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!
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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.
Running the Princess Half Marathon has been a dream of mine for years now.
Of course nothing is perfect, but to say that this race lived up to my expectations and was everything I dreamed it would be in the moment is an understatement. So let's start from the very beginning, shall we?
I was surprised at the lack of "spin the wheel and win a free pair of sunglasses" type of things at the booths, but I did enjoy this race expo overall! I'm very happy that Disney now has their official merch in a separate building over with the character meet and greets - the rest of the expo hall is much less crowded since the demand with the runDisney stuff is on the higher side.
I actually went to the expo twice; since I live locally, I swung by Thursday night to pick up the official runDisney merch I wanted and to grab my bib, and I went back Saturday morning just to check out the rest of the expo hall and take my time with it. I was worried about runDisney merch selling out, especially with everyone posting in some of the Facebook runDisney groups I'm in about how the lines were absolutely crazy (2 hours just to get in the merch building!), but there was a ton of stuff available for everyone not only on Thursday night, but when I returned Saturday morning. From what I could tell, the only thing they ran low on were Fairy Tale Challenge jackets. So don't be fooled by the initial mad rush on the expo's first day! There's plenty for everyone.
Also, a big highlight was getting to meet Jeff Galloway on Thursday night! If you ever get the chance to swing by his booth at a runDisney expo, don't be nervous. Jeff is such a sweet guy and it was great getting to meet him and thank him for everything. especially since I'm doing his 2018 in 2018 Challenge this year.
Race Day Morning
Who doesn't love having their alarm go off at 2:30 a.m., right? I grabbed my wheat bagel, put on my Elsa running Disneybound, and head out the door to be at the corrals in a decent time. Worth noting it's about a three quarter of a mile walk from the staging area where the porta-potties and characters are to the corrals (there are more porta-potties when you get there, don't worry!), so give yourself enough time to head over. I was in Corral F (H being the last one, but F being the largest) and thankfully made the second wave; I wasn't worried about the balloon ladies but just about making sure I didn't get stuck in a swarm of slower people. Thankfully, my placement (and the amount of waves) was perfect.
The first two miles weren't the most exciting, but exciting enough thanks to all the adrenaline. You start off on one of the backstage roads by Epcot so you can make your way to the Ticket and Transportation center, and luckily the stretch seemed to fly by as you see the Magic Kingdom sign! Along the way you could stop for the Pirates of the Caribbean; they had Jack Sparrow and Barbossa.
And then the excitement begins! Running through the Magic Kingdom sign to enter Ticket and Transportation Center was a beautiful sight and thankfully, the road was wide enough to stop for selfies! A photo op with four of the Disney men - Prince Eric, Flynn Rider, John Smith, and Phoebus - were on the way, but with a ridiculously long line. My recommendation if you're worried about time: selfies!
Please excuse how sweaty I am by the third mile; it was a very humid day and while the humidity doesn't bother me too much since I'm used to it, it still takes it's toll and I was a sweaty mess from the get go!
Mile 3 took us into the actual parking lot, where you could take a photo with the Evil Queen from Snow White in her old lady form and enjoy the Polynesian Resort's drummers.
This stretch of the half marathon was by far the most magical of all! Mile 4 and we're approaching the Contemporary Resort, on our way to the Magic Kingdom! You can see Space Mountain and the train station in the distance and it fuels you through for a mile that seems to speed by.
There are not words I can use to describe the feeling you get as you run down Main Street; you simply have to do it to understand it. However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to try!
The sun was rising when I entered the Magic Kingdom and it made for the most beautiful sights. You start out entering near where the buses drop you off, with the Mile 5 marker greeting you as you get ready to enter where the turnstiles are. On top of the train station were the folks who perform in the Trolley Show and the suffragettes and all of them were waving and cheering on the runners. You then enter the Magic Kingdom and down Main Street you go, where half of it is blocked off for what I can best describe as a wall of spectators. Between the sunrise over the castle, the sounds of the Magic Kingdom, and this thick wall of spectators cheering you on, I unashamedly cried all the way down Main Street! I was able to pull myself together enough, though, for a very sweet volunteer to take my picture in front of the castle!
Once you pass the castle, you take a right and head through Tomorrowland, where Buzz Lightyear was greeting guests near his ride. You pass the Speedway and then enter New Fantasyland - Belle and Gaston were in front of Gaston's Tavern for a character stop - and from there, you head to the back of the castle. Anastasia, Drizella, and Lady Tremaine from Cinderella were taking photos with runners off to the side!
Running through the castle was the most amazing feeling and I'm very grateful that where I was running wasn't so congested and backed up that I had to slow down or walk through; I had really been looking forward to running through it and have heard that it tends to slow down here and was nervous, but it wasn't an issue and it was really cool getting to do this. From the castle, you run down and head to Liberty Square - where Tiana, Naveen, and Louis were set up - and then to Frontierland (characters spotted were Woody and Goofy in a cowboy outfit) where the Mile 6 marker was. You pass Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain and then exit back where Festival of Fantasy starts. There was another photo op here, this time with the train!
When you leave the Magic Kingdom, there is a very long line and it leads to a meet and greet with some of the princesses and their princes in front of the float they stand on during the Christmas parade. They also had the steampunk dragon Maleficent float from Festival of Fantasy out. Mile 7 was nice; the runner's high you get from Magic Kingdom gives you the extra boost you need as you run out by the Grand Floridian and the golf courses, where men in tuxedos with a glass slipper, Tinkerbell and friends, and Genie were set up if you were stopping for character photos.
And this was the stretch that got kind of boring. Bring headphones for this stretch alone because it's a long stretch of highway that didn't feel like it was going to end. My dad caught up with me at this point in the race and we ran together for a while, so I was grateful for that since it helped some of the miles go by a bit faster. Mile 10 was an overpass and one of the green army men from Toy Story was there to help cheer you on (and also distract you from the incline).
For those of you interested in characters, we ran into the pirates again on the way back!
Epcot! Finally! You hit Mile 11 on the overpass on your way into Epcot and Mile 12 just as you're entering. Shoutout to all of the spectators cheering us on (especially the lady with a Jack Pearson from This Is Us sign) as we entered Epcot from the front of the park!
Along the way to Epcot was Mrs. Incredible (who had a very, very short line so I stopped for her; I would have anyway since I knew I was safe from any hard sweeping points) and a gospel choir - just the pick-me-up I needed!
You head past Spaceship Earth, down to the start of the World Showcase, and then we looped right back around before actually entering the Showcase.
And then, finally, the finish line! Donald and Goofy were in their royal attire (while King and Queen Mickey and Minnie took a break) to give high fives and take pictures as you reached the finish and once you crossed the line, you could get some pixie dust from some cast members from Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
Would I run this race again? Maybe not next year just to mix things up, but probably. There was a boring stretch towards the end, but getting to run down Main Street and through the castle totally makes up for it, and it's nothing a few character stops to look at and a good playlist can't take care of! However, I did prefer the Star Wars Half course and am more likely to do that one again more frequently than I am Princess given I live next door.
Overall, I really enjoyed Princess Half and felt great during this race. I wasn't expecting to break a personal record, but I shaved a little more than two minutes off of my time from Space Coast Half Marathon... and that was with me stopping to meet Mrs. Incredible, slowing down to take a ton of pictures along the way, and with my Garmin saying the course ran about .32 miles long!
I also feel like because I enjoyed the course so much, the 13.1 (or 13.43) didn't feel like it took me as long as it did (my time was 3:06:50) and the way the course was split up made it easy to mentally tackle it, even during the stretch of highway since I knew it was the back end of the race.
I would totally recommend this race, however I wouldn't recommend it as your first half. The main reason is that there were a ton of people here - over 20,000 - and there are some areas where it bottlenecked and the crowds got a little crazy. Even waiting in the corrals was an experience in itself; you could tell a lot of people were worried about beating the balloon ladies and were therefore literally crawling over one another. This was not my first Disney race so I expected that, but not to the level that I saw at Princess Half! There was a lot of not very princess-like behavior going on, and while it did not bother me personally because I just chose to avoid and ignore it, but this may be kind of stressful if you're a first-timer or even if large crowds stress you out or if you're not used to it. It's easy enough to avoid, especially once you find your little pocket of space on course while you run, so I wouldn't worry about it too much, but it was definitely still worth noting. Just remember what Cinderella told us in 2015: have courage and be kind!
Bonus tip: if you run Princess Half or any of the races during this weekend, get the princess that the race is themed after to sign the back of your medal! It makes for a nice touch! I also got my name, time, and place engraved on the back at Disney Springs for $2 per word.
Many of you have asked me how I trained for my first half marathon, so here's my story.
I didn’t take my first few race events seriously. I thought I was at the time but looking back, I was only fooling myself.
I did a few 5Ks and ridiculously thought I was ready for a 10 Miler. I never trained for it. The fact that I crossed that finish line was probably an act of God. After that, I had excuse after excuse why I couldn’t really run anymore before I ultimately just stopped pretending to try altogether. Some of those excuses were more legitimate than others but were ultimately still just excuses.
When I started Weight Watchers in late December 2015 was when I really got my rear in gear and took running seriously. I stopped joking around and stopping giving myself excuses. I didn’t hop right into a half marathon but worked my way up with a few more 5Ks and eventually ran the Star Wars Dark Side 10k in April 2016.
That race was where something clicked and was when I went from “I kind of like running and will do this to lose the weight” to loving running. I think a big part of that was the atmosphere of the race: the spectators and volunteers cheering you on, the 501st Legion trooping on course, everyone in costume and a general feeling of excitement, plus the route along the Boardwalk and through Hollywood Studios is so charming.
In my training, I followed Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method. For those of you who don’t know who Jeff Galloway is, he’s an Olympic runner who established an interval running and walking system that helps you run long distance better and easier. It’s great for both beginners but also people looking to improve their time. Jeff is also the official training guide of sorts for runDisney events and he has training plans for all their half marathons. I’ve met Jeff twice - he attends all the expos - and I’ve never been able to find the right words to express my deepest thanks to him because I owe him and his program so much. I don’t think I’d ever have been able to do any of this without his system. So if you find yourself struggling with just running, know that taking walk breaks is a completely acceptable thing. Some hardcore runners - and you will experience this type of pompous runner - will try to say otherwise. Ignore them. I mentioned Jeff is an Olympian, right?
I used the Galloway system for not just that 10k, but in my training for my first half marathon: the 2017 Space Coast Half Marathon, held on Thanksgiving weekend. I gave myself a very, very long time to train despite most training programs and being only 19 weeks, give or take, because I wanted to be prepared. Before I knew it, I was running 8 miles, then 10, and the first time I hit 13.1 was completely by accident on an overambitious rush during what was supposed to be a 9 mile training run. It was hot, I was unprepared, but I did it and I was mentally ready for the real deal.
They say once you run 8 you can run 13.1, but I didn't want to be the girl who fooled herself anymore. I didn't want to use that as an excuse to not finish training on the weekends where I didn't feel like doing a long run. It's not always easy. While yes, I do love run/walking, there are days where you just don't feel like doing it. But that's part of why I love it, because you get such a sense of accomplishment when you do it anyways. Some people will tell you it's more parts physical or mental, but I'd say it's pretty 50/50.
And sometimes, there are long, boring miles logged on a less-than-thrilling stretch of a course or a treadmill, but you have to find ways to make it better. I like music. This is where my love of Star Wars comes in: I like to listen to the soundtracks from the movies when I run. When Rey's theme plays, I'm no longer running on the road but I'm on Jakku, running from stormtroopers. When the Imperial March plays, I'm marching right alongside Grand Moff Tarkin. Don't even get me started on the rush I get when I hear Michael Giacchino's "Hope" from Rogue One; mentally, my running clothes are now a Rebel soldier's uniform, and I am running with the Death Star plans in hand instead of a water bottle from Darth Vader as he attacks my comrades, before I finally escape and hand the plans to Princess Leia. Music is powerful and it can help us on our runs, and it's even better if it's music from a piece of work that you're passionate about.
I've also found that always being signed up for something - whether it be just another 5K or a half marathon down the road - helps me stay motivated because it forces me to keep moving. I remember the physical pain I experienced after Tower of Terror 10 Miler and I don't ever want to put myself through that ever again. I've made running fun for me - and it really is such a personal sport - and it's something I now enjoy. You just have to find what works for you and you'll get there, too!
Addicted to your Fitbit, Garmin, or another fitness tracker that helps you aim for 10K+ steps per day? It's super easy to get anywhere between 20K-30K steps per day at Disney but here are some ways that you can really get the most use out of your fitness tracker at the parks.
Want to skip out on some major crowds and get some steps in all at once? There's a walking path that runs parallel to the train for a while that takes you from Storybook Circus (behind Goofy's The Barnstormer) all the way to Tomorrowland by the Space Mountain gift shop. Warning: part of this walkway is a smoking section, so you may encounter smokers if cigarette smoke is something you're sensitive to.
Epcot and Hollywood Studios
I'm clumping these parks together because you can actually walk to and from them. There's park entrance/exit turnstiles in between the UK and France Pavilions at the World Showcase in Epcot that leads you to the Boardwalk Resort areas. If you walk and keep going past the Swan and Dolphin, you'll walk by one of the lakes and eventually end up at Hollywood Studios. It's a short walk - so short, in fact, you'll beat the boat that goes the same way every time!
Also, both of these parks have pretty small parking lots. Unless you're parked in the very far back, you don't really need to take the tram on this one unless you're at your limit at the end of the day.
Similarly to as Epcot and DHS, Animal Kingdom's parking lot is pretty tiny. There's a high chance you won't need to take the tram so if you want to get some extra steps, just walk to the entrance. There are also tons of beautiful walking paths throughout the park with great views of the animals.
Did you know that you can run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or full marathon at Walt Disney World? You're sure to get more steps in if you plan your trip around a race weekend and participate in the race! When I did the Star Wars Dark Side 10K, I had 8,000 steps in before 10:00 a.m. Plus it's super healthy and a great way to burn some calories, especially if you're going to not be as strict with following the plan while you're at Disney.
You can read more on runDisney on my blog by clicking right here.
Jessica is a huge Disney and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.