Saturday, April 22 – Dark Side 10K
The 2016 Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World were inaugural events. As with most first time events, it went okay, but there were things that could have been better. We were excited for the 2017 versions of the next two races because they would both be following a new course.
For the 10K, we were starting in separate corrals and decided to take different approaches. Tom hung to the back of his corral and Kim went to the front of hers.
Rudy, John and Carissa sent everyone off for the race. We started the race by heading back toward World Drive and got to run through the back side of the toll booths for Magic Kingdom. Within the first half mile, there was a local high school band playing Star Wars music. The kids and their adults were highly enthusiastic, cheering and giving high fives. The first three miles were down World Drive, a divided highway. You needed to stay alert to the side of the road because of construction, but most of it was well lit and well-marked. There were no PhotoPass photographers on the highway portion of the course for action shots, but there were character stops. R2-D2 was in this area of the course. Character photos were also available with Star Wars Rebels, the Emperor’s chair and Darth Maul. After running a little more than half way we left World Drive, and snuck in to Hollywood Studios by the back of the Tower of Terror and the Fantasmic show area. At this point, there was an exciting group of cosplayers from the 501st Legion and the Saber Guild.
We made the left onto Hollywood Blvd. to go out the entrance of the Studios. There were lots of Cast Members with light sabers cheering us on at this point and at least 4 to 6 PhotoPass photographers.
As we headed backstage for the final two tenths of a mile, there were more cosplayers available backstage where the gospel choir is normally during Marathon and Princess weekends. As we approached the finish line, we stopped to talk with race announcers Rudy and John briefly before crossing the finish line with our arms raised in victory.
The finishers area where you get your medals, water and snack boxes was perfect. We stopped to get our photos taken by the PhotoPass photographers.
Sunday, April 23 – Dark Side Half Marathon
When we woke up for the half marathon, the temperatures were already in the low 70s. We knew this was going to be a rough one. We got ourselves prepared, made sure we had full water bottles and damp cooling towels and boarded the bus to Magic Kingdom parking lot.
While in the corrals, the race announcers were great at reminding everyone to be careful and safe due to the heat. They even got Jeff Galloway on camera to remind us that it was important to watch your pace and to listen to your body. We took the same approach as yesterday with Tom starting in the back of his corral and Kim starting in the front of her corral hoping to meet up early in the race.
The new half marathon course started the same as the 10K by going towards the toll plaza of the Magic Kingdom. The band was there again, doing a great job of motivating the runners as we went by. Then it was time for a few new twists. The course turned off of the familiar World Drive route and they routed us down Bear Island Road. Those who have run the full Marathon or the 2016 Wine & Dine course will recognize this as the road behind the Speedway, running by the water treatment plant.
As we ran back onto the dark roadway it seemed a little creepy until suddenly we were in the middle of the battle of Endor. There were laser blasts, sound effects and fire balls to make it feel like you were in the middle of the action. This was a great addition to the race.
Also during this stretch, they had out the speeder bikes and meeting with an Ewok around mile 2.6.
We went through a backstage area where there were plenty of cosplayers and then out into the near-park side of the Animal Kingdom parking lot. This can be a long stretch but they did a great job of breaking it up with people cheering and a water stop.
There was also another photo opportunity, the ice cave on Hoth where you had to try to reach out and use the force to recover your light saber. We were a little more than halfway there at this point.
Then the hot happened.
We started on another long highway stretch down Osceola staring into the rising sun. First we got to make jokes about the double suns of Tatooine. The heat jokes got old, so we started the chant “I am one with the Force, and the Force is one with me.” Somehow this morphed in to “I am one with tequila and tequila is one with me.” Heat and humidity can do silly things like that.
We had to run up the circle entrance ramps from Osceola to World Drive and again from World Drive to Buena Vista Drive. The incline on the ramps wasn’t bad, but the sloping of the Florida roads around the circle ramps led to more silly comments as we made our way towards Hollywood Studios. The sun was pushing its way up, and the comparison to living on Darth Vader’s volcanic planet of Mustafar was mentioned.
The clouds blocked the heat a little, but with no breeze it got muggy quickly. The path we followed into and through Studios was the same as the 10K. Back through the Fantasmic Theatre (no cosplayers on Sunday), down Hollywood Boulevard and then out to the park entrance. There were plenty of PhotoPass photographers in this stretch and lots of people were hamming it up for the camera.
The course then went back down the path to the Boardwalk resort where we went closer to the shaded BoardWalk side. It was in this area that there the various running teams out supporting, cheering and having snacks available. We also got to see a famous (?) podcaster who is just a little taller than an Ewok and another section of additional cosplayers.
We entered EPCOT and made the right to go the long way around World Showcase. We joked that we could have ridden the Frozen ride because we hit this part at park opening. The lack of an open margarita stand was also pointed out. We continued to make out way to the front of EPCOT. There was a final group of cosplayers in the backstage area again.
After seeing our favorite race announcers near the end we tried to dance our way across the finish line and learned that Kim has much better rhythm than Tom.
We would recommend these races to those who are Star Wars fans. We believe that as Disney does more with the Star Wars franchise we will see more variety of characters on course and ultimately a change in the course when Star Wars Land opens. This weekend certainly wins most improved over the inaugural experience and it will continue to get better with time.
From Laura: I’d like to say a huge thank you to Kim, Tom, and Molly for sharing their experiences at the Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend with us! After reading their blogs I’m seriously considering signing up for the Challenge again next year…