We are less than one week out from runDisney's Star Wars- The Dark Side weekend, which means training should be all but complete, rooms should be booked, and we all need to consider the essential items to pack. If this is your first RunDisney or SW-TDS weekend, get ready to have a blast! This will be my 3rd year (making the empire proud with that perfect streak) running SW-TDS challenge so I wanted to make an article of what to expect and plan for during this busy weekend. If you are not aware, the Challenge consists of running the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. And if you question why we would put ourselves through this back to back 3am, coffee fueled, 'torture?' Well lets just say the bling speaks for itself. But enough about that. Not sure what to pack? Where you need to be and when? Don't worry, we got you covered in what I hope ends up being a pretty complete breakdown of the weekend.
As I said, we are currently 2 weeks out. So if you don't have your rooms booked or your haven't been training... well you are in a bit of trouble. But let me talk about what our plans are and where we are at training wise.
Training- We all run differently. Some of us , like me, lead the way from corral A. And some of us are looking for a confident finish at whatever pace gets us across the finish line and away from the balloon ladies. This weekend will wrap up my long runs as I work towards a tapper and keeping my pace up. For Kaitie, she is working on getting her Run-Walk-Run pacing to the point where she can go into the race knowing she can finish strong and also healthy. Not matter how and where you cross this finish line on Sunday, this is a long and usually hot weekend. So make sure you are ready for the weather and the distance. Hydrating properly is another huge part of training that you should be considering now rather than the day before. Of course if you are running the race, you should have some kind of goal in mind. Whether you want to just finish, keep a fast enough pace to finish and score some great photos with your favorite Star Wars Characters, or earn a new PR this goal should be what drives you to train and be as ready as you can be for this race. For me, I expect it to be hot but I would love to hit my PR and place within my age group. I feel both goals are obtainable and that my training has been sufficient to hit these goals.
Hotel- Again if you don't know where you are staying for the weekend yet, you could be in a bit of trouble. Rooms for race weekend can fill up quickly, especially if you are trying to stay at any of the values. And if you are staying off property, you will need to consider how you will be getting to and from the expo and races for the weekend. We are staying at Disney's Art of Animation for the weekend. This is one of my favorite resorts and we have stayed here for a few race weekends already with little issues. We like the ability to take the buses on race mornings to avoid having worry about driving and parking (I don't like driving in general). Another perk we like about this resort for race weekend is the proximity to the expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Just a half mile down the road we can drive or bus in just a few minutes. Other resorts we have stayed at for race weekend and enjoyed include Pop Century (right next to Art of Animation so similar perks) and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campgrounds.
Packing- This can be a little tricky. We are local to Central Florida so our packing needs differ from someone who may be flying from across the country for the weekend. But non-the-less we have some essentials you may need. Of course the basics such as clothes, shoes, deodorant, ect. You should consider what you want to wear for the races when you pack.
Shoes- I know I mentioned this already, but you should be packing your trainers, whether you plan on racing in these or you have road shoes. The day before a race is not a good time to be purchasing new shoes. You should also consider what shoes you are going to wear after that races, whether you are heading to the parks or just relaxing this is important. Many people have comfy and supportive sandals or tennis shoes for after races. You definitely want something supportive for in between races. I usually sport a pair of Nike tennis shoes that are comfy while Kaitie has a pair of Dr. Scholls sandals that look appealingly comfy after races.
Race Clothes- You should have an idea of what you are wearing each day while packing. This may include your shorts, shirt, socks, or crazy costume. Remember again that this weekend is usually pretty hot. Especially once the sun comes out. If you do not currently own any nicer tech shirts, they do give you one for each race including the 10k, half, and challenge (5k gets a cotton shirt). Warning though, some people will judge you for wearing them to the races before you finish the races but I've always thought these shirts were great for people who may not have another tech shirt before coming to the race. However, planning ahead and packing a shirt you know will be comfortable and not chafe after 13 plus miles is probably preferred (plus, you should hopefully have learned during your higher mile training runs what shirts are comfortable for you.)
Food/Snacks- You should also be considering what you are going to be eating before/after/and even during races. Most people make reservations for favorite restaurants throughout the weekend to treat themselves for completing such feats as the 10k, half, or both. But you need to plan for what to eat the morning of. Most of these races will have you up and going by 3am so food options for purchase are limited. Many resorts do offer a packed breakfast during race weekends that include things such as a bagel, banana, fruit, and some other goodies. I had one once before the Princess Half in 2017 and thought it was a great option. If you are looking for something else, there are grocery stores near Disney property that you can drive/Uber to, or you can have groceries delivered to your room through various services. Since we drive, we usually pick up these items the days before at our local store. If you need your morning coffee, you should check and see if your resort has a coffee machine in the room. Most on property resorts do now but do not quote me on that (for example, our quick google told us the regular rooms at Art of Animation do not come with a coffee maker). We usually just bring our smaller Keurig and plenty of pods so we know that we have enough coffee to get through the weekend. They do sell coffee and other good at the race start before entering the corals . however these options have typically been cash only in the past. If you are running the half, you may also want to consider bring some fuel for during the race. Some people can make it through the half without needing extra fuel, while others are dependent on it. If you are traveling from outside Florida, keep in mind that the heat and humidity are intense, and you may need some additional fuel/electrolytes during runs down here. In the past, runDisney gave out Cliff energy gels during the races, but Cliff is no longer a Sponsor of RunDisney races. At the most recent Princess they had the energy Jelly Belly SportsBeans instead which were an okay option. You will also hear a lot of people talk about GU energy. Some people love these. I do not. But luckily there are lots of options for race fuel gels and gummies. My suggestion would be to go to your local running store and get a variety of different kinds and try them on different training runs and see if there is one you prefer. For my it's either the Cliff Gels or the Stinger Gummies.
All the other typical Disney vacation stuff. Assuming everyone out there is a reasonable adult-ish person, I wont go into super details here. Just don't forget to bring the other vacation essentials - sunscreen, sunglasses, toiletries, non-running clothes, swim gear, underwear, etc.
As I said before, it's a busy weekend. People catching flights, getting to the expo, checking into hotels, and getting those last minute runs in. It can be overwhelming at times. but here is a breakdown of what the weekend looks like and what we do. I won't go into the details of the races themselves here, you can read more about that below.
This is the Race Weekend Schedule taken directly from the runDisney website.
runDisney Health & Fitness Expo
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex Thursday, April 19, 2018 - 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. Friday, April 20, 2018 - 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Saturday, April 21, 2018 - 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Star Wars Dark Side 5K presented by OtterBox
Friday, April 20, 2018 5:30 a.m. Start/Finish: Epcot® Parking Lot
Star Wars Dark Side 10K presented by OtterBox
Saturday, April 21, 2018 5:30 a.m. Start: Magic Kingdom® Parking Lot Finish: Epcot® Parking Lot
runDisney Kids Races presented by GoGo squeeZ® Applesauce on the Go
ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex – Track & Field Saturday, April 21, 2018 100m Dash: 10:30 a.m. — 11:30 a.m.* 200m Dash: 11:30 a.m. — 12:30 p.m.* Diaper Dash: 12:30 p.m. — 1:00 p.m.* One Mile Run: 1:00 p.m.
Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon presented by OtterBox
Sunday, April 22, 2018 5:30 a.m. Start: Magic Kingdom® Parking Lot Finish: Epcot® Parking Lot
Now what does all this mean? Of course knowing when the races start is important but you absolutely need to plan to makeit to the expo one of the days before the races. At the expo you get check in, get your race bibs, and can also check out all the sweet merch available. You yourself must be there to pick up your own race bib. You will also need your ID. While it says to bring your waiver with you, they have computers there that you can print them on. I have never printed my own waiver prior to coming to the expo, and never experienced a line at their printers. You can find your waiver online prior to the race to find out your half marathon corral through the runDisney website. In the past, it was basically required to be at the expo Thursday morning to have a chance at the limited edition gear like pins and so forth. This is really no longer the case. I have not had an issue getting merchandise throughout the weekend since maybe Wine and Dine 2016. If we feel like it we have occasionally drove over to the expo Thursday evening to check in (there are a lot less people in the evenings). For this upcoming weekend, I am not doing the 5k, I am checking into the hotel Friday. From there we will probably head to the expo to pick up our bibs.
When you get to the expo, there are 3 buildings you need concern yourself with. After parking or getting off the bus, you will need to head all the way into ESPN and go to the back left building (There are plenty of cast members and signs to direct you). You will print your waiver and head to a large room with signs that have the race names and ranges of numbers. Simply match your race and number range to your bib. For instance I would head to the 'Dark Side Challenge' row and then go to the line that my bib number (printed on your waiver) falls within. Once you find the right place you will show them your ID, sign in, and receive your bib along with a small back of other goodies. If you are doing the challenge, you will also get your picture taken to help identify you to receive your challenge medal.
Now you may be asking, where are my shirts? The lovely volunteers checking you in will probably inform you that you need to head to the building directly across from the check in building to get your shirts. When you exit the check in building, the pre-purchased item line is also right outside. Usually easy to find by sign or asking a cast member. Once you exit the check in building, you will head straight across into the main expo building. Here you will find the many wonderful vendors to purchase anything from Sparkle Skirts, gels, socks, shoes, and can even register for future runDisney races. If you head to the back you will find the race shirt pick up. You will need your bib out so they can pull the tag off of it to show that you received your shirts. You will match up your race and your shirt size for this. Luckily you also have a somewhat inconvenient bag to put your shirts in from check in. If you think they shirts are to big or too small after seeing them, they usually have a spot where you can exchange them. As mentioned previously, you receive a shirt for each race you are signed up for plus a shirt if you are a challenge runner.
If you have never run a runDisney race recently, you will notice there is not official Disney merch in the main expo hall at all. You surely will notice that big new building you passed after parking/getting of the resort bus. This is the building where all the Disney goods are now located. Of course there is a good chance you may have even stopped in here before getting your bib. Priorities right? But this has all of the official race merchandise like pins, hats, 'I Did It' shirts, Dooney bags and what not. If you are like me, you will stock up on the pins and magnets in an attempt to show off your racing prowess as cheaply as possible.
This pretty much sums up the information you need to know about the expo. Now its time for the real fun.
Unfortunately I have never ran the SW-DS 5k. I was signed up for it last year but a pesky test kept me from making it. But here is what I can tell you from others experiences. The 5k begins at the Epcot parking lot and runs throughout the park. This is where the buses will drop/pick you up and you can park. The race starts at 5:30 am. You can get on the bus starting at 3:30 am. And yes you should get to the bus early. I have never had issues getting to a race but there is always someone who said they waited longer for theirs (shouldn't be an issue for 5k though). This race is not timed and usually you are not swept even if you fall behind the typical 16 mm pace. I am not sure what characters you may experience during this race but you will get to run through Epcot in the early morning (read dark) hours (course map below). After the race you can simply take a bus back to your resort or head to your car.
Now we are more in my forte. The 10k now starts in the Magic Kingdom parking lot (Ticket Transportation Center, or TTC) and finishes at Epcot. The race begins at 5:30 am (for the first corral). Resort buses start running at 3:30 am. Again, yes you should be ready to catch an early bus. If you are driving, you will need to park at Epcot and then take a shuttle over to the Magic Kingdom parking lot. You should give yourself extra time to account for this. The corrals usually open between 45 minutes to an hour before race time. Your bib will have your race corral printed on it. If you are running the challenge, you will go off of the first number printed (For instance A/B would be corral A for the 10k but B for the half marathon). If you are running with a friend who has a different corral, don't sweat. You can always drop back to the lowest corral of your group (So if you and two friends are corals A, B, and C, you would all need to start from C to be together). You cannot move forward corrals. If you try to sneak in, you're the jerk of the day. Congrats.
Once you are set into your corrals, it is race time! They stagger the start by corrals and sub-corrals. Once you start, the first three miles of the race takes place on World Dr. Not gonna lie, it can be a drag. It's long and straight. There are some character stops along the way if you are about those photo ops. After mile three you take a merge and go into the back of Hollywood Studios. You pass by the Fantasmic stadium and this was where the 501st cosplay troop was posted up last year. They are always one of my favorite parts about the races. I could not find any info on whether or not they would be at this years race, but if they are, we are all in for an awesome treat! As you run down past Tower of Terror and towards the front of the park, there are typically photo pass photographers ready to catch that awesome Tower shot and Star Wars music played throughout the park. There were also some Storm Troopers along the way. If I remember correctly, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma were on the stage in front of the Chinese Theater. From there you head down and out the entrance of Hollywood. Then you will head through the walking path towards the Boardwalk Resort. Be prepared. This path is very narrow and bottlenecks hard. It can be difficult to pass other runners. The path is about a mile long. Afterwords you will run through the Boardwalk area towards Epcot. There are typically photo pass photographers here and various characters have made appearances around the ESPN building. At the back entrance of Epcot you will swing left and go back stage. There won't be that much to see here. Mostly construction. You come back out at the U.K. pavilion and swing left around World Showcase. You will then head down the main path towards Spaceship Earth. And guess what? You are almost there. From here you go out of the park through backstage and make a b-line towards the finish! And then that's it! You did it! After you finish, you collect your medal and follow the path. There will be water, and the beloved snack box. Make sure you eat and drink, especially if you are doing the half the next day. Speaking of the challenge, don't worry you don't have to do anything after the 10k, Disney is able to register and verify your 10k finish through their own magic (and the picture taken at the Expo). They do have some characters after the finish you can grab some photos with as well. From there you can go back to your car or bus.
Dark Side- Half Marathon
Now it's time for some real fun. The half. 13.1 miles of blood, sweat, and magic. Being the longest, and biggest race of the weekend, I am going to talk in a lot of detail about it. First off, you better be hydrating. I think I already mentioned this. But seriously, it's really important. This weekend can be hot. You don't want to "did not finish" for something that could of been prepared for. Secondly, get some sleep. If you are doing the challenge, you have already had one, or even two early mornings already. Don't over do it in the parks. Get a good meal and some sleep. You are going to be waking up by 2:30 or earlier for most people. Usually my morning routine consists of waking up and starting my coffee as I get my clothes and shoes ready. I usually drink a bottle of water before heading out. I grab my breakfast (a bagel, banana, and a cliff bar usually) and head towards the bus. The buses start running at 3:00 am. This race is much bigger than the 10k so you should be ready to catch the bus early. Just like the 10k, the race starts at the MK parking lot and finishes in Epcot. Parking and runner drop off are both at Epcot where you will catch a shuttle to the MK parking lot. Again you should account for the extra time for the shuttle. Resort buses will drop you off at the MK parking lot. Once you are there, you go through security. Just like the parks, if you don't have a bag, you can go through the no bag line. Once in you make your way by all of the charity tents, food stand, information and what not. The have the large stage and DJ and then after that the corrals. The corrals are set up like the 10k was and are easily identified by the letter balloons. They usually open the corrals about an hour or so before the race. If you are there when the corrals open, then you can get to use the bathrooms before the line gets too long.
Shortly before the race starts, the first corrals along with the push rim wheelchairs make their way to the start line. The past two years before the start, some Storm Troopers come give you a speech about the First Order and such and then the race begins. Of course there are fireworks and music and such. It's a fun time. The first mile is basically an out and back. You head toward World Dr. and through the MK parking lot and then back past the gas station area. This part is actually really cool because you get to run back towards the fireworks and get a good view of the corrals after you starting. You then take a left down a cast member road. If you are a seasoned Disney Marathon runner you know this as the sewage plant path. But there are more than gross smells on this route. Last year, right after the first mile you began to hear sounds of Ewoks in the woods. And then after a small turn, lasers ans smoke are coming from both sides of the path out of the woods. You are basically running right through a battle. Just be careful. As cool as it is, you can get disoriented. I am hopeful that they have this again though. After this, they had a photo op with Ewoks. You also get to run by the greenhouses which I always think is really neat. Usually they have some sort of topiary out that you can snap a picture with too. Then you head into Animal Kingdom. You go in the back side and pass by an old friend, Little Red the elephant from Kilimanjaro Safaris (if the little guy is still there). The course inside AK is a little different to past races. You come in through the Africa area and then head around through Pandora and exit past Dinoland. You should be careful on the paths through AK. They are not completely even and can be slippery at some places. Once you exit Animal, you run through the AK parking lot. They usually have these cool Star Wars themed scenes you go into and get pictures. They are pretty cool. After that you head down Oceola Parkway for about two miles. The road is long but does not usually offer too much for stops. Usually there is a DJ along the way. You then merge back onto World Dr. but luckily it is only for about a mile. Last year characters from the Star Wars Rebels show were along this path. You then take the next merge and head towards Hollywood Studios. Again you enter by the Fantasmic stadium where the 501st was located last year. Again you head down the main path of Hollywood. Kylo Ren and Phasma were again on the stage last year. There are also usually a lot of photo pass photographers along this way. After Hollywood Studios you head out to the walking path towards Boardwalk. Just like the 10k this path can get crammed. Practice good race etiquette (if you are a walker, try to stick to one of the sides and listen up for runners calling out "passing". If you are a runner, remember that harming someone physically with your elbows is a class one felony. Ok, its not but it is rude and should be avoided if possible.) Oh another thing... this is usually the last sweeping point. So if you can make it here you can make it to the end! That's all I will say about that. You will then head around the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. From there it's into Epcot. One thing in particular I love about this course is that you get to go all the way around World Showcase! Then it's up to Spaceship Earth (with a great photo op in front of it and the fountain) and on to the finish! Seriously. You did it! You finish in the Epcot parking lot. as soon as you finish they try to keep you moving. There is a medical tent to the right if you need ice or other assistance. Follow along the only path you can take and you will receive your half medal. Then you usually get a cooling towel. Next you can grab water and power aid bottles. Usually they let you take as much as you reasonably need too, which is nice. If you are a challenge runner, then you will see after this that there are two ways. The normal way and then under the tent that says "Challenge." I think you know where to go. But they will look up your image from the expo and also see that you finished both races (yes you have to finish both of them for this medal). Then you get another medal! F
rom there its snack boxes and photo ops. If you did gear drop off, you will see that to get out of the runner area you go through the tents to collect your items. Then you are in the open area where you can meet with friends and family, get pics with some characters, and check out the Disney merch again. There is also some food and drink vendors.
At this point you may be wondering what next? Well that is up to you. I'm sure, like many, your day will lead you into one park or another. Or possibly home to a bed for a little after run nap. And after that? Well I hope your training continues until your next race. Whether we will be meeting at Wine and Dine, local races, or even greater distance, I hope you head home from this weekend encouraged and ready to go the distance!