When I signed Melissa and I up for the 10K at Disneyland’s Half Marathon Weekend in the early spring, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On one hand, Melissa has wanted to run a 10K for years and doing it at Disneyland was a good motivator. Additionally, I had only heard rave reviews of runDisney events and wanted to experience one in some form.
On the other hand, I despise running. When I exercise, and that’s a big ‘when’, I prefer to play some sort of game like football or basketball. Running for an hour or two straight is not fun for me, no matter if I am in decent shape or not.
With those pros and cons weighing on my mind, we started training around the time we registered and slowly got in decent shape to run the 10K. We never ran the full distance (6.2 miles) before the actual race but we ran over 5 miles once or twice and felt pretty good doing it.
We left for Disneyland on Tuesday night, spending a few days in the parks before our Saturday runs. While I plan to write a post with a few tips on doing runDisney events in the near future, one tip I’ll give now is to take it easy in the parks on the days leading up to your race. We went pretty hard on Wednesday and Thursday (a full trip report will come eventually too) before we had a fairly relaxing day on Friday. This had our feet and legs somewhat sore before the race. While the soreness wasn’t anything too bad, I would probably rethink my pre-race days if I was to do another event.
As with any runDisney event, this report should start with the Health and Fitness Expo. The expo was held at the Disneyland Hotel’s convention center. We went there on Friday to pick up our race bibs, t-shirts, and race information. As we entered, we first went into the underground parking structure where they had put temporary carpet down. There were booths laid out for each of the races, the 5K, 10K, half marathon, or the Dumbo Double Dare which was both the 10K and half marathon. There was also the Coast to Coast challenge, for the people who had done a half or full marathon in Walt Disney World and then were running the half marathon at Disneyland. We picked up our packet and gear with no trouble at all. The organization during this process was incredible and a sign of what was to come. That we hardly had to wait in a line at all, for anything in this event, even though there were over 9,000 runners, was a testament to the organization and detail involved.
After picking that up we moved to the actual Expo, where there were many vendors and a lot of merchandise to buy. I enjoyed the Expo, even though there wasn’t much I was interested in buying. As I mentioned, running isn’t one of my main hobbies but I still found much of the gear, technology, and food fascinating. If you are into running, or just fitness in general, I think you would really enjoy all the different vendors. We spent a few hours here before moving on.
We took it easy Friday night, going to Huntington Beach with some family and friends and then getting back to our hotel nice and early. I’m very happy we didn’t go to the parks that day, as much as I would have liked another day in Disneyland. The extra day of rest was necessary for us, especially with the early wake up time coming the next morning. (Please forgive the picture quality in this post as they were all taken with my iPhone as we were running instead of with my actual camera and, you know, not running.)
The early start time was another reason I was a little bit hesitant about signing up for the race. The race started at 5:30 AM and we had to check in a bag (which was optional) by 5:15 AM. I’m not a morning person, and wasn’t sure how my body would react to that. Thankfully, and to my surprise, the early morning wasn’t really an issue for me. Of course, it was tough to wake up at 4:15 (especially on a little less than 5 hours of sleep) but once we were walking to where the race would start, it was easy to wake up. The anticipation was palpable as we walked to the race with other runners. We were staying on a hotel on Harbor and the race started right next to the Disneyland Hotel so the walk over there took about 15 minutes.
We checked our bag in with ease, as they were again extremely organized. There was a stage nearby where a DJ was playing some tunes and where folks would later watch runners cross the finish line. After the check in, we headed to our corral. Because of the huge amount of people who run the races, runDisney breaks runners into corrals where they start. There were about 8 corrals for the 10K and we were in the third. While the corrals are supposed to go from the fastest runners to slowest, I don’t think they necessarily did that. Melissa and I aren’t very fast.
The start of the race was very exciting and the energy was really flowing. The race had a villain theme to it, and Cruella de Vil kept interrupting the emcees before the race. That was a fun twist. Everyone got out of the gate pretty quickly and it took a couple of minutes to get ourselves under control and at a pace that suited us. The first few miles of the race were probably the least exciting, which was good because we still had plenty of energy from the start and running the first few miles wasn’t too tough on our bodies anyway.
I was almost immediately surprised at how many people were walking the race. Some would switch between walking and running every couple of minutes but there were a number of people taking it nice and easy. As I said, Melissa and I aren’t the fleetest of foot but we were basically middle of the pack in our finish time. If you want to experience one of these events but are worried that you can’t keep up, pick one of the shorter runs and just power walk it. That will be the only time in my life I ever advocate power walking. It looks funny.
As you can see on the map above, the first mile was very straight without much to look at. We headed down Disneyland Drive and after about a mile turned toward the convention center. The roads were fairly narrow here and the first water stop added a little congestion but nothing that really affected us. The water stops were, again, really well done and organized nicely. Running past the convention center was probably the highlight of the first mile and a half, which isn’t saying much. After running past that we ran for a small stretch on Harbor. There were a few villain character meet and greets or picture opportunities at the mile markers in an otherwise pretty dark and quiet area.
There wasn’t much to look at in these first 2 miles but the crowds cheering us on and signs to read were enough. While it may sound sappy, I’m not sure that there was a greater highlight than all of these people encouraging us at 6 in the morning. I’m sure most of them had family running the race but they still clapped and yelled for us and that was empowering. One stranger near the start (and end) had a sign that read ‘I’m just a stranger but I’m proud of you too!’ That was the first of a few times that I was emotional during the race. While many of us, myself include, tend to minimize our own accomplishments, people lined the streets here to help you achieve and celebrate yours. The reason I bring up these people and signs now is there were a large number of signs down Harbor planted in the ground. Most of them were for specific runners, but they were still fun to read and something to take my mind off of how far there was to go.
Shortly after mile marker 2, we were behind California Adventure and about to enter Cars Land. The thrill of getting inside the parks made us pick up our pace a little bit. There was also the Cal State Fullerton marching band playing along the side of the road. This was a nice boost, as was the UC Irvine band playing later on.
We entered the park through the side of Cars Land, coming out by the Cozy Cone Motel. While the sunrise wasn’t quite what I had hoped it would be, it was still fun to see Cars Land in that early morning light. Melissa later said that she wished we had run through Cars Land instead of past it. I agree with her, although that is getting pretty nit picky.
After Cars Land we ran around Paradise Pier. There were a ton of characters around this area, including Lotso from Toy Story 3. This part of the race was probably where I felt the best. There was a ton to look at and the race was still early enough to where the distance hadn’t got to me. We passed the 3rd mile marker shortly before exiting California Adventure.
We exited California Adventure right next to Tower of Terror and entered a backstage area that would eventually lead us to the Disneyland entrance. This stretch was pretty narrow and crowded. There was a needed water break right in this area but it probably didn’t help the congestion here.
Before long we arrived at the entrance to Disneyland and went in. Melissa and I stopped for the restroom right before we entered Main Street. It was nice to be able to catch my breath but it also stiffened up my legs some. We moved down Main Street and turned right, into Tomorrowland. After looping around Tomorrowland we went past the Matterhorn and exited the park right by It’s a Small World.
We ran about half of a mile backstage, past some prop storage buildings and janitorial buildings. There were plenty of cast members in this area encouraging me and the other 9000 runners. This was the hardest part of the whole race for Melissa and I. Our bodies were hurting by now and not being in the parks lowered the excitement.
With that being said, there were some interesting things to look at. Extra ride vehicles stored in buildings, some Halloween decorations and where they keep the horses were a few of the highlights. This is also where the UC Irvine band was. Every little thing there was to look at helped push me along.
Coming back into Disneyland, we entered through ToonTown. I made some joke to the effect of ‘I don’t have to come back to the land since I’ve now seen it now’ that I’m sure all the other writers on this blog wouldn’t like. If you’re a ToonTown defender take comfort in knowing that I was probably wheezing while making fun of the land.
After ToonTown we ran through Fantasyland and the castle. I wasn’t stopping for as many pictures at this point because I was getting tired and I knew Melissa was, as well. Running through the castle was a blast and next we headed to Frontierland. The light along the river and above Tom Sawyer Island was probably the most breathtaking part of the race. We continued through Critter Country where Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox were out. There were a number of unique character meet and greets on this race. While I personally don’t love doing character meet and greets, I do enjoy seeing the characters that aren’t often out.
After leaving Critter Country we exited and ran backstage for a few minutes before reappearing in Downtown Disney. We ran straight through there before turning right and seeing the finish line. This was the area with the most amount amount of people cheering us on. It was incredibly encouraging and the last mile was much easier than the mile that preceded it.
We crossed the finish line and felt overjoyed. I imagine the next 20 minutes is as close as I’ll ever get to a runner’s high. After the finish line we took a quick picture, as they were understandably trying to get people out of the area. They had water and Powerade after the finish line and then a spot for pictures. After we took a picture we received our post-race refreshments that included bananas, chips, pretzels, energy bars, and a little bit of Almond Roca. We sat and ate them near the stage where they showed other racers passing the finish line. There, again, was no line to get our bag from the bag check. As you probably can tell, I’m still in awe of the organization that was involved in the event.
One of the last, and favorite, moments I had of the event was about 30 minutes after we finished. Melissa and I were trying to get to our breakfast reservation at Steakhouse 55 and were waiting in a crowd by the ESPN Zone to be able to cross the street. The last people in the race were a pair of Wounded Warriors who had their legs amputated. They had done the full race and were nearing the finish line. They showed video of these two men up on the big screen of the ESPN Zone and the crowd erupted in a huge cheer. It was a beautiful moment and very touching.
We then went to breakfast (a review coming) and later went back to our hotel for a nap. We were pretty tired and sore over the next few days but it was definitely worth it.
I can now understand why so many people swear by runDisney events. The organization was top notch and this was one of those memories that is already getting sweeter over time. Running the race may have been difficult but the achievement and thoughts of those sweet moments will stick with me for a very long time. I might do another race at some point, although I still don’t like running. More than a 10K might be out of the question but my interest is definitely peaked because of this.
Outside of the big events in my life (like my wedding, graduations, etc.) I’ve never felt more encouraged. The spectators and cast members cheering us on was such an honor. People typically go on a Disney vacation, or any vacation really, to get a break from the reality of their own life. This was not what this event reminded me of. While a vacation is for a break from reality, this event showed the very best in humanity. Strangers cheering strangers on to reach their own goal. That alone made running this 10K worth it. Of course, running through a castle was pretty cool too!