become part of iconic Star Wars scenes, like the Death Start trash compactor in Episode IV and the Wampa’s ice cave in Episode V.

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As I said earlier, the course gets a little weird once it leaves the confines of the parks, but the on-course entertainment keeps the energy going.  Several high school marching bands provide music and enthusiasm along the way, especially if you wave a lightsaber at them – I honestly don’t know where these kids get their energy that early in the morning!  Huge contingents from the 501st Legion, the Rebel Legion, and the Mandalorian Mercs (fan costuming organizations, for those not in-the-know) hold down the course around mile 9, as well as several motorists with vehicles tricked out in a Star Wars theme.  I wish there had been more on-course entertainment thereafter on the trip back to the resort, but the promise of a celebratory drink at Trader Sam’s is really all the motivation I need to reach the finish line.

I experienced my favorite mile ever in a runDisney event during the Star Wars Dark Side Half, and it was mile two through World Showcase at Epcot.  There were no character stops, but Disney used light, music and sound to create an unforgettably atmospheric environment.  By the time I reached the China pavilion, I had turned off the music playing through my phone, and was scrambling to make a recording of the ambiance so I’d remember what it felt like: perfect (click here for the recording).

Thereafter, I was really surprised by the low number of character stations.  I may not be counting accurately, but I remember Chewbacca outside the International Gate at Epcot, Ezra and Sabine from “Rebels” on the way into Animal Kingdom, a second Wookie on the way out of Animal Kingdom, and a few stormtroopers sprinkled around.  Instead, many of the most sought-after photo ops were at the start or finish line, including Darth Vader, Captain Phasma and Jabba.  That’s very cool for spectators and runners who like to soak up the post-race finish line atmosphere, but there were certainly a few places along the course where a photo op could have broken up a long stretch without a distraction – I’m looking at you, Mile 8 Through The Animal Kingdom Parking Lot.  On the less Dark Side, I loved the big screens along Osceola showing various lightsaber duels from the films – very cool!

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MEDALS

The west coast finisher’s medal is based on the Rebel Alliance’s Medal of Bravery, which is awarded the Luke Skywalker and Han Solo at the end of the original Star Wars movie – that earns it a ton of fan credibility.  The east coast finisher’s medal features a very cool spinner with Darth Vader on one side and the Emperor (with a semi-hidden Star Destroyer) on the other.  Extra points for making the spindle the blade of Vader’s red lightsaber!

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The Millennium Falcon-shaped Kessel Run medal is unbelievable.  It is as big as my hand, but thin enough that it isn’t too heavy.  In a close race with the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon medal, it may be the favorite in my runDisney collection!

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BOTTOM LINE

You can’t go wrong running either of these races, and you certainly can’t go wrong running both of them!  If you’re at all into Star Wars (and who isn’t these days?) there’s a lot of see and get excited about, and as runDisney races they maximize time in the parks and send you back to the showers with a lot of wonderful memories.

And I mentioned earlier that I didn’t originally plan to run the Dark Side Half.  That’s because my wife and I expected a new baby daughter to arrive exactly a month before the day of the race.  I didn’t think I’d be up for too many Father-of-the-Year awards if I skipped the state that soon, but my wife was enthusiastically supportive, and I managed the whole trip from Philadelphia to Orlando and back in just about 38 hours.  I want to give an embarrassingly public thanks to Leslie (and Charlie and very new Hadley) for her constant support of my crazy running nonsense!

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Congrats Zach & Leslie!!

Preview of the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Merchandise

It’s hard to believe that Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend starts TODAY after all of the craziness surrounding Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend only a few days ago.  But it is here and runDisney has released a preview of some of the gear you will find at the Expo to prove it!  Right off the bat, I’m in love with the retro design on everything…super cool!  Let’s take a look:

Star Wars Half Marathon Gear

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Star Wars 5K, 10K & Rebel Challenge Gear

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Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Gear

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I would like ALL of the drinkware please.  They really did a knock out job with these designs!

2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Dooney & Bourke Bags

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I have to say I’m not in love with the white background for these bags.  I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t get one of the 2015 bags, but you live and learn.  My only hope is that they will come out with a darker design for the Dark Side Weekend in May.  Fingers crossed.

Remember, if you are headed to the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Health & Fitness Expo, make sure to arrive early if you have your heart set on a particular item.  Interested in snagging a pair of the new 2016 New Balance runDisney shoes, including the Ariel Vazee Pace?  Don’t forget to sign up for the Virtual Queue in order to get your pair.

Well I’m certainly jealous of everyone running this weekend and getting this gear!  The Expo opens today at the Disneyland Hotel at 10:00 am PST and will be open through Saturday to pick up this merch, visit with numerous other vendors and hear the great runDisney Speaker Series.

What are you looking forward to getting?

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Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Announced for Walt Disney World!

For those of us on the East Coast, our wishes have been answered!!  Today runDisney has announced that a second Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend will be coming to Walt Disney World on April 14-17, 2016!

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This weekend is called “The Dark Side” and will feature all of the dark forces in the galaxy.  Along with the Half Marathon, there will be a 5K, 10K and Kids Races.  There will also be a challenge called the Dark Side Challenge, the counter to the Rebel Challenge in Disneyland, for those taking on the 10K and Half Marathon.  This will feature a special Death Star medal…say wha?!?!?

Better yet for those taking on the Kessel Run Challenge, running the Star Wars “Coast to Coast” in one year, will receive a Millennium Falcon inspired medal…O.M.G!!!  This is a huge incentive for those already registered for the Star Wars Half in Disneyland to add another race to their schedule.  I simply can’t wait to see these medals!

The race weekend will go on sale September 22nd, with possible DVC and Passholder advanced registration a week or 2 earlier.  Stay tuned for updates.

Here is the official press release:

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL (Aug. 25, 2015) – runDisney is summoning the Force today to announce another Star Wars-inspired intergalactic journey, this time to the dark side.

The “Star Wars Half Marathon – the Dark Side” enters the galaxy April 14-17, 2016, at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and pays homage to the dark side forces of the Star Wars universe. This new race follows the debut of the popular Star Wars-themed race at Disneyland Resort, which will return in January as the “Star Wars Half Marathon – the Light Side”.

“Ever since we launched the Star Wars race at Disneyland Resort, runners have been clamoring for more, so we’re thrilled to bring the Star Wars franchise together with the runDisney brand to Walt Disney World Resort,’’ said Maribeth Bisienere, senior vice president of Disney Sports Enterprises. “If the inaugural Star Wars race at Disneyland Resort is any indication, this new running adventure to the dark side is sure to be the out-of-this-world experience that runners have come to expect at runDisney events.’’

The new Star Wars race at Walt Disney World Resort will be a journey of personal achievement all its own, involving kids’ races, a 5K and a 10K in addition to the half marathon, plus a variety of Star Wars experiences, medals, events and merchandise inspired by a galaxy far, far away. Among its many features will be a unique 13.1-mile course that propels runners through Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finishes at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. There will also be a Star Wars Dark Side Challenge — running the 10K and the half marathon on consecutive days – that offers each finisher a Death Star-themed medal.

Jedi and Sith Lords who dare to experience both Star Wars races will have the chance to take on the Kessel Run Challenge — completing the Star Wars half marathon missions on both coasts. Kessel Run Challenge runners can earn a commemorative “Coast to Coast” medal inspired by the Millennium Falcon starship. Race registration opens Sept. 22 at www.runDisney.com.

The addition of this second Star Wars race continues the recent wave of significant growth and popularity of runDisney events domestically and internationally. This is the second new runDisney race announced for 2016, joining the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Weekend (Sept. 23-25 at Disneyland Paris), and the fourth addition to the runDisney series in the last two years (Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland Jan. 2015 and Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend Nov. 2014).

Each year more than 200,000 runners sign up for runDisney events, which often sell out in record time.

“We are committed to creating extraordinary experiences and events that appeal to runners of all ages and attract even more fans of our various brands and franchises to the sport of running, creating opportunities for them to live a healthier and more active lifestyle,’’ said Bisienere.

Will you be going to the Dark Side next year?  Are you as excited as I am?!

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Being a Spectator at a runDisney Race – Star Wars Edition

I probably sound like a broken record by now, but I’ll say it again…Spectators are the BEST!!  There have been so many races that I have been feeling pretty low and all it took was for that one spectators to say “Good Job!” to get me back in the game.  Earlier this year, Christina (who you might remember from the Avengers Half Marathon) was a spectator at the Star Wars Half Marathon and captured all the fun on the other side of the ropes.  Loving the signs!

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Being new to the running world, I’ve only been on one side of the course.. The runner side. But what about the thousands of spectators? Obviously some of them are there to cheer for their family, friends, or teammates. Or like our amazing friend Peggy Sue, they are out the cheering for complete strangers and putting smiles on runners faces with their creative signs. So for the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon I decided to head what is going on on the other side of those racing fences.

I’ve been a part of Team Muscle Makers for a couple races and so I decided I would go and cheer them on.. But where? Should I make signs? Research was necessary.. I went through my pictures because I knew I had taken pictures of signs that had motivated me along the course. I also Googled race signs. Who knew there would be so many results? My favorites, “Smile if you aren’t wearing underwear” and Peggy Sue’s “Complete Stranger, I’m proud of you!”.

I’m a crafter at heart so I had to make my sign noticeable and perfect. I made one really big sign that said “Team Muscle Makers On a Scale of 1 to 10 You’re 13.1” and a smaller sign the had “Mickey Loves Team Muscle Makers” on one side and “#whyirunDisney” on the other. I also made a handful of smaller signs with just marker in case anyone decided to join me at o’dark thirty to cheer on the runners.

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Since I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I had already planned to go to the expo (hello, merchandise!) but I had never really paid attention to the Expo Speaker Series at either of my two previous runDisney races. I had no idea that they actually had a speaker just about race information. Wow, was that helpful! They went over a lot of stuff I knew but they talked about the course in good detail so I had an idea of what direction everyone would be headed and about what time. I was ready!

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I left my house about 3:30 which was much earlier than I needed to realistically but I wanted to get there early and find my spot. I went over to the family reunion area and visited with the runners I knew and helped take our team photo.. Team Muscle Makers had 80 runners in the Half (our largest team ever) and raised close to $80,000!

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At 4:30 when the corrals opened for runners, I started to make my way through Downtown Disney to find myself a spot. My original plan was to find a spot along Harbor Blvd but being that it was Mile 4-6 of the course I didn’t want to be standing out there alone in the early hours. So I headed for the esplanade in between the two parks. Walking I met a couple of other women who were trying to find locations to cheer for their boyfriends, and we settled on a spot right outside the Disneyland main entrance (about mile 1.5).  By this time is was maybe 5am, so we chatted amongst ourselves, with the Disney security guards who were keeping the course clear, and I made sure the settings on my camera were right. The space quickly filled with spectators and Star Wars themed signs.

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Finally, it was race time! Fireworks went off and we patiently (or maybe not so patiently lol) waited for the first runners. I knew it wouldn’t take long for the wheelchairs and the elite runners to get to us and I was ready. Boy are they fast!! The costumes were great and everyone was having a blast but I quickly realized that my signs couldn’t really be seen and it was too crowded through that stretch to get good photos. I quickly moved about 50 feet across the esplanade to where the runners where exiting Disneyland to head to DCA. It was a much better spot and I was able to cheer on my friends from there. The sunrise was amazing!

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Once the balloon ladies passed me I decided it was time for breakfast. I knew I wouldn’t make it to the finish line to see the elite runners cross anyway so I headed to Starbucks. When I was finished there, I headed to my next spot where I planned to watch the rest of the race. I stationed myself about mile 12.9 right after the crossover that way there would be no one blocking me in. I got there just as the sub-2:00 finishers were coming in.

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While I was cheering from that vantage point I got to see some amazing costumes coming through, including some I don’t know how they ran 13.1 miles in! There were several Leia in gold bikinis (mostly guys!), rebel fighters, an AT-AT, and plenty Jedi and Vaders. While I was cheering, I met more and more spectators including a couple of little ones who were there to cheer one their mom. I handed them over some of my extra signs and they were happy to cheer on the runners too! I stayed there until the bikes came in with the last runners, and then packed up and headed for home.

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Being there and cheering everyone on was amazing! And it really reinforced something for me. Runners come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and skill levels.  And no matter where you fall in any of those categories, everyone is encouraging and welcoming. Im proud to be a part of an amazing community and that’s #whyirunDisney.

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The Inaugural Star Wars Kids Races

Yesterday Kate shared her experience running the Inaugural Star Wars 10K with her son.  Right after that race, she took her 3 year old on his first runDisney adventure running in the Star Wars Kids Races!  Try not to freak out over his adorable costume…I totally did!

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Kids Race morning started early for us, since I ran the 10K with my older son, Russell, and friend, Lori. We went straight from the race finish line to the Info Tent to beg for my younger son’s bib. I was so worried about picking up my older son’s 10K bib because he had no photo ID, that I didn’t realize until we got back to the hotel that I didn’t have William’s Kids Race bib. Given the amount of bibs and bags I was handling, I assumed I dropped it and therefore it would be a hassle to get a new one the morning of. But it was there in the box at Info, so…whew! I’m happy he was able to get his personalized bib, because every kid needs his first Disney bib preserved for all time!

We met my mother and William at Starbucks, refueled, and headed back to the start line to get my Yoda ready for battle. Um, I mean, racing. At no point did I prep him by telling him that as a three year old, he was at the top of his age group and could knock over toddlers in his attempt for victory. (I also opted for no lightsaber with his costume. You’re welcome, other parents.)

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The corral entrances were very well marked, and well-guarded by cast members – one, and only one, parent was allowed in with the kids. After getting Yoda into his costume, my entourage headed to the finish line to take pictures while I went into the 1-3 corral with William. There were four races for kids – the Diaper Dash for the Under Ones, the 1-3s, the 4-6, and the 7-8s. WDW runDisney events have the mile run for 13 and under, but I assume there’s not enough room in Disneyland.

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I made his Yoda costume out of fleece so I didn’t have to hem them. 😉  I found the costume and ears here (I enlarged the size by about 500%!) and the robe here.  The hat isn’t very hat-like because I’m not a great 3-D sewist, and I added ties to keep it in place.

The last time I was involved in the Kids Race, the older child ran alone, so doing the corrals was new to both of us. We walked around the edge of Downtown Disney to the start line, and…waited. Since we were near the back of the corral, we waited a good twenty minutes to reach the front. And since this was the babies and toddlers, there were quite a few meltdowns over the waiting. (I know how you feel, kids. Welcome to the world of Disney racing.)

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The kids go in waves of about 5-6 each time, and it is very organized for what is, essentially, herding cats. The start line is taped off so each child has a ‘gate’, and they wait till each wave is nearly to the end before starting the next one.

Once we finally reached the front, we got the “Ready, set, GO!” and immediately…stopped and looked around.

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Toddlers are the worst racers. He was so distracted by the people along the edge, and the other kids’ costumes, that I was pretty much dragging him along toward the finish line. I don’t really blame him – there’s nothing cuter than a barely-walking little girl in a Chewbacca tutu.

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At this point, it seemed like it was taking longer than the 10K to get to the finish line. But we did manage to pass some of those babies right at the end. Thank goodness.

He was quite happy to receive his medal!

All the Kids Race bibs have a tear-off number for the parents to claim the correct child (not just the cutest one), and I had mine in hand as we approached the cast member to get out of the finish area. These situations make me nervous, as William is adopted from Korea. I shouldn’t have worried – the CM checked the numbers and didn’t bat an eye as she waved us through. They probably see a lot more families that don’t look alike than I have experiences being that family.

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We collected the entourage, danced to the after-party music, and took some pictures of the whole group. My kids are adorable. And horrible at pictures.

And then it was back to the hotel for showers and park time in our “I Did It!” shirts before prepping for race #3 of the weekend! (I really should have gotten a 19.3+100m magnet for the car.)

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Kate Starcher is a quilt designer, blogger, Half Fanatic, former Disney cast member, and so much of a Star Wars nerd that she has a cat named Tycho Celchu. See her quilt hidden Mickeys on t-shirt quilts at katiemaequilts.com.

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