This is part 2 of my Dark Side Challenge at the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend. If you want to read my review of the 10k, you can find that here.
Okay! When last we met, I was finishing up the Star Wars Dark Side 10K and then going to run another mile and a half chasing my kid around an inflatable obstacle course with a camera. That was fun! Really! Enough that it requires multiple exclamation points! But, it did leave me with a couple of challenges going into the second half of the Dark Side Challenge – the half marathon.
I was not, when I was chasing him, wearing running or technical equipment. I didn’t have my compression shorts on. And (and there is no way to do this but just to spit it out and get it over with) – I hadn’t prepared my nipples. And though I didn’t leave that event actively hurting (other than my throbbing feet) … I did feel a sensitivity in the force, if you know what I mean. Some gingerness in the upper thigh region. A little scratchiness on the man nipples.
I had allowed myself to start chafing, is what I’m saying.
So I powdered and lotioned and did everything I knew how to do … and set my alarm for 2am and went to bed at 8pm. The joys of an early runDisney start, and all of that.
My perspective on this race was different than my perspective on just about any race I’ve ever done. I’m competitive. I try not to be too competitive – in general, life is not a game – but I also know myself enough to know that if you call it a race then I’m going to try to win it in some way. So it was a bit odd that I entered this one with the idea of not worrying too much about doing that. I didn’t expect to PR, and I knew there were going to be places I wanted to stop to take pictures (Darth Maul!) – so just go out and have fun and get this finished, right?
Because of my experience on Saturday I had a much better idea of what to expect. I got to Epcot at about 3:15, and when I got to the place we lined up for buses I discovered that they’d been running buses since 3am. On the next bus I went and headed over to the same starting area as yesterday, where the lines were already looped back on themselves for pictures with characters. Because I’d gotten Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt the day before, I went for BB-8 first, and then for the Rogue One scene. I decided to pass on Kylo Ren altogether – he is at Hollywood Studios every day, after all – and try to get Captain Phasma at the finish line. I waited in line for probably 25 – 30 minutes for BB-8, and 15 or so for the Rogue One scene – and then off to pee.
After the 10K debacle with the urination, I was determined to avoid the discomfort this time. I did my thing, then got a bagel at the concession stand. Then got in line and peed again. Then walked over to the corral area. Then peed again, and immediately walked down to the end … and peed again. I was not going to start the race needing to go. This time I was in Corral D, so I headed down and stretched a little, and waited for our turn. I was impressed again with the start. I was in the 8th wave to start, and was probably running within 15 minutes of the start of the race. They shot off fireworks for every wave, which was cool, and we were off.
The course followed the 10K course until we got to the parking gate for Magic Kingdom on World Drive. The band was there playing the fanfare again (still the coolest music ever), and R2-D2 had a huge line again. But this time, instead of heading down World Drive, we turned right and headed down a service road toward Animal Kingdom. At this point, my choices from the day before started to have an impact – I was barely past mile 1 and I could already feel my nipples starting to get sensitive. My friction defense stuff wasn’t going to get it this day – and though Vaseline is the kind of thing that makes a mess on a shirt, I preferred Vaseline nipples to bloody nipples. Fortunately there was a medical stop very early on, and they had the good stuff out on popsicle sticks just waiting for us. Frankly, that saved my race – it would have been excruciating without it.
Just past this we went through one of the best parts of the course. It was still very dark, and on a long, straight stretch of road they kept it dark – very few floodlights. But what there was a lot of was the Battle of Endor. There were lasers coming out of the woods, Ewok sounds everywhere, and even explosions back in the trees to mimic AT-ATs or Walkers blowing up. This went on for several minutes. It was very, very cool. I heard some grumbling after about how some of the flashing lights caused some momentary loss of vision – but I couldn’t have cared less about that. As long as we didn’t do anything crazy I don’t think there was any real danger – and wow, was the effect very real. We then ran past probably the longest character line on the course – they had Ewoks out! Because of the length of the line I kept running, but that looked like a cool picture.
Next, at about mile 3, we went past another fan favorite section of the race – the solid waste plant for Walt Disney World! There wasn’t anything to see here, but it basically smelled like you’d expect a place that treats shit to smell. It smelled shitty. I just got a whiff or two, and while unpleasant, thems the ropes – they had to get us from Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom somehow, and running past the shit plant was it.
Going in to Animal Kingdom the back way was interesting. Around mile 4 we started to see things you see from the train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch – some of the animal housing, etc. We basically ran right past the Planet Watch area, and then over behind where you catch the train to Planet Watch, past some trailers that house who-knows-what, and then, bang, we were in the park.We came in right the left of the entrance to the Maharaja Jungle Trek, over by where the Kali River Rapids exit is. We ran over past the Siamang Gibbons – which appeared to be hanging out together on the ropes – and headed around toward Expedition Everest. I’ve never been in the Animal Kingdom at night, so I didn’t know they had that area around the mountain camp strung up with lights – it took an already very real-looking spot and made it look very authentic. We ran past Everest, past the Finding Nemo theater, and into Dinoland, where we hit mile marker #5.
We left the Animal Kingdom over behind the gift shop in Dinoland, and were almost immediately greeted by members of the 501st Legion in full garb. Emperor Palpatine was there, along with the Emperor’s guards in red. Tuscan Raiders and Jawas were out, too. Not stopping to get a picture with the Emperor and his guards was the first of two photo stops I regret not stopping for … but now I know. And then we went straight into the doldrums of this race.
At about mile 5.5 we emerged from the service area into the Animal Kingdom parking lot. We wound through the lot, past the second of two photo ops that I regret not stopping for … this time a scene with the Wampa in the ice cave on Hoth that was set up so that the picture looks like you’re hanging upside down and trying to get the light saber out of the snow. In retrospect, missing that picture was my one big miss from this race. I’ll run this whole race again next year just to get that picture.
And then we headed out onto Osceola Parkway. From the parking lot emergence at mile 5.5 to the back entry to Hollywood Studios at about mile 9.5 the sole purpose of the course was to get us from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios. We were running on a straight flat road, then turned onto World Drive, and then merged with where the 10K course headed into the next park. Nobody really likes this stretch of this race, and while there is some grumbling, I get it … if we want to run through all of these parks, we have to actually get there, and there is only one way to do that. We have to run on roads.
At this point I had some decisions to make. I was running well, and hadn’t stopped for any reason byhalfway on the course. I needed to decide if I was going to push through and try to get a good time or if I was going to really back off and enjoy the parks in the last 4 miles. At the halfway point of the course, I was about two or three minutes behind PR pace. But with a bunch of flat road running ahead, there was a chance I could start chipping into that. I struggled with that decision for a few minutes, but ultimately decided not to hurt myself and backed off.
This was also the stretch that featured one of the more interesting little quirks of this race. runDisney partners with Jeff Galloway, who is a proponent of the run/walk system when doing these big races. The races are loaded with Galloway folks – many with audible timers that tell them when to pull over and start walking. For the most part, this is no problem. The runners generally do a good job of signaling and not getting run over, so my thought is run your own race. There were also pace groups doing the run/walk method, with a leader carrying a sign that would signal the walking times. During this stretch, I was just ahead of the 2:30 pace group, and they would sneak up on me. I’d be in my own little world, and suddenly, alarmingly close, somebody would yell “Walk!” and startle me into speeding up a little. I’d take off, pull away from them, and then a few minutes later we’d go through the same deal. It was an interesting little back and forth. What finally broke it up was that I ran into a fellow Celebration Crossfitter (hi, Michele!) and wound up ignoring that pace group. It was about here that I started my own run/walk strategy, especially walking up any inclines and running down the other side. And it was here that they had the water stop giving out energy gels, which really made a difference for me.
When we got to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios at mile 9.5, we also got to the one character photo I was determined to get, regardless of line – Darth Maul. The line wound up being very short – I still completed the mile it was in in about 13 minutes, so I had maybe a 2 minute wait. The Darth Maul costume is awesome, by the way – the way they do that really makes that guy look real. This picture made me happy.
Inside Hollywood Studios we had exactly the same run as we’d had the day before. This time I stopped for a quick picture with some Stormtroopers – I said “guys” when I walked up, and got “Citizen!” in return. I then took off and smiled for the batch of photographers they’ve got through this stretch, and then we headed out toward the Boardwalk. Unlike yesterday, this time we turned right and headed down the Boardwalk proper, and when we turned the corner there were crowds for the first time on the course. Holding signs – my favorites of which were “I am proud of you, perfect stranger!” and the one that quoted Alice in Wonderland “Well after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.” There were also members of the 501st Legion here, too, as well as a Rey and some other characters. And then we headed into the back entrance of Epcot. Again a difference from the day before – when we emerged behind the Rose and Crown we turned right and headed around the entire World Showcase. This time I was prepared for the music to be blaring, so the headphones came off and stayed off for the duration of the run. They opened Epcot up to guests right after we got in there, so by the time I got to about Mexico there were people walking through looking at us like we were crazy. The best part of that World Showcase stretch, other than the music and the atmosphere and, you know, Epcot, was that several of the cast members that worked in those pavilions were out waving their country’s flag and cheering us on in their language. This was true for Italy, Germany, China – a very nice little feature.
And then when we got to the main entry way behind Spaceship Earth the course was exactly what we did for the 10k. The 501st had folks stationed in the area – my favorite was the Scout Trooper – and then we wound around through the finish chute and that was it. I was again in the top third of all finishers (4,393 / 16,302) and since I was in a relatively early corral there was basically no congestion through the finish chute. This time we collected our challenge medals as we went through that part of the chute, and then the snack box and through gear check and we were back out into the public area. I immediately went and got in line for a picture with Captain Phasma, and then after a quick run through the merchandise tent I headed to the car.
My finish time was 2:30.08, which is 8 minutes and 16 seconds behind the PR I set back in January. Especially given the photo stops and the humidity and the 10k I ran the day before, I’m thrilled with that time. For perspective, even with the photo stops, that would have been a nearly 5 minute PR for me if I hadn’t run that half marathon in January. And I didn’t train well for this one. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, and that extends to being able to complete a half marathon on very little running-specific training. The incredibly shrinking Matthew is becoming athletic Matthew, and I couldn’t be happier.
- Again very, very impressed with the organization of this race and the course. Over 16k people ran the half (which is apparently fairly small for a runDisney half, though I imagine they did OK and the proximity to Easter and Spring Break didn’t really help). I had very little congestion, there was great support all over the course, and in general that was as smooth as an event that size could have been from my perspective. Admittedly I was fortunate enough to be in a relatively early corral … but still. Great job.
- The humidity was pretty brutal. I’m used to it, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for folks that traveled in from the Northeast or upper Midwest. My Garmin showed a starting temperature of 72 degrees, and that was at 5:30. By the time I got into the World Showcase the sweat had gotten into my socks and I was squishing when I walked. It was pretty rough. Which is funny, because the week before and the week since have featured perfect weather – cooler and less humid. Florida!
- Ever since we got our Disney passes I’ve maintained that my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. And I love Animal Kingdom, I do. But I’ve finally come around on Epcot and changed my mind – what a hell of a place Epcot is. It doesn’t hurt to have Star Wars music blaring while you are running through there feeling like you accomplished something, but still. I plan on going back to Epcot hopefully very soon and just reveling in it.
- I dealt with very little pain in my legs this time. Since I started at a much more reasonable pace my shins and calves never did freeze up, so mostly I was just fighting fatigue and the general beating 13 miles puts on your legs.
- I mentioned running into fellow CCF athlete Michele – she unknowingly flipped a switch for me that I don’t particularly like that I have. It is one thing to be struggling along doing your own thing with thousands of people you don’t know. But now that there is somebody you know in proximity, well … now we’re racing. I’ll bet I finished 2 – 3 minutes faster than I would have otherwise. That competitiveness is not exactly something I’m proud of, but it exists. I recognized it for what it was and decided to use it to help me get through this time. So, yeah …
- At about mile 8 I let the 2:30 Galloway pace group go … and I never saw them again. Which is odd considering that we started at the same time and I finished in exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
- I really only truly regret missing that one ice cave picture with the Wampa. Could be worse.
- SWAG was as discussed in the last post – three very nice technical shirts (one each for my 10k, half marathon, and the Dark Side Challenge for running both), three heavy medals, and a very personalized bib. Since my annual pass includes the PhotoPass, I didn’t have to pay for any pictures – which is one hell of a nice perk. And they did have the Virtual Goody Bag online, which was mostly discounts for stuff at the expo. Also at the end there were full bottles of water and Powerade plus the snack box and bananas. Overall, it felt very high-end.
- Next Race – the next one I have scheduled is Ragnar Washington DC in September. I doubt I make it that far without at least running a 5k somewhere, but we’ll see.
Final thoughts – this was one hell of a fun weekend. It will not be my last runDisney race.
And may the force be with you.