I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed a couple of years ago when runDisney announced that their new Star Wars Half Marathon would be held out in California in and around Disneyland. California is a long way to go for us East Coast folks, and taking the trip for a race weekend seemed like a little much. Of course, then Disney announced that the Inaugural Star Wars: The Dark Side Half Marathon would be held in Walt Disney World and I couldn’t sign up fast enough! I had the opportunity to experience all the Dark Side had to offer this past weekend, and I have a lot to say about it (of course I do!) Here’s my Star Wars: The Dark Side Half Marathon Review.
Signing Up – It’s often said that signing up is one of the hardest parts about any distance race. When you click that “Submit” button, you are committing yourself both physically and monetarily to something that many people think is a little bit crazy. Let’s be honest, any distance race, whether it’s a half marathon, full marathon, Rebel Challenge, Goofy Challenge, or Dopey Challenge, is a crazy concept. You pay someone a good amount of your hard-earned money to run a really long way and experience some pretty serious pain! To be even more honest, though, I wasn’t even thinking about that this time when I signed up. I figured, it’s a half marathon (I’d already run more than a dozen of those) in Disney, with Star Wars characters? I’m in!
The Race Expo – As Disney race expos go, this one (at least for me) was pretty standard. I landed in Orlando on the Friday before the Sunday race so after checking into my resort, I headed straight for the expo. I was in and out with my runner bib, my commemorative shirt, and some strange flavored GU (more on that later!) in a matter of minutes. I then jumped back onto the bus, dropped off my stuff, and explored the theme parks for the rest of the afternoon.
The Day Before The Race – Here’s where I kind of let myself go off the rails for a little bit. If you are reading this and you’re thinking about running in a runDisney event, please don’t do what I did on the Saturday before the race. Basically, I got up in the morning, changed my FastPass+ selections around, and ended up going to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Epcot all in one day. I walked for close to 12 miles the day before a half marathon. I know what you’re thinking right now: Bad Move! And you’re right! I figured I had trained well enough, I had just run the Dopey Challenge a few months before (48.6 miles over four days), and I wouldn’t be sore during the Star Wars Half Marathon. I found out very early into the race the next morning that I was completely wrong about that!
Race Day: The Morning – My alarm went off at 2:45 AM on Sunday morning (can you even call that the morning?!) and I jumped right out of bed. By 3:00 I had already gotten dressed, eaten my banana and half of a bagel, and was heading out the door toward the Disney transportation which would take all of us runners to the pre-race festivities. I always love the pre-race stuff and this one was no different. There’s a real buzz in the air and it’s a mix of excitement, nervousness, and maybe even a little bit of The Force this time! More runners were dressed in costume for this race than any other runDisney race I had run in before, so that was really fun to see! I, of course, being a little bit lame only had a Darth Vader Dark Side t-shirt on, but hey, I gave it my best shot!
The Start – There’s nothing quite like the start of a runDisney race. No matter which corral you start in, you get the same exact, awesome start from the race announcers and Disney’s awesome cast members behind the scenes. Each corral’s start includes a ten second countdown, fireworks, and music that really gets you going. It’s honestly a phenomenal way to begin a race! So of course, I was off and running right away! I felt really great for the first few miles and thought I might be able to carry a pretty good pace throughout the entire race…then came…
The Course (not The Force) – This course was a little on the tougher side. No, there aren’t really any hills or tough terrain, it was just extremely crowded. So crowded, actually, and so narrow at many points throughout the race that you couldn’t run even if you wanted to. In a race of this size, there are always a good number of people who don’t follow race etiquette (walking on the right, running and passing on the left, not walking with four people side by side) so that also tends to slow down and confuse and frustrate some people. On the other hand, the course really was a fun one! The race started in the Epcot parking lot and continued through Epcot itself, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The finish line was staged inside Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which was different than most runDisney races. Disney put on a great show inside the parks with Star Wars sounds, music, lighting, special effects, and character meet & greets. Outside the parks there was also plenty to see as along the course there were several large screens where Star Wars movies were playing, plenty of photo-ops with Star Wars inspired sets and backdrops, and best of all, the 501st Legion. If you’re not familiar with who they are, they are Star Wars fans who dress in screen-accurate replicas of the costumes the Star Wars characters wear in the movies! They were all over the place, easy to access and get pictures with, and really made this race a ton of fun!
My Performance – As I alluded to earlier, I definitely shouldn’t have walked 12 miles the day before this half marathon! At about mile 5 or so, I started to feel some pain and tightness in my, um, let’s say right gluteus maximus muscle. That was literally the pain in my you know what that bothered me for the entire rest of the race. I was slowed to a jog/fast walk for the final 8.1 miles, but that really didn’t bother me all that much since I was able to take in all of the sights and sounds of the Star Wars Universe! The one thing that did bother me, however, was my GU (energy gel) of choice! So the day before at the expo I decided that I would give the Maple Bacon flavor of GU a chance. I figured I like when the maple syrup somehow gets on my bacon during the breakfast buffet so I really thought I’d like this flavor! What I didn’t take into account was that it would sit in my runner belt for miles and kind of warm up while it was in there. When I finally tasted the Maple Bacon flavor, I immediately regretted it! Maple and bacon are fantastic for breakfast, but together, in GU form, did NOT sit well! I’m going to stick to my old favorite flavor, Salted Caramel, for future races!
Final Thoughts – Overall, this was a fantastic new race that was put on by Disney! Of course, being a huge Disney and Star Wars fan, this experience was kind of a match made in heaven for me. I really enjoyed running through three of the parks (although I did miss running down Main Street USA a little bit!) and the finish at Disney’s Wide World of Sports was better than I expected it to be. The course entertainment was fantastic and there were plenty of water and Powerade stops, bathroom breaks, and first aid stations throughout the course. All in all, if you’re like me and enjoy both Disney and Star Wars, this would be a great race to add to your schedule for next racing season!
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