Over 18 months ago, I set a goal for myself to go from being a 48-year-old couch potato to training for and finishing all the 5K races offered at Walt Disney World. Once I successfully completed my first 5K, the Jingle Jungle 5K in November of 2012, I had the runDisney “fever” and began my quest in earnest. Since then, I have completed four 5Ks and one 10K at Disney World, and only the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K had stood in my way of reaching my goal.
Until Saturday, May 10, that is – when, at 50-years-old, I stood at the starting line of my sixth runDisney race and my fifth 5K at the resort.
Participating in the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K obstacle course and scavenger hunt at Animal Kingdom was an awesome experience as well as being a big achievement for me personally.
In addition to the challenge of the race itself and the fact the start time was at 10:00pm, the weather was very uncooperative. It started raining soon after I arrived in the Animal Kingdom parking lot at 8:00pm, and the wind was blowing from the north. At 9:00 pm, runners were asked to proceed to their starting corrals, and it rained the entire time we waited for the race to start.
Each corral starts the race about five to seven minutes apart in order to stagger the 5,000+ runners, so everyone is not trying to run through Animal Kingdom at the same time. The temperature continued to drop, but thankfully the rain stopped when it was my corral’s time to start the race around 10:40pm. After that point, the cooler temperatures felt refreshing.
One of the unique characteristics of Expedition Everest Challenge 5K is the three obstacles along the course that participants can complete if they desire: hay bales, tires, and crawling under a wire mesh. I attempted the first two obstacles, but, since I’m no spring chicken and not in the best of shape, I knew I’d never get back up if I tried the last one.
The first mile of the course took us around the parking lot and into the park entrance. The second and third miles of the course wound through Animal Kingdom itself. Runners could have their photo taken with several Disney characters along the race course.
It was a surreal feeling, running in the dark after walking the pathways during the daytime. Even though the park had muted lighting, the landmarks of the Tree of Life and Everest were lit beautifully. Seeing Everest lit up in purple lights as I made my way into Asia was fabulous (and the photos below don’t do it justice).
After finishing the 5K portion of the race, participants were then provided with clues to the scavenger hunt around Animal Kingdom. This is a second unique feature of the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K. Each answer led to the next clue in a different location of the park. My friend Scott Parker and I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the race and helped each other with the clues, one example of which was completing a sentence that had missing letters (similar to Wheel of Fortune).
After solving all the clues along the course, we crossed the finish line and were awarded our medals.
The medal is awesome – it opens and reveals a compass inside. The total distance for the race and scavenger hunt combined was approximately five miles. Runners are timed at the 5K point and at the end of the scavenger hunt.
After completing the entire race, we joined the after-party, which lasted until the early hours of the morning. All race participants, as well as guests who didn’t run but had purchased tickets to the after-party, could ride Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids and enjoy the attractions in Dinoland. In addition, there was a DJ and dance party in Dinoland, with additional Disney character photo opportunities for everyone.
Riding Everest at night was so awe-inspiring! The ride was very dark and climbing up the first hill, I could see the now-clear sky full of stars over the top of the mountain. It was truly remarkable!
After riding Expedition Everest twice and enjoying the dance party in Dinoland, I left Animal Kingdom around 2:00am. The Everest Challenge 5K race is one of Disney World’s smallest races in terms of the number of participants (estimated at 5,000 runners), but it became my favorite of all the 5Ks.
I plan to participate in future runDisney races (I would love to do the 5K offered during a Disney cruise), and I will also add other local races to stay physically active throughout the year. I am proud of my accomplishment of completing all the Walt Disney World 5Ks. I am also humbled by others who said I have inspired them to become active and even run in a Disney race themselves. And I sincerely appreciate all the support I’ve received from my family and friends along the way.
RunDisney offers a wide variety of unique events at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts, from children and family races to full marathons, attracting all levels of athletes. If you are interested in participating in any of the races at the two resorts, visit their site and sign up for email notices about the next race. Keep in mind that most races at Disney World sell out within a few hours of registration opening to the public.
And let’s end on an amusing fact: I wear a pedometer every day to track my steps. While we were enjoying our recent ‘staycation’ at Walt Disney World from Wednesday to Sunday, including the Everest Challenge race and visiting the theme parks daily, I walked a total of 89,443 steps (approximately 38 miles)!
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