REVIEW: DISNEYLAND HALF MARATHON
“Hi Ho Hi Ho, it’s off to run we go!”
Disney, the uber-company which owns Marvel, Lucasfilm (aka Star Wars), Pixar and is responsible for some great family films and wonderful theme parks, has also become quite the upcoming player in the marathon game. With numerous races each year at Walt Disney World in Orlando and at Disneyland in Anaheim, Mickey and Minnie Mouse seem to lace up their running shoes almost every other weekend.
This past Sunday (of Labor Day Weekend), Disney staged the 9th annual Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend (which also included a 10K, 5K and other family events). Amidst the heat and humidity of summer’s final “unofficial” weekend, over 15,000 runners donned their respective Disney costumes or mouse ears and lined up to “Let It Go” (yes, they played the song again and again) at the “Sweatiest place on earth.”
Registering for Disney events is a race in its own right, as the runs sell out in a matter of hours (and sometime minutes for the combo races). If you want to sign up for a Disney race you best be parked at your keyboard with credit card in hand anxiously counting off the seconds before registration officially opens. And if you’re fast enough on the draw to successfully register, be prepared to risk having your bank account “Frozen” due to disappearing funds. Disney races are expensive. Really expensive. As in the most expensive you’ll probably find for a race… by far.
Registration for the half marathon starts at an astronomical $195 (I guess one of the upsides of it selling out so fast is the price never has a chance to go higher). For those who want to run the “Dumbo Double Dare” (which is a 10K on Saturday followed by the half marathon on Sunday) be prepared to drop a budget crushing $320. Disney is known for high prices, but I know of more than one runner wondering if the a race is worth paying double what you would at most other half marathons simply to have the race “Disneyfied” (more on that in bit).
As for packet pick-up, Disney has their expo scheduled at the Disneyland Hotel the days before the race. And be forewarned, runners must pick up their own bib/tech shirt as you are not allowed to send a friend/family member in your stead and there is no race day pick-up. The expo itself is very well set up; Disney is a master when it comes to organization and crowd control.
I’ve heard stories of the expo being incredibly crowded, but I found it pretty easy and quick to navigate thanks to the great organization. Fortunately, they didn’t charge for expo parking at the Disneyland Hotel (I was given a paper waiver by the attendant for 30 minutes… I stayed over an hour). Parking is a bit limited there so you might find it better to park at Downtown Disney, pay the parking costs (rather high) and make an afternoon of it.
Oh, and the expo is decent with a respectable number of various vendors present, a few photo ops set-up (Disney loves the pics) and numerous speakers for those who want some race info. Have I seen bigger and better expos… yes. But, the expo had all of the necessities and a few cool accessories I hadn’t seen before. And yes, there is a separate section for Disney race merchandise.
Since Disneyland is a tourist destination, there are plenty of hotels available for those who want to stay down in Anaheim the night before their respective races. And given the pre-dawn (5:30am) start times, it’s not a bad idea to grab a hotel to save yourself some a.m. driving. As for me, I did motor down from LA the day of the race (yup, I left at 3:30am) and it was a pretty easy drive (one of the few times you won’t find traffic on the I-5). Like the rest of the commuting masses, I had to pay $17 to park in the Disney lots, which is rather pricey and in keeping with Disney charging a pretty penny for everything (given the high cost of the race, you think they’d give a break or discount for parking).
FYI, another plus for going the hotel route is that many had shuttles to take you to and from the start line (although some hotels charge for parking in their lot anyway, which makes it a wash) or you can just hoof if there, using the walk as a warm-up.
Disney prides itself on having great bling and cool shirts. For those running the Dumbo Double Dare, you’ll not only get a medal for each race, but a bonus medal, not to mention additional medals should you be participating in Disney’s Coast-to-Coast Challenge Program. Careful, getting all of that Disney bling can cause neck injuries if you try to wear it all at once and channel your inner “Flavor Flav” (but most consider the risk worth it).
This year’s half marathon medal featured a large script “D” amidst the Disneyland castle and hung from a pretty multi-colored ribbon (kind of a throwback to Disneyland’s early days). It really is a nice medal. As for the tech shirts, each race featured a different design and color scheme. For the half marathon, the 2014 shirt was “pea green” in color and featured a very low-key image of the Disneyland castle (again, a retro-design celebrating Disneyland’s origin). At first I was disappointed with the shirt (especially give Disney’s typical gift for great design), but I have a feeling it will grow on me in time. And if you’re willing to spend some more bucks (try several more) you can always purchase one of the “I did it” shirts which feature a running Mickey.
It’s a race through Disneyland, so what more do you need to know? Quite a bit actually.
One of the big selling points of the various Disney races is getting to run through and around the parks, but it’s one of those things that looks a bit better on paper than when it comes to execution. The Disneyland Half Marathon features a fairly flat pseudo-loop course. You start out near the Disneyland Hotel and make your way off toward the parks. After navigating the streets and parking lots near Disneyland for a little bit, you hit the parks themselves starting around mile 2. First off, it’s the California Adventure Park, where you wind your way through the various streets. And I’ve got to admit that is was pretty surreal to run down the main drag of Radiator Springs (and I’m certainly no Lightning McQueen). After you do your trek through California Adventure, you make your way into Disneyland itself, heading down Main Street and meandering through Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Toon Town before heading back out of the park.
All throughout the park there are numerous opportunities for runners to stop and take pictures, be it of Disney sights or with the costumed characters who are out in force. If you are selfie addict or love snapping race photos, then this is your slice of heaven. It’s one of the main reasons why the median race times at Disney races are so slow (people stop for umpteen photos with Maleficient, Mickey, the soldiers from Toy Story, etc). It can cause a bit of a chaos as the runners who don’t feel the need to take photos must dodge the runners who toss race etiquette out the window and make a beeline across the course the second they see Mike Wazowski and Sully waving. Of course, Disney races have their own flavor and most people forgive those caught up in the moment. In addition, many of runners are dressed in Disney-themed costumes (some of them are really spectacular); I myself ran the course sporting a pair of Mickey Mouse ears strapped to my cabeza.
And then there is the rest of the race…
People who think that the entire half marathon is run around in and around Disneyland might be in for a bit of a surprise. After mile 4, you leave Disneyland and the characters behind; from this point on, the race transforms into much more of a standard half marathon.
You actually spend the majority of the race running along the city streets of Anaheim. Sure there are bands and spectators, but the Disney “magical” touch is mostly absent from mile 4 until around mile 12 (when you make your way back toward the Disneyland Hotel). This is not to say the race is boring, just different. Miles 7-8 featured a parade of parked classic cars lining the street (and given my race performance that day, I would have gladly accepted a ride). And right around mile 9 you get to run near the Honda Center and straight into Angels’ Stadium for a lap around the field (complete with cheering fans in the stadium and images projected up on the jumbotron). From that point on, you continue your trek through Anaheim, eventually arriving back to the Disneyland area and finishing right by the Disneyland Hotel.
As you would expect, Disney’s course services are solid. From the organization of the start corrals (you must submit prior race times for corral placement) to the pre-race instructions (featuring energetic spokespeople projected on a big screen and a visit from Mickey and Minnie) this is where Disney shows off its expertise. The course itself featured numerous water/Powerade stops, all very well manned by volunteers, as well as a Clif stop at mile 9 where they handed out energy gels. Safety personnel and medical tents were present (and hopefully not utilized too much).
MarathonFoto was out there snapping pictures, although they seemed to be mostly positioned in Disneyland and at Angels’ Stadium (there were quite a few large gaps where no photographers were in my field of view). Mile markers were present for each mile (and quite large) and each had a digital clock to show the current “gun time,” which is nice.
FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY
Disney continues with their ability to make the masses comfortable and happy with a very well-organized finish area. After receiving your medal from the happy volunteers and being handed a bottle of water, you’re directed to the finisher’s photo area. You also receive your post-race snacks in a pre-packed box that doubles as a carry case.
Oh, and they also gave each runner wet cooling towels, a very nice and refreshing touch. You’re then directed through gear check and into the main staging area where you can meet up with family members, line-up for a massage or listen to the post race awards. Other races should send representatives for pointers on how to stage their post-race celebration.
So, the big question: “Is the Disneyland Half Marathon worth the extremely high $195 registration cost”? It’s a tough question to answer and best left for the individual to decide. If you love all things Disney, you’ll happily hand over your hard-earned dollars without batting an eye. There are some great aspects to the race (well organized, photo/costume opportunities, cool bling) and a smattering of disappointing aspects (feels very corporate, course is not the greatest once you leave Disneyland, congested course).
I’ve run the Disneyland Half Marathon twice (2009 & 2014) and I am glad I did it. I’m also signed up for the Avengers Superhero Half Marathon in November and the Star Wars Half Marathon in January… and that is a lot of money spent (almost $600 for just the three races without hotel, parking and souvenirs factored in), especially for running what is essentially the same course. It’d be nice to see Disney offer a “tour pass” like the Rock ‘n’ Roll series to save runners some cash. If not, I see limiting my Disney races in the future (probably just doing the Star Wars Half Marathon) and spending my money on other races that are a little more “cost effective.”