The Inaugural 2016 Star Wars Dark Side 10K!
There are a lot of exclamation point opportunities in that preceding… exclamation, but I’ll curtail my exclamatory tendencies to just a single pinpoint punctuarial proclivity.
What an utterly strange way to start a race review… hrmph. Anyway so here we are in April of 2016, at the convergence of all things obsessively geeky in not only the Hokeyblog Home Offices, but scattered well throughout the Nerdosphere. That’s right, we’re talking about the Virtual Vanishing Point in which Disney, Star Wars, Theme Parks, and of course Running all melt into a singularity of awesomesauce known as the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side weekend.
What a time for fitness nerds to be alive! For four days, starting with the opening of the Expo on Thursday April 14th through the running of the Half Marathon on Sunday April 17th, the Walt Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, is a hotbed of wonderfully awesome running-nerdlinger activity. The veritable “your chocolate in my peanut butter” moment, as fans merge their Disney love with their Star Wars adoration and wrap the whole thing up with races and events and medals and photo ops and all sorts of happy funtime activity.
This weekend of course is “The Dark Side” race weekend, as opposed to “The Light Side” that occurred last January in Anaheim, CA at Disneyland. You might remember your humble narrator attended that event as well, running both the 10K and Half Marathon, thus completing the “Rebel Challenge” (read: overpriced entry fee, extra bonus medal and t-shirt). You can read my reviews of both, but generally I had a fun time in grand Star Wars’ian fashion. That event had the bonus of being in Disneyland in mid-January, which meant nice cold weather (40s/50s is cold for this tropical iguana) and more time to visit the parks in Anaheim, which are favorites in many ways.
But there I was at Walt Disney World, participating in the second Star Wars race weekend of the year, which meant the opportunity to earn the coveted “Kessel Run” challenge medal, a Millennium Falcon-shaped beauty which signifies that the wearer completed the Half Marathon on both coasts in the same year. Insert gushing noise of geeky overzealousness here… or don’t! My point being, there were plenty of reasons for excitement over the course of the weekend, whether or not you were running a challenge or not, or just even as a spectator soaking in the thematic elements that permeated a Star Wars-infused event.
Lots to love here. But what about the race itself? Let’s get to that, starting with:
Boots and I were “running” (read: planning an enjoyable stroll during) the Star Wars Dark Side 5K on Friday (the day before the 10K) with Boots’s cousin Sue. As such, we hit the Expo over at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex on Thursday night. The expo closed at 7:00 PM, and we were just able to make it up from Ft. Lauderdale and parked by 6:30. It didn’t give us a lot of time, but it was more than enough to grab our bibs, shirts, and swag bags, take some choice pics, and hit up the official race merchandise area…
… which was pretty much picked clean. I’m not even going to harp on the whole “Run Disney official merchandise caters to mass buyers and eBay resellers instead of runners” because it’s absolutely been done to death, and no one enjoys a broken record, except for maybe the protagonists from Shaun of the Dead. I bought two shirts and a fridge magnet and called it a day. Besides, I got enough race shirts to last a lifetime — four of them that day alone, for running all the races that weekend.
Anyway here are some nifty expo shots, as well as the total swag accumulation:
We’ll skip right over the 5K and head straight into…
In order to avoid the brutality of the Florida sun in April, Run Disney decided to start the race a bit earlier than usual, at 5:30 AM. Since I wanted to make our team pic at 4:30, this meant getting up at 3:15 that morning. Yeesh. Enter Xanax. I got a good six hours and was up with the alarm with a reasonable amount of peppy vigor. “Peppy Vigor” would be a great name for an aerobics instructor, in 1985. Weird dated references aside, I quickly dressed into my Star Wars-themed Mickey Milers singlet and compression shorts, and scarfed down a Clif bar and Gatorade for energy. I’m not much for eating before a run, especially a 10K, but something is better than nothing at all.
Boots and I drove over from the Lake Buena Vista Hilton (LOVE this hotel, btw), leaving at 3:45 AM and parked by just after 4:00. Since the run was scheduled to begin at Epcot and finish at ESPN, this meant we’d have to take a shuttle to return to our car. “More on that later,” he said in an ominous tone.
Moving on, I made it in time for the Mickey Milers team pic with time to spare, so I had a lot of hangout time with my buddies. And of course our team pic here:
And my dearest best buds in the Zoo Crew:
The Staging Area for the race was filled with activity. There was the usual stage with a DJ, announcers, music, and video monitors featuring clips of a Star Wars’ian nature.
There were also a whole bunch of photo areas where you could pose for snapshots with Jabba The Hut, BB-8, that ginormous monstrous thing from The Force Awakens whose name I can’t remember and really don’t feel like looking up right now because of reasons, and other backdrops. I didn’t take a backdrop photo that morning, but I did the previous day with BB-8, so here’s that one:
There was a MOUNTAIN of people lined up for the Porto-potties. I’m talking a 20-30 minute wait per line, easy. How ridiculous. Once you walked a few yards into the runners area, there was a host of portos that had maybe a 2 minute line, tops. And take advantage of that we did. We were so pleased with our acuity, the gang even posed for a Porto line pic:
Now it was time to walk to the corral. Corrals were located on Epcot Center Drive, facing southeast instead of the usual northwest direction. It was a bit of a walk to get to the corral. It wasn’t quite as long as the usual Epcot corral walk you’d find at January Race Weekend or Princess, but it was still fairly longer than normal. It was also quite dark; I saw more than a few people walking into the people in front of them and stumbling about a bit. Perhaps more lighting than the occasional blinding floodlight might be sufficient.
I was happy to be in Corral A, which was good, as I planned on running the race for time rather than for “fun”. I really didn’t need to stop for photo ops and entertainment, as I had taken a bunch of pics during the 5K and was planning on running the half for fun the next day. Today was for RUNNING. Hooray me. I lined up in Corral A next to my buddies Donna, Celeste, and Chris (host of the Team Shenanigans podcast, who was running with his daughter, and if you’re not listening to the podcast you’re REALLY missing out). We chatted happily for a while (while I tried pressuring Celeste to run the San Francisco Marathon with me in July) and soon enough the magic hour had come.
A pair of First Order Stormtroopers came out and told us we were running “Phase 2” of some “First Order Conditioning Process” or the like. It was kind of a cool, immersive moment that really got you believing you weren’t just running another overpriced Run Disney 10K:
Then we were lined up ready to run this thing:
But not before I do my usual dopey start line selfie:
Finally the magic hour was upon us, and precisely at 5:30 AM I started up Zombies, Run! mission “It’s Raining Again”, clicked my Garmin watch, and crossed the Start Line.
The Inaugural Star Wars Dark Side 10K!
And say! Why not take a look at the 10K course, courtesy of my aforementioned Garmin 920XT and Google Maps:
This is a new 10K course for Run Disney and Walt Disney World. It begins curving southeast on Epcot Center Drive, turning west on Overpass road into the backstage Epcot area. The course continues behind Test Track and enters Epcot between Mexico and Norway. Upon entering Epcot, the course makes a sharp right, passing by Mexico, the old Odyssey restaurant, the entrance to World Showcase, Canada, and the UK, before passing through the International Gateway into the Crescent Lake/Epcot resort area. A jaunt over the bridge spanning the lake takes us around the Boardwalk resort, before making a left onto the narrow walkway connecting the Epcot Resorts to Hollywood Studios.
Upon entering Hollywood Studios, the course briefly ducks backstage before emerging on Prospect Ave, turning right onto Hollywood Boulevard and then another right onto Sunset Boulevard. Then we turn right into the Fantasmic Theater walkway which deposited us onto Perimeter Road, Cypress Drive, and then out onto Buena Vista Drive. Off-ramp inclines greeted us as we turned onto World Drive, running that stretch straight to the Osceola Parkway. The course turned briefly west before a quick U-turn took us east towards ESPN Wide World of Sports Zone. A right turn took us onto a brief gravel/trail road, emerging onto the WWoS walkways that past the main baseball fields and field houses, before turning left and bringing us to the Finish Line, 6.2 miles later.
As I mentioned before, I was running for pace and time, which meant I made the conscious decision to not stop for anything except hydration. Thereby, I eschewed the usual photo stops, characters, entertainment, and so forth. I stuck to my usual 10K/Half intervals of “Run One Mile, Walk One Minute”, just to see what I could do in the warmer (but comfortable) Central Florida heat and humidity. I did notice a few character stops that I remembered from the 5K, like R2-D2 just before Mile 1, Chewbacca at the International Gateway, Star Wars: Rebels characters (who I couldn’t name on a bet) somewhere in between, and a whole host of 501st Legion cosplayers that looked absolutely amazing — from what I could see, anyhow. It was pretty dark. They even had a backdrop where you could pose for a pic sitting on The Emperor’s Throne. Yeesh. I can only imagine how groiny that thing was by the end of the race…
Since I was seeded in Corral A, I didn’t have to worry about dodging slower runners/walkers, and as such congestion issues were pretty much non-existent. The first mile was a blur for me, finishing it in 8:42 and feeling pretty steady with my pace. Turning into Epcot, things got a tad narrower (especially around the hydration tables) but otherwise the course still felt reasonable. The park was lit up beautifully, with plenty of lights, flickering torchlights, and Star Wars music blasting over the sound system.
Moving into the Crescent Lake area… I always get nervous about running on the Boardwalk. The wood planks making up the actual boardwalk session can get pretty slippery if there’s any kind of condensation or rain going on. Thankfully I didn’t need to worry. It was a mildly humid morning but footing was not an issue.
And now we get to the Epcot Resorts-Hollywood Studios walkway…
This portion of the race, from leaving the Boardwalk through entering Hollywood Studios, is tight. There are just no two ways about this; the course narrows significantly and, as such, creates a natural bottleneck. Since I was in the earliest corral, my pace didn’t suffer for it, but later corrals were, from what I found out from others, not quite so lucky. You could either bob and weave through runners, try to run on the grass, or just slow down and go with the flow of traffic. Frustrating if you’re trying to make some serious time on this race, but then again that’s Run Disney for you. The focus isn’t on FAST courses, but FUN ones.
And muchos kudos for the wall of hay bales that was erected to keep runners on the walkway and to discourage them from sprinting directly into the adjacent canal.
The time spent in Hollywood Studios was super brief. A little bit on Hollywood Blvd (the main thoroughfare), a turn onto Hollywood for a spell, and then backstage and out. There’s tons of construction going down in the Studios, so much of the park is closed off. To make up for this, they stationed the Star Wars cosplayers here, which was really nifty. Unfortunately they were not placed in an area that was conducive to cool photo opportunities. People were stopping on the course to take pics with or of them. Yeesh.
The most taxing part of the course (and the most complained about, from all I gathered) was the 1-mile stretch onto World Drive that led to the Osceola Parkway, but if you’ve done any kind of hill/bridge training then it wasn’t any major issue. You go up, you go down, you run flat, then you go up again. Big deal. Now if anyone wanted to complain that it was a dull patch that had nothing in terms of entertainment of immersive Disney/Star Wars festive joyousness, well then they might have a point. Me, I just ran. It was still dark but the barest bit of blue wolflight was creeping in from the East. I wanted to see if I could reach the Finish before sunrise.
Reaching Osceola, there was a brief detour to the right (westbound) before we U-turned and headed east towards ESPN WWoS. The dirt trail/gravel road that led into the complex was another bottleneck, especially in the dark (there were a few floodlights there) as runners, unsure of their footing, slowed it down a tad. Once the course turned back into pavement, we were back to moving again and about a half mile from the Finish. Boots was stationed here, ready to take photos of our running buddies, and of course I totally missed her even though she was screaming my name out. THANKS, Zombies Run mission, for being so distracting…
There were tons of cheering spectators lining the sides of the walkway leading towards the turn that led us south towards the Finish Line. I could already hear the excitement, music, and race announcers as the Finish came into view. I was running at a decent pace (for me) and as such, didn’t feel the need to tear it up and sprint with everything I had to the absolute very end. I still don’t know why people do that, but to each their own. Everyone runs their own race.
As I entered the final hundred feet or so, I passed by the announcers tent and heard stalwart Run Disney race announcer (and total hottie) Carissa announce as I ran by, “That’s the third Mickey Miler to Finish this morning… and the first in a tank top. Just sayin’…” Oh yeah. Gun show. Total ego moment right there!
My race time was 57:14 which, while two minutes off my PR, still represented my second fastest 10K out of eight. And while I’m loathe to crow about stats and placement, I was still pretty pleased to rank 755th out of 12,172. It’s a weak comparison, given that Run Disney races are very walker and new-runner friendly, and many faster runners than me slow down and stop to take advantage of all the entertainment and photo opportunities.
But I still felt pretty goshdarn swell about myself, especially after I was knighted with a kickass TIE Fighter 10K medal. I’m not a big medal fan to begin with, but I sure do love me anything TIE Fighter-related. This thing was a beaut!
There were more photo opportunities with the likes of Jabba, Darth Vader, Darth Maul, and more in the Finish Area, but I was content to grab my snack box and Powerade, find some shade, and sit down for a spell. I finished just before 6:30 AM, and by the time I was settled the sun was already making an appearance. I chatted with some Miler teammates for a while before Boots caught up with me. We needed to take the shuttle that would return us to our car at Epcot, and that was in and of itself was a weird exercise in confusion and frustration. There were several nebulous lines being formed near the buses, and there was confusion as to which line was for which bus. The resort lines were reasonable in length, but the Epcot shuttle line was not only really huge, but utterly non-moving. Even that early in the morning, it took us over a half-hour to board the shuttle (later in the day it took much longer; as in, an hour or more!) As it turned out, one of the shuttle drivers somehow managed to get his bus stuck in the mud and they were having difficulty extricating it from its dire predicament, resulting in delays for everybody.
But even with the delays, the shuttle area was still a big confusing mess for many. And apparently it only got worse later in the day. Thankfully it was somewhat relieved the next day with a more orderly system in the Finish Area. Somewhat.
Still, I can’t complain too much about the 2016 Star Wars Dark Side 10K, as I enjoyed pretty much the entire race. I thought the theming, entertainment, and course was pretty cool (albeit with a few bottleneck issues), but the experience of running in Corral A is definitely a world away from running in later corrals. Your mileage may vary, of course. People have raised legimitate complaints about the course entertainment being significantly lacking, but that really doesn’t mean all that much to me in general. There were photo ops, video screens, cosplayers, music, and even some pretty cool mile marker signs that featured Dark Side characters from Star Wars. And of course the entire experience got brought down a peg by the abysmal shuttle situation.
Overall though, I still thought it was really good race. While I still prefer the Star Wars Light Side 10K in Disneyland for its sheer amount of in-park time and entertainment value, the Star Wars Dark Side 10K ranks as one of Run Disney’s better races. Huzzah! Here’s the video. I went with some Prong, because if you listened to metal on the Death Star, you probably listened to Prong: