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With COVID-19 impacting literally everything, including races, it's been a huge adjustment for me. When I first started my running and weight loss journeys, I always had something on the books. Whether it be a 5K or a half marathon, it was my way of sort of forcing myself to keep up with my training. There was one year where I even ran in an organized race event every single month! However, it's allowed me to shift gears and also shift my goals.
I've run a half marathon... six times. I don't have anything to prove to myself anymore in the regards of knowing I can go the distance (take that, sciatic nerve damage!). However, I do have something to prove to myself... I can go faster. I've been a huge fan of Jeff Galloway's run/walk/run program (it's been a literal lifesaver for my aforementioned nerve damage) and will always recommend it to people starting out or looking to change up their routine. But I want to go beyond my comfort zone and improve my time.
My ultimate goal is to run a 5K in 30 minutes or less. I'm in absolutely zero rush to get there, and not having a date for that goal is actually refreshing after years of constantly having something on the books. I'll get there when I get there, and likely blog a few more times about it along the way to hold myself accountable, but I want it to feel incredibly natural so I don't hurt myself or get disappointed if I'm not at a certain place by a certain day.
Music has always been such an important part of running for me. It really does make or break the experience! I've done a few different things: when I was first starting, I was really into the "Zombies, Run!" app and later, got really into listening to different soundtracks. I'd listen to the Star Wars OST when training for the inaugural Star Wars 10K or to Disney music when training for the Princess Half Marathon. It was really effective!
But now, I want to just vibe and go, so I've been turning a lot to K-pop and J-pop (music I've enjoyed listening to for years now). I speak only a little Japanese so while I may pick up a word or phrase here in there in songs, I don't really know what they're saying, and I don't speak any Korean at all. Having the music just be really fun songs that I don't know the words to has been a great way of making sure I don't get too distracted by the music.
One Korean girl group I really, really love is LOONA. Each member of the group has a few singles of their own, and there are a few subdivisions within the group. Their vibe is really fun, upbeat, and each girl/subdivision has a unique sound. Most, if not all, of their songs are - as far as my understanding goes - about love and/or girl power, so it makes for a really uplifting running experience. I've compiled a few of my favorite songs by LOONA in order for a warm up, run, and cool down that you can try for yourself whether you love K-Pop or are looking to expand your horizons. I even put them together in a Spotify playlist! Since Spotify is shuffle-only for free accounts, this is a great option if you're looking to go for a run/walk/run and want to let the music decide your intervals for you.
What do you like to listen to when you run or walk (or both)? Let me know in the comments!
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Did you know there are plenty of places to go for a run or walk at the Walt Disney World resorts?
Whether you want to get in a long walk or go for a short run, there are tons of options! Let's explore them!
Boardwalk Resort area
Running around the Boardwalk is my favorite for longer distances. It's beautiful, especially in the early morning when there isn't really anyone out and about except for people who want a super early morning cup of coffee or other runners, and you get to (sort of) experience two of the parks along the way - Epcot and Hollywood Studios!
I recommend starting at the Boardwalk Resort area and then you have two choices: left or right. I'd recommend making this decision based on the time of day; for example, if I know the sun will be rising around the time I'm heading to Epcot, I enjoy watching it so I'll plan accordingly. For article's sake, let's say you go right first!
When you head right and follow the path along the lake and over the little bridge, you'll end up at the International Gateway entrance to Epcot, so rather than entering the park you'll want to head back to the Boardwalk. You can pass the Yacht and Beach Club and the Swan and Dolphin; each of these resorts also has their own running paths if you'd like to tack those on for extra mileage, or you can keep heading past the Swan and Dolphin and take the path that leads you to Hollywood Studios.
When you reach Hollywood Studios, again, you'll want to turn around to head back rather than enter the park (unless you bring your Magic Band or ticket and the park is open)! This part of the path gives you a really cool view of the Swan and Dolphin resorts and Tower of Terror. I like starting and stopping at the Boardwalk because once I'm back, I like to treat myself to a nice, fresh cup of coffee from the Boardwalk Bakery afterwords!
Parking options: If you're staying at any of these resorts, you have plenty of parking options given the loops are all connected around the lake. If you're not staying at this resort, I'd recommend parking at Hollywood Studios and having that be your start point (since I get free parking with my Annual Pass, this is what I do).
Polynesian Resort and the Grand Floridian Resort
This route is on the short side - a mile each way - but it is one of my absolute favorites due to the breathtaking sights and sounds. It's best enjoyed at sunrise, in my opinion; I think that's how Walt intended for us to admire the look of the Polynesian Resort since running this trail! However, at night sometimes you get great views of the electrical parade that they do on the Seven Seas Lagoon.
If you're starting at the Polynesian Resort: Start at the Moorea building and go to the right of it. When you turn the corner, you'll see the ferry boats that take you to Magic Kingdom and the bungalows with a view of the Seven Seas Lagoon. You can see Cinderella Castle, the train station, Space Mountain, and Astro Orbiter as you run by the bungalows, and I recommend leaving your headphones behind for this route so you can enjoy the sounds of the Walt Disney World Railroad (yes, you can hear the train whistle!), the ferry boats, and the monorail.
When you reach the pool and boat dock, you're gonna head around the dock and then, once you're on the other side of the pond, take a left to go by the resort and follow the path to the Grand Floridian; if you see the Wedding Pavilion in the near distance, you're in the right spot because you're going to pass it. You'll then head like you're going into the Grand Floridian and going around the back of it so you're back by the Seven Seas Lagoon. You'll pass the pool at the Grand Floridian and then after going up the steps, you'll find your way in the resort near a fountain. If you want, you can turn around here, or you can keep going towards your right to head down to the boat dock for a nice view of Magic Kingdom and the monorail and then turn and go back the way you came.
If you're starting at Grand Floridian: It's basically just reverse from above. Start from the resort, head down towards the pools and once you hit the beach, just follow the path to the Polynesian, passing the Wedding Pavilion on the way. You'll head to the Polynesian's boat dock and go around the pool and then make your way by the bungalows. Head all the way down to the Moorea building and then turn and head back!
Parking options: If you're staying at Grand Floridian or Polynesian, you can stay there. If you aren't, park at Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and take the walkway to the Polynesian Resort. I like parking at the TTC and counting my walk from my car to the Polynesian walkway as my warm up.
This route gives you a beautiful view of Disney Springs and actually takes you there! There are many ways you can take to tack on mileage so if you want something shorter or longer, you have your pick!
There's a path that's just shy of a mile long that takes you through The Springs and The Paddock areas that is mostly along the water (and beautiful!). This is where you're going to get stellar views of Disney Springs! You can also loop through the different sections of the resort and find new paths. Most roads eventually lead back to Disney Springs if you get lost!
And if you ever do get lost, there are tons of signs around the resort area with a map so you can eventually find your way back!
Parking options: If you aren't staying at Saratoga Springs, you can access the path from Disney Springs. The path near the golf course is tucked behind House of Blues and Cirque du Soleil, closest to the orange garage, but be careful of golfers! The other part (where I recommend starting) is tucked away behind Disney's Days of Christmas. The path there starts near where the "Happy Holidays" statue is behind the store. This side is closest to the lime garage.
Bonus: Every Thursday morning, there's the Derby Dash 5k at Saratoga Springs! Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the fun run starts at 8 a.m. in front of Community Hall. Registration is only $15 - just inquire with the front desk! You don't have to be staying here to participate. There is also a free walking league through the resort area - no registration required - on Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m., meeting in front of City Hall and walking for about 1.75 miles through the resort. Read more about events like this here.
This trail is a 0.9 mile loop around Bay Lake Tower and the South Garden Wing. You can add on some distance if you go by the tennis courts. You could also go from the Contemporary, head towards the Magic Kingdom, and run past the boat launches and monorails down a brick road. This brick road - which you may have seen from above while waiting for a monorail - leads to nowhere so it's a good turn around point, but this is a super busy area between foot and road traffic, so exercise caution (and maybe save it for early mornings).
Parking options: Contemporary Resort if you're staying there, or park at TTC and take a monorail over.
Pop Century and Art of Animation
Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter
Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter have a loop about 1 mile long that connects the two resort grounds! It takes you around a majority of the resort buildings, so no matter where you're staying, you likely have access if you're at one of the Port Orleans hotels. This run has a really pretty view, as it goes around some lakes, and the buildings for this resort are a very pretty, southern style.
Bonus: Every Sunday morning for $15, you can participate in the 1.5 mile Beignet Dash! Registration is at 7:30 a.m. at French Quarter with the fun run beginning at 8 a.m. You get beads, some other freebies, and a coupon for three free beignets. Read more about this here!
Wilderness Lodge & âFORT WILDERNESS CAMPGROUNDS
This is a great trail for nature lovers! There are signs posted throughout that let you know where the bike and jogging trail are, but it weaves through Fort Wilderness and takes you eventually to the Lodge. You can weave different ways depending on the mileage you want to get, and parts of the path are either paved or just nicely packed dirt. And because of the location, you've got a good amount of shade here!
You can start near Tri Circle D Ranch at Fort Wilderness, near the main lobby at Wilderness Lodge (where you'll see some signage), and a path near the bike rental building at the Villas. If you get lost, there are some New Balance maps around!
Old Key West Resort
This designated running path is just shy of a mile and a half long, and it starts over near some of the other sporty resort amenities. You can take a few different routes: Peninsular Road, South Point Road, and/or Old Turtle And Road. If you'd like to scope it out before you run, it's marked on the map for Old Key West as the New Balance Running Trail.
Caribbean Beach Resort & Riviera Resort
Caribbean Beach Resort is a pretty big property, so I highly recommend going here if you want a longer run! This property is gorgeous and covers a lot of ground, and it also connects to smaller-sized Riviera Resort. This also connects to the Skyliner, so if you want to hop on and run elsewhere, the main hub is at Caribbean Beach.
You can cover at least 1.7 miles at Coronado Springs - where they also have their own fun run - whether you're jogging or biking. This path takes you around the lake, but you can also add a little more distance by following some other paths around the resort.
All Star Resorts
Similarly to the Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts, this is another fun spot to go for a jog because of all the fun little photo opportunities tied in to the resort's theme and different sections of the resort. There's a course that takes you through Sports, Movies, and Music, and you can even take part in the All Stars and Icons fun run! It's about 1.2 miles long.
Want to run at Walt Disney World without paying runDisney prices?
If you’re looking for an inexpensive yet fun way to stay active on your Disney vacation, then look no further than the resorts! There are plenty of fun runs at the Walt Disney World resorts to choose from… and the good news is that you don’t have to be staying at these specific resorts to participate!
Every fun run is $15 per person (free for kids 3 and under) and includes a cute little medal (nothing as hefty as the runDisney ones, but a cute trinket regardless) and either a free treat or some resort swag. Dates and times are subject to change, so double check with the resort’s cast members to be sure if you’re interested! Some of them offer pre-registration, but you’ll have no problem signing up the day of if you get there 30 minutes early.
Fort Wilderness hosts runs seasonally, so check with the cast members working there to see when and where they’re being hosted, if at all. If you’re there for the Fourth of July and want to run for Dole Whip, check out the PIneapple Dash at the Polynesian Resort! Check with resort cast members for exact times, as it may vary from year to year, but you can expect for it to be around 8:00 a.m., give or take.
The Beignet Dash:
Southernmost Point 3K:
As the name suggests, this Old Key West Resort fun run is a course shy of 2 miles long that starts near the playground closest to Sandcastle Pool. You can enjoy this race every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., with registration happening at 7. To preregister, check with Cast Members in the Community Hall!
All Stars and Icons:
This 1.2 mile fun run happens every other Tuesday at The Reel Spot at All Star Movies. You can register the day of or you can pre-register at All Star Sports’ Surfboard Bay Pool. Registration the day of begins at 7:30 a.m. with the race kicking off at 8.
This Boardwalk Resort course takes you for a 1.4 mile fun run at 8 a.m. every Friday! You can register by Jellyrolls at 7:30 a.m., and the race starts where you register.
The Regatta Run:
Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club hosts this 3K every Thursday at 8:00 a.m., with registration held at 7:30 a.m. the day of. Call the resort if you’re interested in pre-registering. The starting point and registration location is at the marina just outside of the Yacht Club.
Want to run a 3K around Saratoga Springs? You can every Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m., with registration at 7:30. Just head to the Community Hall to sign up and get started!
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Ready for some sun salutations?
No matter what your level, there are a ton of free morning yoga classes offered at Walt Disney World resorts for guests! I didn't even know this was a thing until I was resort hopping on Easter morning this year, only to see the sign hanging out near where the White Rabbit and an egg hunt of sorts were going on! I love yoga and Disney can be a pretty stressful vacation, so this is a great chance to unwind and feel some inner balance among the chaos that can often be a Disney vacation!
Resorts that offer yoga
The recreational activities usually change, and there have been times when I have or have not seen something available, so I recommend using this list as more of a guideline than a set-in-stone schedule. Each class is a half hour long unless otherwise noted.
I'll update this list as I see more signs around resorts or as things change! As aforementioned, always check with the cast members at your resort before your stay just in case times or dates have changed.
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The Star Wars Rival Run Weekend was one for the books! Even though this was my fifth half marathon, I faced a few challenges for this race that definitely kept me on my toes. Whenever I get a cold, it starts with a sore throat… which I woke up to on Wednesday morning. Thankfully it never progressed beyond that (thank god for Zicam and cough drops!), but I was also worried about my knee on top of it since I hurt it about a month prior (don’t laugh, but I hurt it doing a BollyX video, which is basically bellydance meets Zumba) to race day. But I took a page out of Han Solo’s book - “Never tell me the odds!” - and pushed through it anyways!
I’m going to do my best to make sure these character locations are accurate; they’ll be approximate, though, as I don’t recall exactly where along the mile they were!
Characters: Rey on a Takodana backdrop
Marker: Kylo Ren
What I remember above all else is how humid it was at the start! I was in Corral F and in the second wave of it, so we started around 5:58 a.m. based on when I started my Garmin (the first corral started at 5:30, so we didn’t wait too terribly long once they started sending them out). The course hasn’t changed from last year, so it was nice going into this half knowing exactly what to expect. You run past the Magic Kingdom sign, which is pretty neat, but it’s a pretty straight forward run. What I do like is seeing the fireworks go off from the other corrals, though - not only because I enjoy viewing them, but it’s nice to get a gauge for how many people I’ll have behind me.
Characters: None, but you could pose in Emperor Palpatine’s throne!
Marker: Darth Sidious/Palpatine
I actually always have to give runDisney kudos for how interesting they make this stretch. Running down Bear Island Road to get from Transportation and Ticket Center to Animal Kingdom could very easily be a 2 mile boring run through the woods down a service road, but instead they totally jazz it up. You start with red lights (in the nearly pitch black dark, otherwise) and a recording of Vader’s breathing and some taunts from the Sith Lord, so it gives the illusion of you running from Darth Vader. Combined with other light effects it is pretty cool! Plus as you go further down, there are more lights plus some fire and explosions with the sounds of Ewoks and blaster fire to make you feel like you’re running through the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
Characters: Ewok, plus a trash compactor photo op
Marker: Boba Fett
Towards the end of this Bear Island Road stretch is the Ewok photo op plus where you turn to start moving into the back of Animal Kingdom. As you get closer, you start to see some greenhouses and also where they keep the elephants and rhinos when they aren’t roaming the park and need some care! This part is always exciting, too, because you know you’re getting closer to Animal Kingdom.
It was around this point that the knee injury I had started flaring up, but nothing serious. On top of it, my cough drop that I took at around 5 a.m. before we started had worn off… but my Clif block, however, held me over until I wanted to use the other cough drop I had in one of my pants pockets! Don’t try that at home, kids; I do intervals of running 30 seconds and walking for 60 seconds when I do a half marathon, so I only did so for my 60 second walk break to avoid accidentally choking on it!
Characters: First Order stormtroopers and Resistance Fighters in Animal Kingdom
Marker: Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, not Billy Dee Williams)
Jambo! This is where you end up entering near Harambe and move through there, to Pandora (always super pretty to run through, especially if you’re speedy and catch it while the sun is still down; I catch it during the sun rise which is breathtaking) and then past the front of the Tree of Life. This year, they had some Resistance fighters encouraging you to keep running so you could get them some intel on the First Order, which was pretty neat!
Characters: 501st Legion stationed as you went behind Everest, plus a Wampa photo op in the Animal Kingdom parking lot
You hit the fifth mile marker in the back of Animal Kingdom, where you are then greeted by the 501st and Rebel Legions! Of course, I always stop for these guys - they’re my friends! - and they’re always so excited to be there. After a quick hello and gently teasing the handlers (“Hey, so like, are you guys with Disney?”), I moved through to proceed to the Animal Kingdom parking lot, where it wraps the mile up with the Wampa photo op (to recreate the scene from Empire Strikes Back where Luke snatches his lightsaber from the snow).
Marker: General Grievous
This mile is largely uneventful; you have to go uphill to get to Osceola Parkway, which is a fairly boring stretch of highway but at least it’s not super long. The sun was rising and I was cursing myself for forgetting to bring sunglasses, but all was well! Overall, though, a rather uneventful mile. Since I was starting to get kind of hungry and really needed a cough drop again, I took the time to munch on some Goldfish and then soothe my sore throat to prevent both from becoming an issue.
Marker: Count Dooku
Not long after the Mile 7 marker is a photo stop with Chewbacca, which makes the highway stretch a little more interesting! Along the long stretches, they’ll have big screens up playing the Star Wars movies, so at least there’s that for entertainment along the way!
Characters: none, but you could pose on a speeder bike!
Characters: Maul right before you entered Hollywood Studios
Marker: Darth Maul
I have never been more excited to to see the giant Tower of Terror ad that looks like the elevator dropping on the highway than I was to see it partnered with the Darth Maul sign. Even though my watch was still saying I had run about a quarter mile longer than the posted distance (which felt like a cruel joke), I felt like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel! My knee was really starting to hurt again now, so I took advantage of the medical tents offering some Biofreeze… only for a majority of the glob I grabbed to fall into the asphalt (my own fault for trying to rush). RIP, little blob of Biofreeze. But I had enough to know that it would hold me over for a while.
I think I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Darth Maul’s photo op with Tower of Terror in the distance, because that meant I was finally in the park!
Characters: The 501st Legion in the Fantasmic courtyard (where you enter the park), First Order stormtroopers in the park
Marker: Darth Vader
Right after Maul’s photo op was the mile 10 marker, and then when you enter the park via the Fantasmic courtyard, the 501st and Rebel Legions have more troopers there to take photos with! I stopped to see Kylo and Hux (especially since I troop with Kylo often [she’s fantastic and has every single variation of Kylo!], and have with Hux before!) and I was super excited to see Ahsoka there (she’s my favorite light side character, you guys, so I ran over!). Not only was it nice to say hi to some familiar faces, but it gave my knee a bit of a break that it definitely needed. It was a total bummer with how much it hurt, but I just kept run/walking as best as I could.
After that, it was down past Tower of Terror I went! This threw my plan of just taking it easy from there on out right on out the window, because Photopass gets pictures of you as you run through the parks… and I didn’t want to be pictured walking for some reason (probably my sheer determination to not give up).
As you headed to the main drag of Studios, they had four stormtroopers - two to take a photo with, and two others patrolling the area. We also got to run by the newly renovated parking area and where the Skyliner stops are going to be, and it looks really nice!
Characters: Sabine Wren and Ezra Bridger at the end of the Boardwalk
Characters: The 501st Legion as you exit the park
Marker: Luke Skywalker
(The road to mile 12 felt rough… especially because I hit mile 12 on my Garmin .36 miles before the marker (again, likely due to weaving through so many people). But thankfully, it was just through Epcot, and since my knee was yelling at me for not taking it easier in Hollywood Studios or along the Boardwalk, I made the decision to only run if there was a Photopass photographer and to just enjoy the scenery of Epcot. What’s nice is that with Flower and Garden going on during this race, you get to see a lot of the topiaries! It’s also cool to see the cast members from different countries cheering you on as they wave flags from their home countries. There was a really cute moment passing the China pavilion when a guy yelled, “Ni hao!” to the three women working there and they got all excited, yelled “Ni hao!” back, and then it was just a chorus of people yelling “Ni hao!”
Characters: First Order stormtroopers as you finish!
I had long forgotten about my sore throat thanks to my knee pain, and medical was awesome at wrapping some ice around it very tightly at the end of the course. After grabbing my cooling towel, water, and snack box, I met up with my dad and fiance - who crushed his goal of a sub-2 hour half - while we waited for my mom to cross the finish line not long after I did (we ran the first four miles together, but we parted for her to stop at the bathroom; we finished within minutes of each other but could never find each other after that because of how crowded these races are!). Despite my knee pain and sore throat, I felt pretty good and otherwise strong. I listened to my body while out there, and it paid off!
After the race, we treated ourselves to a breakfast feast at Port Orleans! Even with a massive Mickey waffle, bacon, and some beignets, I still had a pretty good calorie deficit at the end of the day and that’s the beauty of a long run, haha!
All in all, regardless of pain, I had a total blast on this course. Star Wars Half has such a chill vibe despite the crowd size, especially compared to a race like Princess Half Marathon, that I will always recommend it first and foremost. Sure, it was humid, but when I ran Princess it was hot and humid, too! That’s just Florida and something you need to be aware of so you don't push yourself too much if you aren't used to it. Plus, if you’re worried about not being able to stop for characters due to time, the 501st Legion is a great option to not sacrifice a lot of time waiting in a long line.
Have you run any of the Star Wars races? What did you think? Let’s chat!
While a lot of these tips may seem like givens for any race weekend, the one thing I notice is that with runDisney, a lot of what may seem like common sense to an experience runner gets tossed aside (and even experienced runners have fallen victim to that, too). To help you know what to expect in a sea of tutus and sneakers with tiara gems on them, I’ve compiled my personal list of dos and don’ts for runDisney events so that way, even if race day is overwhelming, at least you can stay cool and confident.
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DO train properly!
I know this seems like a given for any race, but you’d be shocked how many times I hear people say, “I totally didn’t train for this race at all!” or, “I trained a little bit, but I still feel extremely underprepared.” With any race, you’re going to want to train properly, but the beauty of runDisney races is that you get the schedule so far out in advance and likely, you’re signing up really far out in advance, too. Set a countdown on your phone with an app or hang a calendar in your home or office with a countdown on it, whichever helps you more, and make sure you find the right training plan that works best for your needs.
I know it can be hard to squeeze in the time to do so, but you’ll thank yourself race day. When I was training for my first half marathon, I was still living in Fort Myers, where it’s generally even more hot and humid than Orlando, and I’d be running late at night with my parents - who were also running the Space Coast Half with me - to get the long runs in and beat the summer heat. Our runs wouldn’t end until around midnight, but I went into my first half marathon with so much confidence that I was barely nervous. You don’t have to go out in the middle of the night like I did, but take a look at your schedule and find what works best for you. Who knows - maybe there are some local runs happening that fall in line with your training schedule!
DO a trial run in your costume before race day!
You may feel silly running around your neighborhood or on the treadmill in a tutu and tiara or in a modified Chewbacca onesie, but it is well worth it to do a few test miles in your outfit before race day. I’ll never forget at Princess Half Marathon, there was a heap of abandoned tutus - both purchased and homemade - on the side of the highway as you were entering the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot.
Want to incorporate something on your head without something as bulky and potentially uncomfortable as a tiara? Try a nonslip headband! Plenty of companies, like Sweaty Bands, make great nonslip headbands with fun designs. You can usually find them at the runDisney expos!
DO make sure you’re prepared for any kind of weather!
The weather changes you can experience in Florida can be crazy sometimes, especially if you’re running WDW Marathon Weekend or Princess Half Marathon weekend. I always like to get a mylar blanket that I can easily get rid of once I start the race, or you can get a cheap jacket at Goodwill and toss it (all clothing discarded along the course is collected and donated, so don’t worry about that!).
DO get up early enough so you’re feeling ready to run and not rushing!
Every race, without fail, I see quite a few people literally sprinting to the corral because they arrived late. If you’re worried about sleeping through your alarm, try getting up early the day before. Incorporating another race into your weekend, whether it’s to run or to volunteer, may be beneficial if your race isn’t the first (but it's important to know yourself to know if this will or won't help!). Otherwise, make sure you get to bed early enough to be well rested so you aren’t literally bolting through the Epcot parking lot at 5 a.m. Getting to your corral early enough will help you feel less nervous since it’s one less thing to worry about. Don’t sweat the bathrooms while you wait. There are plenty all throughout the start area!
DO show off your bling at the parks!
Since it’s unfortunately socially unacceptable to wear your race medals to the office, show it off at the parks after your run! Give yourself plenty of time to relax, stretch, foam roll, or however you like to recovery, but it’ll actually help move the lactic acid around if you leisurely enjoy your favorite park. Another perk to this is getting the characters to sign your medal! One of the reasons my Princess Half Marathon medal is my favorite is because Snow White - that year’s featured princess - signed the back of it, giving it an extra special touch (and a pretty cool character meet and greet interaction!). There are also locations where you can have your medal engraved; I got mine done at Disney Springs.
DON’T worry about the balloon ladies!
All across the internet you’ll see tales of people being swept by parade buses after falling behind the pace keepers, a group of women that are the last ones to cross the start line at any runDisney race marked by some balloons that they tie on to their outfit. I’ve got some news for you: they’re super nice, they’re not the official pace keepers, and you can still finish the race if you end up behind them. After all, that’s what happened to me at the Tower of Terror 10 Miler in 2014. I was seriously out of shape and on top of it, I was practically trampled at the start line by an overeager man twice my height, so even if I was in shape, I would have been hurting from the way he stomped on my ankle, causing it to twist and be in sharp pain for the rest of the race. Right after mile 7, I fell behind the balloon ladies. While people did get swept at the mile 7 point, I was lucky enough to have just missed that bus, and I ended up finishing the race and crossing the finish line. The whole time, I was waiting for someone to pick me up, as did a group of women around me doing the same pace. Yet, no one ever came and we finished together, much to all of our surprise. While I wouldn’t recommend falling behind the balloon ladies if you can avoid it, do know that it’s not the end of the world. Just do your best to catch up to them and keep pace with them so you can finish the course if you’re feeling up to it.
DON’T forget about race etiquette just because it's Disney!
As I previously mentioned, I’ve been trampled at a runDisney race before. I’ve seen women sitting in the corrals have others literally walk over her, their butts literally on the seated’s head, to try to rush to the front of the corral to avoid the balloon ladies. I’ve seen a group of women at the Princess Half Marathon walk together in a line of seven, all holding hands and singing a song together. While I understand that a runDisney race can be an emotional moment for people for a variety of reasons, the middle of the course as people are trying to get by is not a safe way to cherish that moment together by holding hands multiple people across. I recommend saving any emotional race day moments you want to have as a group for after the race; that way, you can also celebrate your accomplishment of finishing together and it becomes even more special. Or, if you know you want to have a bonding moment along the course, pick a spot based on the course map and when you get there, step to the side where you're not in the road so you can be respectful of the runners around you.
Runners who don't do this: this is all the more reason to be aware of your surroundings. I always go into a runDisney race anticipating that absolutely no one is going to be aware of their surroundings so I can act proactively in case of a potential accident.
If you’re running with a group, sticking to pairs of two to run side-by-side is the general rule of thumb. When transitioning from running to walking, raise your hand high so anyone behind you that’s running will know that you’re about to slow down and hopefully not barrel into you. If you can, shift to the side of the road - some people will tell you to go to the right side, but at a runDisney race, just focus on not causing an accident. This is not just for your own safety, but for others as well.
Also, if you’re a faster runner, don’t just blow through people who are walking! While it can be aggravating to see someone in a higher corral than they should be for their pace, it doesn’t give you an excuse to be rude either… something I’ve seen at many a race, but especially runDisney ones because I think people forget that most people’s priorities for the runDisney courses is to have fun!
DON’T just plug your headphones in and go!
This ties back to race etiquette a bit in the regards of your personal safety and the safety of others around you. runDisney races will have moments where they announce a sharp turn ahead, and regardless, the sheer volume of people makes it dangerous to shut yourself off to anything other than your running playlist. I recommend either keeping the volume low or investing in a pair of headphones that don’t rest in your ear, but on the jawbone like the Aftershokz. I invested in a pair of their Trekz Titanium, which use bone conduction to transmit the sound to you. These are great because I hear my music perfectly, but can also be completely aware of my surroundings. They also rest pretty comfortably around my neck (as pictured) when I'm not actively using them before or after I start running (or I feel like listening to the sounds of the theme parks during a Disney race!) and their battery life has proven to be impressive.
DON’T worry about character photos!
One of the most frequently asked questions I get about runDisney races is, “I’m afraid I’ll fall behind the balloon ladies if I stop for character photos, but I really want them! Can I realistically?” My honest answer is that it all depends. If you’re running the 5K, they aren’t exactly strict with your pace, so enjoy whatever characters you stumble upon that you want a photo with. I've seen a lot of people say to try to prioritize your character photos, but it's often random (you can kind of predict who will be there based on past years, but there's no guarantee) so you're better off just playing it by ear rather than stressing over when you will or won't stop for a picture.
Depending on the length of the lines, your pace, and your corral placement, the likelihood of being able to take a bunch of character photos and not get swept will vary. If you want photos but don’t want to risk it, I recommend snapping a selfie near the line to get the character in the background, getting some photos at the expo (more on that here), at the start line, and/or at the finish (some of the characters will be there after crossing, but oftentimes there are characters waiting for you at the finish that will happily stop for a selfie, like my photo with Knight Donald above). So, really, there’s no sense in worrying about it since it can be so unpredictable.
*The 501st Legion and Rebel Legion are charity organizations that consist of screen accurate Star Wars cosplayers (including myself, my fiancé, and my parents!). The 501st and Rebel Legions are usually invited “troop” the Star Wars races at Disney (and have been at all of them in the past), so if you’re worried for time but want photos, I highly recommend opting for photos with the Legions, as the lines are usually quicker since it’s not an official photo stop hosted by Disney.
DON’T try anything new on race day!
I highly recommend packing your own fuel versus relying on whatever they pass out at the runDisney races. Sometimes it’s sports beans from Jelly Belly, sometimes it’s Gu energy gels, but if you haven’t tried it before, mid-race may not be the best time. This is true for any race event, not just runDisney. If you don’t want to carry your own fuel on race day, really explore the vendor hall. In 2018 and 2019, I’ve been able to try sports bean samples thanks to a sponsor handing them out at the expo, which was great because that’s what was passed out when I ran the half marathons I did in 2018 at Disney World.
Hopefully, you’re feeling a little more prepared as you approach your first runDisney event! My first half marathon was not a runDisney race, and for that I am grateful. Not to say they’re a bad first option, but they are on a whole other scale of a local race that, while just as fun, would be less stressful than the sheer beast that is runDisney.
What’s your favorite part of a runDisney race? Let’s chat!
*Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, please note that I only am recommending things I genuinely use and enjoy!
I’m sure you’ve heard some horror stories from the runDisney expos, but there is no need to panic! You won’t miss out on the merchandise you want, and you will be able to get everything you need in no time no matter what people on Facebook say about the lines being multiple hours long just to get an “I did it!” t-shirt.
I’ve been to more runDisney expos than races I’ve run with Disney. Living so close and being a runner means that it’s a great opportunity to check out the expo floor and see what new running gear is out, even if it’s the same few vendors every time because I do spot some cool new things with each expo and you never know what you’ll find! Plus, I always like to say hi to Jeff Galloway and see when some of the other local races are going on for the year. So, that being said, I’d consider myself a bit of a runDisney expo expert… so let me help you not stress before race day!
DO prioritize getting your bib first.
I know the runDisney merch is a huge deal (more on that later), but especially if you are in a rush, get your bib first! This way the most important thing you need is done and out of the way. Plus you get a nice big bag to go with your shirts - this is so that way you have a clear bag for bag check on race day should you need it - but it will be very handy to have as you do your expo shopping later. It’s a win-win!
DO set aside some money for the expo and establish some baselines before you head in.
I know this may seem like an obvious thing, but if you haven’t experienced a huge race expo before then it can be overwhelming and easy to impulse buy something! This is especially relevant for the main vendor hall rather than just the runDisney merchandise. With all sorts of cute shirts and cool gadgets available from limited edition Otterbox cases to foam rollers to a bunch of different sneakers, really make sure you know what you need and what you really want. This is a great opportunity to treat yourself to something new, whether it be a gadget or a costume piece for your race day outfit (as long as it’s nothing crazy; be sure to try it on so you know it won’t drive you nuts!) that you were hesitant to buy online.
DO take advantage of all the fun opportunities and freebies at the expo!
These may vary by expo, but more often than not I’ve been able to snag some free GoGo Squeeze applesauce pouches (which I’m hooked on), candy and Moon Pies from the Space Coast Half Marathon table, free samples of Daiya’s vegan pizza and Greek yogurt, free autographs from Jeff Galloway if you meet him (if you don’t have one of his books, he has little cards with info about his half marathon in Atlanta), a bag and 5K sticker from Geico (who has a slot machine style set up that determines your freebie), GIF photo opportunities, and more! There’s so much to do and see at the expos that it’s a shame to rush through the vendor hall just to get your bib and be on your merry way. Give yourself time to check everything out at the expo and see what’s out there; a lot of snacks that I like I’ve discovered thanks to runDisney!
Speaking of freebies and photo opportunities, DO check out what they have on the runDisney merchandise side!
Usually you can meet different characters where you can purchase the official runDisney merchandise and there will be separate non-character photo opportunities available as well. For example, at Wine and Dine 2018, Chef Mickey was meeting and you could also get a photo at the table where Lady and the Tramp shared that famous plate of pasta. For WDW Marathon Weekend in 2019, there was a photo op of a train backdrop with Oswald on top as if he was getting away with all the medals, and you could also meet Mickey in a tracksuit. For Princess weekend in 2018, Snow White and Princess Minnie Mouse met! While the lines can get kind of long, if you’re there early you can always ask a cast member what time they start and plan your day around that. It sure beats waiting at 4 a.m. and hoping you get a good spot in your corral, so it’s a great chance to get a special photo or a character to sign your bib if you are nervous about race day photo ops.
DO invest in a RFID guard for your cards if you don’t want to take out cash.
I’m not trying to fear-monger, but rather just help prevent what happened to me! At more than one runDisney expo, either I’ve been hit or a family member of mine has been… and we know it was from the expo because there were posts from other runners online saying they were positive it was at the expo. My mom even had a lady seemingly accidentally bump into her once, but then the lady wouldn’t back off… and wouldn’t you know, her card info was snagged! Unfortunately, card skimmers are going to be an issue at any event with a large crowd, and the runDisney expos are massive affairs. My fiance and I attend a lot of conventions, so he ordered a multipack of RFID blocking sleeves that are super thin so they won’t take up room in your wallet, and their paper material makes it easy to slip your card in and out. I’ve found these to be extremely helpful and always recommend carrying it or something like it when you’re going anywhere - I’ve had way less card issues ever since!
DON’T worry about getting there first thing on the first day of the expo!
Unless you’re running the first race of the weekend, it’s the day before, and you have no other time in your schedule to get over there, there is no need to worry about being the first in line. Even if you are in a rush because you need to pick your bib up before the race the next day and you can’t go in the afternoon, worry about the merchandise later. They’ve been way better about keeping plenty in stock the last few races in my experience (curse those eBay scalpers!) and every time I’ve gone to an expo in the afternoon after the morning rush dies down, there has still been plenty of merchandise available. Even at the 10th Anniversary for Princess Half Marathon, the only thing I saw fly off the shelves was one or two sizes of the Fairy Tale Challenge jackets. When I went to the WDW Marathon Weekend Expo in January 2019, they weren’t starting to sell out of the Dooney and Bourke purses until the last day and they had plenty of everything!
If you are very concerned about merchandise - I was for the Star Wars Dark Side weekend in 2018 since it was my first challenge, so I get it and have been there! - then DO consider pre-ordering merchandise.
It will save you a little money come expo time and while those nearly-$100 jackets may seem expensive, such is the reality of runDisney merchandise pricing. It is worth noting, however, that you don’t get to see the pre-order merch ahead of time, so if you worry about disliking the design then this may not be an option for you!
DON’T worry about food!
Didn’t snag a dining reservation but worried about having a healthy lunch before or after browsing around? There’s a quick service dining location at the ESPN complex that’s on your way out of the main vendor hall (and you can access it independently as well so you don’t have to go through the whole expo just to get there). I talk about my personal recommendations for Weight Watchers in my Restaurants Guide, but rest assured they will likely have something for you on their menu. The only food I would recommend bringing if you are being health-conscious or following a diet plan would be snacks (however, if you’re just enjoying yourself, then that’s not anything to be concerned with).
Ready for race day?
Good luck on the course! If you ever have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message - I'd be more than happy to help ease your pre-race (or pre-race expo) jitters!
"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 and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.