Two grown men clanked illuminated light sabers against one another.
“Stop it,” a young woman wearing a full Ewok costume barked with more seriousness than her paws seemed to warrant.
The Star Wars 10K was about to begin and the furry racer wanted nothing breaking her concentration. The promenade of Downtown Disney was filled with thousands of runners ready to race.
A air horn blew and everyone, the Ewoks, the Jedis, the drones, the droids, the Leias the Lukes, the Darths and yes, of course theYodas, took off into the early dawn on a race through the empty streets of Disneyland.
May the force be with you. (Photo: runDisney)
I was there too, clad in something called “running buns” I had ordered off of Etsy, a tutu with an angsty Carrie Fisher’s face on it and the closest thing I could find to a white running tunic purchased from Lululemon. It was the best Princess Leia I could do. I had arrived in Anaheim the night before after sitting in the worst traffic Los Angeles had to offer for three hours. Four hours of sleep was going to have to be enough to power me through this race.
Yawning, I was jostled out of the way by a quick footed Princess Amidala linking arms with an Obi-Wan Kenobi.
My attempt at the Princess Leia running costume. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
This was the 10K portion of the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon weekend in Disneyland.
The Star Wars Half-Marathon Weekend at Disneyland isn’t just about a race, it’s the Venn diagram intersection of Star Wars enthusiasts and serious runners. You might think that would be a tiny sliver of the population. You would be very wrong.
Thousands gathered for this past weekend’s journey to a galaxy far, far away that included the Star Wars Half Marathon, Star Wars 10K and Star Wars 5K, and the runDisney Kid Races.
I’m not entirely sure how this crew ran dressed like this. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
The races begin in Downtown Disneyland and continue through the empty streets of Anaheim and then back into the desolate park, the rides illuminated and whirring without passengers.
Dumbo the Flying elephant danced through the air as the sun began to rise over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.Surprises lurked in every corner. When you least expected it, Darth Vader arrived on the course to take selfies.
Runners had the opportunity to see places that the public never gets to go—the Pirates of the Caribbean backstage parking lot and the green houses that supply all of the lush park gardens.
Backstage at Disneyland during the race. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
RunDisney has really taken on a life of its own since the Walt Disney World marathon started in 1994.
“We started it because that was a down time at the park, a slower period right after the holidays and our special events team said, ‘hey, let’s see who will run a marathon at Disney,’” Faron Kelley, the Director of Marketing Strategy for runDisney explained. “8,000 people showed up.”
From there they expanded the marathon into an entire race weekend and then created something called the “Goofy Challenge”—folks who wanted to do a half-marathon on Saturday and a full race on Sunday, 39.3 miles over two days. They began launching races in Disneyland in California too.
It never hurts to have Yoda on your back. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
“We spent a lot of time getting to know the runners,’ Kelley said. “We discovered they had a passion for Disney combined with a passion for running.” That was when they created the brand runDisney and launched an entire calendar of eight races at both parks each year. The fact that the races are part of Disney has had the unintended, but welcome, consequence of making them feel more attainable for the average person.
Motivation doesn’t get better than this. (Photo:Jo Piazza)
“People think that if this is Disney they can do this. Disney helps make dreams come true. We have a lot of first time runners and we want it to be a great experience for them,” Kelley said. “We are excited that we are the ones introducing them to the sport of running.”
Do or do not. There is no try. (Photos: Jo Piazza)
I’m new to the sport of running. The Half of the Half Las Vegas Rock n’ Roll marathon last year was my first race and this was my first 10K. Now I am hooked.
There is an incredible comraderie at these Disney races in addition to the complete delight of running through Disneyland, greeted by Wookies and Storm Troopers.
Then there’s the medal. It might be the greatest race medal of time. It is certainly worthy of a place on any Star Wars fan’s wall.
What other race puts a Storm Trooper on the medal? (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Entire families ran this race together and told me they never ran in any other races—just Disney and I understand why. RunDisney manages to strike a fine balance between Disney-fying the race and providing a course for serious runners.
By 6:30 am, when I crossed the finish line, I could attest to the fact that it was nothing short of magical.
This is what it feels like to cross the finish line with your favorite Disney characters. (Photo: runDisney)