Friday, January 22, 2016

Star Wars Half Marathon Recap

Last weekend I ran the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland. Needless to say, given my love for all things Disney, running and Star Wars, this was truly a trifecta made in heaven.

Trifecta of awesomeness:
Running, Disney and Star Wars
Originally, I was supposed to run this race with three friends; one friend apparently registered but never received confirmation, and the other two decided that 13 miles isn't half of anything and was just too far to run. [Grammar nerd alert: I just used two, too and to all in the correct context within the same sentence...booyah!] 

A friend of mine since childhood, who is not a runner but shares my deep love of Disneyland, had planned her vacation around this event and we were going to share a hotel room in Anaheim. As we got closer to the holidays, it was apparent that she needed to use her vacation time to visit her aging father. We decided postpone visiting the Magic Kingdom together until the spring.

This left me in a serious quandary about trying to find accommodations three weeks before the race. My sister-in-law lives 20 minutes away from Disneyland, but she wasn't sure if they would be in town that weekend or not. I considered staying with my bestie who lives in Ventura the night before -- so I was at least a little closer to Los Angeles the day of the race -- but it still meant I would have to leave by 3:30am to make the 5:30am start time. It seemed foolish and impractical to drive in the middle of the night. 

This is where I got a little maudlin. None of my plans were panning out, and for a moment I considered scratching the race. 

Mind you, I said, 'for a moment...' Anyone who knows anything about Disney races knows this: they sell out hella quick and they are probably one of the most expensive races on the planet. Plus, if I was undertrained for my last half marathon in November, it paled in comparison to my training for this one: I hadn't run one day since then. 

Uh, oops. 

Running a half marathon untrained?
Arnold don't play.
It is stupid, Arnold. I can only rely on teaching spinning and past running experience for so much, and it's not like those miles stay in the proverbial fitness bank. It is a recipe for injury, and I should know better.

As luck would have it, my sister-in-law called me to say I was welcome to stay with them. I invited my niece and nephew to come with me to pick up my bib and they were completely onboard to check out the expo, which didn't disappoint. 
I had to snapchat this...because obviously.
Future 10k runners at next year's event!
This was probably one of my favorite photos of the
whole weekend: BB8 at the expo...and he was PISSED.
The force is so strong with these two :)
I adore being their aunt!
And of course, the obligatory Flat Babydoll the evening before to post on social media:
I thought I was clever in obscuring my race number
with a mini slot machine. I can't even believe
counterfeiting bibs is a thing. #lamesauce
I set my alarm for 3:30am to eat breakfast and give my body plenty of time to digest my food. I had brought a small tupperware filled with my tried-and-true oatmeal for race day. Believe me, one does not 'change up' the pre-race fuel unless you want to have it repeat on you over thirteen miles, or worse yet...frequent port-a-potty visits. 

Despite a lively discussion involving maps and where to park the night before, I decided to trust the wisdom that is Waze. While I can't say enough about this driving app (real time feedback with incredible graphics and directions), I am slowly learning that there is a difference between being impulsive and spontaneous - neither of which have their place in the predawn hours the morning of a race. Instead of following my brother-in-law's suggestion of how to get to the parking structure -- who patiently looked over the race book and used to work for Disney, for crying out loud -- I decided to enter the name of the parking structure right into Waze. 

Be ye not so stupid.

It steered me behind the structure and right into the employee parking entrance. You know, the one that requires a code to raise the arm to enter the parking lot? I had a small moment of panic that I would miss my race, but it wasn't going to be for lack of trying. I parked in a residential area and a hoofed it in the general vicinity of the Disneyland Hotel. A helpful volunteer at one of the crosswalks explained where I needed to be, 'It's a brisk 15 minute walk from here...' and I was off. This was at 5:35am.

The race officially begins at 5:30am, but because I'm not an elite runner -- we've already established that I hadn't trained for this race -- I was in the last corral. This was my third runDisney event; although I knew it was going to be close, I wasn't completely panicked because it takes a long time to release that many runners in waves. Fashionably late, I rolled in about 3 minutes before they released my corral:

Rolling in right before my corral is released.
It was actually kind of badass.
Me and Monstro. Storybook Land is my favorite ride in Fantasyland.
Another favorite: Pixar's Rex from Toy Story at California Adventure.
No, really: You da best.
I thought these droids were fixed to the ground, but I was wrong.
When C-3PO saw these two ladies dressed in gold,
he rushed over to them and mugged for a photograph. 

I need this window decal. 
Captain Phasma and Kylo Ren try to sway me to the Dark Side.
1970s Luke Skywalker
I heart R2D2
Best photobomb ever!
This dad carried his son on his shoulders
for at least a third of the race. So awesome!
Anyone who has done one of these races has heard about the notorious 'Balloon Ladies'; the 16-minute mile pacers who ensure the course is closed after four hours. Any runners caught behind them are 'swept' off the course and brought to the finish line. In the typical Disney grandeur, I envisioned princesses walking the course, wearing elaborate hoop skirts made from balloons; gracefully waving to the crowd and tapping on the shoulder of stragglers before being escorted off the course in Cinderella's pumpkin-shaped carriage. 

There goes my imagination getting away from me again.

Prior to the start of the race, I had seen a couple of young 20-something girls standing to the side of the course, each wearing a backpack with a single Mickey Mouse balloon tied to it. I didn't give it another thought, though. And at several points during the race, there were Disney race officials calling out times, 'Four minutes under pace. Keep it up!' 

Imagine my surprise when I dawdled too long mugging for photos along the course and the two young girls I saw at the beginning of the race came up behind my group shouting, 'YOU CAN DO THIS, EVERYONE. DON'T GET CAUGHT BEHIND US!!' don't know if runners pulled from the course still receive a medal for their effort or not, but I selected this race specifically as my 20th half marathon and I wasn't taking any chances. The last picture I took on the course was, fittingly, of Darth Vader carrying is son on his shoulders. 

Next year, I'm hoping to run the 10k with my niece the day before the half marathon for a chance at earning a third medal. #rebelchallenge

My race review: Despite being my slowest pace ever, this was one of my favorite half marathons. The Star Wars franchise is a little piece of my childhood, and the nostalgia factor alone had me happy from the moment I set foot onto the course. The other two Disney-themed half marathons had long sections in the middle where there was little to see and the miles dragged. I don't know if it was the extraordinary Star Wars fan base or what, but there was always something to see: huge turnouts of costumed Star Wars fanatics passing out Red Vines, and incredible custom-painted cars that had mounted blasters and a R2D2 copilot. There was also a large high school band and cheer squad presence as well, with a half dozen schools represented and encouraging runners and giving high-fives. This was the first race greater than a 10k that I didn't wear my water belt. Although it's my preference to run without something around my waist, I'm always afraid there won't be enough water along the course. The water and aid stations were plentiful, and there were hundreds of volunteers along the course and in the finish area keeping things moving. Good after-race food and electrolyte drinks, too. Great work, Disney!   

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