REVIEW: THE STAR WARS HALF MARATHON
RACE: Star Wars Half Marathon
DATE: January 18, 2015
LOCATION: Anaheim, CA
DISTANCES: Half Marathon/10K/5K/Kids Run
START TIME: 5:30am
WEATHER AT START: 52° and mostly sunny.
FINISHERS: 10374 Half Marathon (Sunday)/ 9195 10K (Saturday)
A long time ago (okay, it was early Sunday morning) in a galaxy far far away (aka Anaheim)…
Half marathon runners were out in full “force” (sorry, been stuck on Star Wars puns all week) for the inaugural running of the Star Wars Half Marathon. When you combine my childhood obsession with Star Wars (I had every Star Wars toy, including Star Wars bed sheets) and my adult obsession of distance running into one event you get something that excites both the big kid and the eternal 8-year-old inside me.
Over the years I’ve spent countless amounts of disposable (and non-disposable) income on Star Wars toys/collectables/memorabilia. Heck my mom once joked that if they sold tauntaun poop I’d want some (I would have). So, this was one race I was willing to spend whatever was necessary. And a good thing too because Disney race costs are really “out of this world” (sorry). Granted it wasn’t quite as much as the 17,000 that Luke and Ben Kenobi paid for a one-way trip on the Millenium Falcon to Alderaan, but $195 ($208 once you pay the additional “whatever” fees) is a steep amount of republic credits to part with for a half marathon. Now in addition to the Half Marathon, runners could sign up for the 10K or spend extra and do both the 10K on Saturday and Half Marathon on Sunday (dubbed “The Rebel Challenge”).
As for the expo, like the Disneyland Half Marathon and Avengers race before it, the Star Wars Half Marathon expo was held at the Disneyland Hotel (Thu- Sat). Parking at the Disneyland Hotel is typically $17, but costs were waived for 30 whole minutes (not enough time to get your stuff to be honest). Now, I have a feeling that they weren’t enforcing that policy but if you want to play it safe, my advice would be to park at Downtown Disney where you get a 3-hour grace period. And that can be stretched to 5 hours of free parking with purchase/validation at one of the sit down restaurants.
They do enough races at Disney that the expo runs like a fairly well oiled machine (or should I say like C-3PO getting an oil bath that feels so good). You get your bib in a dressed-up subterranean portion of the parking structure and then head up to the hotel for your shirt and gear bag. The expo had a decent amount of vendors showing off their latest wares, and if you stopped by the PRO Compression booth on Saturday you could have said “hi” to yours truly.
NOTE: Runners had to pick up their own bibs; no exceptions.
Disney races do have one additional component unlike other marathons/half marathons. People go nuts for the Disney gear. In fact people line up for hours for the chance to pay premium prices (okay, over premium prices) for the jackets/shirts/hats/pins/toys/whatever Disney is selling. In the past hoarders have bought up all of the merchandise on the first day (to turnaround and sell for profit on e-bay) leaving us latecomers souvenir-less. Things were a little better this year as they restocked the shelves somewhat each day. Unfortunately, the one item I wanted, a “Star Wars Half Marathon” pint glass, was long gone when I showed up on Saturday at noon.
If you’ve run a Disney race before, you know that they love their bling big and shiny. When I first saw the Star Wars Half Marathon medal I have to say I was a bit bummed. It seemed very muted. But then it hit me and I realized its utter genius. The medal was basically a replica of the one given to Luke and Han by Princess Leia after they destroyed the first Death Star. Okay, that’s pretty friggin’ awesome (my inner geek was smiling). Oh, and the ribbon on the medal was brown with text and featured a pattern that kind of looked like Chewie’s fur (did you ever notice that in Star Wars he didn’t get a medal… no wonder he roared at the end). The medals for the other races, including the Rebel Challenge were fun bits of bling and lived up to Disney’s usual standard.
As for the shirt, I have to say I was a little disappointed with it… not because it’s a bad shirt (a long sleeve grey Champion shirt with Chewbacca on it). Not at all. But it’s more like one of those “other” shirts you tend to buy at races in addition to the free race tech shirt. And given the home run done with the medal, Disney missed an opportunity here. Hoping they improve on it for next year.
Disney offers you several choices when it comes to transportation/parking for their races. If you stay overnight at most local hotels, be prepared to see an additional parking fee on your bill. And most will provide some sort of shuttle service to get you to the starting area. But if you were like me and made the hyperspace trek down to Disney in the very very a.m., be prepared to part with $17 to park in one of the Disneyland structures.
This was the third Disney half marathon I’ve run in the last 5 months and I was curious to see if the course was going to be something new or a rehash of Disneyland (in Aug) or Avengers Superheroes (in Nov). And happily it did feature some new twists and turns. On the upside, it was a better course than the Disneyland half. On the downside, it wasn’t as good as the course for the Avengers race. The course for Star Wars had elements of both a looping and an out-and-back route. As with all of the Disneyland-related half marathons, the race started (and ended) near the Disneyland Hotel.
Runners quickly made their way toward Disneyland park, including running through multiple “behind-the-scenes” areas. At 1.75 miles you made your way into the actual park for a run around various popular areas including Fantasyland, Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland and Tomorrowland (of course) before exiting the park and then running all through California Adventure. Star Wars characters were present should you want to catch a snapshot with Boba Fett or some stormtroopers. By 3.75 miles, however, your jaunt through the “happiest places on earth” was done. The rest of the race took you away from Disney, down a few main city streets and around various residential Anaheim neighborhoods before heading back toward Disney in the last few miles and concluding at the Disneyland Hotel.
Those expecting another run through Angel Stadium (as in several other Disney races) were in for a bit of a shock as it was absent from this course. I’m not familiar with the neighborhoods around Disneyland, so this was quite a bit of new (if unremarkable) territory for me. As is the story with all of the Disneyland halfs, the course is very anti-climactic. Once you leave the parks by mile 4 (which are a lot of fun to run through), the rest of the course is really like any other city race and honestly quite average.
Disney does channel its inner Trade Federation with its high prices, but for that amount you do get some good course services. The pre-race area is well laid out, complete with water, porta potties, video screens and host. And once you make your way to the starting area/corrals you get a whole new batch of video screens and two hosts who are way too chipper for 5:00am.
NOTE: Oh and a plea to the RunDisney pre-race organizers. Please skip the incredibly cheesy pre-race skits that included your hosts… they were quite painful for everyone to watch. There’s so many cool Star Wars-related things you can do (showing movies clips was a good idea) that are way better than this. And while we’re at it, claiming your Disneyland ambassadors were “special guests” was a horrific bait & switch. Instead of bringing out some coolStar Wars characters (or perhaps one of the films’ actors) just before the start of the race, we were subjected to “punny” banter from two of the most annoying women you’ve ever met (and remember it was 5am and most of us runners hadn’t had caffeine yet). Yup, that pair should have definitely been tossed into the Sarlaac pit to be digested over 1000 years.
Disney’s solid organization continued onto the course itself. Water stations were well-staffed with volunteers and there were plenty of aid stations. Photographers from MarathonFoto were afoot capturing images of everyone decked out in their Jedi and Sith costumes. And for those unable to make the race, they were able to follow participants with free runner tracking.
Disney usually does a good job with their mile markers (some races just have a simple banner) and this was no exception, as they had large “lightsaber inspired” markers complete with digital read-outs. The crowd turn out was decent and a special shout out for the Cos-players who gathered en masse to grace the course later in the race. It was a lot of fun to suddenly witness a a huge cheering line overflowing with stormtroopers, Sith lords, X-Wing pilots, rebel supporters and Mandalorian warriors.
The finish area (which also doubled as the pre-race area) was designed quite well, which is in keeping with Disney’s well-proven ability to manage crowds. Runners were greeted by volunteers with medals and then led off to areas for water, finisher’s photos and pre-packaged boxes of snacks. I would have hung around longer but, unfortunately I had plans back in LA (a good friend’s wedding later that day) so I was “forced” to make a hasty exit.
This was my third high-priced half marathon at Disneyland in the last five months and while they were all fun; they were also very similar. The courses changed a little over the three races, but all basically had the same major elements: Run through the two Disney parks. See the characters specific to that race. Wait in line and take pictures if you want. Then run a very pedestrian stretch of Anaheim. Finally, head back to Disneyland.
It really felt like the same race three times over, just with different “themes.” In August it was all pure Disney; November was Marvel super-heroes; January it’s all things Star Wars.
Again, a fun time but I can’t see doing all three again in the same year (especially without some serious kind of price break that almost assuredly won’t happen). Now if you don’t have problem with repetition and have the extra disposable income (or if you just absolutely love anything RunDisney has to offer), then by all means do the trifecta (and don’t forget Tinkerbell too… doest that make it a “quadfecta”). As for me, I’m going to pick the “theme” I like best, run that race and skip the rest.
And while I love Disney and Marvel superheroes (although at heart I’m a DC boy), nothing trumps Luke Skywalker & Company. I’ll expect to be part of this Podrace again come 2016.
May The Force be with you.