Friday, April 28, 2017


I was hoping to join the Rebel Force…Instead, I had to succumb to the dark side.

Let me state for the record that I love Disney.  We have always had passes for the parks, and it is truly the “happiest place on Earth.”  That being said, I have never really had a burning desire to run a Disney race.  I know lots of folks who are obsessed with Disney (I’m not judging), and will enter any and every race they put on.  I had entered the Disney Half Marathon in 2006, but had to come home before the race even started (read “Meet Me Half Way” for the unfortunate details).  Disney races are extremely expensive, and I never had any real motivation to register…until now.

Since Lindsey has started running, she approached me about venturing up to Orlando.  With the Disney Half Marathon (in January) already sold out, we checked to see what was next.  In 2016, the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon was introduced.  The race takes place in April, and it was not yet sold out.  We registered for the “Dark Side Challenge,” which consists of a 10K on Saturday, and the half marathon on Sunday.  As the weekend approached, we could definitely feel the power of the force.

We left at 6:30am on Friday morning and drove right to the expo, which was held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.  We arrived just as the expo opened, and picked up our race packets.  We received three shirts, which of course were all Star Wars themed.  After a bit of shopping, we drove to the Pop Century Resort and checked into our room.  We took the bus to Epcot, and took advantage of the International Flower and Garden Festival.  Knowing that we would be getting up several hours before the crack of dawn, we left the park early, and went to bed around 8pm.  Race time was 5:30am, and we needed to catch our bus no later than 4am.

 I was impressed that there were several buses waiting for us, and we got on right away.  Both races started in the parking lot at Magic Kingdom, and we arrived at 3:50am.  When I got off the bus, my first thought was “Dang…. I’ve never seen so many porta-pottys in one place.”  It was like a giant port-potty conclave.  We struck up a conversation with some folks from California, who ran the Star Wars Light Side Challenge in Anaheim.  Lindsey had not yet run a half marathon when we registered, so we were placed on one of the last corrals.  There was a stage set up at the starting line, with entertainment, and clips from all of the Star Wars movies.  The start of the race was very organized, especially with 10,895 Disney fanatics chomping at the bit.  Each corral started in several waves, with fireworks and lots of fanfare.  The roads were very wide, with large screens showing movie clips along the way.  There were also characters on the side of the road for those wanting to stop for photos.  We ran through Hollywood Studios around the four-mile mark.  We came into the park near the Tower of Terror, and out through the main street.  The race finished up by running around Boardwalk, past the Disney Beach Resort, and in through the back entrance of Epcot.  After a quick visit to the United Kingdom and Canada, we crossed the finish line.  It was a very enjoyable run, and the bus was right there to take us back to our hotel.  We showered, ate lunch, and spent an eventful day at Hollywood Studios.

We knew the drill for Sunday morning:  Up at 2:30, on the bus at 3:30, and in our corral by 4am.  You could tell that there were a lot more people running the half marathon (16,311) than the 10K.  Our main entertainment was watching one of the volunteers in our corral.  Her responsibility was to make sure that none of the runners tried to enter a corral other than the one they were assigned to.  You are allowed to move back as many corrals as you want; just not forward.  We were assigned to “F,” which was the penultimate corral.  She was taking her job way too seriously.  At this point, everyone is so slow; what did it really matter?  There were more waves on this day, but it still took us less than 30 minutes to start (the Miami Marathon can learn a lesson or two on organization).  The route was different than from the day prior, as we ran on some service roads rather than on the main drag.  Around four miles in, we approached Animal Kingdom.  Even if you didn’t know that, you could smell the animals a mile away.  My knee was still sore, which surprised me that I had not worked out all of the kinks by this point.  Then out of nowhere, I got this sharp pain in my TFL.  This stands for Tensor Fascia Latae, and is a small muscle found on the outside of the hip.  It felt as if someone threw a baseball at me.  I walked for a little bit, and it seemed to feel better.  Once I started to run, the pain intensified.  It was very cool running through Animal Kingdom, which helped me deflect the pain for a brief point in time.  As we left the park, my walking times became more frequent.  I did not want to risk further damage, so I told Lindsey to take off and meet me at the finish line.  After several more attempts to run (especially with my knee hurting as well), I made the decision to shut it down.  This was the first time in my running career that I would be walking to finish a race.


It was a very interesting perspective seeing how “the other half lives.”  It didn’t hurt to walk, so I was able to really concentrate on the surroundings, the other walkers, and the extravagant costumes.  Many of the participants way back in the pack were nowhere race ready, but their love for the Disney “bling” kept them motivated.  I spoke with one woman who was doing her first half marathon.  She was very much overweight, and was wearing a very cute Yoda hat.  She was from Boston, and the heat was really wearing her down.  I kept giving her motivation, which she really seemed to appreciate.  Six miles out of Animal Kingdom, we finally entered Hollywood Studios.  It is one thing to run 13.1 miles…walking it takes forever!  The route was a little different than the day before, especially when we ran around Boardwalk.  We also ran the countries of Epcot, starting with France.  With less than one-half mile to go, what else could go wrong?  How about my knee brace snapping in half?  It had cracked a few weeks prior, but this was a full-on explosion.  At this point, it didn’t really matter.  There were wall-to-wall walkers, with no room to run even if you wanted to.  As I crossed the finish line, I was getting pushed and shoved by everyone around me.  Apparently, none of the Mouseketeers got the memo that you don’t just stop at the finish line.  It was like a multi-car crash on the highway.  The moral of the story is…don’t walk…be fast.  That way, you don’t have to deal with all of this mishegoss.  The medals for both races (and the Dark Side Challenge) were very nice, but you would expect nothing less from Disney.  My feet were really hurting me from walking, and we went back to the hotel for a well-deserved power nap.  We grabbed dinner at Disney Springs, and made our way home on Monday morning.

 It was a great weekend.  Despite the injury, I enjoyed both races.  It’s unfortunate that only around 3 of the 13.1 miles are actually through the park, but I don’t know what can be done about it.  As long as there are Disney “geeks,” the races will flourish.


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