Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend Recapby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
As the final runDisney event of 2016, the Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend, held November 10–13, closed out the year, with more medals, more super heroes, and one final chance to run through the Disneyland parks before 2017 rings in. The third annual event took on an extra patriotic tone with Veteran's Day falling on Friday, the day of the Captain America 5K. The entire weekend was a celebration of red, white, and blue.
No waiting, no shoving, no chaos
Every runDisney race weekend starts on Thursday mornings with the start of the official race expo and bib pickup (with the exception of Florida's Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January, which opens its expo on Wednesdays). For Super Heroes weekend, I unfortunately couldn't be at the expo for its 10:00 a.m. opening. Since I was seeing photos on social media of people lining up around 6:30 a.m., I assumed the line would be long, with a wait of at least an hour by the time I could get there. As a "survivor" of yet another chaotic WDW runDisney expo the previous week at the Wine & Dine Half Marathon, I was hoping that the West Coast runDisney team might run a smoother expo at Disneyland.
I arrived at the expo at the Disneyland Hotel just before 11:00 a.m. There was no cast member directing people upstairs to the holding pen nor were there real crowds in the lobby. I wandered over by the expo entrance doors expecting to be shooed away, but was instead greeted by a friendly cast member that directed me over to a second set of doors, where there was a short line of roughly 10 people. After three minutes or so of humming "It's a small line after all," we were moved to the queue outside of the merchandise area, where the wait was no more than five minutes long to enter the shopping area. Guess the initial rush had already come and gone—would there be any of the good stuff still available?
It turns out there was nothing to worry about; there was a lot of merchandise on the shelves and hanging on the walls. Super Heroes isn't my favorite runDisney theme, so perhaps my view of the merchandise was a bit tainted, but to me, it felt a bit underwhelming. Dr. Strange 10K merchandise seemed to be moving well, but I didn't see people walking out carrying handfuls of pins and armloads of shirts and jackets. I snagged 5K and 10K hats (love that they now have hats for all race distances) and a couple of "I did it" T-shirts, but that wa pretty much it. After that, it was downstairs to pick up bibs and back to the expo to pick up race shirts and wander the vendors. As in previous years in Disneyland, it was a very pain-free expo experience.
A perfect day for a patriotic 5K
Friday morning I joined close to 6,000 fellow participants for the Captain America 5K. The costumes were out in full-force. From super heroes to every branch of the service, the crowd was covered in red, white, and blue. Of course, official Super Heroes were also in attendance on the pre-race stage, with Captain America himself making a personal appearance at the start line. Naturally, a Hydra agent tried to foil the day, however, since his audio was not working, what we assume were threats were just soundless lips flapping in the breeze.
As it was Veteran's Day, the national anthem (performed a capella by the NightinGals) took on even more special meaning, as many veterans in the corrals, who had received cheers from the crowd just moments before, stood quietly at attention and saluted the flag during the song. I was standing very close to one older veteran, and I have to say that it was an emotional moment watching him sing along with the anthem. You could tell that flag and that song held very special meaning to him.
I was fortunate to be assigned in corral A. Just after 5:30 a.m., I was off on the run. The morning was warm, as unseasonably hot temperatures were hitting the Anaheim are,a but unlike the previous week in Walt Disney World, the humidity was blissfully low. The sun had yet to rise, and race participants would be done long before the temperatures were back in the 90s.
The Captain America 5K, which starts just outside the park on Disneyland Drive, spends the majority of time inside Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks, which makes it a magical experience, especially for those new to runDisney racing. Music from the movies played as Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and Black Widow posed for pictures all along the course. Spider-Man even made an appearance at the train station bridge and was obviously having a blast teasing the runners below him. After a brief run through Downtown Disney (where the Starbucks was already packed as always), the finish line was in sight by the Disneyland Hotel. I collected my real metal Captain America 5K medal and made my way back to the hotel before heading into the parks for the day.
If you've ever been to Disneyland in late afternoon, you may have observed or overheard the daily flag retreat. On Veteran's Day, the ceremony takes on a deeper meaning, with a larger crowd gathering to pay their respects to veterans. The Dapper Dans, in their red striped vests and straw hats, marched down Main Street to Town Square and stopped at the base of the flag pole, followed by the Disneyland Band, the Disneyland Resort Security Honor Guard, and, to the roar of the crowd, over 50 Disneyland cast members who were former or current members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Saturday's Dr. Strange 10K
Bright and early Saturday morning, it was time to hit the roads for the Dr. Strange 10K. The morning was less humid than Friday. As with the previous day's Captain America 5K, there were super heroes galore in the corrals, including one not quite well-known character known as Squirrel Girl. There was something familiar about this particular character—it was Team MousePlanet's own Stephanie Wien, in a pair of ears, a sparkly-brown running skirt, a couple of acorns, and a squirrel tail! While she didn't have an army of squirrels at her disposal, she was still recognized by several race participants.
For the 10K, Stephanie and I were in the corral B, which still gave us a birds-eye view of pre-race festivities. Just before the start of the race, Dr. Strange himself appeared on stage to get the participants fired up. Later on the course, he was a popular picture stop, with a very long wait line.
The 10K course went down Disneyland Drive towards the Anaheim Convention Center, where it made a left turn up Convention Way. Participants then took a left on Harbor Boulevard to make their way back towards Disneyland, where they entered the back side of the parks on Disneyland Way. The next several miles were spent running through both DCA and Disneyland before finishing yet again by the Disneyland Hotel. I think this really is one of the best runDisney 10K courses and it's always fun to run this race.
Over 8,000 finishers (consisting of slightly more women than men) completed the 6.2-mile course and collected the Dr. Strange 10K medal. Chris Trebilcock from Tampa, Florida won the race in a time of 35:35 and Beth Woodward from Orrville, Ohio, was the first femalefinisher, in 40:41.
All good things must come to an end
Sunday morning brought yet another warm blue sky day for the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon. The course was changed from previous years, with the removal of the long, dry stretch along the riverbed. After the flying debris from 2014 and the long boring stretch in 2015, it wasn't missed in the least.
As with the other weekend races, the course started on Disneyland Drive and entered DCA just past the Grand California Hotel. Runners made their way thru DCA and over to Disneyland, where they exited the park toward Ball Road, headed up the overpass, and made a little loop off of Harbor Boulevard around mile four. By mile five everyone was again running thru the Convention Center but now they followed the road over to Orangewood Ave and Gene Autry Way before entering Angel's Stadium for a run around the bases. After another quick mile on Gene Autry Way, it was time to hit Disney Way for the final few miles of the race before finishing at the Disneyland Hotel. The general consensus was that the course was a vast improvement over previous years, and many race participants reported setting half marathon personal records.
Nicholas Arciniaga from Flagstaff, Arizona and dressed in his Spider-Man finest, completed 13.1 miles in a new course record of 1:09:28, taking nearly two minutes off the previous finish and coming in over five minutes faster than the second place finisher. This was his fourth runDisney half marathon victory at the Disneyland Resort. Lindsey Carter from nearby Huntington Beach was the first woman across the finish line, in 1:25:01. Brian Siemann of Savoy, Illinois, won the wheelchair division in both the Dr. Strange 10K and the Avenger Super Heroes Half Marathon.
Just over 7,700 race participants finished the 2016 Super Heroes Half Marathon; unfortunately I was not one of them. The old "Dumbo Double Dare" hamstring issue that cropped up the previous week at the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend was too painful to give the half marathon a shot without the potential of causing further damage. Plus there was a little issue of a flight to Texas for business that needed to be caught at LAX that morning. So, for the first time since running the inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon in 2006, I was not at the start line of a Disneyland Resort half marathon race. I guess the streak was bound to end sometime.
So where does it go from here?
2016 was an interesting year for the Super Heroes Half Marathon weekend. Neither the Infinity Gauntlet Challenge nor the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon sold out prior to race weekend; in fact, runDisney was still selling spots into both events at the expo on Friday. That there were more finishers in the 10K than in the half marathon shows the continuing popularity of the shorter distance, and may mean the need for some changes in strategy for runDisney.
One issue facing Super Heroes is they have major race competition that weekend, including Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas (their flagship event) as well as popular local area runs, such as the very popular Big Sur Half Marathon. Cost could be another factor as may well be the theme. The old course was definitely not a draw, and the Santa Ana winds of 2014 did not make for good memories. For many, Super Heroes may be more of a one-and-done experience.
In order to get people to commit early to 2017 (and to maybe gauge race interest) in a first for runDisney, a limited two-week pre-sale window for the 2017 event was opened for past race participants just after the 2016 race weekend was over. While we don't know how many took advantage of the offer, it's safe to say runDisney is looking for new ways to encourage return participation. At this point, it's still a wildly successful race weekend, but with the numbers thousands lower than any other runDisney race, especially for women, it's definitely one to watch in the next year or two if the numbers continue to decline.
But for now, Captain America and all his Avenger superhero friends are set to return in 2017 for the fourth Super Heroes Half Marathon Weekend. Hope to you there!