2016 Star Wars Light Side Half Marathon Weekend Recapby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
New Star Wars characters from the recently released movie Star Wars – The Force Awakens and a new runDisney costume policy that was less than two weeks old made for an interesting second annual Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend in Disneyland. Held the third week in January (the spot previously owned by Tinker Bell and her crew), the Star Wars weekend was full of events up-leveled by the partnership between Disney and LucasFilms. It was four days of cool weather, good friends, and 22.4 miles of runDisney magic.
Bring on the popcorn and Milk Duds
One of the most unique aspects of the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Expo is the wait line. As with other runDisney Disneyland expos, shoppers are given a wristband and herded into wait lines until they are allowed into the merchandise area. What helped the time move faster at Star Wars is the addition of a large screen that continually runs Star Wars movies (I came in at the end of Empire Strikes Back and left partway through Return of the Jedi). The movies made the average hour-and-a-half wait time go by much faster and much more fun than just sitting and staring at a smartphone screen.
By the time I arrived at the merchandise area door (around 11:30 a.m.), there was still an abundance of items to purchase, including "I Did It" shirts for each race distance (the Rebel Challenge "I did it" shirt was unfortunately extremely thin cotton), men's and women's jackets, and several styles of T-shirts including the very popular "Stay on Target" orange shirt.
While the Star Wars wine glasses were sold out by end of Thursday, many items, including jackets, were still available for purchase on Friday when the expo opened at noon. It was either a sign of slower sales or of runDisney holding back merchandise until day two.
It's also interesting to note runDisney seems to be expanding its own branded New Balance merchandise at the expo (pants, jackets, and shirts) as well as generic runDisney items such as wine glasses and ornaments. While it didn't seem to limit race-specific merchandise, it's an interesting change to keep tabs on to see how well it sells.
runDisney also introduced a new line of tech shirts featuring characters from Frozen, Inside/Out, as well as caricatures of Yoda and Princess Leia from Star Wars. Among the most popular shirts was Yoda's "Judge me by my time, do you?" which was seen quite a bit on race participants during the race weekend. Given my 2014 Dopey and Dumbo Challenge hamstring issues, Anger's (from Inside/Out) "Don't make me pull a hamstring" was one that had to follow me home. I can see these being very popular at both Princess and Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekends later in the year.
As noted during both Wine & Dine Half Marathon and Avenger's Half Marathon weekends, the actual runDisney presence at the expo was very limited. Tucked away in the North Lounge, there was little to call attention to its presence except for four glass-covered race medal displays. Looks like the days of being able to touch (and potentially steal) a race medal is now a thing of the past.
Also missing from the expo was runDisney race coach Jeff Galloway (he was a speaker but no booth presence) as well as GET Travel, who at the two most recent runDisney races was pushing registration for the September Disneyland Paris Half Marathon weekend. While it hasn't been officially announced, Walt Disney Travel is apparently replacing GET Travel as the official travel company of runDisney. Looks like more interesting changes are coming that will warrant watching.
After picking up my race bibs and race shirts, I had my mug shot taken for the Rebel Challenge, then headed back to the hotel, where an afternoon of work was waiting for me. Day One was complete!
Is that a Tinker Fett or a Boba Bell?
Friday morning, the 3:30 alarm started the day way too early, but I was meeting Team MousePlanet friend Joann at 4:15 a.m., so it was up and out the door to head off to the start of the Star Wars 5K. This was the race that the new runDisney costume restrictions would probably have the most impact on, and I was curious to see how the rules had been received.
While the large-scale costumes such as the X-Wings and TIE Fighters from 2015 were nowhere to be seen, race participants still showed their creativity, especially in Star Wars/Disney mash-ups like Tinker Fett, Jedi Tink, Darth Goofy—and my personal favorite, the Fairy Darth Mother, who ran in a short black cape lined in red, and who carried a red lightsaber with a red sparkly star affixed to the end.
Unlike during the previous week's Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend when a female firefighter was not allowed to race in full gear, Brandon Case, a firefighter from Yuma, Arizona, was allowed to wear his turnouts, but not his full kit (mask, breathing gear). He was also allowed to carry the American flag; his comment on runDisney's new costume policy spoke volumes on his dedication to his work and the sport of running: "If the worst they do is tell me I can't wear my gear but I can still carry the flag and wear my turnouts I'm happy. I'll always be back to do the race."
There were also dozens of Han Solos and Princess Leias (cinnabons and all), three members of the Cantina Band, herds of Ewoks, multiple Reys, a pair of "human lightsabers," one Jabba the Hutt whose large swishing tail kept anyone from getting too close, and even a few brave "iron" bikini-clad runners—including three men, one of whom was brave enough to wear the it without a shirt or running pants. Needless to say, he managed to snag more than a bit of attention as he ran.
By 5:00 a.m. we were secured in the corrals, and at 5:30, corral A was officially on the road. The course moved five corrals of 5,000 race participants from Disney Drive, up a slight incline to Harbor Boulevard, and around in the Disneyland back-stage area. We ran through Fantasyland, around New Orleans Square, and back out across in front of the castle (odd, there were large lighting rigs scattered around both sides of the road—more on that later), out through Tomorrowland and out Disneyland to Disney California Adventure.
We came in the main DCA gates and made our way down Buena Vista Street, through Cars Land, and back out to Downtown Disney via the gentle downhill by Grizzly Rapids. The race finished back by the Disneyland Hotel. During the route, photo stops were available with character from Star Wars Rebels, BB8 from The Force Awakens, and of course, R2D2 and C3PO. First Order stormtroopers were lurking at several areas in both parks as well as at the finish line greeting the finishers. The first race of the weekend was complete and the medal was in hand.
The red piano
Little did we know when we ran through Disneyland that morning that Sir Elton John would be playing a concert that night in the park for the Disneyland 60th anniversary television special. Later in the day, we watched as Elton's red piano was put in place and sound tested.
While I didn't stay until the 8:00 p.m. concert start, friends Karen and Madeline Munding had the opportunity to see part of the show, including not one but two firework displays as, according to Elton, Disney wasn't happy with the first take. It was a very unique and unexpected weekend treat.
The course of many turns
The morning of the Star Wars 10K started much the same way as the 5K; a 3:30 alarm followed by a nice walk through security to the start lines. While I was lucky enough to score corral A for the 5K, I was in corral B for the 10K. No matter—with only a few minutes time between corral releases, I was out on the roads in no time. 10,000 race participants, many in Star Wars shirts and ears, were signed up for the 10K race, making the corrals a bit fuller and the narrow places on the course a bit tighter.
While the 10K starts out the same as the 5K, we spent most of the first mile and a half in the backstage areas before entering Disneyland through the main gates. This time we ran through Tomorrowland first, through the castle, around by Small World and Rivers of America, then down Main Street, where we crossed the esplanade to DCA.
Mile 3.5 to 4 seemed to have many of the narrowest areas, including a couple of interesting switchbacks that caused heavy congestion as the later corrals moved through. One of the highlights of the race was the tunnel between parks where Darth's breathing played over us as we made our way along the course.
We were backstage again for much of the remaining mile 4, re-entering DCA by Radiator Springs. The course then took us around the lagoon where World of Color water streams were bubbling, back out through Downtown Disney, and to the finish. All the characters from the 5K were again found throughout the run, which now included Boba Fett, and two new (and very fun) photo stops; the infamous Trash Compactor from Star Wars: A New Hope, and the speeders from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Two races down; one to go.
I always say I'm going to rest during the day between the 10K and the half marathon. And then, well, friends come to the park, and suddenly you realize that by nightfall you've added in an extra 15 or so miles to your day. But a fun afternoon of park hopping was had with friends Steve, Joann, Runner Bob, and Patty, and the addition of Karen and Madeline was well worth the extra tired legs.
I believe the air on Coruscant was better…
As always, by the final day of the race weekend, the blasted alarm clock was the enemy that had to be destroyed. Those extra miles of park hopping made themselves known as I stumbled around the room getting ready for a 13.1-mile run. Joann and I again made our way to the starting area in the dark morning, and while the morning was cool, the air was also oddly thick and still. As an asthmatic, these conditions could make for a challenging race, and given the past two days had been rough breathing, I was worried.
Once in the Family Reunion Area, Joann headed off and made her way to her corral, and I waited to catch up with Runner Bob, as we were both lucky enough to land in corral A. We made our way to the race start and positioned ourselves towards the middle of the pack. With 14,000 race participants in the half marathon, the corrals were again stuffed to the max, but everyone seemed to find their own spot to relax and ready themselves for the race. Following the racing chairs, with a "may the course be with you" and a blast of confetti, we were off!
The Star Wars half marathon course followed the same first-mile course of the 5K and 10K races but we came directly into Disneyland without a quick DCA tour. Up and around Fantasy Land, we again ran through the castle, down Main Street, and over to DCA. As with the two previous races, character photo ops were scattered throughout the parks. BB8 proved to be the hit of the morning, with the photo line finally closing with a wait of up to an hour. Unfortunately, that wait became costly to many in the later corrals who took a chance and were eventually swept as the balloon ladies passed them by.
Once we left the park, it was out to the streets of Anaheim with a loooong several mile run down Harbor Boulevard. By mile 7, we were in the Garden Grove area—and what was waiting for us just before mile 8? It was the 501st, one of the best cosplay groups around. Their Star Wars costumes are always incredible and this year was no exception, especially with the addition of the steampunk Star Wars characters. They loudly cheered on the runners and happily posed for pictures. The 501st is always a welcome sight at that point in the race with just a few miles left to the finish.
Also a welcome sight at any Disneyland half marathon is Team MousePlanet, whose tent was situated around mile 10. Giving away Red Vine licorice (the infamous "candy from strangers") and cheers of encouragement, more than one runner expressed gratitude while enjoying a little well-needed sugar boost. And yes, this was the candy we were looking forward to.
With just two miles to go, we made our way back down Harbor Boulevard towards the parks. The turn on Katella was made more complex by people trying to cross the street across the course to get to the park, but we soon passed the mile 12 marker and made a turn back on Disney Drive. It was then that I noticed the haze; from not even a half a block away, it was almost impossible to see the Paradise Pier Hotel. No wonder I struggled to get a decent breath in through most of the race; for me the air quality was, shall we say, less an optimal.
But with just over 11,000 other runners and walkers, I did finish the race, collected both the half marathon and Rebel Challenge medals, and made the slow walk back to the hotel. As I sat and munched breakfast in the restaurant, I could see the final race participants go by followed closely by the sag wagons and clean-up crews. Just a couple more miles and they, too, would have completed the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon. And there must have been something good in the weather, as both Joann and Runner Bob had outstanding races.
Reflecting back on the races, I will admit that the new runDisney costume policy did cut down on the over-the-top costumes, especially in the 5K, but there was still a great amount of creativity to be seen. Perhaps it's not a bad thing to bring a bit more emphasis on the actual race event and away from what was turning into a 'how large can you go' costume competition.
It was also interesting to note how many people took the risk of being swept by making long photo stops and then were furious when they were swept as they fell behind. The Disneyland parks do have to open as do the Anaheim city streets; there is not the same time leeway that is found at Walt Disney World where the majority of the race courses are on park property. It kind of comes down to the intended race experience—is it all about the photos or is it about the race as well? Of course, there are those who fully don't expect to finish the race; they will get the photos they want as well as the medal, handed out to everyone in the sag wagon. It really comes down to managing your time and owning the race experience you want to have.
Overall, the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend is one of the most fun runDisney weekends on the current schedule; it will be interesting to see how the Star Wars Dark Side in April at Walt Disney World compares. I can't wait to bring home the Kessel Run Challenge medal! Hope to see you there.