The Disneyland Half Marathon is almost upon us! Hopefully you have been keeping up with your training, and are ready to hit the ground running. If you’ve never done the Disneyland race, we’re here to give you an overview of what to expect over the weekend and on race day.
Picking Up Your Race Number
If you are a participant in the weekend's events, make sure you print out your waiver before you leave home, and don’t forget to pack it! You’ll need to sign and date it for presentation to receive your race packet, race bib and goody bag. Once you arrive at the Disneyland Resort, stop by the Health & Fitness Expo at the Disneyland Hotel on Friday (from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.) or Saturday (from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.).
You will need to present photo identification and your signed waiver to receive your bib. If you can’t be present to do it yourself, you can authorize another person to pick up your materials for you.
At the first station you will be given a bib that also has your timing device attached to the back (if you are doing the half marathon; the 5K is not timed), along with a packet of information. Make sure to use the verification station, a table set up near the check-in area, to make sure your tag is operating properly before you leave the Expo. You don’t want to find out on race day that you didn’t have a valid time.
Once you’ve picked up your packet, proceed to the T-shirt/goody bag area to get your plastic bag and tech shirt. You must use this plastic bag on race day if you plan to check any items you want to leave and then pick up at the finish. Affix the enclosed number on the outside of the bag so that it can be matched with your bib number.
The expo also includes a number of vendor booths where you can purchase souvenirs and fitness-related merchandise. There is also official Disney race merchandise, some of which can sell out early, so if you see something you like, don’t wait to buy it later! Typical items include T-shirts, running gear like technical tees and hats, mugs/glassware and pins. Just remember that it’s not a good idea to use that brand new pair of socks for the race unless you know that particular brand works for you. Don’t try anything new on race day.
If you are staying at one of the Good Neighbor hotels, there are shuttle buses running "every 20 minutes" to take you to and from the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center. In addition, the shuttle will provide complimentary transportation services for all the official events, including the 5K, half-marathon, and awards ceremony on Sunday afternoon. The first shuttles for the half marathon start running at 3:00 a.m. and stop at 4:30 a.m., so get to bed early on Saturday night.
If you are staying within walking distance, you might consider walking to the start line. It is a good warm up for the race, and you won’t have to wait around for the shuttles.
If you are driving in the morning of the race, be sure to allow plenty of time for the inevitable backups that will occur. Parking for the event is in the Mickey & Friends structure. Certain exits from I-5 will be closed from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. to allow the runners to start and clear the area, so plan accordingly.
Star Tours 5k
If you have signed up for the Family Fun Run 5K, it starts at 6:45 a.m. sharp on Saturday at the Mickey & Friends parking structure tram loading area. Per kilometer, the 5K is a more interesting course than the half marathon because it is contained almost entirely within the theme parks. The course enters Disneyland back near Critter Country, then passes through Frontierland and back toward Fantasyland and Toon Town before returning through Tomorrowland and out down Main Street. Entrance into Disney California Adventure is back near the Tower of Terror due to the construction going on there, then proceeds around the Paradise Pier area before finishing inside the park. Finishers of the 5K will receive a rubber medal at the end, with a design related to this year’s theme of Star Tours.
The Main Event – 13.1!
If you’ve run the Walt Disney World half marathon, you have an idea of what to expect along the route. The biggest difference of the Disneyland version is that due to the smaller size of the resort, a large percentage of the course is out on the public streets of Anaheim, making it seem more like a regular road race.
The start of the course is on Disneyland Drive, near the Disneyland Hotel. Just adjacent to this area in the Lilo parking lot is the finish area, which also serves as a staging area for the start. In case you want some food on the way to the start, some food locations in Downtown Disney may be open. Last year, La Brea Bakery had an express cart and Jamba Juice, Compass Books, and Haagen Dazs all opened at varying times to accommodate runners and spectators. Check in Downtown Disney for signs indicating these times if you are interested.
There is a DJ booth set up in the start area to keep you entertained, along with the family reunion tents, and the most portable toilets you will see in your life. My advice is to get there early, use the toilet one last time, and then head to your designated corral (indicated on your bib) as early as possible. Moving from the staging area to the corrals can take a while if you wait because of the bottleneck that is created by the fences and barriers that will be in place.
Once in your corral, you should have enough room to move around and stretch as you wait for your wave to start. Enjoy the starting entertainment and fireworks, then head out when it's your turn to start! From the start, the course heads south on Disneyland Drive and turns left on Katella Avenue past the Anaheim Convention Center.
Miles 2 to 4
After hitting the mile 1 marker on Harbor Boulevard runners will turn left to enter Disney California Adventure through a backstage area. The course passes through the park and around Paradise Bay, where the World of Color fountains will likely be running, lit up for the early morning light. The large puppets from the pre-show may also be out to greet you. [Edited to add: On further inspection, it appears that due to the ongoing construction inside Disney California Adventure, the course will not take runners around Paradise Bay this year.]
Enjoy your experience from right after mile 2 to after mile 4; this is the most scenic and exciting part of the course as you pass through the parks. After a run around Paradise Bay, runners go around the walkway by Grizzly River Run, back through the official park exit, cross the Esplanade (with its water station), and finally enter Disneyland park where you will run up Main Street, which will be lined with cast members cheering you on. From there, the course veers right and heads into Tomorrowland, past Space Mountain, Innoventions, Autopia, and the Matterhorn.
The course then turns left to one of the highlights of the course: Running through the castle. As you emerge, be sure to keep an eye out for official race photographers before heading through Frontierland, past the Rivers of America, and out through Critter Country into the backstage area. There will likely be some characters back there if you want to stop and pose for photos, although the lines can get long.
As you wind around backstage, you may notice the animal pens and the smell of horse manure. That’s Circle D, where the park’s horses are housed on site when not onstage. As you exit the area here, you will make a sharp left, uphill turn onto the Ball Rd. overpass. The overpass is really the only “hill” you will experience along the course.
Miles 5 to 8
The next three miles are through the streets of Anaheim, past lots of industrial-looking beige buildings. There are some performance troupes along here to try to keep you entertained, but this stretch is probably the worst part of the course. As you pass mile 8 there will finally be something large to look at: the Honda Center hockey arena, where the Anaheim Ducks play.
Miles 8 to 10
As you pass the Honda Center, you will make a right onto the Santa Ana River Trail, a path that runs right next to the river. This part of the course is unpaved in spots, and is rather narrow, so take care to watch your footing. Right after mile 9, the course turns sharply right and exits the footpath as it nears Angels Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team. Last year, the fueling point for Clif shots was right as you exit the path back to the roads approaching the baseball stadium. The approach to the stadium is lined with Boy Scout troops cheering on the runners; there are also more scouts inside the stadium stands. This run around the bases, starting along the first base line, down around home and out near third base is another highlight of the race, as few people have the opportunity to run on the infield of a major league ballpark.
Mile 10 to finish line
After the baseball stadium, runners will pass through more Anaheim streets, largely devoid of spectators. The section at mile 11 at the I-5 underpass is especially notable for the screaming cheerleaders, whose cries will reverberate around the enclosed space. I found it way too loud, but perhaps it gives some people the boost they need at this point in the race. At mile 12, runners again enter Disney property, in a backstage area of Disney California Adventure, but don’t actually enter the park before passing back across Disneyland Drive and around to the finish at the Disneyland Hotel. Don’t forget to smile and raise your arms as you cross the finish line so that you’ll have a nice photo. If you stop to look down and fiddle with your watch or GPS, the photographers will get a nice picture of the top of your head.
This area can be disorienting, especially after you’ve run 13.1 miles. Volunteers will be standing by to give you your well-deserved medal. There will be areas to receive first aid if you need it, such as ice for sore joints. In addition, they may hand out cool towels if it’s a hot day, or mylar blankets if it’s cool. If you are a Coast to Coast medalist (completing a Disneyland half and a Walt Disney World half or full in the same calendar year), you will receive your additional medal at the finish area as well. Once you receive your medal(s), you can pose for one last official photo before passing through the food and beverage areas to pick up items before reuniting with family or friends.
If you have friends you want to cheer for, or simply want to get caught up in the excitement of the half-marathon, here are Disneyland’s officially recommended viewing areas:
Spectators who purchased the special ChEAR Squad packages are also afforded access to viewing areas along Main Street inside Disneyland, and at the finish line.
Notice something here? These viewing spots are all on-property, but not inside the parks. However, half of the course is on public property, so if your friends don't mind being off-property, there are a lot of options. Pull up the course map and figure out which places are most convenient for your friends and family. In addition, staying at an official Disney resort, while convenient, should not even be a really big concern. If your hotel is along the marathon course, just head out with a cup of coffee in hand to cheer on Dad or Daughter.
Excited yet? Even if you’re not running the race, get out there and support all of the runners, including some of our own MousePlanet staff and readers, as they make their way along the course. Good luck all you runners! May the weather be good and your feet be light.
(Send an email to Stephanie Wien)
Growing up in Upstate New York, Stephanie (@MPStephanie) made frequent family trips to Walt Disney World in Orlando, which instilled an early love for Disney theme parks. When her work took her to Orange County in California, she naturally became a frequent visitor to Disneyland, and developed a love for the park that started it all. Stephanie is now back in Upstate New York and working as an engineer. She has also completed several runDisney races, including the Walt Disney World marathon in 2007 and 2008 as a part of Team in Training, and is currently training for the Goofy Challenge in 2013. She makes as many trips as she can to experience the Disney magic, especially as part of the MouseAdventure staff team.