Thursday, January 29, 2015

When 13.1 Miles YOU Reach, Look as Good YOU Will Not - The Inaugural runDisney Star Wars Rebel Challenge 2015

When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise, fans everywhere were elated. One of the biggest companies in the world was going to take the classic series and apply their special brand of magic. When runDisney announced there would be a Star Wars themed race weekend, the race world went insane. The Rebel Challenge (10K/Half combo) sold out in just 58 minutes. Pre-sale for annual pass holders was closed in less than 10 minutesWe were lucky enough to get into this Inaugural event to add to our experiences.

We arrived early afternoon on Friday, met Al and Caryn at the Sheraton and headed off to the expo early enough to scoop up a bunch of race souvenirs and take pictures. There were some posts on Facebook saying that the lines for merchandise and bib pick up were long, but we had no trouble at all. Just like Avengers, there was no shortage of good backdrops to go along with the theme.  

World traveler and future Triple 7 Quest runner Kamika had done the 5K that morning, adding to his string of 5 Disney races in a week after completing the Dopey Challenge in Orlando. Before the weekend was over, he'd have 11 medals - 7 for races, 3 more for the Goofy, Dopey and Rebel Challenges and one for the Coast-to-Coast challenge. Those of you who think we're crazy need to understand that crazy is all a matter of degree.

Our friends Marcey and Pete at Sport Hooks debuted their new Star Wars medal hangers, ready just in time for the Rebel Challenge Weekend.  They also had their brand new Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics racks first released at Dopey Week.

Al, Kamika and Caryn all had park passes so Susan and I caught a really nice dinner at Labrea Bakery just outside of the park. We stayed until the nightly fireworks display and headed to bed for the usual 4 AM wake up call. (Note for future Disney racers. The course this year started in the same general area, but since the direction of the start line had changed, we needed to walk another 10 - 15 minutes to get to the mid and back of the corrals. Be sure to check your start line maps!)

Rudy and Carissa were having a blast on the announcer stage. Disney took full advantage of the jumbotrons to show off the parade of characters visiting the start line including C-3PO, R2-D2, several storm troopers and a few miscellaneous characters. The big screen was useful for those of us starting in the Corral Far, Far Away.

The 10K course was different than Dopey and Avengers, passing through 'a bugs land' later in the race. This was great because in the low light, I may have even completely missed that section of the park last time.

Al was on a mission to find specific characters for photo ops - Yoda, C-3PO and R2-D2, Chewbacca - mainly because they wouldn't normally appear outside of film events and they're a bit harder to copy well with a store bought costumer. I was on the lookout for Darth Vader who took a bathroom break when I was at the head of the line at the Dopey 10K. 

Mile 2-ish: Score one with the Wookie.

Mile 2.5:  Susan skipped Chewy but went ahead to wait in line for Darth. I'll seriously consider buying the MarathonFoto for this one later.   

Main Street:  Kamika catches up to us in time to pose with characters from the New Rebels series. Something else to add to the DVR list.

On the Boardwalk:  We meet Jennifer Walker in the Boba Fett line. Jennifer was another Coast to Coast Disney runner who claimed 10 medals in the last week. Three weeks into January, she has already logged over 80 race miles.

Epic selfie fail as I cut off Al's head. The cast member photobomb is only slight redemption.
Somewhere on the back lots, I found my favorite costume.  When we signed up for the race, I joked with Susan that she should come dressed in Princess Leia's gold bikini (*look of horror*). This woman topped that - Lego style. Her partner rocked the Lego Jabba the Hutt as well.

The finish area had a Jedi DJ and some bigger than life Wars decor. Race 1 was a great day for pictures. I had a PW 1:56 for the 10K and didn't mind a bit.

Interestingly enough, I didn't hardly took any pictures at dinner. Susan was working and had dinner at the hotel. We met "Rhode Hazard" Andrea for the first time at the ESPN Zone. The only picture I had was of Al's "That's No Moon" drink. 

There may also have been some badly undercooked hot wings. We will not elaborate. Rather, let's ooh and ahh at the 10K medal.

It turns out the fireworks were better viewed from the parking lot of our hotel. 

I had some regrets about not taking the selfie-stick that Caryn gave me on the 10K. It came in handy on the half the next day. We gave ourselves an extra 15 minutes to get to the starting corrals, so we had some extra time. We met at the elevator 4:45 as planned. Al texted ahead to see if we had any cough drops. Fortunately, Susan gave me a whole bag when we were in San Antonio.

Gypsies Assemble!
It took me a while to get comfortable with the fact that my phone was on the far end of a stick and we were surrounded with people. It got better as we got going. Turns out there were a lot of us 'stick people' on the course.

Rudy was fighting a cold. As the corral in front of us went off, I think Carissa asked him if he wanted anything for his birthday the next day. "Cough drops". I don't think this could have been better if we planned it.

For future reference, Rudy likes Lemon flavored cough drops.
The early darkness made for tough picture taking, but there were a lot of good moments. Back lot spot lights:

The shot in front of the Castle.

The brightly lit mile markers. This time, no wind issues.

We skipped Darth and Chewie this time and looked for new characters. Mace Windu and a few younger Jedi had a short line. They really stayed in character, even asking what the strange weapon was that I was wielding.

The selfie-stick came in handy more than I thought it would.
There was a beautiful sunrise over Cars Land that I just could not get the right lighting. We turn the corner in the back lots and saw this though. Nothing like a California sunrise!
The sunrise over Cars Land was pretty spectacular.
The highlight of the race was in the southern loop of the course where the 501st Legion came out in force. The 501 performs charitable events in full Star Wars garb. I bet most people lost 10 - 20 minutes on their race time here alone. Al was up ahead sending intel back on the characters so we knew where to stop.

I really need to keep my comments to myself around these guys.

One of many bounty hunters

Just hanging with Darth and the boys.
 Let the Wookie win. Seriously.

 Given the hat, I just had to do this one with C-3PO.

After realizing that the lighting was good enough to take a moving picture, I had to go back and take this picture in mid-jump. I didn't think this would ever happen at a regular Disney race since Darth is usually inside the park with a 20 minute line. The guy behind me took the burst pictures perfectly.

Susan was waiting for me just before the turn back into downtown Disney. The time on the mile marker was pretty consistent with our last Disney race. Speed is not an issue. Go for the PR for character pictures!

We met Jeff, Jen and Connor in the finish area. Jen had done the 10K the day before and Jeff had a solid time at the half. Connor got to wear the medals. Connor probably had more pictures taken of him than all of the characters holding his sign cheering on mom and dad.

First race weekend of 2015 done! While we're lagging behind quite a few of our friends on medals per week, this wasn't a bad start.

For the record, some signs just won't have the same effect anywhere else.


The Inaugural runDisney Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend was an unqualified success. There were about 20,000 finishers overall (9,194 in the 10K, 10,374 in the Half Marathon). There was a good turnout for the 5K which was untimed (so no count available).  While I didn't see or hear a number, I bet that a good portion of the participants completed the 10K and Half as part of the Rebel Challenge.  

The half marathon course was typical Disney, starting in Downtown Disney and winding through Disneyland for the first 4.5 miles. After leaving the park, we headed south on Harbor Boulvevard turning west on Garden Grove, north on Euclid, east on Chapman, then back up Harbor to make our way back to the finish. The overhead view of the course looks a lot like a bath tub and shower head. While we didn't get the chance to go through Angels Stadium like we did at Dumbo and Avengers, we also didn't have to brave the high winds off the flood control channel.  Several runDisney veterans were saying this was the best Disney World course they've run.

Weather this year was cool to comfy, starting in the low 50's at 5:30 AM and warming to the mid 70's by 8:30. This was a welcome break to a bunch of our friends who came from the Dopey and Goofy Challenges in Walt Disney World the previous week where temperatures were in the low 40's.

This particular weekend in January was busy for our usual race companies. runDisney used to have the Tinkerbell Half Marathon Weekend until this year (moving it to Mother's Day weekend). The Biggest Loser RunWalk had a race in Las Cruces New Mexico which is still our list of half marathon states. Competitor Group always holds Rock n Roll Arizona this weekend. This is a bummer since, RNR started a four-year medal series with RNR Arizona where the medals from 2015 - 2018 all fit together to form a super-medal. It should be noted that if we knew about that before Star Wars was announced, we may have chosen a different path since it was already included in the cost of the TourPass 2015.

We had a blast at Star Wars weekend. Depending on how our run for RNR Hall of Fame goes, we may do it again in 2017.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Road Trippin' - The Biggest Loser RunWalk Panama City Beach 2014

People no longer ask us if we have any vacation planned. Neither do they ask us what we plan to do when we get there. In 2014, we had 22 weekends on the road, all but 2 were for races.  So when Ron's parents decided they wanted to bring the family out to Orlando, Florida to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, it was one time where we didn't have a race planned. Then the vacation pushed back a week and lined up with The Biggest Loser RunWalk in Panama CIty Beach. Even though it was a 380 mile drive from the Disney World area, it immediately got on our race calendar. So much for a race-free vacation.

About the only thing we had to do was get back in time for the anniversary dinner at 6PM at Forte back near Orlando.  We'd be cutting in close. By 7 AM Saturday, we were on the road for the 6-ish hour drive. Without traffic, we'd be in time to stop for a driver change and catch the 2 - 4 PM presentations by Danni Allen and Dan and Jackie Evans. We also were going to meet our friend Tawni who was flying down just for the weekend to earn Diamond status on Delta.

One thing we totally spaced on was the fact that Panama City Beach is actually in Central time, not Eastern.  While that helped us get to the Expo and presentations with plenty of time to spare, it did pose a problem on the return trip with losing an hour. We'd have to race at 7 AM, try to walk the half in 2:40 or less, head back to the hotel, shower, change and get back on the road by 11 AM. Then we had to hope we don't hit traffic.

We checked in to find Callie and Christina at the Solutions desk. You may remember Callie from TBL Casper earlier in 2014. We're trying to get her to join us in a race walk clinic some time in the next year. We also found out Christina is engaged!

We missed Gina McDonald's presentation at noon. Gina was the (Season 14 At Home Winner). We did get a photo op with her though. The TBL contestants are generally down to earth and grateful for the opportunities they've been given so they take as much time as their fans want. 

Danni and Gina from Season 14

We wandered the expo until 1:30, catching up with our friends Amy and Dave at Gypsy Runner, then got seats for Danni's presentation.  She's a dynamic speaker and like a lot of former TBL contestants has found a career as a personal trainer. She discovered how much she loved running when she was on the show and work toward a sub-4 marathon. Her first one was close (Chicago in 2013, just under 4:10). She's just getting started.

Dan and Jackie closed out the presentations. Jackie struck a chord with a lot of moms in the audience saying she went on the show because she felt like she had failed her son, Dan. She gave some interesting advice though. "One of the most selfless things you can do is take care of yourself." If you don't make yourself a priority, you won't be able to give your best. And that rolls down to all the things you want to do and the people you want to help.

Dan and Jackie with the "Before" picture in the background.
On the way out, we met a young lady who was doing her first half marathon. I thought I heard her name as Marquita Miller, but I can't seem to find her pictures. She was in People Magazine in the last year for having lost over 300 pounds! She was one of the most amazing stories among dozens of inspiring stories in the audience. We heard a lot of 30, 50, 100, 150 pound weight loss stories.  If anyone wanted to kick off New Years resolutions right, this was certainly the place to find the motivation!

Tawni joined us for a quick dinner at Montego Bay Seafood House. One of the disadvantages of being in Panama City Beach in December that Yelp won't tell you is that some restaurants close for the season. Montego was undergoing some remodeling, but the food was good.  Dan invited us to the staff pre-race party later that night. Seeing he race crew the night before really gave us an appreciation of what they're putting into this. They have dozens of races all over the country and this is their passion.

We arrived at Pier Park about 45 minutes before the 7 AM start. The new start location was ideal since it was right across from the mall and parking was plentiful. We had lots of room to stretch out on the park lawn and get in some warm ups in front of the stage. Dan and Jackie were joined by other former contestants to send us off.

Someone in the first corral dropped her iPod. The entire stage called it out and returned it to a grateful runner.  
It was quite a bit warmer that we saw in the forecast. After shivering through IRONMAN Florida, we had to adjust to a mid-60s starting temp with what felt like fall Florida humidity. Susan and I started in the front of the second corral with the faster walkers. It should be noted that TBL doesn't enforce form in the Walk division. It's kind of understood that walkers walk most of the time like Fresno. There is not separate bib or course, so we're on an honor system.

About a mile out we caught up to Marko and Larry. They actually WERE walking B-rules (no loss of contact). They were also relatively local so they had the advantage of timezone and humidity acclamation.  Pile on the fact that we hadn't worked out seriously since San Antonio and we were in for a bit of a race.  Marko, Larry and Susan made the turn at mile 6.5 within 10 feet of each other and I was about 20 seconds back.

Right about then both of us felt like we hit a wall. Susan reminded me we had a slight tailwind on the way out and with her allergies acting up, the headwind on the way back was a bit of a challenge.  I tried to close the gap on Marko and Larry and got to within 7 seconds, but my heart rate was in the mid to high 170's by then. I knew I had to dial it down a bit or I'd be likely to have a very unpleasant 6 hour drive home. Marko and Larry pulled away, but turned to check on us on the last left turn before the finish. Marko and Larry crossed the finish line 1st and 2nd overall in the Walk division.

Susan finished about 7 minutes later, high-fiving Gina and Danni at the finish line. Susan was the first woman I saw to walk across the finish line, so as far as pure walkers, I'm pretty sure she was the fastest on the course. We caught up with Tawni who had a solid sub-2:30 to finish out her race year. We even got a surprise Repeat Medal for having done Casper earlier in the year!

We said a quick goodbye to Tawni, Dan and Jackie, got back to the hotel and on the road by exactly 11 AM. We got caught in a few back ups on I-95, but made it to dinner in time to finish off appetizers and order our main course. Dessert, of course, was required.

It's great when you get to spend time with family. Getting to see more than one family in the week? 

That's priceless.


The Biggest Loser RunWalk Panama City Beach 2014 was the third year of the event. There were 412 finishers in the Half Marathon (312 RunWalk, 100 Walk) and 542 finishers in the 5K (349 RunWalk, 193 Walk). The participants ranged in age from 7 to 78.

The course was out and back along Front Beach Road with only 120 feet of total elevation gain/loss for the half. The course was a little long (13.5 miles by GPS), but I look at it as bonus steps.

Ron finished in 2:39:36. That was good enough for 3rd overall and 3rd in age group for walk. Overall (run and walk) it 149th of 412 (14/20 AG overall). 56.47% age grade. I'm going to need another few weeks to give my stress reaction in my foot to get better.  Susan was disappointed with her finish time of 2:46:07, but it placed her at 7th overall in walk, 3rd in age group. It was also 174th of 412 overall (21/57 AG overall). Her 59.58% age grade placed her 2nd overall in the walk division. I didn't check the other age groups, but she may have been 2nd overall on AG%. Disappointment, it seems, requires perspective.

Looking back on 2014: we finished with a total of 62 races between us (1 Ultra, 4 full marathons, 47 half marathons, 6 10K's, 1 3.35 mile, and 4 5Ks). We crossed over the combined 150 half marathon mark in December and have 183 events at the Half/Full/Ultra distances. 112 of those are Rock 'n' Roll races.

January of 2015 marks 10 years since we started our first marathon training season. Back then, we thought it would be a one and done. That's when we got hooked. And started Marathoning for Life.

Here's to an awesome 2015!