Disney’s Dark Side Challenge Race Report

Disclaimer: if you are an avid Disney supporter and don’t have an open mind regarding other’s attitudes towards anything Disney, please continue with caution…

I grew up 1.5 hours from the magical world of Disney and all things the Mouse. I have family members who have worked there, I visited it multiple times a year as a kid growing up and have always admired the runDisney races for their ability to sell out races in lighting speed and generally get great remarks. However, these remarks are starting to take a turn down a different road within runner circles and I will contribute to this conversation.

My first half marathon ever was the Disney Princess in 2010. I did not dress up and viewed it as a serious race since I had been training for it. I was not prepared for the long walk to the starting corrals, endless amounts of time standing around and enormous crowds on the road. Despite all that, it still holds a special place in my heart since it was my first half marathon, I did it with friends and we enjoyed hobbling around Epcot afterwards with champagne in hand from France. Since this race though, I have had little to no desire to do another Disney race (apart from the Dopey Challenge to see if I could do it). The prices of Disney races are astronomical and add in on property or off property hotels, Disney food prices, etc and it adds up to a lot.

DarkSide

So when runDisney announced a new race: the Star Wars Dark Side Challenge in mid-April, my family and I decided to do it. We could knock out two races in one weekend in Orlando plus it would serve as motivation for all of us to get back to training (note: no training truly occurred for any of us!).

Fast forward from October’s registration period (I believe) to this past weekend. I arrived in Orlando Friday afternoon and headed straight to ESPN Wide World of Sports. I’ve been here quite a few times over the years and knew what to expect. The skies were cloudy and stormy so I wanted to get in and out and I was able to do just that. I was greeted by Disney employees, pointed in the right direction in the Field House to pick up my packet and was done with packet pickup in a matter of minutes. Plus, I didn’t have to be tempted by over-priced expo goodies because it was in a separate building. I would have been pissed though as an expo vendor to not force participants through the expo!

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My family and I enjoyed an easy dinner and early bed time. The 10k started at 5:30 am Saturday morning and I was up at 3:30 am to get some coffee and food in me. We were staying just off of Disney property in the old Downtown Disney location. Traffic was fine but we were not provided enough of a heads up on the road to not turn down a certain road. We made it in time, parked at Epcot and headed to the waiting area to use a porta potty.

Pro tip: skip the porta potties in the waiting area and go in the gigantic area you enter on your way to the corrals! This would have moved a lot of people along a lot faster had there been signs or people pointing it out. In fact, it was a fellow runner who came to the herd to let us know that hundreds of unused porta potties were available!

At the entrance to the trail to the starting corrals, I had to say good bye to my dad since he was spectating. Unfortunately, since all of Disney races start in the middle of the woods behind Disney, no spectators can get back there and this was a point to point race so he had to get on a bus which then routed him off Disney property and back on to get to Wide World of Sports and took over 40 minutes to get him there! Strike 1.

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I was seeded in Corral A for the 10k and did not bring my phone for the race as I was just trying to go with the flow and see how things were feeling. People were seeded properly which was nice but there were several sections along the course which were extremely narrow. For the most part, people doing run/walk method (myself included) were good about racing their hands and exiting to either the right or left side of the running path. Lines were for character photos varied in length but I did stop at Chewie and Darth’s chair. We ran through part of Epcot, Boardwalk hotel and Hollywood Studios. I don’t believe I’ve been to Hollywood Studios so it was neat to run through there. A couple of spectators were out in the Boardwalk area but man would I pissed if I was staying along the Boardwalk and had no idea thousands of runners would be coming through the area at 6 am!

As we exited Hollywood Studios, my left foot was really starting to hurt with a blister I had formed the week before. As a result, I sped up along the boring stretch of highway leading from the park to Wide World of Sports. It felt good to speed up and get that part over with. We turned off of the highway into a wooded trail section which I enjoyed minus the congestion it created due to its narrowness. This trail spit us out on the backside of the playing fields and wound us around fields and buildings of Wide World of Sports. I spotted my dad about a mile from the finish line in one of the only few areas spectators could be along the course.

Pro tip: leave your poor family and friends at home if they are spectating! This is a major gripe of mine for any of the Disney races as there are no areas for spectating and it seems to be such an afterthought that it’s just not worth it. Plus, as you near the finish line, bicycle fencing is up in a double barricade (for security reasons) so it’s hard to get even close to the runners and spot people. It’s probably best to do this race with other runners and look to Disney for race photos. Mind you, Disney does its best to have you pay for “VIP” spectating with a seat at its finish line bleachers but don’t fooled, there are other bleachers next to this section where we went to watch my sister and her husband finish for free! Strike 2

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Here’s where Disney fell completely flat on its Mouse face. Once my sister and her husband (who were in Corral F-the last corral) finished their race, we had to figure out how to get back to Epcot where our car was as no one was allowed to park at Wide World of Sports and everyone had to take a bus back to Epcot. There was zero signage leading us to the Epcot bus line. There were signs for all of the hotels on property. We figured out our line by the mass of people snaking its way back and forth to a point behind all of the hotel buses and asking people. There were two Disney employees, one at either end of the snake, forming turns so more people could get in line. They had not thought to put up fencing or lines to help direct people and I believe had completely underestimated the number of people returning to Epcot.

Now, after all of these years, Disney has a tremendous amount of data collected and available to use to alleviate these kind of issues. They know how many of their racers are staying on property and how many buses to have available. Needless to say, it took us over an hour and a half to get on a bus (this is longer than it took me to run the 10k!). Once on the bus, we then discovered that Disney had directed all of the buses to come in and out on the same road which was only wide enough for one bus thereby creating a tremendous bottleneck and an even longer wait. We were dropped off where we started the race in the morning and walked probably another .5-.75 mile to get to our car and out of the park. Strike 3 (and we still have the half marathon to go!)

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Once Saturday was done, we were not in the best of spirits since we knew the half marathon would have many more people in the race and we were dreading an even longer wait line to get home. Plus, we were facing an even earlier wake up call of 3 am to for a 5 am corral A start. My sister and her husband had a different experience on the race course than I did as they walked it with a mass of people and much more congestion.

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Sunday morning came quickly and we were driving back the same way we did the day before but this time we were greeted by throngs of traffic to get into Disney. Three lanes had to merge to one to make a right hand turn into Disney and this caused major backups. It took us about an hour to get from our hotel 4 miles away to Epcot. Once there, we saw many people were also running behind but knew our corrals were not starting right away (C and L).

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To keep this from a being an extremely long blog post to just plain long, I will skip the majority of the race as it retraces the 10k until you turn on the highway to go to Animal Kingdom. Once at Animal Kingdom, you’re greeted by a ginormous parking lot that you have to go around. Talk about boring! We finally entered the actual park (which I have not been to) and ran through a couple of parts which was pretty cool. There were a good amount of characters here and real bathrooms.

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Pro tip: use the restrooms in the parks and try to avoid pit stops on the highway as you will be in porta potties.

I somehow missed the Tree of Life 😦 but enjoyed the park. We then headed East directly into the rising sun to head back to Wide World of Sports and the same finishing route as the 10k. I was able to see my dad again in the small section of spectators and finish with some space around me at the finish line. I picked up my half marathon medal, grabbed Powerade and the box of food (same as the day before) picked up my Dark Side Challenge medal and headed out to a sea of people. Both of my feet were killing me so I was hobbling somewhat. My blister hurt the entire 13.1 miles and my right foot started a new blister during the race.

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We waited around 1.5 hours for my sister and her husband to finish. They were in a mass of people but fortunately no where near getting swepted. My dad and I headed to the Epcot bus line as soon as they finished and told them how to find us. Thankfully, Disney pulled their head out of their butts this time around and moved the buses to Epcot to a different area, had lines ready to go along with bags of ice for sore legs. We were on a bus in about a half hour and spit out at the same place. All in all, this day went better but the 10k logistics flop will forever stay in my mind.

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As someone who has always enjoyed Disney especially their eye for detail but not an avid Disney fan, I will not be doing another Disney race ever again. They are too expensive, early, congested and the “experience” just doesn’t over shadow it enough to make it worthwhile.

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I’ve spoken with several people over the weekend and afterwards about this weekend. I’ve been told by avid Disney people that their inaugural races always suffer logistically but I say BS to this because Disney controls what happens inside its property boundaries and the logistics of Epcot and Wide World of Sports are used over and over again for other races throughout the year so this is not an excuse for poor logistics. As a side note: the one hotel who was always suffering from long lines was Disney Animation. On Saturday, they waited just as long as we did for their bus back and I heard on Sunday morning the lines wrapped around the hotel to get on a bus, causing delays.

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All in all, my family and I certainly have memories to laugh at for many years to come but we also could have saved a lot of time, money and stress by not doing this race. We will now look for cheaper races with less logistics to them. I hope Disney really studies what happened on Saturday as I find it inexcusable and so un-Disney like.

I will say the volunteers and the amount of them were great! Thank you to anyone who volunteered especially at such early hours!

On to the next non-Mouse race, cheers!

NYC-Marathon

That’s right! I got into the NYC Marathon via the lottery and will be racing on Sunday, November 6, 2016

 

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2015 Race Calendar

I have finalized my race calendar for this year through August. For a multitude of reasons, I don’t have anything scheduled after August because frankly I don’t know how I will feel or how light my wallet will be!

I’m excited for this upcoming season for the variety of events but also the focus of it all culminating in Mont-Tremblant for 140.6 miles through a lake, over asphalt hills and around a French-inspired village. Each race has a purpose and focus; it is not just to race but rather to add to my training or enhance it.

2015 Race Calendar

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Treasure Coast Half Marathon

March 1, 2015

Purpose: Provided January and February focus training-wise. Gauges long distance race pace and to set a benchmark

B Race

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Gate River Run 15k (Local)

March 14, 2015

Purpose: to have fun, get training miles in and do the Gate for the first time ever

B/C Race

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Great Clermont Triathlon

March 22, 2015

Purpose: First race of the triathlon season! Clermont provides hills upon hills in the olympic distance. While I was looking for a race a little later in the season, no Florida race provides the appropriate terrain like this one. This is a “dust the cobwebs” off kind of race.

C Race

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Run Til You’re Boared (Local)

April 5, 2015

Purpose: I’m doing the 16k option so its simply a long run day on trails that will provide me a good break from the concrete.

Training Race

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Ragnar Trail Relay

April 10-11, 2015

Purpose: I’ve been dying to do Ragnar Trail so I was happy to find a team who needed an extra person. This one takes place in Atlanta and allows me to test out my new camping gear I got at Christmas 🙂 I’m adding two days of biking at Six Gap afterwards for a very challenging training weekend. The weekend will provide me the opportunity to see how I do on a longer ride in the mountains.

Training Race

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Ironman Raleigh 70.3

May 31, 2015

Purpose: Redemption. Its as simple as that plus the course is a great warm-up for Mont-Tremblant and because I left a lot of time on that course and know I can do better.

B+/A- Race

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Ironman Mont-Tremblant

August 16, 2015

Purpose: The ultimate goal! The main goal is to get to the start line healthy and prepared mentally and physically.

A++ Race

I’m Back-Hello 2015!

Happy 2015! Wow, I can’t believe how long it has been since my last blog post; seriously, I thought it had been only a couple of months but low and behold its been seven! I last posted about my sorrows and woes regarding Ironman Lake Placid in Heaps of Frustration. Well, a lot has changed since then and I am back on the road to becoming an Ironman, only this time I’m taking my racing abroad, to Canada, that’s abroad right?!

Ironman Mont-Tremblant is on August 16, just two days after my 30th birthday so I decided earlier this year to kick off my dirty thirties with a lil jaunt in the mountains of Quebec alongside thousands of my closest spandex wearing friends (who are just as crazy, if not crazier than me).

Before I get too far into this Ironman business, I feel the need to recap the end of 2014 some and at least document it before I forget everything that happened (seriously, I have to write everything down).

August 2014

  • Moved back to Jacksonville.
  • Competed in the Tour de Pain. 3 races in 24 hours of various lengths.
  • Competed in the World of Beer 5k-My birthday present to myself.
  • Memphis completed his first Monday night run at World of Beer.

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September 2014

  • Competed in the HOT Sprint Triathlon. Good enough for 2nd in my age group.
  • Traveled a bunch for work.
  • Registered for Ironman Mont-Tremblant.

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October 2014

  • Raced in the Evergreen Pumpkin 10 miler that was mostly in a large cemetery.
  • Ran around Washington DC on a work trip.

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November 2014

  • Used my failed Lake Placid spot to go do Rock ‘n Roll Las Vegas half marathon. Not my best 13.1 miles but a fun one with friends and family nonetheless.
  • Did my first Thanksgiving run back in my hometown.

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December 2014

  • Took some time off from racing and training. Ate a lot of holiday cookies, drank some great beer, traveled to NYC for work for a week.
  • Enjoyed Christmas with my family. Rang in the New Year in Jacksonville.
  • Became a Nuunbassador! More to come on this…

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Since January 1, 2015, I have been back on a training plan, working towards my first triathlon which will be in March at the Great Clermont Triathlon. This is an olympic distance race in the hills located outside of Orlando and yes, we certainly have hills here in Florida!

I am about 1.5 weeks into this first training block and it has been going pretty well despite some chilly weather we’ve had recently. Jacksonville even saw snow flurries earlier this week, albeit I did not. So here’s what I’ve been up to since the new year rang in:

Thursday, 1.1.15

  • 1,000 yard swim (only swim so far this year, womp womp)
  • 30 minute trail run with a friend (his first trail run ever!)

Friday, 1.2.15

  • 30 minute trainer ride
  • 30 minutes of at home strength training

Saturday, 1.3.15

  • 1 hour of trail running. I’m trying to adhere to zone 2 HR for runs which on this day was very difficult to do because it was unseasonably warm and humid. Only covered 5 miles in 60 minutes. Can’t remember the last time that happened but the theory is if you train at a lower heart rate for several weeks, you can ultimately train your body to go faster at lower heart rates. We shall see!

Sunday, 1.4.15

  • 1 hour on the trainer.

Monday, 1.5.15

  • 30 minutes of strength training. Tried a new business called Timed Exercise. Without getting into details, I will not be returning.

Tuesday, 1.6.15

  • Rest day. Team dinner at V Pizza, seriously my favorite pizza place in Jax.

Wednesday, 1.7.15

  • 45 minute trainer ride
  • 3.26 miles at the Wednesday, Mellow Mushroom group run.

Thursday, 1.8.15

  • 1 hour RPM cycle class at the Y

Friday, 1.9.15

  • 1 hour yoga class at the Y. Preparing for Saturday’s 10k race.

Saturday, 1.10.15

  • Best Damn Race 10k. Race report to follow.

Sunday, 1.11.15

  • 26 mile bike ride on Baldwin Trail. Went a little bit further than I should have but felt good. Even got rained on for part of the ride.

Overall, I’m pleased at how training has gone thus far. I’m just getting acclimated again to training and organizing my day. My true Ironman training plan starts on March 1 but with an early season tri, I have to get my butt into gear. I look forward to staying on top of this blog and noting my thoughts and experiences through this process of becoming an Iron(wo)man. I hope you’ll join me by reading whenever I post 🙂

PS Shout out to my brother in law Kevin who completed his first marathon today at Disney! He and my sister caught the running bug when I started to train and document my running so I’m excited to have been somewhat of a catalyst in his big accomplishment! Way to Kev!