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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…Tweet
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