Let me start this by saying I am not a trainer or in any way shape or form qualified to give advice about running! This is just my opinion on the Walt Disney World Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon which also happens to be my first half marathon.
I was listening to podcasts on a daily basis about a year ago, I just had my baby girl Aurora who was colicky pretty much every day from 4-10 pm so a great way to pass time was to listen to Disney podcasts and pace the living room. The only way to keep her happy was pacing or pushing her in the stroller for hours at a time. I heard one from The Unofficial Guide's Disney Dish with Len Testa and Jim Hill about how Run Disney came to be. All the sudden I got this crazy urge, I had to run a half marathon, and ASAP! Naturally I tell Carter, Disney planner extraordinaire, and tell her to make it happen!!! Michael her husband also was up for the challenge, a running buddy is the most important part of a race! There was the inaugural Star Wars half and since I didn't think Michael would be that excited of a participant for the Princess half, and would also be the dad of a literal new born Star Wars it was!
Carter and I logged onto DVC's website (DVC members get early entry into race registration) and signed up. It was easy, and we registered so close together our bib numbers were one number apart! Up next was training, I decided on using the Hal Higdon training method. Since the only previous race I had done was the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10k ten years prior, I had used his method then and felt well trained. I like the simplicity, starting running can be so confusing and overwhelming. I made a chart and put it in my planner and started documenting on Instagram to keep me accountable.
Getting back into running I worked on just getting up to two miles unbroken. It was a struggle, I live in a super hilly city and pushing a stroller is no joke so it took me about 6 weeks. I would run solo on the weekends when David could watch the kids, or push Princess Aurora at a more leisurely pace. Training started shortly after our September WDW trip, doing some runs but mostly walking. Through the colder weather around Christmas I fell off training some and resumed in January. The training plan is 12 weeks and I gave myself 16, to allow for missed days.
The last big run Michael and I did 10 miles on an indoor track. Michael did about an 8 minute mile and I averaged about 12-13 minutes but finished! Run Disney recommends training at a 15 minute pace to keep from falling behind the 16 minute marker. If you can't keep above that you run the risk of being swept by the dreaded "balloon people".
Just before the half marathon my husband David left on an outtage, which meant the last few weeks were super stressful and sleep deprived! Not ideal, but there is never a perfect time to train. We left the Friday before the race with my mom, aunt Jennifer, Carter, Michael, and the three "babies" Trace, Aurora, and Edward. Flying is super dehydrating and it's hard to find enough time to eat with one baby who loves food so much she's taking food off your plate and another who thinks eating is a waste of time! So Saturday the day before the half I did not fuel properly before the race. We also managed to lose Trace in Disney Springs, so all in all not the best pre race day. I woke up sick sick sick that morning! I was so glad Michael was up already and waiting other wise I may not have made it. This is where having a "race buddy" is so important! I truly wouldn't have made it even to the race if I had to go alone. Our bus came almost right at 2:30 AM and we were off!
We got there and it was COLD but that's a lovely alternative to the normal Florida heat. They had character meet and greets, a dj, and there were concessions with food. I would recommend bringing your own food for the start and re fueling during the race, I didn't eat anything this morning since I had been sick and didn't want to risk getting sick before or during the race! We met _ and then headed to the pin to wait to head to our corral. It was a walk just from the pin to our corral and I wasn't quite prepared for how dark it would be for so long! The moon was gorgeous, and it all was so surreal with the lights and the crowd. We were in the front of our corral J and waited some more. It's a lot of waiting but to me it seemed to go fairly quickly. The race start was 5 AM and our corral started around 5:40.
During our wait the other runners were generally friendly and it was nice to talk to people and we even met a few fellow runners from our home state. The energy was contagious and I was so excited to start running (and to be warm!). They do a burst of fireworks for the start of each corral and it was amazing how big they seemed once we finally got to the start!
We took off running aaaaand... It was dark... Really dark! We were on one of the main roads, we went by a band playing Star Wars music (there was a lot of that!) and we headed into backlot Epcot. It was so quiet at this point, no music and no one was talking really just running along. It was cool/weird to see "behind the scenes", a lot of people working cleaning, taking out trash, unloading trucks just getting ready for the day with a bunch of crazy people running by in the dark. When we entered world show case that was my favorite part of the whole race! It was lit with the torches, lights, and special effect lighting used during illuminations, and more Star Wars music! It has always been my dream to run through world showcase, so I tried to go slow, but I was so excited I ended up running most of it! There was our first water station as well and we hit mile 3 coming out of Epcot. The first three miles flew by!!! The other 10 not so much...
After Epcot we ran through Boardwalk, I loved running the boardwalk and I was impressed by that many people running how solid it is! They do such a good job of making it appear like a traditional wooden walkway. Going by Swan and Dolphin we hit some of the worst bottlenecks, it was narrow and very uneven. I heard quite a few people fall, and some of the faster runners who were in the back of the pack (I'm guessing late or no proof of time?) really came shoving through right about then. It was upsetting to see how they would literally run over anyone in there way knocking slower runners to the ground. I know it was frustrating at times how slow it went through the tighter paths but there was no cause to hurt anyone! That being said the majority of the runners were polite and would raise their arm and announce that they were slowing their pace to avoid collisions. After the boardwalk we headed to Hollywood Studios for a brief interval through the park. There had been a few meet and greets so far but all had a 15 minute plus wait, while I wasn't concerned with my time I didn't want to ride in a golf cart either! Unless you want to add the time of a mile or more it would be hard to stop and wait. Hollywood Studios had the best meet and greets at least as far as setting in my opinion. My favorite part of Hollywood Studios was seeing the Chinese theatre without the hat, it looked amazing early in the morning, just like the original!
Then we hit the highway, we arrived Atlanta Animal Kingdom around mile 6 I believe. The mile markers and my Fitbit watch were already a quarter mile off so I forget the markers exactly. We ran the entire parking lot at AK, or at least it seemed that way! It was neat to see the other runners already looping back out of AK. They were all very encouraging to us who were about 3 miles behind them! AK was incredible in the morning. Hearing the animals and seeing the monkeys playing was so fun. The park had filled in so much more since I had been there early after the opening. The authenticity blew me away, it really looked like marketplaces were just opening up in the morning. There were Cliff energy shots at this point for the nutrition stop, but I had packed a squeezie pouch and opted for that. Powerade was also added to the water stops, it was lime and the volunteers called them margarita shots!!! I wish!!!
We were back on the highway at this point and this was the longest and most grueling stretch of the race. There was NOTHING! Up until now there had been lights, music, or stops for characters but the last stretch was oddly quiet. There was one lone dj, I was definitely wishing I had brought my headphones at this point. The sun was up and right in my eyes... Complain complain... But it was so inspiring to see people easily twice my age just cooking along! I found a group at this point and tailed them just trying to keep some sort of pace. Lots of biofreeze stops though! I didn't use it, but it was nice to know it was an option for future races. I do wish I had grabbed some Tylenol! They had a medic tent and then we took a turn onto a dirt path.
The last mile or so was on "dirt" which is sand in Florida so the majority of us were walking at this point since it was narrow and uneven as well, and we were just plain tired! Finally we got to the ESPN sports center and it picked back up just in time for the finish line! I saw little Aurora and just burst into tears, she did too! Crossing the finish line was hugely emotion for me, I'm not one to set out to do something so to actually complete a race was a definite dream come true!
After the race there was food for the runners as well as water and Powerade and of course the MEDAL! The photo pass photographers were there to get a picture, it was then I realized my number was creased so I don't have any race pictures. But that's ok because I ran it and I will never forget it! We all met up at B and were able to board our bus relatively quickly. It felt amazing to sit down after standing and running for so long. 13 plus miles is FAR! I clocked 13.54 on my Fitbit watch as opposed to the 13.1 a half is supposed to be, but I have to account for a lot of "swervage"!
After the race I felt great! Again though I didn't refuel properly at all, I was too busy holding and nursing miss Aurora I didn't make time to eat and drink. Don't make that mistake! I have never been so so sick!!! I was about to call 911, but Fritos, Tylenol, and good old water saved the day. I kicked everyone out of the room and slept for 20 minutes and was human again!
We went to Disney Springs with medals on, I had to be careful as its heavy not to clonck the babies in the head with it. They are so heavy and of course bling!!! It was nice to walk around in the lovely weather and stretch a little and EAT! The next day I woke up feeling great and not sore at all! Maybe puking helped?! Whatever it worked! All in all I would do it again in a heartbeat!!! I felt like I trained as best as I could, there are things I would do differently but at the time couldn't be helped. Life goes on training or not, but in the future I would definitely try and get down two days before a half just to get better adjusted. Eating, hydrating, and resting before a race is so important and as a mom those three things are tough to come by. Definitely ask for help! I wouldn't do another race while breastfeeding, honestly it was too big a toll to ask my body, I survived but would NOT recommend it. That being said I saw two very pregnant women running right by me in the race! Definitely bringing headphones for the next race. The parks were great and early on in the initial crush it's best not to have them on for safety to be able to hear runners and announcements around you. The last stretch of this course at least was very quiet and the highway was wide enough that it was easy to move without worrying about hitting someone. A lot of people were running in groups so that makes it a little difficult for passing at times. I wish I had been better about speaking up and just saying excuse me. A lot of time/energy gets wasted passing people so consider that when you're training!
I can't wait for my next Run Disney event! I learned some good lessons and had an amazing first half marathon. I'm so grateful to Michael for committing to this race with me. He did amazing! It kept me inspired having someone who was running ahead of me. The text message alerts kept me going!! Definitely was one of my favorite WDW trips ever, truly life changing!