It was awesome. It was windy. It was awesomely windy! I can’t believe I’m back from my first runDisney race. While the memories are still fresh, I though I’d share a recap of this first-timer’s experience.
There’s not much to share in terms of the expo. Since I was only running the half and not the 5K, I chose to go on Saturday afternoon. There were no lines at all, and very little merchandise left. I was completely expecting this and was not disappointed in the least. I really didn’t have a personal connection to the Avenger’s theme (confession: had I not watched the “Avengers” movie last week I would have had no idea who most of the characters were), so it wasn’t too important to take home any of the official goodies. I heard that most of the items, like the large themed Dooney & Bourke purses, the half marathon pins, and the desirable “I Did It” t-shirts were gone within hours of the expo opening on Friday. It remains to be seen if I will brave the first day expo madness for Star Wars. I did enjoy walking around the non-crowded “unofficial” side of the expo and talking with many of the vendors. The only thing that came home with me was new Sparkle Skirt.
After the expo and a large late lunch in Downtown Disney (at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, mmmmm) my running buddy and I were able to leisurely walk back to our hotel in about 25 minutes. By the time we got back to our room, unpacked/prepared for Sunday, and took a quick trip to the convenience store, it was just about time for a quick snack and then bedtime. I think I would recreate this schedule exactly for future races, instead of scheduling dinner reservation and then worrying about being out too late. We stayed off property at the Castle Inn and Suites. This hotel is older, but the rooms have been remodeled fairly recently and they were clean. My only complaint was that the outdoor corridors were very loud at night as kids went running down them to their rooms. This wouldn’t be a big deal if you weren’t trying to go to bed at 8:30!
3:30 in the morning came quickly, but there was only a minute to register sleepiness before total excitement kicked in. After getting dressed, eating (Cliff Bar and spoonful of peanut butter for me) and making a cup of coffee to go (we brought along our own mini Keurig machine. Best. Idea. Ever.) we were off. For anyone who is worried about traveling by yourself to a runDisney race and finding your way, you can squash those fears. As soon as we stepped outside we joined a large group of runners making their way down to the start. First you walk through the open space that becomes the “family reunion area” after the race, where there’s a stage with an emcee and a few spots for pictures. After a few minutes of walking around we heard the announcement to start making your way towards the corrals.
Oh man, the corrals. They seem to be an ongoing hotbed of discussion and controversy in social media groups. Since we had not completed a race in time to submit a proof of time, we were automatically placed in the last corral (H). Even though we were early (at the starting area by 4:30), there were a few hundred people in front of us. This ended up being no big deal as THOUSANDS of people arrived later than we did and lined up behind. This picture does not do the view justice. The mass of people went back as far as you could see, then doubled back on the sidewalk past where we were standing at the front. We settled in and prepared to wait for the 5:30 start. Time passed quickly with the help of the emcees and fellow runner enthusiasm. There were about six minutes between corral starts (give or take, with A/B and C/D going outtogether) and we were off at 6:00.
The first standout memory from the race was the intense wall of wind we met head-on. I remember thinking “my Minnie ears are never going to survive”. At the beginning the crowds were very thick but not unnamable. There were narrow spots inside the parks were you were forced to come to a complete walk, but this ended up being a good thing for me. It forced me to slow down and take it all in. I was running through DISNEYLAND! I noticed Christmas decorations and cast members and characters. The lines for character stops already looked gnarly, and as I was worried about how much time I’d really have starting from the back I chose to skip those and take a few selfies instead. In the future, with an earlier corral start I would love to get at least a few.
Once out on the streets things opened up and I had no problem moving at my own pace (well, except when the wind felt like it was pushing me backwards at times). I got a kick out of the spectators lining the way, from cheerleaders to Cosplay groups to grandmas in lawn chairs. Lots of cheering and high-fiveing kept things fun. Now, after the race I heard lots, and I mean lots, of complaints about the two-mile stretch through the dry river bed trail. While it wasn’t the most exciting part of the course, I certainly didn’t hate it. I ducked behind an extremely tall Captain America who blocked the wind and paced me to Angels Stadium. It had never occurred to me that we would be running INSIDE the stadium on the warning track. That was a very cool surprise and gave me a huge boost for those last few miles. Despite the wind, I felt like I was running a very fast race and at this point decided to give it my all for a good time. I’ve only glanced at my Marathonphoto finisher pictures so far, but it looks like I’m flying down the home stretch, giant smile on my face (I will update this post with a photo once I purchase my pictures). Final time: 2:11:45. Not bad for running in winds strong enough to blow over port-o-potties and every mile marker sign, not to mention stopping for about a dozen selfies along the way. After receiving my medal the photographer told me “you look way too happy for someone who just ran a half marathon”. Damn straight – I was thrilled!
After a snack and a shower I got to experience the second best part of a runDisney race. It’s hard to describe how amazing it was to wear my medal in the park afterwards. You see dozens of other runners doing the same thing, and you can’t help but smile at the not-so-secret club you belong to. Of course there’s the celebratory reward meal (lunch at Blue Bayou) and snack indulgences (I didn’t get a chance to try a Doll Whip, which might be my only regret from the weekend). I hadn’t been to Disneyland since I was a kid so seeing it dressed up in all its Christmastime glory was a real treat. This is a very busy time of year for the parks, so while we didn’t go on tons of rides we picked the very best. My favorite ride hands-down was the Haunted Mansion with a Nightmare Before Christmas twist. The original plan was to stay for fireworks, but since it was starting to get difficult to walk as the day went on, we called it a night around 7:30.
I’m sure there are experienced runDisney veterans who could tell you a laundry list of minor gripes, from the way the expo was run to the course layout. Partially because I have nothing to compare it to, and partially because I had such a blast I am choosing to remember this weekend as perfect. Zero complains from me. Well, maybe just one. I have to wait two months before I get to do it again!