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
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
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
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
Very few things on the planet will ever be as cool
looking as the new
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
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
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
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
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
Will I be back? To Disneyland, yes. To the Disneyland Half
Marathon, possibly not.
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
I've been here a million times before, but never to
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