Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Disneyland Half Marathon Impressions

Now that there's ten days distance between me and the Disneyland Half Marathon, I suppose it's time to objectively look at what I liked (and didn't like) about this race.

The Hotels:

Grand Californian Villas
We spent our first night here using Disney Vacation Club points.  By the time we committed ourselves to this race, the villas for the rest of the weekend were loooooong gone, so we considered ourselves lucky to have even one night at this beautiful hotel.
We loved the room, the amenities and our view of California Adventure - we watched World of Color from our room that night.  We made use of Early Entry that morning (but I'm not sure if we were supposed to get early entry in retrospect - I assumed it was for all guests in Disneyland resorts, but read something after the fact that made it seem pass-specific. Confusing for this WDW vet.)
The only real downside to speak of was the Queen sized bed.  We're used to that from Disney Vacation Club studio villas, so it wasn't a surprise.  But it's yet another reason we've booked a 1 bedroom villa for the WDW Marathon weekend.  King Bed & Jacuzzi tub, yo.

The next day we moved to Sheraton Park.  From the street it looks pretty dated, but the lobby is better.  After a brief disagreement with the gentleman checking us in (I had paid extra for a King room, he seemed to think that my Expedia booking was for 'any room' and didn't guarantee me a King), we got things sorted out (we got our King Room) and got settled.
The room also seemed like it had been renovated fairly recently.  Nice big room with a very comfortable bed.  We liked the in-room Starbucks single-serve coffee maker, and the complimentary bottled water restocked every day.
The view was great, too.  We were on the Theme Park side of the building, so we could see the fireworks each night.
Downside was the connecting door to the neighbours, which could be a little noisy on occasion, but not worth moving over.
Also a downside, was being charged 3 times for 1 afternoon's worth of parking.  We had friends come visit, and paid for their parking for the 5 hours they were with us, and suddenly that translated to parking charges for our whole stay.
We got it sorted out at the front desk very easily, and we decided it was worth speaking to a manager about the check-in confusion so that they could review the policy with their staff.
Would we stay here again?  Sure, if there was a decent price on the room.  It was a good hotel.  Not mind-blowing, but good.  Overall I prefer to stay on-property.

The Expo:

Projected runDisney logo on Expo walls
We had learned our lesson at the Princess Half Marathon in February - if you want an "I did it" shirt, get it before you "did it".  By the time I decided that I wanted one, they were long sold out of my size (Large, ok?  I'm a Large)
For that reason, we bee-lined our way to Bib Pickup and the Expo.

I'm not sure why they chose to carpet the whole ramp down to the parking area housing the bib pickup, or why they thought black was a good idea, but it sure did 2 things well.
1. Smell like new carpeting
2. Reflect HEAT.  Yowza.
The logo on the carpet looks nice though, don't you think?

Bib pickup was a breeze, and we zoomed our way up to the Expo.  There was a line curling across the width of the runDisney official merchandise area, and out the door... and through a curly-queue.  So clearly we weren't the only ones wanting to buy our goods before things sold out.  Difference here being... there wasn't a single shirt that I wanted.  On the upside, we managed to avoid that line.

There were water stations set up at various points along the outer walls of the expo which were welcome.

It seemed like there was a bit more elbow room at the rest of the expo over what we felt at the Princess.  Either that, or there were fewer crazed shoppers.  Either way, it was a plus.
That said, it was hard to compare, but I felt like this Expo was smaller.  

We waited in line for about an hour to get taped up by the experts at the KT Tape booth.  I'd been taping myself for a few months, but it was good to get some fine tuning.  And the tape stayed on MUCH longer than when I do it myself.  Could be because they used extra sticky spray, could be experience.  Either way, I bought 2 rolls of tape and the extra sticky spray.

We didn't plan on going back, but the next day I decided I really should pick up a new SPI belt, since Greg tends to pinch mine from time to time, and I wanted to get some Nuun.  I've never used it, but I liked how it perked up water, and we were trying to drink a LOT of water that day.

Our haul:

5 Clif Shots
4 pair Balega socks
2 Nuun tubes
2 KT Pro tapes
1 KT Adhesive Spray
1 SpiBelt
1 Free poster from Lasting Commemoratives
1 Disneyland Half Marathon Magnet

About $110 overall.

Good expo.

The Half Marathon

It was great to wake up a bit later than we would have for a WDW Half Marathon.  There were the typical traffic issues about getting 15,000 or 17,000 runners from one place to another, but it felt very relaxed that morning.
The volunteers at bag-check were great - very energetic for 5AM, and I thought they were adorable as they cheered each person exiting the tent for having checked their bag successfully.

I know there is always a lot of controversy and debate about people trying to get up to faster corrals because they 'need more time' to finish the race, and before my first half marathon, I myself worried about being in the last corral and staying ahead of the sweepers.
I get it.  It's nerve-wracking.

A lot of people do these Disney races, not because they consider themselves elite athletes, but rather to cross something off their bucket list, to meet a goal of losing weight and becoming more healthy, or to experience the Disney magic in a new way.
I get it.  It's special.

But what became very, very apparent to me in this race was that the pace requirements per corral aren't just an arbitrary decision.  People who have earned their spot in the higher corrals did it with their actual speed.  Speed.  They are fast.  And because they are fast, if you are slow around them, you are a danger to both of you.

At least, that is how it seemed to me while I was running around people.  It wasn't always their fault - you can ask people to stay to the right if they're slow all you want, but sometimes there's no right to stay to... as in, it's full of people who are slower than they are.
This was the problem in the parks.  Narrow, curving pathways.  Some with curbs, others without.  Streetcar tracks in the pavement.
All very real obstacles in a crowded environment before you even add in the crazy diversity of people's paces all around you.

I'm not speedy, but in the parks I had to do more than my fair share of dodging around people with bibs from corrals higher than my own.
And I had more than my fair share of very FAST runners blazing around me, cutting me off with barely enough room for my stride (why were they so far back if they are so fast?)

Pace rant over.

The rest of the course was great.  Lots of room to move once we were out on the streets of Anaheim.  And this was also a difference between this race and the Princess Half Marathon that I really appreciated.

At the Princess, yes we were on property the whole time.  Yes, there were Disney characters everywhere along the course.  No you don't get that at the Disneyland Half.

But what you DO get is a wonderful sense of the community of Anaheim.  All these people lining the course aren't paid to be there, but they dragged their butts out of bed super early on a Sunday morning to see us run.
So you've got local cheer and dance teams cheering you on and using your first name, you've got cultural demonstrations, you've got boy scouts, girl scouts, classic cars, and just regular people lining the course giving you for-real encouragement.  I loved that.  For me, it was a different kind of 'magic', and one that helped boost me in my funk.
I was given liquorice, and pretzels, and got to chuckle at some very fun and creative signs (Run Stranger, Run!)
I think Disney's fun, and they do an amazing job with illusion and fantasy.  But this was real.  And it was from the heart.  And for me, it made the race.

But this is a pretty close contender:

This was AMAZING.

Post race - I really wish they had offered a Race Retreat.  I would have paid for it.  There just did not seem to be enough space in the "Family Reunion Area", and I really would have preferred to get out of the blazing sun (what is it about no shade at Disneyland?).  We stood in a long line to take our photos in front of the logo backdrop (suffering through some pretty terrible vocals from the band) and finally found a curb to sit on so we could eat our assorted snacks from our snack box.
That said, I'm a huge fan of the cooling towels they hand out.  That thing felt good.

Would you believe I can barely remember how we got back to the hotel when we finished?  Honestly.  I have vague recollections of walking through Downtown Disney, and... wait, I just remembered!  We turned back, walked through the Grand Californian, and grabbed a cab.  THAT was convenient.

Would I run the Disneyland Half Marathon again?  Perhaps.  Some day.  I'm not in a huge hurry to do another Coast to Coast.  I thought it was a well organized event and I liked the course, but we think we're done with Disneyland for a while.  (We've been twice in the last couple of years, now.)  Maybe for the 10th anniversary?

Would I recommend this race?  Absolutely.  Just be careful around those sneaky curbs in the parks, slow down, and DRINK A LOT OF WATER.

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