Anaheim, California, USA
Is this just fantasy?
I get off the Disneyland Express bus at the Disneyland Hotel where the expo and packet pickup is. Chaos reigns supreme as part of the hotel is under construction and signage is not great. I have to ask for directions to packet pickup, which is underground in the parking garage, whileT-shirt pickup is upstairs in the expo area. They’ve got some good vendors and speakers, but by this time I’m tired of lugging my backpack around and just want to get to my hotel, which is a good mile off on the other side of the park. Tapas for dinner and then a stroll through Disneyland after dark.
Up at dawn for a five mile run – it’s about the same start time as the race will start tomorrow, so a good opportunity to suss out the temperature, which is nice and cool.
Today I have my park-hopper pass, so first order of business after breakfast is to hit my favorite rides. There are approximately one billion more people in the world since the last time I visited Anaheim, and they were all crammed into Disneyland this weekend, along with their massive strollers. Still, a friend later told me that I was lucky to get onto so many “big ticket” rides on a holiday weekend. The revamped 3-D Star Tours is awesome, and the updated Submarines and Pirates are too. To the person sitting in front of me on Space Mountain: Sorry about that. I hope the hearing loss was temporary.
Late afternoon I spend some time over at the relatively uncrowded California Adventure, then treat myself to a great dinner at Napa Rose.
Yeah, I know the drill now. Night before a big race I always wake up every few hours, so I just roll with it now. Breakfast is a pop-tart, mostly. I do an easy run down to the endof the block and back and join the other runners cutting across Downtown Disney to get to the start. I’ve timed things well, so that I’ve just dropped off my gear bag (basically my sweatshirt, which I don’t want to carry) when the emcee starts directing people to the corrals. The corrals are, quite frankly, a bit of a mess: A, B, and C are to the right, and D, E, and F to the left, according to a sign that you can’t see for the crush of people until you’re standing on top of it. I finally reach my corral and squeeze in,with a distinct impression that a lot of runners just didn’t bother.
So far I’ve been bitching a lot. That’s over, because now comes the fun part. The sun is just tipping thehorizon as Corral D is let go, and we head east between lines of palm trees to the park entrance. A line of employees are handing out high fives with oversize Mickey Mouse hands, and as we pour into Main Street USA I give a little leap off the curb to the cobblestone streets. What kid visiting Disney for the first time doesn’t want to run full out?
The course loops in, out, and around the two parks for the first 4 miles or so, including some backstage areas with mysterious bits of half-formed scenery. Photo ops with costumed characters (Malificent, Russell from “UP”, Darth Vader…) are scattered along the way for runners who don’t mind waiting in a short line. Costumes on runners – usually banned in the park – are also encouraged for this race. There are tons of runners in Minnie Mouse skirts, at least one Jack Sparrow, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, and a whole lot of whattheheckisthat? Of course, the narrow lanes of the park weren’t built with 15,000 racers in mind, so it’s a little like Pamplona’s running of the bulls. When I hit the 3 mile mark I look down at my Garmin and have to laugh – at 38+ minutes that had to be the slowest 5K of my life – and cheerfully give up thought of a PR.
Around mile 4 we’re released from the confines of the park and the field spreads out as we head along broad Ball Street and up and over the freeway overpass. I glance at my Garmin and notice that my pace has picked up. Way up, as in 10:20-ish, roughly a minute faster than my target HM pace! I consider backing off, but I feel good, not like I’m pushing or breathing that hard, so I decide to keep it up as long as it feels OK, and maybe make up a little lost time.
The water stops are plentiful and very efficient; water and Powerade are in color-coded cups, which just helps immensely. I scarf a few gel blocks from my pocket because that pop-tart is just not holding me. There’s plenty of entertainment along the way, including Mexican folklorico dancers and a large Polynesian dance troupe in addition to the high school marching bands and cheer squads. This race is the first time I have ever heard a marching band play Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Around the halfway point I’m getting a little chafing problem, and have to pull over to the side to apply some Vaseline to my inner thighs, never an elegant operation. To the fratbois who wondered if I was changing my tampon: Grow up. Also: I’m faster than you. Kiss my middle-aged @***.
For a brief blissful stretch along the Los Angeles River we’re running on soft dirt. A ragpicker on his bike yells out “Mush, you elitist slaves! Mush!” Bless you, sir. We just don’t get that quality of boosterism at the P.F.Chang’s. And now it’s time for a chocolate GU, and a lap through Angel Stadium, and I am just stupidly happy and grinning about it all. Is this the elusive runner’s high? Or is it oxygen deprivation?
Creepily, as we get back into the Disney district, speakers hidden in the trees shout words of encouragement: “You’re doing great!” And then – there’s the Finish banner! I do a little leap as I cross the finish, but there’s a tall guy in front of me so the camera misses it. Bah.
Official time: 2:29:47 – It’s a PR after all!
Everyone gets handed a wet, cooling towel, a nice touch. I grab a bagel & banana andmy gear bag. Times are not posted in the finish area, a bit bogus. I walk the ½ mile back to my hotel for a shower, then off to IHOP for apple pancakes – yum!
Overall I really enjoyed the race itself – fun course, great support and entertainment along the way. Disney does need to get more organized on the pre-race, though, as the number of participants keeps growing every year.
[This post originally appeared on my now-defunct blog on Active.com.]