The 12th Disneyland Half Marathon weekend took place August 31st through September 3rd. With an expo, family fun 5K, kids races, and timed 10K and a half marathon, the weekend is runDisney’s flagship event on the west coast. This year marked the fifth running of the 10K and Disneyland Double Dare (nee Dumbo Double Dare) challenge, in which runners complete the 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday, for a total of 19.3 miles.
The biggest story of the weekend was the weather, with temperatures in the 80s at the start of the races and climbing into triple-digits in the afternoons. It was hot, miserable, and exhausting. While the Labor Day weekend races are always warmer than I would prefer, this year really took it to a new level. For example, after the 10K, I sat down for about 5 minutes waiting for a friend to finish running; when I stood up, I didn’t just leave a wet spot, but an actual puddle of sweat. It was gross. And this was around 6 am, just as the sun was rising, well before the day’s heat begun to set in.
Having trained through the hot and humid summer on the east coast, I felt confident despite the conditions. That said, I’ve never sweat that much that early in a race before; event organizers out here have the good sense to not host races during the hottest times of the year. Anaheim was unusually hot this year, but as I’ve said in the past, Labor Day is just too early to have races of this distance and expect decent running weather.
After arriving in Anaheim on Friday afternoon, we walked over to the Expo. The bib pickup was quick and easy, with low crowds at that time of day. On the showroom floor, the lowered crowds left plenty of space to explore the vendor booths, while still keeping the energy high. Even the official merchandise area was uncrowded, without anything sold out. In general, it was probably the least stressful and most enjoyable Expo I’ve ever see at a Disneyland race.
Saturday’s 10K began on Disneyland Drive, turning backstage behind California Adventure and entering the park through Carsland. Runners then headed along the performance corridor, around Paradise Pier and Grizzly Peak to Hollywoodland, exiting the park and passing under the eastern gateway in the backstage tunnel. After looping around to the north side of Disneyland, past the Team Disney Anaheim building, runners entered the park though Toontown before heading to Tomorrowland, through the castle, along the edges of Rivers of America and down Main Street. After passing around the backside of California Adventure and through the Simba Lot, runners finished near the Disneyland Hotel.
Knowing I had two days of hot running ahead of me, I tried not to push the pace too much during the 10K. Within the first couple miles, the crowds dissipated and there was more than enough space between runners for good photo opportunities. Perhaps people were holding back due to the heat, but it seemed significantly less crowded than usual, which was a pleasant surprise. With about a quarter mile to go, a runner tried to pass me from behind, but I decided to feed off his energy for a final kick to speed into the finish line.
Although the old course past the Anaheim Convention Center and through Downtown Disney was a lot of fun, the new course is also quite enjoyable. There wasn’t a huge change to the distance in the parks themselves, but the layout reduced the number of roads that had to be closed for the event. It was also kind of fun crisscrossing so many times; I got to see runners through a fence who were just past mile 2 when I was near mile 5, and passed by some who were just starting when I was getting ready to finish.
As at previous 10Ks, there were only three water stations, and they only provided water. To me, that’s really the bare minimum for a race under ideal conditions; considering how hot this weekend on a ‘normal’ year, there should probably be another station and they really should all have Powerade available at all water stops. I ended up taking an extra stop of my own, using one of the water fountains in the parks. Considering the typical weather and the race’s registration cost, this has always been a point of consternation for me.
Jimmy Grabow of Running Springs, CA won the 10K in 32:08, and Heather Williams from Centerport, NY won the women’s division in 37:08. Overall 8,198 runners finished the race; I finished in a comfortable 56:14.
The Half Marathon began on Disneyland Drive before heading backstage behind California Adventure. Entering the park through Carsland, runners passed through Hollywoodland, down the performance corridor, around Paradise Pier and Grizzly Peak, before exiting the park and crossing the Esplanade. From there, the course went through Disneyland’s west side backstage areas, entering the park in Critter Country, looping around the Rivers of America and Big Thunder Trail, through the castle, past the Matterhorn, and down Main Street, exiting backstage under the railroad tracks on the east side. The course then headed out onto the self-proclaimed “scenic streets of Anaheim”, taking Manchester Ave down to Katella, then zig-zagging in a mostly-eastward direction past some rather forgettable warehouses and industrial buildings. After a trip past the Honda Center and Anaheim Regional Intermodal Transit Center (ARTIC), runners entered Angels Stadium and ran along the warning track. The course then followed Gene Autry Way to the Toy Story Lot, returning along Harbor Blvd, Katella Ave, and Disneyland Dr for a finish near the Disneyland Hotel.
Just as the race was set to start, the announcers told us that there would be a delay and rushed off stage, only to be replaced by some filler music. Before they left, they had run through a string of tips on how to deal with the hot weather, keeping the pace under control, and potential modifications to the course, which caused some handwringing from runners awaiting an update. About 10 minutes later, with no real explanation of the delay, the race began. The body heat of everybody squeezed into the small corral together combined with ambient temperatures in the 80’s was pretty unpleasant for the limited time we were waiting for the start; I can’t imagine how uncomfortable runners in the later corrals were, waiting up to 45 minutes longer to cross the start line.
Because of the heat, my strategy was to get as far as I could before the sun rose, and reevaluate my goals at that point, depending on the conditions. Starting in the first corral, I was able to get about 8 miles in before the sun poked over the horizon, at which point I braced for the worst. Luckily, some lingering clouds remained in the sky and the rising sun was quickly hidden again, allowing me to finish the race in relative comfort. Fueled in part by some friendly spectators, my final miles were my fastest split of the races.
Water stations were pretty well spaced throughout the course and did a good job of consistently having Powerade first and water second; previous Disneyland races have had no rhyme or reason for which drink is available first at which aid station. Due to the heat, I also brought my own water bottle, which I used a few times. As is expected with a large event, the drinks were stored outdoors on trucks overnight and poured into cups the morning of the race. However, due to the high temperatures, this led to warm drinks at every stop; there are few things in life less refreshing than PowerAde served at 85°.
Shortly after I finished, the clouds broke and temperatures quickly rose; eventually, the race was red flagged, and some runners were redirected near Angels Stadium to cut some distance. Although they were diverted to a slightly shorter course, I have no doubt that they still had a grueling morning, fighting unfavorable conditions for hours on end.
An added benefit to the new courses was the improved guest flow after the races. The security perimeter was temporarily expanded to include the pre/post-race area, allowing free flow all the way from the Lilo Lot to the Eastern Gateway. Additionally, the new layout didn’t impact traffic on Harbor Blvd, allowing runners to take hotel shuttles and ART buses after they finished; previously most bus lines were unable to operate until around 10:30am, hours after many runners had finished.
8,710 runners finished the half marathon; I completed the race in 2:06:02s. Brandon Wolfe from Fullerton, CA won the men’s division in 1:13:41, and Kayla Strong of Roy, UT won the women’s division in 1:27:38.
Having completed the Disneyland (formerly Dumbo) Double Dare Challenge each of the 5 years it was offered, I received a special lanyard for my medal, with the regular colors inverted. While previous legacy runners have also gotten small gifts on anniversary years, like tiaras and sashes for Princess legacies, and names listed in the event guides, it was nice for runDisney to acknowledge the dedication to the races and the nearly-100 miles completed during the past 5 years. I was somewhat surprised to learn that there was no acknowledgement of the 10K’s anniversary or its legacy runners.
As has been a recent trend for the Disneyland races, a new theme was applied to the races this year: Pixar. While it seemed unnecessary to me, it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the weekend positively or negatively. In my opinion, the strange move was switching the Dumbo Double Dare’s theme to match the Pixar aesthetic. After four years of very similar Dumbo medals, it’s strange to now have one that’s so drastically different. In a typical Disney move that’s a little too self-referential for its own good, the Emeryville-inspired brick column medal just looks odd, even alongside the other medals for the weekend.
Due to a recent legal decision related to the Rock & Roll race series, volunteer labor is no longer allowed in California by for-profit companies. This May’s Tinkerbell Half Marathon Weekend was the first time Disney had to use temp workers instead of volunteers, and the results were mixed-at-best. Runners reported too few “volunteers” at key positions, and many of those remaining were disinterested or poorly managed; additionally, paying the temps led to drastic cuts in Disney staff, creating chaos at pre-race security and removing most of the on-course entertainment and character stops.
This weekend was my first time experiencing the changes in person, but they seemed to have learned their lessons from Tink and corrected course. While many of the reductions were noticeable to experienced runners (for example, there were dozens of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in Angels Stadium when there had been hundreds of them in the past), they were carefully chosen to still deliver a quality event. I didn’t notice a marked difference in the number of in-park character stations from previous years, though many of them had become minimally-staffed selfie-only locations. Although the heat made the weekend tough to enjoy, Disney really did a good job with everything they could have possibly controlled.
During the nationwide running boom, Disneyland hastily added new race weekends to their schedule in an attempt to keep up with demand, with four weekends throughout the year. Although the races remain popular with a certain group of runners, their popularity has clearly dropped off in recent years, following national trends. Combined with Disney’s increasingly frosty relationship with the City of Anaheim and California’s new legal requirements for paid workers, the future of runDisney events in Anaheim remains somewhat in question. Registration for the Star Wars and Tinkerbell races early next year has quietly been on hold for many months, leading to speculation of what the future may contain. Considering that most half marathon training plans require three to four months, it’s seeming increasingly unlikely that the January races won’t be happening in 2018.
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.