The Disneyland Half Marathon: 10 Years Running

by Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
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In 2006, Disneyland was in the midst of celebrating the park's 50th anniversary and what better way to celebrate a major milestone than to host the inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon and Family Fun Run 5K. Held the weekend of September 16th and 17th, registration opened October 15, 2005 and took just over five months to sell out with registration fees starting at $85 for the half and $25 for the 5K. Registration was capped at 12,000 participants (10,000 in the half and 2,000 in the 5K).

2015 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend at a Glance
Disneyland Half Marathon The flagship race is 13.1 miles long, held on Sunday. This timed event requires a pace of 16 minutes per mile (for a 3:30 finish time).
Disneyland 10K The 10-kilometer timed run is 6.2 miles long, held on Saturday. Requires a pace of 16 minutes per mile (for about a 1:40 finish time).
Disneyland 5K The 5-kilometer family fun run/walk is 3.1 miles long, held on Friday morning. Untimed, but officially requires a 16-minute-mile pace to receive a finisher's medal (roughly 50 minute finish time).
Dumbo Double Dare Challenge Special recognition (in the form of a medal) given to participants who successfully complete both the 10K and half-marathon back to back. Registration for the challenge is required.
Coast to Coast Medal Special recognition (in the form of a medal) given to Disneyland Half Marathon finishers who successfully completed either the Walt Disney World half-marathon or marathon, or Disney's Princess Half Marathon in 2015. [Epcot's Wine & Dine Half Marathon, held in November also qualifies, but those who do the Disneyland, and Wine & Dine, receive their Coast to Coast medal in Florida.]

Dubbed "the Happiest Race on Earth," 9,395 finishers from 49 states and 15 countries completed the inaugural half marathon with an average finish time of 2:34:22. Californian Ken Broady (a former Disneyland Cast Member) was the men's winner in a time of 1:11:31 and marathon star Kim Jones, the women's winner, completed the 13.1 course in 1:25:03. As was typical of races at that time, there was more of a focus on runners for the half marathon rather than being inclusive of walkers; those that did not finish the course in 3.5 hours no matter your start time were bused to the finish. Unlike today those that were bused did not receive the finisher's medal.

I was one of those who ran that first Disneyland Half Marathon. It was my second half marathon (the first being the 2006 Walt Disney World Half) and it was one of those crazy, fun, painful, ‘I have to come back next year' events. It started a ten year love affair with Disney races that shows no signs of slowing down or stopping anytime soon.


The inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend collectibles included gold mouse ears to commemorate Disneyland's golden anniversary. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

The same but different

As with most running events, major changes and minor tweaks in the races were made over the next few years. In 2007, the race weekend was moved from late in September to Labor Day Weekend, which brought a new challenge with traditionally hot and humid late summer temperatures. That year the race was almost "black-flagged" (canceled) when temperatures at race start were already pushing 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Coast-to-Coast Challenge also began in 2007, encouraging bi-coastal race participation by awarding a special Partners Statue medal to those who completed either the Walt Disney World marathon or half marathon and the Disneyland Half Marathon in the same calendar year.


The fifth anniversary medal design shows a running Mickey; Legacy runners receive a special lanyard showing their status. MousePlanet File Photo by Lorree Tachell.

In 2010, the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend celebrated its fifth anniversary with a special enameled half marathon medal (a change from the castle medal from the first four years) that was awarded to all finishers as well as the first acknowledgement of Legacy Status to roughly 570 race participants who completed all five Disneyland Half Marathons. Legacy participants were given a special lanyard to celebrate their accomplishment and runners' names were printed in the official race guide. Over 2,350 Partners Statue medals were also given out as the Coast-to-Coast Challenge continued to gain in popularity.

In response to the call to bring a challenge similar to the WDW Goofy Challenge west to Disneyland, runDisney added the Disneyland 10K and Dumbo Double Dare Challenge in 2013. The Dumbo Double Dare has continued to be a popular addition to an already very popular weekend, even while priced at over $300. 2013 also became the first year that runDisney races started to sell out in hours instead of months; the Disneyland Half Marathon took just 26 hours to sell out and the inaugural Dumbo Double Dare took less than an hour.

A celebration within a celebration

In 2015, as Disneyland celebrates its 60th anniversary, the Disneyland Half Marathon celebrates its own ten-year milestone. The weekend started off with a whimper on Thursday night at the Disneyland Half Marathon 10th Anniversary Party and ended with a bang on Sunday as over 15,000 runners and walkers completed the half marathon.

The Disneyland Half Marathon 10th Anniversary Party, a $99 adder to the race weekend, provided guests with after-hour access to the west-side of Disneyland from 9:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Thursday night. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Splash Mountain were open for partygoers, but it did not seem to draw the crowds runDisney had hoped. Party capacity was at 67 percent just a day before the event, and tickets were still available at both the expo and at park ticket booths. I would be surprised if more than 2,000 were actually at the party; given the late night right before the 5K and the ticket cost (which did not include food or drink), the park seemed oddly deserted.


An empty Main Street reflects the low party attendance. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

A few characters were scattered about the park for pictures, the runDisney DJ spun tunes from a barge on Rivers of America (where two little girls were the only ones dancing), and a Jamaican band played in Adventureland. We easily walked on to the attractions but by 10:30 p.m. with a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call waiting us, we decided to call it a night. Our friend Steve stayed for the private showing of the Paint the Night parade. Cast members greatly outnumbered the few partiers left, who enjoyed front row parade seating all along the parade route. It was a parade view few will ever experience.

Start the day with a fun 5K

As usual, the Disneyland 5K started bright and early Friday morning at 5:30 a.m. near the Lilo Parking Lot on Disneyland Drive. Race announcers Rudy Navotny (who has called all ten of the Disneyland Half Marathons) and Carrisa Bellert (in her first runDisney race after returning from maternity leave) were on hand to start the race with the Blue Fairy leading off the singing of the National Anthem. About 4,500 runners and walkers started in three corrals (A-C). The 3.1 mile course wound through Disney California Adventure (mile one), over to Disneyland (mile two), and ended by the Disneyland Hotel after passing through Downtown Disney. Maleficent was at the finish line and had what appeared to be a glorious time harassing everyone as they ran or walked by.


Runners passing through Disney California Adventure at dawn are greeted by the World of Color fountains. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Although there is no official runDisney acknowledgment of the effort, many of the Dumbo Double Dare Challengers also tack on the Disneyland 5K as a fun and relaxing precursor to the official race weekend. I have to say it felt great to get out in the darkness and relative cool of the early morning for a quick run. Old friend Runner Bob came in from Arizona, Texan in Tiara Mary was there, and MousePlanet reader Joanne Garant rounded out the 5K group. As always, Thomas and I stayed way too late in the park that night but finally made our escape after the firework cancelation.

Passed by a Churro

The Disneyland 10K, held Saturday morning at 5:30 a.m., takes race participants down Disneyland Drive to the Anaheim Convention Center where the course turns back toward the park down Harbor Drive. Once in the park, runners pass through Cars Land (a major picture opportunity for many of the runners) and then head over to Disneyland for miles four and five.

Villains were out in full force all along the course and included some lesser-seen characters such as Shan-Yu from Mulan and Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas who were located by "it's a small world." Lotso from Toy Story 3 was over in DCA as was Hades. Of course, I would have stopped for pictures had I remembered to put in my camera battery which was happily charging back at the hotel room. And to top off the morning, I was passed in the race by a churro. Yes, a larger-than-life churro zoomed past me as I made my way around the course. That's something you just don't see at races outside of a Disney park.


Dumbo Double Dare participant Karen Chu is known for her elaborate and clever race costumes, including this larger-than-life-size churro for the Disneyland 10K. Photo courtesy of Karen Chu.

Why yes, I am a Disneyland Legacy Runner

While we didn't stay out too terribly late Saturday night, the Sunday morning wake-up call came much too early. As one of the remaining Disneyland Half Marathon Legacy Runners (there were around 440 listed in the 2015 official race guide), it was time to get up and head out the door for my tenth Disneyland Half Marathon. Given my history at this race (running with a concussion in 2007, having a hamstring ‘connector' snap in 2014) not to mention assorted heat-related issues, I was completely amazed that I had made it with the streak intact. I wandered out into the dark morning and while it was warmer than the two previous mornings, temperatures were definitely in the "high but acceptable" range. Number ten, here I come.

runDisney pulled a fast one on us, changing the course from up Katella and back to the park via Harbor Blvd, to a pass backstage at DCA; this change avoids road closures, but meant I completely missed going past our hotel. Traditionally, Thomas (my Chief Support Officer) comes out and waits in the hotel driveway for me to run by. Oops… guess this time around I won't see Thomas until the end of the race.

The half marathon course continued across the esplanade between the parks with the traditional run through Sleeping Beauty's Castle around mile three. By mile four we were out on the streets of Anaheim where dancers, cheer squads, and marching bands provided welcome entertainment. Just after mile six, the Team MousePlanet "Candy from Strangers" stop was stationed where personalized signs along with pounds of orange slices and Red Vines, as well as cool sponges waited. As always, the stop was being mugged as I went by but I did get to say hello to a few fellow members of Team MousePlanet; this stop is always a very welcome sight and is gaining in popularity with runners and walkers every year.


Classic cars line the course on the way to Angels Stadium. Photo by Lorree Tachell.


The half marathon course includes a short stretch on the Santa Ana River trail. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Around mile seven, the course turns into ‘car row' with hundreds of classic cars lining the street for close to two miles. Mile nine includes a section along the dry riverbed and the run through Angels Stadium which is always a highlight of the race. The sight of all the spectators in the stands is pretty incredible. A big ‘thank you' to all the Boy and Girl Scout troops as well as all the other groups who spend their morning cheering us on as we make our way around the stadium.


Runners pass through Angels Stadium on their way to the finish line. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

After exiting the stadium, we headed down the last 3.1 miles of the course which always seems to take forever as shade is limited and the roads are hot. Finally, we again entered the backstage DCA area where we started just two hours before. Not long after, we finished the race at the Disneyland Hotel. It was here the morning took an ugly turn.

Faking it

Race participants who were running in the Dumbo Double Dare and who were also Disneyland Half Marathon Legacy Runners were given a special blue and purple race bib to acknowledge their achievement. The standard bib was orange and red. To be fair, there were probably less than 200 of these bibs but they were official and issued by runDisney. After crossing the finish line, my bib was checked and I was directed to the line of Legacy volunteers who were handing out the half marathon finisher's medals along with the special Legacy lanyard.


Dumbo Double Dare bibs for Legacy runners are a different color from the standard bib to show their Legacy status. Photo by Thomas Skripeck.

I had no more put the medal around my neck when a female security guard came up, pointed to my bib, and said it was a fake. I was ordered to immediately return my medal as "I didn't really earn it." I tried to explain why the bib was different from the standard bibs but she insisted this was the first one she had seen so it had to be a fake. Now if I was going to do a fake bib, wouldn't it have been a smarter idea to use the same colors as the other bibs instead of something that called it out as different?

By this time, as in the movie Inside Out, Joy had ‘left the building' and Anger was taking control of my emotions. I was tired and now my happy moment of celebration was ruined. The security guard and I walked over to the first runDisney volunteer who just looked confused and did nothing to help. Thankfully, the second runDisney volunteer we talked to shook her head at the security guard and told me to head over to pick up my Dumbo Double Dare Challenge medal.


This Legacy runner fashioned a skirt out of his Disneyland Half Marathon medal lanyards. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

After collecting the Dumbo medal, I found a runDisney cast member and kind of (well, as much as possible at that moment) calmly explained what had happened and that this experience was a REALLY unacceptable way to celebrate ten years of loyalty at the Disneyland Half Marathon. I'm not sure that he did anything, but to runDisney's credit I received a very nice phone call from a runDisney cast member who sincerely apologized for the issue within a day of sending an email detailing my finish experience. I'm still shaking my head over it.

Fortunately the remainder of the day was one of celebration as Thomas and I joined good friends for a long lunch in the park as well as the parade and fireworks. It was not only a day to commemorate ten years running the Disneyland Half Marathon but to also toast Joanne's success as she not only set a Personal Record in the 10K but she also knocked 16 minutes from her previous half marathon finish time.


Ten years of half marathon medals show the evolution of its design. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

The Disneyland Half Marathon by the numbers: 2006
(inaugural)
2010
(5th)
2015
(10th)
Registered participants 10,000 13,500 18,000
Finishers 9,538 12,349 15,228
Dumbo Double Dare Challenge participants N/A N/A 6,000
(registered)
Half-marathon registration cost $85 $120 $195
Time to sell out Over 5 months Over 8 months Just over one day

Californian James Landers won the 2015 Disneyland Half Marathon men's competition in 1:08:56 and Japan's Momoko Tanaka, who finished in 1:21:30, was the first international winner of the women's race. The average overall finish time has risen from 2:34:22 in 2006 to 2:52:31 in 2015.

No matter your time or your place, congratulations to all the finishers from 2006 thru 2015 and a big thank you to the thousands of volunteers who have supported the races over the years. We could not do what we love to do without you!

Mark your calendars for the 2016 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend coming September 1 through 4. The Legacy continues!

 

Comments

  1. By ziegfeldgirl

    Oh so sorry the end of your race went badly. I don't think volunteers understand the weird flood of emotions we experience crossing the finish line. I too am a Legacy Runner, wearing the Legacy Bib and I had a bit of a time getting my Legacy Ribbon medal. The first volunteer approached me, and I said, I'm a Legacy runner I think I get a Legacy Ribbon on my medal, do you know where I get that? She told me she had no idea what I was talking about and looked totally confused. 2nd volunteer knew what I meant and pointed me toward the right medal. When I approached the Legacy Medal volunteer she was very wary of me. She said I must check all your credentials to make sure you are legacy, she studied my bib intensely. Feeling awkward I joked, of course I'm Legacy, I'm here every year, don't you remember me? Then the volunteer laughed and handed me my Legacy lanyard medal and we both laughed. So I think RunDisney must have reinforced volunteers to be wary of scams and such seems like they were on heightened alert. But so happy to have 10 years done! Let's go for 20!!!

  2. By olegc

    so many volunteers - all scheduled, rescheduled, and re-assigned - you can kind of understand when a CM would not know an answer of "where to get something", etc. However, the basics of "These are the bibs this year. Identify and know them" seems pretty basic to me.

  3. By indyjones

    Our group of about 15 runners pretty much quit after the 4th year. Some of us ran year 5, only because we wanted to do the legacy thing. But just look at the price increase over the years and, in our opinion, the rapid decline in any "perks" that made this race worth it. By year 4 and 5 some of us saw maybe 3 or 4 characters along the entire course. Gone were all the characters cheering you along inside and around the parks. It clearly became a "let's see how much runners are willing to spend" thing on Disney's part, much as the crazy increase in AP prices recently. It costs more for a west coast AP (2 parks) then it does for a Orlando AP (4 parks and water parks). But that's another story.

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