I've never been to Disney World (or Disneyland for that matter) before the Star Wars Dark Side half marathon. My husband is a Star Wars geek and has spent the last 20 years trying to convert me to the Dark Side of geekdom. I think he is most proud to call me his wife when I understand one of his obscure Star Wars references.
April 2018 is the 20 year anniversary of our first date and since the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon was in Disney, the timing couldn't be better. I knew I could trick, um, I mean, entice hubby into running the half with me with the 20-year first-date-anniversary angle and the lure of the Star Wars medal bling. If I call it a limited edition collectors medal, hubby will want it for sure!
He loves Star Wars and likes to run. We often run together, but he doesn't train more than six miles at a time and he usually doesn't want to run half marathons with me. I was thrilled when he agreed to run, but I think he really just wanted that awesome medal.
Planning for the Dark Side Half Marathon
We registered for the race almost a year in advance. The cost of the race was on the pricey dark side at $200 per person (one quarter portion) but we felt it was worth it because it was our special anniversary weekend. I was a little surprised that the race entry didn't include any park passes or even a discount for park admission. We decided not to purchase park passes in advance. We weren't sure we would have the time or energy to get the most out the cost of the passes. I figured if we changed our minds when we got there and really wanted to go, we could always pick them up on the spot.
Training for the Dark Side Half Marathon
It's kind of embarrassing to admit as a running coach that I went into this race not as trained as I would have preferred. I did have a solid running base and I ran the Cowtown half marathon (a PR!) at the end of February, but with a busy March and even busier April, I went into this race with no long runs more than an hour since February. Do as I say not as I do. Train, you will. I don't recommend this to anyone. The risk of getting injured or having a miserable race day experience increase drastically when not properly trained for the distance. We both ran six miles the week before the race and hoped for the best. I got a bad feeling about this.
Disney's Pop Century Resort
We stayed at Disney's Pop Century resort. Since I had no experience with Disney, I chose the least expensive hotel out of the options offered. I figured any hotel on Disney's property would at least be clean and safe. It definitely wasn't luxurious and it didn't offer the amenities of the higher-end resorts (I wished there was a hot tub on property), but it was great.
The property was fun and funky, each building decorated in the pop culture of the century from the 50s through the 90s. If you're not concerned about luxury and just want a nice, clean room, it's a good choice
The Dark Side Half Marathon Health & Fitness Expo
Everything we experienced so far in Disney and Orlando was crowded (The traffic, omg!) so I was expecting the expo to be crazy but I was pleasantly surprised. We visited first on Friday when we arrived to pick up our race bibs and shirts, then returned on Saturday because I realized I forgot to pack my compression socks and a running belt. It was very well organized, easy to navigate and had a lot of Star Wars-themed music, props, and posters. I picked up a new pair of ProCompression socks and a FlipBelt at the expo and hubby bought a Star Wars shirt at the official runDisney merchandise store. There were out of my size in everything.
Disney Springs for Shopping and Dining
Since we didn't have park passes, we figured there was not much else to do on Saturday except shop and eat. We had originally planned to drive an hour to the beach, but there was rain in the forecast and decided not to risk it. We ended up at Disney Springs, a giant outdoor mall with plenty of shopping and restaurants. We had an early dinner at The Edison (meh) and headed back to our room to try to get in at least a few hours of sleep before an early start. The traffic in and around Disney was insane and I highly recommended using the hotel shuttles whenever possible.
Race Morning: Better Late Than Early
The Pop Century Resort offered free race day shuttles to the start line. The instructions in the race pamphlet said that all race participants needed to arrive at the staging area at the start line by 3:30 am. Say, what? That would mean we would have to get up by 3 am to get on the shuttle in time. Honestly, if I was traveling alone I would have done exactly what the pamphlet instructed, but hubby wasn't having it. We got up at 4 am, got on the shuttle around 4:20 and arrived at the start around 5 am. My plans to wrap my hair up in Princess Leia buns were officially canceled because at 4 am, ain't nobody got time for that...except for the literal 10s of thousands of people at the start line in costumes who probably got up at 2:30 am to make the time.
Even after boarding the shuttle more than an hour later than instructed, we arrived in plenty of time. We honestly could have slept in a little more and got on the last shuttle at 5 am. The race started 30 minutes after we arrived and our corral didn't kick off until 6:30. We were in the very last corral because in order to have corral placement you had to prvide proof of a previous half marathon finishing time that hubby didn't have.
Even though we waited an hour and a half after we arrived to start running, the time flew by. We were entertained by the event hosts who shared movie clips, trivia and corny Star Wars jokes over a big screen and a loudspeaker. As each corral took off to begin their race we were treated to a mini fireworks show at the start line. Do or do not, there is no try.
As I stood there in the back of the 40,000 other runners, my hip felt a little tight, my lower back a little sore and I felt a little nervous, but hubby was pretty confident, despite his own lack of distance training. Great kid, don't get cocky.
The Disney Dark Side Half Marathon
Finally at 6:30 we were off and running under our own fireworks show for the final corral. We started in the back so I expected some congestion at the beginning of the race. We started off slow, but I was thankful for the pacing. It's easy to get excited and start off too fast. This was impossible due to the crowds.
The first few miles were on the back roads between the parks. It was still dark for a couple of miles but they played Star Wars music and movie scenes that kept me distracted and entertained as I tried to settle into my pace. At mile two it started raining and all the runners around me collectively gasped. Thankfully, it stopped 10 seconds later, but it was humid and the sun wasn't even up yet,
I expected the crowds to thin out a bit as the miles progressed, but it never happened. Hubby periodically surged through the crowds around slower runners and walkers and I followed. I was worried that the bursts of speed would take too much energy to sustain but I was holding his phone, so I couldn't lose him on the course. Despite the surges to keep up with hubby, the crowds were slowing us down considerably from our normal pace. Since I wasn't fully trained for the distance this was a blessing in disguise.
There were Star Wars characters and movie scene scapes along the course so runners could stop for photos. I know this race is just for fun. I know I wasn't trying to set any records. I know it's all about the experience, but there is just something inside me that wouldn't let me stop and stand in line, even a short one, for a photo while I'm being timed for a race. It's a trap!
In theory, the longer it takes to finish, the more bang you get for your buck, right? We all paid the same price for the race, the people who finish last got the most time on the course. Mentally I knew I'd get more out of the whole experience by taking my time and enjoying the course, but I couldn't do it and hubs agreed. It's called a race for a reason, we were powering straight through.
We ran through and near several parks including the Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk and finished at Epcot. I enjoyed that I got to experience the parks a bit since we didn't have park passes. I took full advantage of being distracted by the park views to take my mind off thirteen miles.
Due to the crowds and a lot of narrowing of the course along the way, the miles were slow and felt easy despite the humidity. The sun came up but thankfully hid behind clouds for the duration of the race. It was a flat course although I heard runners around me complaining of "hills" as we ran up a few inclines. The miles flew by and it was over before I knew it. It wasn't my fastest finish or my slowest, but it was mentally the easiest race in recent memory. We finished at 2:16:26 and 2:16:27 with Hubby out in front. He wouldn't have it any other way.
The Race Photos: The Good, The Bad and The Ridiculous.
I usually b*tch and complain about the outrageous prices of race photos, but I happily paid the $69 for all the digital downloads for both me and hubs. There are a few great photos, a few funny ones and a couple of photos that are so bad that they're good. Scruffy-looking Nerf herder
The Race Bling
This race was worth every penny for the experience. We had a wonderful 20-year first-date-anniversary and now we have these new memories together. The awesome finishers medal was icing on the cake. We are going to put together a shadow box with some pictures, our bibs, and our medals to commemorate the occasion. We had a fabulous time, but there is no place like home. Wait, wrong movie. No place like home, there is. Yes, hmmm.
Are you a Star Wars Geek? Have you ever ran a Disney race? What's the earliest you got up to run a race? Do you have a destination race on your bucket list? I'd love to hear about it!
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