Part 2 of my runDisney Star Wars Dark Side race weekend recap. Earlier I recapped the 5k on Friday morning I ran with Noah. We didn’t take race weekend easy though, so after Noah and I got cleaned up from the race Friday morning we had a full day at Disney World, capped off with dinner at the Jungle Skipper Canteen Restaurant. Although we didn’t stay for the fireworks, it wasn’t until 9:30pm or so that everyone was tucked away in bed in our Cars suite- which gave me about 5-6 hours of sleep before the 3:15 alarm went off for Saturday morning’s race.
Before getting back to the recap, a few thoughts on doing another runDisney race, and how it would make sense to me:
Run with friends! Since I do almost all of my runs alone I didn’t mind racing alone Saturday or Sunday. That said, I would have even more fun at this specific runDisney race (or probably any other runDisney race) if I were running with friends. There is so much downtime before and after the race- waiting on the bus, walking to the staging area, waiting in the corrals, waiting on photos- that waiting with friends would be much more enjoyable. Plus, getting in Star Wars costumes with your friends and taking a bunch of pictures? It’s practically Halloween. As for your race pace, if everyone commits to stopping a few times for some photo-ops during the race then you really don’t have to be too concerned about pushing your individual pace.
Don’t sweat the distance! Even with all the theme park walking we did Friday and Saturday I felt pretty fresh for the races. I’ll tout my own horn and say that my Tuna Run relay race experience combined with my training for the Tobacco Road half in March and my regular running routine seemed to be perfect training for back-to-back-to-back races. But so many people did the Star Wars Dark Side Challenge that I get the impression its not that much of an endurance issue anyway.
But sweat the costumes! So let’s say you have a few extra hours of time in the month or two leading up to a runDisney race. Frankly I think your time is better spent creating a great race costume than training. Even though I was sporting my cool Darth Vader and Stormtrooper tech shirts during the races, I still wish I had a more elaborate (and/or esoteric) costume. Even cooler would have been matching costumes with Noah- maybe like the pack of jawas we saw in our 5k corral, or just one more in a group of Stormtroopers. There were lots of custom Star Wars tees that were fun too- like a targeting computer trench run ‘Stay On Target’ graphic tee. But in the end the costumes were the coolest. Maybe five years from the now the inaugural Star Wars Challenge shirts would be cool in the ‘I was there’ way… but a great costume would still trump it IMO.
Accommodations. I don’t know what the most convenient Disney hotel is for these races. Seemingly the most expensive Deluxe hotels would be pretty convenient, since you could avoid the buses and just take a monorail to the race start in the morning. However everyone had to take a bus back from the ESPN Wide World of Sports finish line. The Cars suites at the Art of Animation worked well for our family of five, giving us enough room to get rest during the trip- smaller families probably don’t have this concern though. Next time I’d really like to stay at a different hotel just because the kids might have fun playing in a different pool.
Back to the races!
Race start moved up to 5:30am on Saturday, and the race guide said to be on board buses by 4am. Even with a long day at the Magic Kingdom the day before I was up and ready to go without much problem. On the bus a conversation took an unexpected and serious turn when a fellow runner explained how she got into runDisney races with her late father, who passed away from cancer. It was obviously something on her mind, but I was a leeetle unprepared to engage on such a serious topic at 3:45 in the morning.
The conversation came to an end when we arrived at the Epcot parking lot. All three days the buses stopped at the Journey lot, and the staging area was on the other side of the Epcot parking area in the Wonder lot. I wasn’t bothered by the amount of walking- perhaps because I wasn’t concerned about my finishing time or being able to finish at all. Judging by the finisher counts I don’t think it’s my imagination that the staging area in the Wonder lot grew each race, but I didn’t spend much time standing around the staging area anyway. Maybe I could have milled around and found interesting costumes to take pictures of? I don’t know. I guess other folks spent time taking character pictures, talking, stretching, etc- but it didn’t take me too long to want to move on to the pre-corral box behind the stage.
More Walking! Unlike Friday, when the corrals were in the parking lot immediately adjacent to the parking area, on Saturday morning the corrals were actually a fair walking distance away from the staging area. Specifically, runners walked from behind the parking lot staging area, west on Woodpecker lane, and then into the corrals on Epcot Center Drive. Before walking down Woodpecker lane runners were held in the parking lot until 4:45am or so, in a huge area behind the main stage and surrounded by a few hundred port-o-potties. Kind of a humorous sight, but one nice thing was that the massive amount of port-o-potties behind the stage meant there were no lines.
Corral Concerns. Friday morning Noah and I were near the front in corral B for the 5k. Saturday morning I was originally assigned to the last corral, F, and I was dreading the possibility of starting at the back of the pack in the last corral. Fortunately I avoided that fate and started much earlier, at the front of corral D. Suffice it to say that while some of the volunteers in earlier corrals might have been more vigilant, the volunteers I saw at the narrow entrance of corral D were only doing so much as hundreds of runners started streaming into the corrals through a narrow entrance. If I had just made sure my qualifying time was properly in the active.com system I could have avoided some hijinks, but all’s well that ends well.
Gold Leader Starting Our Attack Run. The Elite racers in the first corral started at 5:30, and fortunately I didn’t have to wait too long before the fireworks were set off for our corral and we were on our way. Saturday and Sunday’s courses had a bit more of a lead in to Epcot on Epcot Center Drive. Both races hosted a marching band playing fun tunes, and afforded me another opportunity to hoot and holler.
With a few thousand runners in the first three corrals already in front, I decided to skip the lines for R2-D2 and Chewbacca in the early going at Epcot yet again. Between those decisions and a bit of room to maneuver I made decent time in the first two miles through Epcot and on the way to the Disney Boardwalk, where I hit the first long bottleneck. Truth be told everyone else was probably much more annoyed with my bobbing and weaving than I was bothered by them.
Apart from all the people, the Disney boardwalk was an interesting area to run through, which made the slower pace bearable. I’m curious if folks staying at the boardwalk took advantage of their proximity to the race course. For spectating it would seem pretty convenient- although I don’t envy anyone spectating such a large race trying to find only one or two runners out of the crowd.
Soon enough I was at Hollywood Studios. I can’t quite remember if Boba Fett or someone else was near the entrance to the park, but I wasn’t too interested in slowing down. As much as a chuckle at Noah getting into race mode and wanting to skip the characters on Friday, I felt the same on Saturday. Somewhere along the way I think I told myself that Saturday perhaps I would keep up the pace, and that Sunday would be the day I would take it easy.
The 10k course left Hollywood Studios somewhere behind the Hollywood Tower of Terror. From there the course really widened out, taking up one or two lanes of Buena Vista Drive and then World Drive. This second half of the race was certainly the more boring half. For the two mile stretch between the back of Hollywood Studios and the dirt path leading into the Wide World of Sports I think there was basically a DJ and two mileage signs.
At first glance the mileage signs seemed somewhat chintzy. Basically instead of a simple mile marker, runDisney set up these large picture marquees- each one with a different Star Wars character. So they weren’t full character photo-stops, but opportunities to take a selfie in front of a sign. On the other hand I guess they are a much more fun way to mark the distance, especially in no-man’s land on Osceola Parkway. And since they weren’t full characters there weren’t really any lines to take a picture in front of them. Over the entire race weekend I think I stopped at one marker that overlooked Hollywood Studios, and as you can see the picture wasn’t that great. So I could take or leave that bit of runDisney ‘magic’.
Mileage signs or no, I picked up the pace in the second half and had a fun time speeding past folks, especially in the last mile- my fastest segment of the race. That mile run in the ESPN sports complex was relatively deceiving- once we started passing the ball fields I figured the finish must be close by, but in reality there was a left hand turn and another quarter mile or so to go. I was trucking it all the same, whooping it up, high fiving people, and having a good time.
Finisher. I finished the 10k with a net time of 50:15, running about a two minute negative split, owing to a slightly conservative pace going out and a few crowded areas in the first half of the course.
After the race I did stick around to get one or more character shots- this time with Captain Phasma. Between the three days I was racing I probably got pictures with about half the characters on offer. Some, like Boba Fett or the pair of stromtroopers, seemed a bit interesting but not enough to make me wait. Others, like Jabba, a robot, or a cardboard rathtar, didn’t even rise to that level for me.
One thing that I didn’t realize until after getting a lay of the land post-finish on Saturday was that families could rejoin runners after the 10k and half relatively easy if they were staying on-site at Disney. Beyond meeting up with the runners, the photo-ops were open to everyone, spectators and runners alike. Sometime around the start of the race I think runDisney buses starting running continuously from resort hotels to the ESPN finish area- and they were free and open for runners and non-runners in either direction. I mentioned to Katie that she could join me at the end of the half of Sunday, but with three kids in tow that was a much bigger ask- especially since we weren’t sure when I would be starting the half (i.e. which corral I would be starting from).
Once I was done milling around the post-race area I walked across the ESPN parking lot to the bus area, and only had to wait a few minutes for the Art of Animation bus to arrive. I didn’t envy the folks who were in line for the Epcot buses- listening to the Mickey Miles Podcast (Warning: Audio Auto Play) it sounded like folks waited in that line for an hour or longer to get back to their cars at the Epcot parking lot.
13.1 Half Marathon Sunday
Another race, another early morning. Half marathon gun time was 5:00am! Race guide told runners to be on board buses by 3:30am. I was awake sometime around 2:45, and got out the door with time to spare.
Fortunately my bus ride over to the half was uneventful, and soon enough I found myself in the Epcot parking lot race staging area trying to figure out why I shouldn’t just walk to the port-a-pottie corral behind the DJ.
Corral Concerns redux. The Sunday morning walk to the corrals had the prospect of being twice as long as Saturday morning’s walk, since there were twice as many corrals! More than 18,000 finishers spread across 12 corrals- that makes at least 1500 people in each corral, and probably closer to 2000 per corral when the did-not-finishers are taken into consideration.
Again, since I didn’t double-check my race qualifying times, I faced the prospect of starting in the back of the race at corral L. And yet again, this dire fate was avoided, in a similar manner, and possibly aided by some white-out that may have changed an “L” to a “C” on someone’s bib. Katie got really tired of hearing how excited I was to start earlier. But really it would have sucked otherwise.
But to reiterate- I think each corral’s starting line was spaced out by five minutes or more- meaning those folks in the twelfth and last corral probably started an hour after the first corral. On a weekend spent standing around waiting for things, that is a lot of time to stand around! Furthermore, I can’t imagine what the character photo lines look like after several thousand runners have started in front of you.
Final Attack Run. Since this was the last race of the weekend I made time for a few more character stops this time around. Even still I couldn’t force myself to slow down for a picture with R2, Chewbacca, or a pair of Rebels in Epcot. Even though I didn’t stop, I did soak up the atmosphere. Both Friday’s 5k and Sunday’s half marathon routes took the long way around the World Showcase in Epcot. The entire park seemed lit up, with Star Wars music playing over Epcot’s ambient sound system- really cool, fun stuff. In a way its too bad this couldn’t be towards the end of the race, since it might have been more of a reward for the effort. As it was I loved this part of the course.
Perhaps I regret not stopping to take a picture or too, but some experiences just can’t be captured on camera. Even though I only started one corral earlier on Sunday the course felt noticeably less crowded- particularly in the big bottleneck between Epcot and Hollywood Studios on and near the boardwalk. Once I reached Hollywood Studios I finally slowed down for a few pictures. Unless I missed him in the pre-race or post-race areas, I think Kylo Ren was only brought out in the half marathon. Kylo was joined by a pair of Stormtroopers on stage in front of the Chinese movie theatre, but I opted for a quick selfie instead of the line. Maybe I would have waited for this photo op if the characters were not staged above the runners… or if Kylo wasn’t such a tool.
The characters I enjoyed the most, however, weren’t even official runDisney Star Wars character spots, but cosplayers (perhaps the 501st legion and others) that were also on course. There were no official lines for pictures with the cosplayers, so it was much more convenient to get a pic with them. On the downside the selfies weren’t amazing, but fun enough.
After lounging around Hollywood Studios for a little while I was back on course. I didn’t mind the run between the Studios and Animal Kingdom, perhaps in part because I felt like I could turn up the speed and ‘race’ a bit more. But from a course experience perspective, leaving the parks for the rural emptiness of the surrounding highways was a let down. A DJ was set up on Osceola parkway west of World Drive, perhaps around Blizzard Beach water park. IIRC One of the last character photo-ops, another exclusive to the half, was a pair of Rebels cartoon show pilots. I skipped them, and kept going into the vast expanse of the Animal Kingdom parking lot.
Best and Worst. As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed running around the World Showcase at Epcot in the 5k and half marathon. On the opposite end of the spectrum I think everyone agrees that the Animal Kingdom parking lot section, around mile 7 of the half marathon, was by far the worst part of the courses for the entire weekend. It felt like we ran for what felt like 2 miles (ok really it was probably .75 of a mile!) around the perimeter of the parking lot with nothing to keep us entertained. It would have been better had runDisney put something out there, even if it were only some speakers playing something from the Star Wars soundtrack.
At the end of the parking lot was a wampa scene, which I think I regret the most for skipping. The photo-op frame was upside down, so the final pictures look as if the runners are hanging in the wampa cave a la Luke in Empire. I did not skip the Death Star trash compactor scene, which was fun and no waiting. I also didn’t skip a bathroom break in DinoLand in Animal Kingdom. Katie didn’t really understand how nice it was to have a real bathroom break on course during a half marathon, instead of a port-a-pottie.
I did stop for a picture with the Avalanche mountain and the Tree of Life, but neither picture turned out well due to a lack of lighting. These were perhaps the only pictures that would have better if you had started later since they would have much more natural lighting. One takeaway- make more of an effort to stop by the scenes before dawn, and less of an effort to stop by traditional park shots until after dawn. On the other hand seeing the Rivers of Light amphitheater lit up in front of Avalanche is a little interesting.
Once I left Animal Kingdom and turned back on Osceola Parkway I had 5k left in the race, and I was feeling great. The sun was starting to come up which I didn’t think all that much about since I was so close to the finish. Since this part of the race was pure roadway it was also pretty easy to pick up the pace and pass people. I have Garmin auto-lap on 3.15mile (~5k) intervals, and Strava tells me I ran this 5k lap at a breezy 24:35, which is pretty quick for me coming at the end of a race.
The last mile leading up and through the ESPN Wide World of Sports didn’t deceive me the second time around- I knew when I turned off Osceola Parkway into the gravel path that I still had a good ways to go. That didn’t stop me from turning it up another notch though- my last mile was sub 7:00, which I’ll take any day in a distance race.
I finished with a sub 2:00 half marathon, which really surprised me considering my multiple stops. Actually to tout my own horn, I finished 803rd out of 18,171 finishers- or squarely in the top 5%.
I am pretty happy with my race shirts, and some of the medals are pretty decent too- although I still feel like the Star Wars half marathon medal is the worst of the bunch. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the one medal I didn’t get- that Kessel Run Millennium Falcon medal, for finishers of both the West Coast Star Wars Light Side half marathon in January and the East Coast Star Wars Dark Side half marathon. If that Light Side race were later in the year and somehow I could race it, I would have been sorely tempted to try. Alas it is an impossibility- for this year. Hopefully when (if?) I do both races in the same year the medal will be just as cool. Because that Falcon medal is awesome- maybe the best race medal I’ve seen- especially sitting next to that crappy Vader/Palpatine swivel medal.
If you really want more pictures, runDisney has a fair number of pictures covering the Star Wars Dark side half marathon race weekend, and ESPNw has a few more pics from race weekend.