The Time I…Ran the Disneyland Half Marathon

This article originally appeared in Issue 8 (October 2011) of WDWNT: The Magazine.

My very first article in the premier issue of this magazine was a look at my experience in running the 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon. Not wanting to stop there, I quickly enrolled myself in the Coast to Coast Challenge, by signing up for the Disneyland Half Marathon.

Much the same as the Florida races, the weekend begins with a trip to the Health and Fitness Expo. The expo takes place at the Disneyland Hotel, and serves as a place to pickup your number, hear speakers talk about the sport of long distance running (including Olympian and official runDisney training consultant Jeff Galloway), and of course, shop plenty of official event merchandise. An interesting note is that if you are running the Coast to Coast challenge, a wristband will be put on you at the expo that you will later trade for your Coast to Coast medal at the end of the race. My fellow runners were quite easy to spot over the course of the next two days. A nice touch was that the pathway to number pickup (which was in an underground section of the parking lot) had a carpet designed to look like a racing track, as well as silhouettes of characters running down the track.

The race begins at 6AM on the roadway near the Mickey and Friends structure, just past the Disneyland Hotel. The start does not have quite the same pyrotechnic flair as the Walt Disney World Marathon. There were some small fireworks during the national anthem, but nothing like the huge pillars of fire we had in Florida. If your friends and family are staying at one of the Disneyland resort hotels, they only need to walk downstairs as the race immediately passes all three on its way into the parks.

The race enters Disney California Adventure a bit past the first mile, just behind the Tower of Terror. The ElecTRONica performers were out as we ran through Hollywood Pictures Backlot, past the under construction Carthay Circle Theater, and toward Paradise Pier. I had expected to see some of the World of Color fountains in action, but the whole area was oddly inactive as we passed through. We then took a quick turn past Grizzly River Run and out of the park through what is currently the temporary entrance behind Soarin over California.

Next we cross the esplanade and enter Disneyland Park. Unlike in Florida, where we entered Magic Kingdom through backstage, we entered the park right through the front gate. After heading up Main Street, we turned into Tomorrowland, where Darth Vader and several Stormtroopers were available for pictures. We then took a swing around the Matterhorn, and ran through the Castle. Another difference between this and the Florida race was that there was no need to queue up for a photo. Since the pathway out of Sleeping Beauty Castle is straight, there were about 8 photographers set up on the drawbridge to capture us as we came through. After the castle we ran through Frontierland, New Orleans Square, and into the backstage area behind Splash Mountain.

This was at the 3 mile point in the race. We were very close to the start line (just past the fence around the park) and could hear the final corral just getting ready to start. The race took a turn past the stables where the horses are kept, and then reentered the park in Toontown. After passing through Toontown and past it’s a small world, we exited the park once again.

This next section of the course was by far the most interesting, the maintenance area. We got to see at least one of every type of ride vehicle sitting outside, as well as many anamatronic characters. Were it not for the fact that we were in a race I am sure most of us would have loved to stop and take a look around. After this, we exit the park and the Disneyland Resort itself at mile 4.

This is where the Disneyland course becomes very different from the Walt Disney World races. Where the Florida resort has plenty of space to run a 26.2 mile race entirely within its own borders, Disneyland Resort does not have this luxury. Except for the final mile, the rest of the course takes place on the streets of Anaheim. Living in New York, and doing many of the races there, I am quite used to this kind of road race. The “Disney” aspect of the race becomes muted, and the city itself takes over. There were still plenty of moments where we had a crowd to cheer us on, mostly in the form of cheerleaders and marching band members from local schools. Unfortunately, it is not the most scenic course, at least not until mile 9, when we got to enter Angel Stadium. This is a highlight of the course for many (the parks aside) when we got to run onto the field, or at least the border around the outside of it.

Not long after leaving the stadium, the Matterhorn comes back into view, off in the distance. As we finally reenter the Disneyland Resort for the last mile of the race, we got an up close view of the back of the under construction Cars Land. The course then ran around the back of the park, and behind Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and entered the home stretch toward the Disneyland Hotel.

I finished the race in 2:19:32. While not my best time, the great weather and flat course made this the best of the year (in a year filled with half marathons in the snow, rain, and 90+ degree heat). After receiving my Disneyland medal, I traded in the wristband for the Coast to Coast medal.

Overall, this was a wonderful race. While the overall course lacks the vast, expansive property of the Walt Disney World races, we got a even better view backstage than we did in Florida. The crowds in the parks in the days leading up to the race were actually rather small, leading to a wonderful Disneyland trip / race vacation. Not to mention it is always nice to receive two medals at the end of a race.

I am a huge fan of the runDisney events. They have been growing in popularity for many years. This is a wonderful opportunity for non runners to give it a try. The runDisney races are not the Olympics, slower runners are more than welcome, and in fact, make up most of the entrants in the race. The pace requirement is a rather low 16 minutes per mile (that is about a 3.5 hour finish for the half marathon, or 7 hours for the full). There are plenty of events coming up in 2012 that you can try, including the new Tinker Bell Half marathon in Disneyland. This gives you even more chances to get that coast to coast medal. To enter the Coast to Coast Challenge, you need to run one race in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland of a half marathon or longer in the same calendar year.

I highly recommend giving a race a try, it is a truly unique way to experience the parks. Don’t forget about the 5K races either. If you are not yet ready to tackle a half marathon, these untimed races are a perfect introduction to distance running. For more information about runDisney races, and to register for one yourself, please visit www.rundisney.com. I am now training for the 2012 Goofy Challenge. Hope to see some of you there in January.

The Time I…Ran the Disneyland Half Marathon was last updated December 22nd, 2013 by Michael Truskowski