runDisney – Star Wars Dark Side Half 2017

“When you said challenge, I thought you meant running the two races.  I didn’t know the actual challenge was lack of sleep.” – Joseph Green in the starting corral for the Star Wars Half, 2017

runDisney – Star Wars Dark Side Half 2017

3:15 am.  Mickey Mouse called and said it was time to start the day just as the alarm on my phone (across the room) started to play its tune.  Is there an adjective to describe more-than-exhausted-less-than-dead?  Whatever that word is, Joseph and I were it.  We got ready in silence except for the few moments of panic when we couldn’t find Joseph’s race bib.  Crisis averted, we practically chugged our coffee as we made our last-minute preparations.  Matching shirts on, Cliff Bars and PowerAde in hand, playlists ready, we were out the door and headed to the bus stop once again by 3:50.  We could have actually walked to the starting area from our resort, but…seriously?  No.

We’d been the recipients of a little extra Disney magic the previous afternoon and had a surprise waiting for us in our room.  Fuel for our fight against the resistance!  Well, being secret rebels, we could not be swayed from our mission by PowerAde and granola bars, but we did appreciate the gesture and that PowerAde came in handy on race morning.

The bus was waiting for us once again and this time it was so crowded that by the time we picked up runners from Shades of Green, the aisle was packed and every seat was full for the short trip to the starting area.  For a few moments there on the dark bus I was asking myself exactly how I though I was going to be able to run 13.1 miles with zero energy, but then we arrived and I put on a happy face determined to use the fake-it-til-you-make-it philosophy.

We met up with Dave and Anne at the same spot as the previous morning – all of us a bit less cheerful and we forgot to pose for any pictures together.  Joseph was assigned to corral B and I to corral C for this race, but he moved back to start with me and we settled in to wait our turn to go.

The course this time would take us first to Animal Kingdom, then to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and finally through Epcot to the finish line.  Like the day before, the first few miles alternated between pitch black and flood lights except as an added feature for the half, there were “lasers”.  Moving colored lights that, when they hit you, were instantly and completely blinding.  Luckily, we made our way without serious incident and started to notice signs we were nearing Animal Kingdom.

We entered the park near Kali River Rapids and made our way uphill towards Expedition Everest, passing monkeys and cheerful Cast Members as we went.  We barely had time to stop for a few quick selfies before we passed up DinoLand USA and were out on the road again.  At mile 8, volunteers were offering GU packets and, being a little picky about what I eat while running, I grabbed water and passed on the GU…I should not have done that.

Around mile 10 we arrived at the Studios and took the same route in and out, but there were more characters to see than there were for the 10K.  The Storm Troopers had a short line, so we waited for a picture with them.  One said, “Greeting Citizens”, we posed for the picture, and the other one said, “Move along”.  So we did.  Once again taking the walkway along the water towards the Boardwalk.

We got to run around the entire Boardwalk and that’s extra fun because quite a few people show up to cheer for runners and many of those fans hold funny signs.  Looking at the signs was how I spotted Tim and Bob from The Resort Loop Podcast and I was SO excited to see them, I stopped to speak to them and introduce Joseph, but forgot to take a picture.  Their show is great, you should give it a listen.

Before long, we were headed up the bridge to Epcot. This slight uphill felt monumental!  I was paying the price for not getting some carbs back on mile 8.  We’d taken a couple of short walk breaks between miles 9 and 10 and I knew we only had about a mile to go, but I needed just a minute of rest.  Joseph looked sad and I told him with a joking tone that while I knew I was a disappointment to him, I had 30 years on him and I was out of gas.  The very nice young lady running in front of me, having heard what I said, spun around and insisted, “You’re doing GREAT!”.  Then she reached into her pocket and handed me a “salted watermelon” flavored GU…which was the most delicious thing in the world to me at that exact moment.  I am still so grateful to this perfect stranger!  Like spinach for Popeye, that GU gave me a burst of energy and we immediately ran right on to the finish line.  Here’s a picture of us after I felt better:

For as tired as we were and as bad as we’d felt waiting for the race to start, we had an amazing time.  We also felt pretty great when we finished.  Overall, it was everything we’d hoped for (except enough sleep!).  We found Raymond and the three of us were enjoying cold recovery beverages (beer) and munching on some snacks when Anne and Dave joined us and we had fun comparing our experiences.  The weather was beautiful and we had the whole day ahead to enjoy being at Walt Disney World.

If I could change anything, we’d have gone to sleep earlier and I would have fueled better during the half.  I must add emphatically that having someone to run with increased my enjoyment of these events immensely!  Thank you, Joe!!!  I love you.

Here are the stats:

Finish Time:  2:35:28

Overall Place (We crossed the finish line exactly at the same time, but clocked 2 places different!)

  • Lisa: 5,196/16,311
  • Joseph: 5,194/16,311

Gender Place

  • Lisa:  1,965/8,800
  • Joseph:  3,231/7,511

Age Group Place

  • Lisa:  93/522
  • Joseph:  173/359

runDisney – Star Wars 10K 2017 Race Recap

Race one of the Dark Side Challenge!  Having stayed up much too late eating at Narcoossee’s and watching Wishes from our table, I set the alarms to allow maximum sleep time while still allowing us enough time to get ready and walk to the event bus by 4:00 am.  I set my phone across the room with the alarm set for 3:15 am and placed a wake-up call for the same time.  The cheerful voice of Mickey Mouse on the phone would surely make getting up with less than five hours of sleep easier, right?

By 3:50 we were ready to go.  Star Wars-themed shirts, ear buds, phones, and race bibs in place, we told a sleepy Raymond goodbye and headed for the bus.  I’d brought along Cliff Bars for breakfast and we munched on those as we walked.  I’d expected to see other runners, but we were alone in the dark, making our way from the Villas at the Grand Floridian past the resort’s main entrance, past the park bus stop, and finally to the runDisney bus. We climbed aboard and found a big crowd of folks who were as tired and silent as we were.  The bus stopped for more runners at Shades of Green and then dropped us off in the pre-race assembly area.  It was probably about 4:20 by now and we could see some runners sprinting their warm-ups.  Yeah, we wouldn’t be sprinting at any point and felt no need to warm up any further than what we were already feeling from the humid morning air.  The temperature was around 70-degrees.

Runners are divided into two groups for entrance to the starting area – those with bags and those without.  We breezed on through the “without” entrance and I immediately started looking for my friends Dave and Anne.  In a sea of ten thousand runners, I couldn’t believe I spotted them almost right away.  We had only a few minutes to chat and snap a few pictures before the announcement was made for runners to begin making their way to the starting corrals.  Joseph and I wished them luck and made our way to corral A.  We had an hour to go before race-time.

runDisney does an excellent job of trying to keep you entertained while you wait.  With a stage and screen set up, live emcees alternated with Star Wars movie trailers and film clips.  Corral A is a bit of a double-edged sword.  You get to start the race first (after the wheel chair division), but you’re with the most serious runners, so there are a lot of people trying to squeeze to the very front of the crowd.  We found a relatively calm spot to wait and after the National Anthem, we were led to the starting line.  Every wave is sent off with a burst of fireworks!  All I could think about was how much the resort guests trying to sleep nearby must have been loving that!

We were off.  This was an entirely new race course and while we’d seen the course map, we didn’t really know what to expect.  At first there was a whole lot of nothing.  Pitch dark in places, we couldn’t even see our feet.  Then there would be flood lights before more darkness.  We saw a couple of character stops, but had agreed to save stopping for pictures for later in the race (if at all).  Because we had 13.1 miles to run the next day, we concentrated on keeping a comfortable pace and not pushing ourselves too hard.  That was actually more challenging than I thought it would be – hot, humid, nothing to look at in the dark, I could tell we were speeding up to get to the fun part.

At nearly four miles into the race, we finally reached Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  We entered from an area behind Tower of Terror and it struck me as a little eerie to see the Hollywood Tower Hotel but not hear any screaming.  Here’s where we got to see lots of Star Wars characters!  It was light enough out to enjoy running down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards.  Coincidentally, my playlist hit the Star Wars theme song just as we got to this part of the race.

Next we took the walkway along the water towards the Boardwalk area.  This is a narrow sidewalk!  We were able to keep running, but there was quite a bit of congestion.  Dave and Anne told us later than when they reached this part of the course it was so crowded that no one was able to run at all.  Once we reached the end of this part, we ran through the Beach Club resort area and into Epcot. runDisney - Star Wars 10K Race Recap

At this point, we had reached the mile 5 marker.  We passed the U.K. and Canada pavilions, ran past Spaceship Earth, out into the parking lot and across the finish line.  We got our medals, drinks and snack boxes and headed to the post-race area where we found some nearly-empty bleachers to sit on while we cooled off and munched on our goodies.  Joseph and I both felt surprisingly good!  We were ready to get back to the Grand Floridian to clean up and get on with the fun of being at Walt Disney World!  One race down, one to go.RunDisney - Star Wars 10K Race Recap

Here are the race stats for those of you who like that stuff.  Yes, I held Joseph back, but he insisted that running a race together meant running it together and he didn’t care about his time.  I love that kid!

Finish Time:  1:04:53

Overall Place (We crossed the finish line exactly at the same time, but clocked 5 places different!)

  • Lisa: 1994/10,895
  • Joseph: 1999/10,895

Gender Place

  • Lisa:  577/5,888
  • Joseph:  1,421/5,007

Age Group Place

  • Lisa:  33/397
  • Joseph:  69/195

 

runDisney – Getting to the Dark Side

Before I review the races in 2017’s Dark Side Challenge, I have to thank the people who got me there.  Having been a runner for nearly 20 years, I can say emphatically and honestly that I could never and would never have achieved what I have without the support of my family.  From the first step, Raymond has been my biggest fan and has done everything possible to help me succeed.  Primarily by believing in me most during the times when I had the least faith in my ability to go on.  He’s seen me through hundreds of training miles, two full marathons, 10 half marathons, more than 30 triathlons, countless local 5K and 10K races, two bicycle wrecks, and one trip to the hospital.  He custom built my dream bicycle, taped my injuries, calculated race times, studied course maps, endured countless hours of waiting on race courses, and produced magical words that kept me going when I needed it the most.  All that, and so much more.

runDisney – Getting to the Dark Side

Setting the example for Megan and Joseph, Raymond taught them the importance of supporting your loved ones’ efforts and they’ve risen to the standards he’s demonstrated throughout the years.  From cheering me on to dog- and house-sitting while we were away at races to finally running with me, I’m a proud and incredibly fortunate mom who cannot wait to see what the future holds for us.  runDisney - Getting to the Dark SideMuch mother/child bonding has gone on during long, hot runs in the Louisiana sun and I’ve gotten to know the adult version of my children – their dreams and plans – better for the miles we’ve struggled through together.  While we’re running, Raymond uses that time to ride his bicycle so win-win for the entire family.  Plus, all this training has meant that we all see each other every weekend and after putting in the miles, we’ve cooked up some delicious meals together.  Joseph’s girlfriend, Lyndsey, has even succumbed and started running with us (though I have it on good authority that the real draw for her may be the food).runDisney - Dark Side Challenge

Completing the Dark Side Challenge with Joseph was unbelievably fun, but we missed Megan (who selflessly stayed home with Junior).  I’m pleased to announce that next February, Megan will make her runDisney debut with Joseph and I when we take on the 2018 Fairy Tale Challenge.

Why did we choose the Princess races instead of returning for Star Wars?

I’ll be giving more detail on the Star Wars 10K and half-marathon over the next few days, but we may have completed our one-and-only Dark Side Challenge for a couple of reasons.  One:  The weather was unseasonably warm and humid.  February is a much less risky choice for good running weather.  Two:  Fewer people dressed up, there were fewer characters and photo ops on the race courses, and the general excitement and celebration that is evident everywhere during Princess Half Marathon weekend seemed to be lacking during the Star Wars events.

For Joseph’s first runDisney events, the Dark Side Challenge was perfect and he thought the races were well-organized and loved the characters and extra Disney magic along the way.  I’ll be curious to see how he feels about the Princess races and how they compare.  As for Megan – I’ve got her working on costume ideas for the three of us.  296 days to go…let’s get running!

 

 

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

Last weekend’s trip to Walt Disney World was brief but packed with fun.  I’ve got so much to tell you, I thought I’d start with this post full of my impressions of the best and not-so-great aspects of our visit.  I’ll follow up with posts on the Star Wars 10K and half marathon and a restaurant review or two.  Here’s the scoop…

2017 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Review

We arrived mid-day Friday.  Our plan was to get to the Grand Floridian (stayed at the DVC Villas), drop off our luggage, grab a bite at the Gasparilla Island Grill (underrated quick-service), then rush over to Wide World Of Sports so Joseph and I could pick up our race packets for the Dark Side Challenge.  This part went off without a hitch.  I was very excited to see Richard (famous greeter at the Grand Floridian) looking well.  If you seen him, say hello and he’ll say, “Welcome to the Grand!”  I love that he’s in his 90’s and still enjoying his job so much.

We wanted to spend a few minutes shopping at the Expo if possible and, thanks to the event buses running often, mission accomplished!  I’d booked Magic Kingdom FastPasses starting at 4:30 (or thereabouts) for Seven Dwarfs, Big Thunder, and Space Mountain and we arrived in plenty of time!  We even managed to squeeze in Pirates and PeopleMover as well.  Dinner was at Narcoossee’s and the 8:30 dining time was my first error of this trip.  WAY too late to eat before having to get up at 3:15 a.m. the next day.

Before dinner, we managed a quick glass of wine in Mizner’s Lounge.  Joseph had never heard the Lobby Society Orchestra play before and they sounded especially great that evening.  We were wishing we’d had more time to relax and enjoy the music.  On the way to Narcoossee’s, we spotted a rather large dark-colored snake on the sidewalk.  As I’ve mentioned before (here), Joseph has an affinity for reptiles.  I wanted to take the snake’s picture, Joseph wanted to pick it up!  Raymond and I, at the exact same time, realized what was about to happen and quietly said, “Don’t do it!” just about the time the snake decided to slither off into the bushes.  I did mention to the hostess that some guests might be alarmed if Mr. Snake decided to move back onto the warmth of the walkway.

Dinner was excellent as was our view of Wishes during our meal.  As we headed to our room to catch what sleep we could, we noticed and Cast Member and a gentleman in a suit holding a flashlight searching for the snake – or at least making sure it stayed off the sidewalk.  Our room (studio #1428) was the biggest disappointment of our stay.  There was no split bathroom, just a plain bathroom with a tub/shower combo.We didn’t even know such a room type existed!  Made getting ready take much longer for the three of us as we are a decidedly anti-bathroom-sharing people.  The room overall was lovely, but felt like a plain hotel room.  If you’ve seen DVC studios at Disney’s Polynesian Village or Bay Lake Tower, you can appreciate how disappointed we were.  There’s a split bathroom at the Poly and Bay Lake Tower’s kitchenette is so large, there’s extra room (with a counter and mirror) for getting ready.

Watch for a full report on the Star Wars 10K in the next few days.  Let me jump straight to our post-race activities…

At 180-days out, I’d booked a reservation for lunch at Beaches & Cream (Beach Club) and then cancelled it the day before we left home.  I should not have done that.  The recently opened Polite Pig in Disney Springs seemed just our type of place and we all wanted to try it.  Arriving at Disney Springs around 10:00 a.m., we had about an hour to shop before the restaurant opened and we were among the first in the door.  The atmosphere is neat and the employees were perfectly polite.  But, in spite of our love for barbecue and smoked meats, we were (all of us) disappointed in our food.  Such unanimous agreement is practically unheard of!  I ended up feeling sorry we didn’t get to try Beaches & Cream.  Next time we visit the Polite Pig, it’ll be for the bar instead of the food – our beers were very delicious and their drink menu is vast.

After lunch we were off to Epcot for the Disney Exchange Podcast Meet-up!  Nick, Dave, and I, (and our families) were excited to see friends of the show and spent an hour visiting and laughing a LOT!  We felt very humbled and special to have listeners willing to interrupt their Disney vacation to spend time with us.  Thanks especially to “Aunt Sandy”, Dave J., Victoria, Olivia, Linda, and Phillip (a.k.a. Duke).  After the meet-up, Raymond, Joseph and I headed off to use our FastPasses.

Frozen was down, so we used our first FastPass for Soarin’ followed by Spaceship Earth (we got stuck for a couple of minutes by the garlic hat guy and it was great!).  Our last FastPass went unused (Nemo) when we realized how nice it would be to go back to our room for a few minutes before dinner at Il Mulino – our now-traditional-pre-half-marathon-go-to restaurant.  If you are not on the Disney Dining Plan, I urge you to give some of the Swan and Dolphin’s restaurants a try!  This was our fourth visit to Il Mulino and our experiences have all been consistently excellent.

Immediately after dinner, we got back to our room as quickly as possible and were out as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

Sunday morning, there was that little matter of the Star Wars Half Marathon.  (Full review soon.)  Raymond was waiting for Joseph and me when we finished the race and the three of us, along with Dave and his wife, Anne, enjoyed a few minutes of the post-race party before getting on with the rest of our day.  Animal Kingdom was on the agenda and by the time we got there, a bad case of “hangry” had struck so we decided to grab some small plates at the Nomad Lounge.And ended up staying for three hours once Nick and Dave (and their wives and friends) found out where we were and joined us.  If you haven’t been to Nomad Lounge, go!  It’s about as perfect a place to relax as exists on Disney property.  The beverage selection is great, the food is yummy, and the atmosphere is tranquil.  Unbelievably, we left Nomad Lounge and spent a few more minutes together at the Dawa Bar.

Eventually we needed to excuse ourselves in favor of FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest.  We strolled along the Gorilla Falls Trail between attractions and then caught a bus for Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village section for dinner at Sanaa.  We were early and spent time out on the savannah overlook sitting in rocking chairs and enjoying the lovely weather.  Sanaa’s manager was kind enough to find us a table about 30 minutes before our reservation and we were delighted to introduce Joseph to the restaurant’s famous bread service.

To wrap up the day, we met our Disney Exchange friends back at Animal Kingdom for Rivers of Light.  It was our first time to see it and typically, Raymond, Joseph and I had completely differing opinions about this new show (more on that at a later date).  By this time, even with all the rest and relaxation, the trackers on our Fitbits had passed 20 miles for the day.  It was time to turn in so we had enough energy to squeeze in a last little bit of Disney in the morning.

We were awake and busy packing by 6:15 a.m.  We had breakfast scheduled at Kona Café (another tradition) followed by one last FastPass in Magic Kingdom for Space Mountain at 9:20.  Our ride to the airport was scheduled to pick us up at 11:00 a.m.  Dave met us in Magic Kingdom and we had time for a last ride around Tomorrowland on the PeopleMover before blasting off into Space.  It was time to go.  One last bit of pixie dust found us as we went back to our room for our luggage – Cinderella’s horses, carriage and footmen were on the path around our building and we got to see them up close as they passed by.  Then we found ourselves leaving Walt Disney World behind to get home for some much needed rest!

For a very short 72 hours, we had an amazing (exhausting) time!  Joseph completed his first runDisney events.  Nick, Dave and I managed (finally!) to have our first podcast meet-up.  Family, friends, and LOTS of Disney magic all around…we could not have asked for a better time.