Disneyland Half-Marathon September 17, 2006
by Laura Gilbreath, AllEars.net's Disneyland Correspondent
My husband Lee and I ran the Inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon on September 17, 2006. We have run both the WDW Marathon and Half Marathon, so we were excited when they announced the Disneyland Half Marathon, since that's a lot closer to home for us! And you only get one chance to do the very first one! Besides, how could Disney fans not be excited about a race in the "Happiest Place on Earth"?
The event logistics were handled by the same folks who do the races at WDW, so registration and the periodic "newsletters" and all of that was the same as what we'd experienced with the WDW races. We were able to sign-up online at the www.disneylandhalfmarathon.com web site, and they had special hotel rates for runners. Since Disneyland does not have the number of hotels that WDW does, they had made arrangements for rooms at their "Good Neighbor" hotels as well as at the three Disneyland resorts. Unfortunately I didn't make reservations far enough in advance to stay at any of the Disneyland resorts, so we stayed at the Portofino Inn and Suites, which was quite nice.
We arrived Saturday afternoon since we had to pick up our bib numbers, timing chips, shirts, etc. at the Health and Fitness Expo at the Disneyland Hotel. We were pleasantly surprised that it was not at all crowded – only a few people in line in front of us. There weren't as many exhibitors as there usually are at WDW, but neither the exhibit area nor the merchandise area was crowded. (We did, in fact buy our "I DID IT" shirts BEFORE we ran, though we didn't wear them until afterwards!) Kaiser Permanente, the event's major sponsor, had a nice booth where they had some giveaways, and had a device to calculate your BMI and body fat percentage — that's where we saw the longest lines.
The race started at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. According to the literature, they wanted us in the starting area by 5:00, and the last buses left the hotels at 4:30. Unlike WDW, the hotels are all within walking distance, so we saw no reason to catch a bus that early, and we walked over about 4:45 — it was about 1.5 miles to the staging area (in the Lilo parking lot near the Disneyland Hotel) from our hotel. We saw several silly people that were running already — they had much lower bib numbers than we did — definitely the serious runner type.
September can be a hot month in southern California, and I had been quite concerned that it might be pretty warm on race day, but "Uncle Walt" must have pulled some strings up there and we had really wonderful weather for the race. It was about 60 at the start, and even though later it was clear and the sun was out, it was still under 70 by the time we finished, even though it got up to 88 later in the day.
There were 12,000 people entered in the race (it sold out by April). There were 5 start corrals – A-E. We were in Corral B, so we could see the starting line – barely. A few minutes before the race started, Mickey and Minnie, dressed in running clothes, came up on stage. The start line was under the monorail track and a monorail glided over and stopped above it – and leaning out the window and waving and cheering were a bunch of Disney characters, including Goofy, Chip and Dale, and Alice and the Mad Hatter. A little before 6:00 we started the race countdown. There were no fireworks like at WDW, but instead there were a number of "fire pots" that started spewing flames on the bridge over the road, and we were off. We crossed the actual start line about 5 minutes after the race began.
It was still dark, so there wasn't much to see for the first mile or so. But we saw Patty, our own private cheering section, as we ran past the Candy Cane Inn.
It started getting light about the time we went into DCA right beside the Mission Tortilla Factory. Near the bridge to Paradise Pier was the first of many character photo opportunities – Flik and Atta. In front of California Screamin' we passed the Mile 2 mark. Lilo and Stitch were in front of Pizza Oom Mow Mow – Stitch was enthusiastic over the small Stitch that Lee was carrying in his belt. Lightning McQueen and Mater were waiting for us near Golden Dreams and Koda and Kenai were in front of Grizzy River Run.
We ran out of DCA and across the Esplanade into Disneyland. Goofy (in his track suit!) and Chip and Dale were on Main Street. We were briefly routed backstage by the hat shop, where there were a number of Cast Members (including uniformed members of what looked like Disneyland's Fire Department) cheering us on, before we came back into the park between Redd Rockett's and Innoventions. One of the Green Army guys was there offering encouragement (and a little abuse), and Buzz Lightyear was out beside Club Buzz. We ran past the Matterhorn and Autopia and the Mile 3 sign at Small World Way. The entire Alice in Wonderland gang – Tweedledee/Tweedledum, White Rabbit, Alice, and the Mad Hatter, were waiting for us by the Tea Cups. Princess Aurora and Prince Philip, and Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether, were standing beside King Arthur's Carrousel. Unfortunately from here on most of the characters weren't right next to the race course – they were in an elevated area where it was not easy to get a photograph taken with them.
We ran through the Castle and around the hub before taking the bridge to Frontierland. Careful of your footing along those streetcar tracks! Woody and Jessie were waving to us from the balcony of the Golden Horseshoe. The Columbia was pulled up on the Rivers of America – and it had been taken over by a pirate crew! Arrrr! As we went into Adventureland, Captain Jack Sparrow himself was sitting on the bridge muttering – whether to us or himself wasn't really clear. Aladdin, Jasmine, and the Genie waved to us from their perch atop Tropical Imports. Back on Main Street, Daisy, Donald and Pluto posed for pictures and high-fived runners, while the Disneyland band played in Town Square.
We ran out of Disneyland and onto the tram road which took us back out to Disneyland Way… right past the start line and the mile 4 mark. Then we were out onto the streets of Anaheim. Or the "scenic streets of Anaheim" as it was called in the race literature. Kind of a rude awakening after the magic in the parks! For miles 4-8 we wound around and around many of the industrial parks — down one street, then over a block, and up another street parallel to the first, then back down another parallel street…scenic it *wasn't*. There were a number of high school bands, cheerleaders, and dance teams that had come to cheer us on and entertain us, though – and that really helped. We saw a large high school mariachi group as well as a very large group of Polynesian dancers. (At the time we ran by three girls were doing the classic fast-moving-hips Tahitian dance – which definitely got the attention of the men running the race!)
Finally we arrived at the Arrowhead Pond. We ran through the parking lot past a group of Junior hockey players who were high-fiving runners, and then onto the Santa Ana Trail along the river. The dirt trail felt really good on feet that had been pounding asphalt for 8+ miles! All too soon we were at the 9-mile mark and back on pavement again and on our way to Angel Stadium.
The sign on the big "A" read: "Inaugural Disneyland Half Marathon Participants! The Angels welcome you. GOOD LUCK!" We ran through the parking lot and into the tunnel that leads into right field. Though we couldn't run on the grass, we ran on the dirt all the way from right field past home plate and out to the tunnel in left field. They had a camera set up and as we rounded home plate we could look up and see ourselves on the big scoreboard in center field! As we ran out the tunnel we hit the 10-mile mark.
Back on the streets of Anaheim again, though at least now we were making our way *back* to Disneyland. Past the 11-mile mark we went under I-5 and onto Disney Way, and at the 12-mile mark we could see the Tower of Terror. Getting soooo close now! We were getting tired but were able to keep running.
We came back into DCA by the Tower of Terror, where several of the bellhops had gathered to cheer us on. On Sunset Boulevard, two of the Monsters, Inc. characters were waiting, and Mr. and Mrs. Incredible were at the Sunshine Plaza. We were both hoping for more characters to give us more of an excuse to stop, but nooooo. Beside Soarin' we left DCA and went into Downtown Disney, where there were lots of cheering people on both sides of the course – including those who had finished earlier and already had their medals! Near the Monorail Station was the mile 13 sign – only .1 miles left! At about that point I got a stitch in my side (and not the kind that Lee was carrying in his belt!) but I kept going and Lee and I crossed the line hand-in-hand at 2:26:27 (our chip time was 2:21:11).
From there we got our space blankets (which we didn't need, as it was a lovely day), and a volunteer removed the timing chips from our shoes, and someone else put that precious golden castle medal around our necks. In the refreshment area there were drinks, as well as fruit, bagels, muffins, and yogurt parfaits. After we'd had a chance to eat a little and take some pictures we made our way back to the hotel. There were buses (someplace) that would have taken us back, but we decided to walk the mile-and-a-half… "Laura and Lee… you've just finished the Disneyland Half Marathon… what are you going to do now?" "We're going to walk another mile-and-a-half back to our hotel!" Yeah, call us crazy.
Actually our walk back was really the only place we had any kind of issues with the race – our route back, which took us through Downtown Disney, crossed the race course twice, and we had to wait for a break in the race to hustle across. They had Cast Members telling people when to go, but it still wasn't an optimal situation.
We had a good time – or as good a time as you can have running 13.1 miles. I was disappointed that all the character interaction took place so early in the race – there really wasn't much "magic" at all in miles 4-12, and we really could have used some around miles 7 and 8.
As far as I could tell, there really weren't any major "first year glitches" – everything seemed to be well-organized. The event definitely compared favorably to the races I've experienced at WDW.
Next year's race is already scheduled for September 2, 2007.