Blown Away at the Inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend

by Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
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To say I was blown away by the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon weekend held November 14 to 16 in Disneyland is perhaps too easy of a pun given Sunday morning's Santa Ana winds. But even though the winds unexpectedly swooped in, the weekend had a lot to offer including two fun race events, perfect running temperatures, and one of the most festive race atmospheres I've ever experienced. It was truly one of the best runDisney event weekends to date.

So not "Disney"

Last February, when Disney announced the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon, I have to admit I was less than excited about the theme. I've never been a real comic book fan and while I know Disney now owns the Avengers, they just don't have the traditional Disney feel. Still, the announcement of a new West Coast runDisney half-marathon weekend sounded exciting enough to get me signed up and book a trip to Anaheim.

There was a brand new half-marathon course, three inaugural events, and Christmas was just getting underway in the parks, which sounded like a perfect weekend to me. I'm glad I acted fast, because it took less than two hours for all three Avengers events (the 13.1-mile half-marathon, 3.1-mile 5-kilometer fun run, and kids races) to sell out, with the 5K being the first of the three events to fill up.


One of the many banners that greeted the 5K and half-marathon participants. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

The end of the line is where?

Given the high interest in Disney running events, my biggest fear of the weekend had to be the expo. Disney has had previous issues with the expo space at the Disneyland Hotel being too small for the crush of attending crowds, and indications were high that this would be a popular expo not only for race participants but also for Marvel Comics fans looking for collectibles.


A runDisney mix and mingle? Nope, just the merchandise queue waiting to get in. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

The queue for merchandise at Disneyland for runDisney events typically starts about two hours before the expo opens. But for Avengers weekend, merchandise, the line started to form just after 6:30 a.m. for the advertised 10:00 a.m. opening on Friday morning. Disney wisely opened the merchandise area early to keep the queue from overflowing and necessitating a visit from the fire marshal, but by the time 10:00 a.m. rolled around, the line wound through the hall, the expo speaker area and around the merchandise area, and the wait just to get into the merchandise area was close to an hour. Guess I knew where I was going to be for the next 60 minutes or so.

During the wait, video from the most recent runDisney events were played to entertain the crowd, and water stops were available in various locations.

Unfortunately for merchandise seekers who found out the hard way was that if you had to leave the line (say, to take a bathroom break), you were not allowed to return back to your spot in line. Cast members directed such individuals to the end of the line, which caused more than a few intense discussions with the cast members monitoring the lines. (Perhaps in the future, a system like a numbered wristband—something Disney has used for special events and has a lot of experience with—might help keep the peace?)


Cast members are kept busy selling the Avengers-themed Dooney & Burke bags. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Once inside the merchandise area, the most popular items seemed to be anything featuring Black Widow, the green "Smash the Half" Hulk shirt, and the raspberry-colored ladies Avengers Weekend jacket. Event pins and hats were also flying out the door at record speed. By 2:00 p.m. Friday afternoon when I returned to the expo with friends, most of that merchandise was sold out or in very low supply. Event pins had been replaced with generic Avengers pins from the parks. Dooney & Burke event bags, sold downstairs outside of the main merchandise area, were down to a few large bags and small wristlets. And within hours of purchase, Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend merchandise was up and overpriced on eBay.

Did you happen to see my hammer run by?

Saturday morning brought cool conditions and way too early of an alarm to get out the door for the 5:30 a.m. start of the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes 5K. My morning partner in crime, Mary Harokopus, and I joined the masses and headed down through Downtown Disney on the way to the start line.

The Avengers 5K course started, as other Disneyland 5K courses do, on Disneyland Drive, entering Disney California Adventure via an entrance by Radiator Springs. From there, we headed down Route 66, which looked incredible in the darkness of early morning, as always, but was even more enjoyable with the backdrop of Christmas decorations. Black Widow was available for pictures at the end of the road and even early in the race, there was a long line waiting for a chance to get a picture with an Avenger.


Which is stronger—Captain America's shield or Mary Harokopus' coffee? Photo by Lorree Tachell.

The 5K course then took us down by Grizzly River Rapids and out to the esplanade between the parks. Once in Disneyland Park, the course went up Main Street, around the Central Plaza hub, and out the back of Fantasyland. We then ran around Rivers of America, past the Haunted Mansion, and out the back to Downtown Disney to the finish by the Disneyland Hotel.

While in Disneyland, photo spots with Captain America and Thor were drawing large crowds and long lines. At Mary's request we stopped for pictures with Thor—and just before we took our places, a runner dressed as Mjolnir, Thor's Hammer, ran by. Thor watched as the hammer headed off down the road and drew laughs from the crowd as he called out for it to return, to no avail.


Thor's Hammer on the run. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

After the 5K fun run, we caught up with Runner Bob Howard, the third member of our weekend running gang, and Patty Burger, who was instrumental in helping with pre-and post-race logistics. Normally, we don't require logistical assistance, but someone (whose initials are BH) had the brilliant idea of running the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon on Sunday morning, hopping a quick flight to Las Vegas, then running Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon Sunday evening. Yes, you read that right. One day. Two states. Two half marathons (or one reeeeally long marathon). Given Sunday's agenda, we should have been good and spent the day resting but the parks and attractions called much too loudly. Before we knew it, night was upon us and it was time to make our way back to our respective hotels to get a few much needed hours of sleep.

Avengers Assemble

On Sunday morning, we again headed out early to be in the corrals for the 5:30 start of the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon. The morning weather was crisp and cool—perfect for a morning run. It seemed like almost half of the race crowd was in some form of superhero wear with red, white, and blue Captain America costumes lending an especially festive look and feel to the day.

Not including the elite runners (who stood right in front of the start line), there were eight corrals that spread out the (slightly fewer than) 13,000 race participants based on expected finish time. Close to half of the participants were assigned to the last two corrals (either anticipating a more leisurely pace, or not providing proof of a faster pace). After the National Anthem and the usual litany of race announcer chatter, the corrals began to move out every five minutes in groups of two; given their size, corrals G and H were released separately.

While we spent too short a time in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (just over two miles were actually in the parks), they were quality miles—we had the thrill of running out of Sleeping Beauty Castle and down Main Street, which, decorated for the Christmas holiday season, made the run an even more magical Disney experience.


Christmas decorations make the run down Main Street even more magical. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Once we left the parks, we went south on Harbor Boulevard toward Chapman Avenue, where we made a left turn directly into the Santa Ana winds. Gusting over 20 miles per hour, the winds created a challenge; not only were we running directly into them, but they were also destroying the course mileage markers. The top of the mile 4 course marker blew halfway down the block before a race volunteer finally grabbed it. The remainder of the mileage markers were either down, moved, or both. Fortunately, many race participants were running with a GPS tracker of some sort that provided mileage information without needing to rely solely on the signs.

Around mile 5.5 there was a most welcome sight, as three bundled-up members of Team MousePlanet were standing out in the wind offering "candy from strangers"—the Red Vines licorice they offered were just the perfect boost at just the right time. It was wonderful to see their smiling faces as we ran by.


The mile markers didn't stand a chance against the Santa Ana winds. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Just past mile 6, we were greeted by a long line of cosplayers dressed as just about any Marvel superhero one could name. Even with the winds whipping, they cheered on the runners and offered high-fives to anyone carrying to reach out.


Cosplayers greet the half-marathoners. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

With Angels Stadium waiting on the horizon, we endured blowing sand, flying tree branches, and tipping porta-loos as we ran along the dry river bed. More than one runner dressed as Captain America tried using their shield as a wind break, and by this point anyone wearing wings had either discarded them or was dealing with a tangled mess on their backs. Water stop volunteers were challenged to keep flying dirt from dropping into the pre-poured cups of water and Powerade, and some stations even lost entire set-ups of water cups as tables were rocked by the wind. At this point, conditions could best be described as challenging.

Shortly after mile 8, we entered Angel's Stadium to the sounds of marching bands, and took a quick (and dusty) lap ran around the baseline. As we exited out of the stadium and made our way down Gene Autry Way, we were greeted by a long line of people dressed in military uniforms. Dressed in full dress uniforms or other uniforms of their line of service, they provided a fun and enthusiastic cheer squad that kept us motivated and moving.


Military veterans have a great time cheering on the half marathon race participants. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

From mile 10 on Disney Way, with no mile markers left standing until mile 13, we slowly made our way back to the parks. The winds whipped alternately at our backs and in our faces (and was strong enough to knock at least one runner over), making the final three miles seem much longer than it should have been. One final little hill remained at mile 12 as we exited the park tunnel and made the turn to the last mile and the finish by the Disneyland Hotel.

Due to high winds blowing debris and tents around, the post-race meeting location, which is normally teeming with friends and family, was eerily quiet, with cast members quickly hustling race participants out and away from the area. It was rather an anticlimactic finish to the race but due to safety concerns, it was the smart and necessary thing to do. Regardless, we had completed the inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon! [And our group was off to further adventures that evening in Las Vegas for the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon.]


One half-marathon down. One to go. Mary Harokopus, Lorree Tachell, and Robert Howard take a moment between races. Photo by Thomas Skripek

runDisney has another hit on its hands

Of the 12,783 registered Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon participants, 10,463 finished the 2014 inaugural race. I preduct a growth pattern similar to what we saw for both the Disneyland and Tinker Bell half marathons—runDisney will likely increase race capacity next year, but given the generally positive race reviews, demand will also increase. That means that those wanting to register will need to make arrangements to sign up the moment registration opens. And given the move from three to four days in 2015, could an additional event, like a 10K, and a multi-event challenge (such as a 10K/half-marathon combination) be in the works?

Aside from the winds, the only real negative about the half-marathon that I heard was the distance spent in the parks was too short. Hopefully race organizers will make course adjustments. I wouldn't be surprised if the 2015 course had a few other changes as well; traffic around the not-yet opened new Catholic church around mile 5 could prove problematic on a Sunday morning, and it wouldn't hurt to rework the long stretch by the dry riverbed. But overall, I believe the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend is a great addition to the West Coast runDisney stable of events.


Race bibs and medals from the 2014 Avengers Super Heroes 5k and Half Marathon. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Thanks again to all the race volunteers as well as the cast members, cosplayers, bands, Team MousePlanet members, and Military veterans who braved the Santa Ana winds much longer than we did Sunday morning to cheer us on and keep us hydrated. We couldn't do these crazy things called half-marathons without their support.

It's the end of another great season of runDisney events. Hope to see you in January at Walt Disney World for the start of the 2015 runDisney race season, including the 10th anniversary of the Goofy Challenge in Walt Disney World.

 

Comments

  1. By Gone2Disneyland

    Thanks for the personal recap, Lorree. I signed up for the Star Wars 10k, and it was very interesting to read about your experience at the Avengers Expo. "And within hours of purchase, Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend merchandise was up and overpriced on eBay." At least now I know I'll have to consider getting to the SW Expo early too just to have a fair chance at getting what I want unless they do the wristband thing you suggested. I did the first five Disneyland 1/2s, so I was familiar with seeing friendly faces along the long route. But that picture you included of military veterans along the course was pretty darn heartwarming. Considering today's weather report of rain, that's the kind of weather I'm wondering if I'll have to contend with during the SW 10k. Anyway, thanks again! And congrats on earning your new medals!

  2. By olegc

    nice write up. I got to the expo around 9am, checked in, and got in the merch line (started in the foyer). waited about 45 min or a little less, and most of the items except Smash the Half and the black shortsleeve shirt were still available in most sizes. but my guess is a soon as the D&B line quieted down that group came upstairs quickly. For Star Wars I think it will be worse but unless you have a must have selection I would think an 8am arrive in line might be OK.... or, maybe 7 ;-)

  3. By fairestoneofall

    Thanks for the write up. One of my padder friends was sending me updates from her farm weather GPS. Her data showed sustained winds from 15-20 mph throughout the course with gusts 45-55 mph. It was crazy. I didn't mind the course, other than the lack of park time. It wasn't very technical and was relatively flat. I feel that, without the wind, I could have had a PR on my hands. I'll participate again.

  4. By Pammer

    Congratulations on finishing another couple of races, Lorree...very nice!

  5. By Ohthatjeff

    First of all, congrats! Secondly, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like you had a blast. And it never would have occurred to me ever to dress as Mjolnor. Just noticed one thing though: the "veterans" in your photograph appear to be actors representing ABC's "Marvel's Agent Carter" series which debuts this January.

  6. By RunningFool

    Quote Originally Posted by Ohthatjeff View Post
    First of all, congrats! Secondly, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds like you had a blast. And it never would have occurred to me ever to dress as Mjolnor. Just noticed one thing though: the "veterans" in your photograph appear to be actors representing ABC's "Marvel's Agent Carter" series which debuts this January.

    Thank you! Even with the wind it was a blast.

    On the veterans - runDisney had sent out a notice seeking Military Veterans to volunteer to cheer along the course. Here's a bit of the notice:

    Volunteers are needed to provide Orange County landmarks with groups that will supply energy & enthusiasm. Military Veterans are invited to support the runners by cheering for them along the route. This is a great community service opportunity!
    Military Veterans who meet the following criteria – and who register before Friday, November 07, 2014 (or while space is available) – are eligible to participate:
    • Participants must come dressed in Military dress uniform, fatigues, or something branded to their branch of the Military.


    Now, that said, perhaps they didn't get enough Military volunteers and supplemented with actors but either way, they were a happy and cheerful bunch!

  7. By cstephens

    I did think Disney did a great job in keeping the merchandise line very organized. We got in line at about 7am downstairs since it was sprinkling outside, and they had very defined lines for regular merchandise, Dooney and Burke purses and packet pickup.

    I'm confused about the comment that people weren't allowed to take bathroom breaks and go back to their place in line, because I definitely did that with no problem.

  8. By olegc

    Quote Originally Posted by cstephens View Post
    I'm confused about the comment that people weren't allowed to take bathroom breaks and go back to their place in line, because I definitely did that with no problem.

    I was not there when you were - but I would say that its probably a typical case of one CMs interpretation of managing the line vs another. I have read numerous accounts on this board over the years where some say they had no problems where others say they were hassled. It would not surprise me that this may be the case.

  9. By RunningFool

    Quote Originally Posted by cstephens View Post
    I did think Disney did a great job in keeping the merchandise line very organized. We got in line at about 7am downstairs since it was sprinkling outside, and they had very defined lines for regular merchandise, Dooney and Burke purses and packet pickup.

    I'm confused about the comment that people weren't allowed to take bathroom breaks and go back to their place in line, because I definitely did that with no problem.

    You were one of the lucky ones. I witnessed two situations (one of which involved taking a small child to the restroom) where the CM refused to let them back in line. Now, that was once the line moved to the speaker's floor area so that may have been the issue but neither were pleasant conversations.

  10. By cstephens

    Quote Originally Posted by RunningFool View Post
    You were one of the lucky ones. I witnessed two situations (one of which involved taking a small child to the restroom) where the CM refused to let them back in line. Now, that was once the line moved to the speaker's floor area so that may have been the issue but neither were pleasant conversations.

    Hmmm, I wonder if they changed how they were handling it because of people just jumping in line, because I certainly wasn't one of the lucky ones. In the 2 hours that I was in line, people were easily moving in and out of line, for bathroom breaks, to get coffee and bring it back, to go to another line to chat with friends. It was a pretty fluid situation. Also, in cases like that, the people in line tend to police themselves. You've been there for a while, you know the people around you. If a random stranger tries to get in line, you're going to notice, and you'll speak up, and the people around you will back you up.

  11. By stan4d_steph

    I would not be surprised if two cast members were giving different instructions. I would hope they'd do better about letting people in and out, but if the line moves it can be difficult for staff to know who was where.

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