A 2:00 am wake up call, donning a bib, running shoes, and a Sparkle Athletic skirt could only mean one thing — time for another RunDisney race. This time the Star Wars Rival Run 5k. I’ve been looking forward to running this race for 4 years, and finally we are hitting the start line. Joined by my husband and my son, we dressed as characters from the animated TV series, Star Wars Rebels. More obscure characters are more fun for us Star Wars fans, and we put a lot into our costumes. They turned out great, but were kind of held together with velcro and a prayer.
All three of us were on the first bus to Epcot by 3:00 am, which allowed us to get our picture with K2SO; one of my favorite pictures of us, actually. We danced and had fun at the start line before heading to the corrals early. This period of time is the hardest, because it is a long time on your feet standing around before race start. Sometimes you stand in the corral longer than you run in the race! As we were waiting, I started to notice something as the time inched closer to the 5:30 race start: The announcers were vamping, the DJ kept running the music, and nothing was really advancing as we got close to the start.
Then I saw it…a tiny flash of light in the sky far to the Northwest.
As if in unison, several of us reached down for our phones and checked the weather. Sure enough, a line of orange and red was slowly advancing on the radar.
5:24: I turn to Dave and say, “They’re holding race start.”
5:26: No National Anthem.
5:28: No wheelchair start.
5:30: No Elite Start.
5:33: Announcer John Pelkey (who I think drew the short straw) came out to humbly and apologetically announce,
“Due to inclement weather, the start of the 2019 Star Wars Rival Run 5K has been delayed. We are assessing the storm’s impact and appreciate your patience and understanding as we learn more.
We are asking Guests to follow the directions of race personnel for storm shelter.
We will continue to provide updates as information is available.”
They evacuated the race site. Everyone — 10,000+ people, runners, volunteers, staff, and spectators were moved out of the corral and start area.
At first, the three of us lingered near the corrals, watching the weather forecast. We weren’t sure how long it would be before they allowed us back into the corrals. We were told possibly 30 minutes or so. However, as we watched the weather, we decided to make our way to the buses, where they were sheltering people. By the time we got over there, all the buses were full. It was at that point we knew we needed to get to Epcot’s main gate, another shelter area. Within 500 yards of the gate, the skies opened up into a complete downpour.
While our costumes did okay with the rain, my son’s hair had been sprayed with black hairspray. It was all he could do to keep the hairspray from running into his eyes.
We finally made it to the main gate, soaked. As we stood there, I noticed my son start to shut down. He sat on the ground, head down, knees tucked in, and shivering. I know this feeling. He was showing very early signs of hypothermia. I sat on the ground with him in my lap and arms around him just trying to keep him warm. After a few minutes, he had fallen asleep in my lap.
20 minutes later or so, we started speculating what could happen. Would they cancel the race completely? Would they alter the course? How are they going to get us all back? Then at 7:05 this announcement came:
“We have returned to safe race conditions at the 2019 Star Wars Rival Run 5K and Guests should begin to return to the start line. Please note that given this morning’s delay due to weather we are modifying the course.
For all those who complete the race, medals will be delivered at the finish line at Epcot.”
So we made our way back to the corrals as the rain continued. They didn’t separate into corrals, but rather all runners would line up at the start in whatever order they got there. Walkers, runners, elites, and novices were all mixed in together 100 feet from the start line.
Then, at 7:15, the race started — One big mass start, everyone off at once. It was every person for themselves — a free-for-all. No walkers on the right, runners on the left. It was a steady stream of humanity advancing like a protest march. Looking backward and forward along the course, there was one mass line of people moving at one pace.
Early in the race, after we thought the storm had passed, there was a very close cloud-to-ground strike, waking us all up and getting us moving a bit faster.
For our race, my son had given up on saving the hairspray. He was cold, wet, and miserable. Trudging along, head down, scowl on his face, I turned to him and asked what he needed. He responded tersely, “Just…nothing, Mom. I’m fine. I just need to be left alone. I just want to get this done.”
We used his costume vest to keep the rivulets of hairspray from running into his eyes as he trudged along. I respected his need for boundaries, and simply kept an eye on him. Our choice was to walk the entirety of the course, not stop for anything, and just get through it. Almost everyone on the course had the same desire. Gut it out, get it done. Every once in a while, my son would perk up and look better, and toward the finish line, I prompted him to smile and get those arms up for a victory picture.
As for the race itself, there was really no way to avoid the puddles, and the pavement surfaces in Epcot were especially slick. Several times we witnessed runners slip and crash to the ground. All characters had been removed from the course, and getting a Photopass picture was challenging due to the sheer number of people on course, but luckily we found a couple of open spots for good pictures. The massive line of participants walking was truly out of self-preservation. No one wanted to ruin their weekend with an injury resulting from a fall here. It was all about survival. Getting through it. Doing what needed to be done safely.
In the end, RunDisney once again made the right call, and kept us all safe. So to the staff, volunteers, and first responders, I have to say thank you. This was a stressful morning, and I want to congratulate that team on a well-executed evacuation and contingency plan. While it may not have been the race many of us expected, we have a story to tell because there was a race at all.
Post race, we hopped on the bus, and decided to skip our plans at Magic Kingdom in favor of extra rest and warmth. The rain continued through the morning, so we decided to stay in for a bit. For my part, I had a great time! My costume looked great throughout, and we got lots of compliments! You learn to make the best of a bad situation, and while it wasn’t nearly what I expected and I was a bit disappointed by that, it certainly could have been worse. Watching my son dig deep and persevere through these conditions made my heart swell with pride. He didn’t complain, didn’t whine, and the fact that he could articulate what he needed just showed me how much he’s grown up. After it was all over and he was warm and dry, he admitted that he still had fun, and he’s glad we did it.
How did my costume hold up? Actually, it held up well, and with some minor modifications in the coming year, I expect Captain Hera Syndulla will fly again in 2020.