Posted by: grasshopperme | February 10, 2013

Ruined by RunDisney??

Half marathon #2, and the requisite recovery time, is now behind me. As I look forward in the coming weeks to stepping back into full training mode for some big upcoming events, I thought it was about to time to recap what was a completely different experience for me for a myriad of reasons. I’m relieved I didn’t START my race experiences with this event, because I’m not sure I’d be able to do anything else and not feel disappointed. Say what you will about the size, cost, distance, frequency (and I don’t think between blogs, social media, print and word of mouth there is anything left UNsaid) of RunDisney events, these people have this race thing down!

Fellow Tough Chik Amy and I had seen the postings about the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland in January 2012, about two weeks before the inaugural running and around the exact time we were registering to run our local Shamrock’n Half Marathon. After looking at the website, reading some of the recaps, and (not surprisingly) laying our eyes on the finishers’ medals it was not long before we mutually decided that this race was going on the 2013 race plan.

We registered the day the website went live last June. Fortunately we were in before the inevitable (and VERY fast) sell-out, because at that point (thanks to Amy’s tenacity and expert ability to obtain deals for all things travel-related) our hotel and air arrangements were already booked. Not that either of us would’ve been above using the long MLK weekend to enjoy Disneyland and CA Adventure, but being in the midst of all that race excitement and not participating would’ve been hard to take–even for someone who still (yes, still) doesn’t really care for running.

We arrived on Thursday to find typically picture-perfect SoCal weather and an even more favorable forecast for the Sunday event. Our hotel was walking distance from the parks (where we spent all day Friday and Monday, and all of our post-race Sunday–medals on!!), the pre-race Expo, and the start/finish line housed on resort properties. Luckier for me, it was also only about 1/3 of a mile from the Anaheim Garden Walk. This meant getting in my final planned jog and the required time on a foam roller was only as far as the local 24 Hr Fitness, and my 6:15am smartphone alarm–sorry, Amy :(.

From the second we arrived at the Expo on Saturday it was nothing but pleasant surprises. Package pickup for this race of approximately 13,000 people was flawless. From bib personalization, timing chip check, t-shirt pick-up, everything was exactly as it was supposed to be according to our registration. As someone who has, at last count, upwards of 50 races, from 5K-13.1 miles and walkathon-triathalons behind her, I cannot overstate how WELCOME and UNIQUE this was. From the young volunteers handing out goody bags, to the resort staff fielding questions and giving direction, to all the vendors at the expo, it was a pleasure. We had planned to not attend either theme park on this day to “save our legs” from over-walking, so once we had scoured the expo for last-minute impulse buys and race souvenirs we headed out to feast at Marri’s on Katella Blvd. For anyone visiting the area, this place is a hidden gem–good value, delicious homemade meatballs, awesome rustic sauces and a variety of pasta choices.

Once carb loading was complete, we walked back to our hotel to get our gear, including costumes (Tink for me, Princess Ariel the Mermaid for Amy) staged for Sunday and ready for an early bedtime.

I don’t care how early you go to bed, 2:30am comes WAAAYYYY too soon. Having decided we would use our walk to the race area as our warm up, and needing to have our gearbags to the sweatcheck area by 4:15, it was necessary to make sure we made the 5am gun, but I couldn’t help but think there was a time in my life this Pixie would’ve been coming TO bed at this time, not leaving it. After checking our bags (again, surprisingly smooth for an event of this size) and making the required potty stops, Amy and I headed to our separate corrals to wait for the start. Not having submitted a verifiable qualifying pace, I was placed in corral E, while Amy would start well ahead of me in B.

One thing starting back-of-the-pack gave me this time I didn’t have in my last half go-’round was a chance to really reflect on how different this experience was. Not only was the race bigger, far from home where I wouldn’t have a race course or support people I knew, but it occurred to me how much more READY I was this time. As anyone who read the posts leading up to my first half knows, the training program I had then seemed to be jinxed :P. I went from illness to injury to illness again until I finally stood in that starting corral truly uncertain if I could complete the distance, let alone make the 4 hr cut-off time. This time I felt prepared, healthy, dare I say confident, and ultimately terrified! I had no doubt now I could do the distance, I already had–but what if I got hurt in the race? what if something happened I hadn’t planned on–fueling error, breathing trouble? what if I actually finished SLOWER than I had almost a year before? Fortunately for me the hype of the start quickly distracted me before I could do any long-term psychic damage.

The first 2/3 of the race took place exclusively on Disney property. You wound around the resort on city streets, back into CA Adventure, behind the scenes, around the interior, through a chute  that separates the entries to the two parks (dubbed the cheer squad zone for friends and family who have come to support and spectate) into Disneyland and around the various “lands” all lit for maximum magical effect. All park restrooms are open and accessible for runners’ convenience-no port-a-pots within the magic kingdom! At various points the costumed Disney characters, as well as employees of various operational departments are along the course providing encouragement, taking pictures, and providing safety warnings: “the course narrows ahead, sharp corner to your right, watch the curbs as you exit the lot, etc.” Another welcome first.

Even off property (from about the 6 mile point until re-entry around mile 11.5) around the streets of Anaheim this race was exceptional. Hydration and aid stations are prevalent and well-spaced, amply stocked, and run smoothly by enthusiastic volunteers. I particularly liked how the tables were set up on BOTH sides of the closed course, allowing access whether you were running on the right or left side of the “lane” and wide enough to proved a central corridor to keep moving through those who did not wish/need to stop. I’m sure whoever came up with this one has run a race or two…GENIUS!

The last 2 1/2 miles or so winds back though Disney resort property…mostly behind the parks and through parking lots. For a perpetual back-of-the-packer like me, the level of enthusiasm and support still present in the race personnel was great. The bands were still playing, balloons still inflated, announcers still trying to catch everyone’s name and announce it as they crossed the mat. There was no sense at all of anyone getting ready to check out or pack up and head home, even at 3+ hours after the start of corral E.

Three hours, twelve minutes, and twenty-two seconds after, but who’s counting?

OK, I admit it. ME!! I was counting. After all the pre-race pondering, this Pixie finished 10+ minutes ahead of her last half marathon time. Maybe it was the pre-race pampering that did it? These princesses may be onto something…

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