I barely had time to unpack after finishing 48.6 miles to complete the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend's four-day Dopey Challenge, when I hopped back on a plane. This time, the destination was Disneyland, to complete the three events of the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend.
Just days after limping my way through the final miles of the Walt Disney World Marathon to earn my Dopey, I was planning to run the 3.1-mile Neverland Family Fun Run 5K on Friday, the inaugural 6.2-mile Tinker Bell 10K on Saturday, and the 13.1-mile Tinker Bell Half Marathon on Sunday, for a total of 22.4 miles.
It was probably not the wisest of choices given the injury from the previous weekend in Florida, but with faith, trust, and pixie dust, I knew I would make it through. Well that, and the help of several very special friends.
"I need no more runDisney merchandise"
I love attending the race expos. It's always fun to check out the latest in running gear and to meet new people who share the same interest in running. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting Joanne, a nurse from Arizona and a regular MousePlant reader. Joanne was excited to be doing both the 5K as well as the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, her first runDisney half-marathon. Chatting with her helped the time fly by as we waited for the expo doors to open (and our meeting would prove fortuitous as she would provide a great incentive at the upcoming Neverland 5k event).
Although I passed on a new runDisney-branded tutu and light-up pixie wings, some official event merchandise flitted into my hands and refused to leave—so I had no choice but to purchase an event hoodie, cap, exceptionally nice wine glass (and I don't drink…), and a gorgeous teal blue half marathon running jacket. I always say I don't need more runDisney "stuff" and then... well... you get the picture.
Thankfully, everything ran smoothly both at packet pick-up and at the expo (a much different experience than last August at the 2013 Disneyland Half), and I capped the day with a stop in Downtown Disney for what has to be the best tomato soup in the world at Earl of Sandwich. Seriously, there is none better. I would have loved to stay and play in the park that evening, but it was back to early wake-up calls for the next three days (didn't I shoot that alarm clock in Walt Disney World?), and sleep was calling my name.
We're following the leader on a 5k through the parks
One of the benefits of staying at Candy Cane Inn hotel is the close proximity to the parks and the start/finish lines, just a few short blocks away. I knew that without official corrals, it was important to get to Disneyland between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning to secure a good starting location for the Neverland 5K, as the crowds stretch from the castle back to the train station. As in previous years, we were met in the Central Plaza hub by Sparrowman DJ Clark who, dressed in his best Sparrowman garb, spun the tunes as we waited for the start. After call-outs to all the Dopeys in attendance (I wasn't alone in this crazy pursuit), it was fun to see the show of hands from the first-timers in the crowd who were anxiously waiting to begin their first runDisney 5K event. And speaking of first-timers, Joanne managed to spot me in the crowd of 4500; it was so fun to share in her excitement as she waited to experience a morning run in the Disneyland and DCA parks.
As we approached the 5:45 a.m. start, a lone bugler took his place in a spotlight on the balcony of Sleeping Beauty's Castle and played the National Anthem. The crowd softly started to sing the words, and by the "rocket's red glare," the sound had grown to a full chorus of strong voices. There was more than one runner with a tear or two in their eyes by the end of the song.
However, if I hear the song "we're following the leader" one more time
Finally, with a pop of fireworks and an appearance by Tinker Bell herself, we were off and running. Well, I was kind of running. The injury that I had sustained during the WDW marathon the previous week had manifested itself into one very mad and inflamed tendon just under my left knee. I found I could manage a pretty do-able run-walk pace, so with Joanne keeping me company, we made our way in the morning darkness around Disneyland Park (beware the pirates!) and over to Disney California Adventure park, where we took Route 66 in Cars Land and eventually finished by the Silly Symphonies Swings along the Boardwalk.
It was so much fun to experience the parks with a first-time 5K participant—it helps to remember what makes these events so special.
We proudly wore our rubber finisher's medals out of the park and back to the hotel, where breakfast awaited. One event down and two to go!
It was truly going to be a "friends" weekend. Not only was Joanne now in the mix, but Mary, Runner Bob, Patty, and Karen and her daughter Madeline were coming in as well. Mary was joining me for the 10K and the half-marathon, while Runner Bob was shooting for the half and a Coast-to-Coast medal. Karen and Madeline were tackling the half-marathon—which was Madeline's first. This was Patty's first visit to Disneyland, and I was looking forward to showing her the sights as well as putting a bug in her ear for giving a runDisney event a try. Toss in a couple of lunches with my Disney buddy Theresa and dinner Saturday night with fellow Disneyphile Steve, and the weekend was full of friends and fun.
The trouble with inaugural events is, well, it's the first one
With a 4:15 a.m. alarm, Mary and I were up and out the door early Saturday morning for the 6:00 a.m. start of the inaugural Tinker Bell 10K. Why we were starting 15 minutes later for a run that was double the length of the 5K was a mystery, but I wasn't exactly in a position to argue with runDisney's logic. The 10K shared the Tinker Bell Half Marathon starting location on Disneyland Drive, but had only four corrals (A through D) for 10,000 runners and walkers, which made for a bit of crowding. I thought it odd that the official Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend program showed five corrals for the 10K (the half marathon had six), but plans do change, and hopefully they change for the better. Unfortunately, the later start and the bigger corrals seemed to come back to bite big time.
I was in corral A, and knew that if I could hold or beat my 5K pace from the day before, that I would have a pretty decent (although not stellar) finish. And at this point, the goal was to finish feeling good.
The weather was perfect for a great run: cool, crisp, and little to no humidity. I could not wait to get started. runDisney announcers Rudy and Carrisa were our Fairy Run Coaches that morning and after a pep-talk from Coach Fairy Jerry, we were treated to yet another outstanding bugle rendition of the National Anthem. The bugler, now in an elaborate Sparrowman costume, apparently didn't get the memo that it was "casual wing day," and sported an impressive set of fairy wings, which resulted in a bit of ribbing from the announcers. Just before the start of the race, we all joined together to sing a happy 60th birthday to Rudy, which he accepted with good-natured humor.
Finally, it was time to hit the roads. An animated Tinker Bell flew across the big screen and with that, we were off!
Well, everyone else was off. As soon as I tried to run, my left knee felt like it had been hit with a baseball bat. Oh this was so not good. For the first mile as we made our way off the roads and into Disneyland, I continued to try and run—to no avail. The tendon had apparently had enough, and I sadly resigned myself to yet another slow, frustrating, gimpy finish. Well, at least I had a chance to really stop and see the parks. I have to say they were beautiful in the early morning light.
Literally hitting a wall at mile 4
The Tinker Bell 10K course is a totally different route than the Disneyland 10K race, running through Disneyland for the first 2.5 miles and many different characters were out for pictures, including the Bride and tightrope walker from the Haunted Mansion stretching room. The course then crosses over to DCA, where we completed miles three and four. There is a quick loop outside the parks going north on Harbor Boulevard, around the Pumba parking lot, then down Disney Way, where we then go south on Harbor to Katella. A sharp right takes everyone back down to Disneyland Drive and the finish in the Simba Parking lot next to the Paradise Pier Hotel.
I finished the race and slowly made my way through the finish line crowds and back to the hotel. As I got closer to the hotel, I noticed sweeper carts carrying race participants that were following a group of walkers heading down Katella just off of Harbor. Oh dear. Was I really that close to the back of the pack?
Turns out the answer was yes and no. Several hundred very angry participants didn't get to finish the Tinker Bell 10K race that morning; they were blocked by closed gates around mile four and eventually were returned to the start in buses. While some were genuinely slower than the minimum runDisney-mandated 16-minute-per-mile pace time, there were many who were on target (or faster) but were caught in the sea of bodies in that last corral. Making the logistics even more challenging for the last corral were the groups of participants who were, contrary to race etiquette, walking four-to-five across which made many of the narrow areas of the course almost impossible for those behind them to quickly navigate through.
Did runDisney miscalculate their event timing and then realize with the big crowd they might be negatively impacting the parks opening, or that they would have to keep the streets closed longer than they should have been? Was the race just too big for the later start (30 minutes later than the start of the half marathon)? Is that why there was one fewer corral than perhaps planned, so everyone was pushed out earlier? Hard to say what really happened without being a certain mouse in the corner of the runDisney meetings, but either way, it was an ugly and sad end to the inaugural Tinker Bell 10K that still is generating a lot of chatter on the social media sites, including our own MousePad discussion boards.
A necessary poke with a very sharp stick
As for me, I never did wear my Tinker Bell 10K finisher's medal. At that point, while I finished, I was just very, very sad and very, very angry that my knee was giving me fits. The brain started wrestling with the "did not finish vs. did not start" issue. If I didn't start the half-marathon the next day, I would lose my standing to earn a legacy status for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, as well as forfeit the special pink Coast-to-Coast medal I would earn by finishing the Princess Half Marathon in February (for completing both events in 2014). If I did start the half marathon, I would be in for one very, very long and painful morning (both mentally and physically), where I would be in constant fear of the sweepers. Even worse - what if I had a DNF?
To put things into context, I was raised to not only do my best, but my best had better be perfect. Failure was not an option. It became easier to avoid potential failure than to take the risk of failing. Even after all these years, that little voice in my head still comes in loud and clear. Saturday's 10K was far from perfect and the Sunday half marathon wasn't looking any better. But it was the fear of my first runDisney DNF that terrified me.
By the time I got back to the hotel, the nagging voices in my head convinced me that I should just call it a day and head home early Sunday morning rather than risk that DNF. I ran into Joanne at breakfast at the hotel and let her know that I was out for the half. She seemed disappointed, but I knew she would fall in love with the Tinker Bell Half Marathon as I had, and I hoped to see her again at another runDisney event. Runner Bob even offered to pace me during the half marathon if I would agree to stay and do the event, which was a generous offer, but one that I just couldn't accept. In an odd way I was running all right, but it was away from a problem instead of dealing with it.
Later that night, after a nighttime ride on Radiator Springs Racers, I was just about to pull the plug on my airline ticket when I had one last call with Thomas. After patiently listening to my frustrations from the 10k, he finally said, "If you are coming home because you are hurt and in pain, I will support you 100 percent—but if you are coming home because you are mad that you are slow, well, that I can't support."
Ouch—that hit a nerve coming from him. I was hurt and I was in pain, but after 15 years together, he does know me well. I had a lot of people rooting for me to complete both the Dopey and Tinker Bell events and if I didn't try, well, that would be the real failure. I believe the saying goes "Dead Last Finish is better than Did Not Finish, which trumps Did Not Start." Running is 80 percent mental, and at that point, I knew if I didn't deal with the fear of failure and give the half marathon a try, I would always regret it. It was time to suck it up, buttercup.
Runner Bob makes a great tour guide
The morning of the half-marathon, I was still debating the wisdom of my decision to stay, as Mary, dressed in a pink tutu and tiara (how does she fit all these things in one suitcase?) and I headed out to meet Runner Bob, who was wearing his Dopey finisher shirt. Ironically, my shirt for that morning featured Doc, one of the Seven Dwarfs, on the front (with the caption "I need a doc") and the back called out the combined Dopey and Tinker Bell event mileage of 71 miles. As we stepped into our corral, the voice from the Haunted Mansion popped into my head ("there's no turning back now…"). At this point, it was put on a positive attitude and hit the streets of Anaheim.
One thing I love about the Tinker Bell Half Marathon course is the time spent in the parks. From close to mile 1.5 until after mile 5, it's all Disneyland and DCA parks. There is truly no better place to run than in the parks during the early morning hours with all the glowing lights and Disney ambiance. Well, I use the term run loosely. We were holding a brisk walk (Runner Bob) / gimp (me) pace, but we were moving. Mary, who started a bit behind us, caught up and walked a bit with us, then off she went on her own journey to the finish.
After leaving Disneyland, we headed past the Disneyland Hotel, where we were met by hundreds of cheering Red Hat Ladies as well as cheering friends, families, and assorted hotel guests many who seemed to be wondering what in the world was going on. As we slowly ticked off the miles, Runner Bob (who is a native of the Pasadena and Anaheim areas and a former Disneyland cast member) regaled me with stories of the town, how it has changed over the years, and memories of growing up in the area. While I can't say time was flying, having Runner Bob along helped keep the focus off the knee and on the task at hand.
Just after mile eight, I spotted a familiar sight. It was the MousePlanet Cheer Station! Free candy (red vines) from strangers never tasted so good. I also snagged an orange slice and stopped long enough to say 'hi' to the wonderful, wonderful MousePlanet volunteers who took time from their morning to support those of us on the roads. And may I say that nothing tasted as perfect as that orange slice. It was just what I needed to perk myself back up and finish out the remaining few miles.
All along the course, our Dopey shirts also proved to be great conversation starters with many of our fellow half-marathon participants. We received kudos, high-fives, "Are you crazy?" and "Hey, fellow Dopey!" comments, and heard from many, many people who have the 2015 Dopey on their list of races to do (do they know what they have themselves in for?).
About mile 12, with my knee absolutely throbbing, we took a quick break to say h' to a familiar face—Patty was there waiting for us to pass on our way to the finish. As we turned the corner to go backstage, I finally started to mentally start the celebration. The 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon was just about over!
As we hit the 13 mile marker, I desperately wanted to run that last .1 mile to the finish. I hobbled a run as best that I could in a strange kind of Igor-lurching movement, and crossed the finish line with my head held high. I may have set a PW (personal worst) as far as finish time goes, but I finished!
With the help of my friends, especially Runner Bob and a proverbial poke with a sharp stick from Thomas, I did it. I happily accepted my Tinker Bell Half Marathon medal with Runner Bob (now a proud wearer of a Coast-to-Coast medal) and headed off back to my hotel, where I put an extremely angry leg up and iced it down for the next hour or so. On the way to the hotel, I had the thrill of seeing Joanne run by just before the 13 mile mark; she looked incredibly happy to be so close to completing her goal. Mary also had a great run, as did Karen and Madeline, who completed her first half-marathon. And with Joanne already signed up for the Dumbo Double Dare in September, I believe we have a new runDisney convert.
While faith, trust, and pixie dust was at the race in spades, it was only with the help of friends and family that I managed to stack the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend journey on top of the 2014 Dopey Challenge. I completed 71 'magical' miles in just over 11 days, and earned an incredible haul of nine new runDisney medals. I'll eventually earn my traditional Coast-to-Coast medal in September when I complete the ninth annual Disneyland Half Marathon but for now, the nine new medals (almost 3 pounds of them) are wonderful additions to the medal collection.
My sincere thanks to everyone for yet another memorable and unforgettable runDisney weekend. Now, it's on to the Princess Half Marathon in February to keep the Perfect Princess streak going and to earn that special Pink Coast-to-Coast medal!
This was, sadly, the final Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend to be held in January; in 2015 it will be moving to Mother's Day weekend in May when the weather is hotter and the crowds even crazier. This year's event hosted 4,500 participants in the Neverland 5K, 10,000 participants in the inaugural Tinker Bell 10K (5,656 finishers), and 15,000 participants in the Tinker Bell Half Marathon (11,625 finishers). Congrats to everyone, and a big shout-out to all the Team MousePlanet participants!