Posted by Chris on April 27, 2017 at 12:29 AM CST
For just the second time, the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL hosted the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - The Dark Side April 20-23, 2017 and there was plenty of fun for all. Runners had the opportunity to compete in the Star Wars 5k, the Star Wars 10k, the Star Wars Half Marathon and the Dark Side Challenge (10k & Half Marathon) all while collecting some incredibly cool medals. There are also some kids races for the younglings.

As usual, the runDisney Health & Fitness Expo kicked things off on Thursday morning at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex with a store that would challenge a Star Wars Celebration. Fans lined up as early as 4:30am to be among the first to purchase event exclusive merchandise and by 9:30am, the line was many hundreds long. Among other things, the Expo features vendors selling anything and everything you could ever need as a runner including shoes, socks, KT Tape, snacks, drinks, phone holders, rollers, sunblock, Glide, cooling towels and more. There are also booths where you can sign up for future events, charities to race with, custom medal displays for your own collection, freebies and the list goes on.

There is a vast amount of merchandise for everyone from shirts & jackets to pins & magnets to cups & hats and everything in between. Items can sell out fast, so it's a good idea to arrive early to get the best selection. I was disappointed that the Darth Vader medal holder wasn't produced. After we saw the Yoda one in Anaheim during the Light Side Weekend in January, it only made sense for Disney to do a Vader themed version to coincide with the Dark Side theme of the weekend, but when I asked where I could find it, I was told it simply wasn't produced. Hopefully we'll see one next year. The exclusive art piece for this years event was a beautiful 16x20 lenticular Darth Vader poster which can be seen above.

After you finish buying one of everything in the official merchandise store, you head over to pick up your race bib and the running shirts received for participating in each race. This includes a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon & Dark Side Challenge shirt if you've signed up for all of the races. You can also pick up any pre-purchased commemorative items and this always includes an exclusive race jacket only available to those that pre-ordered it. These always sell out and are highly sought after.

This year, there was a Cantina open for business as you exited the Expo complete with Star Wars themed drinks.

Transportation to and from the races each morning is one of the most important things to pay attention to. It can literally mean the difference between making it to your coral before the race starts or missing it because you're stuck in traffic. Disney does a great job of providing free transportation by way of buses (and sometimes monorails) starting very early each morning and you best be on them when they say. It never fails...every race, I see people running at top speed to make it to their coral with minutes to spare. Sometimes that extra 10 minutes of sleep just isn't worth it!

The Star Wars 5k took place on Friday morning with a start time of 6:00am. That may seem rather early to some of you late risers, but the earlier the better as the last thing you want to be doing is running while the sun is up. For those that don't live here, Florida is inherently HOT!. runDisney was sending out heat advisories the week leading up to the event and those are not be taken lightly. Training in cooler weather and then trying to run in the heat can make you feel like you've never run before. The race started in the Epcot parking lot, wound around a service road and into the side of the World Showcase having runners race around the giant circle and back out into the parking lot to finish. The 5k is always a fun race because it's just a quick little 3.1 mile warm up for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday morning, the Star Wars 10k began at 5:30am. For this 6.2 mile event, we started in the Magic Kingdom parking lot which was brand new from the previous year. From there, we ran about 3 miles into Hollywood Studios and then out and through Disney's Boardwalk, into Epcot and finished in the parking lot again. The new course was great and I think that was the general consensus from everyone I talked to afterwards. Hopefully they'll keep this one for a while before switching it up again.

Sunday morning, the Star Wars Half Marathon was set to begin at 5:30am, so naturally, I was up at 2:30am to get to the starting corals by 3:30am. Fans who attended Star Wars Celebration might recognize DJ Elliot & Mark Daniels as the duo who entertained on the Galaxy Stage leading up to the big panels. Both were out in Force all three days, but on Sunday, one of our own forum members, Michael McLain (TheSithCalls), was interviewed on the big screen as part of the pre-race festivities. The temperature was already in the mid 70's, so staying hydrated was absolutely key for this 13.1 mile race and that's exactly what Michael told Mark when asked what advice he had for runners out there that morning. No one was going for a personal record, it was more about surviving. Once again, we started in the Magic Kingdom parking lot which was also new for this particular race. It was 4 miles and then into Animal Kingdom for about 2 miles, out into the parking lot, over another 4 miles and then into Hollywood Studios, into Disney's Boardwalk, through Epcot's World Showcase, under the ball and then out into the parking lot to finish.

As has been the case with each and every Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend since the Inaugural event in 2015, we always have several Rebelscum forum members that participate. Shown in the cover image at the top of the story from left to right: Mike De Stefano (Kmsunrise), Chris Wyman, Chris Logli (tk_97531) & Gus Lopez (gus). All four of us completed the Kessel Run Challenge which consisted of doing both the Rebel Challenge in Anaheim during the Light Side Weekend and the Dark Side Challenge in Orlando. For this, we received a bonus Kessel Run Challenge Medal along with our Coast to Coast medal for completing a minimum of a Half Marathon on both coasts in the same calendar year.

I always want to encourage everyone to come out and join us for future events. If you're a Star Wars fan and you like getting cool limited collectibles, these Star Wars medals are something to behold. If you're new to running, start out small and work your way up to the big distances. The important thing is to have fun. Registration for the 4th Annual Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend - The Light Side was scheduled for March, but runDisney pushed that back a bit and the new sign up date has not yet been announced. We'll be sure to let everyone know once that information has been made available, but you can pencil in January 11-14, 2018 at the Disneyland Resort for the event and we will see you there.
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