April 14-17, 2016 was the Inaugural Dark Side Weekend at Disney World. The weekend included expo, kids races, and distance races from 5k to half marathon.
I was unable to attend the Expo on April 14th but I heard it was the usual crazy (if not a little worse since it was the first time for this race). Lucky for me, I have made some running buddies along the way and they picked up the few items I had to have to from race weekend.
I did make it to expo on Friday, April 15th. I got there before it closed for the day and quickly picked up my bib, shirt, gear bag, cheer squad for my mom and the Dooney I had pre-ordered. In my haste, I remembered to stop by the Good Sense booth and snagged a free sample but I forgot to pick up a pair of sunglasses – there’s always another expo.
There was one mix up in my registration. I qualified for the Kessel Run (completing Star Wars the Light Side in Disneyland) and the Dark Side at Disney World but they didn’t have me down for Coast to Coast. A quick stop at runner relations confirmed my status and the second bracelet was added to my wrist.
Saturday morning, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed for my volunteer shift at the Dark Side 10k. My ride came by at 2:30am and we were off for Epcot. I love volunteering! The energy is amazing and once the runners start to come in – it makes being up so early so worth it!
This race (along with the half) was point to point race. After I checked in, I was assigned gear check at the start. As other volunteer teams moved out to get in place, my team started to plan our attack strategy for when the runners began to need us. We got our bins ready and waited for our first customers.
Since I had some time on my hands, I asked my team lead if I could go check out what was in the parking lot for the runners. There were some character photo ops set up and before it got busy, I wanted to see what was there. I also needed to stop by runner relations because my one bracelet was just a little too loose and I didn’t want to lose the bracelet! I was able to get a picture with BB-8, Darth Vader (!!!!!!!!!!), and Storm Troopers. Made my day! And it meant I didn’t need to stop on Sunday when on the course.
Back to my post since runners were starting to arrive. As we helped runners with their gear, we got to enjoy the costumes and the excitement of the runners. Runners were courteous and very happy that we were there for them. After taking their bag and wishing them a good race, they were off to their corrals.
Much to my surprise my shift ended very quickly and I was back to my room by 6am.
Fast forward to that evening…I was actually in bed by 8:15! That never happens when I’m at Disney. I laid out my clothes for the next day, attached my bib, and took my pre-bedtime soak.
Sunday morning, the evil alarm went off at 2:30am. I allowed myself one hit of the snooze button and then the excitement of race day kicked in. I got dressed and ready and was out the door by 2:55 hoping to catch a bus to the start by 3. I was lucky – there was an empty bus waiting at the bus stop and I climbed on.
Once at Epcot and off the bus, I walked with all the other runners (and some spectators!) to the security area and then made my way to gear check. After pulling out my heat sheet and pre-race breakfast, my bag was ready to be checked. I got to spend a few minutes chatting with my team lead from Princess weekend and met up with a few Disney running buddies before heading to the runner only area.
Before heading to my corral, I caught up with some of the lovely people with Kellsie’s Hope Foundation. I had earned my spot on their team by fundraising $900 and was dedicating my race to my dad who passed away 5 years ago. This group is truly amazing – I am so glad I found them!
Once in the corrals, I did a few stretches, made small talk with the people around me and enjoyed the commentary from the MCs. I loved that they played clips from the different Star Wars movies as we waited – it definitely kept me pumped and ready to go!
I was in corral J and I believe I started around 5:50. It was about a mile until we were Epcot and then we ran around the World Showcase. We made a right out of Epcot around France and headed towards the Boardwalk area of Disney. The course got a little narrow here (I’m going to chalk it up to me being a little further back than I normally am) and we had to walk for the first time. Once it opened up, we were able to make our way to the entrance of Hollywood Studios. I have never run a race in HS and just thought it was awesome! We ran down the main street, made a left to go around the lake and then came in front of a stage that had Kylo Ren and Storm Troopers “posing” for pictures as runners took selfies. Past the stage, we ran towards Tower of Terror and then out of the park. This started the stretch of long boring highway (however it didn’t feel as long or boring as Princess).
To entertain the runners along this part of the course, the Star Wars soundtrack was playing (so happy I didn’t wear headphones – I loved hearing the music from the movies). Oh and this was the part of the course with the “hills”. They aren’t really hills but on ramps and are just annoying. Anywho, to distract you from the “hills”, they had screens set up showing scenes from the movies (so awesome!! and something fun to focus on!). Oh and if you have run the Princess before, the DJ who is normally by the Contemporary was along this road too.
Then we entered Animal Kingdom. I don’t visit this park very often so I did enjoy this part of the course. It was kind cool to see parts of the park I haven’t been to in ages and to run past the few attractions I like to visit when I do head to AK. This was the last chunk of the race. After we left the last park, we had a little more boring highway (seriously, I thought it was going to be a lot longer on the highway). All of a sudden, we were making a right that I was not expecting at all and it was the trail road leading into the back of World Wide of Sports! Holy cow – we were almost done!! We went through the last water stop and then moved through the complex. I couldn’t wait to find the finish line. Once I saw it, I summoned the last of the energy I had and ran a comfortable pace to the finish. I put a huge smile on my face, threw my arms up and crossed the line!
I ended up PRing (I am slow people…like a turtle…and Disney is not the place to hope for a PR). I came in at 3:39. Shaving time off…maybe I will actually come in under 3:30 this year!
Went through the shoot, was given my medal by another one of my team leads from Princess, collected my special medals, runner box, water and headed for my gear bag. Texted my mom to tell her where to meet me.
I was so proud to have my mom there to see me finish. This was the first half she’s ever come to and was there after. I loved giving her a big hug – even though she probably didn’t like the sweaty hug she received!
Headed to the bus after I just sat for a few minutes, got on a bus fairly quickly. Once back at the hotel, we made our way to the room where I promptly devoured my Mickey waffles and bacon before taking my long awaited shower.
Positives: different course (for me), plenty of water/powerade, aid stations, entertainment (marching band, characters, cosplay group, video clips, DJ, music), typical Disney organization/theming
Negatives: there seemed to be more bottlenecking than normal (but it could just be because I was further back), humidity (it’s Florida and I knew that going in)
Total half marathoners: 18,171