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Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon Recap

Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon…


13043727_10154044665041788_450721686740233485_nThe name alone should tell you why I originally signed up for this race. I’m a geek girl at heart and almost every man I have ever dated was a Star Wars geek. This half marathon was sure to help me get my nerd on and really who could resist running in an event that allows you to dress up in a Star Wars running costume.


I’m not going to call myself a RunDisney veteran, but I have run quite a few RunDisney races in the last two years of my post weight loss journey. My first RunDisney event was the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 2014, I ran the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in 2014 as well. In 2015 I repeated both of those events to achieve another Coast to Coast Medal. This year, I participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and completed the Dopey Challenge running a total of 48.6 miles in four days.

12994472_10154044665071788_9019052707649389380_nI had very high expectations of the Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon. I expected it to be one of the best half marathons I have ever participated in. I expected it to be even more amazing than any RunDisney event I had done so far and regretfully I have to say that I was a little disappointed.

Things seemed really unorganized to me this time around which is not something I am used to feeling at a RunDisney event. With as much as we pay to participate in these events I just expect them to seem almost flawlessly organized. When I am dropping nearly $400 in registration fees for the privilege of running for two days in a challenge event I have a few set expectations.

I expect the characters that are available for photos to be there for photo ops both at the before and after gatherings. Many people were upset about how quickly the characters had gone inside the morning of the 10K and the morning of the Half. We were able to get quite a few photos after the half on Sunday morning. But I really felt like we got lucky. We got everything in RIGHT before the lines closed. There was a lot of pressure to try to get those photo ops and that’s not a good feeling when you are at an event that is supposed to be fun.

I expect the opportunity to run by all the characters that are on the route and take a picture of them. I’m not saying I expect the lines to stay open and that I expect the ability to stop and pose with each character. If I am not a fast enough runner that I can afford to spend the time on stopping and standing in line to take a photo with a character without jeopardizing making the required pace time I understand that. Close the lines once it is too late to take photos. But I do expect that the characters are out there and I am able to take a photo as I run by. Pulling the characters off of the route early seemed awful unfair to me.

I was running with a friend that was an absolute Star Wars nerd. This wasn’t his first RunDisney event, he ran the 10K part of the Dopey Challenge with me back in January. But it was his first RunDisney half marathon and he was very excited about the photos of characters. We were counting on the fact that even though he might be very close to pace time, I had the ability to run ahead, snap a photo and then fall back into the crowd with him. But by the time the latter corrals got there, lots of the characters had already been removed from the route.

I ran the 10k that was held on Saturday by myself. My very dear friend Carrie Zavitz was running it as well but she wanted to run solo. So we started together and then planned to meet at the finish line. For me  this meant running at my pace rather than that of whoever I am running with. I had an overall time of 1:23:00 and managed to get a photo of every character that was there and stop in several places to snap a quick selfie with a few of the characters that were standing around.

I expect to be able to get a beer at the finish line. — Lot’s of runners feel the same way. I promise, there was a lot of complaining at the finish line when there was no beer available. Apparently we were suddenly in county where we were not allowed alcohol before 11:30am on a Sunday. — I’m not sure when this rule suddenly changed because I know that when running the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend just a few months ago there was plenty of beer available after the morning runs. The only thing I can guess is that somehow finishing the race at ESPN Wide World of Sports instead of at Epcot changed the rules somehow?

The Dark Side Half Marathon race route was different to say the least. There were some things that I really didn’t love about it. The slanted road was hard for a lot of people to deal with. Luckily I had experienced this part of the road during other races and knew to stay to the left where it was a little more flat. The dirt road leading us back into EPSN wasn’t great either.

I think the most disappointing thing to me though was the lack of energy that I felt at this event. RunDisney events are usually packed with people dressing up in cool costumes to run and have this amazing energy to them that just makes you want to keep coming back for more. I really didn’t see THAT many people dressed up this year and the overall energy to the crowd was a bit dismal.

13007136_10154044623781788_6617418167074683873_nWhether everyone else was dressed in a themed outfit or not, I was. I love dressing up for runs. I rocked a cut little Storm Trooper costume for the 10k and a cute little R2D2 outfit for the half marathon. I have to give a big shout out to my sole-sister, running buddy and dear friend Ronda Rhodes for making sure that our costumes were amazing. If it had not been for her and her amazing last-minute sewing and alteration skills I wouldn’t have looked nearly as cute as I did out there.

My best friend, partner in crime and the first guy I have ever coached and taken to run a half marathon beside me, Jeff Newell, of DefyingObesity.org matched my R2D2 costume with a Storm Trooper outfit that required he stay on my right hand side the entire time we were running with “I’ve found the droid I’ve been looking for” written on the back with an arrow pointing to the left. We got lots of compliments on our outfits along the route that day.

IMG_5538I think Jeff will be telling a story for years to come about how I had gotten a little ahead of him and suddenly there was another girl running next to him. She was dressed as C3P0 and she had run up  beside him so that her friend could take a picture of her running next to him and said “It looks like I am your new droid.” Her and her friends that were dressed as BB8 and R2D2 took turns getting their photos with his shirt and then ran off.

This is my third time now taking someone through an online and long distance 20 week training program that leads them to a RunDisney Half Marathon – I learn something new as a coach every time I do this. This time I had the ability to make sure that the person I was training had some opportunities to run with me during the 20 week training leading up to the event. Jeff ran his first 10k with me back in October when he was visiting Raleigh NC for the Obesity Help Convention and then he was able to run with me in December, January, February and March during my trips to Boston and when he ran the 10k next to me during the Disney World Marathon Weekend.

As a coach this was a big advantage to me. I knew his patterns, I had run with him a couple of times so I knew the difference between him losing steam and him truly needing to slow down. It was easier for me to tell the difference between a mental struggle and a physical struggle and to know when I could push him and when I couldn’t.

IMG_5869Jeff was dressed as a Storm Trooper when we crossed the finish line and I have to give this man a lot of credit because he had been quite a Trooper through his training. Our training schedule ran from the end of November through April and in January he had experienced a major set back when he had to have emergency surgery to fix an intestinal blockage. It is not easy to get benched in the middle of a training program, spend weeks recovering before you can exercise again and then rebuild your cardio stamina back in time to complete an endurance event like a half marathon.  I give him a lot of credit for coming off the bench and running not one but two half marathons within three months.

I may have ran the Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon at his pace instead of mine, but I have no doubt that someday he’ll be running a pace slower than his next to me. Of course that’s only because those long legs of his are going to give him a much bigger stride than mine.

I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do come October when it’s time to run the Jazz Half in New Orleans where I’m leading a group of my friends in the WLS community in to their first half marathon. But I have a few half marathons to run before then so I am sure I’ll be seeing you for another race re-cap soon. Plus I have another blog to write to tell you all about the milestone I hit in my weight loss journey during the Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon. I’m going to save that for another day though. But until we talk again… get out there, get moving and find your happy pace slender seekers.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

I Did The Dopey Challenge and Did Not Die

Dopey Challenge Day One: A run through the Park

20160107_081711_resizedIt was 2:30am on Thursday January 7th and I when the alarm went off I was really grateful that I had decided to spend the last week and a half going to bed wicked early and setting my alarm for ridiculous times that no normal human being would ever wake up at in order to prepare myself for the next four days.

If you know anything at all about me, I do not love mornings. I consider anything before 9am the ass crack of dawn and there are really only three things that will get me out of bed at 2:30 in the morning: an early morning flight somewhere, a running event and… scratch that the third one only requires me waking up not actually getting out of bed.

But here I was putting on my running gear and getting ready to head down to the bus to take me to the first day of the Dopey Challenge running event. I had 3.1 miles to run and I felt awake, alive, alert, enthusiastic and most importantly – ready.

I was a little nervous going into the event. But today was a the Pluto 5k and I knew that I could run a 5k in my sleep. I tend to run a 5k a day just for fun so this was just a regular walk–or I guess I should say run–through the park. Plus it was a run through run of my favorite Parks to boot – Epcot at Walt Disney World!

The 5k was over before I knew it and with a 40:12 finish time I was back at the hotel eagerly awaiting the arrival of one of my best friends. As soon as Jeff Newell from DefyingObesity.org had gotten his suitcase on his bed we were off to the Health and Fitness Expo to pick up his race packet for the next day’s event.

I hit the KT Tape booth to learn how to best tape up my ankles to help with the ankle tendonitis that I had developed while training for this event and Jeff did a little shopping before we headed back to the hotel and then later into Disney Springs for an early dinner at House of Blues before calling it an early night.

This wasn’t my first rodeo, I have done RunDisney events before and I knew that the less mileage I put in walking around and standing on my feet unnecessarily the better. 2:30 in the morning was going to come really early again.

Dopey Challenge Day 2: 500 lb. Pounds down and running

20160201_092242The following morning looking like rock stars in our “Second Star to the Right Race Team” shirts from Raw Threads we were on the bus and headed to our corrals for the 10k. This was Jeff’s first official 10k and just like his first official 5 Mile run I was really excited to be at his side for it. Having Jeff there for the 10K distracted me a bit from the fact that although I was about to run 6.2 miles in day two of this event, it wasn’t going to be half over because after this I had another 39.3 miles to run on my own.

I haven’t ran a lot of 10k events. Maybe three or four total, it’s a sort of mid range distance and I find that most events are either a 5k, a Half Marathon or a Full Marathon in distance. But I’ve never had as much fun running a 10k as I did that day. Not only was a running through Disney Parks with my best friend, but there was a sense of accomplishment there that I’m not sure I can ever justify with words; Between the two of us we had accumulated over 500 lb. of weight loss and not only were we doing something we never could have done before, Jeff was doing something that I had motivated him and inspired him to do.

IMG_0883When we crossed the finish line at 1:34:18 all I could hear was Jeff’s voice in my head telling me how much I have changed his life. How I have motivated him and been a role model to him in his weight loss journey. I’ve watched this man go from weighing over 500 lb. to running a 10k at my side and every running milestone he accomplishes is just as amazing to me as my own.

After running through Epcot we headed into Disney Springs for the afternoon where we had a lunch and a beer at Raglan Road and then headed back to the hotel. A late afternoon swim and a short leisurely walk around the property to take in the sights in the evening served as my way of keeping my muscles ready to do what I needed them to do the next day.

Dopey Challenge Day 3 – Not even Halfway Done and realizing I just might be crazy.

IMG_1052The third day of the alarm going off at 2:30am was a little rough. Part of the wear and tear on your body doing events like this isn’t just the distance you are running or the activity that you are asking your body to perform, it’s also the early mornings, the walks to the corrals before you start and the time that you are standing on your feet in your corral waiting to start.

Before the event even started at 5:30 I had been up for three hours and had walked just over 3 miles in the distance from where the bus dropped me off to the pre-race area and then to my corral. I’ve found that moving around and taking my time getting there rather than rushing to get into the corral just to stand still for a couple of hours before an event starts is better on my body both physically and mentally.

This was going to mark me completing my 19th half marathon and typically a half marathon doesn’t intimidate me anymore. But on the bus headed to the event I was more nervous than I had ever been going into a half marathon because I knew that I didn’t just need my body to run 13.1 miles. I needed it to finish in tip-top condition and be ready to run another 26.2 the next day.

I had been training for this event since July. Seven months of my life had been focused on making sure that when I crossed the finish line of this half marathon I crossed it not needing a day of rest and two weeks of recovery.  I needed to cross this finish line free of injury, free of blisters and without my legs being so fatigued that I couldn’t run the next day.

At this moment I doubted myself and my decision to take on this event more than I had ever doubted myself before. I wondered why I hadn’t just taken on my first Marathon in a stand-alone event. I doubted whether trying to run my first Marathon after three days of running was the wisest decision that I could have made.

But the decision was already made and the only option now was to do the best I could. I promised myself that I would not push myself to run faster than I normally ran.  I promised myself that I would stick to the 2 minute on and 1 minute off intervals that I had trained for and that I would not deviate from them to try to catch time or because my body felt like it could. I promised myself that I would not break any promises I made to myself, because I knew that holding back and not giving something everything I had might be the hardest promise to keep.

20160109_100654_resized20160201_094310_resizedArmed with an iPod full of music I leisurely ran my 19th half marathon through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. I stopped for pictures at every mile marker and I stopped to take photos of all the characters that were along the route. I didn’t stop and stand in line to pose with them, so as normal my photos of the characters include whatever random stranger happened to be posing with them as I ran up. I didn’t push myself, and I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:57:24 with Jeff standing on the sideline as I came through holding one of the most awesome signs I’d ever seen!

IMG_1094IMG_1101I got my medal and went through the finish line photos and had a celebratory beer as I stood in line for the backdrop photos and then Jeff and I headed back to the hotel where I showered spent a little time in bed and then we headed into Disney Springs for some food. We had a beer and some sausages as a snack at the Hanger Bar, a new Indiana Jones themed bar before heading to my favorite restaurants in Disney Springs, Fultons.

Heather and I had eaten there the year before the night after I ran the Wine and Dine Half Marathon for the first time and it was such a special night and the food was so amazing that when Jeff asked me where I wanted to go to celebrate the night of the half marathon that was the first thing that had come to mind. We ordered a protein packed meal of oysters and baked rainbow trout, and brussels sprouts and while it was absolutely amazing, it wasn’t as amazing as the seafood tower than Heather and I had gone while we were there. If my crowd does me the kindness of celebrating out there after the The Dark Side Half Marathon this April I am definitely doing the seafood tower again.

We headed back to the hotel, taped up my ankles for the night and as I went to sleep I nearly had a panic attack as I thought about the fact that although I had completed 22.4 miles of this event already, I had the biggest challenge ahead of me tomorrow; 26.2 miles and my first full marathon. I wasn’t even halfway done with the mileage I needed to run, I had more miles ahead of me tomorrow than I had run in the last three days. I wondered if I was crazy to even attempt this and then I thought of my favorite Alice and Wonderland quote. “Have I gone Mad?” “I am afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”

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Dopey Challenge Day 4:  You can do anything that you set your mind to.

IMG_1204I don’t really know if I slept much the night before. I was awake before the alarm went off at 2:30 in the morning and I kept telling myself “You can do anything you set your mind to.” These were words that my father had said to me over and over as a kid. No dream was impossible. If I wanted it bad enough and tried hard enough I could do anything I set my mind to do.

My morning can best be summed up by my post on Facebook on the bus on the way to the pre-race area:

20160110_040434_resized_1“Today is the day. I’m more scared than I have been of anything in a long time. Big numbers can be really intimidating. But I’ve lost 260 lb. in my weight loss journey and I’ve got to believe going into this that I can run 1 mile for every 10 I lost. My father, who I miss dearly but am taking with me today was born in 1926 and today I’ll put 26.2 miles on my feet to honor him and the Happy and Healthy life he wanted for me. Today is about this little Pixie and the Man that taught her she was a Princess. I love you Dad. We got this. We’re gonna be ok. You and me. We’re gonna be a-okay.”

Everything was going really fast, again I had 3 miles in before I even got to my corral. I was tired. I was scared and though I kept telling myself I was going to be ok, that I could do anything I set my mind too, the truth is, I didn’t really believe it. I was using reverse psychology on myself, because I knew I needed to keep thinking positive thoughts so that I would get positive results.

When the fireworks went off and I started running my first thought was “Holy shit I have to run 26.2 miles. I have never ran that far before I hope my legs, feet and knees can do this.”

My longest run had been 23 miles just a few weeks before and for weeks I had been telling myself if I can do 23 I can do 26.2 – adrenaline and determination will get me there. But today, I was full of fear and doubt and I was tired. I was supposed to have run 13 miles the day before that 23 three weeks ago and because I was nursing ankle tendonitis and recovering from an ankle sprain that had me in a brace just 6 weeks before I had opted to only run about 5 miles and add another two hours of cardio in on the bike and the elliptical in an attempt to prevent another overuse injury. Now I wondered if that had been the right choice.

I’m a fitness instructor, I followed a training plan from Olympic Medalist Jeff Galloway, I had a foot and ankle specialist helping me work through the injuries I had along the way and still at this moment I questioned every decision I made in my training program and my ability to complete this marathon.

When I hit the mile one marker I realized that I had to stop the mental torment that I was putting myself under and I had to turn my thinking around. As my dear friend Tammy would often tell me, I needed to put on my big girl panties.

I asked my Dad for a little help. I often talk to him when I run and today especially, I knew that he was with me every step of the way. I had made a deal with my father when he passed away four years ago that I would always know I could talk to him and that he would be listening to me when I exercised. Believe it not, I heard my father’s voice tell me that either one of two things was going to happen today; either I was going to complete my first marathon and complete this challenge or I wasn’t, and either way, I had the courage to try, and as long as I gave it my best shot that was all I could I ask or expect of myself.

From that moment on I just decided to enjoy the run. I was here, at Walt Disney World, the Happiest Place on Earth, running my first full marathon in honor of my Dad and as a way to celebrate the 260 lb. that I lost and the happy healthy life that I am now living each and every day.

The miles seemed endless at first. Hitting mile markers like two and three and knowing that you still have twenty plus miles ahead of you is a big mental challenge to overcome. With each step I thought about how proud my father would be of me. I listened to the music in my ears and reminded myself how far I had come.

I hit a wall at the Mile 11 marker. I felt slow, sluggish and fatigued and thought about the fifteen miles I still had ahead of me and I asked myself WHY I did this to myself. I knew for sure I was mad. What was I thinking? Only athletes do stuff like this. Who was I kidding thinking I could do this.

That’s about when I started to get a cramp in the top of my foot. it was uncomfortable, It hurt, and I started trying to adjust my stride and foot fall to accommodate. Somewhere before the mile 13 marker Jeff texted me and asked how I was doing. I responded while standing in line waiting for a bathroom stall in the middle of Animal Kingdom – “Not great but I’ll live. Left foot hurting. Glutes and Hamstrings are so tight.”

When I did hit the mile 13 Marker instead of looking at it and thinking “Wow I am halfway there”, I thought to myself “I’m ONLY halfway through this, there is no way I am going to make it.” At this point I was honestly convinced that I was done. The pain in the top of my foot was slowing me down a lot and I didn’t think I had another fourteen miles in me. When I hit mile marker 14, I faked a smile for my selfie and kept on pushing. I started telling myself that I would just go as far as I could and that I still had more in me.

20160110_093724_resized_1I reminded myself how I felt when I weighed 420 lb. and when I looked at the journey that I had ahead of me and the two hundred and fifty some odd pounds I needed to lose and how big and lofty and unreachable that goal seemed. Back then I had to stop looking at the big picture and just start looking at every 10 lb. as a goal. So that’s what I started doing. I stopped thinking about all of the miles ahead of me and just started looking at one mile at a time.

Somewhere around mile 15 or so I came up on a medical tent on the right side of the road and I decided to stop. I took off my shoe and grabbed a handful of biofreeze and started rubbing it into the top of my foot and trying to rub out the cramp. I spent about 5 minutes at that medical tent and when I was pretty sure I had done the best I could at rubbing that cramp out I put my sock and shoe back on and I got up and I started running again.

I told myself that I was going to slow down. That I was going to stop more often and even pose for a few pictures with characters along the way. I stopped for a photo with the dead a ghost from the haunted mansion and then again with a couple that characters I didn’t even recognize. The cramp in my foot was gone and before I knew it I was at mile marker 17.

That was the moment that it all turned around for me. At the mile 17 marker I realized that I only had nine more miles to go and suddenly everything just clicked into gear. Suddenly I felt like I was flying by mile marker 18 and knew that the numbers were coming down.

I saw a lady on the side of the road with a sign that said “This is how runners roll” and I thought to myself “Hell yeah” and stopped to take a photo with her sign. All my doubt and worry was gone and suddenly I knew that I had this. I was ONLY 8 miles from the finish line and I knew I could run eight miles. My Altra running shoes and I had this one! 

I zoomed by mile marker 18 and then running through the ESPN Wide World of Sports arena and my runner’s high kicked in. My mind traveled back to that thought earlier about how crazy I was to think I could do this and how only athletes did this sort of thing and I threw my hands up in a Slender as I posed for a picture with Chip and Dale. Maybe I was right, maybe only athletes did this, but at that moment for the first time I actually realized I was an athlete.

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That’s right. I am an athlete. I’m an endurance runner. I’ve ran 19 half marathons and I am about to complete my first full marathon. Because I just passed mile marker 19 and I am only seven miles from having this thing under wrap. I can run 7 miles easy! ( And I look pretty good in my Sparkle Skirt doing it! )

I saw a little boy with a sign on the side of the road that said “Go Random stranger Go!” and I stopped for a photo with it too. Because motivation is what I do and I appreciate the people out there trying to give the gift of inspiration.

The miles just kept coming down at that point and I felt like  was on fire. My splits seemed to be improving and I just started thinking about Jeff waiting for me at the finish line, all my friends waiting to get the notification that I had finished and the medals and well let’s be honest, the beers that were waiting at the end for me.

Like clockwork just before mile marker 23 the iPod I was using ran out of battery power and I knew it was fate. During my training any time I had to run a distance farther than I had run before I always stopped whatever music I was playing and threw on my Dad’s memorial CD and spent the last part of that distance running with my father. The iPod didn’t have that playlist on it but my phone did and it still had battery power left so I did exactly that. I had done 23 miles, I knew my body could do that, but this last three miles I was going to run for and with my Dad. We’ve come a long way together since that phone call where he told me that he worried about me, and confessed that he was concerned about how much longer he was going to be around, and how he didn’t want to die not knowing that I was going to have a happy and healthy life.

Before I knew it I was at mile marker 26 which featured the Incredibles and I felt incredible, because I knew that I was about to do something incredible and I knew that my Dad was watching me and smiling. This was by far the biggest fitness goal I had ever set for myself and I was about to crush it. I ran my first full marathon in 6:16:10 and finished 13361st among 19851 participants.  

There are only two moments in my journey I can compare the feeling of crossing that finish line too. The day I got on the scale at it said 199 and I realized that I had reached Onederland and Father’s Day 2013 when I ran my first half marathon.

Crossing that finish line that day will be a moment that I take with me forever. Completing that challenge and accomplishing that goal will be a story that I share with friends, clients and fellow weight loss folks for the rest of my life.  It was truly my biggest non-scale victory to date.

Yesterday, three weeks after completely the my first full marathon at the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World I completed my 20th half marathon running around Greenfield Lake with my running buddy and in a few weeks I look forward to putting yet another half marathon on the books.

Not even six years ago I weighed 420 lb. and could not walk across the parking lot of my apartment complex to get to my car without getting winded and now I have completed twenty half marathons and a full marathon in less than three years of weight maintenance.

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If there is one message that I want everyone that read this to hear it is this: You can do absolutely anything you set your mind to. Whether it’s losing weight or running 48.6 miles, if you are willing to put in the work, put in the time and put in the effort you can accomplish any goal you are trying to reach. Just like Mr. Walt Disney himself said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

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 Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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About (Pandora) The Author

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender
Jaime "Pandora" Williams

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