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Disney Star Wars Dark Side Challenge weekend… part 1

As many of you know, I just came back from a long weekend in Orlando for the Disney Dark Side Half Marathon.  After running the Star Wars Rebel Half in January, I have been looking forward to this weekend since!  This was an awesome weekend filled with tons of fun, laughs and adventures.

This time the family was coming with me, and participating in the 5k too!  Since we had an EARLY flight out (6am), we drove to Milwaukee.   the night before and stayed at my favorite “go to” airport hotel!  The Clarion is right near the airport has reasonable rates as well as Stay and Fly packages so you can leave your car parked in their secured lot while you travel!  Since we had such an early flight, the first day of vacation started with the alarm going off at 3:30am!  by 4:10am, Thursday morning, we were on the way to the airport.  It was 19 degrees when we left Milwaukee and a pleasant 75 when we landed in Orlando!

Time to conquer the Dark Side

 One of the best choices we made for this trip was booking the Disney Magical Express to take care of our transportation.  We really wouldn’t realize how much of a benefit this was until later in the weekend, but I’ll get to that later!  Without having to worry about collecting luggage at baggage claim, we headed straight for the Disney Welcome center, checked in and were on a bus withing 15 minutes of when we got off the plane!  A short ride later and we were at out resort!  Again we didn’t have to worry about collecting luggage and were able to just head inside to check in!

runDisney time!

After dumping our carry-on bags in our room, we headed for the expo.  One of the awesome things that Disney does for race weekend is provide race specific busing.  On Thursday, since anyone that was already on property was heading to the expo, there was a bus that just went from the resorts to ESPN Wide World of Sports.  There were only 2 resorts assigned to our bus so it was a short ride!

One of the advantages of arriving about an hour after the expo and packet pick up opened, the lines were short!  We had all of our packets picked up in less than 15 minutes – 5k for John and Darrin, then the 5k and Dark Side Challenge for me.  Disney always does a great job of having a well organized packet pickup with plenty of friendly volunteers to answer any questions.  With how many people I know will be running these events this weekend, I am glad we were able to get here before everything got really busy.
With all of our packets picked up, and I collected my wrist bands to verify medals that I was eligible to earn once I finished all my races for the weekend.  I felt like I was checking into the hospital for major surgery with the 2 race wrist bands, plus my magic band (room key, park passes, everything all in one) on one wrist and my running watch and JayBird on the other!
Then it was on to the expo!  Shopping time!  Since I really didn’t have a ton of time to explore the expo when I was in California for the Star Wars Half in January, I was excited to have time to really see what was here!  I found a few new flavors of my Gluten Free Stinger waffles that I love, so I had to get a few to try!  Luck was on my side too – one of the vendors had calf sleeves on sale for a decent price, so I was able to pick up another pair (since I forgot mine at home!).  A few shirts later, it was time to find some lunch!
Unfortunately lunch was NOT up to Disney standards!  We opted to stop at the ESPN Grill right outside the expo.  After ordering, we grabbed a table outside, in the shade to enjoy the Florida weather.  about a half out later, we still didn’t have our food, so Darrin went to get a soda refill and check on where our food was.  Someone came over to check on what we had, told us that they were having a computer issue and took our receipt and headed to the kitchen.  Another half hour later, we STILL didn’t have food.  We waited long enough.  But unfortunately, we couldn’t just leave – we had already paid for our food!  We headed back inside to find someone to inquire about a refund so we could go find food elsewhere.  Of course they asked us for our receipt, which we did not have anymore as the last gal took it from us when she went to check on our order!  Apparently, their computer had crashed and orders were not matching up with table numbers and everything was a mess.  They were able to find our order, based on the number that they gave us for our order.  After talking to 2 more people we were informed that our food had just come up.  They offered to box it up for us AND refund us the full amount of our meal.  Although not ideal, but at least they did what they could to make it right.

With bag of food in hand, we headed out from ESPN to catch the bus back to our resort.  But not before we took a few more pictures outside the entrance to ESPN!  The whole family was running the 5k on Friday and I would also be taking on the Dark Side Challenge – the 10k on Saturday and Half Marathon on Sunday!
 When we got back to our room, we magically had luggage!  Everything made it, in one piece!  Gotta love it when a good plan comes together! We officially could start the adventure and have clothes to change into!  The rest of the day, we explored out resort a bit, relaxed and then headed to bed early.  Alarms were going off at 3:30am so that we could get ready to catch buses by shortly after 4 to make it to the start line on time!
5am is early, no matter which way you look at it, but we were hanging gout with a few thousand other people at the start line of the inaugural Dark Side 5k!  I will have to say that the start line area was well organized, there were ample volunteers around to make sure you made it from the buses to the start line,  and plenty of Disney Photographers were on hand to take any pictures that you wanted!  There were also about 6 Star Wars Characters at the start line area, around the stage, for photo opportunities!  Since I was in an earlier corral for the race, I left John and Darrin at the stage area to head to my corral to stretch out and get ready for the race.  They used this time to get a few photos before the race!
I opted to wait until I hit the course to take any pictures, and even tho this was the Dark Side 5k, the only photo op I stopped for…   Chewbacca!  This was the one day that I decided I was only going to make the one stop, and was going to try and push my time a little.  I felt good, the temperatures were mild and I was ready to run.  I did stop along the way to snap a few pictures along the way, but nothing too exciting!

In the end, I finished this 5k in my normal a few minutes of my average 5k time (with the exception of the 10 minutes that I waited for my picture with Chewie).  I was actually excited to know that I pushed myself enough that it was still dark out when I finished!  I beat the sun!
Since I knew that John and Darrin were just walking the 5k, I had some time to spare.  So I used this time to get a few other pictures at the stage area.  The lines seemed long, but in reality, they did move fairly quickly.  I managed to get a few different picture before heading back over to the finish line to watch them come in. 

When I say them come around the corner, I tried to get a video of them actually running to the finish line, but apparently I couldn’t’ operate the camera on my phone and ended up just with a photo.  Oh well, you can tell from the picture tho, that they were actually running!

Proof of finish!  Medals and official finish line photos!

Race 1 for the weekend for me done!  After showers and breakfast, we spent the rest of Friday in the parks, wandering through Magic Kingdom (Where I met up with fellow Skirt Sports Ambassador Mary, who joined us for the morning!), then Hollywood Studios.  We actually had some issues with getting our Fast Passes to work with the Disney Experience app that morning at MK, so when we talked with the awesome young lady at the resort, she added a Fast Pass package onto our account to use at Hollywood Studios that afternoon!  We had 3 fast passes to use, any time, any ride that day!  We were able to hit 3 rides, literally no waiting in less than 2 hours in the park!
Once we used our passes, it was time for this Crazy Hamster to get some sleep!  I left the boys at the park and headed for the bus, and ultimately back to the resort so I could get some shut eye. While I headed back, they hit another show and then the Fireworks – which apparently were set to the opening theme from Star Wars!
Next part of the adventure was coming soon… and the alarm was going off at 3am! 
Stay tuned for Race Recap Part 2, coming soon!

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