September 9, 2009

Disneyland Half Marathon (Race Report)

So I did things a bit backwards and ran a full marathon before I ran a half. This past weekend, however, I finally ran my first official half marathon: the Disneyland Half Marathon, the so-called "happiest race on earth". While I was thrilled with how the race went, I was less impressed with the organization and logistics.
Before I get into my race report, let me give you some background on this race. Initially, I had planned on running this race with my friend Sarah, who ran Seattle with me, and my roommate Jordan for whom it would be her first race. After getting verbal confirmations from both of them, I saw that the race was filling up fast, so I let my eagerness got the better of me and I registered right away. Well plans did not go accordingly. Sarah found out she had a wedding that weekend and Jordan waited too long to register, leaving me a solo runner! I was a little bummed, especially since it was such an expensive race ($120 for a half!) and didn't seem like it would be nearly as fun alone. But I decided to make the best of it, signed up for a pace group, and tried to focus on training.
Lucky for me, I found out my fellow Team In Training alum Katy was signed up as well, so we planned to meet up that weekend. I headed down to Anaheim Saturday afternoon and went straight to the expo at the Disneyland Hotel. Considering that it was Disneyland, I was pretty unimpressed with it. The set-up was strange, and the whole vibe of everyone there was just off. Also, the race shirts we had pre-ordered got messed up, leaving many people with the wrong sizes. I was also expecting a lot of cool official merchandise, but instead found only a few unimpressive things. I couldn't leave with nothing, though, so I bought a glass and a pin to put on my medal, something I've decided to make a tradition. After finishing up at the expo Katy and I met up and went to Olive Garden for dinner to carb-up on some pasta. It really calmed my nerves to know that I would have someone to run with the next day, and we decided to just have a fun race, no matter what happened with time. We had both made plans to crash at friends' houses and decided to carpool to the race the next morning to save on parking. So with that we headed out to try and get some sleep, full of anticipation for the early rise and race Sunday.
I like to set up my race gear the night before, so as not to be rushed or risk forgetting something in my early morning stupor. The alarm went off at 4:15am, much to me chagrin. I was less nervous than expected, however, and found my morning race ritual to actually be quite soothing. Katy picked me up at 5 and we made our way to Disney, conveniently just 10 minutes away. After parking we joined the throngs of runners, many dressed in cute Disney-inspired outfits, heading toward the start line. It's always so amusing to me to see so many people up so early for a race. Katy had been assigned to a different corral than me but since the 2:30 pace group was in my corral we decided to head there. The only problem was that there were people checking your corral on your bib to make sure you were in the right one, and they wouldn't let Katy in. As we debated our options and considered abandoning our pace group, we saw our chance - a runner had tried to sneak through and the official had run after him, giving us just the moment of distraction we needed to slip into my corral : ) We found our pace bunny who was in the midst of describing her tactic for getting us through the race - singing! I wasn't so sure about this, but Katy and I had decided to try and stick with the pace group as long as possible and aim for a 2:30 finish, but both agreed that we'd rather enjoy the race than push too hard so if we needed to slow up we would. My final 11 mile training run had been tough, partly due to hotter weather than I was used to, and anticipating a hot race at Disneyland I didn't want to set my hopes too high.

The gun went off promptly at 6am, and only being in the third corral we crossed the finish line just 5 minutes later. It was really tough at first keeping up with the pace group simply because it was so crowded and we had to maneuver around slower runners. The first few miles took us through the theme parks, California Adventure and Disneyland, where we were cheered on by our favorite characters and even got to run through Sleeping Beauty's Castle! I was looking forward to getting a good professional pic as I emerged from the castle, but was pretty bummed because it was way too crowded with runners. On the bright side I had decided to bring along my camera and snapped some great pics in the parks and along the rest of the course. Surprisingly, though, the course took us on some back alleyways of the parks that were pretty ugly and smelly...not quite what you'd expect when you think of running through Disneyland.
Then we were out on the streets of Anaheim. There were plenty of water stations and cheer teams and music were scattered along the course. It was also pretty flat, which Katy and I both appreciated. We had kept up with the pace group pretty well up the that point, thanks to the fact that they walked about a minute at each mile marker while we kept running. Around mile 5, much to our surprise, we discovered we were about a minute ahead of pace! We felt pretty good and the next 5 miles continued to see consistent split times. In fact we even left the pace group behind us for good around mile 7! We were starting to realize that a 2:30 finish was totally doable, and that put a little more pep in our step. Mile 8 was a ridiculous loop in a an empty parking lot...yes, I said a parking lot. Also, the so called "river" we were supposed to pass after this turned out to be a dried up canal : / Mile 9 to 10 of the course made up for these issues, taking us through Angel Stadium! It was such a neat feeling running onto the field, rounding the bases, and seeing yourself up on the big screen TV for a moment. By far one of the best parts of the race. As we left the stadium and reached mile 10, a quick glance at my watch and consult of my pace bracelet told us we were actually 2 minutes ahead of our goal pace! It was weird because neither of us felt like we'd sped up at all. The last few miles we were just in the zone, confident now of reaching our finish goal and even contemplating the idea of coming in under. The final mile took us back through Disneyland and we kicked it up a knotch, waiting to round the corner and see the finish line.

As we crossed I made sure not to break the cardinal rule of races and look down to stop my watch, but instead smiled straight into the cameras. As I finally checked my watch, I was thrilled to see that not only had we made our goal, but we had beaten it by 4 minutes with a finish time of 2:26:28!! We were given our enormous, castle-shaped medals (so ugly!), grabbed some fluids, took some post-race pics, and then sat in the shade, basking in the warm feelings of our accomplishment.
Before our muscles got too stiff we walked to Downtown Disney to grab a bite to eat and shop for some souvenirs, only to discover once we got there that it was still pretty early and most places weren't open yet. As a result we were left with only a couple options for food, and opted on a breakfast burrito that sounded delicious, only to discover it was the tiniest burrito in history...literally about the size of a fist. Wtf, I just ran a half marathon! Before we gave up on Downtown Disney I spent about a half hour at a shop that entirely sold collectible pins, completely torn between 2 pins for a souvenir. I'm so indecisive it's pathetic! Eager to get home for a shower and a nap we headed out. But as luck would have it, I hit the most horrendous traffic all the way from LA to Carpinteria, nearly taking double the time for me to get home then it did to drive down the day before. Let me just say that anyone who drives stick knows how much it sucks to drive in traffic; well throw in some stiff muscles and it's a pretty miserable experience.

It ended up being a fabulous initial half marathon experience, although I don't think I'd do another Disney race. I have 3 more halfs planned in 2009, and after this great weekend I'm pretty excited. Since I didn't go into this one with very consistent training it will be interesting to see how I can do if I really focus my training and put in more time and effort. I'll keep you updated on how training goes!

1 comment:

  1. I think your post about the disneyland half marathon was great!
    I know it's been a whole year since you've ran this, but I happened to be signed up for the 2010 disneyland half marathon.
    I actually was training pretty consistently up until about two months ago when life and school got in the way of training. I know most people training don't consider this an excuse, but that's just what happened. Today, [five days before the actual race gack!] I was just looking up online articles to motivate myself about this race because I have been feeling down in the dumps about it since I haven't been training and also I have no one to run with.
    Unfortunately my goal has now become to finish without any injuries and within the time limit. I'm actually a little worried about the time limit and being embarrassed by coming so late. Hopefully it won't be like that
    sorry for the long comment on your blog! i just wanted to let you know how your entry let me feel so much better about it.