This was my first Disney race but my 10th race since May 2012 (10 races in 8 months). That being the case I’ve done a lot of expos, a lot of packet pick ups and a lot of courses.
Parking – Disney provides free shuttles from the local hotels to both the expo and the race. Your given a ticket when you use it for packet pick up and you must hold onto it for race day. However, I cannot rate how the shuttles worked as I used the parking on the annual pass and parked in the Mickey & Friends structure. The Mickey & Friends parking structure was an easy walk to both the expo and race day start corrals. Without the parking on the pass I would easily spend the $15 and park in the Mickey & Friends parking structure on race day just for the ease of it.
Pre Race – Probably one of the easiest packet pick up experiences I’ve had in all my races. The line was kept well organized and small groups of people were let in at a time so the volunteers handing out bibs were never overwhelmed and the lines were short and moved quickly. I really liked the timer chip check area so you were assured that the chip on your bib was working. It really was kind of fun to run or walk across and have the “cast members” from Disney cheer your name!
The Expo itself however was disappointing as well as small. Stand after stand of sparkle skirts, tutu/wings and no-slip headbands and other races to sign up for yet a couple of big names were missing such as GoBelt, BIC Bands, 5 Hour Energy, and any coconut water company to name a few. There was one stand to buy GU gels but the price wasn’t discounted so no reason to buy them here. Maybe being Disney I expected an expo that would rival at least those of the OC Marathon, Long Beach International or Surf City. Instead those expo’s were outstanding in comparison.
Race Day – starts really, really early! So be prepared to be up before the sun and the birds and in line ready to start. While I at first cringed at the thought of a 5am start looking back I now love it. The fact that I can run a half marathon and be home by 9am (I live local) or go to breakfast and be home by 10am and have my whole day ahead of me was great. This year it was nicer because we were having some really warm weather so we were able to beat the heat.
The course was one of the best I have run. The first 5.5-6 miles is all in the park and is different from it’s inaugural course due to Cars Land now being finished. The course takes you behind the scenes (where no pics are allowed) and also through the main portions of both Disneyland and California Adventure. During the behind the scenes part they had floats from their parade lit up with music and moving parts going, drum lines, high school bands and cast members. Within the parks all the lights were on on the rides, World of Color fountains with lighting and music and the Mickey Ferris Wheel were lit up. Only part that I felt unsafe running was by the water ride/Grand Californian – this part was extremely dark and could benefit from more ambient lighting. Several people pulled out their cell phones and used their flashlight apps it was so dark. In Disneyland Main Street, Small World and all the areas you ran through were lit up with characters cheering you on. Watch main street with the trolley tracks. Saw a couple of people go down and their race ended there, so watch where you put your feet during the Main Street portion. There are also photo op stops but those can get lined up and cost you a lot of time if you do them all and in doing so you chance getting picked up by the sweepers or taken straight to the finish line with a DNF. Best to pick maybe one or two favorite characters to take a photo with and move on. Living here I did not see a need to get a photo with any of them so I skipped them. Once you leave the park it’s hard to imagine that you already ran almost 6 miles and are about halfway done because you are so entertained you don’t even notice the miles. The course entertainment does not end once you leave Disneyland and hit the streets of Anaheim. The Red Hat Society ladies had to be one of the most fun to run by! These ladies were there setting up getting their spots at a most ungodly hour and had energy galore giving high fives to the runners. They made me laugh and I loved it! Though there were portions without course entertainment there were bands, cheer teams, dance teams keeping you pumped and running in various places. I seriously don’t think I stopped smiling the entire 13.26 miles I ran because it was just that fun.
Water/Powerade stations were extremely plentiful, well spaced out, fully staffed and prepared for the amount of runners coming through. I never came across a water/Powerade station that was struggling to keep up – which is a feat in itself. The volunteers were cheerful even at that early hour and did an amazing job. Even more amazing was the amount of first aid stations along the course. In all my races I’ve never seen so many aid stations spaced so well on a course. Other race directors would do well to copy them in this regard. Running by I could tell they were well staffed and well stocked and ready to help with whatever was needed.
The finishers medal is huge. It’s beautiful. But know that Disney doesn’t change their medals from year to year (I believe every 5 years) but they only change the ribbon and year/engraving on the front. Basically you will get the same medal every year – just a new ribbon. This bothers some people (not me) but yet they don’t complain when the race course stays the same year after year. So if different medals for same races are important to you this race can be a “one and done” unless you run it the 4th year and then the 5th year.
The finishers chute was smooth with volunteers handing out foil blankets, water, Powerade then pre-boxed post race food (all of which was gluten free – not a worry of mine but know many appreciated it) with a banana and a small handled bag in which to put it all in. These were done on both the left and the right sides so you moved along pretty quickly with few bottlenecks. You were then shuffled through a photo op with your medal but there was also an area for you to go if you didn’t want to do the photo. Disney cast members were everywhere helping you through, finding the shorter photo op lines. After the photo you filed into a large area where you can pick up your bag if you did the bag check. You then left this area and were close to Downtown Disney and the sidewalks that led you back to the Mickey & Friends parking structure.
Exiting the park here is the only negative thing I have to say. With Disney traffic coming in and race traffic filing out it caused a huge backup trying to leave as everyone was trying to turn left onto Ball Rd. but the intersection would get blocked with cars from the incoming park traffic. After sitting for awhile I was able to move over to the far right lane where it was completely empty to go straight and hit the 5 fwy. The backup was caused by the turn lane. In the future Disneyland would be doing those entering and leaving a great service by having traffic cops directing the traffic instead during this time. Or I’ll figure on sitting down with a cup of coffee and waiting for a couple of hours to leave to let the bulk of the leaving traffic to thin out making it easier and faster to get out.
While Disney races are one of the more expensive races I have run it is Disney and you can be sure pretty much everything is done top notch – from the shirt and packet pick up to the medal to course entertainment and aid stations to the finish line. They need to have a better expo and exit strategy for the cars but by far the most organized race I have run so far.