Last month, my family and I spent 8 days in Disney World. And if you’ve ever vacationed in Disney or any major theme park resort for that matter, you know relaxation just isn’t in the cards. Between my adventurous mother (who spent 12 hours straight at Magic Kingdom), two energetic Frozen-and-Star-Wars-obsessed kids, and my foodie FOMO, we were going nonstop from the hotel to theme parks to water parks to over-the-top character buffets and back.
And sprinkled in between all this madness was an item I can now check off my bucket list…participating in a RunDisney race. My husband and I always had our sights set on the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon (fitting for me, right?), but when we heard that the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side was taking place during our vacation, we knew this was our time!
Disney goes all out in everything they do. This half marathon was no exception. Here are my top five moments from the run with a bonus recap video at the end.
1. The 2:45am wake-up call.
The race start time was 5am, so being anxious RunDisney rookies, we ordered a cab to pick us up at 3:15am, which meant a 2:45am wake-up call. I’m a night person who, for most of my early-to-mid 20s, saw this time on the clock before going to bed, so this part was rough. But the adrenaline was pumping! And it soon wore off when we realized we got there way too early, so we passed the time waiting a good hour and a half in the port-a-potty line and another hour in our corral.
2. The fireworks send-off at the starting line
We were in corral L, which means we witnessed 11 fireworks send-offs before our own! But even as the last corral, the announcers made us feel like we were the first ones to start the race. They even got us fired up with a little “Don’t Stop Believin’” sing-a-long. And then…the Star Wars fanfare blasted through the speakers and the dark morning sky lit up with an astounding fireworks display. We were off at 6am, one hour after the race officially started! Tip: If you run on a regular basis and have decent race times, make sure to enter them when registering for a RunDisney race so you’re not placed in the last corral.
3. Running through the illuminated Epcot World Showcase
The first theme park on the route was Epcot, and the welcome upon entering was the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring portion of the run for me. It was still mostly dark outside, but once we entered the gates of the park, we were hit with a multitude of lights. Each country in the World Showcase was beautifully illuminated like a neighborhood of mansions on Christmas Eve, only better. It was such a special and rare treat to be seeing my favorite Disney attraction like I’d never seen it before. I get the warm and fuzzies just thinking about that moment.
4. The costumes and characters
As daylight set in, the route took us out of Epcot and down what is usually busy highways within the Disney resort. Along the way, we saw every type of Star Wars costume. From a guy dressed as an X-wing pilot running with a large bucket in his hand (that’s dedication) to people dressed as the technician played by Adam Driver in this hilarious Undercover Boss-inspired SNL skit. And in true Disney fashion, there were plenty of character photo opportunities along the route. My husband and I wanted to keep a decent (and by decent, I mean, try not to walk) pace so we skipped the meet n’ greet lines, and I attempted to master the art of running and Snapchatting (snapping?) instead.
5. Crossing the finish line
After weaving through Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom and covering more Disney territory on foot than I’d ever imagined, we were on the home stretch to the finish line at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. I’m not going to lie. Towards the end, my “dogs were barkin’” as my dad would say. But with the constant character sightings, beautiful views of our favorite attractions, and jogging to every version of the Star Wars theme song (check the video for disco and funky dubstep renditions), we stayed motivated until we crossed the finish line and were immediately rewarded with a sweet medal and a delicious package of snacks! It definitely wasn’t the best race I’ve ever run in terms of time, but in my opinion, runDisney events aren’t about personal records. It’s about the spectacle of it all: running through the theme parks before they open for the day, the characters, and sharing in a memorable event with 43,000 runners. I’m so grateful to have been able to participate in the race with my husband and experience Disney World in a completely new and remarkable way.
Check out my shaky (sorry) video recap of the race that I recorded on SnapChat! Follow me on Snapchat (username: dstndelish)!