When I registered for the Disney World Dark Side Challenge, I was in great running shape, I wasn’t injured, and I was ready to rock Coast2Coast challenges for runDisney in 2017. As we all know from my post on the Disneyland Star Wars Rebel Challenge back in January…this almost didn’t come to pass. My hip flexor began to act up right at the start of the New Year. No joke. January 1. And it never got better. And with no chance to see my orthopedic doctor before the California trip…I ran through the Light Side 10K and Light Side Half Marathon at Disneyland, basically being held together by Ibuprofen, Tylenol, KT Tape, and ACE Bandages. No lie. That’s the honest truth. And from there, I had to wait another month to even see my ortho and get diagnosed with an extremely strained hip flexor. Like…it was basically paralyzed. How is that for determination when it comes through getting through back-to-back races?
Lots of physical therapy, exercises, stretches, lunges, resistance band moves, and sheer determination later, I was finally back on the road. That was about the start of March. And I knew I not only had the Disney Dark Side Challenge ahead of me near the end of April, but also the Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon (I was originally signed up for the full, but as I lost 2 months of training and then had to baby-step my way back into mileage, I would have been a fool to even attempt the distance) the following weekend, I didn’t have much time to get back to where I would feel comfortable at distance races. 3 miles, 4 miles, 5 miles, 6 miles, 7 miles, 8 miles, 10 miles, and then 8 miles. That was my build-up to the two half marathons I had lurking on my calendar. I ran a 5K race…then a 10K race…and had to sit-out two races (they ran the same day and were way above the mileage I was at for that week in my build-up) I was interested in running – Run The Bluegrass Half and the Papa John’s 10 Miler (my favorite race in Louisville).
It stung…but I knew that obeying my physical therapists directions, I would only better myself and not cause further setbacks.
And so…the big weekend arrived. This was going to be a short trip to Florida, which probably was a good thing in the end. Disney is expensive, but always worth it. Always. Early, early, early morning on Friday, my good friend, Melissa, drove over to the apartment and picked up my roommate and me and dropped us off at the airport. She was a lifesaver. This saved us airport parking money…and she said she was free to drive us home when we got back in town…which we did end up taking her up on.
We settled in at the airport as the TSA line wasn’t bad at all…and really we were the only flight going out of there (a brand new offering from Southwest…non-stop morning flight to Orlando…yes, please!)…so we wandered the terminal for a bit before waiting to board. We did, and I snagged us spots near the front. Easier and earlier exit upon arrival. I got out my Kindle and started to read 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, as we took our 2 hour flight to the House of Mouse. I napped a bit too. I knew I was going to need it.
We hit the ground running. We always do. Baggage claim to car rental to Publix to our resort (our room wasn’t ready yet so we had to check our bags while we hit the expo and park) to the Expo.
Me at the runDisney Disney World Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Expo – Orlando, FL
I love the runDisney expo…but this time around, I really, really, really needed to behave myself. With a tight budget going into this, I made a point to really not look too closely at things. I had wanted to buy some Pro Compression socks…but never found their booth, so that never happened. They were there, but I think I rushed myself through and just didn’t look at everything this time around. I did pick up my packet and got my photo taken for the challenge (they check your bib number and photo when you go to get your challenge medals to make sure YOU actually were the one running). Then it was off to claim t-shirts and hit up the rest of the expo. I dove into the event merchandise first. Because I wanted my pins. I also picked up a shirt for Melissa’s husband Paul (she gave us money toward it), and a shirt for my running partner, Matthew. I picked up the pins and my roommate got me a magnet for my car and a t-shirt for after I completed the Star Wars Dark Side Challenge.
We finished up shopping (which meant walking swiftly through the expo so as not to find time to purchase anything), and then headed out to hit up Animal Kingdom. We were originally going to stash our stuff in a locker, but as we didn’t have much, Cathy just ended up carrying the bag along. No rides really (she hates roller coasters and riding alone is kinda…meh). Our first stop was the best coffee ever (it always is the first stop at Animal Kingdom), and then we were off and wandering about until our FastPass for the Kilimanjaro Safari to kick in. This involved ducking in and out of shops, grabbing a quick snack (usually I bring snacks with me, but these were in the luggage that were stashed back at the resort), and so-on. So, we thrashed the rest of the day at Animal Kingdom, explored, shopped, and then ducked over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for our traditional first night at Disney meal…at Sanaa!
This was different in that I was actually racing the following day…and normally don’t eat this kind of food the night before a race. But, hell, I was already going to die in the humidity in my costume…why not go out with a delicious meal the night before, right? RIGHT!
So, I ended up ordering the gluten-free bread service which had gluten-free naan and about 8 different dipping sauces, which were the Red Chile Sambal, Coriander Chutney, Mango Chutney, Tomato-Date Jam, Garlic Pickle, Spicy Jalapeno-Lime Pickle, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (got 2 of those, actually), and the Tamarind Chutney. It comes with 9 usually, but I couldn’t have the Cucumber Raita because there is dairy in it. We devoured the hell out of that, both Cathy and I agreeing that the best dip on there was the Tamarind Chutney, the Mango Chutney, and the Tomato-Date Jam. It’s not every day I get naan, so this was fun. And delicious. And for dinner…I went with one of their Potjie Inspired Samplers which I chose the Chickpea Wat and the Cilantro-Coconut Milk Seasoned Vegetables – served with Basmati Rice.
We ate to a state of complete fullness. No dessert. And then, we should have gone back to the resort. But we didn’t. We popped over to Disney Springs to check out the big World of Disney Store, get a free sample of Ghirardelli Chocolate, and then head over to Erin McKenna’s Bakery for some Gluten-Free Coffee Cake, a Gluten-Free Cinnamon Roll, and a gluten-free (GINORMOUS) Thin Mint Cookie. None of which we ate that night, nor did we indulge in the Vegan Soft Serve that night either. We were full. We were tired. And we still needed to get back to Port Orleans Riverside and pick up our bags and officially (and finally) get to our room.
Since I was running first thing in the morning, I simply got out my race outfit, brushed my teeth, and climbed into bed. I could shower after the race. Sunscreen be damned. I was exhausted at this point and had 3 early alarms set to wake up me (twice) and then my roommate. Because Saturday morning brought us to the…
Star Wars Dark Side 10K
Race: Star Wars Dark Side 10K
Place: Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Date: April 22, 2017
I had really wanted to switch up the costumes for Dark Side and actually run them as characters of the Dark Side in Star Wars…but I didn’t have the money (after all the physical therapy and doctor bills that went into the hip) to justify new running costumes. So…I opted instead to reuse the costumes I ran the Disneyland Star Wars Light Side Rebel Challenge in. This meant I was to be Rey on Saturday for the 10K and then BB-8 on Sunday in the Half Marathon. I obsessively checked the weather the week leading into the races, and it was showing very warm mornings (high 60s) and very hot afternoons (low 90s). UGH. My Rey costume involved long capris and arm warmers. In Florida heat/humidity, I had a feeling I might fly and die in this race. The costume always looks great. AND…it does sort of feel like running in pajamas. It was perfect for the unseasonably cold races I had in Los Angeles for the Light Side…but now, I was really starting to question my sanity. I was determined to run in the costume and keep the arm warmers on. They were sewn to my arm size so they are virtually impossible to tear off and discard. And to keep myself from trying, I placed my Garmin (very inaccurate HRM readings that race) and my Road ID and Momentum Jewelry on over the arm warmers. Because I am smart. Or stupid. Depends on how you look at it, right?
We had done some prep the night before (it was already late, what was a few more minutes), so I was dressed by the time my third alarm went off to wake up Cathy. She clamored out of her bed to get ready while I got a banana ready and we pinned me up with my Dark Side Challenge bib and headed out the door. We stepped down the sairs and walked to the sidewalk that would take us to the bridge that would lead us to the bus that would take us to the start…and the first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. Normally, the resorts are hopping with runners heading toward the shuttle buses, but this morning, there was not another runner in sight. And as we made our way to the bus stop, a half-empty bus pulled away. Cathy questioned the helpful employee manning the bus depot whether we were late, and he said that the buses started at 3:30 and that he was simply sending that bus around to the other stops before having it come back. Another runner showed up shortly after that. We felt a little better about life, but still freaked out. Nothing like a big ball of stress in the morning to make your race day awesome, right?
Cathy with her Star Wars Dark Side 10K sign
Anyway, we arrived at the staging area, where I got to go through the NO BAGS line and Cathy had her new Captain America messenger bag searched. We met up after that and continued on to see what exciting stuff was going on at the base camp near the start line. We were actually a little late getting there, so there was a lot going on. But Cathy and I made our way over to the start line area to take a few pictures. I stood there and talked to her for a little bit of time before I had to head to my corral. She finally made me go…which was good because as I got up to Corral A, I started to eat my banana and heard the volunteer shout, “Corral A will close in 5 minutes!” So, I ducked inside and walked with the group up to the official start line.
The start line is usually a lot of fun at Disney races. They tend to theme them to the specific race. LOTS of Star Wars guests on stage at this one, but I have to say that the entertainment and banter at the Light Side races was WAY better than here. I didn’t really notice much of it. I was so exhausted that I was starting to fall asleep, standing up in the corral. But soon, the National Anthem was sung and the wheelchairs were sent off to start us out. And then…it was Corral A’s turn. The countdown…the fireworks…and GO!
The Disney World Dark Side 10K starts in a parking lot and sends you out onto the highway for the first 3 miles. It is, thankfully, still dark at this point, so it isn’t boring. We just make our way down a long stretch of road, with a few character stops and movie clips and music to entertain the runners along the way. Just after Mile 3, you enter the first park – the relatively flat Hollywood Studios. This is a fun jaunt through the park, passing the Tower of Terror and and other rides before turning onto the main drag for a moment, and the exiting the park. You run around the main entrance and head down to the bus depots, bypassing them to hit the Boardwalk.
I am practically dying here, as is relevant in my Garmin splits. Miles 4 & 5 were my slowest, each at 7:27 and 7:36, respectively. The course is really flat, which makes it fast for me. I love a good, flat course. And the Boardwalk entrance also gave me my favorite music on the course – a dance-techno version of the Imperial March. I want this version. Like now. It was a nice distraction to focus on as I ran the walkway toward the actual boardwalk near the Disney Beach Club Resort. There were a few Disney Cast Members out there to cheer us on, which I love…every time I run along here. It’s nice to have support near the end of a run, even if it’s just a few voices and claps along the way. As we exited the Boardwalk…we were off to the Epcot World Showcase. We run up a nice incline and as we hit the top, another Cast Member says, “Welcome to the Stage!” This is the last mile of the race, and it goes by fast. For the 10K, you don’t run the entire World Showcase. You just duck inside and run part of it, before exiting and making our way toward Spaceship Earth (aka: the giant Epcot ball). You make the turn out of the park and head around toward that finish line. You hear the announcer. You hear the crowd.
Star Wars Dark Side 10K
And somewhere, despite being overheated in my costume and dealing with the heat/humidity that morning…I found a little pit of a kick (not much) to bounce into the finish. I spotted Cathy in the stands soon after crossing, holding the Cookie Monster sign she made that said, “Me Promised Cookies by Dark Side”. BEST. SIGN. EVER. She snapped my picture and I went on to pick up my 10K medal, snack box, and water, and exit through bag check to find her waiting on me.
Lines weren’t currently long, so we went and made sure to get a few photos that day…with BB-8, Kylo-Ren, Phasma, and Jabba. It was awesome. She also relayed my final time to me…which I thought matched the 10K time I ran at the Light Side (while injured), but I was wrong. It was pretty close to the Wine & Dine Half Marathon I ran in November. Actually this was faster. I must have been humidity stupid. I stopped being so disappointed in it after looking up my Light Side time and realizing I ran that one 3 minutes slower than this.
So my official results of the Disney World Star Wars Light Side Half Marathon are that I finished in 47:10. Which wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I’ll take it. My coach had put it out there to attempt a goal time of 42 minutes, which is actually 2 minutes and change faster than I have ever run that distance, and I came nowhere near meeting that. That’s a 6-something minute mile overall, and I’ve never been able to sustain that pace. I might one day…but I’m getting older…I might not. I was 160/10,895 finishers overall. I was the 19/5888 female to cross the finish line. And I was 4/1008 runners in my age division. I ALMOST got an age group award at a Disney race, which has been a goal of mine for awhile, but normally just come short of it. Like this. But, super happy with these results. I ran strong, even in a hot costume on a warm morning…and I felt good afterwards. I call that a win!
Gluten Free Beignets from Port Orleans French Quarter….AMAZING!
After returning to the resort to shower, I dressed in my BB-8 dress and headed to Port Orleans French Quarter to split an order of Gluten Free Beignets with Cathy before heading to Hollywood Studios. That was where we intended to spend the rest of the day…because…
You can now meet BB-8!! Meet and greet BB-8. HOW COOL!! I was more than a little happy to meet my favorite little droid. And he approved of my dress. AND…I met Chewbacca as well. I might have been geeking out more than a little. Star Wars Land is really going to be amazing when it’s completely done and open to the public. We spent the day riding Star Tours, shopping, and checking out the sites.
Dinner that night…had to be at Mama Melrose’s Italian Ristorante Italiano. Best part was…the re-introduced the gluten-free flatbreads. So I got the Gluten Free Mushroom Flatbread…which is their gluten-free flatbread with Roasted Cremini and Button Mushrooms with a Roasted Vidalia Onion Spread finished with Balsamic Reduction and fresh Herbs. It normally had cheese on it, but they were able to make mine without. So, it was kind of like having a pizza…which I prefer before a big race. Pasta works in a pinch, but gluten-free pizza is magic.
No dessert there…we learned our lesson about staying up late…so we headed back to the resort and split the Thin Mint Cookie (HUGE) for dessert.
Cathy went to shower while I foam rolled and then…lights out. Another early morning awaited…
Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon
Disney World Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon
Race: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon
Place: Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Date: August 23, 2017
My runDisney race protocol is this…Alarm 1: 1 am; Alarm 2: 2 am. Alarm 3 (aka: Cathy’s Alarm): 3 am. We shifted this just slightly…hence the early bedtime. We learn from our previous mistakes. We’re not even runDisney rookies…we just overestimated what kind of time we might have on our first day at Disney World.
I ate a small helping of cereal (no milk…just dry) and got my running outfit on and my epic race hair ponytails in. I actually felt a bit more alert on half marathon morning, and we were running on target to get out the door and to the shuttle bus to the race start earlier than the previous morning. After a quick brush of my teeth, Cathy handed me my fuel belt and I grabbed my light hoodie so I wouldn’t freeze on the shuttle bus…and we were out the door.
There was A LOT more going on this morning. Runners were going across the bridge and toward the shuttle bus. We weren’t alone today. And that was a very good thing. The bus that was waiting was sent on…but another one quickly followed. And it didn’t even fill up all the way. I was glad to have the hoodie because I often get chilled when I’m just in a bra top…even if it is warm outside. And…honestly…sometimes those buses are FREEZING inside.
I also wasn’t loving the way the BB-8 costume was fitting. I’m having bad body image issues at the moment, due to all the setbacks with my body and how it has prevented me from keeping up my light, lithe runners body. I’ll get it back…it’s just taking more time than I’d like.
BB-8 needed a Power Nap before the half marathon!
The short drive to the start included a dance party a la Cathy while Hammer Time and Happy played over the radio. We were dropped off and sent through the NO BAG and BAG CHECK lines. Runner belts are not considered bags, so I had it easy. But Cathy was through the line in no time. We went over to check out the start, but we were really early this morning, so Cathy settled in on the ground and I laid down and took one of my infamous pre-race power naps.
I don’t know what it is, but these naps are magical. I don’t doze for long, but I feel so much more relaxed and ready, even when I’m not. The race was Yellow Flagged at the start, meaning we were to back off on speed and not really aim for a PR…although that usually means nothing to most runners. When I woke up, I had to grab my banana and head into the corral area. This was way more chaotic than on 10K morning, and it took me about 8 or so minutes to get from the entrance all the way up to Corral A. I got there with enough time to walk toward the start line with the group, and then attempt to wriggle my way closer to the actual start.
The entertainment was much the same…fun but not as much fun as Disneyland. They showed the new trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie. They showed clips of other Star Wars movies. They asked people what their favorite Star Wars episode was. Most said The Empire Strikes Back…but one lady said, Rogue One. While Rogue One was a fantastic movie, we all knew going into it that it wasn’t going to end well. Ah, well…to each their own.
Fireworks mean GO TIME!
The National Anthem was up next…followed by the start of the wheelchair racers. Fireworks. The go-sign. And then Corral A…my corral…was off about 3 minutes after them. Cathy finally managed to catch the magical Disney fireworks which they fire off before the start of every corral. So everyone gets to feel special! I love that.
As with most Disney races, a good portion of the race is spent on the highways. But we do get to duck inside three of the parks this time. So, for the first mile, I was already feeling the affects of the 72 degree start temperature and the humidity. I was coated with sweat and was pretty certain I knew exactly how this would affect me later in the week. Nevertheless, I pressed on, turning out onto Floridian Way and then onto Bear Island Road. The runners spend about 4 miles out on the highway, working their way to the first park…and my personal favorite to run through – Animal Kingdom!
We are inside Animal Kingdom, and running up and down the small hills. The cast members there are always very supportive and encouraging. I was feeling pretty good the entire time inside Animal Kingdom, taking the humidity with stride. It felt amazing to run past the Tree of Life and past some of the attractions inside the park as well. After exiting Animal Kingdom, though, I was really starting to feel the heat and humidity catching up to me. I slowed down to walk the water stop at Mile 6 and pour water over my head. The reinvigorated me and I pressed on, picking the pace back up as I started out onto Osceola Parkway, heading toward Hollywood Studios. I stopped again at Mile 8 to once again take in some water and pour the rest over my head, walking through as I did it, and then immediately start running again.
We made the turn on World Drive and then up onto Bueno Vista Drive as we headed into Hollywood Studios. I stopped here, about Mile 10 to grab another cup of water to pour over my head. I walked the hill as I did so and then tossed the cup and took off again. I wasn’t sure if I was helping but I sure felt better with cold water dousing me. Sort of like a second wind. I told myself to press on through the final 3 without stopping if possible. Hollywood Studios was, once again, another quick in and out, taking us back down to the Boardwalk. Once again, that dance-techno version of the Imperial March helped lift my spirits and my pace and I moved through Mile 11 to the Boardwalk. The sun was now up and the Boardwalk had people from the Beach Club Resort out on it to cheer the runners on. That was awesome. I even got a lot of BB-8 shout-outs. We started toward Mile 12, and I had to make one last stop to refresh my overheated body with another cup of water over the head. I was starting to feel really puny. But I kept going. This was the hardest part of the race. My body is tired and overheated and I am now running up to the World Showcase. This time, however, runners actually circle the entire Showcase before getting let out to run toward Spaceship Earth. This is actually a lot of fun, until you glance across the lake and realize how much further you have to go. Then you sort of lose sight of it…and suddenly, you’re making that turn. Chewbacca was stationed there for a photo op, but I was so close now and just ready to be done and have a big bottle of water. I rounded a corner to come into one of the two final turns. Normally, a gospel choir is stationed here to sing you in toward the finish. This time, there were characters from Star Wars. I took the turn, high-fived a storm trooper, and made the final push in to the finish line. I glanced up as I was about to cross, shocked to see a 1:43 time. I thought the walking I had to do slowed me down way more than that. I knew the humidity had…but there it was…
I threw my hands up over my head as I crossed the finish…and even that felt like I had weights on them. But, it’s just something that I do. And just like that…I was done!
My 25th Half Marathon…DONE! This is a really unflattering mid-secion photo!
Cathy shouted at me from the stands and I waived at her before she snapped a picture of me just after the finish. I was smiling. My time was better than anticipated…and I don’t know how I even managed to pull that off. Especially with 4 breaks to walk. I guess I recovered from them efficiently, because my pace for the entire half only dropped below an 8 minute mile once…at 8:01…and that was as I entered the Boardwalk. So…that was a pleasant surprise…because I was feeling like a bit of an unathletic, unfit runner.
My spirits felt lifted…and while I still hated that I had to walk some of it, I was beyond happy with the results. That was a hot, humid, and tough race. And I finished it way faster than I thought I would. I’ll take it.
I now had to file myself trough the lines to retrieve my Dark Side Half Marathon medal. After that…it was into another tent to have my number checked to show that I was to collect a Dark Side Challenge medal. That was okayed, and then I was sent over to a table, where they pulled up my bib number, checked the photo that was taken of me at the expo with my bib, and then sent me through to collect ALL THE MEDALS. And by ALL THE MEDALS, I really mean it. In addition to the Disney World Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Medal, I was given my Disney World Dark Side Challenge Medal (for doing the 10K & Half Marathon); my Kessel Run Challenge Medal (for doing the Disneyland Star Wars Rebel Challenge and the Disney World Dark Side Challenge); and my Coast to Coast Medal (running a half marathon at Disneyland and a half marathon at Disney World). So, after getting those put over my head, I got a cold, wet towel, my snack box, my water, and a banana…and went to get my photo taken before heading out of bag check to meet Cathy. I wiped down my face with the towel and posed for some pictures with all four of the five medals I earned that weekend. She said that the lines for the characters we missed yesterday (Darth Vador and Boba Fett). On the way there, they had these misters going and I had to go stand in them and try to cool off more.
Photos were taken with the characters and we made our way over to the bus to take us back to our resort. As we were walking back to our room, the sprinklers came on and I quickly ducked over to stand under them. I was not cooling off. A shower and some food helped with that. We split the Gluten Free & Vegan Cinnamon Roll and Coffee Cake we had gotten at Disney Springs on Friday night as a breakfast. Then, we were set to head over to Epcot that day to enjoy the rest of the day. The Flower & Garden Show was going on, which we didn’t realize had food booths. So, Cathy’s lunch plan went out the window and she tried a few tasty eats on the World Showcase. We also had to stop at our Starbucks first thing for some coffee. As we were heading out, we saw the last racer, a limping, injured girl in a R2-D2 top and a tutu…shambling toward the finish with the shame wagon behind her. She stopped…took a cautious step…turned around…and then asked for a ride to the finish. She just had about another .3 miles to go. And, honestly, I wanted to duck under the ropes and help get her there. It broke my heart. She was so close.
Sadness, Cathy, Me, Joy
Our one requirement that day was to finally meet Joy & Sadness from Inside Out. THIS…was one of the best character meet & greets I have been to. They were so interactive and didn’t feel like you needed to rush off. Cathy and Sadness bonded as they were both wearing glasses and blue…and Cathy asked Joy if she couldn’t jump since everyone jumped for Joy. She showed that she was, clearly, able to jump. It was amazing.
We enjoyed our day at Epcot…but we had plans for dinner at Morimoto at Disney Springs. I enjoyed a meal of Edamame and then Vegetable Sushi. Cathy got the Pork Buns and the Shrimp Roll. And it was delicious. We decided to head over to Erin McKenna’s for dessert to give the Vegan Soft Serve a try. It was a little gritty, but cool and delicious. I needed that. we both got the Chocolate/Vanilla swirl. Cathy got hers in a cone. I got mine in a cup. I also got the Fairy Dust put on top of mine.
Erin McKenna’s Gluten Free & Vegan Cinnamon & Coffee Cake; Macaron Chocolat Framboise; Morimoto Edamame; Morimoto Vegetable Roll; Erin McKenna’s Gluten Free & Vegan Chocolate-Vanilla Swirl Soft Serve w/ Fairy Dust
And then…instead of going back to Epcot…we called it a day. We waved the white flag and headed back to Port Orleans Riverside to rest up and get some sleep. A character breakfast was first in the morning on Monday and this meant we could get a few extra hours of sleep.
The official race results of the Disney World Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:43:34. I seriously, can’t figure out how I pulled off that time with the walk breaks. I was 265/16311 finishers overall. I was 38/8800 women to cross the finish line. And, I was 7/1496 in my age division. Totally shocked, humbled, and love that I managed to do this. The walk breaks killed me…I hate that I had to take them, but I have learned to run smart. I would have been worse off if I hadn’t.
I’m already hoping to run Disney again soon. Thank you, Dark Side, for the memories!
My medals from the Disney World Star Wars Dark Side Challenge Weekend: Coast to Coast; Kessel Run, Dark Side Challenge, Dark Side Half Marathon, Dark Side 10K