In addition to marking Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, 2015 marked the milestone 10th anniversary for the resort’s flagship runDisney event — the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. The weekend included kid’s races, a 5K family fun run, and timed 10K and half marathon races. Runners competing in the Dumbo Double Dare completed the 10K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday (19.3 miles in total) to receive an additional medal. Over 29,000 runners from 28 countries participated in the events throughout the weekend.
After landing in southern California Friday morning, I headed to the Expo at the Disneyland Hotel to pick up my race packet and check out the festivities. Although there have historically been logistical issues with putting such a large expo into a small venue, crowds were light and everything flowed remarkably well when I visited. There was still a long line to visit the official race merchandise area and the building exit path could have been configured much better, but overall it was a huge improvement from previous years. I spent some time checking out the vendor booths to start getting in the race mindset, before heading out for the afternoon.
The 10K course started southbound on Disneyland Drive, before looping around the backside of the Anaheim Convention Center and heading up Harbor Boulevard to the parks. Runners entered California Adventure through Carsland before heading around Paradise Pier and Grizzly Peak. The course then crossed through the tunnel beneath the Esplanade into Disneyland, where it twisted around the park’s east side, went through some backstage areas that will soon be removed for the Star Wars project, headed through the castle and around Rivers of America. From there, the course passed through Downtown Disney for a finish near the Disneyland Hotel.
Although the race starts very early in the morning, I was coming from the East Coast so I had the time change on my side. We walked over from our hotel on Harbor Boulevard, which was a very convenient way to start the morning. After one of the worst renditions of the national anthem that I’ve ever heard, we were on our way. I generally struggle with 10Ks since they are long enough that they require some pacing strategy, but not so long that you need to hold back a whole lot at the very beginning. Since I was also running the next day, I decided to enjoy the scenery and keep a comfortable pace: I finished in 53:12. In total 9,046 runners completed the 6.2-mile race, with Valdir Aparecido Buena de Camargo of Sao Paulo, Brazil winning the men’s division in 34:32 and Jennifer Berry of Denver, CO winning the women’s division in 38:03.
Each year, Disney has changed the theme of the 10K; this year’s theme was villains. In addition to lending itself to lots of fun characters along the course, I really enjoyed that the theme was broad enough to appeal to a variety of people, since nearly every Disney story could be connected in some way. Interestingly, it seemed like the number of runners in costumes had decreased from previous years, particularly for the half marathon the next day. The photo locations still appeared to be popular with runners and there were still plenty of people in costumes, but it was a noticeably less than in previous years.
The Half Marathon course started southbound on Disneyland Drive, before taking the service road behind California Adventure. Runners quickly entered the park and followed the performance corridor to Buena Vista Street. From there, the course snaked through Disneyland and its backstage areas before emerging onto the public streets at mile 4. Runners then wove their way toward the Santa Ana River, where they passed the Honda Center and the Anaheim Regional Intermodal Center (ARTIC). Always a highlight of the course, runners pass along the warning track of Angels Stadium while cheered on by thousands of Boy and Girl Scouts, before heading back to the Resort District for a finish near the Disneyland Hotel.
After some confusion in the pre-race staging area that caused me to get separated from my friends, I headed to the start corrals. I later heard that there were significant delays for runners trying to park at the Mickey & Friends parking structure, and that there was some chaos getting people into the later corrals. Even in the front corrals that are assigned to relatively few runners, there were far more people that could fit and they spilled over into the other side of the street. Although there was plenty of confusion getting to the start line, the race itself began uneventfully.
This year’s course was slightly different than previous ones, since it bypassed Katella Avenue in favor of entering the parks a little earlier. While time in the parks is the highlight of any runDisney event, this layout seemed to create a lot more congestion than in the past. In addition to giving runners less time to spread out before entering the narrow, winding park paths, the access road behind California Adventure was especially dark and had traffic cones down the middle of it. Since thousands of runners were released just moments before, the dense field took up the entire width of the roadway and I heard several runners bumping into the cones in the dark.
Although the Disneyland Resort races struggle to get much mileage inside the parks, they do a great job of positioning cheer groups, scouts, dancers, and other groups along the course to keep it interesting. One of the highlights is a classic car club, who lines both sides of the course for about two miles, during what is an otherwise uneventful part of the course. They brought just enough energy to the course to keep me going through the middle miles, without needing concentrated groups of screaming spectators. While not uniquely Disney, the Disney races in Anaheim get incredibly varied and high-quality support from the community along the course.
I didn’t have a specific time goal in mind for the Half, but I was very excited to break the 2-hour mark, which is typically a stretch goal for me at this event. Because it takes place at the end of summer, training for this race weekend typically means missed training runs for various other summer trips and long runs during the hottest part of the year. Luckily the weather was surprisingly cool both race mornings, which really helped make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. I even managed to have “negative splits”, running the latter parts of the race faster than the early parts, which signals that I did something right. I finished the race in 1:56:51. 15,242 runners completed the 13.1-mile race, with James Lander of Fullerton, CA winning the men’s division in 1:08:56. Momoko Tanaka of Urayasu-Shi, Japan (home of the Tokyo Disney Resort) won the women’s division in 1:21:30, becoming the race’s first international winner.
I’ll be honest: the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend has never been my favorite runDisney event. Between the lackluster half marathon course, the typically-unbearable heat and the difficulties of travelling and staging a huge event during an already-busy holiday weekend, the event often feels like a throwaway from Disney. For me, the real value of this weekend is getting to spend time with friends and family that I don’t often get to see, and making the most of the end of summer. There’s something to be said for the ease of race morning logistics, when compared to the Walt Disney World races, but I couldn’t help avoid the feeling that the runners were a burden to the already-busy resort.
As an aside, this was my first visit to Disneyland during the 60th anniversary festivities. It was fun to see the park come alive for the celebration, especially after dark. Seeing swarms of guests lining the parade route at night immediately brought me back to the final summer of the Main Street Electrical Parade and the excitement that it created throughout the park. Although it seems like they’re continuing to fine-tune the logistics and crowd control, it was a lot of fun to see the energy of all the new things taking place at the same time. The new entertainment is great, and seems to be a smart long term investment, since I’m sure they’ll continue to use the new infrastructure and technology upgrades, along with the snazzy new parade, for years to come.
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.