The fifth running of the Tinkerbell Half Marathon weekend was held at the Disneyland Resort May 5-8, 2016. Through the years, the weekend has grown to include kids races, a family fun 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and two-day Pixie Dust Challenge. Runners who finished the Princess Half Marathon in Walt Disney World in February also received a pink Coast to Coast medal upon completion of the half marathon; runners who finished a half marathon or longer at either Marathon Weekend or Star Wars Dark Side received the standard blue medal. Over 30,000 runners participated in the weekend’s events including approximately 950 legacy runners who have completed the Half Marathon each year since the race’s inception.
I arrived at the Disneyland Resort on Friday afternoon. I stopped by the Expo at the Disneyland Hotel to pick up my packet and it was a very painless process overall. It seems like they’ve finally found a way to optimize the race expos with clever use of space for a good crowd flow. Some of the official race merchandise was sold out by the time I arrived, but most of it seemed to still be in stock.
10K course began northbound on Disneyland Drive, taking Ball Rd to Harbor Blvd, before entering backstage near the bus loading area. Runners then entered Disneyland through Toontown, passed though the castle, and went out-and-back along the Rivers of America. After crossing the hub and going around the Matterhorn. Runners then returned backstage via Tomorrowland and passed under the bus drop off area to head into California Adventure. After zipping in and out of the park’s various districts and backstage area, runners eventually emerged into Downtown Disney for a finish near the Disneyland Hotel. 8,369 runners completed the 6.2-mile course. Adam Henry from Santa Monica, CA won the race in 34:35; frequent runDisney winner Kellie Nickerson of Albuquerque, NM won the women’s division in 40:37.
When we left our hotel room Saturday morning, we were quite surprised by the rain in drought-stricken California. After donning trash bags as makeshift raincoats, we headed to the start corrals. Although I only got to the corral about 30 minutes prior to the start of the race, it was still very empty. As I made my way to the back of the crowd, I realized that there were only about two dozen other runners waiting with me and I was in the second row directly behind the start line. The crowds filled in as the start time grew closer and the rain stopped, but I was still better positioned than I’ve ever been. When the race began, I thought it would be fun to try and keep with the lead pack for a little bit, since I knew I had trained well but didn’t have a time goal that I needed to worry about pacing myself for.
I managed to hold on for about the first quarter mile, but lost sight of them as they rounded the first corner onto Ball Road. As I slowed down slightly, the crowds were still sparse so I was able to keep track of my overall placement; by mile one I was around 30th overall, though plenty of faster runners continued to pass me by. Despite taking a faster pace than I expected, I felt pretty comfortable and decided to try and keep it up. Since everybody around me was also focused on running, the lines for character photos were non-existant, so I stopped at each of the three locations, all featuring Tink’s fairy friends.
Since I use the run/walk/run method and stopped for some photos, I spent much of the race leapfrogging a runner who I met at the Dark Side Weekend in Walt Disney World a few weeks earlier. Although we were both pushing the pace and focusing on the race, it was great to have some company along the way. The course was incredibly winding, so I struggled to recall the details of the route, but the finish through Downtown Disney with crowd support was a pleasant diversion. I finished the race in 48:52, which ended up being a personal record (PR) by about 30 seconds, thanks to my great placement within the corral. I was further surprised to see that I was only about 20 seconds away from an age group award, thanks mostly to the smaller-than-usual number of people I was competing against due to the demographics of the race.
The Half Marathon course began with the same first mile and a half of the 10K. After entering Disneyland through Tomorrowland, runners wove around Pixie Hollow and the Matterhorn, through the castle, and out-and-back along the Rivers of America. The course crossed the Esplanade and proceeded counterclockwise around Grizzly Peak, Paradise Pier, Carsland and Hollywoodland, before following the backstage road behind the park to the Paradise Pier Hotel. Runners headed north on Walnut Street and turned west on Broadway. After making a small loop through downtown Anaheim, the course returned to the Resort District on Harbor Blvd, with a circuitous loop along Anaheim Blvd. Runners again passed behind California Adventure and finished near the Disneyland Hotel. 13,143 runners completed the 13.1-mile distance; Molly Greene of Sacramento, CA won the race in 1:19:02. Chris Triebilock of Tampa, FL would have won the men’s division in 1:20:45, had men been eligible for awards.
Soon after finishing the 10K the day before, I felt strong and looked forward to my prospects at the Half Marathon. As the day went on, however, I noticed my legs felt increasingly tired, and I started to wonder if I had pushed too hard for a two-day event. In a Harrison Bergeron-inspired move to create a picture-perfect finish with a woman crossing the finish line first, men aren’t allowed into the first corral of the weekend’s marquee race, so I knew I would have more dodging and weaving than usual. Luckily, the women in corral B were understanding, and left some extra space near the front for the folks who should have been seeded in A.
When the race began, I immediately knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the lead pack of men, and settled into a comfortably fast pace. Within about a mile, I started to catch up with the corral A runners, and the course through the park was noticeably busier than the day before; I didn’t stop for any character photos, because the lines were all 5-10 people deep by the time I arrived. After a bathroom stop at the “luxurious” facilities in the parks (indoor plumbing is unheard of at non-Disney races), I prepared myself for the drudgery of the city streets.
The public streets are where Disney’s Anaheim courses tend to fall apart; there is little entertainment and the scenery is often less than spectacular. Although the Tinkerbell course that goes through the nearby neighborhoods is arguably the best of Disneyland Resort’s race options, it was still a relatively unremarkable route through residential areas. There were a couple entertainment groups along the way including the requisite Red Hat Ladies, but the stretches between them were pretty long. On the bright side, after some mental math I could tell that a new PR was within my reach if I kept the pace up. Instead of taking in all the sights, I spent most of the race focusing on the road ahead of me, making sure to avoid any potholes and doing my best to take the tangents.
Eventually the course returned to the backside of California Adventure, where other runners were just approaching mile five. Although I’ve done plenty of races where the course runs alongside itself with out-and-backs, this was the first time I’ve seen one that had the course running in the same direction on the same section of road, separated only by cones and watchful Cast Members. I personally saw at least two runners cut the course here and the preliminary results were filled with others who unintentionally put themselves in contention for awards. I know that many people think that Disney races are just for fun, but it disheartens me to see so many people disrespecting the distance and other runners who keep to the course.
After splitting off from the double-sided section of the course, I sprinted to the finish with a runner who I had been pacing with for about four miles. I finished the Half Marathon in 1:49:05, a new personal record for me by more than a minute.
In all, I enjoyed the weekend. It’s hard not to when two personal records are involved, and were accomplished without feeling overly strenuous. That said I really dislike the atmosphere of runDisney’s female-centric race weekends. In general runDisney is great at encouraging newcomers to try a new distance (I know that I personally wouldn’t have taken up running without Disney’s races), and already has female finishers in the majority at all of their races throughout the year, including the Marathon, which is a huge anomaly for the distance. However, many elements of the event, from putting the fastest men in corral B, to not allowing men to win age group awards in the Half Marathon, to exiling men’s results to a separate webpage with no division breakdowns, to practically no gender-neutral event merchandise are discouraging to men who might be interested in running.
At their best, Disney’s races do a great job of bringing everybody together to celebrate their individual achievements, whether that means winning the race or just barely finishing. With the female-centric setup for both the Tinkerbell Half Marathon and the Princess Half Marathon in Walt Disney World, I felt as though I was intruding on someone else’s event as an unwelcome guest, which should never be the goal of a hospitality company like Disney. Given that the nationwide running boom was fueled by female runners, and all of runDisney’s races already are majority women, I question the necessity of Disney offering these female-centric events; it certainly appears as though all of their races have a female bias regardless of the specific themes. I had a fun time and am thrilled with my two new PRs, but I don’t have any intention of running these races 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.