Disneyland Half Marathon and Dumbo Double Dareby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
Heat exhaustion does funny things to a brain. It can make a normally sane person, an eight-year Disneyland half-marathon legacy runner (that is, having run every single one of the events from the first year it was offered), consider ending the race early and calling it a day. All it would have taken is a sharp left turn just before mile 12 of the Disneyland Half Marathon and I would have been at my hotel and out of the unseasonably hot temperature and humidity. Every part of my body screamed at me to take the easy out, forfeit my legacy status, and head to the air-conditioned bliss of the Candy Cane Inn. At that point, the weekend had finally just taken it out on me.
Welcome to the Tropics of Southern California
I knew the weekend weather would be challenging the moment we landed Thursday night in Anaheim. The heat blasted through the jetway leading into the airport; at 6:00 p.m. it was still almost 90 degrees and the humidity was close to 75%. I am the first to admit I'm a Pacific Northwest weather wimp who crumples in anything over 50 degrees, but I was coming in to run the inaugural Dumbo Double Dare (the 10K on Saturday and the half-marathon on Sunday) so I would just need to figure out a way to better deal with it. I'd previously survived the Disneyland Half Marathon of 2007, which was almost black-flagged (cancelled due to weather conditions) due to high temps and high humidity, so while I wasn't expecting a stellar couple of races over the weekend, I knew I would easily finish.
Once we settled at the hotel, we headed out to Disney California Adventure park to acclimate ourselves to the weather by riding Radiator Springs Racers as well as three back-to-back rides on Toy Story Midway Mania. When we left DCA at 10:30 that night, it was still 84 degrees—I should have taken this as a warning.
Have you ever seen a feeding frenzy…?
Early Friday morning, we met up with friends and headed over to DCA to secure Radiator Springs Fastpass tickets for later in the day. I split off from the group around 8:30 a.m. and headed over to the Disneyland Hotel to wait for the 10:00 a.m. expo opening. Imagine my surprise to find the expo line several hundred deep on my arrival, with more attendees queuing up by the minute.
I was fortunate to secure one of the last remaining spots in the shade. I wondered how in the world the cast members were going to contain the crowds; frankly they did their best, but eventually, they were totally outnumbered. As MousePlanet writer Lani Teshima described in her expo article, once the doors opened, it was chaos. Thomas caught up with me as the lines started to move towards the expo, and we slowly filed into the merchandise area.
By the time we walked in the doors not 10 minutes after opening, two of the racks containing Dumbo Double Dare merchandise were already stripped clean. People were grabbing merchandise as they could find it and then jumping in line to try on what they had secured while they waited to check out. Cast members were mobbed the moment they appeared with new merchandise; they finally gave up trying to hang the items up and just acted as a human shelf unit, where attendees could grab and go. The queue for the cashiers quickly snaked around the merchandise area, past the speaker area, and into the vendor area of the expo.
I got in the cashier line, and Thomas provided his services as a runner for myself and two women who were on either side of me in line. In an hour we were shopped, checked out, and off to the runDisney vendor booth to check out the pre-registration they were advertising and to see if the new Dopey Challenge medal was on display.
There were actually two displays of medals at the runDisney booth; although they apparently had different displays, I had the chance to see the new Dopey and Marathon medals as well as the Dumbo Double Dare medals one last time before a set of them followed me home.
By this time, I was debating not running the 5K, given the temperature at the 5:30 a.m. start was forecasted at 70 degrees with 70%-plus humidity. No matter how much I wanted that rubber 5K medal, I knew the heat and humidity would not be my friend. The goal of the weekend was the Dumbo and to keep my legacy status; the 5K was just a bonus.
While we were at the booth, I inquired on pre-registration for the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon. "Why yes, you can pre-register," the smiling cast member said. What they forgot to mention is that it required purchasing a Disney hotel package of close to $1,000 to secure that half-marathon spot. No thanks—I think I'll take my chances in January when registration opens again.
After all this, we still had to pick up bibs and packets. We headed back outside and waited another 30 minutes in a shadeless line, where we finally made it to the packet pickup area. Bored cast members welcomed the trickle of weekend race participants who were allowed in. I quickly collected the Dumbo and 5K bibs, and we made our exit.
Given the line to the expo was now from the entrance to the Disneyland Hotel and down through the packet pickup area, we decided to wait to pick up the race shirts and instead headed back to the hotel to get out of the sun for a few hours. When we returned about 2:00 p.m., it was an easy walk-in to the vendor side of the expo, but the runDisney merchandise area and cashier line was still wall-to-wall with bodies. Thomas and I headed to Tortilla Joe's to meet up with the Team MousePlanet sign-making party not realizing until later that it had been moved inside instead of on the patio, so we missed all the fun. The weekend was just not going according to plan.
10K—the new runDisney distance
Saturday morning, we headed out the door in already sweltering heat and humidity, and joined the masses heading to the start of the 10K. Given that the 5K started at 5:30 and we were supposed to be in the 10K corrals by 5:45, I wondered how this was going to work logistically. Not a surprise that it didn't—the 10K participants were herded down to a blocked barrier where at 6:00 a.m., cast members tried to get thousands of runners and walkers to back up, turn around, and move around the barrier to get to the corrals. Meanwhile, the first of the 5K runners were already back and were starting to mix in among the 10K crowds. There were six 10K corrals (A – F) which came as a surprise to those in the "G" corrals who had nowhere to go. Cast members told them to squeeze in where they could. We then waited for the start.
One thing I will say: runDisney knows how to do race starts right. In keeping with the Alice in Wonderland theme, the National Anthem was beautifully played on a trumpet by the Five of Diamonds. We counted down the start and those in corral A moved out. With a five-minute delay between corrals, my C corral was quickly on the road and off on the new 10K course.
We headed down Disneyland Drive and through the Anaheim Convention Center before heading back towards the parks. Thomas was out in front of the hotel for a hug as I labored down the road (I am just not a graceful gazelle-like runner in the heat) and just after mile 2, we headed into DCA. We ran through Cars Land and over to the DCA lagoon, where the jets from World of Color greeted us with their light show.
We continued around the lagoon and headed out across the esplanade to Disneyland park, where at miles 4 and 5, we ran up Main Street and back down through Sleeping Beauty Castle. We exited the park and finished the run back at the Disneyland Hotel, where the Dumbo Double Dare finishers collected not only their 10K medals, but also got a green Dumbo Double Dare wristband to turn in on Sunday for the Dumbo medal. Brilliant idea! I will be interested to see if it is used at other challenge events such as the Dopey, Goofy, and Glass Slipper Challenges.
Unfortunately, while the new 10K course is wonderful, the course amenities were lacking—not enough cups for water, not enough water stations, especially for the conditions—and the lead runners of the 10K did end up catching up to the tail end of the 5K participants at the finish line.
Even with the early morning heat and humidity, the new 10K event was incredibly fun on a wonderful new course.
We spent the rest of the day balancing trying to stay out of the sun with enjoying the park. By afternoon, I noticed I was acquiring a persistent cough from being in air conditioning that wasn't going away. By evening it was a full-blown hack that was quickly moving into my lungs. We finished up the night early with another ride on Radiator Springs and a few more Toy Story Mania trips as well. By the time we got back to the hotel, the cough was deep and rattling. This was not a good sign for Sunday.
When 13.1 feels like so much longer
Sunday morning was a bit cooler and a bit less humid than Saturday, but we were still frankly in at least what should have been yellow flag conditions. The corrals steadily filled with excited runners and walkers to the point where they were all overflowing. The National Anthem was sung by a very talented Disney cast member, and the presentation included well-timed fireworks (the bombs bursting in air was especially effective).
As with the 10K the day before, the corrals moved out one by one in intervals of five minute or so. Within the first quarter-mile, I knew I was in trouble. Big trouble. The effort of running was triggering my bronchial coughing, and I couldn't get a breath in. This meant I had a choice: Forfeit the half-marathon (kissing the Dumbo Double Dare medal and legacy status goodbye) or walk the entire 13.1 miles. In 62 half-marathons, I've never walked the entire distance—but I had no choice.
It was going to be a very long morning.
By sunrise, I was already pretty tired of my pace, and was noticing that my mood was taking a dive south. Even the normally cheery tour through DCA and Disneyland parks did little to pick me up. By mile 4 when we left the parks behind, I was already well on my way from Happy to Grumpy. Even with the slower pace, I was already starting to become overheated, which made even a 15-minute pace a challenge. On the plus side, I thought was able to take some wonderful pictures along the course; little did I realize that as heat exhaustion started, my hands would become less steady and the pictures more blurry.
I continued to trudge along the course past all the wonderful volunteers (a big thank you to all of them) and the on-course cheer squads, bands, and dancers. I passed the Team MousePlanet Cheer Station and watched as they were mugged for oranges, sponges, and even just a friendly smile. I decided not to try and fight the crowd, so I continued on without stopping; hopefully I'll have a chance to meet them next time.
From mile 6.5 until almost mile 8, several classic car clubs were on hand to display their incredible vehicles. Mustangs. Corvettes. Older classic hot rods and touring cars were parked along the road with the most enthusiastic car owners cheering us on. At mile 9, we were at Angel Stadium, and the now-traditional "running of the base-line" while wildly cheering Scouts and family members helped carry us through the stadium and back out on the roads.
By mile 10, I was dealing with what I now know to be full heat exhaustion—and I was a mess. Grumpy had turned into the little-known dwarf, "Nasty," as everything from the crowds to the music became an irritant. By the time I hit Disney Way, I was done. I ached all over and couldn't walk a straight line if I tried.
After more than three hours in the sun, there was just nothing left. To the left was the hotel. In front of me was mile 12. I looked left down Harbor Boulevard at our nice little hotel—and made the decision I knew was the right one for me at the time.
I continued on.
There was no way I could have come this far and not finished.
The last 1.1 miles were the most difficult I have ever faced. But I did it! I crossed the finish line standing up and of my own power! Thankfully runner tracking was working, so Thomas knew I was in distress and would be finishing almost an hour over my estimated finish time, so he was there, waiting for me patiently.
I collected my Dumbo Double Dare and half-marathon medals, and in my stupor, headed to the family meeting area to find him instead of to the medical tent. After reuniting with Thomas, we slowly trudged back to our hotel, interrupted periodically by my need to sit down in order to avoid falling down altogether. We managed to make it back to the hotel, and I even forced myself through a shower, and we were back in the park by 11:30 a.m. for special lunch plans I did not want to miss.
Later that evening, the body had finally had enough, and I had to park on a bench while the rest of the group took a spin on Indiana Jones, one of my favorite rides. Feeling woozy, I found myself bobbling on the bench as I fought an overwhelming desire to nap or pass out. While we normally finish out the evening with fireworks followed by coffee/cocoa with friends until park closing, I had to call it a night by 8:30 p.m. I was shaking with chills, extremely fatigued, and had a fever that eventually took three days to get below 101 degrees. I truly earned my Dumbo Double Dare medal the hard way.
It's been over a week since the Dumbo Double Dare weekend, and I'm just now starting to feel semi-normal. The bronchial coughing remains, and I'm still extremely tired—but the rest of the effects of heat exhaustion are gone.
Should I have even attempted the half-marathon given the cough? Probably not. It's generally thought that if you are experiencing issues above the neck (such as a runny nose) you can still run, but if the symptoms occur below the neck, you shouldn't. And of course, heat exhaustion is not something to play with; it can lead to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening medical condition.
The chance to complete the inaugural Dumbo Double Dare Challenge was too strong to pass up, however. I am proud of the fact that I finished under very challenging conditions, and I have even more respect for those who regularly walk these events.
I plan on being back for another go at the Dumbo Double Dare in 2014—hope to see you there!