Blown Away at the Inaugural Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekendby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.