Earlier this month I flew to LAX to take part in my second Disney race – this time a half marathon in Disneyland. I had been training somewhat hard and had definitely been looking forward to this race since I booked a place in January. I have also not been to Disneyland for at least 20 years AND I was going to meet my imaginary friends from ROTE so the whole experience promised to be unforgettable.
This turned out to be exactly right.
Seeing as I was already flying thousands of miles to be there for the half marathon, I decided to give a bit more money to Disney and also registered in the 5k that was the day prior to the big race. I thought this would not only be fun but would make a good last minute training run, and also would help me tweak any final issues with clothes or equipment in the California weather. So the morning of the 5k race I found myself in the start in a sea of red, surrounded by friends I had only met in person the day before. The day promised to be sunny and warm and so we were in a good mood as we set off.
Although I didn’t want to go ‘fast’, I certainly didn’t want to walk the entire race either and luckily I found a friend that had the same idea as me, so we set off together. The start was pretty crowded so it was hard to get into any sort of running at the start but soon the crowds spread out a bit more and gave us some room to settle into any sort of pace.
Before I expected, we were in Disneyland! I had only arrived a few days before and hadn’t had a chance to visit any parks yet, so I was terribly confused as to where I was. I can’t remember many details of the actual course except that it felt like we were going round and round the same places over and over again. However I was LOVING just being in the park, looking at all the stuff that was familiar yet strangely different and of course, enjoying the sunshine and the company.
Eventually we left Disneyland and ran across to California Adventure (DCA) where I did recognize a few more things. I’d been to this park more recently, about 12 years ago, and the main layout hasn’t changed much so I felt a little less lost. I also found that we were keeping a relatively good pace and was actually really enjoying the race.
Suddenly, the finish line appeared and it was all over. The elation over having completed the race quickly disappeared when we discovered that they had run out of medals – all we got was a piece of paper saying how sorry they were and how we would be contacted to get those to us. Much has been said about this so all I’ll say is that I was very disappointed, not so much for the medal, but because I always thought that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen at Disney and it did.
The rest of the day I spent mainly on my feet, walking to bag pickup, walking in the park or walking to the hotel. It was a fun day (very hot!) but based on what I know now, walking around theme parks all day, prior to a big race is probably not a very good idea... I eventually came to my senses and was in bed relatively early, getting some rest before the big day.
Sunday came all too quickly (I think we set our alarms for somewhere around 3am or something) and I was able to get out of bed without too much effort thanks to my lingering jet-lag. Eventually all my roommates were up too and we were all getting dressed, preparing our kit and hoping for a good day. We were soon out the door and walking to the start, which took about 20 minutes (it was about 2km away – I checked!) and quickly noticed that it was a fairly chilly morning.
The previous day had been very, very hot. I knew I could cope but somewhere inside I was a little worried as I hadn’t really done any training in hot conditions, other than a few runs in France. I was concerned about glare, so much so that I bought a pair of sunglasses to run with, even though I have never run with sunglasses before (and hence breaking a cardinal rule of big races: never run with anything you haven’t tried before). So the fact that this Sunday morning was looking to be cooler than the previous day was not entirely bad news and in fact probably did us all a favour.
We finally made it to the start, found our corral and waited and waited and waited… finally the time to start the race came, the anthem was sung (beautifully) and… we then waited and waited and waited again. It took 20 minutes for those of us in corral E to finally get moving after the race had started! The runners were released in waves which was probably a good idea but it did make it a bit long to wait.
Once again I was running with my friend from the 5k, as we’d established that we had similar pace and another friend joined us for the first few miles also. We were doing intervals of 3r/1w and once we had enough space, we started our intervals. We were keeping an easy pace and chatting along as we went, which made the first few miles fly by.
Soon enough we were in DCA and running a route very similar to that one we did on the 5k. I of course wanted to stop for photos pretty much every time I saw ANYTHING (so apologies to the girls for slowing them down!) and I was in running heaven. I think I barely felt the miles go by as we ran through DCA and then eventually across the esplanade and into Disneyland.
Once in Disneyland the highlight is of course “running right down the middle of Main St USA” (where I stopped for photos of course) but the fun didn’t stop there. I think I loved every second of running in the parks and took enough photos of everything: rides, characters, people… it was bliss.
All too quickly we literally ran out of park and were in backstage areas and getting ready to hit the streets of Anaheim. Suddenly, everything is SO much different. I can see why Disney lay out their courses so that parks are run through first but it is a huge letdown to suddenly get out into the real world and know that for the next 5 miles, there is hardly anything worth looking at. After the noise and excitement of the Disney parks, anything is bound to be a disappointment… it was also still pretty cold for me at this point because the sun hadn’t quite broken through the clouds yet.
What the city streets lack in excitement they make up in width: there was plenty of room for us to spread out and to try and get some serious mileage done. Also, without the constant appearance of characters and other fun things, there was much less stopping so we were moving along. Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of people out on the course cheering and doing their best to entertain but I think there was room for plenty more.
The next milestone on the route was Angel stadium. I know this was a big deal to a lot of people and while I enjoyed running there and welcomed the excitement, it certainly wasn’t on a par with the Disney parks for me. The most important thing for me about this was that if I made it past here without being swept, I would be able to finish the race as this is where the last checkpoint is located.
After the stadium, I think we were ready to finish the race. We had a couple more miles of boring city street to get through before that was the case though, so we tried to get moving. By this point we had done around 10 miles so my legs were starting to ache a little. I still felt pretty good though, but speed was not something I could call upon at this point. When we saw the sign for “Disney Way” I knew we were getting closer to the finish!
We were getting closer and closer to the finish but I know from prior experience that the last mile in a half marathon is the longest mile ever – and of course one has to add .1 to it before one can see the finish line! It was also at this point that the sun finally decided to shine for us, so at least that last mile I had the sun on my face to cheer me up. Eventually though the finish line was in our sights and in spite of all my best intentions to sprint the finish, the best I could do was keep jogging until I crossed the mat.
This time there were no medal shortages so we got our lovely Mickey medals and continued on through the chutes and on to the end, where we found all our ROTE friends. There were photos, hugs, congratulations and kind words all around. The race was now finished.
I was on a high all the rest of the day and once we’d showered and eaten something we hit the parks big time. We walked and walked all day (except for the rest we got while watching the Aladdin show in DCA) and probably covered at least another 13 miles slowly during the day. I consider that my cool down and stretch and it probably worked, as I was not too sore the next day (or was that the Tylenol?)
It was an awesome experience and I think it was as much due to the company as it was to the scenery. The atmosphere is electric and the route has so many highlights that it is difficult to not enjoy it. The course is also blissfully flat (unlike WDW, with its many cambered roads and overpasses) which suits beginners like me. However, I don’t think I’ll do that race again, at least not for a very long while, mainly because it really is a long way to go for a half marathon. My next Disney race will probably be the Princess half at WDW one of these years, if life works out in such a way that I can fit this in.
My time in Disneyland was unforgettable and a big part of it was the races, of course, but I also enjoyed meeting new friends and even having time to myself once everyone had gone home (and I will write about that in another post!) The experience confirmed that Disney races are definitely unlike any others and I only wish I lived closer to the magic so that I could do more of them. I wonder if there ever will be a race in Disneyland Paris… hmmm…
PS. You can still sponsor me on http://www.justgiving.com/claudiadoesdisney