The Casual Runner

2017 runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

2017 runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

April 23, 2017

Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

Why I Decided to Run This Race

I cannot even tell you when I decided to run this race.  Having ran the inaugural 2016 Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon I knew that I wanted to retain my perfect status for this race from the time I even ran the race in 2016.

Race Expo/Swag Review/Shirt Game

I loved the Star Wars merchandise last year and knew that I wanted to be at the expo right at open, especially because of the shoe ornaments this year.  Staying at the Polynesian resort, Ashley and I got an Uber at 7:45AM for a 10:00AM expo open sporting my 2016 Star Wars Dark Side Challenge shirt game.  Why did we have to take an Uber?  Well, resort transport was not supposed to start running until 10:00AM and from previous expos I had learned that they tend to open early so going then I would not have the advantage of being one of the first people there.

We arrived at the expo and got in line for the merchandise in the ‘J Center’ at 8:15ish.  There were probably about 50 people ahead of at this point.  Luckily we did get there early because they let us in for the merchandise at 9:30AM and there was a line of probably about 200 people behind us.

We headed straight back to the official runDisney merchandise and got all of our goodies (including the shoe ornaments)!  Next stop on the list was Sparkle Skirt because I was looking for the perfect skirt for Princess Leia (which I found) and ended up buying a skirt for the half marathon (so glad I did, because I ended up loving these skirts!).  My last stop was New Balance for my check in points, but sadly there was no QR code at the expo for this race weekend.  I did end up going back to the expo on Friday with Mike so he could get his bib and stopped by New Balance again because Ashley wanted the Haunted Mansion shoes and when she checked out the price ended up being 20% off.  I ended up buying the Mad Tea Party shoes as well because of this great discount.  Unfortunately this discount was only on the women shoes, and our friend who got the Toy Story Midway Mania shoes did not get the discount.

After collecting all of our merch we headed over to the HP Fieldhouse to pick up our bibs and swag.  The swag for runDisney events has become less impressive over the years.  This year we received the clear race gear check bags with the three short sleeved shirts in them.  There were no Cliff Bars in there this time.  runDisney has really cut back on the free swag.

On our way out we stopped at the food and beverage table and enjoyed some fun drinks with light up Death Stars and Millennium Falcons in them.  They really do know how to get Star Wars fans to buy anything! Then we stopped for an obligatory medal banner photo op.


The Gear

Now I know I’m big on you should always run in something before you race in it.  Well I kind of broke that rule for this race.  I ran in my new Sparkle Skirt (swing style) for this race.  Technically I had tried it out the day before at the 10K, but I absolutely loved running in it and knew I would have no problem running in it for a half marathon.  In addition to my skirt I wore a Storm Trooper racer back tank top (to match Ashley’s Darth Vader tank), VSX Incredible sports bra, Steigen running socks, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 16 running shoes, 2016 Dark Side Challenge Sweaty Band, iPhone, and headphones.  What about a running belt?  Thanks, to my Sparkle Skirt I didn’t need one because there were pockets on the legs of the undershorts that I put my Gus in and I put my phone in the back pocket on the waistband of the skirt.  I also carried a large bottle of Powerade Zero, which was definitely a necessity!

The Pre-Race

As Mike had mentioned in his 10K review, we had not known how to take the walking path to the start line the day before, but for the half marathon we figured it out!  We (Mike, Ashley,and myself) headed from the Polynesian resort around 4:15AM to the Ticket and Transportation Center where we opted for a quick bathroom stop that was in an actual bathroom as opposed to a porta potty

Then we headed straight thru the Magic Kingdom parking lots to the back of them for the pre race party.  We actually ended up arriving at 4:40AM, which meant 20 minutes before the characters were leaving the party.  Of course that meant let’s get in line for BB-8!  After our photo op we headed toward the corals and wished each other “Good Luck” before Ashley and I headed to our coral.

We started in coral F and were unsure of how this race start was going to go.  Coral A’s fireworks went off and then two minutes later Coral B’s went off, then two minutes later Coral C’s went off.  Okay, so was there not going to be wave starts today? Two minutes later Coral C2 fireworks went off, again.  Okay, that’s weird but we will go with it.  Around this time they started to pull our coral into the starting chute and it was just like the day before they did not lead us from the front of the coral, they pulled us from somewhere in the middle.  For D and E there were two different waves as well.  We were not sure where we were wave wise for F, but soon realized we were in the second wave when we didn’t start with our fireworks.  I’m not exactly sure how many waves there were for F and G but I’m guessing at least three, because we were past the mile one marker when we heard the last set of fireworks.

Along the Course

This race began from the same starting line as the 10k the day before, and we were treated to a rambunctious marching band and an R2D2 photo op on this stretch. However, instead of continuing down the spacious lanes of World Drive as we did in the 10k, we took a sharp right onto a single lane road which led to immediate congestion in advance of the mile 1 marker.  We continued past the Speedway gas station to make our way out onto Bear Island Road to follow the course of the WDW Marathon.

Unexpected Magic. Hands down the highlight of the race occurred in the heavily wooded stretch of Bear Island Road when we found ourselves amidst a Star Wars battle scene straight out of a galaxy far far away! Race organizers combined laser lights, sound effects, musical scores, and other special effects to thrust runners into a heart pounding battle scene. It was incredible. This is the kind of Disney magic one expects from a runDisney race. Now, if only we had more of it….

Continuing on, we noticed that there were not very many bathroom opportunities on this stretch. I point this out because we saw several runners take off to relieve themselves in the trees. At one point, however, some women were openly scoffing at runners who were returning to the course after their visit to the trees. Lets be honest, can we? Get over it. It is a fact of distance running, people will have to go, just let them be and run your race.

Before the water treatment plant we found the coolest photo op of the race, the Ewoks! Unfortunately, everyone else agreed with me as the Ewoks had the longest line of any character stop we saw during the weekend. We crossed over Western Way, and were thankful to not have to do an out-and-back (like we did during both WDW Marathon and Wine and Dine). We ran past the Disney tree farms and made our way to the backstage entrance to Animal Kingdom, but sorry folks, no petting zoo this time. There was, however, a great photo scene feature the garbage compactor from A New Hope. 

It is always exciting to burst onstage during a runDisney race, and Animal Kingdom may be the most underrated of the parks to enter in a race. We entered in the Africa section of the park and turned left, but lots of runners decided to stop hear and avail themselves of the bathrooms as there were lines out the door (never underestimate the luxury of a real bathroom in the middle of a long race!). We continued along Discovery River and past the tree of life, following the same route as the Marathon.

Running past Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo theater, we stopped for a photo op with the Storm Troopers and gave them our best “Pew! Pew!” We were instructed not to touch them, but that rule did not apply to them as they pushed me into position for the picture. Hmmm…I guess the Empire has a double standard.

Moving on into Dinoland we smiled for our last Photopass photographer spots in the park and exited through a side entrance and began the familiar trek down the hill towards the parking lots, where we encountered some cosplayers and water station. Anyone who has run any of these races know that this stretch gets very crowded, so I fail to understand why runDisney makes it even more congested by placing a water station here.  The courses would be better served by pushing the stations a little further down, perhaps in the parking lot?

Speaking of the parking lot, it was not clear whether they intended us to run on the sidewalk or in the roadway as we made our way towards the park entrance, but the course was so crowded that runners filled both lanes.  We made our way past the main entrance to Animal Kingdom, and along a path to the parking lot where we found another water station (it was so hot an humid I definitely took advantage of each and every one of these), a medical tent, and a photo op with the ice cave from Empire Strikes Back. 

We exited the parking lot onto Osceola Parkway and yes, another welcome water stop, did I mention that it was getting hot? It was, and runners needed to focus on hydration, so we did just that. This is where I was a little confused by the course maps that runDisney released before the race. It turns out that we took a right turn down a ramp towards World Drive, and then did a sharp 180 degree turn to make our way north. We ran this stretch for a ways before making another sharp 180 degree turn to enter the same long on ramp from the 10k to transition from World Drive onto Buena Vista Drive.

From this point on, we would follow the exact same course as we did the during the 10k until we entered Epcot. By the same, I mean the same, including the same Darth Maul photo op in the exact same spot outside the entrance to Hollywood Studios. We entered a backstage area to Hollywood Studios where we found a water station to refill our bottles and proceed up a short but noticeable hill into the Fantasmic theater. To our surprise, there were no cosplayers in this section today, so we turned right and headed down a hill towards Tower of Terror and out onto Sunset Boulevard.

Sadly while running through Studios is always fun, in this era of Star Wars and Toy Story Land construction, this experience is all too short. We soon found ourselves outside the park and onto the path towards the Boardwalk area resorts. We love this path, however it simply cannot handle the volume of runners during these races and at times it was almost impossible to run. Another water stop gave us some much-needed hydration but also contributed to more congestion on this stretch. Luckily this would not be our final water stop like the day before.

We turned right and headed past the Boardwalk resort and all the way around the lake towards Epcot. I have it on good authority that Mike may or may not have received a bag of Cheetos at this point.  Photographic evidence may prove just that.

Chewie was greeting runners right before we entered the backstage area (again, the same as in the 10k) and the next and final water station. We entered World Showcase in the UK Pavilion and turned right to make our way around the lagoon the long way…which is the enjoyable way! Running around World Showcase is an exciting privilege, and it was made moreso with the Illuminations lanterns burning brightly and Star Wars music blasting from the speakers all along the promenade. Sadly, none of the food and beverage locations were open to sell us some tasty adult beverages, so I suppose every race has room for improvement.

Once past the Mexico Pavilion we turned right and headed directly towards Spaceship Earth and exited the park via the usual side entrance. There were a few cosplayers in the backstage area near the 13 mile marker. At this point, we exited directly into the finish chute for the last .1 miles toward the finish line!

The SMOpinion

When the medals were released for this race, I was not very excited about the half marathon medal because for some reason I have a strong dislike for Kylo Ren (worst Star Wars villain ever!).  However, after being somewhat disappointed by the 10K the day before I thought the half marathon was much better.  It was more than double the size of the 10K medal. The medal is on a red and black lanyard with First Order emblems.

We also received our Dark Side Challenge medals at the end of the race, which were my favorite of the entire weekend.  The medal is a large, silver Death Star with the race information going around the medal in maroon.  The lanyard is black with First Order emblems on it.

The Post-Race Experience

Special shout-out to our friend, Helene who was at the finish line both days to cheer us on after being at a High School Musical production both nights before.  She was the first face Ashley and I saw after crossing the finish line!

It was the typical  runDisney post-race finish. Got the half marathon medal, cooling towels, water, and powerade.  Medics were making sure we opened our fluid bottle of choice before preceding on with the hot temperatures.  Next we stopped to make sure our bibs were who they said we were so we could get our challenge medal, next snack pack and banana, and to finish we got our finish line photo.  Unfortunately we were in a hurry to get back and shower before we had to checkout of the room, so we could not stay around to enjoy the post race party.

Playlist Peek

I recycled my playlist from the 2017 runDisney Princess Half Marathon.  After the 15K mark I made a bathroom stop and decided to switch up my music to the Hamilton soundtrack.  Thanks, Steve for making sure that I listen to it all the time when I’m running now.

Looking Back Now

Will I run this race again?  Yup, I’ve committed myself to staying perfect for this race weekend and I don’t intend on ending my perfect status.  Hopefully this race is around for many more years, especially this course.  Many props to whoever decided to change this course from last years horrible course.

We have even more great articles regarding runDisney’s Dark Side – Star Wars Weekend!

Top 5 Tips for the 2017 runDisney Star Wars Dark Side Weekend
Inaugural runDisney Dark Side Weekend Preview
Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Weekend Recap & Overview
2016 Star Wars Dark Side 10k: Candace’s Race Recap, Jennifer’s Race Recap
2016 Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon: Candace’s Race Recap, Jennifer’s Race Recap
2017 Star Wars Dark Side 10K
: Mike’s Race Recap
 Star Wars CosRunning Concepts: Tangled Up, Beauty & The Bounty Hunter, Admiral Piett, The Droids, Han Solo and Leia
BB-8 Meet and Greet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!