Disney Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend – Part 1

With the second anniversary of the Star Wars Half Marathon registration opening up this Tuesday, I thought it was time to tell the tale of the inaugural race weekend from earlier this year.  Disney has been expanding their race weekends with the addition of Avengers and now Star Wars half marathon weekends.  The Star Wars Half Marathon weekend would start on January 15th, and go through the 18th.  Unlike the Avengers weekend, Star Wars was setup to support a multi-race challenge, called the Rebel Challenge.  Like normal challenges by Disney (Glass Slipper, etc), the combination of the 10k and half marathon would be used.  Unlike the other challenges, the race weekend would be a week after Disney’s biggest running event, their WDW Marathon weekend.  This is significant because many of the racers running in the Disneyland Star Wars races would have run at least one of the four races in Disney World before flying out to the west coast and running these.  That would include me, as I participated in the Dopey Challenge for the second year in a row.  The Dopey Challenge requires the runner to complete all of the races during the WDW Marathon weekend.  This included a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon in 4 days.

The WDW races spanned the first week of January, starting on the 7th, and ending on the 11th.  Since Sallie, my wife, had just finished her first marathon on the 11th, she would not be racing in Disneyland, so she headed home early Wednesday, 3 days after her race.  I stayed in Disney World a bit long, eventually leaving late Wednesday night and arriving in Los Angeles in the evening.  After arriving in Anaheim, I headed to my hotel, unpacked, and went to bed.  I knew I needed to be up early Thursday to make sure I got to the Expo for any inaugural exclusives, which would not last past the first few hours.

Star Wars Weekend Expo

I woke up at 5am Thursday morning, with the intent of reaching the Star Wars Expo by 6:30am.  The Expo would not open until 9:30, but I knew that a line would start many hours before that.  I got dressed and drove over to the Expo, a mile and a half away.  While it was within walking distance, I felt lazy and drove anyways.  Once I arrived at the hotel that housed the Expo, I was directed up a flight of stairs to a holding room.  Here I would wait in line until the Expo opened.  To my surprise, Disney decided to entertain us by showing the original Star Wars series to the waiting crowd.  By the time I got in line, they had already started Empire Strikes Back.

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The initial line, about 6 rows deep at 6:30am

As we got closer to 9am, they asked us to stand up and get ready to head down to the Expo, giving us what we thought would be an early entrance to the Expo itself.  Instead, they were actually moving us to the second queue line, down in the expo.

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Line number two, almost to the Official Merchandise room

From here we waited, as they let in about 20 people every 5 minutes.  Unlike the first holding area, we where not treated to the movies.  Instead, they just projected a marketing slide for the race weekend, which was a little disappointing.

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I finally got into the Expo and the Official Race Shop.  Here there was a mass of Star Wars race gear, which I grabbed a great deal of.  Once I headed out of the Official Merchandise area, I wandered to the packet pickup to retrieve my bibs for the next two races, as well as Sallie’s Cheer Squad passes and accessories.  Each ramp to and from the packet pickup area had rugs designed specifically for the race.

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Entrance to the Expo
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The Rebel Challenge Ying/Yang at the Expo entrance
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Entrance to packet pickup
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Exit from packet pickup

From the start to the finish of the Expo, Disney kept you in the mindset of Star Wars and I was getting excited for two races I expected to be horrible at, especially after last weeks four race weekend.  Now it was off to lunch, then to meet up with Coach Shannon at the Wookie Welcome Party later that night!

The Wookie Welcome Party

After the park closed Thursday night, they allowed us into the park to hang out with the Disney Star Wars characters over at Tomorrow Land.

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Disney lights the parks up during the evening. Each season has a different theme.

In order to get to Tomorrow Land, we were directed to pass through Main Street, and the central courtyard in front of the castle.  Disney setup a security gateway, with people validating entrance based on the wrist bands we received as we entered the park.  The party hosted a large amount of runners, with deserts and drink throughout Torommow Land.

Darth Vader cupcakes
Darth Vader cupcakes
Chewy ginger cookies
Chewy ginger cookies
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Wookie rumballs, an interesting choice in a kid friendly event.

One of the perks of being in the park after hours was the ability to use any of the Tomorrow Land rides, which Shannon and I took full advantage of.  We both rode the Star Wars Tour ride at least four times, and I jumped on the Space Mountain ride once.

Robot in Star Wars Tours that handles the line to the ride
Robot in Star Wars Tours that handles the line to the ride

We attempted to see each of the clips used in the Tour ride, as they seemed to be using a randomizer to choose which first half clip to show, and which second half clip to pair it with.   I think we saw them all, but you can never tell.  In the center of the festivities, they had a stage where Jedi Chip and Jedi Dale were dancing it up to the music being mixed by the park DJs.

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Great jacket, and great play on Sons of Anarchy.
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The dance floor was at the Jedi Training Academy patio
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Selfie with Jedi Chip
Chip and Dale on stage with the DJs
Chip and Dale on stage with the DJs
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Jedi Dale

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Every hour they had some of the Star Wars characters come up to the stage for a skit, from the movies to the animated shows like Star Wars: Rebels. These characters would also walk about the park, and stand a character areas of pictures.  This seemed to be what most of the runners wanted to do, as the lines for all of the characters made those for the rides the next day look quick.  Maybe a FastPass would be in order here.

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Master Mickey and Princess Minnie
Jawas!  Watch your cameras and smartphones
Jawas! Watch your cameras and smartphones
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Trooper Donald and Darth Goofy are in the house
Chewy had the longest line
Chewy had the longest line

All in All, it was a great night of deserts, rides and Star Wars fanfare!

Friday – Pre-Race Wandering

Friday was a relaxing day for me.  With the Expo out of the way, and all of my races in the challenge starting Saturday, I had the day free to wander Anaheim.  The C3PO 5k was today, but that race was not part of the challenge, and I did not want to add more stress to the legs.  This also meant that I was not as cool as Sean Astin, who did the 5k, plus the challenge, after doing Dopey last week.  I went out for a short 3 mile run to stretch out the legs and get a feel for how they had recovered from last weekend.  They were a bit sluggish, but that was to be expected.  I then headed out to a local Boardgaming store, Dice House Games, to see what Southern California offered their gaming community.  I always make it a point to find a gaming store in every city I visit through out the world.  Dice House had a decent selection of games, both new and old, and the staff was very friendly.  They had tables setup to play the many games they offered for consumption, which was nice.  Sadly, they did not have anything I was looking for, so I wandered out and headed for a bite to each.

After a bit of lunch and some preparation for the next two days of racing ,I headed off to LAX to pick up Sallie and head back to the hotel.  While she would not be running this weekend, she would be cheering us on!  Once we got to the hotel, I set out my clothes for the next two days and headed off to bed.

Flat Luke with Yoda and flat Boba Fett
Flat Luke with Yoda and flat Boba Fett

Saturday – Storm Trooper 10k

The morning came early, though not as early as last weekends 3am wake up calls.  Since most of the hotels in Disneyland are within walking distance of the race start, I didn’t need to get up a 3am for a race at 5:30am.  Instead, I got up at 4:30am, grabbed a quick snack, and wandered down to the lobby where Shannon and Sallie were waiting.  The course for this 10k was different then previous 10k courses in Disneyland, as it started on the streets and over the hills for the first 2 miles, then head back into the park, where it would stay for the rest of the race.

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The group of us walked over to the starting line, where both of Shannon and I would start in Corral A.  Shannon and I were in costumes for this race.  Shannon had an awesome Ewok costume, while I was dressed as Luke on Dagoba, with Yoda on my back.  It would be interesting to run with the Yoda pack on.

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As we entered Corral A, we could see the starting line, where they had a huge screen that kept showing clips of the original movies as we waited.  We were there relatively early so I wandered around the corral and went through my normal routine of springs and dynamic stretching.

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Eventually, the announcers came onto a stage near the starting line to do a few skits and then release us.  This would be the beginning of my attempt at pacing.  I knew I wanted to stop at as many characters as possible, so I needed to make sure my pace was controllable and comfortable.  Corral A had a ranch of elite to middle of the pack paces, and I set myself up near the front of the corral.  It was still quite dark as the race start loomed.  At 5:32am, C-3PO did the countdown and then released us to the course.

Miles 1-2

With the race started, I setup a pace of 8 minute miles.  This would allow me to get a good feel for my capabilities, without worrying too much about burning out for tomorrows race.  If I felt good after the first two miles, I would speed up a bit.  These two miles were on the roads in Anaheim and they started at the entrance on the road next to the Expo.  We then headed out to Ball Rd and turned right onto Harbor Avenue.  This part crossed over two bridges, which were considered the hills for the race.  There were main complaints on these “hills” which made me chuckle.  I run most of my miles in Northern Virginia, which is made up of rolling hills.  This bridges were just noise.  Once we were on Harbor Avenue, it was straight and flat until we got to the entrance of Disneyland.  My legs started off feeling tired and a bit weak, but the overpasses quickly woke them up.  I had some good discussions with fellow racers as we came to the entrance and headed through the turnstiles to the Magic Kingdom.  At this point I felt good enough to start pushing the pace a bit.  We actually entered the attractions at 1.75 miles into the race.  My average pace by mile 2 was 7:37 minutes a mile.  This was a bit faster then I had initially planned, but since I felt good, I was not overly concerned.

Miles 2-3

Once we entered Magic Kingdom, we headed to Frountierland.  We would run through the main paths there, past Tom Sawyers Island and on to Fantasyland.  The course was flat, with only minor quick bumps for hills, but there was a lot of turns that were tight.  As we reached Tomorrowland, I was averaging a 7:38 minute mile and felt good, though the tight turns slowed me down a bit.  I was chatting with a few racers about the lighting of the different sections of the park until we came to Toontown.  From here we would enter the back lot of Disneyland.

Miles 3-5

The back lots are always an interesting place to run.  You have the opportunity to see the behind the scenes activities of the park, some attractions being repaired, the creation of new art, and just interesting random artifacts.  This also meant that we could not take photos, which was odd, as one of the cooler things Disney did for this section of the race was to project different Star Wars symbols and art onto the walls.  Things like the Imperial seal, Rebel emblems, Droid silhouettes, and other fun things. My pace was still averaging 7:30 minute miles as we reentered the parks at California Adventures.  After the longer, straighter parts of the back lot, we were headed back into curves and sharp turns.

Now halfway through California Adventures, we headed to Paradise Island.  I knew this would be a bit straighter and flat, so I was expecting a kick up in pace, as we only had two miles left.  I pushed my pace to 7:14 minute miles as I came to the 4.5 mile mark, Paradise Pier.  There at the entrance of the bridge stood Boba Fett himself.  This was the first real character we had run into, and he had a line, but I had to stop!

Boba Fett on the course.  Wish I had tomorrows costume
Boba Fett on the course. Wish I had tomorrows costume

It took about a 30 seconds to wait and then get the photo, and I was off.  I had been running with another runner, from the Northern Virginia area, who had dropped a bit in pace through California Adventure.  My delay allowed him to catch up and we agreed we would kick the pace to 7:15 from here and finish strong.

Miles 5-6.2

From here we took off, weaving a bit through racer as we pushed to the end.  There was a bit more weaving through crowds, due to tight pathways, until we got to the back lot of California Adventures, where it straightened out and opened up, eventually dumping us into the parking area for this park.  From here we would circle around to Disney Way, which is a parking lot road for Disney Cast.  This would be the last bit of road on the course, before we came back to some parking lots and to the finish line near the Disneyland Hotel and Disney Downtown.  We kept the pace at a 7:15 minute mile until we got to the last stretch, which was the entrance to Disney Downtown from the parking lot.  I bid my running buddy good luck and kicked up my pace to the end.  I averaged a 6:45 minute mile pace until the 6 mile mark, where I sprinted at a 4:44 minute a mile pace to the end.

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A photo of the finish line later in the race. It was still dark when I crossed it

Sallie was waiting for me on the other side of the finish line, where she pointed out that Darth Goofy was at the finish line giving high fives and I had just blown right by him.  It was still dark as I crossed the line at 46:40.

Sallie's photo of my on the other side of the finish line
Sallie’s photo of my on the other side of the finish line
The runners camp after the race.
The runners camp after the race.

Cheering and After the Race

Once I got through the gauntlet of medals, snacks, and racing retreat areas, I headed back to the finish line to cheer on Coach Shannon.  While there was a live band at the finishers area, there were still other racers out on the course, including Sean Astin, many with amazing costumes.  I couldn’t let them down and skip cheering until the last runner comes through.  I must do my duty and support my fellow runners.

Even the dogs are dressing up for this great race
Even the dogs are dressing up for this great race
Another amazing costume by Karen Chu - courtesy of Karen Chu
Another amazing costume by Karen Chu – courtesy of Karen Chu

As Coach Shannon came into view, we screamed and cheered and watched as she triumphantly crossed the finish line.  Now it was time to meet up near the Runners area stage.  With it finally becoming light out, it was time for breakfast and some park walking.

Coach Shannon and I after the race. Yoda is still with me!
Coach Shannon and I after the race. Yoda is still with me!

 Sallie brought some after race snacks

Sallie brought some after race snacks

Knowing that we had another race tomorrow, the three of us decided to load up on some carbs and protein, heading to Black Bear Diner for a large and tasty breakfast.

The GRIZZ!
The GRIZZ!

After we finished gouging ourselves, Coach Shannon headed off to meet some friends and family, while Sallie and I walked California Adventures.  After a day of running, parks, and food, we hit the sack for a big day tomorrow.

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