This 5k race that takes place at Animal Kingdom (WDW, Florida) began in 2008, but Disney announced that the 2015 edition was the last. Expedition Everest Challenge is a bit different compared to other RunDisney events because it is a 5k (so 5 km or 3.1 miles) with obstacles (easy ones however) followed by what they call a Scavenger Hunt where you have to solve clues (and they can be difficult), going from one place to another in Animal Kingdom. This second part of the race adds easily 2 miles!
I am not a runner or jogger, nor someone who really participates in sports, but running through Animal Kingdom by night was somewhat of a dream (even if only 1 mile is inside the park, the rest being in the parking lot or in a backstage area). And 5 km of running seemed quite reasonable. When I saw on the rundisney.com website that 2015 will be the last year for this event and that the dates where during French Easter holidays (I live in France), I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed!
On May 1, I went to Animal Kingdom (parking was free as stated by RunDisney in an email) in order to pick up my bag (t-shirt, bib, red band to go to the party, plastic bag, etc.). It was mandatory to have an official paper signed, and I forgot to print it before leaving France. So, as I was renting a villa at Emerald Island near Disney without a printer, I had to pay one dollar to print it at the club house of this gated community. Well, I should have guessed that Disney was really good at organizing such an event: when I arrived at the packet pick up on the Animal Kingdom parking, printers connected to a laptop were ready to print your document… for free!
May 2 was there but I was not really ready. I paid $134 for my participation on December 16, the first day of sale, as I read on the web that such an event was sold out pretty fast. It did in a few hours, so I was happy to have been able to do it. However, due to workload and some family problems, I was not able to do a real training. One month before the race I even did almost no training. My longest run was 2.5 km, the half of the race, and I was exhausted!
Even though I was also a bit tired by visiting the parks the days before, thanks to the support of my wife, kids and friends (this was a family trip with friends), I decided to give Expedition Everest Challenge a chance.
Call it Disney magic or something else (also the effect of a good pasta lunch prepared by my wife to have some energy), but once at Animal Kingdom’s parking lot, my fears about this race vanished. I also met Maria Hannon (our DDL commander in chief) who was running with her husband.
As a true newbie, I was in corral I. The runners are organized in corrals from A to J, depending on their declared ability. This means that my corral began to run at 10:45 pm when the corral A started at 10:00 pm. The wait can seem long, but it allows runners to be in a somewhat homogenous group, avoiding fast runners to be bothered by others who take it slower or without the intent to do a performance. Below, you can see a short video I made of the race. You will see some runners dancing on Michael Jackson’s Thriller while waiting the start of the race and others dressed as Disney or non-disney characters. Running with The Incredibles and Indiana Jones, what a fantastic way to do sport!
The 5k starts in the parking lot. You do a long path and after 1 mile you enter the park. Seeing Animal Kingdom by night is really awesome. In fact, I think that when Rivers of Light (a show on the main lake) will open in 2016, guests are going to be surprised by the beauty of the park by night.
One mile later, you exit the park and go behind the Expedition Everest coaster, then go back to the parking lot and cross the first finish line. And I did it! A 5 km run (walking sometimes) even though my best during training was 2.5 km. No doubt that the energy given by the organization (there is music while waiting, people are entertaining the crowd before the start of every corral, etc.) and the fact that you run with other people including a lot of Disney fans is a huge motivation.
The obstacles were there but rather easy: jumping over (or just walking on) bales of straw, crawling under a net and running on tires.
The most challenging is the scavenger hunt where you do have to solve clues written on cards (a small flashlight and a pen is also given to help), go to a place in Animal Kingdom to tell a cast member your solution and go to the next clue… if your answer is good.
The first clue was the one below.
OK, forget the Everest thing and you have to think about the number of times you have 3 digits in a row on a analog watch in 24 hours. After a 5k run, trust me, that’s not that easy. Answer? 34. The first time I wrote 12 and the cast member helped by saying “much higher”. OK, that’s 34, because you have 17 possibilities with 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55, 10:00, 11:10, 11:11, 11:12. 11:13, 11:14, 11:15, 11:16, 11:17, 11:18, 11:19 and 12:22. 17, but an analog watch is for 12 hours so for 24 hours you multiply by 2.
Clue 2 was about making a word with this circle thing.
First you go left (counterclockwise) starting at C for 7. Not 8 because the 2015 run is not finished! After you go L2, so counterclockwise for 2 letters and then R2 for clockwise for 2 letters and so on to get the word “carabiner” (metal loop used by climbers).
Clue 3 was simple… when you got it!
That’s the typical trap of over thinking a clue and that is quite easy when you are tired (I started the scavenger hunt by running, but walked after the first clue). To get the word “mountaineers”, you just read the groups of 3 letters backward.
The fourth clue was really a challenge. I lost the card, but you had a square of letters and you had to get rid of the words from the previous clues (thirty four, carabiner, mountaineers) so you could see the instruction “find the hidden yeti”. And I found this instruction, walking and a bit running happily toward the second and final finish. This is where I met Tinker Bell (well, someone dressed as Tinker Bell…) who asked me if I found the hidden yeti. I replied that I was thinking that I will have to find it at the finish line. Nope. In fact, the hidden Yeti was on the back of the clue card number 2 (see below).
I crossed the line, showing the hidden yeti on card 2 to a cast member, just after Tinker Bell and her friends, Captain Hook, Smee, Peter Pan and Wendy. An adequate ending for a Disney race!
There was a huge post-race party in Animal Kingdom with Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and Primeval Whirl opened as well as a “night club” in Dinoland.
This was my first RunDisney, and even my first race. 5k is finally less challenging than I was fearing. Maria and her husband told me just before the race that it was a cool race and that I could even walk if I wanted, without fearing to be behind the 16 minutes per mile pace requirement. They were right. My goal was just to finish and my final place (after the Scavenger Hunt) is 980. Not so bad.
Unfortunately, this was the last Expedition Everest Challenge. For a newbie like me, this race was the perfect balance between a challenge and the fun as 5k can be done with a minimal training (ask your doctor if you can do it however). There are other Disney races but marathons and half-marathons are not for me. runDisney, however, also has 10k and 5k races at WDW, for example in January 2016 as side races during its Marathon Weekend, but these 10k and 5k are sold out. The next 5k and 10k available are during the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend that will take place February 18-21, 2016. You will run through Epcot (registration starts July 14, 2015).