DISNEYLAND HALF MARATHON
As expected, my trusty alarm went off at 3:30am. This after getting to bed around 11pm last night. A little under five of sleep, and I was feeling a bit sluggish, a bit nervous, and a bit excited – isn’t that a fun combination. Same routine as yesterday morning, in-room coffee, bagel with peanut butter, load up race belt with water and Gatorade, get dressed, verify everything, and out the door for the walk to the starting area. Temperatures weren’t too bad this morning, and neither was the humidity. It might actually turn out to be a great morning to run.
Did the walk over to the start area, and met up with Meghan once again. Our strategy this time around was to run the 30/30 intervals until we decided differently or just got tired. While the runner area was pretty much the same as the day before, there were a LOT more people. We took a few pre-race and group pictures, and then began the march to corrals. There were a total of 10 corrals for the half marathon, and by the time we got to our corral H, it was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. The corrals had so much crowding that you could see people all the way back towards the Mickey Parking Structure. It was a bit intimidating and exciting at the same time.
After the obligatory singing of the National Anthem, the wheelchair racers got the start complete with fireworks and music. One thing I love about runDisney – no matter who you are, they go out of their way to make each start special. I’ve read some reviews about the back of the pack not always getting full race support. While I can’t vouch for that either way, I must say the race starts are always an amazing affair. That and trying to watch literally thousands of people run/jog/dodge/walk down a street is interesting and humorous – and potentially dangerous if you happen to be one of those people.
Meghan and I caught up with Brandi, her mom Karen, and Jim plus a few others in the very large H corral. When I say large, based on the total numbers from Dumbo and Half runners combined, H was the largest single corral for the race, over 3,500 runners. Behind us, two more very large corrals remained. Once the race gets going, things tend to thin out, some of the folks up front slow down and fall back, so it sort of becomes this big runDisney soup out on the course. Nonetheless, this gives a whole new meaning to the term “sea of humanity”. The Walt Disney World races have a lot more space to work with, so you don’t feel like you’re in some kind of giant cattle chute being led to the… nevermind!
With races in Orlando, each corral got its own start, spaced apart by a few minutes that got longer as they moved down the corrals. For the Disneyland Half, they sent corrals off together, first A/B, then C/D, then E/F, then G went by themselves. It seemed to go rather quick, although I’m not sure how the combined corral sendoffs worked. Either way it didn’t really matter much, as before we knew it H was up. The announcers got us all fired up one last time, everyone set their watch/timer/beeping device, the fireworks went off, and so were we.
The course starts outside of the parks, but you quickly wind back in and go through both parks, starting with a stroll through California Adventure, across the Esplanade and then through Disneyland. Honestly, aside from the fact that we ran Cali Adventure in reverse from the day prior, most of this was just time that Meg and I focused on getting a rhythm with our running down. We primarily stuck to 30/30 run/walk intervals, although we sometimes would adjust and add an extra run segment if we felt good. The park portion of the race chewed up around 4 miles, and it was nice to see these areas again without having to worry about picture taking (did that the day before).
I don’t usually run races with family cheering me on. Having two young, impatient kids standing and waiting for long periods of time is a disaster in the making. However, as I was coming through the gates of Disneyland, I heard my name shouting out, and turned around to catch Jen waving to me. I apparently ran by too fast for her to get a picture, but it was one of those awesome feelings having someone else recognize you in the crowd of runners.
One other thing I noted was a lot more characters for the half. Primarily villians from what I could tell – Cruella and Dr. Facilier were ones I recall. There were other character stops, but I honestly don’t remember much of that, as we were determined to keep our pace and keep moving. The 10K was the picture-taking, screwing around race. Although we did have some fun, joking with each other, fellow runners, and the crowds. This was one of the things I enjoyed about running with someone else… the interactions and just general goofiness that helped make the time (and distance) seem faster.
After finishing the park portion of the race, it was out to the streets of Anaheim for our roughly 2 mile trek down to the Honda Center and Angels Stadium. Unlike WDW races, the course support after you leave the parks was amazing. I almost wonder if the entire city came out for this race. The sheer number of school cheerleaders, bands, scouts and other groups blew me away. And they were all there cheering complete strangers on an early Sunday morning during a long Labor Day weekend. There’s something cool about running down a line of people giving them all high-fives.
This was also a point in the race where things thinned out a bit, and you had a lot more space to work with. While the parks weren’t overly crowded with runners, the Anaheim streets definitely gave you room to avoid running into/over/on top of people. Add to that runDisney’s awesome volunteer force and on-course support, and these pavement miles passed by quickly as well. Meg and I continued our regular intervals, and even though I had to fight the urge to slow down, I kept up and kept moving. She opted to dress up like the Cheshire Cat for this race – and I couldn’t resist a number of “chasing tail” comments throughout. I found out that during one of Meg’s races after coming home, a woman she was talking with mentioned seeing a “couple” cracking jokes about chasing tails. Yes, we were noticed (or “famous” – Meg’s words). I guess now we’re a runDisney couple – or does this make her rD Wife #1?
As we approached the Honda Center (you don’t actually run around it, just make a hard right in front of it), there was a Hawaiian group singing and dancing. Then about a block ahead of that, there was what I can only describe as a half-mile long stretch of classic cars. Yes, these folks brought their classic automobiles and lined the streets for the runners to see. Some of the owners revved the engines, or had signs, or even handed out candy to us. I can honestly say this is the kind of thing that turns what could have a boring stretch of road (see runDisney PHM 2014 Mile 7 stretch) into something you wish you could slow down for. I’m not a car guy by any means, but I enjoyed looking at all the antique autos. Put a water stop, a medical stop, and port-o-potties on the road, and you have one of the best miles of this race (aside from the parks and the finish line, of course).
The course then took us along the Santa Ana River Trail, one of the most narrow sections of the race. The Santa Ana “river” is pretty much completely dry, so the visuals weren’t that great. To top it off, another women decided to abruptly stop in front of Meg, causing a bit of a commotion. Thankfully, aside from a few exchanged words, no physical altercation occurred (I was more worried about having to restraint Meg than fight off the other woman). We exited the trail right outside of Angel Stadium at around the mile 9 mark. Heading into the stadium, we passed what I’m guessing were hundreds of spectators, school groups, scout troops, and volunteers. Another boost of emotional and psychological energy when we all needed it most.
Heading into Angel Stadium and running around the warning track was one of those memories that will last a long time. I’ve been on a baseball field before, but never in a stadium where probably a couple thousand people were in the stands watching. It gave you that feeling that just for a moment you were one of the most important activities going on. I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the crowds, encouraging them to cheer. Another boost of energy at just the right time. Meg and I stopped for a few extra pictures here, and quite honestly, the time we spent here was more than worth it. Unfortunately, this part went by too fast, and before we knew it, we were back on the highway towards Disney.
Thankfully, by this point Mile 10 was quickly approaching, meaning a 5K distance left to this half marathon. Throughout the race, the skies were mostly overcast, with a few rays of sun shining through. The temperature and humidity were bearable. But sometime after we left Angels Stadium, the skies cleared, and the sun came out in full California force. For better or worse, we weren’t running directly into the sun (though I felt bad for those runners still heading INTO the stadium – running directly at the sun). The sun shining against our backs made thing hot – fast!
A couple of highway overpasses that we went under with even more cheering groups and bands helped out more than they probably realized. Both Meg and I had our turns dealing with a bout of nausea. We walked part of the race here, slowing down our pace, getting rehydrated, and just taking it easy. While it hurt our overall time, it was a smart move, given the sun, and the fact that we had the rest of the day in Disneyland to enjoy.
As we were walking along, and I’ve mentioned this before, I was amazed at the number of bands and other groups coming out to support us. There had to be probably 30+ high school bands and other musical groups, in addition to cheerleaders, color guards, etc. Amazing that all these kids came out on a Sunday morning early (when they could be sleeping) to support a couple thousand runners. People often talk about how the runner community supports one another. This was a great example of how the city supported the runners.
Right around Mile 12, we stopped to stretch and saw our friend Dee. She had a neat little sign saying “Touch Here for Power” with “Go Megs! Go Nick!” written on it. Since I usually do races solo without much crowd support, seeing that and having people recognize me along the way was pretty cool. You could feel at this point like the race was almost over – seeing the highway signs for Disneyland Resort, and hearing the crowds cheering louder.
We also stopped for a quick shot with the Stormtroopers! No way were we missing that opportunity.
Another mile to come around the entrance to Disney’s property, through lines of screaming and cheering people, and the finish line was in sight. I will admit to trying very hard to keep myself emotionally in check. While the race was definitely doable, and I put in the training, coming into this I wasn’t sure what to expect. 19.3 miles in 2 days – my first time doing back-to-back races. Then it happened – I crossed the finish line! We crossed the finish line, and completed the 2014 runDisney Dumbo Double Dare!
The best part of the weekend happened as I got my Dumbo Double Dare medal, and finally, the Coast 2 Coast medal. Add in the obligatory finisher picks with all of the medals, and wow, what an amazing feeling. You’ll notice the mandatory runDisney post-race meal boxes, which I quickly consumed. Meg offered me a ride back to the hotel, but I opted to walk instead… took me a little bit to find my way back to Downtown Disney, but I managed to get back without falling over. My legs already hurt, and I felt completely exhausted!
After getting back to the hotel room, another homemade ice bath awaited, followed by a nice long shower. I would ultimately leave for the airport later in the evening, so I had to checkout before doing anything else. The hotel gave me a late checkout, so I laid down for about an hour, then got dressed, packed up, checked out, and headed back to the parks. Nothing like walking around after running Dumbo! First stop was Trader Sams to meet up with Jen, who originally wasn’t going to make the trip due to medical issues, but due to the kindness of a big runDisney group, managed to get here to enjoy the weekend. Somewhere in Downtown Disney, I ran into Kim and Gail. I honestly don’t remember taking a picture with them, I was that out of it. (Kim went through breast cancer treatment while continuing to run marathons, so I can only complain so much.)
It was nice to relax at Trader Sam’s, meet up with Jen and some new folks. The plan for the day was to meet some other people for a late lunch at Big Thunder Mountain Ranch, but I was just too hungry at this point. An order of fries and iced tea, and I bought some time till the feast. With all the meetups and running into people, the collection of pictures afterwards is always fun to look through. I attempted to bend my knees for the pic with Jen… it came out a bit awkward since most of my leg muscles were still cramping up.
We said our goodbyes, and I headed back to Disneyland to start my “day-in-the-park-after-running-a-half-marathon”. Yes, it sounds as crazy as I thought it would writing it. After heading into the park, I found out Jim DeMarco and his family was around somewhere… so we ended up meeting near Tomorrowland. I had to eat something else, and what better than carrot cake and a Coke. Unfortunately, the carrot cakes in DL are NOT the same (and not as good) as the ones in Florida. Bummer! After that, we headed over to It’s a Small World, as Jim and I both tried to navigate the process of sitting down (and getting up from) the boats.
The other thing I don’t like about Disneyland – most of the ride queues are outside and uncovered, making for a very hot and uncomfortable wait. After the ride, I split up with Jim and headed over to Big Thunder Mountain Ranch to meet Lisa and a couple of other folks. Meghan and Dee met up with us too, and we enjoyed a really nice BBQ ribs and chicken late lunch. The food was delicious, but I had to choke down some of it as I still wasn’t feeling 100% from running that morning.
After our meal, the four of us headed over the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for a spin on the train-themed roller coaster. Then we got to a bit more indecisiveness, and a need for a bathroom break ended with the four of us splitting up, and Meghan and I doing a trip on Pirates of the Caribbean. Another ride that I like Florida’s version better, even though this one has two drops, and a very interesting and unique loading area.
I had been texting back and forth with Jen about meeting up later in the day, and we tried to connect up for a quick dinner. I had to be back to the hotel by 8pm for the bus ride to the airport. Meg wanted to meet a friend of hers over in California Adventure. At this point, Lisa and Dee went to ride a few rides in Disneyland, and headed off together after we all said our goodbyes. Meg and I shuffled off together to CA.
Of course, we couldn’t simply leave without taking medal pictures in front of the “smaller” Sleeping Beauty Castle!
Along the way, our other friend Brandi asked if we wanted to try and get on The Little Mermaid together. After getting stuck behind one of the Cali Adventure parades, we all rode TLM together. Before we got in there, I made a very joking question to Meg about how a mermaid and merman mate. She responded “well, when a mermaid and a mermaid get together – and love each other very much” – at which point this family behind us quickly backed away. It was one of those “had to be there” moments, but definitely a classic Meg/Nick moment. As for the ride with those two girls… all I can say, being the guy stuck between Meg and Brandi, was oh my! I had stereo audio throughout the ride… one of those things I won’t forget anytime soon!
Brandi and her mom headed off after the ride. Meg and I walked around together for a bit before finally saying our goodbyes. I admit to tearing up a little bit at this point. I really had a blast with everyone and it was sad to realize that the end was near. Jen had reached out at this point, and we ended up meeting near Luigi’s tires. She had connected up with some friends, but then we headed over to ride California Screamin’ together, followed by a nice pizza and pasta dinner.
It was really relaxing to just sit by the World of Color fountains and the ferris wheel, enjoy a bite to eat, and just talk, laugh, and enjoy life. We did some people watching as well. Jen was someone I met last year at Wine & Dine, and we’ve developed a really great friendship. After eating, we headed back to the park entrance, and said our goodbyes again. I gave her a big hug, took the slow walk back to the hotel. This was it for me in Anaheim. I was a bundle of feelings… happy to be going to home to see my family… sad to be leaving a runDisney family… happy to have made some new friends and strengthened some existing friendships… sad to be leaving what felt like an awesome weekend! It was the kind of like an adult version of a college weekend getaway, and well worth it.
THE JOURNEY HOME
The shuttle service arrived right on time, and by 9pm, I was through the doors of Los Angeles International Airport! Got through security rather quickly, and saw a couple of other Dumbo-wearing travelers. I had about an hour to kill before the flight, so I did a couple laps to stay loose – grabbing a turkey wrap to get some more food in me before flying.
I don’t remember much of the actual flight – I did sleep in spurts, but every time I’d fall asleep, we would hit some turbulence. A roughly 5 hour flight landed on time in Chicago Midway, where I was able to get a decent breakfast, and walk around some more. After a nearly 4 hour layover, I got back into Philadelphia, got my car, and headed home. Things would have been great, except I got pulled over right as I was getting back to the Lehigh Valley. Oh well – even that couldn’t spoil my weekend!
The funniest part of the trip home was everyone texting and sharing pictures from the weekend. Many folks staying at Anaheim till Monday afternoon, but some flew home on the red eye. No matter what the situation, we were a group brought together by runDisney and the mouse! Can’t beat that!
I have to include some big thank yous to the people that made this weekend amazing! First and foremost, to my running partner in crime, Meg! Thanks for running with someone who you only met for the first time this weekend. You made the miles go by so fast, and we had a blast! I’ll never forget chasing tail, or the woman you almost got in a fight with on the River Trail. I hope we get to do that race again!
Thanks to Lisa for being my park buddy on Saturday! We opened California Adventure – and we shut that park down! Probably not the smartest thing to do, but who wouldn’t want to ride the Tower of Terror to end the night. Really had a fantastic time, and still can’t believe we met by chance on the bus ride back from Wine & Dine last year!
Thanks to Jen for the roller coaster ride and dinner conversation. It was a great way to end my time in the parks, and I hope we keep up the friendship for many years to come!
Thanks to Brandi for completing our Little Mermaid Coast to Coast! Between you and Meg, that ride will never be the same again!
To everyone else I met along with the way, to Dee Dee, Linda, Karen, Tracy, Jim, and anyone else I may have missed, thanks for an amazing weekend! You have no idea how much I needed a weekend like that to recharge, destress, and just feel like a kid again. I hope we all cross paths again, and maybe just maybe get to party with the mouse together again!