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The Disneyland Half Marathon

Like thousands (and thousands, and thousands!) of other runners, I surfaced a few weeks ago in Anaheim for the Disneyland Half Marathon. I couldn't make it to this event previously, but I was lured to come this year because of a special "coast to coast" medal I would be handed. All I had to do was run the Half, Full, or Princess Half (check, check and check) in early 2009 and then run this thing in Anaheim, and I'd earn not only the Anaheim medal, but a special one. Since this is my year to collect all Disney running medals (I will end up with eleven by the time 2009 is done), I was "all in."

It seems I was not alone in chasing that special medal. Some 1,800 folks participated in the Coast to Coast challenge, which meant people booked an extra trip to Disneyland just to collect the medal (or conversely, had booked an extra trip to Orlando earlier in the year). Clearly, the handing out of "collectible" medals is enough to get some folks to bite, myself included. They are doing something similar for the fall Orlando runs: participate in any two (Race for the Taste, Tower of Terror 13K, or Expedition Everest Challenge) and reap a bonus medal.

The extra traffic means, well, extra traffic. We didn't experience too many delays when parking at the Disneyland Hotel at 3:30 pm on Saturday (the registration/pickup/Expo closed at 6), but by 5:00 we heard from others it was a nightmare on the streets.


There was a racetrack theme to the pickup area.

The race number pick-up was different from last year, reportedly. Apparently they had the expo and the race numbers together last year, but this year the race numbers were housed separately; you do that first and then go get your goody bag. It took me a while to figure out that the race number pick up was actually the downstairs parking garage. They did an amazing job of disguising the area.


It was crowded on the second afternoon. Do they need extended hours for pick up?

That said, they didn't hit an operational home run. I was plenty confused as I moved from the pickup to the expo and goody bag area. Without adequate signage in the area, I wandered too far. They were also attempting to route folks in a certain, almost rotational direction, but it just wasn't working and ended up creating more hurt feelings than crowd control. They need to rethink how that part works next time.

But all of that pales in comparison to the problems having to do with the goody bags and pre-paid running jerseys. We got both of ours just fine, but we came back at 5:30 to see what was happening, and they were apparently out of almost all running jerseys, and they were definitely out of goody bags (which consisted of 20 or so useless pamphlets about running events in California, two very small granola bar type snacks, and a sealed D23 premiere edition magazine).

Plenty of folks were mad about this, and rightly so, I feel. I mean, what's so hard about knowing how many bags you would need? Surely they had a count of who had registered for the event? Ditto for the running jerseys. The manager on the spot tried (badly) to placate irate guests with a line like, "you're arriving 20 minutes before the expo is over; you have to be realistic." They did promise to send jerseys and collectibles (meaning the magazine) to those who didn't get them, but this still seems inexcusable. Apparently it happened last year, too.


Jersey pick up was orderly at first, but increasingly chaotic.

In the morning, everyone has to funnel into the staging area and then into the corrals. Because I was staying at the Disneyland Hotel (thanks, dear friend!) I didn't have to fight traffic that morning (was it bad? I assume so) and got to sleep in. As a result, we skipped over the entire staging area and headed straight for the corrals, since it was 30 minutes to show time.

Trouble is, the entire area was gridlocked. Seems they wanted folks in corrals A-E to funnel into a central lane, and placed everyone in F on the left side and G on the right side. I would later learn this was to start off the corrals in "waves", only with the odd twist that F&G were on a T-intersection to the rest of the race course. No matter. What mattered was that A-E had trouble funneling into one spot. Couldn't they do this on the side instead?


The corals were hectic, but the wave-based start time was very fluidly handled.

Probably I've been spoiled by the way Walt Disney World marathons (and half marathons) function, but I've always enjoyed the actual start of the race, what with the countdown, flames, and fireworks. Well, there were no fireworks this year here in Anaheim. There were flames, and some overly-bright LEDs, but no fireworks. I wonder why.

But the Anaheim course has something Orlando could only dream of: a parked monorail just beyond the start line with a banner reading "Good Luck Runners!" draped from the side. With the monorail beam so low to the ground here on Disneyland Drive, this was heaven indeed. It was extremely cool and I was instantaneously jealous.


Very few things on the planet will ever be as cool looking as the new Disneyland monorails.

The 13.1 mile course wound through the parks only sparingly. From Disneyland Drive, we hit Katella and then back to the main entrance on Harbor, up through DCA by Paradise Pier, over to Condor Flats, out to the Esplanade (and through bag check without any pesky Security!), up Disneyland's central gates, through Town Square to the backstage (fire station, costuming, lockers, cash management), out in Tomorrowland, around the Matterhorn, through the castle, across to Splash Mountain, out via backstage road toward the parking structure, and then on to the roads of Anaheim.

We did some switchbacks on Ball Road and Cerritos, then ended up at the Honda Center (I think of it as the Pond still), around Anaheim Stadium, then back to DCA more or less on a straight path. From there, we circled around the hotels and finished on the side street.

The first part was quick, and it was fun running in the almost-dawn on Katella. This part was quite a bit better than a similar (half) marathon in Orlando, where the road used is way too narrow and people trip over each other. No such problem here in Anaheim. By the time we hit DCA, it was turning daylight. I couldn't help myself and had to look around.


Runners dart by the parade storage facility at DCA.

I'm here to report that the backstage of DCA is semi-interesting in the way that DCA itself is semi-interesting as a park. It's got less character than the Disneyland backstage, but at least it was my first look at all the construction.


Cars Land, as seen from ground level and through the grate of the construction fence.

I was psyched, by contrast, to trot backstage at Disneyland. This was my old stomping grounds! It was fun indeed to see the areas I had seen on a weekly basis so long ago; I should have walked.


The road from Harbor House (er, Harbor Point) is right between the
Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World on the train.

But there are changes. What's this Tinker Bell above the Costuming windows? And Cast Cutters is now some production place?


The old administration building. Inset: Tinker Bell was not here the last time I looked.

The onstage Disneyland was as magical as you'd expect, as was the run through the castle.


It's an iconic part of the trip, to be sure.

But Disneyland is so small by comparison to the Magic Kingdom, that it was no time at all before we were out in Critter Country, and on our way back out of Disneyland.


Backstage again.


Train buffs, take note. This tunnel existed to let trains access the original roundhouse,
back in this corner of the park (it's now on the other side of the backstage area).

We passed by places like the sign shop, the staff shop, the cycle shop, the old roundhouse tunnel, the dumpster, and Circle D corral before we made it to the streets of Anaheim. It was these streets which made me realize that I'd left Kansas, and Toto wasn't going to reappear for me on this run. The next several miles took us through Anaheim, and it was indeed a city landscape.

There was urban blight, there were train tracks, power lines, and even a seedy liquor store. This part was not magical at all, and it contrasted glaringly with the usual Disney marathon or half-marathon in Orlando, where participants never leave Disney property and thus never see the "outside world."


"Welcome to the Real World, Neo."

Oh, I know that Disneyland is orders of magnitude smaller and thus has no choice but to venture outside the berm, but that knowledge doesn't change the reality of the experience. It simply feels less magical.

This part was also boring, and it helped realize that there were no Sharpie signs in the ground, offering trivia or info every few hundred yards. There was nothing to look at. How hard, and how expensive, would it have been to have created signs to stick in the ground. Real estate agents do it nonstop, but the Disneyland marathon can't be bothered?

We finally hit the Honda Center by mile 9, and here we got some variety in the course, courtesy of a quick run along the dry riverbed up to Angels Stadium. This was a highlight. We ran out onto the inner track itself of the ballfield, headed past all the dugouts, and run out by the waterfalls again. It was glorious to be on the field, and to see ourselves on the Jumbotron.


I'm not even a baseball fan, and it was a thrill for me!

The last miles, on a more or less direct trajectory back to DCA, were similarly boring, but there were always the entertainers. Since our foray into the city streets, every couple of miles brought us face to face with high school cheerleaders, mariachi bands, high school cheerleaders, grass skirt hula dancers, and, oh yes, high school cheerleaders. At least they were enthusiastic.

Around mile 11 I started to run out of steam. It didn't help matters that once again I had abjectly failed to train whatsoever for this race. We had been moving at a comfortable 12-minute per mile pace, but we'd slowed to a walk every so often in deference to the people I was running with, but by now it was me who needed the break every so often. I ended up finishing the race with a chip time of about 2 hours, 50 minutes.


It's over! Grab the medals, grab the drinks, and grab the food.

I didn't particularly mind it, but I did notice that the Anaheim run failed to provide participants with a reflective cape at the finish line, something usually given to runners in Orlando to prevent too-rapid heat loss. There was the usual post-race snacks and drinks, at least.

Overall, I'd say the Disneyland Half Marathon was worthwhile, punctuated by some real highlights (the parks were great, as was Anaheim Stadium), but also some spectacular lows. It did end up less magical than its Orlando cousin, in my eyes. That probably can't be helped – I certainly don't think I could come up with a better course or race plan – but this inconvenient fact doesn't mean I should shy away from saying the truth. In most areas, Disneyland outshines its Orlando wannabe competitor, but in this particular case, Orlando gets to keep the crown.


Will I be back? To Disneyland, yes. To the Disneyland Half Marathon, possibly not.

Disneyland Hotel

As part of the Disneyland Half Marathon, I had my first chance to stay in a stateside Disney hotel. I'd previously stayed at the Hotel Cheyenne (Disneyland Paris) and the Disney Ambassador Hotel (Tokyo Disneyland), but in Southern California I never had the need, and in Orlando as a visitor I always stayed off-site. I figured it might be worth at least a few paragraphs to record my thoughts.


I've been here a million times before, but never to stay.

We were placed in the Dreams Tower, in an "upgraded" room with a terrific pool view. The room would probably normally go for $300/night, especially on an impacted weekend like the half-marathon. Was it worth $300? Hm. I suppose you might have had similar accommodations elsewhere for $150. It was a clean room and the location couldn't be beat. But that big a premium?

True, there were very effective Disney touches throughout. The obvious ones included the art on the walls, the shampoo in the bathroom, and the television stand's large Ryman map printed on them.


The Disney theming is both large and small.

But look closer. That's a themed bedstand. And that trim along the ceiling is actually a Tinker Bell trail, with Tink herself located in one corner. And it took me a good while to figure out that the bedspreads themselves were also themed. Most of this theming was not generic Disney characters, but specific Disneyland rides, which I find so much more fitting (and exciting).


The headstand… Tink… and toiletries.

It was extremely convenient to wake up the next morning and not have to fight traffic for the half-marathon. It would probably be equally convenient to head here after a long day at the parks, and just collapse. Still: a $150 premium?

But then there's the pool. Themed to Neverland, this area is lushly decorated. As we stretched out on the lounge chairs in the early evening and unwound, we realized there is a relaxation element to a full-sized "resort" like the Disneyland Hotel that you just wouldn't get from even a Hilton or Sheraton. There was a dreamy 15 or 30 minutes when the piped-in Disney music just swept me away there in the pool zone, and I couldn't imagine an argument that the room was *not* worth the extra money.


Great view. But I heard obnoxious birds whooping all night.

Is it really worth the premium? This is a question of your means (do you have the money?) and your priorities (do you desire escape above even nominal penny-pinching?) For many, the answer is probably yes, it's still worth the premium.

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Kevin Yee


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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.

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