Friday, September 4, 2015

My Experience Running the runDisney Tinker Bell Half Marathon - [Part 2] Race Day

I woke up at 3:30 AM the day of the race, and I was feeling those early morning nerves.  For breakfast, I ate a plain bagel, and I brought a bottle of water with me to drink on my way to the race.  It was chilly outside, but I was worried about it warming up and then needing to shed a layer.  The bib had to be pinned on the front of my body, which would make taking off a jacket inconvenient.  I had read some tips beforehand about bringing a large trash bag to wear to keep warm until race time, and I noticed others following that tip (it also looked like Disney sold a product with the same function at the expo that a lot of people had purchased), but I just sucked it up.

Tink Half Marathon

I wasn't quite sure about the shuttle bus, but luckily there were other runners staying at the Motel 6 who were waiting for the shuttle in the lobby, so I wasn't alone in figuring it out.  The bus dropped us at the bus hub at the main gate, and we walked through Downtown Disney to the Disneyland Hotel.  There were several restaurants open in Downtown Disney for those needing a bite to eat before the race.



There were a lot of runners there, so I just followed the crowd.  There was a bathroom stop with porta-potties in the Simba parking lot before the corral area, and I made sure to stop and take advantage.  My corral was G, the very last.  To get an earlier corral, you have to sign up early and submit a proof-of-time from an official timed 10K, 12K, 15K, 10 Mile, Half Marathon, or Marathon.  So I guess now I can submit my results from this race to get a better corral.

Because I arrived pretty early, I had a good spot near the front of the corral.  I entertained myself by checking out some of the creative runners' costumes and listening to conversations around me.  One of the cool things about runDisney races is that they attract all types of people.  Yes, there are legit hardcore runners out there (but not in my corral), but there are also people of all ages and body types - Disney fans in costumes and people running for causes.  I never felt out of place as I would have had I been surrounded by tall, lean, gazelle-like runners.  There was a great sense of community, rather than competitiveness, that made me feel right at home.

There was still a good amount of time before the start of the race (and that was just the release of Corral A.... In G, I'd have about an hour to wait after that) when I realized that I had to go to the bathroom again.  I don't know if it was nerves or the entire bottle of water that I drank... but I realized that I would be very uncomfortable if I tried to put this off.  So I left my awesome spot near the front of the corral and had to swim upstream against the crowd of people headed to the corrals in order to reach the bathrooms.  The corral had really filled up since I had first arrived, but as a party of one, I was able to weave my way through the crowd back near the front, wearing the "I'm looking for my friends" face as I excused myself past people.

There is a lot of waiting around when you're in the last corral.  About 20 minutes after the race began, they finally started walking us forward.  We walked a looooong way before we made it to the front of the race.  When we were crossing between corral C and corral B, a bunch of runners took off for the bathrooms.  Seeing them run to the bathroom.... made me need to use the bathroom, again!  No.  I'd hold it this time.

Tink Half Route
Tinker Bell Half Marathon Route

So we finally make it to the start line, and Minnie Mouse is there to see us off.  I had a lot of video on my phone.... that I no longer have, and I really hate that I can't share with you.  They counted us down.... 5... 4.... 3.... 2........ 1!!!!  I expected us to start running.  But, no.  It was a slow trickling start... because so many people were walking!  I had to weave in and out of the walkers for the first mile until I finally made it to a more spread out part of the course.  It was rather frustrating.  I noticed another runner going my pace, so I followed her as she went around people.  There were advertisements for restrooms at Mile 2, so I decided to go ahead and take that opportunity (when I told Rachel that I used the bathroom during the race, she said she would have left me behind).

The first 6 miles were easy.  The ground is pretty flat, so it was a relief for me because I had been running UCLA's very hilly perimeter.  It's through the parks, so the scenery was very entertaining.  Cast members were lined up, cheering us on in the parks.  There were also many photo stops with characters, but I didn't choose to stop for any photo because I was certain that I was a hot mess, and I had to make up for my lost time in the bathroom, anyway.  Running through the parks was a really awesome experience (but I was annoyed when everyone slowed down before running through Sleeping Beauty's Castle... because I wanted to RUN through the castle).

When running through Downtown Disney, family and friends of runners were lined up along the route, cheering us on.  Crowd support is an amazing thing.  No matter how tired I was, if there was a group of people cheering me on, I instinctively picked up the pace.

Miles 8 and 9 were the toughest.  The route was outside of the parks, running through Anaheim.  It was easy to lose momentum because by now all of the runners were more spread out, and we didn't have all of the excitement and photo ops around us.  However, I was really impressed with how the community of Anaheim showed up to offer support.  We ran through some neighborhoods, and residents were outside holding up funny signs, offering high fives, and cheering us on.  Spread out along the route, there were marching bands, dance groups, and cheerleaders.  There were businesses handing out snacks to runners.  Another group that really deserves recognition is the Red Hat Society - they were huge and great cheerleaders.  I had expected the run through downtown Anaheim to be exhausting (it was), but I didn't realize what a big deal this was to the local community, and having there support made it a lot easier.

One thing that I haven't mentioned yet is that runDisney enforces a pacing requirement.  You have to keep a 16 minute per mile pace, or else you'll be pulled from the course and shuttled to the finish line.  I wasn't too worried about the pace requirement because 16 minutes per mile is pretty reasonable; it's a walking pace.  In mile 10, I passed the pace keepers, and I had a mini-freakout that I was behind pace before I realized they were keeping pace for Corral A.

I said 8 and 9 were the toughest, but Mile 12 was pretty rough, too.  The route was tighter and curvier after long stretches of straight, level road through downtown Anaheim.  My feet were starting to hurt, and the anticipation was killing me.  Mile 12 definitely felt like the longest.  And then after crossing the marker for Mile 13, it was a sprint to high five Mickey Mouse at the finish!

Tink Half Marathon Certificate

I'm pretty proud of my half marathon results.  When Rachel and I were planning, we had allowed for a 12 minute per mile pace, which would have put us finishing in two and a half hours.  So 2:10:36 is much better than expected.  Also, at 80 out of 846, I finished in the top 10% of my age division (18-24) - pretty good considering my "training"!

After receiving my medal, I took a finisher's photo at the finish line (but they wouldn't take one with my cell phone, and I was a hot and sweaty mess, so I knew I wasn't going to buy that picture).  I started walking back through Downtown Disney, which was no longer roped off for the race, and decided to go into Disneyland Park which had just opened so that I could take a few finisher photos with my cell phone.  I also ended up riding Space Mountain and meeting Donald Duck before heading back to the Motel 6 to shower.

Congrats for Donald



Would I do it again?

On Mile 12, that miserable mile, I thought to myself, "Yeah... I could do this, again."

I think the pros of running through Disney parks, being cheered on by thousands of strangers, and feeling ridiculously accomplished upon finishing far outweigh the miserableness that was Miles 8, 9, and 12.  I really enjoyed the experience.  Everything seemed to be very well-organized, and you could tell that Disney is very experienced at coordinating these races.  I would definitely participate in another runDisney race, and it's something that I would love to get to do with Rachel (so long as she doesn't bail on me for Brussels, again!).

However, like all things Disney, there is one not-to-be-ignored con of runDisney races, and that is cost.  The registration fee for the 2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon is $199 before August 25 (too late for that), $215 between August 26 and September 8 (cutting it close!), and $230 on or after September 9.  I think that is incredibly expensive!!!

Of course, I'm not a runner, so I thought maybe that is the norm.  I did a bit of research on other half marathons in the area to see how the registration fees compare...

Los Angeles Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon - $109-119
Run with the Stars Hollywood Half Marathon - $95
New Year's Race Los Angeles Half Marathon - $85-145

And while we're at it, the LA Marathon is only $170.

I think you get the point.  runDisney races are expensive.  You are truly paying for the Disney name, the "Disney Difference".

So while I would definitely run another runDisney half marathon in the future, I simply can't afford to become a runDisney addict.

Have you participated in a runDisney event?  Are you a runDisney addict?  Let me know in the comments below!