After Day 1 of the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend, it was time to finally get to the RUNNING part of the show! On Saturday morning our alarm went off at 2:45 and we were dressed and out the door by 3:30.
By staying at a hotel so close to Disneyland, we had access to the free shuttle that came right to our hotel door every 20 minutes and dropped us off at the entrance to the park. So convenient! Also, the start was at the far end of Downtown Disney, where all the bakeries and coffee shops had opened early especially for the races. Which meant we got to take our time and sip some tea (and I got my pre-race fuel on!) at a nice warm Starbucks at 4am.
The pre-race staging area was… I’m just going to say it… awesome. It was relatively empty by the time we got there at 4:15, and with the start more than an hour away we had time to wait in short lines for fun photo ops like the Wampa Cave on Hoth, and the Trash Compactor scene!
In addition to some warmup dancing, the race announcers did their little patter and I was all in.
They played trailers for the movies and had cast members as Jedi do a little lightsaber show that I know is meant for children but I still cheered for and shed a tear or two because I am a huge baby. Come on, they’re JEDI!
Soon it was 5am and we had to herd ourselves into the corrals. I said goodbye to Mike and easily found my way (after a little bit of people traffic) to Corral D. Huge balloons with our letters on them were stationed all along the road and cast members directed us by reading our assignments on our bibs and pointing us in the right direction. Easy-peasy.
I made a new friend in the corral (what’s up, Ali!?) and we chatted to pass the time before the prompt 5:30am start time. By 5:45 we toed the start, and finally the horn went off!
We started on a slight uphill, and immediately I noticed: it was COLD! I had expected California to be warm, dammit, but it was in the 40’s at the start. But we charged through the first half mile in the dark, along a service road and into California Adventure where we were treated to cute Star Wars mentions (logos projected on the sides of buildings, the theme music playing throughout the whole park, etc).
At one point right before Mile 1, they played the audio of the scene where Rey and Finn steal the Millenium Falcon, and I had a good laugh when me and another Rey on the course both decided to yell out, “The garbage will do!” together.
At Mile 1 I stopped for a quick photo op with my namesake and was pleased to discover runDisney perk #4,281: photographers that use YOUR camera! At every stop the Disney folks were true pros, taking TONS of photos for free and handing your camera back so you can take off running. I was so excited to learn this – but also sad to see the next photo stop was R2-D2 and C3PO, and the line was LONG.
It was ok, I reasoned with myself, I only planned on stopping for the one character I knew would be there: BB8. Knowing it’s the Light Side, I expected R2 and 3PO but I’m not SUPER crazy about them. I also figured Chewy and probably Vader would be on the course, but knew I could get pics with them in the park, so didn’t want to waste time there either. BB was the only must-do I knew of. Until a certain Master of the Knights of Ren showed up and threw a monkeywrench into my plans. But more on that later.
From Mile 1 we continued on past Paradise Pier and backstage – because it was the first time I’d seen any of this, I could feel myself welling up at some of the really amazing sights:
From there we continued backstage to the 5k point where I found the line for BB-8 and made my first stop. A 25-minute long stop!
We chatted with each other as the line crept up, and after about 15 minutes I realized catching up to my old pace after this stop was going to be brutal. My legs had gone cold. My knees started to lock up. It was OK, though, I told myself. This was my only stop. Right before I got up to take my photo, a woman behind us announced that her friend ahead of her just spotted Kylo Ren on the course at mile 3.7.
::cue record scratch and breaking glass::
Say WHAT? I had no idea he’d be out there! I HAD to get a photo. Would I be able to make it? I looked out at the course, where folks were still moving at a moderate pace, but a lot of walkers were in there too. I could do it, I reasoned. I HAD to. I asked the cast member as we prepared for my BB8 pic: Kylo is the next stop, isn’t he? He nodded. How fast am I going to have to run to catch him? This cast member, bless his heart, merely took my phone from me, closed his eyes and said solemnly, “Really fast.”
Well that settles that. Take my pic and let me RUN!
And run I did! No, really: I glanced at my watch as I sprinted the next .6 miles and saw an 8:12 pace at one point. I wasn’t messing around. And sure enough, right at 3.7, there he was: Kylo Ren. Along with a line that looked to be about 34 miles long.
But I didn’t care. I jumped into the line and it turns out the line wasn’t THAT long – after standing for about 5 minutes, we’d moved almost halfway through the line. I even had time to snap a photo of another runner dressed as Kylo Ren, complete with his flowing raven locks (a hysterical wig):
Another 5 minutes later, a cast member announced that the sweepers were only 10 minutes behind us. 10 MINUTES?! Panicked, I counted 5 people ahead of me. I could do it. I had to chance it. If I jumped out and sprinted and missed my photo op, I’d hate myself. So I stuck it out. And I am SO glad I did. Because Mr. Ren seriously enjoyed sassing me. And judging by how I reacted in the photos, I enjoyed it too! Observe:
Stage 1: You aren’t so tough.
Stage 2: Oh my god you’re actually kind of tough and getting all up in my personal space with your face and your finger, please stop, or maybe don’t, also is that Dolce & Gabanna cologne?
Stage 3: this is where I actually started asking the cast members what to do, because Kylo was still monologuing about how he could teach me the ways of the Force and blah blah blah and I had to get running because the sweepers were on their way.
The funniest part of this whole interaction was that the cast members just rolled with it. No one was like “OK, great! You’re done!” They just let me flounder helplessly as they snapped pictures of me looking right at them, begging them for help. That’s commitment!
Finally, I was able to grab my camera and I TOOK OFF. Knowing the sweepers weren’t too far behind, I wasn’t about to stick to my leisurely 12:xx pace for the last 2 miles. I knew it would shred my legs before the half, but I had no choice now. But that didn’t stop me from having fun:
Yes, I did airplane arms through Tomorrowland.
I couldn’t help it, I was riding the high of nailing both character stops and the unexpected excitement of getting to hang with Kylo Ren! But by now we were now in Disneyland proper, and it was CROWDED. I fought my way through crowds and weaved where I could, wanting to make up some lost time but still managing to snap pics of some Stormtroopers and Captain Phasma as she stood on a bridge and watched us all go by.
With less than a half mile to go, I slowed down; my legs were TIRED from all the sprinting, and I knew the half the next day wouldn’t feel so easy if I pushed straight through. So I walked and jogged to keep my pace, and had a huge laugh when I ran into a crew of Matt the Radar Technicians:
As I neared the finish I got a burst of energy: all the folks lining the finish area and cheering for us were SO excited, calling out our character names and even finding our names on our bibs to cheer us on that way. It was truly incredible to cross the finish line and finally get my BB-8 spinner medal!
After getting my medal, the finisher’s chute led us through a tent where I picked up a bottle of water, snack box and banana, and then I found Mike easily near the stage. I breathlessly told him all about the race, we all wandered through Downtown Disney back to the buses, surrounded by the ::clink clink clink:: of everyone’s medals as they walked, and we made it back to the hotel for a quick shower before the We Run Social meetup at Trader Sam’s later that afternoon (and a churro).
It was SO incredible to finally meet all the folks I’d only ever chatted with online – the running community is the best. Once the excitement settled down, we headed to Tortilla Jo’s for a victory lap of guacamole and wine, and some yummy fuel before the half marathon the next day!
Stay tuned for my half marathon recap!