Race Review – Disneyland 1/2 Marathon

September 2, 2012
Anaheim, CA

This race takes place over Labor Day Weekend each year.  It began in 2006 and we participated for the first time in 2007 as our second 1/2 marathon (… actually, our 2nd event of any kind). After doing this race once, we knew it we’d be back! This year was our 5th time and we are still enjoying it!

In 2007 we were just getting started with endurance sports and were excited to have the chance to run through Disneyland.  Since this event is over Labor Day Weekend, most years it is also the same weekend of my birthday.  That was the case in ’07 so, we decided to go out a couple days early and really enjoy the weekend.

We booked a room at the Disneyland Hotel on the concierge level and really made the most of the weekend.  If you can – this is the way to go!

A few of our friends came to to participate in the race as well.  We met up in our room before the race (the race begins right outside the hotel) and then we celebrated with breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen afterwards.

That year they ended up black-flagging the race because the heat index got too high.  They warned us in the morning that it was warm and we should take it easy.  With a few miles to go, they shut off all clocks and turned it into a fun run to encourage people not to compete.  This is rare and has not happened any other year.

That year the race was held on Monday (Labor Day).  Because we all had to go back to work Tuesday, we had to check-out of the hotel and drive home after the race … that was rough – especially given the fact that we were still new to the sport and did not train well for it … and, the conditions were less than ideal.  

Despite all that, we had a great time and couldn’t wait to return.  So, that’s what we did in 2008 – this time we included some of my family in the Disneyland weekend fun.  The weather was much better and the race was moved to Sunday so we could stay the extra night.  This meant we didn’t have to rush after the race – we could enjoy the day and leisurely drive home on Monday.  
In an effort to save money this year, we stayed in one of the good neighbor hotels – Desert Palms Hotel & Suites.  This was nice.  We had a big family group so we stayed in one of the family suites and it worked out well for the weekend.  Definitely wasn’t the same as staying at the Disneyland Hotel, though!
For some reason we skipped 2009.  That year we did our first marathon in January and pretty much didn’t do any more running for a while (it was a pretty bad experience).  That summer we purchased our road bikes and started doing a lot of cycling and began training for triathlons.
In 2010 we were ready to go back! This time it was just us and we were ready to run. This year we ended up staying at The Grand Californian.  Beautiful hotel … not as close to the start as the Disneyland Hotel but somehow at the time we ended up with an amazing rate there and couldn’t pass it up!  Because of all the triathlon training, even though we didn’t specifically train for this event, we both walked away with PRs and were able to finish the race fast enough that we got into Disneyland as it was opening that day!  We spent the day in the park and felt great … the difference fitness level makes!

In 2011 we flew to Florida to participate in Goofy’s Challenge at Walt Disney World in January.  With that, Disney offers a special ‘Coast to Coast’ medal for anyone who participates in a race in Florida and California within the same year.  Therefore, we HAD to go back to Disneyland!

 It was back to the Disneyland Hotel for us this year – it you book it early enough, you can get it at a reasonable price and it really is worth the extra money.

For the first time, I decided to dress up for this race – I always see people in costume at these events and thought it looked like fun, so I gave it a go … and yes, it was FUN! I couldn’t believe how many more cheers I received and the extra motivation from the crowd took me to another PR.  I believe I was one of the first costumed runners to cross the finish line because once I received my medal I was interviewed by RunDisney about running in costume.

Once I came down from the adrenaline rush of a great race, I decided I wanted to run in costume for all our Disney races!

Upon crossing the finish line, we received the ‘Disneyland 1/2 Marathon’ medal with everyone else and then proceeded to the ‘Coast to Coast’ area where they checked for our wristbands and gave us our second medal.

Now for this year … In January, Disneyland hosted their inaugural Tinker Bell 1/2 Marathon.  Naturally, we couldn’t miss out on that! It was another chance for me to run in costume and Disney knows how to host fun events! Plus, it’s an excuse to visit the parks! With it being in the winter, training went much better and I ran for a new PR – one that will be hard for me to beat! So, for this race, knowing I was coming off a summer running lull, I went into it with the goal of having fun. I also figured this would be a chance to really take it all in and have race details to blog about … so, here it goes:

We learned that the airport is VERY
slow on weekday evenings!

Depending on our work schedule, we normally try to get to California on either Thursday or Friday prior to the race.  This year, it worked out for us to catch an afternoon flight on Thursday – we got in and checked into our room at Del Sol.  Sadly, this year we waited too long to book a room at the Disneyland Hotel and the only rooms left were too expensive – so, we went with a good neighbor hotel.  We have stayed at this hotel for other Disneyland trips and it was a good substitute – it is very close to the parks, we just knew we would need to budget more time on race morning to get to the start.

That evening we went into the parks for a short time (one of the perks of having annual passes) and then called it an early night.  Friday started by getting to the parks at opening.  Around lunchtime we went over to the expo and ended up being there as it was opening.  We have never been around as the expo opened and were surprised at how busy it was! There is no benefit to getting there early – I’d suggest waiting a few hours until the lines die down. Although, once we were in, we had no problem.

You start by going down into the parking structure – they do a nice job of making your forget that’s what it is and have the check-in process very well organized!  We got our bibs (and, it’s fun to see our numbers drop!) and then headed back upstairs.

Upstairs is where you enter the expo.  You are first directed to pick up your shirt and receive your goodie bag.  I must say I was a little disappointed at the lack of stuff in the ‘goodie’ bag.  In previous years it felt as though we received a little more – one year we even got disposable cameras.

Then, as with most expos, it was time to wonder and see the vendors.  We made our way through the usual booths and picked up any freebies they were handing out.  We then took our stuff back to the hotel and went back into the parks to play.

Saturday morning started with the Family 5K.  We knew a few people participating in this and wanted to see how it was going so we headed over to Disney’s California Adventure.  With the opening of the new Cars Land, they had the 5k finish line in the park and were allowing spectators access into the park.  Our friends enjoyed the event and it appeared to be a well-run event.  We were impressed with how spectator friendly it was – especially since it was inside the park. One of these days we’ll add that into our weekend plans.

As the 5K was finishing up, they got everyone out of the park so they could open. We then started playing in the parks again! That day we met up with a friend who was also participating in the half marathon.  We went with him back to the expo and spent a little more time wandering around the booths.  This time we spent a little time chatting with RunDisney’s Run Guru – Jeff Galloway.  My next goal is to qualify for Boston so I purchased his book and received a little motivation.

We also had the goal of staying off our feet as much as possible Saturday so we took advantage of ABCs  exclusive screenings offered for new fall shows.  This is a fun thing they do every year at this race.  By watching the pilot episode and filling out a questionnaire, you receive some sort of show paraphernalia.  We watched ‘The Neighbors’ (got a t-shirt) and ‘Last Resort’ (got a small flag).  It’s a neat way to get a sneak peek at new shows, stay off your feet and get out of the heat.

As we have done the past couple years, our pre-race dinner was at Naples in Downtown Disney.  They make fantastic pizzas!  We ate around 5pm in the company of good friends and then called it an early evening. In case you don’t know – the Patina Group has a birthday club. During your birthday month you get $30 or $50 off your dinner (depending on which restaurant you dine in).

Race morning always comes early – especially at Disney events! They work hard to keep normal operating park hours, which means early races! The half marathon began at 5:45 so we up a little after 4  to get all our stuff together and get to the starting area around 5.  The corrals are very well marked and organized and RunDisney knows how to throw a party – constant entertainment until the gun sounds … so, don’t worry about getting bored if you show up early!

Although last year I said I would always run in costume, this time I wasn’t able to come up with a good one in time.  So, instead, I let our niece paint my nails with some Disney spirit. I will say, it DEFINITELY wasn’t the same! After two costumed races with a constant cheer squad, this race felt a little quite and lonely!

About 4 miles in, I met up with a lady who was running about the same pace so she and I kept each other company and helped offer that little bit of encouragement when needed … it made a big difference!

Now, for the course: One thing I love about this race is that the few miles through the parks is always a little different – it keeps you guessing and keeps the motivation up.  In the 5 races we have done, I don’t think it has every been the exact same course.  I can say, the first 4 miles are always in the parks – you go through both Disneyland and California Adventure.  This year they started us in California Adventure, then we ran across Downtown Disney and into Disneyland.  The highlight in Disneyland is always running through the castle and they make sure to have plenty of photographers so everyone gets a photo at this spot!

This year they had us exit Disneyland through a back entrance in Toon Town – other years we’ve exited near Downtown Disney.  As you exit the park you quickly come upon the only ‘hill’ on the course – the freeway overpass.  Then, it’s a long 4 miles as you head towards the Honda Center and Angels Stadium.

Once you see the Honda Center, you’re good – from there you head to the canal that takes you to Angels Stadium.  For me, this is always the highlight of the race! As you approach the stadium, the parking lot is packed with boy scouts, girl scouts and cheerleaders all wanting to give you high fives and cheering like crazy.  That continues as you enter the stadium – the stands are packed with more scouts all cheering and hanging over the side to give high fives as you run along the warning track in the outfield.  Then you round home plate and head back out of the stadium.

As you leave the stadium, you hit the 10 mile mark – mile 10 is always my fastest mile because of the adrenaline run of the stadium and the crowd. At this point, it’s a 5K to get you back to Downtown Disney. As you turn the corner from the parking lot into the Downtown Disney area, the spectators line the course and cheer you in for the last half mile or so.  The spectators and volunteers at these events are always amazing!

After the race, as usual, there were refreshments.  Although, they tried something different this year.  They put together boxes of goodies.  The good part about this was that you didn’t have to worry about picking up all the different items and carrying them.  The bad part is that, if you’re a food hoarder after races, you can’t grab extras.  Along with the box of goodies, they also gave cooling towels, bananas and bottles of water and powerade.

They also take finisher’s photos and offer post-race massage … if you one of the earlier finishers, you should have no problem getting in and out … but, the line does get long quick!

We have also learned that the quicker you get back to the hotel and clean up – the quicker you get into the parks and the parks are generally pretty slow at the beginning of the day.  So, we did just that and were ready to celebrate another great race!

While in the parks, we ran into Jeff Galloway.  He was very personable – chatted with us for a while and took a photo … now I’m ready to start his training plan and get to Boston!

With Monday being a holiday, we took our time getting up, went into the parks one last time and then headed home.  It’s well worth it to stay that extra day!

RunDisney hosts a variety of events throughout the year – this happens to be a convenient one for us to participate in regularly.  If you haven’t yet experienced a Disney race, I’d highly recommend it!


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