Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Race Report: Star Wars Dark Side Challenge

My goodness, I don't even know where to start!! This weekend's trip to Walt Disney World for the Inaugural Star Wars Dark Side races was simply incredible! I had more fun than I've had in quite awhile and everything worked out beautifully. It was truly Practically Perfect in every way! ;)

It may seem hard to believe but it's been over 3 years since I have participated in a Run Disney event. The last race I did was Princess in 2013, as part of the Coast to Coast Challenge that included the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland earlier that same year. It was NOT a good experience for me at Walt Disney World (you can read that report here) and I was in not hurry to return. In that post, I mentioned that I planned to go back in 2017 for the 20th anniversary of the half marathon! How funny! But when this Inaugural race was announced, I couldn't resist!

And I'm so glad I did!

Perhaps it's because it's been so long since I've done a Run Disney race. Or perhaps the difference comes from within me, as I feel like I'm a very different person from who I was back then. Or maybe it's a little bit of both? Regardless, I had a blast!

First off, before I start in on the report, I need to acknowledge two people who made this weekend possible for me. First, my mom who gave me most of the entry fee money as a birthday present (last year and this year) and then who also purchased the Memory Maker so I could have all of my race and park pictures. And second, my friend Cindy, who allowed me to stay with her in her room totally free and who even paid for an extra night so I wouldn't have to drive home after the race, even though she had to fly home that same afternoon and wouldn't even be there! As it turned out, I was able to fly to WDW so I had a whole extra day in the parks thanks to her generosity! I am extremely grateful to both of them for making it possible for me to have this fantastic weekend! You're the greatest!

So now, the race report:

Packet Pick Up/Expo

As I mentioned before, I was able to fly to WDW instead of drive - which was fantastic! I had been saving up since Christmas and found a flight in March that came in under my budget. I flew on Delta and had to take a super early flight to get that great deal, but that was OK! I cashed in all of my Disney Points for a 4-day One Park per Day ticket and spent Friday at Animal Kingdom! LOL

I arrived at our resort (All Star Sports - my first time staying there) early and our room was not ready. I left my bags at Bell Services and hit the bus to the Expo. Cindy and her co-worker, Dave, would not be arriving until the evening and going to the Expo then, and I would definitely go with them, but I was going to be a nervous wreck all day long if I didn't go ahead and pick up my race bib. And an anxious Niffercoo is not ever a good thing. So I boarded a bus and headed over to the Wide World of Sports!

They had the bib pick up and t-shirt pick up in one building and the Expo in another, so I just went to the pick up side and then went home. I had not planned to buy anything at the Expo anyway, but they had a few shirts and other items at the bib pick up location so I looked around. And I found this guy:

Runner Mickey!

He even has the year on his foot!
I collect this size Mickey anyway, and I always like to get a little something to commemorate a race weekend, so I had to have him! :)

Since my room wasn't ready, I left the Wide World of Sports and went back to the resort solely to pick up a bus to the Animal Kingdom. I had my race stuff with me but I brought a sling bag to carry it all in so it wouldn't get ruined. I had a great time at AK, and made sure not to do too much walking around so my legs wouldn't get too tired!

Just about the time I was planning to go back, I got a text that the room was ready! So I went back, got my stuff in the room, ate some dinner, wandered around the resort to take pictures, then went down to the Magical Express location to wait for Cindy and Dave!

The Princess has arrived!!
We dropped their bags off in a hurry at Bell Services and hustled to the Expo on one of the last buses! Again, there was no line for pick up! We even spent about 10 minutes at the shopping side of the Expo before it closed and made it on the last bus back to the resort! Yes, I'm glad I went early to get my stuff because I would have been a complete wreck! I'm not sure how Cindy does that each and every time she races at Disney!

We got back to the room and had to make a trip back down to Bell Services to collect their bags - which the lady had said they had no record of. ACK! But they were ultimately found and our one snafu of the trip was resolved. We got our stuff ready, set the alarms for 2:30 AM for the first bus, and got some sleep!

Saturday - Star Wars Tie Fighter 10K

The alarm went off "Disney Early" and I remembered that I am crazy to do this! LOL But I was genuinely excited and was ready to get this adventure started. The weather forecast was iffy, but this was a 10K and I had run in worse conditions. I packed a check bag accordingly and we set out to get the first bus!

Walked right on the bus and got the last 3 seats! The driver left right away and made it to EPCOT and the starting line area with no trouble at all. We walked around a little bit since we were early and saw a lot of lines for characters! We got in the BB8 line and waited - I really don't know how long we waited, but it wasn't overwhelming. And the picture was worth it!

He's definitely not on the "Dark Side" but it was nice to see him there!
Speaking of pictures, new this race was that the pictures have been taken over by the Photo Pass Photographers and are tied to your bib number. As a result, you can add your pictures to your Memory Maker account and download them all along with your park pictures! We found these photographers to be far superior to the marathonfoto photographers! These folks were all friendly and encouraging and really tried to get GOOD pictures! And they were ALL over the place!  Many more than I remember with any previous Run Disney event that I have done. I was very, very pleased and the quality of the pictures is fantastic! Great improvement! Big thumbs up!

The lines for the other characters, including Boba Fett with Han Solo in carbonite freeze (which I HAD to get) were closed down early to get them to the finish line area at WWoS so we decided to come and get those pictures the next day before the half when we would have much more time. We hit the porta potties, checked our bags, and then tried to go to the start area but they wouldn't let anyone through. Finally they opened it up around 4:30 and the line moved quite slowly. But the walk wasn't as far as it was for the Princess Half so that was nice.

The weather still couldn't make up its mind. Was it going to rain? It sure felt like it! But it was a bit windy as well, and I ended up putting on my disposable poncho to keep from feeling chilled. Glad I went ahead and brought that with me! We got to our corral (B for the 10K) and said goodbye to speedy Dave who was in A. It was the usual start line/corral stuff with music and movie clips and lots of fun! And with some beautiful fireworks to get us going, we were on our way!

Cindy has been dealing with an angry hip for the last month or so, so our plan was to do 3/1 intervals and go nice and slowly with the knowledge that we still had a half marathon to do the next day! About 5 minutes into the race, the humidity hit like a ton of bricks, but thankfully there was still a nice breeze which made it bearable.

We hit our intervals just fine, thanks to Cindy's Gymboss timer which I really liked. I kept our mile pace using my Garmin, and that was nice to have. Plus I wanted to be able to change up the intervals if needed and you can't do that with Garmin. We kept the target pace I had in my head for the first 2 miles but then sped up for mile 3 by well over a minute per mile. I was glad that we could check that and we could slow back down so that we didn't blow out our legs!

The course took us through EPCOT and then on to Hollywood Studios before turning to WWoS for the finish line. I've only run through HS one time (during the full marathon) so this was a lot of fun for me! We stopped and got our picture taken in front of the Tower of Terror - there was NO line at all!

Looking cute and having fun!
A light mist started to fall as we made our way through WWoS, but it really felt good! We crossed the finish line in the dark with smiles on our faces!

Halfway done with our Challenge!
The finish line area was well organized and we waited in no lines to get medals, pictures, food boxes, or to pick up our checked bags! We stretched and took a few pictures, then found Dave and went to get on a bus.

Our medals are adorable - and so are we! Love these outfits!
We also had no trouble for the bus back to the resort. We walked up to our designated stop, there was no line and we got on a bus and left shortly after we got on. We were back at the resort within 15 minutes. I understand that it was NOT that smooth for folks who parked at EPCOT and had to take a bus back there - waits of an hour or more!! Yikes!

Back at the resort, we got cleaned up and tried to eat something but the food court was jam packed with the high school kids who had taken over the resort. So we decided to get something to eat at Hollywood Studios which was our planned park for that day. The park was a good choice because it allowed us to walk a little, and then sit a little for rides and shows. But it was hard to find something to eat because most of the restaurants didn't open until 11. Probably not a problem unless you woke up at 2 AM! LOL

We all were on the same page about getting back to the resort early and eating there and getting to bed early, which was nice! I was able to get my pizza that I like and even though I enjoy going to Wolfgang Puck Express, it simply was going to add too much time to our day and we needed sleep! We ended up being able to shut off the lights at 7:30 and, thanks to that 2 AM wake up, fell right to sleep!

Sunday - Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

1:45 AM. That's what I set my alarm for on Sunday morning. I may have said a bad word when the alarm went off, despite having slept quite well! It's just not normal to be waking up at that hour! LOL

But we did it! We got up and we got dressed and we made it, yet again, to that first bus to leave the resort! Another easy trip to EPCOT - and this time we made a bee line to the character photo ops!

Boba Fett and Carbonite Han

Darth Maul

We made it through each of the lines fairly quickly, and then dropped off bags and hit porta potty lines! The weather was great on Sunday! The skies were clear and there was a gentle breeze - we sure got lucky for Florida in April! I wore another disposable poncho just to keep myself from getting chills. I'm so cold natured!

The lines to the porta potties were worse this time but the trek to the corrals was better! We were in Corral E for the half marathon which I thought was ridiculous, but the corrals were smaller and we were released more quickly than at the 10K (I think it was 8 to 10 minutes between corrals on Saturday! Crazy!). We had about 4 minutes between A-B, B-C, and C-D. We had maybe 5-6 minutes between D and us in E. I'm not sure about the rest of the corrals after us.

My friend BJ joined us in the corral to wait for the start! She lives 15 minutes from me but I hadn't seen her since right after Christmas! Funny that I had to travel to Florida to spend some time with her! More music, more movie clips, more fireworks - and we were off!

The plan was 2/1 intervals for the half for as long as we were able to manage it. Cindy's hip was feeling no worse than the day before which was great news! She credits the moving around at Hollywood Studios as well as the ice pack she picked up from the medical tent after the 10K for making that difference. The nice weather helped a lot as well! It was much less humid on Sunday and since we had a lot longer to go, and we would be running after the sun came up, we would need that!

The race started in EPCOT but we went the long way through the World Showcase which was beautiful and fun! Then we went through the Board Walk Resort again, but it seemed to be a little different. The Hollywood Studios route was also different and I thought that was well-planned, especially for those of us doing the Challenge!

After Hollywood Studios, it was time for the part that I was looking forward to the most - Animal Kingdom! I had only gotten to run at AK for the full marathon and I wasn't in the best frame of mind at that point! This time, I was so excited and very, very ready for it! That long run on Osceola Parkway and through the parking lot of AK leaves a lot to be desired, but my goodness the time was flying by running with Cindy! It's amazing how that happens! We were talking and laughing and having a great time and the miles just seemed to come up before I even knew it. And the 2/1 intervals kept us switching up and we were keeping a very, very consistent pace!

The sun was up by the time we got to AK and it was beautiful! I made Cindy stop for many pictures!

Running past Expedition Everest, though you can't really see it because of the sun!

NOW you can see Expedition Everest, as well as the revamped area where the new night show will be!

Tree of Life!! Gorgeous!! 
And you want to see how far I've come?? Check out this picture:

Walk Breaking and Happy!
A couple of years ago, I would have seen the photographer and started to run again so it wouldn't be recorded that I was walking! GASP! And if I would have been caught on camera, I never would have posted it! But now? I gave him my best smile! :D

Coming out of AK we were faced with the toughest part of the course, physically and mentally! We were running into bright sunshine on the parkway, and we had to go up two overpasses. Not easy at any time and certainly not at miles 10-13 of a half marathon! But being the amazing runners we are, we kept within 10 seconds of our target pace the ENTIRE way! Because we're just that awesome!

We turned onto the dirt path leading to WWoS, which was much nicer to navigate when it's not dark, and knew that we were "almost there"! We crossed the finish line, smiling yet again!

Happy Happy!! 
Another smooth finish line experience the whole way! My only complaint was that the volunteers were telling us to take as many of the food boxes as we wanted. I said I was only take one because there were still LOTS of runners out on the course. I sure hope they had enough food boxes for everyone. I haven't heard any complaints about that, so I hope it went well.

We headed over to the Challenge tent and picked up our extra medals - including the Princess with her Kessel Run medal that she wouldn't even share with me! :P

And let me tell you - that Kessel Run medal is awesome!! 
There was a line for the resort bus this time but we waited just a minute or two before being loaded onto a bus and made it back to the resort again in about 15-20 minutes! We got cleaned up and ate at the resort this time, and then hung out until the Magical Express bus came to take Cindy and Dave away. I spent the rest of Sunday with BJ and her husband at Magic Kingdom!

So if you can't guess already - I LOVED the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend! I couldn't have asked for a better experience and it made me fall back in love with Run Disney! :D I sure hope it won't be another 3 years before I can return!

I took a couple of days of rest (not counting the day spent at Magic Kingdom on Monday) and now it's time to get back into triathlon mode! I have an Olympic distance tri in 9 weeks! Yikes!!

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