I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating here: I DID IT! I completed my first major challenge race (the 5K/10K last year doesn’t count) at Disneyland in Anaheim, California! I also had an amazing weekend, seeing some old friends, making some new ones, and discovering the Disney magic in ways I never thought possible.
Back in January of this year, after running the runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, I made a very rash decision to sign up for something a bit more challenging. As if 13.1 miles wasn’t enough… reading about all of these “challenges” that runDisney offered, and the fact that I haven’t been to Disneyland since 2006, I hastily signed up for Dumbo Double Dare. The challenge is a 10K on Saturday morning, followed by the Half marathon on Sunday. Complete both and you earn an additional medal. Since I was already running the Princess Half Marathon in February, I would also earn the Coast to Coast medal – 4 medals in total for that weekend.
DDD registrations sold out in less than hour (roughly 45 minutes), but I quickly handed over my credit card information to the mouse, and had my confirmation. Over the next couple of months, I completed the Princess half, but still had sub-par performances during the Florida races. I came back and nailed a 2:41 at a local half marathon in April. After that, things quieted down over the summer, but I still kept my training consistent. Fast forward to this past weekend, Friday to be exact, and the fun begins.
The day before I left, I had one of those days that makes you wonder if someone is watching over you with a black cloud. My typical Thursday had the normal work day, followed by teaching computer science at Desales University. While I was getting some dinner at a local mall, with my car in the parking space AND TURNED OFF, some guy decides to back into my car. He proceeds to get out, look at both cars, and tells me that there’s no damage. Thankfully, he was right, but I was still not happy. I got the class done a bit early and was able to get home to finish packing (yes, I procrastinate on packing). I should also mention the day before this, my dog decided to unpack my suitcase, so this was essentially packing round #2. With an early morning wake-up looming (can we say 3:30am), I think I finally got to bed around 11pm. Did I actually sleep? Probably all of 2 hours, but that’s besides the point. I was going to Disneyland!
ARRIVAL AND EXPO
Did the uneventful drive to Philly International airport, got through security, and boarded the plane without trouble. Flew out to Salt Lake City, roughly 5 hours, via Delta. Their new “Delta Studio” with free entertainment wasn’t bad. I watched most of the The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Pacific Rim – both good movies. Landed in SLC, grabbed a bite to eat, then boarded the second leg of the trip to Los Angeles. Arrived in LAX shortly after noon, made my way through a completely torn apart terminal (they are doing extensive remodeling) and then got picked up by Super Shuttle for the ride to Anaheim.
The drive time to Disneyland took around an hour, including a very scary “pull through 2 lanes of traffic to the side of the road to check your GPS” moment. Any other time I would be happy to sit in the front seat, not this time! There was a point where the driver had a cell phone in one hand, driving with the SAME hand, and doing something on his dash-mounted tablet with the other hand. Needless to say, we made it “safely” to Anaheim, and I was dropped off at the Best Western Park Place.
After checking into the hotel, I dumped all my stuff in the room, being sure to pull out the food items (to verify they survived the trip) and all my running items. This was the first time packing and preparing for more than one destination race. I was texting back and forth with my friend Lisa, as we had planned to meet up at some point prior to dinner. Next up was the walk to the expo.
Having only been to Disneyland once (8 years ago), I didn’t know what to expect as far as “walking distance from the park”. Literally, I walked across the street, and into the Esplanade (the connector area between the Disneyland parks and Downtown Disney District). The expo was held at the Disneyland Hotel, on the other side of the area I was in, but it wasn’t that bad of a walk. I would repeat this same walk the next two mornings. On the way over, I bumped into Lisa, exchanged hugs, and planned to meet back at the hotel when I was done.
Compared to other expos, the DL Half Weekend expo was laid out quite well. We were directed to the basement area of the hotel for bib pickup, where I also got my Coast2Coast wristband, and picked up my park hopper tickets from GET Travel. Then it was up to the expo floor for race shirts, and shopping. I got a text from Lisa, who managed to get a pic with Sean Astin. Thankfully, I bumped into him at the expo, got my pic, and sent it back to her. Gotta have some fun in Disney. Sean was amazingly down-to-earth, talking with everyone, and acted like he was just another runner. Definitely a rare type of celebrity. Around this time, I also bumped into Kim and Gail, exchanged pictures, and stopped for a quick chat with Jeff Galloway at the runDisney booth. Another wonderful person to talk to, who really comes off as just another runner, even though he’s done a lot more than most of us would dream.
After this, I didn’t spend too much more time at the expo, instead heading back to the hotel and meeting up with Lisa. I had a reservation for runDisney New Balance shoes, but after talking to the NB rep in line, realized they didn’t have the size and width I needed. Oh well, saved me $125! Lisa and I ended up going back to Downtown Disney for a dinner meetup at Naples. Some of us shared a large margharita pepperoni pizza and salad, a perfect pre-race carb-loading meal. After dinner, Lisa and I headed back to the expo for some additional shopping. I had to pick up a Coast2Coast shirt, and also got one of the Vinylmation runDisney Mickey’s with the DL Half mini-medal. Unlike Walt Disney Walt, Disney Vacation Club members enjoy 10% discounts on a lot more stuff. Lisa was my temporary runDisney wife, and it ended up saving us both a couple bucks. Little did I know, by the end of the weekend, the number of runDisney wives would grow.
On the way back to the hotel, we made a short stop at Starbucks for bagels. Two pre-cut plain bagles took nearly 15 minutes to get. I had to ask the one barista if the two bagged bagels sitting on the counter were Lisa’s. Amazingly, they were… why it took that long, we still don’t know. Next to the hotel was a small market, where we picked up some drinks, and then headed back for some sleep. I also learned a valuable lesson – never set your alarm ringtone to the same tone as text messages. Meghan, someone I’d be running the 20 some odd miles with in the next two days, texted me about an hour after I fell asleep. I woke up in a panic thinking it was already time to get up to run. After that, I don’t recall much except the real 3:30am alarm going off.
Gotta love that 3:30am alarm clock going off! The good news is I actually slept for a little over 5 hours, which isn’t bad. Also helping was the time zone change, in this case, it felt like it was 6:30am, not 3:30am. Anyway, got up rather quickly, made some coffee using the in-room coffee maker. For having pre-packaged coffee with powdered creamer, it was surprisingly good. Or it just means I was that delusional. Got dressed, and double-checked everything. Racing belt with bib – check! Water and Gatorade bottles filled – check! Salt sticks tablets and a gel just in case – check! One last validation in the mirror that nothing looked out of place or missing, and I was out the door.
Walking over to the starting area, I ran into Brandi and her mom Karen. Brandi was rocking the Buzz Lightyear outfit, and once got over to the runner’s area, took an opportunity to have some fun at 4-something in the morning. I finally met Meghan, the person who offered (what was she thinking) to run both races with me. I should mention that we never met in person before, and only really started talking online a few months ago. She joined up with my Goofy Challenge First Timers Facebook group as a Dopey participant (they are technically doing Goofy too), and we quickly built a friendship that led up to today. Still, having never run a race of any length with someone, I didn’t know what to expect. Would we run the whole thing together? Would we split up along the way? Would we ever get along and tolerate each other? Thankfully, as you’ll soon see, my fears were completely unfounded, and I think I made a lifelong running friend (or runDisney wife #1).
We took a few other group pictures, and before we knew it, the announcers told us to move to the corrals. An Elvis impersonator came out to sing the National Anthem (most of it was in tune), and then the send-offs began. For the 10K, there were 5 corrals, each one sent off by an Elvis impersonator and Stitch (Stitch was the theme for this race) accompanied by Hawaiian music. The weather at this point wasn’t bad, either temperature or humidity. Water was set up on a large table in the middle of runner’s area, and port-o-lets were plentiful with next to no waiting. All good things for a runDisney (or any) race.
After corral A and B left, it was our turn. Runners… on your mark… get set… GO! Meg and I discussed a strategy to use the 10K as a test for 30/30 run/walk intervals for the half marathon. However, we decided to just run the first mile and clear away from the herd of run/walk/dawdlers that usually results in unnecessary collisions and frustration. Surprisingly, that first mile came in as our fastest of the weekend, a 9:40. After that, it was time to have fun… and boy, did we have fun!
We joked about being part of the on-course entertainment, and it probably wasn’t far from the truth. Weaving around runners, high-fiving each other through the miles, and just generally laughing and having a good time made the miles go by fast. We stopped for each mile marker, skipped pictures with the fake Elvises (Elvi???), got some other pictures near the World of Color fountains, the Haunted Mansion, Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and some others in Cars Land. Before we knew it, we were heading for the home stretch, and the finish line. It honestly went by way too fast. My only frustration was that the line for Stitch (the race’s title character) was CLOSED when we got there? Really, runDisney? You couldn’t have another Stitch or two ready to go for all the runners? Overall, not many characters for this race, but my running company more than made up for that.
Here’s the 10K in photos –
The good news was that the 30/30 intervals seemed doable, and I had found someone I knew would make the 13.1 miles tomorrow much easier. As if I wasn’t a glutton for punishment, after the 6.2 miles I just ran, I decided to pick Meg up for one last photo, on wobbly knees. It all worked out, no runners were harmed in the process, and we had another good laugh. The reality sunk in at that point – 6.2 miles down – 13.1 miles to go!
After the craziness wore off, Meg and her other friend Dee Dee offered me a ride back to the hotel. My thought at the time was to minimize walking, so the ride sounded nice. We got to visit a couple of extra levels of the parking deck (including one that was completely, 100%, eerily empty), but finally found the car. Upon returning to the room, it was an ice bath followed by a shower. This was my first attempt with an ice bath, but I’m really glad I did it – definitely helped me later in the day.
Lisa and I met up shortly after and headed over to California Adventure. Unfortunately, the park has an early entry hour at 8am, so people were already inside when we arrived. Our goal was to hit Radiator Springs Racers, but after seeing the LONG LINE (think WDW Florida-style line), we opted to try something else. A trip on California Screamin’ followed by a ride on Toy Story and it was time to get something to eat. But not before we found Donald, who approved of my 10K medal. We ended up at the Pacific Wharf Cafe. Lisa had an amazing bread bowl breakfast filled with scrambled eggs and topped with bacon. I think there was some orange slices on the side, but did I say BACON! Anyway, I opted for a roast beef sandwich and chips. Something about the time zone change made me feel like it was past lunch time at 10am Pacific. We got a chance to meet up with Jim DeMarco and his family while we were eating.
We all headed over to the Monsters, Inc. ride, which was a lot of fun (especially the door room). Since Jim and I both were Disney Visa cardholders, we got in line for a picture with Stitch. On our way out, we passed the Mad T Party area with a very interesting beverage location that said “DRINK ME”. I would late forget the name and refer to it as “EAT ME”, and I doubt Jim will ever forget that. After that, Lisa and I met said our goodbyes to Jim and his family, and met up with Meg and D for another trip on Monsters, Inc.
We then headed over to and finally rode Radiator Springs Racers, but not before getting an evening FastPass for a second ride. I absolutely loved this ride, and it beats Test Track in Orlando. The amazing job Disney Imagineering did in creating Cars Land is up there with some of the other major attractions they’ve built. Really well done, and you feel like you’re in Radiator Springs, riding along with Lightning McQueen. We also took a ride on Mater’s Tractors, which looks like a kids ride quite honestly. It’s a variation of the Tea Cups, but you sit in gondola that can swing connected to tractors on the spinning floor. The result – you take turns getting tossed into each side of the tractor. Lisa and I got banged up, but walked off the ride laughing… all of this while a country-jamboree style song sung by Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) plays in the background. One of those all around good time rides.
A quick stop for some afternoon snacks at the Cozy Cone. Each cone has a different selection of snacks. Had to stop for a group picture in front of the sign. After finishing our snacks, and dealing with a “wardrobe malfunction” that involved Lisa dripping chocolate on her shirt in a prominent location (cue the jokes from Meg and I), we headed back towards the waterfront area of the park. Meg wasn’t too thrilled about riding the big wheel, but she obliged with one exception – we could NOT ride the swinging gondolas. Ok, no problem – got some wonderful aerial shots during the ride.
Once we got done with the wheel, Meg and Dee had a meetup with another group. Lisa and I took a ride on Soarin’ Over California, and then headed over to Disneyland to ride Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before it was time for dinner. Little did I know, she looked up some of the secrets and completely blew my score away! Before we knew it, we were back in California Adventure heading to the Carthay Circle restaurant for dinner.
Carthay Circle is one of the best restaurants in Disneyland – from the menu to the presentation and the overall ambiance. I was in a little bit of a fog at dinner time, not sure if it was from the early morning race, the travel from the day before, or something else. Instead of going crazy on a unique menu item, I stuck to the glazed chicken (bone-in) served over ancient grains with some type of green vegetable that I steered clear of. The dinner was delicious, even though my appetite wasn’t quite “on” at that point. Some kind of parade was going on during dinner, so every time the outside door opened, you couldn’t hear the person talk next to you.
After dinner, Lisa and Dee wanted to get a ride on Soarin, so we all split up. Meg and I walked around the Grizzly River area of the park, and did some friendship building. Too many Disney trips I’ve spent going gangbusters trying to ride everything. It was nice to just walk and talk, see the sights, people watch, and enjoy the environment. This was Disney magic at its best. After that, we met back up and all headed over to Radiator Springs Racers for our nighttime ride. What a difference no daylight makes – another amazing ride!
By this point, it was close to 8pm, which is 11pm for us East Coast folks. Meg and Dee decided to call it a night, while Lisa wanted to grab a ride on Tower of Terror. We all said goodnight, and Lisa and I headed for ToT, but not before taking a trip on Luigi’s tires. Essentially the rides turns you into a puck on a giant air hockey table. You need to lean in the direction you want to go. For both of us, after getting banged around by Mater’s Tractors, and exhausted from being out all day, this was another hilarious ride.
Then it was time for Tower of Terror. This version is different from the WDW one. The car stays in the drop shaft for the entire ride, it doesn’t move horizontally like the Orlando one. Even so, it’s a great ride, and a crazy way to end the night. Lisa didn’t seem as amused as I was judging from the on-ride pic. By the time we got done, the park was closed. Yes, you read that right, we opened California Adventure at 9am, and closed it down at 9pm.
We slowly headed back to the hotel, and called it a night. By this point, I think I actually go to bed around 11pm Pacific, giving me roughly 4 hours before my 3:30am wake-up call. Would I recommend doing a park all day in between runs? No. Do I regret it? Not for one second! Today was an amazing day that had everything you could want from a day at Disney. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
(2014 runDisney Dumbo Double Dare – Part 2)