Thursday, May 19, 2016

Inaugural Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge Review

Last month, I particpated in runDisney's Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge.  It was a two-day, 19.3 mile challenge including a 10k on Saturday morning and Half Marathon on Sunday morning. My boyfriend participated in his first race ever during the Star Wars 10k.  I believe in peer pressure/encouragement when it comes to making my friends and family fall in love with running so it was only a matter of time before I got him to run a RunDisney race.  I'm so excited to share the memories we made and how he felt about his first RunDisney race!

This was the second time during a runDisney event that I ran for a charity.  Since I ran as a St. Jude Hero for Dopey Challenge as part of my first marathon, I have decided to run all my charity races through St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  I have not yet met my goal, so if you want to support St. Jude you can do so on my fundraising page.  It costs $2 million a day to operate St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and donors are what keeps the hospital and its patients alive and well.  I cannot think of better motivation than running for the children of St. Jude.  If you're looking to run for a charity, my experience running for St. Jude has been nothing but rewarding.  St. Jude Heroes run races all over the country, not just at Walt Disney World. 

We arrived in town after an 11 hour drive (that normally takes 8.5-9 hours) on Friday, April 15th.  Although we really just wanted to check into the hotel and relax for a while, we had to stop at the expo for packet pickup first.  There was nothing too different about this expo.  I saw many of the same vendors that usually show up for a runDisney expo.  There were Star Wars movies playing on the screens outside at ESPN.  I admittedly have never seen a Star Wars movie in my life so I couldn't tell you which one was playing while we were there. 

After picking up our bibs, we walked around looking at merchandise.  I always purchase two official runDisney souvennirs- a wine glass and a pin.  Even though I am not particularly a Star Wars fan, I still intended to get both these items for my collection.  Apparently, there was no wine glass made for this race weekend.  I had a sneaking suspiscion there wouldn't be based off the preview runDisney released of official merchandise earlier in the week.  Their tester pics on social media are not typically inclusive of all ther merchandise but when I did not see a wine glass amongst the merchandise, I for once got a little nervous they weren't being offered. They did offer a beer pint for Star Wars but I really wanted my wine glass.  There were also no challenge pins available at the tkme I hit the expo so I was 0-2 this race with merchandise. 

We left the expo and headed straight to Coronado Springs.  This was the 8th runDisney weekend I've participated in and the first time I have ever stayed on property.  Although I love the place I usually stay, I now prefer staying on property during race weekends.  Because we had to wake up so early the next morning, we decided to spend the night walking around the resort and checking out their bars and pools.  Coronado Springs did not disappoint.  The first night we went to Rix Lounge where they offer cocktails and tapas.  I got a martini and calamari then called it a night while my boyfriend proceeded to hang out at Laguna Bar.  Yes... He was out late at a bar the night before a race. He's clearly an amateur and doesn't know how these things work!

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning to head to the 10k.  It was convenient being able to hop on the bus and head straight to the race.  Although I've never had an issue with parking, it saved us time being dropped off right at bag checks.  Plus, Star Wars 10k and Half Marathon races both began at Epcot and ended at ESPN, requiring runners who drove to still take a bus after the race. 

The atmosphere of this race was unlinke any runDisney race I've ever ran.  Instead of music blaring and runners dancing and cheering, scenes from Star Wars movies were played before runners took off.  I'm not sure if this is done at Star Wars: Light Side in California, but I wasn't a fan of it.  It had nothing to do with not being a Star Wars fan.  I just prefer the energy typically found at other runDisney races.  

I didn't mention my boyfriends injury... He tore his meniscus one week before the race. Like a trooper. He refused to miss the race and even proclaimed "I will tear my knee the shreds before I get swept from a race." We took off and started pretty quick. I was surprised how quickly he could move with an injury but it didn't last long before he was in major pain. We saw several characters from the beginning.  This was the 5th runDisney 10k I've participated in and the lines were longer than usual for a 10k.  We started in corral C so I can only imagine how long the lines got once the later corrals took off.  Several times during the race, I commented how much I actually liked the course.  I feel like we spent a lot of time in the parks and on the Boardwalk.  We continued to walk a lot due to my boyfriend's injury so that was a bummer.  His goal was to run a fast race and now wants to do another runDisney 10k to make up for it.  He decided on the 10k during Marathon Weekend. 

After the race, we headed to the bus area and had to wait about 15-20 minutes to get on our bus.  Even if I drove, we would have had to take a bus so the wait didn't bother me.  We took a nap once we got back before heading to our O'hanas brunch reservations.  I've said it before and I'll say it again- O'hanas brunch is one of my favorite Disney dining experiences.  Although I do not eat pork, there's still plenty to eat and I leave with a full stomach.  It's $30 a person, which for the view and experience, I find to be extremely reasonable.  My boyfriend is a breakfast food lover like me and was really looking forward to our reservation.  He loved the experience, especially the part where we met Stitch! He also loved the fresh fruit juice. I'm telling you- that juice blend is magical!  It's a shame they don't mix it with vodka because that's the only thing missing.  I asked for a window seat with a view of the castle, as always, and request they keep bringing the homestyle potatoes and Mickey waffles.  Those are my two favorite parts of the meal!  

I spent the remainder of the day lounging by the main pool at Coronado Springs.  I love that pool!  We ordered pizza and calzones from one of my local favorites- Flipper's.  It was hard to find a pizza place that delivered on property but I've had pizza from them before and it's always great. 

I don't know why, but it was difficult for me to wake up early on the second day.  As I was brushing my teeth, I could hear the bus brakes outside my room so I hurried out the door to catch the bus.  I really loved the convenience of the bus stopping right outside our hotel room to take us to the race.  My boyfriend got a few more hours of sleep before meeting me at the finish line. 

The Half Marathon race started out simlarly to the 10k.  Not a whole lot of energy, but scenes from Star Wars movies were played.  It was hard for me to get hyped about this race without the usual levels of energy.  Although I was in a good corral, everyone around me started out slower than I expected and it was hard to pass runners right away.  I think the course crowding and lack of energy really effected my pace.  I ran about 1:00 min/mile slower than I did during Princess Half Marathon, despite breaking my Princess PR by three minutes the weekend before.  My toe bled through my Little Mermaid shoes during the race and I had a spider bit on my ankle which both frustrated me and slowed me down. Not every race can be a PR but this was definitely an off race for me. To this day I still haven't looked at my official time. I suspect it's about 20 min slower than my current PR.

Race Review

The course: 6/10
I loved the Wine & Dine Half Marathon course when it was a nightime race.  This course was essentially the same course, backwards with a few variations.  I'm not a fan of running through Animal Kingdom because some of the back roads smell bad.  The race also started at 5:00 AM although all other 10k and longer distances at Walt Disney World begin at 5:30.  I suspect its because the race took place in April and the potential heat.  This race wasn't extremely hot but the second half of the course didn't have a lot of shade.  That Florida sun beating down on you will slow you down a little bit.  Although I liked ending at ESPN for the 10k, for some reason I didn't enjoy that part of the course during the Half Marathon.  Maybe it was the flashbacks from WDW Marathon... I don't know.  I think the biggest thing for me was not running through Cinderella's castle.  My favorite part of any Half Marathon at Disney is running through the castle (Cinderella or Aurora).  This course didn't run through Magic Kingdom so that element was missing.  I never missed it so much during Wine & Dine because the Osbourne Family Lights Show made up for it. 

The swag: 7/10 
I hold Disney to a higher standard than most race series because of my past experiences and the cost of registration. These shirts were not my favorite and that has nothing to do with the Star Wars theme. There was also limited merchandise available at the expo and the elimination of wine glasses bothers me. 

The medals: 8/10
There's no denying that RunDisney has fantastic medals. I felt The Dark Side Challenge medal was lacking creativity but the Half Marathon medal was great. It's one of my largest medals and it incorporates a spinner. 

Overall Experience: 7/10
There were a few things about this race that disappointed me (the course, merchandise selection, etc.) but at the end of the day I got to run through Walt Disney World and my race benefited the children of St. Jude.  For those two reasons alone, I would absolutely run Star Wars again.  I have an annual pass to Walt Disney World so I may as well get use out of it during all four race weekends.  I'm hoping they add one more race to the lineup because at one point they had five annual race weekends at Walt Disney World. 

My last runDisney race for the year will be in November during Lumiere's Challenge.  With all the changes to Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend, I'm looking forward to those races and sharing my experience through my blog.  

Star Wars: Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend will be April 20-23, 2017 and registration opens August 9th. Although it took an extended period of time for the 2016 race to sell out, there is no telling if the 2017 races will be the same case.

Keep running!



  1. Wow. I'm not much of a star wars fan either. I almost signed up for the challenge but backed out and decided to save me money for marathon weekend. I have heard good and bad about this race. I know it was their first. But the course flipping why? It seemed like it was last minute. The half course during marathon weekend would have been better. That course just rocks and you get the castle. I do love the medals though. Disney medals never disappoint. But anyways congrats your the dark side challenge finish.

    1. I think a lot of aspects of this race were due to last minute planning. The Half course during Marathon weekend is the same as Princess Half. I love that course but running it three times a year might be a little redundant. The idea of a new course was exciting but this course was just not good. I'm hoping the new Wine & Dine course is better!