This year marked the 9th running of the Disneyland Half Marathon and Family Fun 5K, and the 2nd running of the Disneyland 10K and Dumbo Double Dare (where runners complete the 10K and half marathon on consecutive days and receive an extra medal). 15,952 runners completed the Half Marathon and 9,603 finished the 10K, including 5,099 Dumbo runners. This was my 4th year running the half marathon and 2nd Dumbo; since I completed the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World in January, I also received by Coast to Coast medal. The Expo and packet pick up were held at the Disneyland Hotel. Last year’s expo, which required all 5K, 10K, and Dumbo participants to visit during somewhat-limited hours during the expo’s first day, was a complete madhouse; learning from last year’s mistakes the expo experience was greatly improved, due in part to holding the 5K and 10K on separate days, giving most runners an extra day to visit the expo. They also implemented the new traffic flow first seen at the Tinkerbell Half weekend in January, which greatly reduced backtracking and cross-crossing paths for runners picking up their bibs. The expo floor seemed to have fewer vendors than in the past, leaving more space for people to move freely through the space, and the official runDisney race merchandise also got a new set-up, using large-scale racks similar to those used for the Walt Disney World races. Overall, the expo was a huge improvement over previous years, and was a surprisingly pleasant experience. While at the expo I was able to catch part of a presentation by runDisney regular Sean Astin (of The Goonies, Rudy, and Lord of the Rings fame). I’ve seen him speak at other runDisney events in the past, and he’s always a lot of fun. He really seemed to just be a regular guy, showing off photos of his family from the 5K that morning and telling stories of his running career, joking that he was being regarded as some sort of authority on running because of his non-running fame. The audience seemed really interested in what he was saying, and the Speaker Series helped add some life to the expo. The course for the Disneyland 10K is one of my favorite courses I’ve ever run, and is probably what most people envision when they think of a Disney race. It begins along Disneyland Dr, and head south for a loop around the Anaheim Convention Center, before spending the majority of the time twisting through the theme parks and backstage areas. Although it’s pretty flat, the crowds and constant turns can make it difficult to go especially quickly, but it’s a lot of fun. Only water was offered at the course’s aid stations, which seems like a somewhat odd choice considering the race’s high registration cost, August date, and Disney Parks’s corporate sponsorship with the makers of PowerAde. Although there were 3 water stations along the 6.2 mile course, their spacing wasn’t entirely ideal, leaving some runners to stop at the water fountains in the parks. runDisney’s races have become known in part for the photo opportunities with various characters. However, unlike Walt Disney World’s races where characters can be found in any number of locations, the Disneyland races keep the characters inside the parks, which greatly reduced the number available. Even more strangely, the 10K only had 2 character locations both in Disneyland Park, one with Chip & Dale and the other with Elvis Stitch and a generic Hawaiian woman. Throughout both parks, there were cheer stations staffed by Disney cast members wearing Hawaiian apparel, cheering for runners as they went by. As encouraging as they were, I think it would have been more popular to replace some of them with additional character locations. Although we each planned on running our own races, I started the 10K alongside 3 of my friends. I ended up pacing one of them with run-walk-run intervals for nearly the entire race, and we leapfrogged another friend who I eventually crossed the finish line with in 53:33. After the race, we went back to the hotel to rest and get cleaned up, and headed into the parks around noon. By that point, the heat of the day was really setting in, making it difficult to keep hydrated for the next day’s race. While in Disneyland I managed to nick my big toe on someone’s shoe, causing part of the toenail to come loose. Although losing a toenail is a relatively common running injury, this is not how I ever envisioned it happening. After a quick visit to First Aid, they said it should be fine, but I was starting to worry about what might happen during the next morning’s race. When I awoke the next morning, I could already feel the soreness in my legs from running and visiting the parks the day before. I put a fresh bandage on my toenail, hoping for the best, and headed to the start line while continuing to hydrate along the way. As I was entering the corral staging area, I realized that I had left my GPS watch in the hotel, and was only wearing my regular digital watch with a basic stopwatch functionality. I decided that the watch, when combined with my toenail, the heat, and my sore legs, were all a sign that I should just run the race by feel with no real goal time in mind. To help reduce on-course congestion, Walt Disney World recently began using more start corrals, which are released 2-3 minutes apart (as opposed to 7 minute separation for their old large corral system). Following suit, Disneyland implemented additional corrals, but released multiple corrals at the same time, which completely negated the change. I was in Corral B and we were only informed that we would be starting with Corral A about 30 seconds before the start. Needless to say, everybody was a little surprised and confused, but we just had to go with it. The 13.1 mile half marathon course begins on Disneyland Dr, heads south to Katella Ave, then goes up Harbor Blvd to the old entrance to the Timon Lot. From there, runners enter California Adventure, winding past the World of Color fountains and through the park before entering Disneyland. Runners go up Main Street past the ChEAR Squad, around Big Thunder, through the castle into Tomorrowland, and eventually exit into the backstage area behind Toontown. Because the course is narrow and winding early on, it’s easy for runners to take the first few miles a little more slowly and save some energy for the end of the race. After leaving the parks around mile 4, the course proceeds on the self-proclaimed “scenic streets of Anaheim”. Although this portion of the course is anything but scenic, it’s where runners really get to see the hospitality of the city and the local residents. Roughly every mile there were marching bands, cheerleaders, cultural dance groups, or some other form of entertainment. One of the biggest improvements made since my first running of this race is the inclusion of a classic car club that lines about a mile of the course in an otherwise-remote and discouraging part of the course. Around mile 9, runners enter Angel Stadium and run along the dirt warning track along the edge of the field. The stadium is filled with Girl and Boy Scouts cheering, while the stadium announcer calls the names of runners as they appear on the jumbotron. Since it’s such a big moment in the middle of a fairly long stretch of nothing noteworthy, and it also marks the turnaround point to head back toward the parks, the stadium is always a real highlight of the course. Despite being very hot and humid at the start of the race, the sun stayed behind the clouds for a couple hours after daybreak, which really helped keep temperatures down and spirits up. I had already finished when I first saw it, and most runners had already passed Angel Stadium so the sun was at their backs. After leaving the stadium, with just 5K to go, it’s time to buckle down and head back to the Resort for the finish. Although it’s mostly a straight shot from the stadium, the final mile of the course includes some twists and turns that make it tough to visualize where you are; despite being a 13.1 mile course, you can’t even see the finish line from the 13 mile marker. I made it to the finish (surprisingly, with every bit of my toenail intact) in 2:02:56, which was within one minute of my other recent runDisney finish times. I’m nothing if not consistent! The race was won in 1:07:48 by Nick Arciniaga, a Fountain Valley, CA native who was also the second American finisher (7th overall) at this year’s Boston Marathon. Jennifer Berry from Denver won the women’s title in 1:23:33, after also winning the 10K the day before. Overall I had a lot of fun doing these races, but I can’t help but see a lot of room for improvement. It’s difficult to not compare this race to the ones in Walt Disney World, where they routinely put on flawless events on a grander scale. For a race that is this big, this established, and that costs so much to participate in, it seems like there are always a lot of dumb mistakes that would be easy to fix. For example, the water stations each have two types of cups for easy identification: one for water and one for PowerAde. It seemed like there was no consistency from one station to the next for which beverage was in which cup; one station even had both drinks in both cups. Additionally, hosting this race on Labor Day weekend makes travel difficult and expensive for many runners, and tends to invite hot weather that is less than ideal for running. Although these types of goofs hardly ruin a race, it’s tough to recommend a large-scale top-dollar event that continues to do those same sorts of things year after year. That said, it is a great experience, especially for first timers, and a good excuse for a reunion at the parks.
Kevin has been visiting Disney parks his entire life, including multiple trips to all 11 worldwide theme parks and several years as a Disneyland local. He has been a distance runner since 2011, with over 300 Disney race miles under his belt. He currently lives in the Washington, DC area and continues to make regular visits to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.