Sunday, April 17, 2016

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

Waking up at 2:30 am is not my idea of fun on any level. All I want to do is get back in bed, snuggle with the cats, and refuse to wake up until they demand to be fed. Which is usually 6 am because they've decided that "yes, you have the day off but we're going to die if you sleep an extra two hours."

Anyways, this morning I had to be up at 2:30 am for the Dark Side Half at Disney. Not my idea of a good time to wake up, but super exciting because this was the first year they were going to run the race.

I dressed, fed the cats, and was out of the house by 3 am. I got to the Disney area around 3:30 but didn't actually get to the Epcot parking lot until around 4:00. Traffic wasn't bad but everyone was taking it slower than normal. If I had one piece of advice for those driving to a runDisney event at Epcot it would be to stay to the left when parking. That would have gotten me one parking lot closer to where the bus drops off which would be greatly appreciated.

Once I parked and got the rest of my costume settled, I realized that I forgot the water bottle I always run with. It was still sitting in my fridge back home. After digging out a disposable water bottle, from the black hole I call a trunk, I walked over to the staging area. The walk from the Discover lot took about 15 minutes, and bag check took less than 2 minutes. I like that Disney has clear signs directing runners to bag check and bagless check.

When I got past the bag check area I headed on over to the corrals. This walk seemed further and a bit more convoluted than the walk to the corrals for the princess half. There was one LED board directing runners to the correct corral area but that was about it.

When I reached the corrals I was greeted with the typical giant "balloons" that Disney uses to mark the corral. I was in E and it was fairly simple to find. While I was waiting for the race to start I didn't feel like my corral was too crowded or pushy. There was room to stretch and room to sit and wait.

It seemed like the first few corrals were released pretty quickly and the next thing I knew it was time for E to get sent off! The rest of the runners in my corral set a nice pace and I was content to just get caught up in the flow. At almost exactly the 1 mile mark (according to my GPS) there was a meet and greet for R2D2. Because I had based my outfit off R2 I knew I had to suck up the time loss and wait for him. The line took about 10 minutes and, according to a gentleman behind me, it was much faster than the line for R2 during the 10K.

Once I had my coveted picture with R2 I hopped back on the course and took off! If you've ever run the Princess 10K then the first two miles follow that course with some slight variation. Instead of going to the left towards the Boardwalk Inn and Villas you go right towards the Yacht and Beach Club. I was happy to avoid the Boardwalk area because those boards scare me. One of my positions at Disney was at Boardwalk and after seeing how slick and uneven those boards can get I was happy to not have to run on them.

*Quick note, the Yacht and Beach Club also have a Boardwalk but for some reason I'm less freaked out by that one*

The course after the Yacht and Beach Club narrowed a bit. If you've ever walked from the Crescent Lake Resorts to the Hollywood Studios then you'll have an idea of how narrow the path can get. It's a nice even run that allows you to set a relaxed pace without worrying about potholes or hills. As a quick note, when transitioning from the Boardwalk area by Community Hall to the canal path there was a temporary section that appeared to be concrete but was actually painted boards. Because I had expected concrete I was not expecting the "give" that comes with boards. This wasn't a dangerous area but it threw me for a moment.

The loop through Hollywood Studios (MGM, DHS, or whatever you prefer) was disappointing. I found it too short for the park and very brief. This might change later after the construction is completed but I'm sure that will be revealed at a later date. I had hoped to run past Launch Bay just because it was Star Wars themed and because a friend usually works there early in the mornings.

Once we exited out Studios, past Tower of Terror, there was a nice chunk of road running. The section from miles 4-7 took you to Disney's Animal Kingdom along the roadway. This was not a hard stretch of the course but it was boring. This leg of the race does "double back" with an ending section (miles 9-12), I couldn't help but get envious of those that were almost at the end of their run. I was still in the first half and they were getting ready to get food!

The longer it took to get to DAK the more stressed I got. DAK is hot and awful during the day when I just walk around the park, I was not looking forward to running through DAK during sunrise. To get into DAK you have to fishtail through the parking lot and enter the park by Dinoland U.S.A. The Cliff Shot table is located just before you enter the park. I found it amusing that runDisney set up this table at the parking lot so runners didn't leave too many gel packets in the park. As a friend reminded me DAK is very conscious about trash that can get to the animals.

DAK was a shockingly easy run, it wasn't too hot or humid and despite the uneven walkways I did not encounter an issue. Once you exit out of DAK you're thrown right back onto Osceola Parkway. This is the section of the race that "doubles back". This is also the section that pushed me to my limit. The sun had come up while I was in DAK and it shined right into my eyes for this whole section. I should have thought to bring sunglasses but I am the person who forgot my running water bottle so I obviously can't expect too much.

It was around mile 11 that I had my first sighting of the dreaded sweeper vans. During Princess I didn't even see the balloon ladies, but on the "double back" I saw them heading towards DAK. About half a mile after seeing the ladies I saw the bus. My heart broke as I saw a runner stop and wait for the van to stop for them, I can't even imagine how upset I would be if all my time and work would end on a bus.

Seeing the bus forced me to rally and go harder than I should have. I knew I was in the clear, but I just panicked. Because of this rally my last two miles hurt more than I ever imagined they would. There was a med tent around mile 12 that I stopped at for BioFreeze for my shins. I really credit this little bit of BioFreeze with getting me through the last leg.

For a quick note about the kindness of runners, there was a gentleman dressed as R2D2 (I believe) who ran close to me duirng this section. He must have noticed that I was hurting or simply wanted to give some encouraging words to a fellow runner, but he spoke to me for a bit and commented that "we're almost done, I can smell ESPN. Can't you?" Now I don't know who this gentleman is but I really appreciated him saying that. I gave me a bit of a push to keep going at my pace. Thank you, R2 guy. You are awesome!

Along mile 12 there was a dirt road to get into ESPN WWoS. This was a nice easy section on my legs, it gave my shins a break and let me relax into a comfortable pace. Getting back onto the pavement at WWoS was not fun. I had really hoped they would keep the dirt section going or have a grass section. My legs would have loved that. This last chunk was filled with spectators cheering and encouraging runners that there wasn't much more left.

The finish line came up a bit faster than expected and before I knew it I was getting handed a medal and a wet towel. Like most Disney races the post-race support was amazing. There was a self help medical tent, plenty of water, Powerade, and snack boxes. The lines moved quickly and before I knew it I was at the bus for the Epcot parking lot.

This line took forever to get onto a bus, and my bus ended up being a Disney bus where some passengers had to stand. I felt like we were on the bus forever, but before I knew it I was back at my car ready to head home for my food and a nap.

This a race that I will probably participate in next year. I felt it was organized, a good course, and a fun theme.

If there was one big fault of the race it's that I didn't mark down where I parked. As a former parking CM I should know better than anyone else to ALWAYS mark my parking location. I was that idiot after the race walking around, clicking my alarm, trying to find my car. Thankfully none of my parking friends saw that one.

One last note, my costume idea and shirt template were taken from the following link.

Shout out to Brit + Co for providing detailed instructions and an adorable idea!!! 

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