Since K and I did the inaugural Rebel Challenge at Disneyland, when runDisney announced the Dark Side half at Disney World, of course we had to sign up for it. When they also announced the Kessel Run Challenge, after registration for the Light Side at DL was already full, K was pretty distraught - he loves medals, has been chasing the Coast to Coast but our schedules never quite work, AND he LOVES the Millenium Falcon. So, we resisted the urge to do the Dark Side challenge, and planned on doing the half with a focus on park fun. My younger sister joined us to watch Lilly so we both could run.
I kind of forgot about the expo during the planning process. Well, not exactly - I knew we would have to go pick up our bibs and such, even though they are charging now for "VIP bib pick up" on race day. I just forgot that the expo closes at 4 on Saturday. Our flight landed around 1, we took the Magical Express to our hotel, Pop Century, and put our things in our room before heading to the expo. We got there at 3:45, realized it was about to close, and then ran to bib pickup. Once we had our bibs, we then ran next door to expo floor to pick up our t shirts. Most of the booths were already shut down, and even the runDisney shop had taken most of their stuff off the shelves by the time we got there. I did manage to pick up a new charm from Endure jewelry - I see her things at various expos, and always love them!
After flipping through the race guide, I also realized that race start was 5AM, not 5:30 like the Princess half. WHY?! It's so early! The maps for the start area weren't very detailed, so I assumed there would be a long walk to the start corrals, since the start was near Epcot, even though the finish was at ESPN. We got up super early, and waited in line for a bus for maybe ten minutes. Because there aren't coffee makers in the rooms at budget resorts, I ended up buying coffee at the Classic Hall; they also had grab n go stuff out, and some race power packs. I ate a banana and clif bar while we were on the bus, as well as my coffee.
Traffic seemed worse than I remember from other races as we drove to the starting area, so what would normally be about 12 minutes was almost a 20 minute drive. We got there shortly after 4, though, with plenty of time to use the portojohns, and walk down the VERY CROWDED street towards the corrals. The walk was much shorter than for other races, but for some reason, much slower and much more crowded. The labelled path actually went past all of the corrals, we could see them through trees, and ten had two exits which looped you around to the corral entrances, so you ended up basically u-turning and walking back towards your corral. I got to Corral C around 4:35am, and it wasn't very full at all. There were about 20,000 registered runners, I think, in 12 corrals, but the first few didn't seem overcrowded.
The first wave of wheelchairs went off right on time, and then corrals were pushed through about three or four minutes apart, with red fireworks and lasers for each wave. I was half asleep, had my music turned up, and was focused on my garmin, so I honestly don't remember too much about the first few miles. I appreciated the pace, though, since I was constantly running into walkers during my last Disney race. Corral C kept a pretty good 9:30-ish pace, right where I wanted to be.
At some point after the first mile, the course dumped right into the middle of Epcot, and ran around the world showcase, one of my favorite parts of Disney races! It then looped around in front of the Beach and Yacht Club resorts, and down the little canal towards Hollywood Studios. It then looped around HS, and past the main stage, where Kylo Ren and a bunch of stormtroopers were posing for photos. It went past the Hollywood Tower Hotel, and back out of the park.
Miles 5 to 7 were great for running, but went right past runners on the other side of the road, and I didn't know what mile they were on, but the fast people, aka the winners, and a few wheelchairs were over there while I was running towards Animal Kingdom. Turns out they were just past mile 10. We were nowhere near the turnaround point to get to that side of the road. Mile 8 was mostly inside of Animal Kingdom; I have never been to this park before, because it just doesn't seem like much of a priority for me, but I'm glad to finally get to run through it! There were a few photos stops inside, a couple of "hills," but overall, I wasn't that impressed. The biggest thing I remember here was stopping to switch my music to a new playlist.
Also, around mile 9, I felt a blister coming up on my foot, and made the mental decision to really push through it; up to that point, I was running around 9:30-9:45 miles, which isn't fast and didn't feel hard, but I was exhausted. It would have been easy to just walk a good portion of the last 4 miles, especially with a blister already, but I knew the "fun" parts were behind me, and I didn't want to prolong the inevitable. I stopped twice to get vaseline at the medical points to lessen the impact, which definitely cut into my finish time.
On my way back, coming up on mile 11, I was back to the side by side portion of the race, and could see the masses of runners who were only on mile 6. I also caught sight of K, who started in corral E and was taking it easy on his ankle, which he sprained a few weeks ago. He apparently stopped for almost every photo stop, and finished almost an hour behind me. Just after the last med stop, right before mile 12, the race went onto a gravel road through an access road towards the ESPN area, which really lent itself well to the endor-y photo stops they put up. We rolled into the well-manicured field areas just as the sun was fully up, and I was so glad I had carried my sunglasses the entire race, because it was blinding. Even though my knees were starting to hurt a little too, and my foot had a huge blister, I pulled myself up and ran along, all the way to the finish!
I finished in 2:16:20, less than a minute off my runDisney PR (Princess Half 2014, 2:15:40), which made me pretty happy! It's not breaking 2:00 yet, but that will come (with perfect weather, etc). I'm definitely gad I wasn't doing the full challenge!
The finish chute looped around and fed out into the family reunion area, which was huge and had little shade. My sister brought Lilly out after getting my 10K finish alert on her phone, and she had plenty of time to get photos with all the awesome characters waiting there: Darth Maul, Captain Phasma, Darth Vader, BB-8, and more. Lilly slept in her stroller the entire time! I was a little disappointed that more of these characters weren't out on the course, and once the main body of finisher's came in, the lines were HUGE. I also wish I had seen Jedi Mickey and Princess Leia Minnie :( I did get some photos with some stormtroopers on the course, and after meeting Captain Phasma, I can pretty solidly say I am definitely too short for a stormtrooper:
The medals, as usual, were pretty awesome. The half medal had a spinner in the middle, and the Dark Side theme, with lots of Empire symbols on everything, was apparent throughout the entire event.
Since Disney loves adding on expensive little perks, I was expecting more to be available with this race. A race breakfast would have been GREAT, especially with some of the characters (or Jedi Mickey), especially since they don't have Star Wars Weekends in the parks anymore. A VIP Chear Squad tent at the finish line, like they do with other races at Epcot and even at DisneyLand, would have been nice to get for my sister. The event did seem a little bit thrown together, like many of the new Star Wars things in the parks now, which is disappointing.
One HUGE perk, though, that started with this race, was adding race photos to PhotoPass! Instead of buying photos through MarathonFoto or some other third party, all race photos were taken by Disney photogs, and could be included in any other PhotoPass packages you buy; photos were still tagged by bib, so you do have to go in and input your bib number to add them to your PhotoPass account, but that way a runner doesn't need to have their magicband or photo card on the course with them. This was definitely a big plus, since we pre-purchased the memory maker package for the weekend.
I'll finish with a runDisney problem: getting back to your resort after a race, trying to get breakfast,,and trying to scan your garmin to pay for it.....(my magicband was on my other arm)