One of the top things I nerd out about is Star Wars. If you’ve read this blog for long, I think that becomes apparent very quickly. So when Walt Disney World said that they were starting a Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, I was stoked. Star Wars and Disney and running, three things I love! When tickets went on sale in September 2015, I immediately purchased a half marathon bib. I figured that I had all the way until April 2016 to train and that there was no way I was missing the inaugural run. My sister and her husband decided to buy half marathon bibs as well and my other sister and her boyfriend bought 10Ks. My mom, stepdad, and grandparents decided that since all of us kids were going, that they were going to come as well. Now we had a full on family reunion coming up in April!
Training started off normally and I was building distance and speed, being able to run/jog for eight minutes before walking again. Then in January, due to unforeseen circumstances, I started teaching a brand new class that I literally knew nothing about. Suddenly, my nights and weekends were all about this class. How could I teach the students if I myself didn’t know the material? And who had time to spend 2-3 hours running? Certainly not me. My training came to a screeching halt. As the days ticked by, I realized that there was no way I could attempt a half marathon. As I silently cried, I also prayed that runDisney would let me defer until next year so that I didn’t lose my money.
Around the end of February, runDisney opened up all of the races for a few days, as they had previously been sold out. A new thought emerged – even if I couldn’t run the half marathon, surely I could powerwalk through a 10K, right? My sister and her boyfriend were doing the 10K, so I wouldn’t be alone. I decided to buy a 10K bib. At least I’d get the inaugural 10K medal, if not the half marathon. Training was still pretty much non-existent but I figured a good powerwalk would suffice.
The Star Wars half marathon weekend finally arrived. Kurt and I flew out on Wednesday night to be able to spend Thursday with the whole family in Magic Kingdom. We had a blast all together and Kurt and I finally rode the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. That had fantastic animatronics and a little surprise at the very end. I dressed in my Minnie dress and so did my niece Layla, who is 10 months. She was my Minnie mini me! She was so cute and luckily, does not fuss a lot, so Kurt and I were able to watch her when my sister and her husband wanted to go on the big rides.
Kurt and I spend Friday relaxing, since I had to wake up at 2:30am to get on the bus to Epcot before 4am. We walked around Disney Springs (the new name for Downtown Disney), had a horrible cupcake and doughnut at Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC (probably because they are gluten free, vegan, and kosher, which meant they tasted terrible to us and were insanely small for a $4.95 price point. Lesson learned – read the signage before you buy), bought a fabulous piece of Star Wars art called Boarding the Falcon and met the artist Rob Kaz, and generally just enjoyed walking around. We walked back to Saratoga Springs, which is just across the water from Disney Springs, and went to the runDisney expo.
At the expo, I got my bib and bought a runDisney visor since I like to run without the sun in my eyes. I also decided to get a runDisney vinylmation and luckily, got the chaser, a sweaty running Mickey. As we were about to leave the expo, I saw Jeff Galloway. If you know anything about running, then you have heard of the Jeff Galloway method of interval running. He’s a legend. As I’m speaking to one of the ladies working behind the table, trying to decide which book to buy, I realize I am talking to Barbara Galloway, Jeff’s wife, who is equally impressive. She and I talked for almost twenty minutes about everything from running to visiting Europe and I made a promise that next year, I will be ready to run a half marathon thanks to their book. She said she will remember me and look forward to seeing me again with the good news. I hope to make good on my promise! Finally, we headed back to the hotel to get in bed by 8:30pm. The morning of the 10K was fast approaching!
Saturday morning, 2:30am, alarm goes off. I got out of bed fairly quickly, showered, dressed, and made it out the door around 3:30am. Kurt stayed sleeping but I knew he’d meet me at the finish line. My sister and her boyfriend would meet me at Epcot. The bus ride took about twenty minutes from Saratoga Springs. It was a long walk from where the bus dropped us off to the corrals. I was in F, the last corral, but thankfully Dina and Brent were nice and started with me (they were in E and B, respectfully). As we anxiously waited for 5:30am and the start of the race, the giant screen with the host on stage kept us amused. Finally, 5:30am hits. Fireworks! Corral A is off! Oh, there is an almost ten minute wait between corrals. At 6:10am, corral F finally gets the fireworks and we are off! At 6:12am I cross the start line. There is a marching band playing Star Wars music. There are people in costumes. Dina, Brent, and I do interval jogging, but it is hard because there are so many people and plenty of them are powerwalking. About a half mile into it, I tell Dina and Brent to jog without me. My severe undertraining is apparent already, with shin splints starting, so I know I will just powerwalk it through and pray I don’t get swept.
Mile 1 was not bad and we entered Epcot right by Mexico, where Mexican Donald usually stands. It was right in the predawn and Spaceship Earth (the Epcot ball) was illuminated beautifully. I risked a few second stop to take a selfie. I didn’t stop and take any pictures with any characters because I knew I was at the back of the pack. I had already passed R2-D2 right at the mile 1 marker. We made our way through Epcot and exited right by the United Kingdom. Chewbacca was over there, but once again, no stopping for me.
Mile 2 ended at the Boardwalk. If I would’ve thought about it, I could’ve told Kurt to stand out there and cheer me on, as other people were doing, but that’s okay. He sweetly sent me encouraging texts that I could read on my Fitbit Surge throughout the race. We then entered Hollywood Studios by The Tower of Terror, where the mile 3 marker was. At this time, the balloon ladies, the ladies who keep a 16-minute mile pace, were starting to pass me. I was so focused on trying to keep up with them that I completely missed the third mile marker. Right after the third mile we all passed a checkpoint and I got a text on my Fitbit Surge that told me that my 5K pace was 17:17 and that 53:42 had passed. As we got out of Hollywood Studios, the balloon ladies passed me up. My legs were heavy and I started to get a cold sweat every time I tried jogging, which scared me more than anything, so I resolved myself to powerwalk as best as possible and pray I didn’t get swept. We were now along the road and cars would beep and cheer for us as they passed, which was very encouraging. Mile 4 was in the middle of the road stretch. I unfortunately saw two people fall and hit the pavement hard. Many of us were sweating profusely and struggling to keep up. The balloon ladies were a good fourth of a mile ahead of us and this was where they could easily sweep us and put us on the buses, dashing our hopes of finishing. At one point, the bicycle people, who are the real ones to fear since they are the sweepers, stopped right in front of me and I heard one of them say, “These people are 30 seconds off pace, we can’t let them go pass a minute.” Uh oh!
Luckily, we turned down a dirt road through the trees and there was mile 5. One more mile (and a 0.2 of another) and we would all be home free. No turning back, way less of a chance of getting swept since we weren’t blocking the road anymore. I started keeping pace with one girl who said she was one of the ones that fell. Her ankle hurt pretty badly, but she would finish the race no matter what. She helped keep me going through our trek out of the woods and onto the ESPN Wide World of Sports. I got a text alert that Dina and Brent finished and I was happy that I wasn’t too far away myself. As we neared the mile 6 marker, the 501st were there in their costumes. Though I didn’t stop, their presence was a welcome sign that it was almost over. I had to take a selfie at mile 6, since this was my first 10K and despite not doing any training since January, I finished it. As I saw the finish line, I saw my mom and Kurt in the stands, cheering me on. Nothing made me happier and pushed me to actually jog across the finish line then seeing them cheering for me. I happily got my medal and posed for a picture. I did it! My final 10K pace was 17:17, same as my 5K (I’m nothing if not consistent) with a finishing time of 1:47:20.
Kurt captured the moment on video too!
In all, the race was a blast. Was there bottlenecking? Yes, especially going into Epcot and leaving Hollywood Studios. But, remember, I was in the back of the pack. We were all slow. I think people who had better corrals did not experience so much bottlenecking because more people could actually run faster. I wish I could’ve stopped and take some character photos, but I knew my limitations and knew I would never finish the race without being swept if I had waited in those lines. I heard people in earlier corrals were able to take quick photos because the lines weren’t as long. The Disney photopass people were in plenty of spots so I have some great shots of me running/powerwalking. Buying the Disney Memory Maker was one of the best decisions I made because we have over 500 photos from our trip, including every one of our race photos. After the race, there were incredibly long lines that we could’ve waited in to take photos with Star Wars backgrounds, but we were all so tired that we went back to the hotel. I had a Disney Vacation Club presentation to attend and Dina and Brent wanted to take a nap. #teamnonap went straight to the DVC presentation then went straight to Hollywood Studios still in my race getup, medal and all, until 9:30pm. By the time I went to bed that night, right at midnight, I had been up and moving for twenty-one and a half hours. I walked over thirteen miles. My feet were in agony. But I had a fabulous time and hopefully, I can actually train and do it again next year!