Just so you know, this is the final part of a series recapping the entire runDisney Dark Side Weekend, so be sure to check it out from the beginning to read about the Expo, 5k, and 10k, too.
2:00 am came really early. But it really wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. I got up, gathered my stuff, and made it to the bus in plenty of time. I ate my cookie, drank my Frap, and made chit-chat.
We were all feeling the early mornings, so there wasn’t nearly as much energy as there had been the previous two days. But don’t worry — it was still there.
However, this was the mood from nearly everyone who was doing the Dark Side Challenge (and those of us who had added the 5k on top of that):
That said, there were so many people at the race that day. I think the announcer said something like 17,000 people were expected to show up for the half-marathon alone. If I remember correctly, it was about 10-11k for the 10k.
That many people is just…a lot.
I was tired. I’d spent two days in the parks already, run two races, and this was my third day of 2:00 am wake-up calls. So I did what any normal person would do.
I skipped the photo ops (sorry, Kylo Ren) and went straight to corral F. Where I sat down on the pavement, twiddled around on my phone, watched people, and listened to the announcer show off cool costumes and do Star Wars trivia.
And I know I’m gonna sound like a Star Wars snob here, but that trivia was easy. Like…crazy easy. And people missed questions when asked. Like…what was the name of the ice creature that captured Luke Skywalker on Hoth?
SMH. S. M. H.
Anyway, the corral wait wasn’t too bad. I got to chill and sit, and I occasionally worked my way out of the crowd to the potty just to stretch my legs.
And I took a number of selfies with me in my new The Last Jedi cap. And as you can see, there’s a reason why I never wear hats.
The reason I wore a hat this time was that during the 10k, it was hot. Like, really hot. And I was fighting keeping sweat out of my eyes and ears the whole time.
So that night when I was buying medical supplies for my owie, I decided I’d buy a cap. Not only could I use it to keep the sun out of my eyes, but it would also keep the sweat from rolling down my forehead.
It was a great idea. Also, I love The Last Jedi, so I got to rep it, too. Win/win.
Before long (and by that, I mean nearly 3 hours later), it was time to leave the corral and hit the road. The fireworks exploded above us, the Imperial March played around us, and we all started to shuffle our feet (that’s all we could do because we were so packed together) and made our way to the open road and out of the crazy-thick throng of people.
We were off.
Running the Star Wars Dark Side Half-Marathon
The first part of the course is on a road with a field to your right and the parking lot where the corrals are to your left. But before too long, you run into an area with trees on both sides of you.
This is really when things get cool.
As you run, there are sounds in the distance. You move closer and realize they’re sounds of battle. As you get even closer, you hear the whine of TIE Fighter engines and the whoosh of X-Wings.
Then the blasters and lasers flash, and you see them light up the trees.
As you get closer, they’re louder and more intense. Even closer, you see that there are two sides fighting and shooting on either side of you.
And at a certain point at its most intense, you are running down the road and hear blasters and guns to the left, the TIE Fighter engines whine as green lights spray all over the road, and then red lights flash to the right, and a louder whine as an X-Wing is shot down.
As the lights flash across the road, there’s an actual explosion in the distance to the right where the X-Wing went down. You can see it and hear it and feel it.
I was there at the perfect moment, and it legitimately felt like I was in the middle of a Star Wars battle with TIE Fighters and X-Wings dog-fighting around me.
This is why you do runDisney races. It was one of the coolest, most surreal moments I’ve ever had running, and I am unbelievably happy I got to see the First Order blow that X-Wing to smithereens.
The Rest of the Race
I can’t say that the rest of the race was as cool or intense as that was, but they had gigantic monitors everywhere showing the Star Wars movies. The one I remember most is Return of the Jedi because as I pass one particular spot, I look up to see Admiral Ackbar on screen, and I hear “IT’S A TRAP!” being blasted from the speakers around me.
It was just so cool.
And every mile-marker had the time on it (gun time, not personal chip time), and a photo-op portrait of some Dark Side baddie. I grabbed a few that I really wanted, but didn’t go overboard.
I could have gotten all thirteen, but to be completely honest, it wasn’t worth the lines (yep, people crowded around these to get selfies, too), and it was so early that I passed the first 5 of them without even thinking about stopping.
At mile 6, though, right as I get to the 10k mark (well, .2 away from it, sheesh), I decided I needed a selfie with Boba.
I don’t know exactly how long it took me to get to the 6 mile marker, but it sure wasn’t 1:42:24. Since that’s gun time, it gives you an approximation that corral F waits ~45-50 minutes from the start time to hit the road.
As the run went on, the day got hotter and hotter. Buying that hat was the best decision I could have made. It did exactly what I needed it to do. Plus, I’m a fidgety kind of person, so it gave me something to mess with when my hands got antsy.
It’s also fun to realize that this is the only run that I have ever done totally without headphones.
Now, I train with headphones and audiobooks and podcasts and music. Always. So it’s really interesting to me that I was able to do it. But there was just so much to see. So many people to watch. So much Star Wars all over the place.
I never felt the need for the headphones to keep me going. More than that, I never felt the desire. That, y’all, is that runDisney magic and why people who don’t like to run will even do these races.
Jelly Beans and Star Wars Land
Well, I guess the actual name is Galaxy’s Edge, but it’s Star Wars Land just like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Harry Potter World.
And as we were nearing the final third of the half, we could see the construction over the trees and walls around Hollywood Studios. It wasn’t much, but we could see the structures being put up, and some were just scaffolding.
But it was really, really cool to stare at them as we ran. I can’t wait to get back down to Orlando to visit and experience all of it myself when it’s finished.
But from the look of it, that will be at least 2021 for me (hopefully with a birthday Dopey Challenge attached to the visit).
But where to the jelly beans come in? Well, as we rounded the corner that let us see the construction, there was a line of people with boxes full of tiny bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans.
(At least I remember them being boxes. They could have been bags, I guess. I’m not sure why I felt the need to make that distinction, but I felt like it was important.)
Y’all, in case you weren’t aware, jelly beans in the middle of a run is like glitter exploding inside you.
I was starving. I had already eaten my Gu. The heat had sapped me of energy worse than usual. Even though they only handed each runner one packet, I asked if I could have a couple more, and they smiled and very chipperly said, “Of course!”
That’s why I love race volunteers. They are some of the best people in the world. Heck, even if they were Disney Cast Members, whatever. The same applies. Anyone out in the middle of a race course, handing out water or candy or even holding a sign or giving high fives is a saint to the idiots out on the road beating ourselves against the pavement for hours.
Their smiles, their cheerfulness, and their willingness to hand over more sweet, sweet jelly beans all make race volunteers some of the best people in the world.
We Are In The Endgame Now
Wait…wrong Disney franchise. Sorry.
Anyway, after the jelly bean and Star Wars awesomeness, we made our way into Epcot, and I found this guy.
I might not have gotten a character photo, but I made sure to get a shot of me crossing the 10-mile mark with the Master of the Knights of Ren.
After that, it was a trot through Epcot before the finish. Since it was the final day and the big race, people had lined up at various points around the park and the route to cheer on their family and friends.
Even better, they didn’t discriminate and gave us all encouragement, cheers, and general smiles and happy vibes. It was awesome. Until then, I had doubted the people who said those kinds of cheerleaders were awesome.
I was wrong. They were right.
Having those folks there brightened my day and helped me out. They lifted my spirits. So thank you, Random Disney Strangers, for the boost.
That boost was much needed, and it got me to Starkiller Base at Milemarker 13.
I took this selfie before Poe and the rest of the Resistance could blow up the planet (yeah, have you thought about that? The good guys blew up a planet this time!). You can see in the background the finish-line chute that’s bringing us all in together.
Directly beside the route were spectator stands. People were in bleachers waiting for their friends and family to get to the chute. That was when I remembered that I should probably be on the lookout for my wife. She said she’d meet me at the finish line.
Waiting at the Finish Line
I saw her before she saw me, amazingly, and it’s because I was wearing my hat. She is totally not used to seeing me in any kind of hat, and I barely looked like myself. With everyone coming down the road, I understand me being just another dude in a Star Wars shirt and hat.
But I saw her, we hugged and high-fived, agreed to meet outside of all the finish line shenanigans in a couple minutes, and I went on and crossed the finish line.
As I did, I got the superbly beautiful Captain Phasma medal looped around my neck. (And got a runner in a Phasma costume behind me, too. Neato.)
After that, I went through the Challenge Gate (or what’s what I called it, at least), and I got my two other medals for the run: The Dark Side Challenge one for doing the 10k/13.1, and then the Kessel Run medal for doing the Virtual Half as well as the Dark Side Challenge.
Traditionally, the Kessel Run Challenge was more of a challenge than that. Used to be, you had to do the Light Side races at Disneyland in California as well as the Dark Side races in Florida to complete it. But since they’d cancelled the Cali races for a while, they made it so we could get the medal by doing the Virtual Half-Marathon.
I jumped at the chance because that Millennium Falcon medal is awesome. I think it’s my favorite one from the weekend, actually.
Once we had met up, I actually went to the medical tent and got them to wrap my legs and knees up with ice. It wasn’t that I was hurting that much (just normal stress from a half marathon), but I had done two other races, two other days in the parks, and I still had one more day in the parks to go. So…I wanted to be safe.
The medics and volunteers were — once again — delightfully friendly and fantastic, and I can’t speak highly enough of them.
After that, we took a trip through the pop-up merch shop, grabbed a couple souvenirs, and then made our way to the Magic Kingdom to meet up with Adam.
After all…we had reservations at Cinderella’s Castle to keep. There was no time for dilly-dallying.
Again, I know. Wrong reference. But I can’t think of one about a feast in Cinderella. So…there you go.
When signing up for the races, I knew I was going to reward myself with something. I wanted a good meal somewhere. Like a good meal. Adam and Jennifer picked the restaurants they wanted, and I chose to hit up Cinderella’s Royal Table after the half-marathon was finished.
I had eaten there on a previous trip to Disney World and still have my souvenir glasses in my kitchen. It was so much fun. So I wanted to treat myself and do it again.
We go in, and before you climb the stairs to the dining hall, you have an opportunity to meet with Cinderella and have your photo taken. I mentioned this in the 10k post, but face characters at Disney are weird.
And Cinderella was kind of mean and snarky, and I didn’t like her one bit. She acted like…I dunno. She looked down on us and was judging us for being a group of adults coming to eat there and do the princess lunch.
You can see the disdain on her face in this picture the attendants took.
She was just weird. I mean, not that I ever want anyone to get reprimanded at work, but I do hope she got removed from being Cinderella and put somewhere that she doesn’t judge grown men for wanting to eat at Cinderella’s castle. It’s Disney World for goodness sake.
Outside of her disdainful attitude, it was a lot of fun. We go in and get seated, and I am wearing my 3 medals together. I was proud of these things, y’all. I still am.
But they were noisy. They clanked and clanked and sounded like a cowbell every time I moved. It was getting on Adam’s nerves pretty badly, and he’s super chill, and he got snippy about it. Usually, I’m pretty easy-going and apologize and go with the flow. This is one time I snipped back. “I earned these,” I said matter-of-factly.
I removed them and put them in a locker after dinner so as not to really annoy him, but during that lunch, they were collectively my precious.
The dinner was fine. It wasn’t anything spectacular like I had remembered. I mean, it was good. It was more than good. I think the memory just colored my expectations a bit too much.
Also, one thing that went toward me wishing I’d treated myself to something different is just how creepy the princesses were. I don’t know what it is, but between them not really looking like the animated characters (obviously) and the strange, high-pitched, squeaky voices they use…I kind of hated that part.
Well, let me rephrase that. I hated that part at our table. I adored watching the kids interact with them and have fun and get their pictures taken. That part was truly awesome, and I loved it.
Parades and Dole Whip
The other two parts of that day that were worth mentioning are the parade that had the Incredibles characters in it. Primarily Bob and Frozone.
In case you don’t know, my wife is the biggest Incredibles fan on the planet, and when they invited people into the street to dance…she was there. I mean, she literally disappeared and Adam and I couldn’t find her.
She came back all smiles, having gotten an awesome selfie with Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) that she wasn’t supposed to take. They said no pictures. That did not stop her (or Bob) from doing it anyway.
Also, we’re pretty sure they meant kids to come out and dance, but she went out anyway. She was not going to miss that opportunity.
Also, I have wanted to try Dole Whip ever since I heard about how magical it was on an episode of Good Mythical Morning. So I found the place in Magic Kingdom to buy it. And it was just as good as Rhett and Link made it out to be. I want more of it right now. I wanted more of it then, but had already wandered off and didn’t want to walk back and stand in line for more.
The takeaway here? Get two Dole Whips when you think you only want one Dole Whip. You’re welcome. Thank me later.
And…That’s a Wrap!
After spending the day at Magic Kingdom, I just couldn’t stay late enough for the fireworks. I wanted to, but with the early mornings, three races, and three days of parks…I couldn’t do it.
The next day, we packed up our stuff and headed down to Palm Beach to visit some friends before returning to Alabama. My wife had to drive, though.
My legs were absolutely fried. It hurt to walk and move my legs. Not in an I injured myself sort of way, but in an I just ran three races and spend three days in Disney Parks kind of way.
I understand now why people say that if you’re doing the Dopey Challenge at over WDW Marathon Weekend, take it really easy in the parks. I can’t imagine still having a marathon to do with my legs feeling that way.
When (not if) I do the Dopey Challenge myself, I have totally learned my lesson. I’ll be much gentler on myself that weekend than I was during the Star Wars weekend. I am very glad that I learned it this way rather than pushing too hard later and really injuring myself — or worse DNFing the Dopey. 😉
In the end, the 2018 runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Weekend was insanely awesome. I had the time of my life, and I can’t wait to go back.
While I can’t say I am one of the people who will get a runDisney tattoo, I can understand why so many people do. The runDisney races are totally different experiences than any other races.
And I can’t wait to do another one.
Share some of your runDisney experiences and stories in the comments.