Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

13.1 miles for the dark side!

Alright, onto the last of the Dark Side races!  And I do mean potentially last – next year the races are being re-themed as the Rival races, so you can choose if you’re running for the Light or the Dark.  Since the California races are temporarily (?) closed, I actually think this is a really neat re-themeing.

So, the half marathon!  This is my second favorite distance.  After running a full, I think (I’ll never say never, but I’m pretty sure) I’m good at sticking at halves and below.  10ks are my absolute favorite distance, but I do enjoy how a half pushes me to my limits and then ends.  Unfortunately, this year wasn’t a great year for my races – training for the full marathon in January left me with a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that I’m still recovering from, and also did a number to my knees.  I managed to walk/run the 5k and the 10k, but my foot was already hurting when we were waiting for the half.  And this is where something incredibly important comes in: injuring yourself for a race is so.  Not.  Worth.  It.  I see stories meant to be inspiring of people being dragged across finish lines, having been held up for a mile+, because they’re suffering from heat stroke or other injuries, and guys – it’s a race.  I had hopes of run/walking the half, I had hopes of even PRing since I was hoping to come off strong from marathon training, but I didn’t want to hurt my foot further.  So I decided not to interval it.  BUT!  I did decide to try something else – walking it.  And if it hurt too badly (thankfully it didn’t), I’d just sweep myself.

But why did I want to walk it?  First, I was curious if I could – I’m notoriously nervous about the pacers and balloon ladies, though I really have no reason to be.  I’m not a fast runner, but I average 12-14 minute miles on average, well below the 15mm Disney recommends you train for.  So if I could finish a half marathon just by walking, I’d know that I could do it.  Second, I love walking.  I’ve lived by Walt Disney World since I was 7, and have grown up speedwalking and dodging people.  My Dad and Geoff have to trot to keep up with my walking.  So I was curious how much I’d enjoy speedwalking a race.  And finally, I’ve had so many friends tell me they can’t do a race because they can’t run.  I wanted to show that yes, you can.  To be clear: you still have to train!  I had been training less than normal due to my PF, but was still getting in walking and such to be sure I could do the race.  But if you train, and if you can realistically walk, run, or run/walk around a 15mm for the distance, you can do it.  I wanted to prove that.  So, for this half, I completely walked – only exceptions were if I was passing someone in a crowded location (and would’ve slowed runners down if I walked, so I would run around someone and then resume walking), and at the end of the race – once the finish line was in sight, I went ahead and ran for it!

Also, I just wanted to get through the dang thing without limping or actually injuring myself.  It actually ended up being a lot of fun!  And wasn’t even my slowest half – just my second slowest, ha!  So now onto the photos and some course descriptions for you.

At the expo, posing with the half marathon banner, featuring Captain Phasma!

Also at the expo, posing with the Dark Side Challenge banner featuring Kylo Ren.

Prior to the race starting! Geoff ran the half as well, but was in a different corral than I was. (AKA, he’s way faster and so was way ahead of me!)

I didn’t take a selfie at every mile marker – only two of them – but I did have to take one with Mile 1, featuring Palpatine! Because…it’s Palpatine.  The race, again, started at the Magic Kingdom parking lot, so no Photopass until we reached Animal Kingdom.

Outside of Animal Kingdom, they had a fantastic Photopass spot featuring the Hoth ice cave.

In Animal Kingdom! And here we face the truth: walking photos are just not quite as epic as running photos. MY BAD.

The plus side of walking photos: while Geoff looks like he’s, you know, running in a race, I look like I’m pleasantly strolling with nary a care in the world.  The cool part of Animal Kingdom this time around, though, was getting to go through Pandora!  I’ve visited there several times, but it’s never been as empty as during the race, so that was neat.

Getting my turn with the ice cave! Ever since I didn’t stop there last year, I’ve regretted it. Now I finally got the photo!  This photo spot was in the Animal Kingdom parking lot as you left the park.  Then it was more highway until you reached Hollywood Studios!

Geoff achieving an almost perfect 90 degree angle shot, ha!

Once at Hollywood Studios, I came across more of the 501st. There were some stationed at Animal Kingdom as well, but I was still too nervous about pacing at that point. Once I hit HS though, and realized I hadn’t remotely seen any pacers or balloon ladies, I figured I had a good bit of leeway and started on the character photos!

Imperial selfies!

And another selfie…with a Rebel managing to get in there. Wait a minute… 😀

I HAD TO STOP FOR THIS SHOT. You GUYS. This is one reason I adore the 501st, you get the opportunity for photo stops that Disney, so far, hasn’t put together, and as a Reylo fan this was Very Exciting for me okay. Let my nerdiness shine.

While I was bopping around taking a million photos, Geoff was in the stretch between Hollywood Studios and Epcot! It wrapped around by Yacht and Beach Club this time (vs the 10k which hits the Boardwalk resort).

Then he zipped through Epcot and voila! Finish line photo!

And me…again…looking hilariously like I’m just…sadly strolling through a park.

LOVED the cheerers at the end of Hollywood Blvd! So we entered Hollywood Studios via Fantasmic (where the 501st was), then passed by Tower of Terror, down Sunset Blvd, and then down Hollywood Blvd.

To all the volunteers cheering us on, thank you – you really do make our day.

Photopass spot with a First Order Stormtrooper! Us Stormies have to stick together.

Shoutout to Rachel (@rachel9985), who was a volunteer at the race! As I passed by she was like, “Hey, I follow you on Instagram!” This was the first time someone’s ever recognized me from IG so I promptly geeked out and had to take a selfie. Awesome running into her!

Had to stop at this Photopass spot, between Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Speeder bikes from Return of the Jedi!

My second mile marker selfie – because, Hux.

Finishing up in Epcot, just a trip around the World Showcase and then out Future World!  You can tell the humidity was getting pretty intense – I always swell during a race, but my fingers were like giant sausages at that point.  So uncomfortable!

The 501st had a final stop right before mile marker 13. I almost passed them by and then I saw EMPEROR PALPATINE, so of course I had to get a photo!!

And then I saw MARA JADE so of course I had to get a photo with this group as well!

And then it was into the final chute and I could finally start running!

My “No, seriously, I want to be done already” face.

Crossing the finish line!

Medal photo!

And obligatory medal selfie. From left to right, the virtual Light Side half, the 5k, 10k, Dark Side half, and Kessel Run medals. Kessel Run is granted for doing the Light and Dark side halves in the same year; this was the first year it was a virtual half for Light, so Geoff and I signed up for it since we’re unsure if/when the Light Side half will return to California.

Before and after each of the races, Disney always has characters! I can’t speak for other weekends, but for Dark Side the characters, at least up through this year, have stayed the same for all three races. First up was Darth Vader!

Celebrating our Stormtrooper training with Phasma.

Thankfully, no bounties on our heads.

And with the Supreme Leader himself.

And thus ended our Dark Side weekend!  I’m glad I gave walking a try – my foot was still killing me after, so I’m quite glad I didn’t interval – but man, did I miss the Galloway interval method.  I was surprised what a difference it made – it really gives your muscles a break alternating running/walking vs doing just one or the other.  Hopefully we’ll get to run again next year!  I’m taking a running break for several months while I let my plantar fasciitis and knee issues fully heal.  Dark Side was incredibly fun though, and I’m glad we did it!  May the Force be with you, etc etc.  And now, I leave you with some video that I took along the course: