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Over the weekend I participated in my very first runDisney event: The Expedition Everest Challenge! I was really nervous since I am not exactly what you’d call a natural born runner, but after weeks of training I really enjoyed my race, so I wanted to share my experience with our readers in case they are on the fence about signing up for one of Disney’s many running events throughout the year. This year marked the 5th annual Expedition Everest Challenge, so I’m sure they’ve perfected it by now, and I thought it was a great event, especially for my first attempt at a race.
The Expedition Everest Challenge is a bit different from the other RunDisney events. Not only do runners complete a 5K on a course through the Animal Kingdom, but there are also obstacles along the way and a scavenger hunt at the end. I thought this would be a fun way to introduce myself to the world of timed races. I wouldn’t just have to run, but I’d have some diversions along the way. Disney offers many endurance events including more 5Ks, half marathons, and a marathon throughout the year so you can select the best one(s) for your needs and schedule. I don’t foresee myself running any half marathons in the near future, but maybe someday I’ll get there.
So how did running the race work? Let’s start from the very beginning with registering for the event online. Folks can sign up as individual runners or in teams of two for this race. I opted to partner up with my friend, Cindy, since she got me into this mess in the first place. I logged onto the runDisney website to sign us up, and I was sure to have all of her information while I was filling out the forms. You’ll need to know the basics like date of birth, address, and all that good stuff. We picked a team name, and just like that we were signed up to run our very first 5K! Anyone over age of 9 who can keep a pace of a 16 minute mile or better can sign up for the race, so why not give it a try next year?
After a few months of training and worrying, it was time to set off for my trip centered around the Everest Challenge. Three resorts played host to the event: Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney’s Caribbean Beach, and All-Star Sports. Runners may want to consider one of the host resorts for ease of transportation to and from packet pickup, as well as the actual event. There were buses to transport people to the ESPN Wide World of Sports to where they could pick up their race information, as well as to bring them to the Animal Kingdom on the night of the race. We picked the Animal Kingdom Lodge since we could use Disney Vacation Club points and just because the resort is awesome. If none of those resorts appeal to you, you can always stay at another one; there were plenty of people who drove to Animal Kingdom Lodge, then took the bus. I would definitely stay at a host resort again for future events.
What’s this about a packet pick up? Before every Disney race, there is an expo at The ESPN Wide World of Sports where runners go to check in for the race, hand in their waivers, pick up their race information and goodies, and perhaps buy some running gear or a souvenir. As I mentioned. runners may hop on a bus from a host resort to Wide World of Sports. If you have a car it is really easy to get there, and there is plenty of free parking. I have never been to any of the other packet pick up setups before, but from what I’ve been told, the Everest Challenge expo is much smaller than the expos for the many other events throughout the year. We picked up our stuff on Friday, and it couldn’t have been easier. We had the option to print out our waivers before we arrived, but if you forgot yours, it was very easy to get one there. All of the volunteers were friendly, and the whole process was a breeze.
We gathered in the Animal Kingdom parking lot by 8:45 p.m. for the 9:30 p.m. start. Runners could take this time to check a bag with their belongings to be picked up after the race, get themselves ready to run, or just chat with other runners. A DJ and announcers kept the crowd going until it was time to start the race. The 5,100 runners were broken up into eight waves that were called up to the starting line one at a time. My team was in wave seven, so we wound up standing around for quite awhile before we started our run. All of our other friends were in different waves, so we didn’t get to run with them, but we got to see them at the finish. Fireworks were set up off to mark the start for each wave, and the runners were off to complete the first mile in the parking lot before entering the park. Spectators may cheer on their runners from anywhere along the course outside the park turnstiles, so most of the cheering (including from some from my wonderful friends) was done in the first mile.
Not to worry, the obstacles were all pretty simple, and runners could opt out of them if they were concerned about hurting themselves. The first one consisted of bales of hay set up for everyone to jump over. I am short and not exactly the best jumper, but I had no problem getting over these speed bumps. Just before the second mile marker we had to go through a set of tires. Everyone went through them very slowly since there were so many people around, so that was really easy ,too. The final obstacle came just before the end of the run, and we had to crawl under a net (think boot camp). It wasn’t the most comfortable thing I’ve ever done, but I got through it without a problem. Don’t let the obstacles stop you from signing up for this event!
When all of the running and obstacles were complete, we had to do a scavenger hunt before we crossed the finish line and received our medals. After doing last year’s D23 scavenger hunt, I was having flashbacks of really hard questions and thought I might be too fried after my 5K run to think clearly to answer them. Luckily, they required no Disney or Animal Kingdom knowledge. We were given a card at each stop along the hunt with a brainteaser on it. A couple of them took a minute to figure out, but they really weren’t so bad. There were five cards to collect with stops just before the turnstiles, in Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Asia, and then at the finish line near Expedition Everest. The scavenger hunt wasn’t particularly hard, but it easily added another mile of walking (or running for some folks) to the race.
When we finally crossed the finish line we were given our medals by volunteers. We did it! I survived my first 5K, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was then time to grab a banana or other snack provided to the runners and find our friends who had either come to cheer or had already completed the race. Since the finish line was near Expedition Everest, it was a little bit chaotic in that area with runners and their friends and families, but once we got out of there, things were much calmer. You see, it was important to find our friends so we could spend the after party with them.
Oh yes! There’s an after party. Select Animal Kingdom attractions stayed open until 2 a.m. that night for runners and those who bought a party ticket (it was included for the runners). We were able to ride Primeval Whirl, Dinosaur, and Everest with minimal waits. TriceraTop Spin and Kali River Rapids were also open, but we opted to skip those. The only restaurant open was Restaurantosaurus, but there were other food carts and kiosks available to hungry runners. There was also a DJ in Dinoland, USA to keep the energy up before announcing winners and giving out awards. We stayed in the park until about 1:30 a.m. before calling it a night. I thought the party was well organized except for bag pickup, which had a huge line. Luckily, I didn’t check anything, but some of my friends did. Otherwise, it was a great time, and it was a special treat to be in Animal Kingdom after dark since it usually closes early.
So I survived my first runDisney event! It was hot so I was gross, but I felt amazing after I completed my goal! I’m looking forward to doing another Disney 5K sometime soon. How about you? Have you run the Expedition Everest Challenge? Tell me all about your experience in the comments!