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Monday, January 26, 2015

Rebel, Rebel - Star Wars Rebel Challenge Part 2 - Half Marathon

A week ago, in a Disney park far, far away...

I participated in the final leg of the Rebel Challenge by running the Star Wars Half Marathon!  After waking up early to run the 10K on Saturday morning, I was pleased to learn that the 3-hour time change between my home state of Pennsylvania and the race locale of California was still working in my favor.  Waking up so early so many days in a row is one of my biggest anxieties should I ever choose to run the 4-day Dopey Challenge in Disney World, however, the time difference made my Star Wars wake-up calls unexpectedly easy.

I dressed in my finest Rebel Alliance colors, including my orange Sparkle Athletic skirt, and I headed towards the starting line.  My hotel was about 1 mile away from the start and, while I'd walked every other day to the races and parks, this morning I took the complimentary shuttle, knowing that I'd still need that energy to complete the race.

I had made the decision at the 10K the previous day that I was going to run slow and steady, stopping as often as I wanted on the galactic scavenger hunt for Wookiees and Ewoks and Jedis (oh my!).  I knew that we would cover both the Disneyland theme parks within the first 4 miles of the race, and that's where the Disney official characters would be stationed.  I didn't know what surprises waited in the 9 miles post-park, but I still committed to speeding through the parks to meet as many friends as possible!

The course came into Disneyland around mile 2, just like the 10K course.  And just like at the 10K, a line had formed in New Orleans Square, this time not for Chewie, but for the most badass brother-sister duo in the Galaxy, Luke and Leia.

The line for them was surprisingly much quicker than Chewbacca's line on Saturday, and I waited happily.  Continuing on the course through Frontierland, I spotted my favorite Wookiee greeting his guests, but opted not to stand in line, as I had met Chewie at both the 5K and the 10K already.  Running towards Tomorrowland, I suspected we would find another character outside the Star Tours ride.  I was thrilled to find that it was someone I'd missed the previous day, the big daddy himself, Darth Vader.

Vader and his Stormtrooper body guards boasted the longest line I encountered during the half. As always at Disney, the time was spent chatting and making friends with others in line.  This morning, the runners were also treated to a spectacular sunrise over Tomorrowland, one so beautiful that I almost felt we were in the Blue Bayou or some other imagineered land inside a professionally-lighted dome.  The beautiful skies over Tomorrowland were all real, and they were spectacular.

I quested on towards Disney's California Adventure.  I continued in the spirit of my 10K, sprinting from one character to the next, enjoying discovering each one hidden throughout the parks.  In DCA, I found the notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett, who I had previously met during the 10K.  I also found more stormtroopers, picturesquely planted in front of Grizzly Peak's waterfalls.

And in Paradise Pier, a couple of new-school characters, Ezra and Sabine from Star Wars Rebels.

At this point the course, now nearing mile 5, exited the parks and took its turns onto the streets of Anaheim.  I was curious to see how this would play out.  Having previously run Disney races in Disney World, I knew that the California race wouldn't be contained within Disney property like the Florida races, and was unsure quite what to expect.

Disney invited dozens of marching bands and cheerleaders to encourage the runners along the way.  There may not have been Disneyland rides or officially licensed characters to greet, but the post-park stretch of the race enjoyed fast, flat roads, ample entertainment, and gorgeous views of Southern California!

And, for the Star Wars nerds with attention to detail, the race course even had an unintentional nod to Episode IV, as it crossed Newhope street.

Around mile 8, the half marathon coursed through the Garden Grove business district, past its school, library, and community center.  One of the coolest surprises on the course was that this area was chock-full of cosplayers in their finest Jedi robes, Mandalorian armor, and other Star Wars gear!  No, they weren't the "Disney versions" of the characters in the parks, but it made it almost cooler that these were simply Star Wars enthusiasts here to cheer on their fellow fans!

After the cosplayers, we were in the home stretch!  5 more easy miles, exiting the Garden Grove neighborhood, and circling back up towards the park on the lovely, palm tree-lined Harbor Boulevard.  At this point, there wasn't much more sightseeing to do, but I continued my decision to take it easy.  In fact, with a little bit of pain in my knee, I observed the run-walk strategy for the last several miles.  I knew I was far from a decent time, I didn't want to hurt myself, and I really just wanted to enjoy the beautiful Disney morning.

Over an hour after my half marathon PR time had passed, I happily crossed the finish line, high-fived Stormtrooper Donald Duck, and collected my bling!  The half marathon medal is a replica of the medals that Han and Luke receive at the end of Episode IV, and the Rebel Challenge medal is shaped as the rebel-alliance logo, with a reversible Yoda/Darth Vader medallion in the center!  Needless to say, I was both proud of my accomplishment and excited to add to my Disney medal collection.

This was easily one of the most fun and unique race experiences of my running career, even among runDisney races.  I totally stand by my decision to take it easy and have fun, I met a ton of awesome fellow Disney and Star Wars enthusiasts, had an excuse to visit the Disneyland parks, and I got to take in so much of the beautiful Southern California sun!

And, to all my readers, May the Force, and the Course, be with You!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Less than 12 Parsecs - Star Wars Rebel Challenge Part 1 - 10K

It wasn't that long ago, but Southern California does seem very far, far away.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....   Disney hosted the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend!  As a fan of both runDisney and Star Wars, I knew that I would have to be part of this event.  As an added bonus, the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend gave me an excuse to visit the Mouse for the first time in his West Coast home at Disneyland!

In so many ways, Disneyland is the polar opposite of its East Coast sibling.  At Disney World, the sheer size of the property is both its greatest blessing and its greatest curse.  I'm pretty sure I've woken up at 2 in the morning for Florida races just to take a 45-minute bus ride to arrive at the starting line on time.  At Disneyland, I didn't even stay on property, but I rolled out of bed at 4 am at my Good Neighbor Hotel, changed into my Han Solo inspired Rebel gear, and enjoyed a brief 10-minute walk to the starting line.  The 3-hour time change was an added bonus for this East Coast girl.  Waking up at 4 am for a 5:30 race start still seems a tad daunting, but waking up at 7 am for an 8:30 race start is a piece of cake!

10K is my favorite race distance so I was thrilled to participate in my first-ever RunDisney 10K as part of the Rebel Challenge, a back-to-back 10K and half marathon event where runners earn extra shirts, medals, and bragging rights for completing both races within the time limit.

The time limit is enforced by the infamous "balloon ladies" whose names stir fear in Disney runners across the land.  The balloon ladies mark the back of the pack, keeping a 16-minute pace from the last corral.  During my previous two runDisney events, I had a healthy fear of the balloon ladies.  The Princess Half Marathon in 2013 was my first ever half and I had some nervousness about finishing.  The Goofy Challenge (half marathon and full marathon) in 2014 was my first back-to-back challenge and I had some anxiety about having the energy to carry myself through.

But here in 2015, at the Rebel Challenge, I finally had both the experience and the confidence to know that I could finish.  I was healthy, I had been training, and I knew that even if I saw the balloon ladies, I could outrun them with ease.  For this reason, I decided not to run the fast, flat course for a PR or for speed, but to stop as early and often as possible for character photos and whatever other silliness I encountered.

The race started in the Lilo parking lot outside of Downtown Disney.  The 10K course was incredible, as the majority of it looped within the Disneyland and California Adventure parks.  I knew coming from Disney World to Disneyland that not all of the course would reside within the parks, but I was pleased to see how much of the Star Wars 10K course really ran through the parks.  Miles 1-2 raced down some of the Anaheim resort area streets.  No characters yet, but plenty of cheerathoners and cast members encouraging runners along.

Right around Mile 2, we sped into Disneyland Park and down Main Street, USA.  The course didn't run through Sleeping Beauty Castle, but did circle past it for some great views and photo ops.

On a hunt for some characters.  But first, let me take a Castle Selfie!

Past the castle, the runners turned towards the New Orleans Square section of the park.  I could see that we were approaching a line, and figured that the first character must be close by.  I knew I wanted to stop regardless since I was making great time, but it was a fun surprise to see who the character would be!  The closer I got, I realized that it had to be someone good, because the line looked like this:

Longest line I have EVER seen in a RunDisney race, and that includes the always-lengthy queue for the princesses at Cinderella Castle in Disney World.  The line made sense though, seeing that the character at the end of the line was not only a fan-favorite, but also the poster-Wookiee for the entire race weekend - Chewbacca!

I was beyond happy to get my pic with Chewie, however, any runners plotting out character stops for future Star Wars races need know that the line was about 30 minutes long as I approached it from Corral B, the 2nd of 5 corrals.  It may have been shorter or longer for runners who started at different times.  I enjoyed the wait though, watching the sun come up over the Rivers of America and chatting with other runners.

Continuing into Tomorrowland, the next line appeared for another favorite character, Darth Vader.  I hopped into the back of the line, excited to meet another character, when a cast member informed everyone at the back of the line that, if we waited for Vader, we likely wouldn't have time to wait for the final "major character."  Who was that mystery character?  The cast member was super helpful letting us know that Boba Fett was waiting in the California Adventure park!  I figured I'd meet Vader tomorrow, and sped off to meet my favorite bounty hunter, running at a quick clip out of Disneyland, through a couple of back lots, and into DCA.

Totally worth it.  Boba Fett appeared coming towards the Paradise Pier section of the park, and while the line was lengthy, it was quite a bit shorter than Chewie's.  I knew that he was the final major character, but, as I ran past California Screamin', some random Jedis appeared.

After this, the course diverted itself out of the parks and into some of the back lots.  While the parks reliably prove to be the most exciting part of runDisney courses, the back lots are awesome, as they are where the men behind the curtains, the places where the magic are made.  Runners are treated to rare sights such as maintenance bays and this car from the Golden Zephyr.

The course turned back for a short stint past Cars Land, and then back out into the lots for the final mile.  At this point, I knew that my time was going to be slow, but I was thrilled with my character stops and knew I had plentiful energy to cary me through both the finish line of the 10K and the duration of the half marathon the next day.

My choice to make frequent stops and earn a "slow" race time?  Best.  Decision.  Ever.

Deciding to embrace the character stops made this race feel more like a scavenger hunt than a normal 10K race!  With the threat of the balloon ladies still in the back of my mind, that meant that each time I made it to the front of the line for one character, I sprinted as fast as I could to find the next.  Sprint. Wait in line.  Sprint.  Wait in line.  This game added such an extra element of fun to my race that I never would have predicted.  The race became not just about taking photos with characters, but about the chase to unlock as many character achievements as possible in the time allowed.

My official time ended up being TWICE my normal 10K speed!  And it was worth every one of the 3,600 additional seconds.  I crossed the finish line, collected my awesome Storm Trooper medal, and soldiered on, ready to explore Southern California just a little bit more, and tackle my Half Marathon the next day.