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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!
Jessica is a huge Disney and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.