The Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side is definitely on my bucket list of runDisney races for the future. I think even the little one will enjoy dressing up like Darth Vader and running a Kids Race! This year, I’m happy to welcome Susan here to give us a great recap of the Inaugural Half Marathon….take it away!
As a huge Sci Fi fan, as well as a veteran Disney runner, I was thrilled when I heard about the Inaugural Star Wars Dark Side Weekend at Walt Disney World. I couldn’t pass it up once I learned it fell on my birthday weekend. I signed up for the Dark Side Challenge, a 10K on Saturday and Half Marathon on Sunday. Fortunately I trained through a relatively mild New England winter this year and as the date approached, I began to get more and more excited.
I flew in to Orlando on Thursday, April 14th in the early afternoon and after quickly checking in to the WDW Dolphin Hotel, I hopped on the shuttle and headed to the Expo at the Wide World of Sports. Star Wars Dark Side was an inaugural race, one that I hope to run many times in the future, and I knew that the Expo would be crowded with people buying commemorative items and Star Wars merchandise.
Having run many Disney races in the past, I was familiar with the layout of the Expo. I headed straight for the HP Field House to pick up my bib. There was no line, I confirmed my info, they took my picture for the Dark Side Challenge medal and I picked up my race shirts. Next, I made my way to the main Expo hall in the Josten’s Center where the exhibitors set up and the majority of the runDisney merchandise is located. I made a quick pass through the items to see what was available and then grabbed a couple of shirts I couldn’t live without. I purchased an “I Did It” t-shirt (I have one from every runDisney event), a Dark Side Challenge t-shirt with Darth Vader and a long-sleeved Dark Side running jacket.
Sunday morning would come very quickly. I ran the 10K on Saturday first. The 10K is not part of this write up, but the race was a blast and this picture with Chewbacca ended up being one of my favorite race pictures.
After the 10K, we took it easy with no park visits so that I could rest my legs. We had an early dinner of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes and I went to bed to try and get some sleep for the 5:00am race start. I laid out my clothes so nothing would be forgotten. I’ve run quite a few half marathons and typically keep my clothing choices to wicking materials and proper runner’s clothes. For this run, I dressed it up a little with some sparkle; a visor and skirt from Sparkle Athletic, with running shorts from Lululemon and a Darth Vader tank top. Comfort is key, especially when running 13.1 miles!
For anyone that has run Disney races, the early start times are the worst thing about the races and 2:30am is a dreadful time to wake up. The alarm went off, I showered, dressed and headed out the door by 3:00am, making sure I had all my running supplies; iPhone, headphones, room key, money and breakfast (a bagel with peanut butter and a banana, along with a bottle of water). The hotel lobby was full of runners all dressed up in Star Wars t-shirts, hats and all out costumes!! The line for the bus wasn’t too long and within 5 minutes one pulled up to take us to the start in the Epcot parking lot. The sheer number of people who run these races never ceases to amaze me. I believe the final number was more than 18,000 runners.
The staging area near the start is always exciting and any sleepiness from the early wake-up fades away with all the liveliness happening. A DJ and an emcee do their best to pump up the crowd. They played scenes from the Star Wars movies on the big screen; they had trivia contests with runners in the crowd and kept everyone informed of the time. 4:00am came and everyone began the long walk to the corrals. Even though it was still pitch black outside, with not even a hint of sunrise yet, people were excited and the energy was palpable.
There were many corrals for the Half, A through L. I started in corral C, as I had submitted a proof of time from a previous half marathon of 2:01:35. Most Disney runners aren’t running for speed and I knew this would not be a personal best for me, as the heat and humidity would slow my pace, plus I wanted to stop for photos, since this was an inaugural race.
The national anthem was sung, the fireworks blasted and the corral A runners were off! Within a few minutes, it was our turn. I started at a nice easy pace, running with the crowds around me and feeding off the energy. Shortly before mile 1, we were greeted by the sounds of a fantastic high school marching band playing Star Wars music. What an amazing group of kids! R2-D2 was up ahead, but the line was very long, so I kept running. We then made the turn into Epcot and ran through World Showcase. All of the countries were lit up and Spaceship Earth glowed across the lake.
We then ran out of the back entrance of Epcot onto the boardwalk past the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. Chewbacca was in the same spot as the day before, but I already had a photo. From there, we ran onto the sidewalk behind the Boardwalk hotel leading us to Hollywood Studios. The 501st Legion greeted us as we entered HS. They are truly an amazing group of dedicated, highly accurate, cos-player organization who turned out in droves with Stormtroopers, Sith Lords and many other Star Wars creatures. They provided many photo opportunities for people who didn’t want to wait in the long Disney character lines.
The course continued through Hollywood Studios, to a stage where Kylo Ren was standing with Storm troopers and then a phot0 op in front of the Tower of Terror.
We exited HS and headed out for a long stretch of highway before entering Animal Kingdom. There was plenty of crowd support and a DJ set up in the median, although I cranked up my iPhone music at this point and just ran.
A Wampa cave scene was set up in the AK parking lot, but I had a good running pace going at that point and didn’t stop. We entered Animal Kingdom, ran past Discovery Island and a photo op in front of Expedition Everest. The sun was rising, so the mountain really stands out in the background. There were many more of the 501st in AK and I high-fived as many as I could reach as I ran through the park. And then it was back out to the road again for the long stretch to Wide World of Sports.
We entered the WWOS complex from the back on a dirt road that leads to the baseball and soccer fields. I loved the softer stretch of dirt as the pounding on the roads is tough on your legs. As I reached mile 12, I was feeling tired but overall pretty good. I came upon Jeff Galloway at this point in the race. He was run/walking with his wife, Barbara. I slowed down to say “Hi” and shook his hand. I thanked him for all the help he has given runners over the years. He was so gracious and nice, I almost felt bad about speeding up and leaving him behind! This was definitely a highlight of my race.
The dirt road is only about a half mile and then the course is back onto a sidewalk between the sports complexes. There were tons of people along the last mile of the race yelling encouragement and holding up signs. I can’t say enough about spectator support in the final stretches of long races, they really are what gives runners the strength to finish strong!! (RAD Remark: I TOTALLY agree!!)
The end was in sight and I could see the finish line, those medals would soon be mine. Although I didn’t have much left, I ran through the finisher’s chute and raised my arms in triumph, hot and tired, but thrilled. Running back to back races at Disney, paired with the early morning wake-up calls, is pretty exhausting, but it’s all about the bling!! When’s my next race??
Susan is a mother, a pediatric nurse practitioner, a Disney fan and a runner. She loves sharing her passion for running and a healthy lifestyle with others. Her favorite distances are 10Ks and Half Marathons, but this year she is going to tackle the big one! She’s registered for the Chicago Marathon on October 9th. Let’s wish her luck!!
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