Elephants Fly Over Disneyland Half Marathon Weekendby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
Since high temperatures and humid conditions were on tap for the ninth annual Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend held over Labor Day in sunny Anaheim, I guess it was fitting that the 3.1-mile 5K and 6.2-mile 10K events were themed to Hawaii and the characters of Lilo and Stitch; Frozen wouldn't have cut it in this weather.
The weekend, which started on Thursday with the runDisney Health and Fitness Expo and which ended 22.4 miles later on Sunday with the Disneyland Half Marathon and second annual Dumbo Double Dare challenge, was filled with shopping and running, and for me, spending time with friends and family.
Organized shopping—what a concept
If you were one of the poor unfortunate souls (or with this being a running event, "soles") who spent several hours in the scrum that was opening day for the 2013 runDisney Health and Fitness Expo, you were in for a treat this year.
Using the changes implemented for the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend, packet pick-up, New Balance shoe orders, and official merchandise shopping Thursday afternoon went remarkably fast and pain-free. Although a few "end of the line" signs for cast members and perhaps hanging ceiling signs to designate each "pod" would have been nice additions, three orderly queues were formed and managed in the cool underground of the Disneyland Hotel parking garage.
As an added bonus, those of us who chose to shop first were pleasantly surprised when the lines started moving up into a secondary queue outside of the merchandise area in the Disneyland Hotel almost 30 minutes earlier than the published opening time.
Winding around and back again in queues as only Disney cast members can orchestrate (with even a water stop), shoppers quickly made their way to the front of the line, where they were handed shopping bags and allowed into the walled-off shopping area in small batches.
Shoppers then joined a very short queue for the cash registers, which had been moved from the main merchandise area to a small room off to the side and out of the way. It truly was a night-and-day experience compared to the 2013 expo—kudos to runDisney expo organizers for implementing the much-needed changes.
As for merchandise, while I did hear a lot of grumbling over the lack of 5K and 10K items, there were more than enough Dumbo Double Dare and half-marathon shirts, jackets, and hats for purchase this time around. No shoving. No stressed-out cast members trapped by a shopping frenzied mob. It was remarkably very calm and civilized.
Event wine glasses were gone by day two of the expo on late Friday afternoon, as were most of the pins and hats—but otherwise, there appeared to be a surprising amount of merchandise left, including a very hefty selection of unpopular "Disneyland Marathon" Dooney & Bourke bags, the remainder of which eventually made their way to Disneyland shops on Sunday. [Unlike other runDisney events where shoppers clamor over the D&B purses, these remained largely unsold, probably because the design appeared intended for the Walt Disney World Marathon, with the use of the word "Disneyland" as the only noticeable change.]
Packet pick-up was also a smooth operation. I received my Coast-to-Coast wristband and my Dumbo Double Dare race bib (which correctly noted my half-marathon Legacy race status of running all the Disneyland Half Marathons since the inaugural event in 2006). The biggest negative was confirming that for the first time Thomas would not be able to follow me along the course through runner tracking, becuse runDisney changed the notification method to AT&T tracking, and our mobile carrier is not one that it recognized. That is a big bummer we'll have to work around.
I was also able to pick up packets for friends Paul, Ricky, and David Correa-Sorich, three brothers who were were doing their first half-marathon on Sunday. The Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend was sadly one of the last runDisney events where I was able to do this for my friends, since starting with the 2014 Avenger's Super Hero Half Marathon and 5K in November, all adult race participants must pick up their own runDisney race packets at the expo in person.
The biggest challenge? Getting up early
Ask anyone who participates in a runDisney Challenge event what the most difficult part is of running back-to-back races is, and they will tell you that it's getting up early on multiple mornings to make the race starts.
For the Dumbo Double Dare challenge, that means getting up early for both Saturday and Sunday (at least it's not four days, like the Walt Disney World Marathon Dopey Challenge).
But many weekend participants (myself included) can't resist the lure of the traditional rubber medal, so we make it three-for-three by participating in the 5K on Friday in addition to the 10K on Saturday and half-marathon on Sunday. All in all, it would come to 22.4 magical runDisney miles; I couldn't wait for the fun to begin!
Friday's Disneyland 5K
On Friday morning, I caught up with friends James Schaap and Amy Moraz at 4:30 a.m. in the lobby of the Candy Cane Inn. As a regular at the hotel, I've known both of them for years, and have long encouraged them to come and try a runDisney 5K. Finally, they could no longer resist the lure of the 5K rubber medal and decided that 2014 would be their year to give the race a try—the 2014 Disneyland 5K would not only be their first runDisney race, but their very first 5K as well.
We headed out the door, wandered through Downtown Disney, and soon found ourselves at the race starting line.
Unlike previous 5-kilometer fun runs at Disneyland, the race corrals were no longer first-come, first-served. Participants were assigned to one of three corrals (A, B, and C) to better manage the crowd of over 6,000.
I was lucky enough to be placed in corral A; being their first event, James and Amy were in C. Regardless of corral placement, everyone was lucky enough to hear the national anthem as sung by Disneyland cast member "Tiny," who accompanied himself on the ukulele. It was absolutely one of the best renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" I've ever heard.
The usual suspects of Rudy Novotny and Carrisa Bealert were on hand to announce the race, with Lilo and Stitch making an appearance as well.
We finally received the "GO" and headed down Disneyland Drive, where we were backstage of Disney California Adventure (to the calls of "No pictures backstage"—that was new), and then magically, we were in the park running on Route 66.
We wound down by Grizzly River Rapids (watching the roads, as it's dark through there), flew by Soarin' and out the main gate and across the esplanade to Disneyland. Then it was up Main Street, thru Fantasy Land, around Rivers of America, and out of the park onto the road through Downtown Disney.
Given that I had three mornings in a row to run, I happily took my time taking pictures along the way, although it seemed that there were far fewer characters out in either park. I trotted across the finish line, collected my Lilo and Stitch 5K finisher's medal, and started back to the hotel.
Along the way, I kept watching the sea of humanity to see if I could spot James and Amy. I was hoping they were having a wonderful time. I eventually parked myself by La Brea Bakery, which was the turn to Downtown Disney. Soon, I spotted two familiar faces in the crowd—James and Amy were on their way to their first 5K finish! I waved like a raving idiot to get their attention; once I was spotted, James came running over and gave me a sweaty hug. They continued on their way to the finish and picked up the first of what I believe will be many more runDisney race medals. I'm so very proud of them both.
The perfect viewing location
The alarm went off way too early at 4:00 a.m. Saturday morning for the 10K. I stumbled around the hotel room trying not to wake Thomas, who was still recovering from a nasty spill he had taken over in DCA on Thursday when he missed a curb at twilight (fortunately nothing was broken, but everything was sore, scraped, and bruised).
We always stay at the Candy Cane Inn because of its close proximity to the races and the parks, but also because it is directly on the race course for both the 10K and half-marathons. Thomas can usually estimate when I'll be running by, and positions himself in the hotel driveway so we can greet each other. Given his painful recent adventures, this time around I fully expected him to stay in bed and rest.
By 4:30 a.m., I was out the door and on the road to the start. Team MousePlanet was hosting a 10K group photo meet that morning and had I not been caught in the sea of humanity trying to get through the bag check lines, I would have made it in time to see everyone. As it was, I just missed the meet-up and instead headed over to corral C, where I would start the race.
To manage 10,000 runners and walkers, there were five corrals for the 10K. I was happy to be starting smack in the middle of the pack in corral C since I was running for pictures and not time. Rudy and Carissa were again announcing the race, and a Lilo-less Stitch also made an appearance.
Do not get me started, however, on the screeching character on stage who, in what was an attempt to be funny as she "looked for Elvis," left most of the folks in my corral covering their ears in pain. And then there was Elvis himself who, bless his heart, attempted to sing the national anthem. Time apparently hasn't been kind to this Elvis, and unfortunately, the rendition missed the mark.
As with the 5K, Hawaiian music played while the 10K corrals headed out beyond the start line. With five minutes between each corral, I was on the road within 15 minutes of the official start. We again headed up Disney Drive but this time, we continued further down the road, where we turned and ran through the Anaheim Convention Center area and out to Harbor Boulevard. And there, waiting for me at the hotel, was Thomas. I ran up and got my good luck hug and kiss, which prompted the guy next to him to ask his friend why he didn't get a hug. Sorry, but I'm a one-person hugger.
After the quick stop, I continued up Harbor to Disney Way, where the course turned into the backstage area around DCA. This time, there was no one saying we couldn't take pictures—so out came the camera. As with the 5K, the characters in the parks felt a little sparse, but two thumbs-up to the Third Shift custodial staff, who were out in force to cheer us on, including a great "high-four" hand-slapping line in Tomorrowland.
We next headed into DCA by Radiator Springs, ran around the lagoon where the World of Color jets were in full operation, past Grizzly and Soarin'—but this time, we ran up Buena Vista Street and around The Twlight Zone Tower of Terror. We again entered Disneyland and had the early morning thrill of running up Main Street, around through Tomorrowland, and back down through and out Sleeping Beauty Castle. Similar to the 5K, we ran by Rivers of America and out the park for a last half-mile and change through Downtown Disney.
I happily picked up medal #2 of the weekend and my Dumbo Double Dare wristband, and headed back up through Downtown Disney to return the hotel. ...Big mistake. While the first course-crossing switch worked great, the second one up by the Uva Bar was a disaster.
I'm not sure what caused the delays, but from what I could gather, the cast members weren't managing the flow of the run from one side to another but were instead waiting for large openings in the flow to move the ropes. Race finishers and their support crews were stuffed in like sardines from side to side and lined up from the Uva Bar all the way around the half circle and back.
Close to 30 minutes later, I had moved up close enough to cross the course and be on my way. While I was at the front, I did observe several runDisney cast members trying desperately to get a handle on getting folks from one side to another in a speedier fashion, and also had the opportunity to watch the 16-minute-mile pacers walk by. Then it was back to the hotel, a much-needed shower, and off to the parks for the day, where we caught up with friends for a wonderful relaxing evening and dinner at Plaza Inn.
Drip, drip, drip
The Sunday alarm was set for a painful 3:45 a.m. as I was in charge of the Team MousePlanet photo meet-up that morning. I was so excited—for the ninth year in a row, I was on my way to run the Disneyland Half Marathon.
I hoped my left knee—the "Dopey Knee" injured this past January during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend—would hold out, and that I would survive the heat and humidity better than in 2013 when I ended up with heat exhaustion. No matter what, with the 10th race anniversary happening in 2015, I would be finishing this race and retaining my legacy status.
By 4:45 a.m. I was in the start village waiting at the massage tent, where I met up with Tim Lee from our MousePad discussion boards. He's part of the Team MousePlanet Castle-to-Castle Challenge, so the weekend of running would give him an extra boost of miles to his final challenge totals.
The calls came to move to the start and off I wandered to find corral G, where I would start the race. This year, there were 10 corrals to manage 18,000 runners and walkers in the half marathon.
As we stood waiting for the start in the corrals, the temperature and humidity started to rise. Without even moving, in the dark of the early morning, a bead of sweat rolled down the side of my face. I'm not a real sweater so this was a most unpleasant surprise. Most of the runners around me were wiping sweat off their faces as well; it was just going to be one of those kind of mornings.
No Lilo and Stitch this morning—instead, it was Mickey and Minnie Mouse on hand to help start the race. We even had fireworks during the national anthem, which in Disneyland is pretty special considering the neighborhood and the early morning hour.
Corrals A and B went out together, as did corrals C and D, and E and F. Corral G, being one of the largest, was released on its own, as were the remaining corrals. Every corral went out to the strains of "Let it Go," which was a change from Hawaiian music—but no doubt the final few corrals were ready for something different by the time they hit the start line.
Paul and David, the young men for whom I had picked up the packets for on Thursday, were running their first half-marathons and were back in J, the last corral. Unfortunately, their brother Ricky had been injured in an accident two weeks prior, and decided to take his doctor's advice to sit this one out. Given that both Paul and David are much younger, faster, and in better shape, I figured no matter where they started, they would be smoking by me in no time.
Cars, characters, and orange slices
The Disneyland Half Marathon course starts on Disneyland Drive, heads up Katella, and left turns on to Harbor Boulevard. Still stiff and sore from the fall, Thomas was again out in front of the hotel waiting with a hug and a kiss for luck. I would need it that morning—being a lifelong Pacific Northwest runner, I'm the biggest weather wimp who wilts in temperatures over 50 degrees and shuts down in high humidity.
On the plus side, the morning stayed overcast which meant the sun wasn't blazing right away but the air was stagnant and still. We heard later we were running in 94 percent humidity—no wonder it felt so hard to breathe!
We again ran through DCA and Disneyland parks, where a few more characters were spotted—but again, not nearly as many were out as in previous years. After clearing the parks, we headed out on the streets of Anaheim, where at mile 6.5 we were greeted by the MousePlanet Cheer Station. Red Vines licorice, cold sponges, and orange slices were offered up to everyone running by. Hand-made signs requested by MousePlanet readers were staked out along the road as well. Never has an orange tasted so good as it did that morning—the station is a godsend at just the right time in the race.
I recognized both Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix and Stephanie Wien from Team MousePlanet, and wished I could have stopped longer to meet more of the team—but something told me to keep moving along. About a mile later, I was glad I pushed forward.
Around mile 7, the various car clubs from the Anaheim area had their show cars out on display. From old roadsters to Mustangs and Corvettes, there were over a mile of 300 classics on the road, with their owners out cheering on the runners. As a big car fan, it's always a highlight of my race.
Just before mile 8 and the Honda Center, I started to feel a familiar twinge in my knee—but this time, it was the right one, not the Dopey Knee from January. Within a half a mile, I was reduced down to a walk, as the same issue that plagued me in WDW struck again.
Well—pits. Not much to do but keep moving towards the finish line.
I hobbled into Angels Stadium, where I was greeted by the largest group of spectators I've ever seen there. Top to bottom and wall-to-wall, the place was filled to the brim; the noise was almost deafening.
I slowly made my way around the bases and out to Gene Autry Way, which meant I had just over 3.1 miles to finish. Prior to the race, I had a special shirt made with "Disneyland Legacy Runner" printed on the front and "Running all the Disneyland Half Marathons since 2006" on the back, which I hoped would start conversations with other race participants. Sure enough, it worked like a charm.
About this time, a fellow legacy named Thomas stopped to walk with me. He was having leg issues himself, so we settled into a nice walking pace and chatted the rest of the way in. Many other fellow legacies stopped to offer high-fives and share their excitement for the 2015 Disneyland Half Marathon, when we will be celebrating 10 years running the event. With only around 400 legacies remaining (from the original 650 or so recognized at the five-year mark in 2010), we're not as small a group as the Perfect Princesses (for the Princess Half Marathon), but it's still a pretty special group to be in.
Number 9 in the books
The last 3.1 miles of the half-marathon course head down Disney Way, past the Garden Walk, across Harbor Boulevard, and back in behind DCA, where participants eventually finish by the Disneyland Hotel. Although it wasn't quite the race I had planned, I was thrilled to keep the streak alive as I happily walked across that finish line yet again. I said good-bye to legacy Thomas with the hope that I would see him again next year, and headed off to collect my legacy lanyard and Disneyland Half Marathon finisher's medal, my Coast-to-Coast medal, and the Dumbo Double Dare medal.
I spotted my own Thomas as I exited out the baggage area and, with a bag of ice balanced on my head to cool me down, we slowly made the walk back to the hotel.
We later joined good friends and family, including Paul and David, who successfully completed their first half marathon (and yes, both finished before I did), for a relaxing and hilarious celebration lunch in Disneyland. There is nothing better than celebrating a successful race finish than with good food, great company, and lots of laughter.
Yup, it was a pretty good event
Overall, runDisney did an excellent job on the expo and the three weekend races. Yes, there could have been more characters out on the courses and it was frustrating that Thomas couldn't track me in the half-marathon, but in the big picture, it was another very successful race weekend.
Congratulationss to all the Team MousePlanet finishers—we had quite the contingent at all three weekend events. Congrats also to James, Amy, Paul, and David who all successfully completed their first runDisney events—looking forward to seeing you again next year in Disneyland for the 10th anniversary events.
Thanks again to all the volunteers who spent countless hours making sure we had safe and sane events throughout the weekend. Thanks also to Team MousePlanet for the cheer station, to the classic car clubs and their beautiful rides, and to all the performers who gave up their Sunday to entertain us as we made our way through the miles of the half-marathon. We could not do what we love to do without you.
And finally, my biggest thank you to Thomas, who supports me through all my runDisney folly. I couldn't ask for a better support crew.
Mark your calendars for Labor Day Weekend 2015 for the 10th Anniversary Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. Hope to see you there!