After completing the Disneyland Half Marathon in 2010, I hadn't planned to run it again. I had checked the Coast to Coast medal off my list in 2010, so I wasn't in a hurry to repeat the feat. Living in Upstate New York, the East Coast races are much more convenient and cost effective for me; I can get to Orlando on a non-stop flight in a few hours, rather than an all-day, cross-country flight with connections. However, the changes to Disney California Adventure this year, with the addition of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, were enticing me out west again, so I jetted in for a quick trip to California.
The first bit of race-related business is always the Expo, where runners pick up their race number and tech shirt. Disney expos are always impressive, filled with running and fitness product vendors, and packed with seminars by well-known fitness experts. I often wish there was a better directory/guide to the booths that had specials or giveaways so that I could make sure I don't miss any.
One welcome item this year was a postcard at the Brightroom Photography booth that identified all of the locations where race photographers would be positioned, as well as what characters would be out through the parks. Many of the vendors cater to women, who now make up more than half of the participants in many runDisney races.
Some of the unofficial merchandise cater to runDisney fans, like this "Castle to Castle" shirt from Raw Threads that caught the eye of runners looking to earn their Coast to Coast medals. Photo by Stephanie Wien.
If you want a shot at the best selection of runDisney official merchandise, it's best to get to the Expo on the first day it opens (on Friday), as early as possible. By the time I arrived on Saturday morning, the women's track jackets were gone in all sizes except extra large, and the racks of tech shirts were dwindling.
This long-sleeve shirt expresses the sentiment of many runners until they get a look at the Mickey Mouse medal, given to finishers of Walt Disney World's full (26.2 mile) marathon. Photo by Stephanie Wien.
Since I hadn't been to Disney California Adventure since the construction walls came down earlier this summer, I broke my rule of no extensive park touring before a race, and headed to the park. The weather this year was very hot, so I made sure to carry a water bottle with me to stay hydrated.
Even though Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of fall for many people, the weather in Southern California can still be very warm. It would be nice if runDisney would add a fall race to the California slate to take advantage of cooler temperatures.
Like almost all runDisney races (except for those run at night), the Disneyland Half Marathon begins early in the morning. Unlike the Walt Disney World races, all of the Disneyland Resort hotels—and many of the neighboring hotels—are within walking distance of the race's start next to the Disneyland Hotel. This proximity allows participants to get a slightly later start than they do for the Florida races. I recall quite a bottleneck getting to the corrals in 2010, and noticed that the directions and set-up to the starting area seemed better organized this year. While I had no trouble getting to corral C, I did note a larger number of rogues with slower corral assignments who had snuck into faster corrals than I do at Walt Disney World. The corrals didn't seem to be as well policied at Disneyland, and I noticed that many late arrivals had to wait outside of corrals A and B.
One of the celebrities who participated in the race, Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Goonies), helped kick off the event with a few inspirational words, and then it was off to the races! I was excited to see the new portions of the course through the parks, but first we had a couple of miles around the perimeter of the resort and through backstage areas. I was surprised to see runners lining up at the cast member restrooms near the break areas; I would discourage that unless it's an emergency, since all you have to do is wait a bit to use the restrooms inside Disney California Adventure.
This year, we entered the park through the Paradise Pier parade gate, right next to Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta, then proceeded clockwise around Paradise Bay and down toward the entrance to Cars Land.
Running down Route 66 in Cars Land was one of the highlights of the race for me. All of the neon was on, and I made sure to slow down through that section in order to savor the moment.
At the end of Route 66, the course veered left at Luigi's Flying Tires and headed backstage briefly as a shortcut to Hollywood Boulevard and Buena Vista Street. The new trolley tracks presented a bit of a running hazard, but running through that new section of the park was a blast. All of the red cars were out and shined up to greet participants.
The course went briefly into Condor Flats before sending participants right out of the park and across the Esplanade. This section is one of the most packed with spectators, and the noise is very impressive through there. Entry into Disneyland was through a backstage area under the railroad tracks, then through the gate next to the firehouse.
Running up Main Street at Disneyland is very different than at the Magic Kingdom, in particular this year due to the restriction on spectators inside the park. Only those who purchased cheer packages were allowed inside, and as a result the crowds were very light. In the Magic Kingdom, Main Street is one of the most popular cheering locations, and the normally wide boulevard is packed on one side. Heading up Main Street at Disneyland, we had the whole area to ourselves.
Unlike Walt Disney World, the course through Disneyland heads left at the end of Main Street, through Frontierland and back through Big Thunder Trail into Fantasyland. Several groups of characters were riding the carousel, including Peter Pan, Wendy, and some pirates.
Running through the castle is a highlight no matter which coast you run on, and it's always a popular photo spot. Unlike at Walt Disney World, Disneyland half-marathoners take a left from the castle into Tomorrowland. Looping around past the submarine lagoon and the Matterhorn, the course takes participants down into Toontown and out the gate next to Minnie's House.
From the exit of Disneyland until the finish, the course remains largely unchanged from past years. One highlight this year, starting at about mile seven, were classic cars lined up on either side of the course. The cars went on and on, all the way to the Honda Center, and were generally arranged in chronological order. It was great to have something to smile about in the latter half of the course, which has been largely barren in past years. Another welcome change this year was removing the cheerleaders out from under the highway overpass at the end of the race altogether, and having them move to the area before the overpass. Although I appreciate their support and enthusiasm, the area under the overpass, with its tunnel-like environment, caused all the cheers to bounce and echo, creating a cacophony of sound that was a bit much for me as I was focusing on wrapping up the last couple of miles.
Due to the weather, the normal mylar blankets handed to finishing runners are swapped for chill towels at the Disneyland Half Marathon. For those of us completing our Coast to Coast journey, there was a bit more of a wait at the finish after receiving our Disneyland Half medal. A long line had formed along the finish fence when I finished the race, as only a couple of people were handing out Coast to Coast medals, and were having a hard time keeping up with the amount of people finishing. Once through there, it was on to the post-race medal photo; unlike Walt Disney World, there didn't appear to be a convenient way for runners wishing to bypass the photo to exit. Hopefully this will be added in a future race.
Instead of individual items on tables, the post-race refreshments were handed to us in a runDisney snack box. Personally, I find this a welcome change, as it makes it easier to carry, especially if you happen to also be holding on to other items like water bottles and mylar blankets. Other participants expressed displeasure, noting the inability to pick and choose, difficulty in opening the box and items within, and the lack of anything substantial—bagels and oranges, given out in past years, were mentioned specifically.
Although I rarely stop for character photos, I had noticed that Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers, who are a fairly rare find at runDisney races, were going to be out in Tomorrowland. I decided to wait in the fairly long line for them, but I didn't pull out my smartphone, opting to let the race photographer take it with her camera. However, it appears the Brightroom photographer was on break at the time, and the person who took my photo was not a race photographer. It's not clear who she was with, but the photo didn't appear with my other race photos and isn't on the Brightroom page. I have now learned my lesson, and if I decide to stop for character photos in future races, I will make sure to use my own camera and not rely on someone else.
The course changes in the parks have really improved this race, and the addition of the classic cars in Anaheim are a welcome diversion. However, I still find it hard to see myself repeating this race due to the low points through Anaheim. It's still a great race to do, however, and runDisney does a fantastic job making it a special experience for all involved. It's also pretty hard to beat the runDisney medals. Now that's some serious hardware!
The author shows off the medals she earned this year, including (from left to right) her Walt Disney World Half Marathon Donald medal, Chip & Dale Marathon Relay medal, Disneyland Half Marathon castle medal, and the Coast to Coast. Photo by Jeff Moxley.