Following its windy inaugural year, the second annual Avengers Half Marathon Weekend was held at the Disneyland Resort on November 12-15. In addition to the Kids Races, 5K and Half Marathon, the Captain America 10K was added along with the Infinity Gauntlet Challenge for runners completing the 10K and Half Marathon on back-to-back days.
In an interesting twist of events, the Half Marathon only sold about 85% of its registration slots. This is the first runDisney race since around 2011(prior to the nationwide running boom) to not sell out. Disneyland added the Avengers and Star Wars race weekends in the 2014/2015 season, effectively doubling their capacity in a very short period. With the popularity of running events leveling out, perhaps Disneyland has finally met their capacity. Despite this, the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend races over Labor Day sold out in mere hours this year. The 5K, 10K, and Challenge all sold out within about 24 hours.
I arrived at the Expo late Friday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the light crowds. Seeing fewer bib pickup locations was the first hint that this race weekend was going to be smaller than most runDisney events. On the main Expo floor, the usual vendors were in attendance; one notable addition was Havianas flip flops who recently formed a corporate alliance with runDisney. Perhaps reflecting the light crowds, the official merchandise booth seemed to remain very well stocked, despite being near the close of its second day of operation.
Since I registered long after the 10K and Gauntlet had sold out, I spent Saturday morning cheering on friends instead of running myself. Our hotel was right along the course, just past the first mile marker, making it easy to watch everybody run by. Although the field of runners grew as the later corrals were released, the crowding didn’t seem unmanageable and the last runner came past pretty early, further reflecting the small size of the race. After the last runners passed, we headed to Downtown Disney to watch our friends finish and grab breakfast, before getting on with our day.
As is typical with runDisney events, Sunday morning began hours before sunrise. After a quick breakfast in our hotel room, we walked over to the starting area. I was somewhat surprised to see a security check set up before entering the pre-race area. Although this has been standard at the Walt Disney World races since the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, it was the first time I’ve seen them do it at Disneyland. I also saw police with K-9 units in the post-race reunion area and near Angel Stadium during the race. It is unclear to me if this was a response to the attacks in Paris two days prior, or if the increased security had always been planned.
This year’s 13.1-mile Half Marathon course was similar to the 2014 course, but had some minor differences, most notably avoiding the Crystal Cathedral (which was closed for refurbishments in 2014) and switching to a trail along the east side of the Santa Ana River (presumably to avoid some of the dust, after 2014’s comically strong winds). The course began on Disneyland Drive, heading southbound. Runners turned down the backstage road behind Disney California Adventure and entered the park through Carsland. After exiting the park through Buena Vista Street, the course crossed the Esplanade, headed up Main Street, around the Big Thunder Trail, and wove through Tomorrowland before exiting the park through a backstage gate. The course then headed down Harbor Boulevard and wove its way through Garden Grove before reaching the Santa Ana River. The course followed the river for about a mile and a half, before going through Angel Stadium. Runners then returned to the Anaheim Resort District, passing through the Toy Story Parking lot, behind California Adventure and the Paradise Pier Hotel, for a finish near Downtown Disney.
The men’s division of the Half Marathon was won by Pedro Manuel Lemus Reyes of Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico in 1:11:09; Alex de la Huerta of Mexico City repeated her win of the 2014 race, this time in 1:22:27. Biran Siemann of Savoy, IL won the men’s wheelchair division in 51:59 with a photo finish; Meredith Lee from Abbotsford, Canada won the women’s wheelchair division unopposed. In total, more than 18,000 runners participated in the weekend’s races.
My race began well, with moderate crowds in the early miles to keep me from running too fast at the start. Although similar to last year’s course, I was surprised that we left the parks just after passing the marker for mile 2. Running on city streets and trails for the remaining 11 miles meant that there would be plenty of space to navigate around other runners, but the scenery was unremarkable. Even though I am not as familiar with these streets as the ones used in other runDisney events, I found myself getting bored by my surroundings pretty quickly.
At the halfway mark, I realized that I would be able to finish in under 2 hours if I pushed my pace a little. Since anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I kicked it into overdrive and the next mile was possibly the fastest mile I’ve ever had during a half marathon. Naturally, this caused me to burn out pretty quickly, and I spent the remainder of the race struggling to keep pace. Additionally, I was getting some cramps from all the sugar in the PowerAde; luckily I found some friendly spectators who lent me borrow their salt shaker, which helped settle my stomach. This course passed through Angel Stadium about half a mile earlier than the Disneyland Half Marathon, which I am much more familiar with, further complicating the mental games I was playing with myself. I finished the race in 2:01:51.
Although not a bad course per se, it lacked a lot of the iconic moments that are so familiar with Disney races. Only about a mile was actually inside the parks, and the course quickly left the Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Resort District. There seemed to be less on-course entertainment than other races, but perhaps that’s because so much more of the course was outside of the parks that the same number of groups was simply more spread out. While most Disneyland Resort races feel like a Disney event with some community input, this felt more like a community race with some help from Disney. Even within the parks, there were only 4 characters out for photos (Black Widow, Hawkeye, Captain America, and Thor) compared to the dozen-or-so that’s typical with other races.
I personally have very little affinity for the Avengers or any Marvel property. I’ve only seen a couple of the movies and they just still don’t feel like Disney brands to me. This meant that I was somewhat of an outsider with the race’s theme, but I was still able to follow along. More importantly, it just didn’t seem like the Disneyland Resort was completely on board with the theme either. The weekend prior to the races, I wandered through World of Disney and didn’t see any Marvel merchandise in the entire store. The race was held during the launch weekend of the Christmas season in the parks, making the races feel like a low priority. Even the new Marvel-themed Super Hero HQ in Tomorrowland opened the day after the race weekend concluded, despite the race weekend being the biggest Marvel event for Disney Parks.
In all, it’s not a bad race weekend. It offers all the race distances that are now standard with Disneyland Resort’s races; however, it just didn’t seem to have the magic that most runDisney events are known for. Whether it’s because Marvel is still somewhat of a stepchild to Disney, or because it was overshadowed by other events at the resort that weekend, it felt like Disney was going through the motions for the race without actually having any enthusiasm for the event. Considering its relative unpopularity and high cost, I will be interested to see where this race winds up in the coming years. For me personally, I’ll run it again if I happen to find myself in southern California for it, but if I have to make a special trip for it, I would prefer to run one of the other Disneyland Resort race weekends.