Race Recap: Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon- The Dark Side

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I live in a Star Wars home.

Now I’m not gonna front and say that I’ve loved Star Wars my whole life- no. I was the kid who would change the channel when Channel 11 (aka the WB) would play Star Wars once a year. Who the hell are these robots and why are they walking through the desert?! I can’t. 

But I married a Star Wars man. And when you marry a Star Wars man, you will grow to become fascinated with these George Lucas films (but not so much the new ones cause- ewww, you have to love the originals- or something like that).

So when Disney World said they were bringing the Star Wars Half to the east coast I knew that a. I had to do it and b. my husband had to do it with me.

You wanna test your marriage? Ask your non-running husband who has never run more than 3 miles to do a half with you.

Race day? I’m pumped. I’ve heard SO much about Disney races and everyone loves. loves. LOVES. them. So I’m ready for this to be over-the-top fabulous.

The start line:  Definitely over-the-top.

Fireworks. Star Wars clips and trivia.

Also? Crowded corrals, about 3-5 minutes in between corral start times, tons of bathrooms.

***

So when your husband doesn’t run he doesn’t have a finish time to submit and when you don’t have a finish time to submit, you get thrown in the later corrals. So, we were towards the back. Coming into this race my goal was simply to finish. That is all. I’m coming off a one month rest period because of a knee injury and he was undertrained. Just. Finish.

***

Packet Pickup

They held packet pickup at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Get your bib in one building and walk to an entirely different building to get your race shirt. That was kind of annoying and I get that they wanted me to shop at the vendor tables, but really? I had my two kids in tow cause- #MomLife and my 3-year-old wasn’t necessarily cooperating with the plan to stop at ALLOFTHEBOOTHS (namely KT Tape & Sparkle Athletic) and so we didn’t. The room with the vendors was crowded (cause 18,000+ runners, so- duh) and hot and I had just driven up from Tampa after a long morning aaaaand no. I grabbed my shirt and I was out.

Sidenote: I (stupidly) thought that I would go back the next day to get my knees taped up because I’d have my mom with me. Yeah- no. The lines were even longer the next day. See also: they ran out of black KT Tape and I had to travel into the depths of Disney Springs to Fit2Run to grab some and oh. em. gee. holy crowded and holy far walk and holy that was not fun. Anyway. I digress.

Parking

Parking was fine. You were to park in Epcot, which has plenty of parking spaces of course, and walk about 20 minutes to your corral (I knew this beforehand, though, so I was prepared for that).

Potties

The line for the bathrooms in the Epcot parking lot was insane. I remember reading in the race manual that you needed to start walking out to your corral at 4:30 and I thought ? that’s not gonna happen. I wish I had known, though, that just past the sign that read Runners Only Beyond This Point that the heavens opened up and there were SO MANY MORE potties. And I wish I had known even more that there were potties all along the corral area. So. You live and you learn. This is me telling you if you do a Disney Race- do not fear. Do not wait on that ridiculous line. More potties are just over yonder. Even if you can’t see them.

Sidenote: They were selling (yes. selling.) coffee and water before the race, so if getting coffee before you run is your thing, maybe you wanna grab it beforehand.

The course

Run Disney Dark Side Inaugural Star Wars Half Map (1)

Start in the Epcot parking lot end at ESPN Wide World of Sports. You get to run in the parks in the dark before the parks are open which I guess is cool. I was too busy trying to make sure I didn’t trip over any other runners to truly enjoy a lot of it. There was so. much. bottlenecking (areas of congestion). I have never experienced anything like it. I know that sometimes you have to wait for the crowds to filter out early on in a course, but it seemed like it took a long time to do that on this course and just when you thought it was filtering out, you would reach another narrow pathway that could only hold maybe 3 or 4 across and so you would come to a complete stop or a slow turtle crawl. I was so confused.

There were moments when we were running on dirt/gravel roads in the back areas of parks (which seemed dangerous) and I’d heard of people falling in holes along the course.

There were long stretches of running on open Disney roads in between parks and at some intervals they had screen set up showing clips from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There weren’t any characters out on the open road areas, though- not a Stormtrooper, not a rolling BB8, just- nothing. So that was lame.

Lots of employees out at certain points cheering you on and when you ran through Disney Boardwalk there were a bunch of hotel patrons out watching and cheering.

Aid Stations

There were plenty of potties along the course, medical tents (stocked with bio freeze, bandaids, and other supplies) water and gatorade available and gel at mile 8.

Characters- This was my entire purpose for being at this race. We TOTALLY missed the first character stop- R2D2. I didn’t even notice him until it was too late. He was way on the right and we were way on the left. It would’ve been like trying to cross 4 lanes of interstate traffic to get to him.

Whatevs.

Chewbacca was out twice, Darth Vader, Storm Troopers with Kylo Ren on stage (no close up pics, selfies only), among others were available for photo opps. They also had little areas staged with props and backdrops from the movie that you could take photos with. Expect that when you run a Disney race that there will be lines to get character photos along the course, some longer than others, but lines nonetheless.

I knew this coming in, but we didn’t get any pictures, though.

***

Around mile 6 my husband told me that he didn’t think he would make it. His knee was doing something it had never done before and he thought it was going to give out. I asked if he wanted to get to a medical tent and he said no.  Around mile 7 I knew that it wasn’t good. I said “let’s just walk, it’s fine” and so we did. He kept telling me to go ahead and leave him and- no. No man left behind. When I married this man, I promised to stick with him through all kinds of things including forcing him to do a half marathon with me because I thought it’d be so much fun for us. Nope. Nobody was leaving anybody. We would walk and we would finish.

Lemme tell you something about the people who walk half marathons. Y’all kick ass.

As our pace dropped and we started to fall further back into the pack, we encountered so many different people. People out there walking and having a grand ol’ time. People struggling, but willing themselves to finish. It was humbling for me.

I know that when I run I am competing against my own self. I am trying to beat my last time and see how far I can push myself. I always want to be better. These folks? They just wanted to finish. They wanted to get the Disney experience, see some Star Wars characters and say “I did it!”

Lemme tell you something else about the walkers back there- I’m guessing that most of them didn’t get any character photos. At one point we got to a character stop and a Disney cast member said “YOU CAN’T STOP! IF YOU GET ON LINE NOW YOU WON’T FINISH THE RACE AND YOU WILL BE PICKED UP BY THE VAN!”

Welp. There goes that.

And then, the race was really on.

The race requires a 16:00 mile pace, which seems easy enough, even when walking. Except there were so many people. So many narrow areas. So much stopping. That you get put way off.

It was like us folks at the back of the pack were in an episode of the walking dead. There are walkers who have balloons towards the back and those balloons signify your cut off. If, at any point, the balloons got in front of you? It’s a wrap. Your race was done.

So you are constantly looking behind you for the balloons, but also looking for the bike riders holding the orange flags because when they start waving them you just might be behind pace. So you are no longer enjoying the walk or the view, you are legit looking back thinking “oh shit, where’s the orange flag? where are the balloons?”

Had I submitted a time, I probably would have been in an earlier corral and I maybe wouldn’t have had this experience. I’ve seen plenty of runners post photos with characters and I’ve read reviews on the Facebook page about how fabulous the race was. I’m happy people had that experience.

For me, it was more important to encourage my husband that he could do this and that he could finish, but that if his knee said otherwise that it was totally okay to walk off of that course. Whatever he chose, though, we were gonna do it together… because that’s how we do this life- together.

***

Photographs

They used their Disney Pass photographers to photograph the race. If you already have a Disney account, you just needed to plug in the code they gave you to find your photos. We didn’t get anything good (which is great because the pics are $15 a pop), BUT they got some amazing shots of my littles at the kids run and now I may go broke from purchasing them.

Finish Line, Goodies, etc.

Since we finished with the back-of-the packers a lot of whatever was going on at the finish line was done when we got there. There was plenty of ice for your aching body parts, fluids, a banana, and a boxed snack for food. There was a bag of tortilla chips, a small container of cheese, an Oreo cookie or two and a GoGo Squeez in the box (yes. squeeze applesauce…).

The medal was fabulous. UH-MAY-ZING (as one would expect).

I have to say that I’ve never run a race with this many people. I’m used to running local races and I guess I’ve been blessed enough to have actual food at the finish line. I mean- fruit, bars, pastries, chocolate milk/water/sports drink… BEER. (Can I get a beer Disney?! I mean really.) Because of that, maybe I had the bar set too high for what I thought the finish line would be like. Can I get a StormTrooper at the finish line?!

At one point The Husband and I went back to take a picture in front of the finish line (he did it- YAY!) and a volunteer was shouting THE BUSES ARE LEAVING!

Indeed they were…

Since the race began in Epcot and ended at Wide World of Sports, everyone who parked at Epcot had to be shuttled back to their car.

What.

A.

Nightmare.

A 1 1/2 hour nightmare to be exact. That’s how long it took us to get back to our car after standing on line in the hot Wide World of Sports parking lot and waiting to get on a bus (which we also stood on) and taking a (maybe) 10 minute ride back to our car. I’m not clear whose grand idea that was, but it was a fail. Walking back to my car and going home would have been fabulous. Not waiting another 1 1/2 hours to get to it. I think we walked an extra 3 miles post-race between waiting in line and walking back to our cars.

Would I do it again? I’m not sure. That $200 price tag was something else. As I stated above, I’m sure my experience may have been different in another corral… and maybe because this was the Inaugural event there were some kinks to work out. Maybe I’d have better luck at the Princess half? I’m not fully sold on that idea.

Look. I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer. I think the race had its moments where it was lovely. Running through Disney Boardwalk was beautiful. Epcot with all of the lights- beautiful. Animal Kingdom? Meh. I didn’t see any animals. Hollywood Studios- meh. We were there for about five seconds. I saw the Tower of Terror, though, which is always cool to look at. The race was $200 per person. That’s the most I’ve ever spent on a race (because, you know- kids, bills, priorities, adulting and such) and I expected more.

More thought put into the course so the bottlenecking would have been minimized because they wouldn’t have chosen such narrow areas for people to run through. More thought put into the busing situation after the race because having people standing on asphalt for an hour and a half in the Florida sun and packing them into a bus isn’t necessarily very thoughtful. More Disney characters on the course- because it was, after all, a Star Wars race put on by Walt Disney World- where in the heck were my OG Disney peeps? No Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald- nobody. More ANY Star Wars characters at the kids run. The Star Wars kids races didn’t have any Star Wars characters there. I just… what?

Beyond that. I learned so much about my husband. He is resilient. He is tough. He is not a quitter and he is amazing. I learned so much about the back-of-the packers. No matter what your thoughts are of people who walk races- they are OUT THERE on a 13.1 mile course while other folks stay stagnant and do nothing. They are trying their very best to finish something that maybe only .61% of the population even does (and finishes). I learned that everyone has their story, their reason for being out there. I heard a husband encouraging his wife at every step that he loved her and she was strong and she could do this. I heard a man telling someone that this was his third half marathon that he’s walked and even though its hard because he’s a big guy (his words) but he’s been trying to lose weight. I heard a guy whose body was starting to fail him push himself. Around mile 10 he kept saying “I’ve come too far. I’ve come. too. far.”

I mean- how inspiring.

Each and every one of us has something to be proud of. No matter how we finished.

My husband said that this was the hardest thing that he’s ever done. This is a man who goes to the gym 12 times a week and is ridiculously, physically fit.

Hardest thing he’s ever done guys. (I’m so proud of him, btw)

Such a reminder that we are all at different stages in our lives. We all have a story. How we finish isn’t the point. At the end of the day 13.1 miles is 13.1 miles and that shit ain’t easy, y’all. Walk, run, jog, wog, or crawl. If you want to run fast and finish first up there in corral A- do that! I think it’s awesome! I always cheer for the winner when I see them loop past me in a race. But, hey, some of us are just proud to be able to put one foot in front of the other and make it across that finish line (without being picked up by the van).

WDW RunDisney Inaugural Star Wars Half Dark Side

 

Editor’s Note: We’re still married ? and while he’s said he might do a 5K one day, he will never do another half marathon. 

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  1. I love this so hard. My husband and I ran a mile together once… that was it. He’ll play soccer for hours, but running a half, especially a Disney one, would be more than a lot of me to ask of him. I am so glad you two made the most of it!

    • Ha! Thanks, girl. It was definitely an experience that we can put in the books. He’s SO proud of himself, though, (as he should be!) and I love seeing that. He said he has a whole new respect for runners now. ☺