2016 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend
Christopher Schmidt, back again to bring you a review of the 2016 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend.
The Expo itself was a breeze this year. Admittedly I don’t spend a ton of time shopping, and do not engage in the Official Race Merchandise madness at all. When the Expo opened, there was a healthy and eager crowd, but they did not overwhelm the volunteers dispensing bibs and shirts; my primary areas of concern. Jeff Galloway was again in attendance, of course. He was, again, exceedingly generous with his time; hanging around before and after his speaking engagement to meet and talk to participants and fans.
I confess I was disappointed to hear the Official Race Guide would not be available in print this year. I often found it a bit heavy on advertisements, but as a handy resource for park hours, race times and courses, the guides are indispensable. Maps were posted all throughout the Health & Fitness Expo, which was helpful. The time I spent trying to capture just the right photo of them was unnecessary as our bibs came with a perfectly adequate Race Instruction pamphlet. Though not as complete as in previous years, it contained all of the weekend’s relevant maps and information with none of the distracting advertisements. I appreciate the runDisney sponsors, and am addicted to Clif Bars, but the pared-down guide has to be better for the environment.
Both the Disneyland 5K and 10K were wonderful. The 5K is still woefully brief, and had some bizarre theming this year. Liver Lips and Big Al, from Country Bear Jamboree, were the character guests of honor. I grew up on, and loved the Country Bear Jamboree. It was charming, and one of those attractions where you could consistently count on short lines. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh took over the Disneyland Country Bear Playhouse in 2001, making the bears an intriguing choice to host the 5K. Still, it is always a delight to see classic characters return. I’m afraid to ask if this portends the release of another Country Bears movie.
The 5K and 10K did not course down Route 66 this year, which was disappointing. Cars Land is a thrill at night, and also before sunrise as an exclusive part of a runDisney event. Both races did circle Radiator Springs, then cross through Cars Land. It was all well-lit and beautiful though I missed that emotional jolt of being essentially immersed in the movie.
The World of Color light and water display in the heart of the 10K helped make up for the Cars Land abbreviation. The Aladdin theme for this year's 10K was a welcome touch. There was a bit of negative sentiment surrounding the discontinue of the popular Aladdin stage show in Disney California Adventure, even if it was to make room for Frozen. The Aladdin medals and on-course entertainment may have been a concession. There are many who would love to see the show make its way back into the Disneyland Resort somewhere soon.
All of the 2016 races have been rerouted due to construction on Star Wars Land. This weekend’s courses omitted Frontierland, Adventureland and New Orleans Square entirely. There is still plenty of park land to cover, and in the 5K, the change was not disruptive. For the 10K and Half Marathon, the courses seemed to spend an exorbitant amount of time back stage. Often the behind-the-scenes glimpses are a major part of the appeal of a Disney race. Unfortunately, we spent little time running behind attractions and secret portions of the parks. We were relegated to less descript driveways and service roads. Still, none of this detracted from the amazing experience. It just didn’t add to it in the way circumnavigating Space Mountain and running behind Main Street have traditionally.
There was a wealth of costumed characters out this year. RunDisney did a thorough job of highlighting the theme from each race throughout the weekend. While in previous years, it seemed they sort of just slapped a name on each race, then didn't go much beyond having XXXX wave at and high five runners at the start and finish lines, this year revealed a concentrated and intentional effort. Beasts and critters from Bear Country were on full display for the 5K. Aladdin and friends were the unmistakable highlight of the 10K. Mickey, Pluto and all the originals adorned each race, but were specifically all over the parks and staging area of the Half Marathon. Cast Members dressed in the race theme, acting in character along the course and within the parks, were a genuine highlight. The Aladdin and Jasmine look-a-likes in front of "it's a small world" were mic'd up and had an entertaining exchange going on as we passed. Bravo to the two Imperial Storm Troopers who were actively, convincingly, in character. I think the look of discomfort on the Ewok’s face above was genuine.
Pooh and Piglet in the double-decker omnibus were a thrill, as was the lineup of Cast Members surrounding the hub and much of Main Street. But, again, the park time is over all too quickly. Before you know it, or want it to be so, the 5K and 10K courses are angling through Downtown Disney and their all-too-sudden finish.
If you drew one of the deeper starting corrals for the half marathon, you were in for a tough slog. Among the thousands of participants there seemed a high number of early and frequent walkers. Walking is absolutely your prerogative, if that is your preferred approach. The number of participants walking at the outset this year, and throughout the race, appeared uncommon.
The half marathon had excellent on-course support. The volunteers, bands, etc., are so passionate and committed. The classic cars were present in their usual location on Cerritos Ave. They are always such a wonderful break after being outside the park for so long. Admittedly, it did feel like there weren't as many organized groups, e.g. bands, on the route this year.
I thought there were more costumes than I have ever seen for the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend. There really seemed to be a higher level of creativity and participation. The costumes ran the entire gamut. Tons of Minnies, Donalds and the other traditionalists. Then there was a bellhop carrying a "Looking for Work" sign vis-a-vis the closing of the Tower of Terror. One guy had an amazing Tron getup. In the dark he looked incredible, but of course it made him impossible to photograph.
This year's medals were beautiful, sturdy and reliable. What participants have come to expect and mostly appreciate from the Disneyland Half Marathon, I believe. The Coast to Coast Medal however, shows the detail and intricacy that is going into other runDisney event medals. I do love tradition, but wish a little more creativity would spill over to the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend medals.
The weather was perfect for the entire weekend, really. There was nice cloud cover early in the race day, with pleasantly low humidity. Can’t really account for all the walking. This is not a criticism. I did, and do, my share of walking. We would all do well to pay more attention to Mr. Galloway. It’s just something different I noticed this year.
With the half marathon course circling and doubling back upon itself, something else I noticed were the elite runners finishing while many of us were just getting started. Not sure if I am more envious of those with such ability, or concerned for their emotional well-being. If I could run that fast through Disneyland, I’m not sure I would. It seems a tragic waste of the runDisney opportunity. Oh, believe me, I want to sprint through a few of those tedious middle miles. I just have to wonder if the elite runners are actually enjoying themselves. I guess being excellent at something is rewarding in and of itself.
For the rest of us mere mortals, the runDisney experience continues to impress. It also beckons us back. I thank runDisney for another memorable weekend, as I look longingly toward November, the Super Heroes Half and the next incredible adventure.