The inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend was held at the Disneyland Resort on January 15-18. The weekend consisted of runDisney’s now-standard line up of a 5K, 10K, Kids Races, and a Half Marathon. The weekend’s signature event was the 2-day Rebel Challenge, in which competitors complete Saturday’s 10K and Sunday’s Half Marathon, 19.3 miles in total, for an additional medal.
Just a few days after getting home from Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, I was already on another plane, headed to the Disneyland Resort for the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend. I arrived at Disneyland Resort early Friday afternoon and headed to the expo to pick up my bib for the Rebel Challenge and to pick up my Coast to Coast wristband, since I had completed the races in Florida the previous weekend. Things were pretty quiet at the expo when I was there, though some of the official race merchandise had already sold out.
One of the benefits of running at Disneyland, especially when travelling from the east coast, is being able to sleep in later before the race. Although a 4am alarm seems early, with the 3-hour time change I actually woke up well before the alarm and felt like I was sleeping in, like any casual weekend at home. In addition to having dozens of hotels within walking distance to the start, having a “late” start time is a nice bonus of the west coast races.
When I arrived at the 10K start corrals, they had playlist of generic pump up music playing. I was surprised that the race announcers weren’t out, or at the very least a DJ. Eventually, they transitioned to playing clips from the original Star Wars trilogy, before the announcers came out with a quick interaction with R2D2, C3-PO, and Darth Vader. Although it was entertaining it didn’t really do much to get people excited for their run, and most of the runners couldn’t see or hear it from the back corrals. I would have preferred more of the usual banter before the race, which seemed to have been entirely replaced by the playlist, video clips, sponsor messages, and character shtick.
The 6.2 mile race began northbound on Disneyland Dr, before turning right onto Ball Rd, and right again onto Harbor Blvd. After a trip through the tunnel under the bus drop-off area runners made their way across the Esplanade, up Main Street, around Big Thunder Trail, through Tomorrowland, and up to small world mall. After heading around the park’s west side backstage area, runners crossed the Esplanade again and headed through Buena Vista Street, to Hollywoodland, and into a bug’s land. After looping through Paradise Pier and Carsland, the course headed out of the park for a finish next to the Disneyland Hotel.
Despite a surprisingly hilly first mile, the course for the 10K was great. It seemed like it was almost entirely within the parks, and the scenery was constantly changing. The layout was a little unusual, and probably not the way that guests would naturally navigate the parks, but it made for a lot more time in the parks than usual. Especially compared to the recent Avengers Half Marathon, which barely spent 1.5 miles in the parks, this was a welcome change. I also thought it was interesting that part of the course, just past the halfway point, passed very close to the start line, hidden by a landscaped buffer. It was interesting to hear the announcers getting people started as I was starting to think about my endgame strategy for the race.
During the latter half of the Walt Disney World Marathon the previous weekend, I started to notice some pain in my left Achilles. After a week of ice and rest, I thought that it had mostly healed. However, the 10K was my first attempt at running since the Marathon, and it was clear that I wasn’t quite ready for prime time. I started to notice it after about a mile, and by mile 4 it just plain hurt. The 10K was short enough that I stuck it out until the end, and got ice to put on it as soon as I was done.
I finished in 51:29, which was a comfortable pace for me. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowding on the course, especially in the second half of the race; there were several times that I was at least 30 yards away from the next closest runner, though it seemed much busier for runners starting in later corrals. The race was won by Jacob Abrego of Corpus Christi, TX in 33:52; the women’s division was won in 38:08 by Carla McAlister of San Clemente, CA.
I finished ahead of several friends of mine, so I went to Downtown Disney to cheer on runners to the finish, alongside another friend. It was especially fun to see everybody so close to the finish, and to see all the incredible costumes. I was surprised by the popularity of ewok costumes, though everything imaginable was present. My personal favorite was a husband/wife duo, with him dressed as the Death Star, and her as an X-Wing running around him yelling “Pew! Pew! Pew!” as she pretended to shoot at him. Even during the Half Marathon the next day, the creativity of the costumes really impressed me.
After my friends all finished, we met up in the reunion area for some photos and then headed off for a celebratory breakfast. I spent the rest of the day relaxing, visiting my grandma, and having dinner with some additional friends. Although I didn’t venture into the parks on this trip, I enjoyed spending time catching up with people who I don’t see frequently.
Sunday’s Half Marathon course began on Disneyland Dr and quickly headed backstage, passing by the Team Disney Anaheim building and around the park’s west side. Runners then went up Main Street, around Big Thunder Trail through Fantasyland, and then headed backstage through Tomrrowland. After passing under the Harbor Blvd bus drop-off area, the course went through Hollywoodland and followed the performance corridor to Paradise Pier. After a quick trip through Carsland, the course headed south for a couple miles on Harbor Blvd, until it turned west on Garden Grove Blvd. Runners wove through a neighborhood, past Garden Grove High School and Community Center, and through Historic Downtown Garden Grove, before heading north on Euclid St. The course then took Chapman Ave back to Harbor Blvd to return to the Resort District and finish near to the Disneyland Hotel.
As is typical with the Disneyland races, I was disappointed that the only character photo locations were within the parks. This means that they’re all grouped close together, which makes it difficult to run an even pace over the entire race, and that the crowd of runners is still thick early in the race. There were several locations later in the race that had cosplayers cheering runners on, which was a welcome distraction and a fun change of pace. I rarely run with the intention of stopping for photos, but seeing characters out helps the time go by faster.
After running the previous day, my left Achilles had only gotten worse. The walk to the start corral helped loosen it up, but the long wait for the actual race start had allowed it to tighten back up again. Within the first few strides, I knew I was in trouble. I quickly stopped for a walk break, and discovered that it wasn’t any easier to walk. With an early flight to catch, I decided to run the first mile and make the decision there whether to continue or to drop out. After realizing that the pain was manageable, and that it hurt less to run than it did to walk, I decided to press on and hope for the best.
Although completely unacknowledged in any race information, the course passed by the garage that Walt Disney first used as an animation studio when he moved to California. It has been moved to the Stanley Ranch Museum on Euclid St, which is operated by the Garden Grove Historical Society. The garage was not actually visible from the course, but I think it’s interesting that this little piece of Disney history is so close to Disneyland, yet virtually unknown among fans, unlike Walt’s barn in Griffith Park.
While the Walt Disney World races are entirely on Disney property and are use Disney’s resources to put on the most comprehensive event possible, the Disneyland Resort races rely much more on community involvement. With parts of the course passing through neighborhoods, it was difficult to not notice how connected the Disneyland Resort is with its neighbors. While I was dreading the long stretches along Harbor Blvd, they were one of my favorite parts of the race, since it seemed like they were entirely lined with marching bands and cheer groups. This was the first time that Disney has done a race that passed through Garden Grove, and it seemed like the community was really supportive and a real highlight of the race, similar to the courses through Anaheim.
The race was won in 1:08:13 by Nick Arciniaga, of Flagstaff, AZ, who has several previous runDisney victories under his belt. The women’s division was won by Jennifer Berry of Denver, CO in 1:22:34. I finished in 1:58:41, which was a few minutes quicker than my finish time for the previous weekend’s Half; I think that the additional pain when walking helped me push my pace a little more than I would have otherwise. After getting some ice for my Achilles, I made my way back to the hotel to take a shower and get packed up. I headed back outside to cheer a friend on to the finish and watch some of the other runners parade past, before having to make an early escape to catch my midday flight home from LAX.
Although this weekend was an inaugural event, it seemed like Disney had implemented a lot of tricks they had learned at previous race weekends. It seems like the Disneyland operations team always struggles with events this size, but everything ran smoothly. The only real disappointment I encountered was how little time the announcers were actually around before the races, and that they didn’t appear to have any speakers, video boards, or lighting set up for the back corrals. I assume this was because they were between the Paradise Pier and Grand Californian Hotels, but surely they could have found a way to include everybody in the pre-race entertainment; at the Walt Disney World races, an incredibly loud DJ is posted outside of the Contemporary, without any apparent regard for people sleeping nearby.
In all, the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend was a success. It is difficult to run 67.9 miles over two consecutive weekends on opposite sides of the country, but it was especially tough with my ankle issues. With the pleasant weather, fun theme, and ease of access, this was definitely one of my favorite Disneyland race weekends. With it in close succession behind Marathon Weekend, I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to run it in the future, but I hope to do it again.
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.