Dodging laser fire … Eluding capture – and becoming the main course of an almost 10-foot tall behemoth … Oh my gosh! Is that Darth Vader off to the side ready to use his Force powers on you? … There’s BB-8 up ahead, beckoning you to join him for a photo op. What’s going on here? If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in a Star Wars film. Wait a minute! There’s a Star Wars movie playing on a large screen just ahead!
You might think you have dropped into a galaxy far, far away – and you might not be too far off course – just by taking part in either the Light Side or Dark Side half marathons [or one of the shorter races held the same weekends]. Forget calling the two sides of our country the East Coast and the West Coast. Forevermore, they will be known as the Dark Side and Light Side, respectively, of our nation … at least to Star Wars fans … because for two weekends during the year, Disney holds Star Wars-themed races in which fans [and even non-fans, I would surmise 😉 ] take part. They are immersed in everything Star Wars – all for the opportunity to experience their beloved Saga on a whole new level. That is exactly what friends Cheryl Grey and Ashley and Adam Munger did this past April [the weekend after Celebration VIII] when they got together for the Dark Side half marathon in Orlando.
Adam jumped in first, and opted to participate in the Dark Side Challenge, which consisted of running both the half marathon and the 10K. Cheryl signed up Valentine’s Day 2017, and Ashley, Adam’s wife, joined the fray just two weeks before race time. Adam and Cheryl, both runners, had
more time to train for the event than Ashley did, but that didn’t stop her from participating. She walked the race [in any of the races in which participants choose to walk, they must be able to keep a certain pace, and reach markers by a certain time, as specified in the requirements. If they aren’t able to keep to schedule, they are ferried ahead by race monitors.]; Cheryl divided her time between running with Adam and walking with Ashley so she [Cheryl] could spend time with both her good friends during the race.
Besides the half marathon, the weekend array of events includes 10K and 5K races for adults and a number of races geared specifically for children. [FYI: There is a fee to take part in the races.] Adults also can participate in the Light/Dark Side Challenge. Participants are placed in corrals. Each corral begins at a different time so the course does not get congested. Runners/Walkers take off to the sound of Star Wars music blaring over loud speakers and fireworks exploding overhead. As they make their way down the first wide, tree-lined path, the music changes, a fog rolls in, and participants find themselves in the midst of a battle – the lasers from blasters criss-crossing the racers’ milieu. This is not a race like any other! Along the course, runners/walkers are treated to other scenarios in which they might find themselves were they truly in a Star Wars film. Huge screens are set up along the way so fans can stop and watch a few moments of the various films. There are numerous photo ops along the way, too, where participants can stop to have their pictures taken with iconic Star Wars characters. “This is not a race that you run with the intention of setting a
personal best [time],” Cheryl, whose leanings are more Light Side, quips. No wonder! Who’d want to pass up these opportunities! 🙂 [This is what I call a fun type of race – whether one chooses to run or walk it! 🙂 ]
Adam and Ashley, from Alabama, did not have to put up with the wicked training weather that Cheryl endured, hailing from Wisconsin as she does. In the Dairy State, temperatures can fall below zero in the second month of the year as strong, biting winds blow in from Canada. If that isn’t enough to deter one from venturing outside to train, the snow- and ice-covered roads can create more of a hazard than navigating an asteroid field. That didn’t stop the 30-year-old from making strides to prepare for the upcoming race. “I needed to get my butt back in gear after having Tyler,” the fan of droids and Ewoks notes. “There were days I ran in the snow, days I was running in 60-degree weather. I tried to go out on days when it was nicer. When it wasn’t, I’d run inside on a treadmill.” Cheryl’s longest training runs were saved for Sundays. “Disney offers several training schedules put together by Jeff Galloway, depending on your ability – whether this is your first race and you simply want to finish, or you’ve run several [races], and want to improve your time,” Adam adds. “I loosely followed one of the time improvement programs.” Too, Adam and Cheryl kept in touch via email, informing each other how their trainings were going. “We’d encourage each other along the way,” Cheryl mentions.
Adam, who has run other long-distance races before, says about his choice to compete in the Dark Side Challenge: “One of the big benefits of the Disney races is the finisher medals. They’re some of
the best out there. You get a medal for each race you finish, and if you complete one of the challenges, you get an extra medal. So on top of it being a new experience for me, I got some extra hardware to show off as well – Death Star medal, anyone?” Fitting for someone whose leanings seem to fall more along the Dark Side of the Force. “It’s never been said that I have aspirations to conquer a galaxy, but there’s some pretty wicked lightsabers on the Dark Side,” the 32-year-old investment consultant quips. That is a rather interesting bent to take, considering his favorite Star Wars characters are the Jawas – “Those little guys are just super cool!” – and Rey. 😉
There were heat advisories in Orlando the weekend of the Dark Side races, and like any event of this kind, keeping hydrated and as cool as possible was paramount on everyone’s minds. “There were lots of stations along the route for runners to get something cool to drink,” Cheryl explains. And don’t forget – there were a number of opportunities to stop and rest, even for a few moments, to take advantage of those photo opportunities. Cheryl recalls, specifically, Emperor Palpatine’s throne room and the trash compactor as two such picture-snapping ops. “There were characters everywhere along the way,” she adds. And ‘characters’ of other ilk as well. While Cheryl, Adam and Ashley proclaimed their Star Wars fandom by wearing Saga-inspired t-shirts, some fans ran/walked in costume. “There was a C-3PO, and one woman who wore the Millennium Falcon around her waist,” Cheryl recalls. Adam chimes in good-humoredly: “I was not the guy running round in a brown Speedo claiming to be Chewbacca!”
Disney already has charted the course for its next two Star Wars-themed half marathons, etc. The Light Side event is slated for the weekend of January 12, 2018, and its counterpart on the other side of the country is scheduled for the weekend of April 20, 2018. [If the hyperlinks don’t work – hey, it’s been known to happen! – please visit www.rundisney.com to start your adventure.] As of the posting of this article, registration for January’s event has not yet opened, but Dark Side registration is up and running.
[After talking to Cheryl and Adam about their fun experience in the Dark Side 2017 events, I am inspired to participate in the Light Side 5K. I’ve already talked to my daughter who lives in Los Angeles about joining me, and even though she is more a runner than walker, she is willing to hoof it at the slower pace to join in the festivities with me by her side. (I haven’t run since my Marine Corps days – and I don’t plan to start now! 😉 ha ha)]
Now that Cheryl and Adam have competed in their first Star Wars-themed race, would either do so again? [Silly question, I know, but I had to ask. 😉 ] As far as Cheryl is concerned, she’d definitely like to take part in the Light Side race – maybe even do both the Light Side and Dark Side half marathons in 2019 when the new Star Wars portion of the park is open. Adam responds with a resounding “Absolutely!” He continues: “Where else can you find over 16,000 Disney/Star Wars fans? It’s worth it just to see the costumes and the pun t-shirts!” If participants complete both the Light Side and Dark Side half marathons in the same calendar year, they qualify for an additional honor – a medal for the Kessel Run Challenge. Although not Star Wars-related, both Cheryl and Adam have committed to next February’s Princess Half Marathon. Besides being Star Wars fans [since very young], they are Disney fans, too.
“Disney races are completely unique,” Adam notes. “There’s truly no other race like it. If you’re running one of their races, it’s because you either love Disney, love the theme, or both. It’s absolutely distracting, but in a good way. Instead of thinking about how much your feet, knees, lungs hurt or how tired you are you’re trying to figure out how in the blazes you stumbled into the middle of a battle of Ewoks and Stormtroopers complete with blasters shooting past your head and explosions in the forest. No lie. Blasters and explosions!”
“It’s not the best event to run if you’re hoping to break a personal record or trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon,” Adam concludes. “There’s just too much going on for that. But that’s exactly why you do this type of race. You want all kinds of new ways to experience and express your fandom.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to lace up my Luke Skywalker sneakers and make my way through the next battle. Care to join me? 🙂 Feel free to leave me a comment below to let me know if I’ll see you in Anaheim next January. Or, if you want to keep your involvement on the Q-T, drop me an email at email@example.com. Hope to see you there!
Until next time,
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