The Happiest Race on Earth

So today was the Disneyland Half Marathon.  Some of you may remember that I did this race with Rachel last year in the unbearable heat.  Since then my marathon and half-marathon times have steadily improved.  Last year at Disney I ran a 2:47 and I PR’d at the Val Nolasco Half-Marathon last fall with a 2:42:59. Since then I’ve gone sub-2:40 several times in training runs and in full marathons.  So I set my goal this time a bit ambitiously – to see if I could break 2:30. 

Plan Your Race – Race Your Plan

I had the most detailed race plan I think I’ve ever had for a race.  I broke this race down mile by mile; almost turn by turn.  I knew the course (mostly) from last year so I knew looking at the map what to expect at each stage of the course.  To attack this particular race I started by regarding the race as a 10 mile warm-up to a 5K.

Then I divided it further into two 5-mile segments.

Segment Goal Time for Segment
1st 5 Miles 60 Minutes
2nd 5 Miles 55 Minutes
5K As fast as I can…


I even broke it down to mile by mile pacing, notes or thoughts on the course over that mile and what I should expect, and plans for how I wanted to handle each of the water stops along the way.  I wrote myself some little reminders about certain parts of the course like "Be efficient!" or "Gain time here!" Obsessive?  Yeah, maybe, but I wanted to have a solid plan so that I didn’t have to think about this stuff too much during the race.  I was setting out to try and set a 13 minute PR which, in a 13-mile race, is no small feat.

The Night Before

The night before the race was really nothing special.  I caught up on some e-mail, chatted with some friends, grabbed an early dinner (light pasta) at the hotel restaurant and was in bed by 9PM with a 4AM wake-up call.  Unfortunately this hotel (Sheraton Anaheim on Harbor Blvd.) has NFL Network so I went to bed, not especially sleepy, and watched NFL Network for a while.

Just as I was starting to get sleepy I was "awakened" but a loud bang.  A glance at my window revealed immediately the source of the noise: Fireworks!  The evening Disney Fireworks show was starting and my hotel room had a front row seat.  Like, apparently, most of the hotel guests on this side of the building I went out onto my balcony and sat in one of the comfy patio chairs to watch the show.  Good show too, as you might expect.

Fireworks over I went back to bed…just as the Chargers game started on NFL Network.  Great.  That will keep me awake another half hour.  And it did.  Finally I fell asleep though, and managed a few hours of good sleep before the run.

"This Is Your Wakeup Call Mr. Score"

Oh dear.  4AM already?

I had already laid out my gear so getting ready was a fairly simple matter of putting in contacts, putting on sunscreen and Body Glide, using the bathroom at least twice, getting dressed, eating a few Sport Beans (Orange), grabbing my iPod Shuffle and headphones, race belt (with number), sunglasses, and room key.  By 4:45 I was out the door and walking the ~1 mile to the starting corrals.  Uneventful walk, joined by several other runners.  When I arrived at the corrals I found the usual long lines at the portajohns and the usual festive Disney atmosphere.

TIP: The same trick worked here that worked at San Diego.  When the race starts (or is about to start) everybody abandons the portajohns and heads for the start line.  But this is a chip timed race.  That means that *I* could step out of the corral and go to the now empty portajohn without having to wait for anybody!  By the time I came out and got back into the crowd moving towards the start, I really hadn’t lost much ground in the herd and since I hadn’t crossed the starting mat yet I didn’t lose ANY time.  Easy!

The Year of A Million (and One) Dreams

The Emcee for the event is some fellow named Rudy Novotny(?) who sounds like the typical Disney emcee/voice guy.  In the course of doing the pre-race announcements and welcoming instructions he said that as part of Disney’s "Year of a Million Dreams" promotion they were going to make one lucky participant’s dreams come true that morning.  He said they’d selected a number and wanted runner #13461 (I forget the exact number) to come forward to claim the prize.  They called the number a few times then the person arrived at the front (I couldn’t really see).  Rudy then exclaimed "Oh, no, it’s somebody I know!  It’s my girlfriend!"  The Disney official cued Rudy to take it from there and…

…he got down on one knee and proposed to her.  Yes, the whole thing was an elaborate setup for him to ask her to marry him.  She said yes.

Congrats Rudy and the future Mrs. Rudy (Carole?).

The Race Itself

I actually didn’t feel that great just before the race started.  Wasn’t really feeling my energy, my stomach wasn’t great, I was daunted a bit by the task I’d set for myself.  But when it was time to go forward it was forward I went determined to do my best.  Once I crossed the start line and started moving I gradually started to feel a little bit better. 

The first mile is basically a half-mile to the corner, a left turn onto Katella and then a half mile to Harbor Blvd.  There is a little down and up when you go under an overpass, but otherwise it’s pretty flat.  I had planned to do a 13 for that mile, just as a warm-up, but actually found myself slightly under 12.  I was really working to hold myself back, trying to let my energy build. I kept telling myself "I have permission to only do 13 here!" but still…it was under 12 when I passed that first mile marker.

Heard on the Course:

  • Two guys running just behind me at the start discussing their favorite college football team’s prospects for this season and where they are ranked.
  • Two women running to my left a hundred yards or so later discussing which schools their kids are starting in this fall and whether their new school district is better than the last.

After the turn onto Harbor Blvd. it’s just a short jaunt until we make a left onto the Disney property, winding thru the parking lot and towards a back gate of California Adventure Park.  The first water stop comes up there and I had decided to take some water because I knew the next stop wasn’t for nearly 2 miles.  Winding thru California Adventure and then Disneyland I was feeling increasingly good.  I tried to pace with a few other runners, but it’s tough to pace with strangers when you don’t know how steady and reliable they are; so mostly I just had to pace with myself.

I never saw the 3 mile marker, but I know where it’s supposed to be and my GPS confirmed that we’d passed it so I wasn’t too concerned.  At that point I was almost 3 minutes ahead of pace and I was supposed to be running 12s at that stage.  Still ramping up.

Seen on the Course:

As expected Disney has a good showing.  Lots of characters on the course, lots of cast members alongside the course applauding.  The course is basically the same as last year but it seemed like there may have been even more Disney characters (not all of whom I recognized) out there to wave and get photos taken.  I high-fived with Mrs. Incredible and traded waves with a number of others – including Pluto.

Just before Mile 4 is another water stop and the course heads out onto the streets of Anaheim.  I again took water, and picked up the pace.  Out on the flat asphalt streets (as opposed to the slightly less runner-friendly surfaces of Disneyland) I was planning to try and stay under 11 minutes per mile.

Approaching Mile 5 I took my first (and only) nutrition of the race; consuming a Chocolate PowerGel just before the water stop at mile 5.

Mile 5 marked the completion of my first segment and I was due to be there in 60 minutes.  Actual time: 57:19.  2 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of pace!  I was not as thrilled with that as I might have been, only because I was slightly concerned that I might have gone out too fast.  Next task: Second five miles in under 55 minutes.

The next few miles went by quickly and pretty easily.  It wasn’t nearly as hot as last year but it was still very humid and based upon the amount I was sweating I opted to take a water and a PowerAde at each of the water stops up to mile 8.  I actually ran thru Mile 8’s water stop, knowing another was coming up in just a mile and wanting to save the time.  Regular checks of my watch revealed that I was running about a minute ahead of schedule (55 mins for this segment) and I was determined to try and stay there.  The faster I could get to Mile 10, without killing myself, the more cushion I would have for the 5K.

Last year Mile 10 was at the left field exit of Angel Stadium.  This year they routed us around the stadium rather than thru, which made the course slightly less interesting but was otherwise of no consequence.  When I arrived at the 10 mile marker I discovered that, in fact, I was still a little over a minute ahead for that segment: 53:39 (1:21 ahead of pace) and now in pretty good shape to break my goal!

There’s a great satisfaction to heading into the final miles of a race and knowing that you are well within striking distance of your goal and need only maintain a strong pace to get it.  For the first two miles of the 5K we’re on the streets of Anaheim and I was determined to just maintain my strong pace – around 10:30 – even though I was definitely feeling some fatigue. 

Around mile 11 there is a tent you can run thru which has misters in it for cooling off the runners.  I don’t know if it helped anybody else but I was surprised that it had no apparent effect on me at all.  In fact, though I clearly saw the mist and sort of felt it as I ran past, I didn’t sense any cooling whatsoever. Oh well, no time lost.

Fortunately just after the 12 mile mark we re-enter California Adventure Park and two things happen:

1. The territory gets more interesting, running through the theme park instead of the industrial streets.

2. I know I’m into the last mile which is pretty motivating – especially when I know I have 16 minutes or so to run that mile and still beat my goal.

Running thru the park I was really pressing now: goal in sight and really wanting to be done with this race.  I managed to time it so that "My Hero" by Foo Fighters was on the iPod as I made the turn into Downtown Disney for the last quarter mile or so.  Making that final turn around the ESPN Zone and catching sight of the finish line I turned on my finishing kick – sprinting the last 80 yards or so with surprising speed (though it probably felt faster than it actually was) for the end of a half-marathon and crossing the finish line at 2:24:04.  WAY under my goal time of 2:30 and destroying my old Half-Marathon PR of 2:42:59.

For about 5 seconds I felt great.  Then I felt nauseous as the effort caught up to my stomach.  Luckily nothing came of that, if you know what I mean, and maintaining my composure I started the proud walk towards the finish area, getting my chip cut off my shoe, getting my medal, some fruit, some water, a bagel (no toaster or cream cheese unfortunately) and a surprisingly delicious Chocolate Mint Clif Builders bar.

After eating and drinking I decided it was time to walk back to the hotel – my path taking me past the finish line and backwards along the course where I called out encouragement to runners still finishing the race (including Johanna, who looked fabulous, especially for a woman who had just run 12.8 miles or so).  I walked and chatted with a fellow runner from Vancouver for a bit until finally reaching the hotel for a much needed shower and change of clothes.  A great race day.

Odds and Ends

  • I didn’t carry any water of my own on this run.  Decided to forego the bottle belt which undoubtedly aided me because I didn’t have the weight and bulk of it.  I may do the same at Maui Marathon in two weeks – I’ll have to check their course map and see how often the water stops are.
  • I did have an extra chocolate PowerGel and a thing of Sport Beans in my pockets but didn’t need them, perhaps because I was taking more PowerAde than expected.
  • The temperature was MUCH better this year.  Last year it was over 100 and runners were passing out.  I was on the edge of heat exhaustion myself last year.  This year it was overcast early, breezy throughout and the climate, though a bit warm and humid, was never really a factor for me.
  • Learning from last year I wore a visor and sunglasses on this run.  Watching the top triathletes compete I noticed that virtually all of them wear a visor or cap and sunglasses.  I figure they know something I don’t, so now I always do as well if I’m going to be running in daylight.  It definitely helps.
  • My knees were the biggest injury factor for me this year – and I wore both sleeves throughout the race.  I was aware of them, but they never really hurt.  The Alleve I took pre-race (and one around mile 6) might have helped that too.
  • Disney’s corral system worked well again.  For the most part I was always around runners of about my pace; not nearly so much picking my way thru walkers and slower people as I’ve had at Honolulu Marathon.
  • Yes, after the race and a shower and fresh clothes my first stop was In-N-Out Burger.  In keeping with the tradition.
  • Sheraton Anaheim is a good place to stay for this race.  Nicely situated and friendly staff.  Try to get a room facing Disneyland if you want to see the fireworks.
  • Thanks to Brian, Jill, Patricia, Maureen, Sandi, Celena, Susula, Ashley, Christine, Alan, Jana and all of my other friends who offered encouragement and support.  It was greatly appreciated.  Once again I was surprised by the number of text messages and e-mails I received the night before and the morning of the race.  I have to admit I’m not very sorry that Maureen’s prediction for my finishing time (which would still have been a PR) turned out to be wrong. 🙂
  • Next race: Maui Marathon on September 14th.


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