Tag Archives: Half marathon

Views From The Finish Line…A Final Look Back.

There is never a true “beginning” to any story, nor is there ever a true “ending”. There is always a “before” and there will always be an “after” to absolutely everything.

There are, however, convenient starting and ending points for a narrative. A story arc always just feels more complete when there is a clear beginning to that tale, and a clear and concise point where that arc comes to its conclusion.

After a five year journey, which started with a vague decision to “lose a few pounds” and to “run a 5k”, I believe that this narrative has come to an end at the finish line of this week’s Twin Cities 10 Mile.

This does not mean that I will stop running, but this blog was intended to document my journey “from couch to Ironman”. That journey ended 2 years ago. It changed as I tried to find a new calling, a new passion. I dabbled in Ultramarathon and tried the 50 states marathon club. I even tried cross-country skiing. None of these endeavors excited me and those pursuits were abandoned. Finally, I decided that I just needed balence and to make running a PART of my life and a PART of my identity…not it’s sole defining feature. I decided upon this months ago…after signing up for most of this year’s events…and I made it to the end of that schedule. In the process, I tied up some loose ends and found peace in this new harmony.

Ultimately, this passion is something that will be more organic, more subdued, more balenced. It is changing my approach to running.

Events will be for fun and to motivate me to stay healthy. I have not been competative in awhile (except for the surprising results in Waconia) and I have mostly let go of that pressure. As such, the nature of these events will change as well. They will no longer be selected to push my body, and my boundaries, to the brink. They will not be extreme. They will also not be the basis of my yearly life schedule. Traveling for events will occur very rarely (if at all). I won’t bother with race swag or photos (unless included with registration fees) as the swag never gets used and all the race photos look the same after awhile.

My blog will also go dormant. This document was mostly for my own benefit. It was to keep me accountable and to track my journey. It has been successful in that regard…and I am stunned that so many others have followed this journey. But my future in the sport will be more mundane and I am finding that I have less and less to say. It is time to bring this to a close as well.

Despite these promised changes, I am not saying “never again”. I may compete in another marathon at some point. The one thing that I feel that I am missing is a World Marathon Major. There are three of these in the United States…Boston, New York, and Chicago. Chicago would be the easiest race logistically…and is the least inspiring for me. New York sounds amazing and is the biggest marathon in the world. Both races are lottery registrations. Boston is a bucket list race for almost any runner. I will NEVER qualify for this race, but I could do a charity registration. I would just need to find a charity that I believe in that would accept me. Maybe this will be a 50th birthday present to myself. Time will tell…

As for triathlons, I will do one or two local sprints every year just to keep me cycling and swimming. I will never do another full distance Ironman, but a 70.3 may be in my future. It is not a priority, but I’m not ruling it out either. It just feels increasingly unlikely. Despite two new Ironman 70.3’s being launched mithin driving distance, I have no current interest in signing up for either event. Time will tell…

USAT Age Group Nationals was an unexpected wild card. I qualified by winning my Age Group at the HITS Sprint Triathlon in Waconia. This opportunity will be too good to pass up and I know that I would regret passing on this race. I have been invited for the Olympic Distance Age Group National Championship in Omaha next year and I will also compete in the Sprint Age Group National Championship (no qualification needed) the next day. This will be the big travel event of 2017. The rest of the year’s schedule looks quite minimalist by my standards:

-Hot Chocolate 15k (Minneapolis) – April
-Lifetime Tri Minneapolis (Sprint Distance) – July
-USAT Nationals (Olympic and Sprint) – August
-Twin Cities Loony Challenge (10k, 5k, 10 mile) – October.

If I ever do a big race again (Boston, Ironman 70.3, or any full marathon), I will likely post a race report here. I can almost guarantee a few blog posts for Nationals. But my days of regular blogging has come to an end. To my readers, thank you for following me and for the encouragement and inspiration along the way. You have made this journey easier, and more enjoyable as well.

Before I sign off for the last time, I wanted to take a final look back at my five year journey…the medals, the 50 States Marathon map, and the views from the finish lines…

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Race Report: Red, White & Boom Half Marathon

July 4th, 2016
Minneapolis, MN
Half-Marathon #27
Event #100(!)

My 100th event (well, 89th according to Athlinks since they don’t consider events without a finish time as official…so the fun runs and 100 mile cycling events don’t get counted). Fitting that it should be the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon…it has been a staple on my schedule since I started running 5 years ago. It is the only event that I have raced every year since I started to run. The half-marathon is also my most commonly raced distance.

So, I found it ironic that, in reaching this milestone, that it could be my last half.

Unlike full marathons, I am not actively avoiding the distance, but I am cutting back dramatically on all race events. I will likely limit my racing to a spring and fall running event and a summer triathlon. The fall race will be the big event of the year and will be the Twin Cities 10-Mile (no half marathon option available at that event). The summer event will be a sprint triathlon (Lifetime Triathlon Minneapolis most likely), leaving a spring race that will likely be shorter after the off-season (Hot Chocolate 15k scheduled for 2017). A half marathon will almost certainly show up on my schedule at some point…but nothing is on the radar in the foreseeable future.

I have finally settled back into a predictable training routine. Each week I do a 1 mile pool swim, a 32 mile bike/5k run brick, two 10k runs and one “long” run (10k or longer depending on my schedule). This averages out to over 1 hour/day of fitness. It feels like a good balence.

Being on the 4th of July, this is historically a hot race, and it starts early. I received an e-mail that the race would start under a yellow flag due to heat. That seemed a little excessive (mid to high 60’s with dew points in the low 60’s). I assumed it would finish under a yellow flag, but those temps don’t seem too unpleasant.

Packets could be picked up on race morning which makes my life easier. Unfortunately, they have added a 5k run to this event and have opted for two completely separate courses (same finish line) so my race is on the west side of the Mississippi River (about a 1 mile walk from packet pick up) instead of being on both sides and crossing the river a couple of times. I think that I will miss the old course…

The morning was beautiful. Parking was worse then prior years (always a nightmare for this event) even though I got there before they even started handing out packets (5:15 am). I got my stuff, hiked back to the car (to drop off the shirt and pint glass) then headed back to the start. So, I had logged over two miles on my feet before I even made it to the starting line.

The weather was ideal. 64F, slight humidity, nice breeze…and a yellow flag (seriously?) Small dose of reality hit when the cop went by with the bomb sniffing K-9. They wandered through the crowd and opened the garbage bins for a quick sniff before moving on.

The race was fine, but I did miss the old course. This one just wasn’t as scenic. It did get into the low 70’s by the end of the race and I was pouring water over my head during the second half. My speed did not return for this event (I didn’t expect it to) and I am still left to wonder why I am so much slower then before. This race was a full 21 minutes slower then my first half marathon…about 8 weeks after I bought my first running shoes. I am not that much older. Sigh…

As is the norm for this race, they offer grilled hotdogs at the finish. I have never liked these mystery meet products, but I do “indulge” in my only hot dog of the year right after the finish line.

Finish Time – 2:30:02 (grrrr…)

This brings my “spring” running season to a (late) close. In five days, my short summer triathlon season begins (training is already in full swing). Three sprints, the final two being in late August. It should be a nice change of pace…

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Triathlon Training Season Begins…

…of course, I am starting a little late this year. First triathlon is in 1 month.

Whoops…

Fortunately, I am just participating for fun this year…and to give me a reason to get to the pool and bike trail.

Once the Fargo Marathon was behind me, I got to work setting up a regular running schedule and building up good habits again. But, with a Half Marathon and 3 sprint triathlons coming up soon, I need to ramp up running mileage AND get the cross training going. Two days ago, I hit the pool for the first time since January. Swam a mile and it felt good. Yesterday, I hit the bike trail and completed 32 miles followed by a 5k run. Today, a 15k run completed at the crack of dawn before it got too hot and muggy outside.

Sure, this pales by comparison to previous seasons, but great to know that I can still do this much….

…and I was having fun again! How cool is that?

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Looking To The Future – It’s Time To Hang Up The Running Shoes…

In a few short weeks, I will be running my 100th event…the Red, White & Boom Half Marathon. It has been a constant event on my schedule since I started running in 2012. It seems like a fitting 100th event.

The 100th event milestone is also a good opportunity to look back on my journey and reflect on my future goals.

Over the last several month, I have had a chance to do just that. I have realized that the time has come to make some decisions about my hobbies of racing, running, and triathlon. I have come to one unavoidable conclusion.

It is time to quit.

…and I am very much at peace with that decision.

This does not mean “never again”, but racing has become a part time job that interferes with all other aspects of my life. Fitness and wellbeing need to stay. A full calendar of events, lost weekends of traveling to forgettable races for another non-PR and a shirt I will never wear…that all needs to go.

As many of you already know, my training and motivation have been…uhhh…nonexistent this season. Those who follow my blog will not be surprised by this. I tend to be all or nothing in my passions, and running has dwindled down to nothing.

Of course, I had a few reality checks lately. We lost both of our dogs to illness, we got a new puppy, I had a couple health scares (false alarms), an aging mother who is developing more health concerns, and life in general is just making its presence known. This has resulted in my workouts dropping to a couple of 45-60 minute sessions per week. I was not running outside due to cold weather, icy roads, a couple of irresponsible dog owners in the neighborhood, chronic ankle injuries, a prolonged bronchitis, and a general lack of interest in the whole thing.

Since Ironman (easily the highlight of my running career) I have struggled with dwindling interest. I have tried going back to running only. Hated it. I tried shorter events (and fewer of them). Those just seemed like chores when they came around.

I am tired of the expense, the stress and the time lost in traveling to events. Even local events are a 1 hour drive each way, plus extra time for parking and a lot of sitting around waiting for the event to start. A 5k takes up the better part of a weekend day. Don’t even get me started on the “no race day packet pickup” with the 2-3 hours of driving the day before the race.

Yep, the passion is gone.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy running and triathlon. I appreciate the health benefits. But this schedule of 2-3 weekends a month being filled with one thing or another has worn out its welcome.

I am also tired of having my hobby define who I am. Running is a small part of me, not the sum total of what I have become.

As a result, I will be making some serious changes.

For starters, no more traveling. It is too expensive, takes to much time, and involves too much stress.

Next, far fewer events (i.e.: practically none).

The only event that I will certainly continue until I stop running completely is the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend. It is one of the biggest and best running events in the nation, and is the highlight on the calendar every year. There is a phenomenal expo, a marathon, a 10 mile, a 10k and a 5k…as well as multi-event challenges. I can do as much or as little as want to. Also, if any event will rekindle my passion, this would be the one.

Aside from that, I will likely have a sprint triathlon on the calendar somewhere. I have the gear, and one event on the calendar will keep my bike from rotting in the garage. A bike ride in Elm Creek Park is a wonderful summertime experience, and I just need an excuse to get out there. The premier sprint Triathlon in the Twin Cities is Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon and will likely remain my triathlon of choice.

This gives me a summer triathlon and a fall race. I may do something in the spring as well, but there is no obvious must do local event. Likely, I will just sign up for something at the last minute depending on schedule, weather, and motivation. Next year, it will be the Hot Chocolate 15k in April since I deferred the event this year (due to a conflict with Star Wars).

I may run an event or two at the last minute. If the weather will be beautiful, and I have a quiet weekend on tap, then I may sign up for a race just for the fun of it. But the days of developing massive training plans, and of planning my life around races, are behind me.

I had actually made this decision before WDW Star Wars. The stress of getting flights, shuttles, hotels, park tickets, and fast passes was getting to me. When I made that decision, I felt a heavy burden drop. Knowing that Disney was my final race-cation allowed me to enjoy it a lot more (and I felt less guilty spending the time and the money knowing that I would never do this again). Fargo was likely my final out of town trip for a race. Red White & Boom may be my final half-marathon (time will tell). This made for a bittersweet weekend in Fargo, but I was at peace during that final long run.

For the rest of this year, I have a fairly light schedule (by my previous racing standards), and I do intend to see it through. I have three sprint triathlons over the summer, and the Loony Challenge (5k, 10k, 10 mile) at the TC Marathon Weekend in October. It will be a final tour of some well loved events that I will likely enjoy even more without the headache of planning for 10 additional events down the road.

I am not absolutely ruling out a return to marathon and big events at some point down the road, but this return is unlikely and would be far off on the horizon. I currently have nothing on the radar. The only thing that I feel that I am missing from my running resume is a world marathon major (Chicago or New York). The thought of training, dealing with the lottery, and hassle/expense of travel is more then I want to deal with right now, but maybe someday. Alternatively, I may just sign up for one final Twin Cities Marathon if I feel compelled to run one more big race.

Another option would be going to Boston as a charity runner. The cost of this would be huge (I doubt I would be a successful fundraiser, so I would write a check to a charity I believe in). This would be an amazing way to finish the journey, but such an endeavor would be far in the future, and only if the passion was there to warrant the time, stress and expense.

For now, the running “career” is over. It was a fun streak which included the following accomplishments (by the end of the year):

-16 marathons in 11 states
-over 25 half-marathons
-over 100 events
-10 century rides
-18 triathlons
-5 Half-Ironmans
-one 50k ultra
-2 marathons in 2 states in 2 days
-membership in Marathon Maniacs, Half Fanatics, Dual Agents, and 50 Marathon States Clubs
-Ironman Wisconsin
-good health, improved self confidence, and a bucket full of memories.

Looking forward, I will continue with wellness and fitness, and I will show up to a couple of events a year for the simple joy of participating. I will blog race reports for the rest of the season, but I doubt that I will have much to say beyond that. I am following many athletes here and will continue to chear for all of you from the sidelines.

To everyone who has followed my journey and who has offered support, I thank you all. You have lifted me up when I was down, shared in my successes, and have given me more then you know…

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My Muscle Memory Marathon Training Plan…

“Respect The Distance” – Every Marathon Coach Everywhere

“Trust In Your Training” – Yoda

“As A Runner, You Will Do Some Dumb Things. But Try Not To Do Anything That Is Really Incredibly Stupid” – Me

“Whoops! I don’t know how it happened, but I accidentally signed up for another  marathon…” – Facebook Meme

Welcome to my “Incredibly Stupid” race preview…Fargo Marathon Edition.

Last season, I ran 5 marathons and one ultramarathon. I finished the year in October with 2 marathons in 2 days…and I was completely burnt out on running. My plan for this season was a much lighter racing schedule, less half-marathons and absolutely no full marathons. In fact, I ended last season wondering if I would ever run another full again.

As the off-season progressed, I came to a conclusion. My marathon running days were behind me. I had a lot of marathons left on my “to do” list and came to the conclusion that (baring a return to running several years from now and tackling a really big race like New York, Chicago, or MCM) the marathons on my dream list would stay there. Running long distances just too too much of a physical toll on my body and I wasn’t having fun anymore.

So, this season had a modest 4 half marathons on the schedule. Two were Disney races, one was part of a local series that has always been on my schedule, and the last one was Fargo.

Fargo Marathon would have been a race that I would have run sooner or later. It is a 3 hour drive down I-94, is a pancake flat course, and has a really good reputation. It offers a full and a half and I signed up for the half since I could get the experience without putting my body through the full marathon training.

Winter training went poorly. Lack of motivation and a 7 week bout with bronchitis left me on the couch for most of the winter. I struggled with completing my Disney Half Marathons.

That said, part of my brain (the emotional half) was not yet ready to let go of the full marathon distance. I think it was ok with it in theory, but wanted to have one final farewell race. My rational side told me that my longest training run since October was 10k. My three long races (a 10 miler and the two Disney halfs) were painful and I struggled to finish. My rational side told me that I had absolutely no business transferring to a full.

My emotional side waxed nostalgically about one final marathon. My rational sided countered that it could only end with a DNF and possible injury. The emotional side countered that there was a 7 hour cutoff time…I could walk most of it if need be.

Eventually, (with just three weeks to go before race day) I checked online “just to see” if a transfer was even possible. It was. And a few ill-advised clicks later, the transfer was complete.

What the hell had I just done?

I quickly scrambled for a training plan online.

Shockingly, there are no THREE WEEK marathon training plans.

Who knew?

So, about the only training plan I could come up with is what I am calling the “Muscle Memory Marathon Training Plan” (or 3M plan for short). Basically push myself out the door and see what I can do, see how fast I can ramp up, and hope the legs remember the rest.

Kids, do NOT try this at home…

So, last week, I went out 3 days in a row. One lap around the neighborhood is about 3 miles.

Day one, I managed one lap.

Crap, I may not last long enough to get to the first aid station to register my DNF. Wonderful…

Day two, I managed three laps (9 miles). So much for Muscle Memory…

Day three, I was shooting for five laps, I gutted out four.

When I started this process, I honestly had no idea at all what my legs would be able to do.

The answer, apparently, was “not much”.

Thursday, I tried again. Three laps….

I was in trouble…big time.

The marathon is now two weeks away. I need to complete some kind of long run, even if it is just to boost my confidence (and hopefully build my stamina and endurance). After this weekend, it would be too close to race day to try.

I went out the door today with the plan to go as slow and as far as I could. The weather was cooperating. By the end of the morning, I had completed 6 laps (18 miles) in four hours. Finally!

Of course, this is still far less training then I usually do heading into race day. Often, I get 3-4 training runs that are over 20 miles. Not this time, but 18 miles will likely be enough to help get me to the finish on race day.

My remaining training schedule will be a few short runs…likely just some 5k and perhaps a 10k as I taper.

Race day plan is to join one of the slower pace groups (likely 5:30) and hang with them as long as I can. I did something similar in Des Moines (the second leg of my back-to-back marathon challenge) and it worked nicely. The pace was slow enough that it allowed a lot of chatting…which distracted me from the pain and suffering. Hoping that works again.

We will find out in two weeks.

“May Fortune Favor The Foolish” – Captain Kirk

 

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Race Report: Disney/Star Wars Dark Side Challenge

April 15-17, 2016
Orlando, FL
Half Marathon #26
Events #95-97

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“2:21 am. In a shuttle with all my running essentials. Bib…check. Timing chip…check. Running belt…check. Garmin…check. Magic Band…check. Lightsaber…check. The list of running essentials is a little different at Disney…”
-FB post on Half Marathon morning

To me, Disney events are “experiences”, not races. With all sorts of photo stops and other distractions on the course, speed and finish time is a secondary consideration. As long as I am fast enough to not get swept, I’m happy,

The theme again was “Star Wars”. In case you haven’t noticed, I am a bit of a geek about all things Star Wars. That said, this will be my last trip to the House of Mouse. I have reached my saturation point with Disney…grateful for my experiences with no compelling desire for any more.
Registration:

Just registering for Disney events is a huge challenge. The events are very popular, and can sell out in minutes. I have heard many stories of people trying to register the moment the tickets went on sale…and they still could not get in. I was already registered for the Star Wars Disneyland races for 2016 when the WDW races were announced. They also announced a special coast to coast award for anyone running both in the same year. If I were to run both, I wanted that extra medal. The other motivating factor to sign up this yeas was that my speed had vanished in the past 18 months. I could still use some of my faster times from my 2014 season to guarantee me preferred coral placement. However, another Disney trip would be a significant expense that was NOT in the budget (Disney is very skilled at separating cash from their legal owners). With strong spousal support (thanks dear!) we sorted out a way to make it work…if I could get registered. Fortunately, there are a lot of Disney fans who are runners and there are a lot of Facebook groups out there of runDisney fans. I belong to several, and one group has set themselves up as an official runDisney travel group who can secure tickets in advance. I put in my requests and got everything I wanted. I then had to find hotels (at WDW, it is worthwhile to stay on property since nothing outside the parks is in walking distance, and there are free shuttles from all Disney resorts to and from the start/finish lines). After all that, I had to figure out “Magic Bands” for the first time. These bands are attached to your wrist and have a computer chip in them. They are linked to your credit card (allowing for easy purchases on site), are used as a room key, serve as your park admission tickets, and you can reserve dining and attraction FastPasses. Setting it up, downloading the app, and figuring my park itinerary months in advance took a lot of work (but, it did make life easier once I reached the parks).

July 14 – Expo

Straight off the plane, I headed to the expo.

Disney had lost my bib.

They had my info, my registration, and my bib number, but no bib. Took about 30 minutes to straighten out. Got a new bib (still in coral A), my 4 shirts (cotton shirt for 5k, tech shirt for 10k, HM, and “Dark Side” challenge). Once that had been sorted out, I headed to the expo. It was a decent size, but nothing overwhelming. There was a wait to get into the official merchandise area, and some things had already sold out (early afternoon on the first day!) Fortunately, my needs were modest. I wanted an official event cotton t-shirt, a few commemorative pins and I was set (I would have bought a hoodie too, but they didn’t make any for a race in Florida). Once that was done, I went to Downtown Disney to shop and eat before turning in for the night.
Ride Photos.

Disney decided to stop outsourcing race photos for the first time. They do a very lucrative business taking guest photos at their parks and the race photos got bundled with those plans. So, for one fee, I got photos from all the races, all my ride photos and park character meet and greets. I’ll be spacing them throughout the race report. I’ll start with a few ride pics…

Test Track:

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Space Mountain:

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Seven Dwarves Mine Ride:

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Tower of Terror:

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Expedition Everest:

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Aerosmith Rock and Roll Coaster:

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April 15 – Dark Side 5k

The race started at 6am. The shuttles started rolling at 4am. I was up at 2:30am. Sometimes they have some cool things to do while waiting for the race to start. This event did not disappoint. They had set up 8 character meet and greets/photo ops with detailed backdrops. The mini-sets included Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Darth Maul, Darth Vader, Captain Phasma, BB-8, Raptors (those tentacle monsters from Force Awakens), and Stormtroopers. With the lighter crowds at the 5k, and getting there early, I got through every line except BB-8. I’ll share highlights of each a little later. But I did spend as much time as I could at the photo ops before racing over to the starting lines.

The 5k course is pretty simple, and always the same at WDW. We start in the EPCOT parking lot, run for a mile outside the periphery of the park (to spread us out a little) before entering World Showcase and doing a lap. We then run through Future World and exit again…finishing in the parking area. The run through the park was great! Very scenic, lots of photographers, and just a few character photos (R2-D2, Chewbacca, Rebels, Stormtroopers, and a scenic shot of Spaceship Earth. The race wasn’t timed, and the lines at the photo ops were short (well, shorter then I expected them to be during the next couple of days). So I stopped at all of them. Once the fun run was over, I headed to the Magic Kingdom (mostly to check out the Seven Dwarves Mine Ride Coaster) before heading to Hollywood Studios and checking out the Star Wars themed attractions.

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In Park Character Meet and Greets:

Hollywood Studies has two Star Wars characters for meet and greet photo ops. These are Chewbacca and Kylo Ren. Unlike the photos at the races, there are not rushed. The actor stays in character and multiple photos are taken. Here’s a few highlights.

Chewbacca:

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Kylo Ren:

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April 16 – Tie Fighter 10k.

Race started at 5:30 am. Shuttles started at 3:00 am. I was on the first shuttle again, jogged to the meet and greets…to find that some of the lines were already cut off! I did get a couple, but the lines (and the crowds) were much worse today. The starting line was not in a parking lot, but on a closed highway. There were still 6 corals, but they were much larger. This race was point to point. It started outside of EPCOT, did a very short run from one side of the park to the other (no park tour today), followed by a run through a shopping/resort district on out way to Hollywood Studios. We had a nice run through there before the boring highway stretch to ESPN Sports Complex. Same characters as the previous day (much longer lines-45 minutes for Chewbacca) so I passed on most of them. They did have an Emperors chair set (from Return of the Jedi) that you could sit in (pretty cool) and speeder bikes, and a scenic shot at Tower of Terror. But, overall, kind of disappointing. They had moved all the starting line characters to the finish, and I had time to get several more photos. After that, I headed to the other two parks. Expedition Everest alone is worth the price of admission to Animal Kingdom. EPCOT disappointed. Future World has a retro-future charm that reminded me of The Jetsons. The 3 rides I wanted to see was Soaring (closed for refurbishment), Test Track (easily the worst coaster I have even been on…and basically an ad for Chevy), and Mission Space (retro dull flight simulator). However, there was a food and garden show going on in EPCOT where there were several food trucks with very good tapas style appetizers and deserts. I basically just ate my way through World Showcase. I headed back to the hotel early. The next day would be insanely early (even by my standards) and I had to get packed. I could not get a late checkout and time might be a little tight after tomorrow’s half marathon.

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Pre/Post Race Character Photos

I discussed this above. Some photos came out pretty good. Some didn’t. Here are the highlights.

Raptor:

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Stormtroopers:

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BB-8:

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Captain Phasma:

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Darth Maul:

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Jabba The Hutt:

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Boba Fett:

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Darth Vader:

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April 17 – Dark Side Half Marathon

I was up at 1:00 am. Shuttles started at 2:30, and I was on the first. Surprisingly, the lines were better. I got through Vader again, as well as Boba Fett. After that, I did not have time for a third. The crowd was bigger (12 corals today). Fortunately, I was able to use my 1:44 Half Marathon time from two years ago to get me front corral placement all weekend long (1:51 half marathon time or better was needed). Again, I counted on that preferred start to get me to the photos before the lines got crazy. It worked at the 5k, but not at the 10k. The course would follow yesterday’s 10k route until after Hollywood Studios. Then, it would take a long detour to Animal Kingdom before routing us back to ESPN. I figured that the first two photo ops would be the same as before (R2 and Chewie). I was satisfied with the photos I had of them and made the strategic plan to skip them and only wait in line for “new” characters. Surprisingly, R2’s line was short (shorter then the 5k). I could not pass that up. Then, Chewie’s was short as well, so I stopped yet again. I had lingered in line long enough by then that the course was much more crowded. Hollywood Studies had a big stage with Kylo and some Stormtroopers (stopped again). The road to Animal Kingdon was long and dull, once there, we did a big lap around the parking lot before entering the park. There were mini sets of the Trash Compactor and Wampa cave, Stormtroopers were on patrol, and scenic stops of “Everest” and the “Tree of Life” (stop, stop, stop), before the last stretch back to ESPN. When I got there, I received FOUR finishers medals (Half Marathon, Dark Side Challenge (finishing the 10k and Half Marathon during the same weekend), Kessel Run Challenge (finishing the Star Wars Half Marathon at both DisneyLand as well as Walt Disney World in the same calendar year), and Coast to Coast Challenge (finishing any Half Marathon in both parks during the same year). I snagged a couple more photos before leaving.

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What The Heck, This Is A Race Report, So Here’s A Few Words About The Actual Running…

I was undertrained (a 5k training run once or twice a week since October) and I felt it. I was very slow and not very motivated. Despite the character stops, my finish times were awful. I was having pain in my big toe (never had that before, and it would just randomly come and go), both ankles (chronic issue, and getting worse), and my left knee was feeling modestly unstable. Hamstrings were tight by the final race. Fortunately, I had a head start and a generous amount of time to finish…so I was never at risk of being swept. The weather was great for the 5k and the half, but very muggy for the 10k. I did a lot of walk breaks beyond the photo stops and aid stations. The aid stations were plentiful, and Disney did a good job keeping up entertained. If you are a Star Wars fan, this is a great event and I would recommend it highly. My finish times are awful, but here they are…

5K – no idea-it was untimed and I forgot to stop my Garmin

10k – 1:14:30
3341/12169

Half Marathon – 3:03:46
10423/18171
Final Thoughts:

So, was the event worth it? Mostly yes…but I am a runner and a diehard Star Wars fan, who also loves Disney…so it hit all the right nerd notes for me. However, the California and Florida experience were quite similar (WDW did a great job having a lot of character experiences off the course so the lines would not be cut off and people would not get swept simply for stopping for photos…but I expect DL to incorporate that opportunity next year). I really enjoyed it, but a more casual fan should be fine with either DL or WDW event. Running all the races at a weekend does allow more opportunities for character and running photos, and I would recommend doing so to most participants. The 5k (being untimed, and much less crowded) provides a great opportunity to do the Disney experience. Then, the more serious runners can just run the timed events and ignore the distractions.

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As I stated, I had a great time, but this will be my last big trip for a long time. They are just too expensive, too much stress planning, and too much time away from home. I am driving to Fargo next month for a Half Marathon (3 hour drive and an overnight star at a Super 8). After that, I will be staying a little bit closer to home…

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Another “A” Corral!

My 2014 continues to pay dividends! With a 1:44:03 Half Marathon finish at the end of that season (how on earth did I do that), I find myself at the front of the line for the Disney/Star Wars Half Marathon/10k/5k races!

Of course, I will not be able to use my 2014 finish times for much longer. My spring 2015 races would have landed me in corral C. My current finish times would place me in corral F.

Sigh. The joys of aging…

So, one last time, I will get to enjoy starting at the front of the pack.

For the Disney/Star Wars races, this is actually a big deal. They have character photograph stops on course. The lines get really long and they do get cut off. Starting early makes it much easier to hit these stops (especially since the speedsters tend to be more concerned with their finish times then these photos), the lines are much shorter and are less likely to be closed.

Should be a great weekend!

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Race Report: DisneyLand/Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend

January 15-17, 2016
Anaheim, CA
Half Marathon #25
Events #90-92

Learning to run with a lightsaber…

Well, I like Disney, love Star Wars, and I have a passion for running. So, when I first heard of this event, I knew I had to run it. Prior to that, I was undecided about returning to Disney (expensive, time consuming, exhausting). I enjoyed doing races at both resorts in 2013, but figured that I had the experience, and saw little point in repeating it. This event was a game changer. It includes a 5k, 10k, and Half Marathon in 3 days. There is a similar related event just announced for Orlando (“The Light Side” at DisneyLand, and “The Dark Side” at Walt Disney World). Each weekend includes a challenge medal for the 10k/HM combo, and a different one for running races on both coasts. I signed up for all of it.

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Leading up to the event however, I was physically and mentally burnt out. I had competed in too many events last year and didn’t have a lot of fun. My last race was on Halloween and took a much needed sebaticle . I planned to train, but life got in the way. My dog got really ill and passed away recently. During the last several weeks, she needed 24/7 care and exercise was the last thing on my radar. I had gained some weight (not the good kind) and had to go on a strict diet a couple of weeks before Christmas. Finally, I had a health concern that popped up which ended up needing a whole bunch of tests and specialists appointments. Looks like it was just a false alarm, but it did take up a lot of time and additional mental stress. Finally, we got a beautiful new puppy. With all of the chaos (and my lack of training) I almost had to cancel the trip. But, with some creating schedule changes (and a VERY understanding and supportive spouse), I was able to rearrange my schedule but keep this event on the calendar.

A lot of Star Wars fans get REALLY into these events. They make some very elaborate costumes that they can somehow still run in. I had no such aspirations (or talent for that matter). So, instead, I limited myself to one small prop…a lightsaber. The saber was red, lightweight, collapsible, and would light up. This worked out well and became fairly easy to run with and pose for photos on the fly. It was a fortunate choice since Disney tightened up costume regulations shortly before race day…banning toy blasters and many of the more elaborate costumes.

The weather was forecasted to be quite pleasant, but I had to bring a lot of running options. It would be partly cloudy to mostly sunny, but could be cool in the mornings (how cool fluctuated quite a bit). I had to bring every combo from shorts/t-shirt to thermal tops with tights, and a light jacket/windbreaker. Good thing I did since I used all of it…

I arrived in LA (loved the warm weather compared to Minneapolis) on Thursday morning and I got a shuttle to my hotel (just across the street from the parks). Finally, I was able to go to the expo and packet pick up. I picked the best time to go, and was in-and-out pretty fast. The included shirts were great (3 long sleeved running shirts for the 10k, HM, and Rebel Challenge) and a t-shirt for the 5k. All were nicely designed and good quality…the 10k was exceptional!

After I had my gear, I went to event merchandise. There were huge line ups earlier in the day, but the wait was down to 30 minutes or so by the time I arrived. They still had everything in plentiful supply from what I could see. All of the race merchandise (aside from the participants shirts and finishers medals) had a very retro (late 70’s-early 80’s) vibe to it. I usually am not a fan of retro…but it always seems to work with Star Wars. I had planned on only getting a few race pins (pin collecting is a very Disney thing). I have been getting a lot better about avoiding all of the race swag (since I run so many races) but I am still a sucker for anything “Ironman” and anything Star Wars. The gear was so unique that I caved-in and I did get a few (ok, several) souvenirs in the end. I then proceeded to get some food before heading back to the hotel and getting some rest.

This event is mainly in the parks, but the first 3/4 miles is around the perimeter with some stretches that go “backstage”. I was concerned that the line to get character photographs would get really long, and getting a ton of photos was my top priority. I was fortunate to be in the front canal and decided to sprint to get to the photo stops (I find the faster runners are more interested in speed then this type of diversion, and hoped to get to the first before the lines got long-it worked!)

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The first stop was Chewbacca. Got the pic and carried on to some of the others…some characters from “Rebels”, R2-D2/C-3P0, BB-8 being the highlights.

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It did seem like there were very sparse photo stops on this race and hoped that this would improve as the weekend continued. Overall, it was a fun (untimed) run in very nice (but slightly chilly) weather conditions. The medal was “meh”…expected for Disney 5k events…a soft plasticky rubbery thing that kids can’t inflict damage on each other with.

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I headed back to the hotel, showered and went off to DisneyLand. The park was fun but it got really crowded in the afternoon (I got almost all of my rides done by then. I also got to have a meet and greet with Chewbacca and Darth Vader!)

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The day concluded with an amazing parade and fireworks display. As I was heading home, I saw on FB that Elton John was performing a free concert in front of the castle for an upcoming TV special. I ran back to try to get a glimpse…and that was all I got. He only sang about 4 songs and we were packed together like sardines. I ended up getting a decent angle…when he got up and waved goodnight to everyone! I did hear him sign a few times while trying to move about, but it was a just a tease. I will have to watch the special when it airs next month….

I was up (again) at 2:30 am for the 10k and I had the same plan as the previous day. I was again in Coral A, and would sprint to the first line…this time 1.5 miles away. I was not as successful this time due to the longer distance and that there were a lot more runners (10,000 instead of 5,000).

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The first stop was for Boba Fett. Cool! But, when I got to the front, I was told that the photographers camera malfunctioned and it was cell phone photos opportunity only. That was an indicator of how my morning would go. Chewbacca and C-3P0 were on bathroom breaks (it was nice to get a pic alone with R2), and BB-8’s line was insane.

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The selfie stop with Stormtroopers was abruptly stopped when I got to the front of the line. They did have some cool movie scene stops (trash compactor, Wampa cave, Speeder Bikes).

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Also, there were some nice photo stops in front of Cinderella’s Castle, It’s a Small World, and Paradise Pier-all were beautifully lit up for the event.

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The event finished with a great medal of an x-wing fighter…and with my lightsaber falling apart (it was that kind of morning).

Finish Time – 1:12:09

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After the race (and a shower), I headed off to Disney California Adventure. This day had turned out much warmer (shorts/t-shirt for the race compared to tights and thermal top for the 5k). I was tired and I cut the park short when the crowds started building up. I did have one more order of business that day. I had re-reviewed my registration information and I had forgotten that I had pre-ordered (and pre-paid) for some souvenir merchandise. So, back I went to the expo and packet pick up. While I was there, I took advantage of a trading card maker (where I could pose with a lightsaber in front of a blue screen…a star field is then placed behind you and the image is printed in the general design of a trading card…but the size and shape of a 4×6 photo). It could instantly be uploaded to FB and other website. I ended up getting three of them and was really pleased with how these nice little freebies turned out. After that, I was done for the day…and was asleep by 5pm.

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Finally, Sunday had arrived. I was again up by 2:30 am…trying to repair my lightsaber (I got it back together, but the light didn’t work consistently-but I would not need it for much longer). There was another meetup, but I did not stay for the group photo (trouble flagging down a photographer that morning with all of the chaos).

To be honest, this was the race I was least looking forward to, for several reasons. The first is that DisneyLand is such a small resort. They really struggle with finding a way to keep all runners on site for the 10k, and they don’t even try for the Half Marathon. At mile 4.5, we would be ejected from the parks with no photo stops until the finish. It would also be the most crowded race by far (14,000 runners) and I had to finish the race in a reasonable amount of time. My flight out of town was in the early afternoon, and I had a vey tight itinerary. I had done very little running in the past 3 months and I had not completed a 13 mile run since October. I was certainly feeling the lack of training as my legs were already very sore and heavy from the first two events and from all the walking I had done at the parks and at the expo. Finally, I (correctly) assumed that we would have a rerun of all the same photo stops as the past couple of days. I was right about all of it. My legs were sore and leaden. All the character and movie scene stops were the same.

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This was good and bad. I was able to review most of my previous pics from the first two races and sort out which ones I wanted to re-do. Boba Fett was my only priority (unless there were new characters).

imageI did stop for Chewbacca and the movie scenes.

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I skipped all of the droids. There was only one stop for an in park scene (Cinderella’s Castle).

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After 4.5 miles, I left the park for the long dull finish. I tossed the lightsaber (no more photo stops and it was broken anyways). I was doing some mental math, and getting to the finish line as fast as I could was getting critical. I had burned more time then I had expected in the parks and my legs were dead. The volunteers were great, and there were a lot of cosplay characters around mile 9. Some of their costumes were absolutely amazing! If I had more time, I would have stopped for a few photos.

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Finish Time – 2:44:48

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I got back to the park later then I feared. I ran past the finish, got my medals, I had a few very quick finishers photos taken and sprinted out of there. Fortunately, I was able to make very good time back to the hotel. Once there, I quickly finished packing, got a quick shower and was even able to get my free (and fast) breakfast before my airport shuttle arrived.

So, was it worth it?

Mostly yes.

It was a lot of fun. The events were well run, the bling and the shirts were great, and it is always fun to explore the parks…but everything was familiar from 3 years ago. The photos mostly turned out great. But the limited number of character stops was a major let down. No Vader, no Kylo Ren, no Stormtroopers, no Yoda, no other Bounty Hunters, and no Disney Characters dressed up in Star Wars costumes. Apparently, most of these had been present last year, but there were too many bottlenecks and long lines. As it was, most lines still got cut off early and many who were not in the front coral did not get any chances for photos with anybody. Still, it was a fun opportunity to geek out with thousands of fellow runners who are also Star Wars nerds. I got an armload of bling and gear, tons of photos, a getaway from the cold weather, a mini-vacation, and some great memories. I am absolutely looking forward to the Disney World event in April. Since they have the “Dark Side” theme, they should have some Stormtroopers and Sith Lords. I hope they have more photo stops since it will all be on Disney property…and the parks are more spacious allowing runners to be there even when the park gates are open.

The weekend was a nice break, and will hopefully motivate me to get training a little bit more regularly. I don’t know if I will try to stretch Fargo to a full marathon (or register for any full marathons in the future) since I was reminded this weekend that half marathons hurt (when not properly trained) and I don’t feel like I have it in me anymore to go further. But, I do know that the Disney World trip will be my last Disney race. It does feel a little repetitive after the Disney events of 2013. I think that, one more weekend, and I will have my fill for a lifetime…

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The Team Ortho Debacle and Other Miscellaneous Musings…

Not much going on right now, but a few small updates.

My refund for the Minneapolis Duathlon finally came through. This was the event that was postponed…for a full year…because the inept race director did not realize that the downtown construction would cause a problem (even though several of us questioned it six months earlier). The new date conflicted with a 2016 sprint triathlon that I had already registered for…and gave me a decent excuse to get out of the last event I had scheduled with Team Ortho. They were the group that organized my first race and first marathon. But their incompetent inability to stage an event (for a ton of money) without a whole bunch of screw ups left me without much choice but to boycott their events in the future. I am not the only one.

They got written up on local news for how little they actually donate to their charity partners, and got written up in Runners World.

KARE 11 Investigates Team Ortho

Runners World Expose on Team Ortho

They carry an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Better Business Bureau F rating of Team Ortho

They responded by sending many of us a free buff and propaganda response to the allegations. Here are the scans.

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I have run most of their races for the past four years. The events are fun, and the swag is nice, but they are a disorganized mess. I once received three bibs (one in person, two in the mail) for the same race. They now only have water at the aid stations (no Gatorade…for a half marathon). They charge $30 to mail a bib (or to allow race day packet pick up). They canceled a marathon…at the starting line…because of light rain…and had no way of announcing it…but they distributed the “finishers” medals. They also have different swag and medals for the half and full marathon…but they all state “marathon finisher”. Their “warming tents” at the -30F Polar Dash were  completely ineffective. So were the timing mats used at the Monster Dash a few years back (leading to the request that we email our official finish time to the timing company…lots of PRs that day I would guess). Several more PRs at one of the Polar Dash -30F half marathon…where runners were encouraged…over the public address system…during the starting announcements…to cut the course because “we won’t be checking”. When they moved the Monster Dash 5k to the same course and time as the Half Marathon, they could not accommodate the volume of runners…so the faster half marathons had to stop because the last mile was packed with the 5k walkers. Of course, this year, they separated the finish lines, but the 5k finish area was so jammed packed that people stood around for 15 minutes…100 yards from finishing. Then, series members had to wait about an hour in the cold rain just to get the series medal. I could go on, but the Women Rock Chicago event in the Runners World article was even worse (see link).

Their approach to customer service is…unique. Questions on their Facebook pages (and e-mails) are ignored. Negative comments posted on their Facebook page are deleted (so, someone is reading them). When the KARE 11 story broke, they erased every single post-to-page on every single one of their Facebook pages.

Needless to say, I am glad to be done with them, and relieved that I got a refund for the “postponed” event.

In other news, my offseason is in full swing. It is too cold and icy to run outside. My training is way down, and I am struggling to do the recommended 150 minutes of cardio/week. I hop on the treadmill from time to time, catch up on movies while on the bike trainer, I have been to the pool and indoor track a couple of times each. But my fitness is fading a little and I am starting to get concerned about my upcoming races. However, it has been good to let minor nagging injuries heal, and to take some downtime from constant training.

I have been good with the diet over Christmas. My weight has dropped from 152.5 lbs to 144.5 lbs (I have not seen anything below 145 lbs in over a year). I would like to drop about five more pounds before I head out on my trip next month, and can then go back to maintenance mode.

My Star Wars/DisneyLand Half Marathon/10k/5k event is under three weeks away. I have not done anything close to a Half Marathon distance since October, so I am a little worried…but this isn’t a PR race…it is a jogging between character photo stops type of event. I get to go someplace warmer and take a little fun.

After that, I have a 5k in February, a 10 miler in March followed by an another identical Star Wars event in Florida in April. In May, I am scheduled to run the Fargo Half Marathon. I may still bump it up to a full if I can ramp up training enough in the spring.

Thats about all that is happening in my offseason. How are you handing your offseason and winter training?

 

 

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The Downside of “Bling Motivation”…

I run for bling…

Well, not exactly. I run for health and fitness. I run to relax, to have “me time”, to help keep my weight off, and because I just enjoy doing it.

I run RACES for bling.

Sure, being surrounded by other runners, challenging myself, finding new courses, getting some awesome photos, and setting a new PR are all awesome too. But, all else being equal, the races with the coolest bling will get my registration fee.

Unfortunately, the race medals are not always available for review upon sign-up, and I am going on hope and faith. Sometimes, that will result in disappointment and missed opportunities.

I picked Pittsburgh over Fargo last spring. Pittsburgh had some amazing medals in recent years. Fargo didn’t. So, Pittsburgh ended up with pretty boring bling in 2015, and Fargo may have fad the coolest marathon medal of 2015. Bummer.

The only negatives about Ironman Wisconsin in 2014 was that Mike Riley did not call me an Ironman, and this thing…

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I mean, seriously, what is that?

My latest disappointment comes courtesy of Disney (they have started to produce some pretty awful bling of late…like a medal of a slipper?). I love Star Wars, so I had to sign up for the new Disney Star Wars races. There are 2 weekends. DisneyLand (5k, 10k, Half Marathon, Rebel Challenge (HM/10k combo). Here’s the hardware…

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The HM medal is a reproduction of the “Medal of Bravery” given to Han and Luke in the final scene of the original Star Wars-A New Hope. This is an inspired idea (even if the medal looks bland and generic…it is a geek out item for fanboys like myself). The Rebel Challenge medal looks nice. X-Wing is a cool design but looks a little out of place next to the others (but othe ships were planned for WDW SW to go with it).

Overall, a mixed bag of bling, and was hoping for better at WDW. It was announced that the medals would feature the Death Star and Millennium Falcon! It was also announced that there would be another 5k, 10k, and  Half Marathon, along with a Dark Side Medal Challenge Medal (10k/HM), and Kessel Run Medal for doing both the DL and WDW events! Awesome! Sign me up!

The medal designs were released yesterday…

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Whole lot of dull monotone gray going on. The Tie Fighter looks amazing for the 10k…and is easily the best of the bunch. The Kessel Run Challenge medal (Falcon) looks like it was designed by a 6 year old. The Dark Side Challenge Death Star looks like a garbage can. I guess the HM medal is supposed to be Darth Sideous, but it looks like a gray lump of coal on a string…
I suppose that they may look way better in person, and that I am just getting way too picky in my old age, but I did expect better from Disney and was hoping for something truly exciting for all of the cost, time and expense involved.
Dont get me wrong, I am still very much looking forward to both weekends. The races and mini vacations will be amazing! But I was hoping for something just a little bit more amazing…

 

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