Guest Race Review: runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Challenge

 

My first half marathon was the 2012 Disney Princess Half Marathon held in Disney World. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was hooked on runDisney! Since then, I’ve completed 18 runDisney races (including multiple challenges), with the Castaway Cay 5k in the Bahamas, Disneyland Paris and the Dopey Challenge next on my list!

As soon as it was announced that another race weekend was added to runDisney’s roster AND that it was Star Wars themed, I was ready to hand my credit card over to Disney. Star Wars AND an inaugural race AND a race challenge? Sign me up.

The race challenge for this weekend included a 10k on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday…the Dark Side Challenge. (The Light Side Challenge is held in Disneyland in January.)

After many weeks of anticipation, race weekend finally arrived! You could feel the force around you the minute you walked into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the race expo.

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Star Wars theme music was blaring from the speakers. Screens were set up with scenes from the movies playing. And, within seconds of us walking around, I spotted two Storm Troopers “patrolling” the area. Want a picture with them? You’ll have to ask them…and the response won’t always be the one you’re hoping for. A woman in front of me asked them for a picture, and they obliged. When I asked for a picture, the trooper told me “not while we’re patrolling!” I knew better than to push my luck (and knew I’d get great pics with them along the race course). 😊 Plus, it was time to hit the runDisney merchandise booth.

Hot items sell out fast which is typical at runDisney events. I went to the expo on Friday morning right when it opened and they were already sold out of a few items (including two I had my eye on when they previewed the merchandise online).

If it’s your first runDisney event, plan on spending a good amount of time at the expo. They have a good number of vendors, guest speakers and character photo ops. We waited in line for about 10 minutes for a picture with BB-8. Once that was done, I was ready to relax in preparation of the 19.3 miles ahead of me.

Go to bed early! My alarm was set for 3:30am (the 10k started at 5:30am), but race anxiety and excitement woke me up around 2am. I just laid in bed plotting my race strategy until my alarm went off. We arrived to the staging area early so we could take a couple of pictures pre-race with Star Wars characters set against awesome backdrops. By the time we got to the front of the picture line, the characters had been pulled (in order to encourage runners to get to their corrals), but we were able to get a picture with Jabba the Hutt. Off to a good start!

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We made our way over to the corrals (about a 10-15 minute walk from the staging area) and it was go time. A gun and fireworks mark the start for each corral.Runners submit proof of time a couple of months before race day and you’re placed in corrals according to your proof of time. I was in Corral B for the 10k, which I was hoping would set me up for shorter character picture lines.

Off I went wondering which character I’d come across first, and there he was – R2D2! There was about a 20-minute line to get a picture, but I thought it would be worth the wait. That was, until I heard a cast member say that Chewbacca was the next character. One of the great things about doing the challenge is that many of the characters will be at both races. I took my chances and got off the R2D2 line and made my way to Chewy, which was a good call. The line was only about 7 minutes long, I got my picture and off I went!

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The course takes you through both Epcot and Hollywood Studios so there’s a lot to see when there aren’t any characters around. Between miles 2 and 3, I hit the character mother mode! Members of the 501st League were lined up right outside of Hollywood Studios. In about 10 minutes I was able to get 5-6 pictures including multiple Storm Troopers and Boba Fett.

Next came the run through Hollywood Studios which leads you out to the Disney highways for about a mile and then into the Wide World of Sports to the finish line! The last half mile of the race is where you’ll find the most spectators.

Once across the finish line, you’ll be handed the creme de la creme of race medals!

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All of the character/picture backdrops that were set up at the staging area were also set up in the family reunion area for those inclined to get more pictures. Characters in the reunion area weren’t along the course so those were well worth the wait for many of the runners (e.g., Captain Phasma).

The half marathon was very similar to the 10k except:

– the race starts at 5am (3am wake up call!)

– you get to run through Animal Kingdom, so you hit three of the four parks throughout the race

– and, members of 501 are along the course three times so character photo ops were amazing!!

There’s a lot of highway running in the half where there’s not much to see. I liked this part of the race because it gave me time to get into a good, uninterrupted run/walk groove and make up some of the time I had lost while waiting for character pics. Disney also has speakers/screens set up along the highway where Star Wars music/movie screens are playing to keep you in the Star Wars mood.

 

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At the finish line, I picked up my half marathon finisher medal, as well as the Dark Side Challenge medal!

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If you’re a Disney and Star Wars fan, this race series would be right up your alley! May the course be with you!

A few tips:

– Register early because these races tend to sell out quickly! (Although this year, they re-opened registration a couple of months before the race which rarely happens with Disney)

– Don’t plan on setting a PR! Enjoy and soak in everything there is to see. Pace requirement is a 16 minute mile and that starts when the last runner crosses the start line.

– Watch how much time you spend in the parks…especially the day before the half.

– Consider purchasing the photo package before the race so you’re not counting on your phone or camera for good pics. Leave that to the professionals! This was the first runDisney race where Disney photographers took pics along the course instead of MarathonFoto. What a great replacement!

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