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An Evening with runDisney, at the Final Expedition Everest Challenge

May 13, 2015, 9:27 PM · The first weekend in May marked the final running of runDisney's Expedition Everest Challenge. What makes this race different from all other runDisney events? It's a unique combination of running race, obstacle course, and scavenger hunt - all happening in the after-hours dark of Disney's Animal Kingdom park, followed by an in-park after party until the wee hours of the morning. More than 5,000 runners - both individually and in teams - took to the park for this year's challenge.

As with many runDisney races, costumes abound! Many were themed to Expedition Everest, with yetis and yeti hunters running the course, while others stuck to more traditional Disney-themed costumes. There were princesses of every kind, as well as classic Minnies, Mickeys, and Donalds. I lost track of how many Annas and Elsas I saw, and it's safe to say The Incredibles are a very popular race family.

Runners got organized into corrals before the official 10:00pm start time. Lots of pre-race music, commentary, and activities happen in the period leading up to the starting gun. There was somewhat of a subdued feeling to the pre-event activities, as this year's Everest Challenge was overshadowed by the real-life challenges happening in Nepal. The devastating earthquake took place a week prior to the race. The stark juxtaposition of an Everest-themed, over-the-top Disney event happening in the wake of the real Everest tragedy was not lost on many of the runners. The race organizers held a moment of silence before the event, and they announced that the Disney company would be donating $1 million to the Nepal relief efforts.

Starting line

After the starting gun, we made our way around the outside of the Animal Kingdom parking lot. About a half mile in, we were faced with our first obstacle - rows of hay bales. Participants of varying levels and abilities approached the obstacles in different ways; some hurdled, some stepped gingerly, some tore right through (and at least a few even walked around the long way to avoid them completely). Straight on to the Animal Kingdom entrance, we crossed into the park just past the one mile mark. We headed through The Oasis, passing some character meet & greets along the way, and ran straight up toward the Tree of Life, Animal Kingdom's iconic central focal point. The race route led us off through the park's Africa section, then straight across to Asia. The majestic Expedition Everest loomed in the distance, lit up and looking beautifully foreboding against the dark skies. Just passed Asia, we headed out a side gate and into a backstage area, where we'd run the last half of the race. Our second obstacle - a cargo net crawl - was waiting backstage.

Obstacle

This backstage portion of the race had characters, special effects (fire!), and music along the way. The third obstacle - a field of tires to traverse - was tackled just before the final leg. Once done with the tires, the end was in sight! Just after heading through a backstage gate and out into our original parking lot, we crossed the finish line.

But there's no time to rest! As soon as you cross that finish line after the 5K/obstacle portion, volunteers immediately hand you a flashlight and marker, along with your first scavenger hunt clue. Clues are handed out on laminated cards, and contain a riddle or puzzle to solve, along with instructions on where to go to give your answer and retrieve your next clue. Various stations are set up in different areas of the park, to filter people in different directions to avoid overcrowding at clue stations.

The scavenger hunt clues are loosely themed around a fictional climb up Mt. Everest, so each puzzle and clue were related to that journey. The puzzles range in difficulty level, from easy (a word scramble) to very tricky (a complicated clock riddle with misleading language). Some, like the sample below, required you to add a little race trivia in with your puzzle calculation.

Puzzle

To solve the final clue, participants were required to use all the previous clues and answers to come up with a final result, which we had to show at the finish line. Once successful, we were rewarded with the Expedition Everest Challenge medal - a beautiful gold-tone medallion that opens to reveal a working compass.

Medallion

Finally, it was party time! The Everest Challenge after-party was held in the Dinoland section of Animal Kingdom, and participants had access to attractions including Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, TriceraTop Spin, and Dinosaur. Music, DJs, dancing, and roaming characters were all around, with lots of food and beverages for sale. Awards were given for the top finishers in various categories. The yeti himself (herself?) was on hand to pass out the awards.

After party

People expecting "just" a 5K left the night very surprised - not to mention tired. Between the 5K itself, then running back through the park for the scavenger hunt, and then back up into the park a third time for the after-party… the distance adds up! By the time I headed out of Animal Kingdom at the end of my night, I had clocked over 7.5 miles on my run tracker - more than double that initial 5K distance!

Being in this park so late at night was a unique experience, since the operating hours (for now, anyway) usually end before dark. Walking the paths in the wee hours of the morning definitely lent a new perspective on this park. I left the party while it was still going strong, but as soon as I was out of the immediate party zone, it was dark, peaceful, and silent. While walking through the park toward the exit, I spotted an unusual sight in the trees ahead. It wasn't until I got up close that I realized what I was seeing. Have you ever wondered what the White Ibis of Animal Kingdom are up to at 2:00am?

White Ibis

There's been no official word from runDisney as to why this race is being discontinued. The general thought in the community is that the race is just too expensive and labor-intensive for such a small event. The other runDisney events combine several races (and thus more registration dollars) into a weekend. As a stand-alone event, and one with logistical challenges and relatively few participants, it may just have been considered too expensive to continue. Speculation abounds as to what - if anything - will replace the Everest Challenge. Could the East Coast have a Star Wars-themed race on the Horizon? That's what I'm hoping for, but time will tell…

Replies (7)

May 14, 2015 at 3:27 AM · Sounds like so much fun for the young and energetic runners...oh to be young and physically fit! If only I had done things differently when I had the chance. for now I will get my thrill by reading about it and imagining! Congratulations to all who participTed in this great race.
May 14, 2015 at 4:06 AM · Great race re-cap! You really captured the fun and excitement of the night. I'm so sad to see this race go. It was one of the great ones.

oh- and what an amazing picture of the White Ibis!

May 14, 2015 at 6:35 AM · DISCONTINUED????
Now I've never heard of the Everest Challenge, but reading your article I kept getting more excited, "THIS sounds like hella fun! I wanna do this! I wanna..." and then you drop the bomb... discontinued????

Anyway-- awesomely written. I'm a wannabe-runner/obstacle racer and your writing hyped me up. Those medals look so cool too. Just a personal thought: I wish there were more obstacles during the 5K part.

May 14, 2015 at 7:53 AM · Thanks, Pyra- Danny V! Sorry to get you all excited- I made sure to say it was the final running in the title and opening sentence, but I can see how it may have been easy to overlook. I agree about the number of obstacles. There's a really wide range of runners and abilities during these races, so I think they tried to keep the challenges doable for most participants. I would have liked a few more obstacles thrown in!
May 14, 2015 at 3:55 PM · Sounds like so much fun!
May 15, 2015 at 9:21 AM · Nice write up on the race. This was my first (and I guess last) time to participate in the race. You should have posted Clue #1 in your article though. That one was a zinger. I spent most of my time trying to figure it out or at least get a hint from the volunteers. Looking back at it, the clue wasn't too difficult, but after running three miles and still being timed for the scavenger hunt made it quite hectic.

I can see a few reasons why they don't continue the race. There's a small cap of participants since it's a 5k. Plus Animal Kingdom is going to be quite different when 2017 comes around. Still, you would think they could add it as an additional race under one of the half marathon weekends.

Riding Expedition Everest at night was a fun experience. I rode it three times in a row with no wait. Then I was done. :o)

May 17, 2015 at 6:25 AM · I did this race for the first time this year. That was also my first race! At almost 49 I was pleasantly surprised to be able to do it without being too much exhausted at the end, proving the difficulty is well managed and that this race is a very good choice for beginners. I hope they will do something really similar in the future.

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