Our first experience with runDisney was at the 2019 Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon that took place April 7, 2019. From attending the expo at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports to the run itself, we weren’t sure what to expect from our very first runDisney event.
Before getting started with this review, here’s a bit of background about us. Combined, we had completed one half marathon between the two of us prior to the Star Wars Rival Run. One of us had never competed in a single organized race. Not even a 5k! We’re athletic, but we aren’t die-hard racers.
Now, on to the review of the event itself.
Signing up for the Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon was easy. We didn’t have any times to submit from previous races, so we were all set within minutes.
We did find the price to be on the higher side, but we hoped that the on-course entertainment and unique route through Walt Disney World parks would justify the cost.
The 2019 course took us through three theme parks – Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. How cool is that?
Arriving in Disney World
We arrived late Friday night at Pop Century Resort ahead of the half marathon on Sunday morning. We elected to stay on Disney property due to the convenience of the transportation runDisney provides to the expo and the race itself.
Our plan was to visit the expo early Saturday morning to collect our bibs, t-shirts and to look at all of the Star Wars merchandise for the weekend.
Staying on property proved to be worthwhile and a decision we’d repeat for a runDisney event, although it did have a couple of drawbacks we’d need to plan for in the future. More on that later.
Participants in runDisney events must visit the expo to pick up their bib and t-shirt prior to the race. Buses run frequently between the expo space at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and the many resorts around Walt Disney World.
By visiting the expo on Saturday, the last day it was open, we knew that the lines would be manageable. That proved to be the case as most runners visited the expo earlier on Thursday or Friday, well before we even arrived in Orlando.
The expo area was held in two buildings at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. We greatly underestimated just how large the expo would be and how much it would pump us up for the race the next morning. Despite its size, everything was extremely well organized and clearly marked, making us newbies feel right at home. The staff and volunteers were all extremely friendly and made the bib and t-shirt pickup smooth.
We also browsed through the merchandise, and though we question some of the design decisions, there were a lot of products and sizes available even on the final day of the expo.
There were also a couple characters (Boba Fett, R2D2) meeting guests at the expo.
Night before the race
Lots of preparation should go into the days leading up to a half marathon race. That includes staying well hydrated, having good meals and getting plenty of rest. Disney knows that runners will be staying at its resorts during a race weekend, so they make sure there are suitable food options.
At Pop Century and at the other resorts, there were grab-n-go bags for runners that had a bagel, peanut butter, raisins, a banana, blueberries and an energy bar. It was the perfect mix ahead of the super early-morning races. At night, pasta meals were available and were extremely popular with all of the racers we saw.
Unfortunately, staying at any hotel can be a noisy experience. When you need to wake up around 2:30am to catch a 3am bus, that can be a big issue. We learned that the hard way as some guests at Pop Century were pretty noisy until around midnight, offering only a narrow twoish-hour window to catch some sleep before having to get moving.
We highly recommend bringing ear plugs and even Melatonin to make sure you’re able to get some sleep while the rest of the hotel is still enjoying their night. That’s one area where we were a bit under prepared.
After hearing the alarm go off way too early at 2:30am, we had a quick snack and headed for the bus at 3am. There were several buses ready and waiting, so we were headed to the starting line with almost no wait.
It’s remarkable how Disney is able to move thousands of runners into position in such a small window of time.
Be ready to do some walking before you even arrive in your corral. The starting line area is quite large and has bag check, a stage, characters and some last-second food options. The corrals themselves are then even further away, offering a nice warmup walk ahead of the run.
Be warned that you will be doing a lot of standing around before the race. We were in the second to last corral, Corral G, due to not providing any proof of time when we registered. This meant we were behind numerous waves of runners before we could even get started. Thankfully, watching the fireworks for each wave was helpful to pass the time.
The race started at 5:30am, but we didn’t cross the starting line until after 6am.
Unfortunately, humidity ruled the day. Disney warned runners repeatedly that the humidity was serious and that everyone should plan accordingly.
Trying to ignore the humid conditions, the race itself was incredible. Disney does an outstanding job of trying to keep runners entertained throughout the race. That includes character stops, music, large screens playing scenes from different Star Wars films and even a battle in the woods with lasers, lights, fireworks and enormous balls of fire. That battle scene was one of the clear highlights of our weekend.
Running through Animal Kingdom, specifically under the floating mountains in Pandora, was a great experience. The same can be said for the journeys through Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Even though we have visited these theme parks numerous times, running through them and in the backstage areas before they were open provided an entirely new way of looking at them. It’s a very surreal feeling.
Disney also does a great job of having numerous water stations (with Powerade) and medical tents along the route.
It is worth noting that there are a lot of runners on this course. You will have to do a considerable amount of weaving and dodging around folks, especially in the more narrow portions of the course. Trying to set any kind of personal records might be difficult if you’re starting in one of the rear corrals. We weren’t trying to set any records – operation “just finish” was the motto of the day – but we could see some being frustrated by the volume of people
It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to cross the finish line at your first half marathon. It was a flurry of emotions and sore muscles. The comradery felt between the runners, volunteers and staff made the whole experience feel welcoming and special.
Would we do another runDisney event? Does a half marathon sound completely crazy in the Florida weather? Are we already looking at future half marathons with runDisney in Walt Disney World?
This was a great experience. The runDisney community is fun and extremely kind. The race was challenging, entertaining and rewarding. The medal was awesome and the t-shirt was good quality. Outside of some slightly modified preparations on our end, we wouldn’t hesitate to participate in another runDisney event.