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.

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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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Bucket List Races: Running in the USA

bucketlist running domestic

When thinking about my bucket list races for running races, I thought it best to split them up into domestic and abroad categories as there are simply too many races! So without further a do….

1. Boston Marathon-Boston, MA

Boston is where I first learned about endurance sports and how perfectly sane people woke up at 5am to run along the Charles River and called it fun! I ran my first true race there, the Boston Run to Remember, 5 miler. My friend Jenny did the half marathon as a “training run” and I thought that was just insane. Little did I know about myself!

Of course, Boston is a globally recognized event worldwide and I would love to qualify for it one day…ahh one day. Here’s to Heartbreak Hill!

2. Mountain 2 Beach Marathon-Ojai to Ventura, CA

This marathon is ranked #2 of all Boston Qualifiers to most likely qualify you for the big dance. It starts in Ojai, CA and has a negative net altitude gain as it runs from the mountains to the beach. Sweet! I may have a shot at Boston! Bonus: limited to 1500 registrants

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3. Rock n Roll Las Vegas-Las Vegas, NV

Run the Strip at night, with all of the lights, drunks and no cars, yes please! What’s even better are your choices for two distances: 13.1 or 26.2. (depends on how much partying your’e planning on doing). While this race had a terrible first year, no medals for a lot of people, people throwing up, and congestion, these issues seem to be resolved and I’ve heard only good things since. Who doesn’t want to run with multiple Elvis’s and see people get hitched while running?!

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4. The Krispy Kreme Challenge-Raleigh, NC

The name says it all! In 2004, several NC State guys got together and challenged themselves to running and eating doughnuts at the same time, yup sounds like something college guys would do! I remember knowing some people going to Raleigh to do this race when I was in school at Elon and thought it was a great idea minus the running! Since then, the race has grown exponentially, capping itself at 8,100 people! The Challenge: 5 miles, 1 hour, 12 doughnuts and 2400 calories! Will probably need to “warm up” before hand to truly earn 12 doughnuts! Stop, The Sign is On!

KKC

5. BolderBoulder 10k-Boulder, CO

Having earned the title “Best 10k”, BolderBOULDER, is a large 10k, over 50,000 people in fact. Held every year on Memorial Day, this is a favorite race amongst many people due to the energy, long standing tradition and organization. Wave start and you finish in UC-Boulder’s football stadium

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6. Big Sur International Marathon-Carmel, CA

Held on the weekend following the Boston Marathon, Big Sur is challenging but has beautiful scenery to take away the pain (hopefully). The ocean is on your left and the mountains on your right. This race always makes lists for best marathons and destination races. I think it would be a great way to see California!

Big Sur

7. TCS New York City Marathon-New York, NY

Iconic, point-to-point race going through all five New York City Burroughs certainly put this race on the domestic bucket list. Similar to the Boston Marathon, NYC gets fully behind this event which was even bigger this year due to Superstorm Sandy’s cancellation in 2012.

NYC marathon

8. Grandma’s Marathon-Duluth, MN

Grandma’s is a must-do for most marathoners. Its the 13th largest marathon in the US and has been around since 1977 when a couple of guys wanted a scenic road race. Its grown since 150 people first did Grandma’s into a prominent, nationally recognized road race. Probably the only reason I’ll ever go to Minnesota.

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9. Marine Corps Marathon-Washington, DC

Running along side strong Marines, check. Given your medal by a handsome Marine, check. History and support for the armed forces, check. The Marine Corps Marathon was in jeopardy this year of not happening when our lovely government was shut down but fortunately, some DC politicians who also are runners, helped get things moving and the race was on as scheduled. Like most large races, the MCM has a lottery to get into but its worth trying for.

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10. Charleston Marathon and 1/2 Marathon-Charleston, SC

I’ve always loved Charleston, SC for its history, low-country setting and food. This 4th year race is in January (I love cold running!) and features free shrimp and grits and beer post-race! Its a scenic run that has several distances which makes it easier for friends and family members to get on board as well. Plus, the fees for the race are very reasonable even as you get close to race date.

View of Mile 2.5

View of Mile 2.5

11. Portland Marathon-Portland, OR

With a long standing history of over 40 years, the Portland Marathon has racked up awards such as “Top 10 First Timers Marathon” Runners World and “Best in the NorthWest” by City Sports. It was also one of the first eco-friendly races, something that more and more races are becoming aware of now. Produced with the help of 4500 volunteers in October every year, Portland in the Fall season is supposed to be just spectacular. This race also has a 1/2 marathon, 10k, and kid’s race.

Portland Marathon

12. Bay to Breakers 12k-San Francisco, CA

San Francisco has always been known for its colorful residents and this certainly rings true during the longest-standing continuously ran foot race in the world. This 102 year old race was recently bought by Wasserman Media Group and promises to retain its uniqueness with costumes and party-vibe. Its a point to point 12k that starts by the San Francisco Bay and heads west through the Golden Gate Park to the Great Highway where you reach the ocean. Sounds awesome and scenic (costumes and all).

Bay to Breakers

13. Runner’s World Half and Festival-Bethlehem, PA

This year was the 2nd Annual Runner’s World Half and Festival hosted at their HQ in Bethlehem, PA. From what I heard read, participants loved this race as it was more than just a race but allowed people to learn about running, Runner’s World Magazine and enjoy the community of runners. Hosted by the editors of the popular magazine, you can be sure that the running community was catered to.

Runner's World Half

14. Disney Wine and Dine Half-Orlando, FL

I felt I needed a Disney race on the list as they are popular for a reason despite the hefty price tags that always accompany Disney races. I’ve already done the Princess Half (1st 13.1!) and really don’t want to do the Disney Marathon so I chose the Disney Wine and Dine because it features night time running, food and wine afterwards and coincides with the Epcot Food and Wine Festival which is amazing. When they first announced this race, I really didn’t get the idea of running at night to have food afterwards because I never used to eat after running, now the story is a little different. Cheers!

Main Street features "snow" for us Floridians

Main Street features “snow” for us Floridians

15. Harpoon Fest and Shipyard Old Port Half-Boston, MA and Portland, ME

When I first met my long time friends from Boston, they were just returning from a run hosted by Harpoon Brewery and were getting ready to go back for the festival, which I enjoyed with them. It was certainly an interesting concept at the time but one that I couldn’t wrap my head around at that time. Well Northeastern-ers know what makes a good event! Running and Beer! Harpoon Brewery in Boston and Shipyard Brewery in Portland, Maine both host running events with a great after party. Harpoon hosts several running events throughout the year including one for Oktoberfest while Shipyard is the title sponsor for the Old Port Half Marathon in July.

This was a hard list to narrow down to just 15 events as there are so many races to choose from! Now I want to know, what makes your Bucket List?!