Rewind to one week ago, and I was prepping for the Darkside Half Marathon. Being it’s inaugural year, it was exciting to see how the race would play out. I’m not one to study and stare at course maps prior to the race, so I just took everything in stride (pun intended).
Run Disney race mornings are always early, but this one came even earlier. The half marathon started at 5AM (instead of the usual 5:30AM), which I was grateful for. Orlando in April is hot enough without running.
After a few quick bites, we were off to the staging area, at Epcot, for the half. Accompanying the usual DJ for entertainment, was plenty of photo opportunities with classic Star Wars characters. Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Captain Phasma and Storm Troopers were all out for photos.
Speaking of- this was the 1st Run Disney race using Disney PhotoPass photographers. Runners can download race photos post race using a specific race link and their bib number. Annual Passholders can download the photos for free. I noticed a lot more photographers on the course than previous races. I think this is a welcomed change to Run Disney’s races.
After the gun went off, we started the course with a loop around Epcot’s World Showcase and then through the Boardwalk. I love seeing Epcot’s pavilions all lit up. It really started the race on a high note for me. The Boardwalk had plenty of spectators watching, which was a nice touch.
When we ran the walkway from the Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios, it definitely feels a bit narrow. I remembered it from Marathon weekend, but since it’s at the front of the course, it’s far more congested.
Hollywood Studios finally brought that Star Wars feeling to the race. I turned the corner and saw Kylo Ren on stage (in front of the Great Movie Ride) interacting with runners as they passed. I was finally getting into the groove of my run and feeling the Darkside.
Run Disney brought in a group of highly skilled cosplayers, known as the 501st Legion. Their dedication to the art of cosplay was apparent as their costumes were impeccable. Runners could take photos with them as the lines weren’t nearly as long. It was awesome! Slower runners had more photo opportunities, thanks to the 501st Legion.
After Hollywood Studios, the course is pretty bare on Osceola Parkway. They had a few DJ’s, but nothing exciting. By the time I hit Animal Kingdom, the sun was out and it was heating up.
I’m not sure why they wouldn’t let runners ride Expedition Everest (like the marathon). That would’ve been a nice touch for this race.
Some of the best photo stops around Animal Kingdom included backgrounds like you were in the movie. That was new and neat!
After another long stretch on Osceola Parkway, we ran down a back road into ESPN Wide World of Sports. The dirt road didn’t feel very “Run Disney ish”. It was narrow and not pleasant after 12 miles of road. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t expecting it either.
More spectators lined the pathways of ESPN Wide World of Sports to cheer us on to the finish. Just like Marathon weekend, it was full of twists and turns throughout the complex.
I walked the majority of the race, for medical reasons, and finished in 3:30 (and some change). I didn’t care for the finish line at Wide World of Sports. It felt very anti-climatic compared to the WDW Half Marathon and Princess Half Marathon that finishes inside Epcot. I definitely prefer those courses over the Darkside course.
Overall, It was a good experience, especially since it was the inaugural year. But the race entertainment went downhill after Hollywood Studios.
I also greatly missed the Race Retreat. With over 18,000 finishers, it would be a nice touch. Logistically, it would be hard to pull off since the race starts and ends in different locations. But you’d think Run Disney could offer something to the runners willing to pay for it.
Thanks for a trip to the Darkside, Run Disney.