"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.