January 15-17, 2016
Half Marathon #25
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!)
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).
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
I did stop for Chewbacca and the movie scenes.
I skipped all of the droids. There was only one stop for an in park scene (Cinderella’s Castle).
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.
Finish Time – 2:44:48
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?
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…