It’s no great secret that I’m training for the 2012 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and in a prior blog post I covered my very first Disney World race, the Beauty and the Beast Royal Family 5K. I had a complete blast doing this race, and it only reinforced my decision to do the Half. From that moment on though I knew that I need to have a plan for training, and that would involve running some more Disney races. I knew they’d have to be milestones to get me past certain points – moving me closer to the goal.
Next on the list was the Expedition Everest Challenge. This race I picked for a few simple reasons: it was a team event, and it was at night. In my regular training I run in the morning just after sunrise, so I’m used to running in daylight. I absolutely needed to know how night time running (read as: “in the dark”) affected the comfort zone I’d developed. From my experience spectating, the Half Marathon will start pre-dawn and be partly run in the dark. Also my only other milestone before the Half will be running the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay with AJ from the Disney Food Blog as my partner. This is also a night time race.
For starters the Challenge is part race and part scavenger hunt. In effect, it’s not just a physical challenge its a mental one too. Also, as far as I can tell its the only Disney race with a backstory. The general idea is that you’ve not signed up for a race, but rather as part of an expedition team to find the legendary Yeti. Your expedition is lead led by “world famous” Yeti hunter Gary Ericson.
With the help of my wife, Cheryl, our friend Shalon and I registered for the Everest Challenge as a team. She was one of the people I ran the Royal Family 5K with. In addition to the race and scavenger hunt, each person is also registered to participate in the “Great Proclamation Party”. This is an after party event where, in Animal Kingdom, Dinoland, USA and Expedition Everest are opened to attendees to ride as often as they like. While not registering for the race, Cheryl also bought a ticket for the after party, plus 2 commemorative pins. The price breakdown was as follows:
And not long after the race we got our first “communique” (email) from Mr. Ericson himself. He claimed to be transmitting to us from coordinates 27°41’N 86°43’E from the Sagarmatha Zone of northeastern Nepal. That’s the strong backstory kicking in, as this is the region of the Himalayas where the real Mount Everest actually is. I only ever received one more email and it contained a recorded message about the after party. The email also contained information about checking in to the race for packet pickup, final race instructions, etc. Most importantly it gave us a taste of what the trivia challenges would be like. The actual race questions were this level of difficulty (I’ve highlighted the answer):
When choosing a password, it’s important to pack light.
Early on race day Shalon, Cheryl, and I met at the “Base Camp”. This is supposed to be the coordinates given above, but is actually at ESPN Wide World of Sports. This helped a lot. It was the first time I’d seen a course map, and they gave us another test question. This one was much harder than any question in the actual race (I’ll leave this one for you to grok out). And after signing the sign in board, we headed to the Turf Club to meet our friend Cliff for an early dinner as we didn’t want to race on a full stomach.
After dinner we dropped Shalon’s car off at Animal Kingdom, and then headed to our hotel to change for the race. Having some extra time we decided to to a quick flyby of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and play a quick round of Toy Story Mania before heading over to Animal Kingdom for the race. It was really good that we had commandeered a plane to get us around so quickly. Once there we met up with some friends in the pre-race area.
The race course is interesting. A 5K is just over 3 miles, and fully 1 mile of this race is complete from just running around the entire parking lot of Animal Kingdom – before you even set foot in the park. Your running time is about 50% in the park and about 50% backstage – and backstage running is lots of fun. You spend 1 mile running to Conservation Station, and then the last mile running back out to the finish line. There’s not a lot of complexity to the course, but there are fun little bits along the way to remind you of being on the trail of the Yeti.
The biggest question is always about the obstacles. And going in to the race, I really had no idea what to expect. I’d heard of a prior year where it rained and participants were crawling through mud wading through water. I was hoping that it wouldn’t be that harsh. And guess what it wasn’t. However, if you’re not comfortable with them, the physical challenges can be skipped. I will tell you that there are 3 challenges, one near the end of each mile. The first was hurdling over hay bales, the second was speed training with tires, and the 3rd you had a choice: you could either crawl under a rope net or over a rope wall.
Never having done the tires before ever, I did miss and fall once, but was back on my feet quickly. Shalon and I blessed our Otterbox iPhone cases (I was carrying both phones at the time) before moving on. And we chose to go over the rope wall at the end. The rope wall was honestly the most dangerous of the three as the crowd was not well managed or courteous – someone actually tried to push Shalon down the wall once she got to the top. But more dangerous than any of the challenges was the sand at the points where we had to run over grass – bad footing can equal a sprained ankle. At each of the obstacles there was a first aid station with castmembers on hand to assist.
As soon as you pass the finish line for the race, you are handed your first puzzle and a marker. The puzzles come on a card and indicate where you should go to turn them in once you’ve solved it. When you turn it in you’ll get your next puzzle. Keep in mind that at this point you’re still being timed. The challenge has three times: the race, the scavenger hunt, and a total time. There were four puzzles, and their answers, when combined, provided you the answer to the final master puzzle. Once solved, you can cross the final finish line where you can get some food and rehydrate before joining the Great Proclamation Party.
I can’t recommend this race enough – it’s got the best medal ever. And it challenges both your body and your mind, and was a lot of fun. It’s one of the races I get asked about the most, which is why I love to talk about it. If I wear my Expedition Everest Challenge shirt I get stopped in stores by people who have heard about it and are curious – I spent 15 minutes talking about it with strangers in a drugstore one day. Castmembers ask a lot of questions about it too. It is important to stress the fun of this event. 5K is a basic run, and you are given plenty of time to finish it even if you’re walking. Most importantly I learned not to fear the night. Or the Yeti.
What about you? Have you run a 5K? Done the Everest Challenge? Want to do either? Planning to run another Disney race? Think you can take down the Yeti? Come on over, he’s at my place all the time playing pinochle with DisneyDoggie because he doesn’t work.