"Stay afraid, but do it anyway." -Carrie Fisher
I'm already planning on doing the 2019 First Order Challenge because I loved doing it so much this year. The course was pretty fun - for a half marathon to only have a pocket or two of semi-boring but still entertaining stretches, I'll take it, especially since it's Disney. Plus The 501st Legion appearances really do make all the difference!
The courses were different enough for me to enjoy both of them as separate entities, and I found the shared parts of the two helped me feel more comfortable with the 13.1 as far as the mental struggle sometimes goes since you know what's coming and can get excited for the parts that you like.
If you've never done a challenge before to tackle 19.3, my advice is to just trust your training. I felt really well conditioned after three prior half marathons to this one and found that the hardest part of the whole thing was waking up at around 2:30 a.m. two mornings in a row - though having to do so on Saturday definitely made it easier to go to bed early to wake up at that ungodly hour on Sunday!
If we're being completely honest... I knew I wanted to do a runDisney challenge as a part of my weight loss and fitness journey since it's something I never thought I'd be able to do. I was on the fence for Wine and Dine, but once the medals were released for this one, I knew I had to just take the plunge and go for it.
Totally worth it.
This will be a day long remembered...
The 2018 Star Wars Half Marathon - The Dark Side was my fourth ever half marathon and, by far, my favorite. Don't underestimate the power of the dark side... or of waking up at dumb a.m. to have your morning coffee, pre-race breakfast, and to your corral! Thankfully, the fireworks at the start line are always a good energy boost when you first get going.
I don't really have any photos from the first 5k stretch of the race for two reasons.
1. It was pitch black dark outside and the road was surrounded by woods, so most of the lighting was just provided by runDisney so we wouldn't trip, so any photos wouldn't have really come out anyway.
2. There wasn't too much to look at. To make up for this, Disney did have some cool set ups along the way: there was a part where they had audio going of Darth Vader speaking and some ominous lighting against the trees to make it seem like Vader was going to pop out of the woods at any given moment, and another where they had laser lights going and Battle of Endor sound effects to make it seem like you were running through the battle.
There were some photo ops here, but I didn't stop for them! You could sit on the Emperor's Throne or meet up with R2-D2 or some Ewoks.
But things got way more interesting once you approach Mile 4! You start to enter Animal Kingdom and are running along a road behind where Rafiki's Planet Watch is. I even saw an elephant playing in one of his pens! This road then lead us to the Harambe section of the park, which provided some beautiful views of the Tree of Life. From there, we ran down by Festival of the Lion King (where stormtroopers were to take photos with) to enter Pandora from the side, which was absolutely stunning to run through! The sun was already up when I was there, but my boyfriend got the chance to run through it while it was still dark (he is much faster than I am) and said the bioluminescent vibe was super cool to run down.
From Pandora, we ran by the Tree of Life, through Dinoland, and then exited to the parking lot from there! Along the way were photo ops with The 501st Legion. In the parking lot was a photo opportunity with a wampa and Luke's lightsaber stuck in the snow. From there, it was on to Osceola Parkway!
I imagine this stretch of highway would be pretty cool if you are a tourist, but as a local, I was admittedly kind of bored. It wasn't as bad as the long, boring stretch on the back end of Princess Half Marathon. At least, like I said, if you don't live here, you can probably appreciate the highway signs, the distant views of Blizzard Beach or the Tower of Terror median sign or the entrance sign as you pass on the other side of the road. But for me, the screens along the way playing movie clips just was not cutting it.
However, running the 10k the day before gave me the benefit of knowing what was coming up and thus something to look forward to, especially because the back ends of the two races were so similar (and it's one of my usual running routes).
Available photo op: Sabine and Ezra! There was no line for these guys, but I met them at the 10k so I didn't bother to stop again.
Finally, Hollywood Studios! Similarly to the 10k, Maul was waiting as we entered the back by Fantasmic. Once you got closer to Fantasmic, the 501st Legion was there waiting! I stopped to see some of my friends again since I was actually reppin' instead of dressed like Rebel scum, and then was on my way back down through Hollywood Studios. Once you exit Studios, it's on to the Boardwalk, where the course is narrow but filled with awesome spectators.
On the way in to Epcot was Chewbacca! This course takes you through a majority of the World Showcase - instead of taking you past Canada, you go the other way to enjoy a majority of the loop - with Mile 12 falling in Morocco - and then head on to Spaceship Earth. Once you got past Spaceship Earth, the 501st Legion was waiting with the Mile 13 marker! Once you got to the finish line, stormtroopers congratulated you as you crossed and you could then get your medal.
As aforementioned, this course (which happens to be the same as Wine and Dine's) is my favorite. The Princess Half Marathon course is magical because you get to run through Magic Kingdom, but hitting up multiple parks takes the cake in my opinion since it makes for an overall more exciting experience.
May the course be with you!
I can safely say that the Star Wars Dark Side race weekend is my favorite by a long shot. I ran the 10k back in 2016, it's inaugural year, and after seeing the medals for the First Order Challenge and 10k, decided to upgrade my half marathon registration to the challenge. Here's my review for part one of the challenge: the 10k!
I felt like I was going back to my roots with this one. That race, as I've talked about before, in 2016 was the one that completely shifted my mindset when it came to running and so it will always hold a special place in my heart. This race also really pushed me to getting serious about joining The 501st Legion, since the Makaze Squad (plus some other squads in the Florida Garrison who travel to Orlando) really shows up in droves for this race weekend to troop along the course for runners, which enhances the race experience as a whole. So let's get started with the very beginning!
I really prefer this staging area set up over the usual Epcot parking lot - the flow from your corral to the start line was MUCH shorter than Princess Half Marathon! This one, which is the same for the half marathon as well, has the stage and some portapotties when you first get off the bus from the Epcot parking lot (where you finish and park your car if you're driving yourself). There are character meet and greets on either side of the stage: Phasma, BB-8, Kylo Ren, Boba Fett, and Darth Vader were out at the start line, only to later move to the finish line once everyone was in their corrals. Since I was alone and got on a bus to the Ticket and Transportation Lot earlier than anticipated, I snapped a photo with Phasma and then went to my corral!
The first three miles aren't the most thrilling miles I've ever run, but there's enough to look at and it's dark enough where it's still fine for warming up. The first 5k takes you from Magic Kingdom to Hollywood Studios, so it's just a stretch of highway. It's cool passing the Magic Kingdom sign as you exit since it's all lit up! Along the way were photo ops for R2-D2, the Emperor's chair, and Darth Maul right before you got into Hollywood Studios, where the real fun begins!
You enter Hollywood Studios by Fantasmic, where The 501st Legion was waiting! I knew some of my friends that I troop with regularly were trooping in this location, so of course I had to see my sandtrooper friend and my fellow TIE who was hardcore judging my Rey outfit. From there you run behind the Tower of Terror and you're in the heart of the park!
When you're approaching Mile 5, you're spending a bulk of your time on your way to the Boardwalk. You spend a little bit of time out of Hollywood Studios from the front entrance, you loop around the Fantasia topiary, and then head down that small pathway that runs along the lake between Studios and the Swan and Dolphin. The course here gets really bottle necked, so please play it safe and slow your pace if you need to if you run this race! Besides, it's a really pretty part of the course, especially when the sun is just rising or it's still dark out.
Right as you were passing the ESPN Club was a photo op with Sabine and Ezra from the TV show Star Wars Rebels. I'm a HUGE fan of the show and they had literally no line - I think a lot of people didn't know who they were since the show was on Disney XD when it aired - and I was really happy because this was the only official runDisney character stop I cared about!
Mile 6 (and the last .2!)
The final mile takes you from the Boardwalk to entering the World Showcase by the United Kingdom. As you enter Epcot, there's a photo op with Chewbacca (and a very long line). Unlike the half, you only run a small portion of the World Showcase that takes you past Canada and then onto Future World. As you approach Spaceship Earth, they had a really cool photo set up where First Order stormtroopers were posing behind you! The line was super short, so of course I stopped!
When you reach Spaceship Earth, you head out along the side of it, where the mile 6 marker and the 501st Legion are waiting! Then it's on to the finish line, where a stormtrooper is on patrol (and down for selfies) on either side of the archway.
Shoutout to my parents, who were up bright and early to get a spot in the bleachers with a super funny homemade sign for me! My friends have taken to calling me "Little TIE" since I'm short and a TIE Pilot for the 501st, so that's what their sign was referencing. I saw them holding it in the crowd and started cracking up as I crossed, hence my especially wide smile.
Jessica is a huge Disney, anime, and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.