Trip Reports

The Dark Side Half Marathon Report

If you missed our post earlier this week, Melissa and I recently returned from Walt Disney World where we took part in the Dark Side Half Marathon weekend.  I’ve already chronicled our 5K journey through Epcot and today we move on to the half marathon.  Melissa and I did this run together along with about 16,000 of our other Disney friends.  In this post, I’ll go through our run and finish with a few thoughts.  Like the 5K report, these photos aren’t edited nor the quality I usually try to post.  It’s hard to snap photos while jogging!


One of the worst parts about runDisney races is the egregious start times.  If you’re coming from the west coast to Florida, as we are, then starting a race at 5:30 AM is somewhat exhausting in its own right.  With that said, we learned our lesson from the 5K and caught a bus a little later this time around even though our guide said to catch it by 4 AM.  We strolled up to a bus at about 4:50 at Old Key West, promptly hopped on and were in the Magic Kingdom Parking Lot a few minutes after 5.  We knew we were in a later corral so there was next to no risk of showing up a few minutes late.  I’m glad we didn’t catch a bus when they said to or else we would have been sitting on the pavement for about an hour.



As it was, we took our time once we arrived.  There were a few photo backdrops set up in the parking lot so we took a few photos before we got all hot and sweaty.  We slowly made our way to our corral as the race was starting, drinking lots of water along the way.

We’ve been training for the better part of 4 months for the race in western Washington.  The warmest it’s gotten on any of those runs has been 60 degrees.  I think there were about 3 runs in those 4 months that weren’t rainy.  Typically Seattle winters are overblown and aren’t as wet as people say.  This year it has been exactly what people picture when they think of Seattle.  This morning in the Magic Kingdom Parking Lot it was 70 degrees at 5:30 in the morning with a ton of humidity.  We’d been in the parks for a few days and the heat wasn’t overbearing but it was definitely more than we were ready for when it came to running.  We’ll come back to that in a bit.


Our corral was nearing the start line after about half an hour after the race started. (If this ‘corral’ talk doesn’t make sense to you, let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to explain!) As every group was starting there was a little fireworks show that went off.  While I enjoyed the production before the 5K began, I was flat-out impressed by pre-race entertainment at the half marathon.  The fireworks were great, the MC’s were very entertaining, and the aforementioned photo opportunities were a great touch.


We started about 40 minutes after the actual race start time (pretty good, all things considered) and two unfortunate things happened right away.  The first of which was the incredible amount of sweat that was coming out of me.  These photos you’re about to look at are disgusting!  As my wife said after the first mile, “I’ve never been so sweaty.”  That was just after the first mile.  The humidity combined with the heat and exercise were definitely a shock to our system.  The other unfortunate turn was that we both immediately had to go to the bathroom.  Apparently we weren’t alone as the first port-a-potty we passed had a line about 15 people long.  We decided to carry on and made it to a bathroom at the gas station right next to Magic Kingdom.  Thank goodness for that gas station!


Aside from the long bathroom break (there was a line there too and it was a little bit out-of-the-way) we were running at a pretty good pace and felt good once we hit mile one. The course started in the Magic Kingdom Parking Lot and moved through the back roads toward Animal Kingdom.  The first 4 miles were all on a road that were surrounded by trees.  I didn’t mind this, as the adrenaline from the start kept it from being boring and they added some nice touches to this area.  Here’s the course map.

As with the 5K, there were plenty of characters out meeting guests including these cute little Ewoks.


Speaking of Ewoks, we were nearing mile 2 and started hearing some noises in the trees.  The Ewoks were cheering us on, or maybe they were warning us.  Up ahead there was fog and some laser shining through.  We were entering a battle scene that lasted a few hundred meters.  It was an easy sight gag to accomplish but it was easily one of the highlights of the race.  There was fog everywhere and the lasers, plus the sounds going along with them, kept this section really entertaining and a lot of fun.  Here’s a little video that doesn’t really show how cool it was… But here it is anyway!

Mile 3 and 4 came and went.  During the longer stretches of road without much to look at there would be big screens showing clips from Star Wars movies.  It was a nice touch but far from a highlight.



Aside from being hot and sweaty, we were feeling pretty good.  Our pace was slower than usual, as we were stopping at every water station because we didn’t want to get dehydrated.  runDisney events are really the place to try for a PR for experienced runners.  The courses are crowded, there are lots of walkers, and the climate is warmer than most people are used to.  That’s not a knock on the events, far from it.  Just for serious runners, I think this is something to be aware of.


Between mile 4 and 5 we entered Animal Kingdom.  Above you can see the housing for the elephants.  We entered backstage, near Rafiki’s Planet Watch and came in the park by Kali River Rapids.  The monkeys were up as we entered and were swinging around.


One of the benefits of having an Annual Pass is that it comes with Memory Maker (the merits of this are debatable, I’d actually rather not pay for the Memory Maker and have that cost taken out of our AP price).  All of the photos taken by Disney photographers showed up in our Memory Maker.  I’d go as far as to recommend getting Memory Maker for the weekend, if you don’t have it already, and are doing a race.  They get some nice photos that are much better than my shoddy iPhone camerawork.


We ran along the Discovery River and headed towards Everest.  The sun was up at this point and it had cooled off a little bit as people had spread out.  The humidity had broken some and there was a little more air flow.  You wouldn’t know it based on this sweaty photo!


Everest looks good all the time, but it especially does in the early morning light.  I love Animal Kingdom and was really happy that it was a part of the course.  I would have liked to see a few more animals running through there but that’s not possible.  Running past the tree would have been a nice treat too.


As is, we ran past Everest and through DinoLand.  After a bathroom stop in the beautiful (sarcasm) DinoLand we exited the park and circled around the parking lot a little bit.  There were some characters waiting for us outside the Animal Kingdom which always helps the entertainment factor.  There was also a little pond where you could see all the runners reflection.




Running around this pond really made me realize just how big of a scope this event was.  To look out over a quarter of a mile and see thousands of runners and their reflections was a pretty cool sight.  As we were getting tired, this was a little uplifting scene to remind us that we had plenty of people making sure we weren’t going this alone.



We went through the nearly empty Animal Kingdom Parking Lot and entered the worst stretch of the race.  There were a few photo opportunities but the four mile stretch from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios was along the main road (World Drive, I believe).  This road was pretty straight, the running lanes weren’t very wide and we were pretty tired.  Once in a while there were the giant screens to watch.  There was also a DJ along the way.



We passed mile 6 and 7.  We ran most of the first 5 miles but at this point we were doing more of a run/walk mix.  Most of that was due to the heat and Melissa’s stomach was starting to feel a little weird (just overheated more than anything).


Along this stretch was a nice reminder of the charity we were running for.  The charity is RODS, Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome.  I don’t pretend to know much about this charity but it was a nice reminder that we were running for something more than ourselves.  Here’s a link to their website, I encourage you to go check it out.  Noah’s Light is another charity that proceeds were donated towards.  This foundation provides funds for children with brain cancer, along with funds for research.  Many of the volunteers for the race came from Noah’s Light and they were all great.  Thank you to them.  Here’s a link to that website, as well.



Miles 8 and 9 passed and the end to that long road was coming to an end.  I was more than ready for that as we were getting pretty tired and starting to not feel great.  We walked a good portion of mile 9.  Walking isn’t an issue on these races, in fact there are people who walk the whole thing.  It was our goal to run most of the race.  We accomplished that for the most part and would have done even more if we hadn’t gotten so hot.


We took the exit ramp off of that road that I will now forever despise!


And an overpass over that road so we could see how far we’d come!  These complaints are mostly in jest.  I know that this course is more entertaining than 99% of other half marathon courses.  A 3-mile stretch along a straight road is not a big deal.  But if they were looking for a way to improve the race, this stretch is definitely the area to do it.  That it was so easy to pinpoint that this is the worst part of the race is a tiny bit of a letdown.

Now, a blurry photo of Darth Maul to let you know that this race was really awesome.


We entered Hollywood Studios at the backside of Tower of Terror.  We stopped here for a few minutes to stretch, take a bathroom break and get a few photos.  The sun was up fairly high now and it had gotten back to pretty hot.  Still, the morning light was nice and running through the park was fun, albeit short.



Melissa’s focused and I’m sweaty!



We went down Hollywood Blvd. and turned left.  I took a quick peak at the Chinese Theater but we turned before we got a good view.  Another small complaint is that I would have liked a little more time running past the park icons.  Still, running next to the tower was really fun and the park sections of the course made the distance feel much shorter and gave us a nice boost of energy.



We exited Hollywood Studios and headed towards the Boardwalk.  We were between mile 10 and 11.  I really enjoyed this section by the water although it was really crowded.  The path is pretty narrow and we were in a pretty large pack of people.  We were running more than most people at this point so we had to stick to running on the grass, as most people were walking along the path.



Even with the narrow path, this was probably my favorite section of the course.  I liked running along the water and there was no shortage of things to look at.  Peoples spirits seemed to pick up along this section as there was plenty chatter and cheering.


Running past the hotels was fun and the water looked beautiful.



This section also featured the most amount of people cheering you on.  There wasn’t a ton of space on the course for people to watch and this was the most accessible.  There were some really funny signs and enthusiastic people.  My favorite two were a dad and his son sitting on a bench holding out candy for runners passing by.  The kid was running a little low and they both seemed to genuinely feel bad about not having much left (they had plenty left really).  That two strangers felt bad about not having an overabundance of candy for people they had no connection to was a sweet thought.



If you ever need your faith restored in humanity (or just a simple self-esteem boost) do a runDisney race.  There are complete strangers sitting out in the heat for hours cheering you on.  Police offers shouting words of encouragement, marching bands getting up in the middle of the night to inspire you with music, and workers volunteering their time to come into work and keep pushing you along.  While I love running through the parks and earning the medals, this aspect of the races is definitely my favorite part.  Genuine kindness by people is always appreciated, it’s even more appreciated when you’re running your 12th mile.



We passed through the Boardwalk and entered World Showcase by the Canadian Pavilion.  We then took the trek around World Showcase.  At this point, the park was actually open so there were a few guests in Epcot.  The cast members did a good job of directing traffic and making sure the people running the race still felt important.  I didn’t expect to like that there were other people in the park at the same time but in the end I did enjoy that.  I can’t point to why, maybe it made the run feel more authentic, but Melissa and I both enjoyed the park being open.



The Flower and Garden Festival is going on Epcot so Melissa needed to stop for a photo with Grumpy.  After this we decided to run the rest of the way but we happened upon a photo area without a line right in front of Spaceship Earth so we needed one more picture!


After our photo we were about a half a mile away from the finish line, out Epcot and into the parking lot.



The storm trooper above shouted words of encouragement and was giving out high fives.  He provided a little boost in our 2 tenths of a mile.  Finally, the finish line was within sight.


This was us crossing the finish line.  The few minutes after this were us guzzling water and looking as pathetic as you could imagine.


My parents found us with relative ease, for those interested in meeting up with family after the race.  It was really simple.


Pure bliss. Pure exhaustion.  With that much sweat, I’m not sure anything is ‘pure’.

RunDisney really does put on great events with an impressive amount of organization.  I’m thankful for what they do as they combine something I love (Disney Parks) with something I don’t enjoy but need to do (exercise).  That sentence is a halfway joke but it really does help motivate me.  The cost of these races is probably a little high but they do combine great courses with really enjoyable entertainment.  If you’re looking for a great way to start getting into long-distance running then I highly recommend runDisney events.


We spent the next few days after our race celebrating in one of our favorite places on Earth (a trip report is coming).  We ran a little slower than we had planned and definitely stopped more than anticipated.  Most of that was due to the heat and being a little cautious.  We didn’t want to get dehydrated and ruin the rest of our trip.  As I said, runDisney races aren’t the best places for PR’s and I’m sure we could do much better whenever we run our 2nd half marathon.

Slow pace and all, I’m extremely proud of our accomplishment.  To get personal for a second, I was pretty athletic in high school and always in good shape.  Since then I had put on a lot of weight and wasn’t really proud of what I became physically.  Around a year ago I went to the doctor because I was experiencing chest pains almost daily and just generally didn’t feel good.  He thought most of that was due to gaining weight and being in poor shape physically.

After a few months of being mad at myself for getting to that point, we signed up for this race.  After another month or two of convincing ourselves to go train we started.  Since then, running and exercising has become something I’m proud to do.  That’s not to say I always enjoyed it, far from it.  But my chest pains are long gone and while I could stand to lose a few more pounds, I’ve dropped some and feel much better as a whole.  Melissa has experienced similar results and I’m incredibly proud of her for doing this with me.  I couldn’t have done it without her.


I don’t write all this to brag but instead to encourage.  Crossing that finish line is a moment I won’t soon forget.  Seeing people of all ages and sizes do the same thing we did is nothing short of inspiring.  A year ago I never could have imagined running a half marathon and now I’m already looking forward to my next one.  All this to say, go do what you want or need to do with your life.  That can be scary or hard even if it’s a small goal, but do your best and you won’t regret trying.

Thank you for reading, I really appreciate it.  If you have any questions or comments please leave them below!

– Andrew

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