Yes, I said 3:15. Since the race had to be totally completed prior to the opening of Disneyland for the day, the official start time was 5:00 AM. Luckily, several of my awesome new friends from our Moms Run This Town chapter and I stayed in a nearby hotel the night prior and utilized the free shuttle service to avoid traffic and parking. Logistically, this made it super easy and a total blast. We chatted and laughed the night prior until 11 so needless to say, we were not prepared for the alarm clock the next day. Everyone woke up happy and excited though (hello, we were about to go RUN at DISNEY) and we put on our various wings and tiaras and in my case, cowboy hat, and got on the shuttle. I dressed as Jessie from Toy Story, complete with her signature red cowboy hat piped in white, blue Team Sparkle skirt and cow-print knee socks.
Deer in Headlights With Several of my MRTT Girls Before Finding our Corrals.
I had been warned just how thick the crowd would be and it certainly was. However, with over 14,000 runners, I was impressed with the organization of the event. Each runner was corralled via a confirmed time from a previous race, so I made my way up to the "A" corral, as designated by my bib. Since the bib numbers were also assigned by previous race times, I knew I needed to start close to the front since my bib was number 36.
My view at the start.
For several months leading up to this race, I actively participated in a national Tinkerbell Half Marathon Facebook group. Most of the other members had done several other runDisney events so I learned a lot about what to expect. Here is where I learned what makes runDisney races VERY different than all other races. A large number of the Disney race participants are not there to race, in fact, MOST participants have no desire to run fast or focus on time, and that is just fine. Many mentioned that this is not a "PR race", and instead to focus on taking pictures with the various cast members along the route, and just to take in the entire experience. But I had an internal struggle with this advice.
I love Disneyland, I truly do, but I love running more.
Since moving to Orange County, we frequent the parks, and have ample opportunities to explore without the feeling of needing to rush through every ride and scene since we can just go back the next week as a local. I had no idea prior to the start of this race if I would participate in all of the set aside photo opportunities, or treat the race as any other race. I dressed in a costume like all the other participants, but I knew deep inside that the FUN for me is actually in the running. I knew that morning of the race that I wouldn't be stopping for pictures along the course, and that is equally just fine. I know many loyal runDisney fanatics look down upon my method, but to me, this truly is a race, one that should be preceded by a training plan and dedication to crossing the finish line in the best possible shape. Just because I chose to actually run the race does not mean I did not have fun.
So I weaved my way to near the front of the start with 15 minutes to spare, and prepared for an experience I knew would be like no other race I'd ever done. The National Anthem was concluded with classic Disney fireworks, and this set the tone for an over-the-top Half Marathon. Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck stood on the podium with the announcers and in the pre-dawn darkness (which lingered until after I finished the entire race) at precisely 5 AM, under an over-sized screen portraying Tinkerbell herself, we were off!
Minnie Mouse Announcing the Start.
Passing Under Tinkerbell at the Start.
Because I got to start so close to the front, I never experienced the typical elbow fighting and jockeying for position that usually occurs at the beginning of every race. I know this was not the norm for a Disney race, and I found it refreshing. This calmed my nerves, as I was anxious about that crowded start. I must state though, that the only reason I started so close to the front is because my bib number was 36. If it had been something higher, I would have given other runners the front, just out of common courtesy. I have heard horror stories of those that actually wanted to run this race yet found themselves stuck behind pockets of walkers lacking the decency to stay to the right. This is infuriating for someone who has trained hard for a race.
Disney provides Corral A bibs to special VIPs and in that first minute I ran by Sarah and Dimity, authors of the book Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother. I have met these ladies several times so I ran parallel to them for a few seconds to say hello and tell them that they looked gorgeous in their Queen Elsa (of the movie Frozen) costumes. And then I kicked ahead. The race started in the California Adventure Park. We weaved up and down the various areas of the park, from the Paradise Pier to Cars Land. We saw cast members and parade floats and the music of the park was blasting. It truly was magical. Each person and character lining the streets cheered us on, yelling "Go Jessie, Go!" to me as I ran by in my distinguishing red cowboy hat and cow print knee socks. World of Color was running, and I loved that since I've never stayed at the park long enough to capture the spectacle. Since the story of Peter Pan is filled with tales of pirates, there was an abundance of pirates along the course too. We made our way through the back lots, past the animal barns that house the park's horses, the employee buildings, the maintenance sheds, and through Disneyland. The darkness of the early hour was electrified by Disney's magical lighting in pink and blue and green. I saw Cinderella, Rapunzel (I yelled hello!) and Merida. My daughter would have swooned. I saw more pirates, and Mike and Sully from Monster's Inc.. My son would have chased them down! Since I was up front, I basically ran all alone, the nearest runners ten yards ahead and behind. This made it special because everyone cheered as if I was the only one there. I held my pace right at 7:30/mile.
I never stopped smiling the entire time. Never. Though I did not stop for pictures, I had FUN!
Marathon Foto Captured my Neverending Smile in my Toy Story Jessie Costume.
About halfway through the race, I downed my Surge Espresso Gel as we left the parks and looped our way through the streets of Anaheim. Even though we had exited the "Happiest Place on Earth", the positive energy followed. From the Red Hat Society ladies who lined a corner to the various High School bands and cheer squads, to the hundreds of Anaheim Police volunteers, my goofy smile remained intact. Interestingly, I never turned my music on the entire race. There were several lonely miles too, just listening to the sound of my own feet hitting the pavement. Looking back, I am very proud of myself for maintaining the 7:30 pace through these long stretches. I never ran out of energy though, and was able to pick up the pace in the final two miles, passing a few women along the way. The only people to pass me the entire race were a handful of guys, every single one of them dressed as Peter Pan, which I found quite comical.
The race concluded near the Disneyland Hotel, with Mickey and Minnie and Chip 'n' Dale there to provide endless high fives at the finish line. Again, I was impressed with the organization of this race, but considering I was only the 67th person (31st woman!) to cross the finish line (5th in my division!), it was not a chaotic traffic jam of finishers trying to claim their snack boxes, mylar blanket and the glittering Tinkerbell medal. The finisher's chute lead to a large area where an Army band sang well-done covers of popular songs. Since I was alone, I did not remain and instead made my way back to the hotel shuttle.
Displaying my First runDisney Medal!
My conclusion of this, my first runDisney race, is that I had an absolute blast. It was a unique, unparalleled experience to run through the empty yet still vibrant Disneyland parks. The crowds raved over my Jessie costume and that fired me up even more. My net time was 1:39:04, which is still four minutes above my PR, but I was happy with the result nevertheless, especially considering I ran in a non-aerodynamic cowboy hat, danced along to the High School bands, and high fived all the cast members along the entire 13.1 miles.
Because I am a Numbers Girl.
Just this morning I registered for the Disneyland Half Marathon in August, and I am already so excited to repeat this day. Now I need to start planning my costume! The only soreness I felt post race was in my cheeks from my permanent smile and I am counting down the days until I feel it again.