Monday, September 1, 2014

2014 Disneyland Half Marathon Race Report

2014 Disneyland Half Marathon - August 31, 2014
Over Labor Day weekend, I was in Anaheim for the 2014 Disneyland half marathon. I’d signed up for it back in late January/early February, was training steadily for it through May then got sidelined with shin splints off and on for the rest of the summer. This was supposed to be the half where I would try to set a new PR (personal record) and break under the 2-hour mark. Alas, it was not to be. When you’re supposed to rest to heal shin splints and time keeps ticking away with intermittent rest periods and no long training runs to build your endurance – yeah, that’s not the recipe to run a half in under 2 hours. There were points during the summer where I considered canceling on the half altogether. I wouldn’t get the exorbitant reg fee back but I was in dubious shape to run 13.1 miles, no matter how fast or slow I was.
But as the date approached, I became cautiously optimistic. My shins hadn’t completely healed but they were good enough that I could do short training runs of 4 miles at a time, even occasionally a 6-miler, 3-4 times a week. It’s nowhere near the training I should’ve been doing for a half but I decided it was good enough to be able to forge ahead.
I’d never run any Disney race before but I (correctly) guessed it would be well populated with die-hard Disney fans, recreational and serious runners amongst them.  I also guessed that, given how well Disney does with logistics in its theme parks, the event would also be operationally well run. I was right about that too. The whole process was rather smooth from race packet pick up, the Health & Fitness Expo, and the race itself.
The headband I bought at the Expo - is this me or what?
The half marathon was the third of three races. The 5K was on Friday, the 10K on Saturday and the weekend culminated with the half on Sunday. If you ran both the 10K and the half, you got a Dumbo Double Dare medal in addition to the medals given out for each individual race. It was my first exposure to the Disney bling and it was an eye opening education how widely coveted these things were. I’m not one for a lot of bling but I have to admit even I got “bling envy” looking at the other medals on display at the Expo. There was a Coast to Coast medal if you ran races from Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California in the same year. There were medals for other combination of races. I couldn’t keep track of them all. 
I did feel a pang in not being part of the Dumbo Double Dare. When I signed up for the half, the website was so inundated when they opened up signups that it took me half an hour to register for the half marathon. When I tried to sign up for the 10K, it had already sold out. In half an hour! Geez. In hindsight, it was probably just as well as with my shin splints issue, I don’t know if I could’ve run a 10K one day and 13.1 miles the next and still been able to walk. Still, that Dumbo Double Dare medal was super cute.
My corral at 5 am

Anyway, fortunately I had run my qualifying race before I had shin splints and been placed in Corral E which was the 5th corral. The elite runners (corral A) and the next fastest qualifiers (corral B) were released right at the race start of 5:30 am. The organizers let 10 minutes lapse to give the first group a head start then corrals C & D were let loose. While we were waiting for our turn, they moved each corral closer to the starting line. I was checking my watch and by the time my corral was set free, 15 minutes had passed since the race start. Although I didn’t expect to run fast, I wanted to have an idea of my time at I passed each mile marker so I wanted to know my true start time.
If you’ve never run a Disney race, you might not know, as I initially didn’t, that various Disney characters populate parts of the park which the course runs through and runners can stop and have their picture taken with them. Yes, the runners can stop running, line up and get their picture taken. I know, it surprised me too. Clearly, these runners didn’t care about their time, another concept I struggled with. But, seeing a couple of my friends post their pictures they’d taken during the run, I had to admit it looked like fun. I thought about doing it myself since I wasn’t really running for time (so I kept telling myself) but two things stopped me: 1) I hate stopping and starting during a race; stopping to line up and take a picture only makes it harder for me to start running again and 2) I look like crap when I’m running so I’ve never wanted my picture taken, regardless of whether Mickey, Minnie, Buzz Lightyear, Maleficent or Snow White's Wicked Stepmother was there or not. Although I almost changed my mind when I saw Maleficent ;).
I’ll spare you the mile by mile blow by blow account of the run. Some parts were easier than I expected and my endurance held up. Until I got to mile 10 and beyond. Then I started to flag. Not helped by the fact that I had woken up at 1 am that morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. My left shin started to throb. My feet were tired. My nose was running faster than my legs. Sweat was pouring into my eyes and I was starting to feel the spots I’d missed covering with Body Glide before the race. Especially underneath my arms – ugh, chafing, a runner’s enemy. The course was fairly flat but there were several inclines that I had to walk. I can’t even call them hills since they were just gentle slopes. But I hate slopes and inclines, gentle or not so to me they felt like mountains. Okay, they really weren’t but I walked them anyway. At several points, a saying on a headband at the Expo kept coming back to me, "I love to run. Except while I'm running." Yeah, that.

After the mile 11 marker, I was getting really tired and did a couple of 10-second walks before I made myself keep going. There were “ChEAR" squads throughout the course meant to be encouraging and keep the runners going. Lots of enthusiasm and support which is always nice for a flagging runner. The coolest part of the course was when we ran through the California Angels stadium and the stands were filled with supporters cheering all the runners as they went by. How many times have you been cheered by a stadium full of people? Yup, none before this for me either. Props to all the people who came out to support the runners. I don’t think all of them knew someone in the race but they came out anyway – nice.
The half marathon shirt we got at packet pickup
The necklace you could purchase as official race merchandise
I was checking my time at each mile marker and at first I was pacing around 10-minute miles. That only held up for the first 6 miles and I got progressively slower. I crossed the finish line at 2:32 and roughly calculated my time at 2:17 if I had crossed the starting line 15 minutes after the race’s official start. Looking at the official race results after, I was close to my guess. My official race time was 2:16:25. That’s my worst time of the 4 half marathons I’ve done but I figured it was decent enough considering I hadn’t properly trained and my left shin had started throbbing. Overall, I was happy with my time and the effort I put into the half. It’s too soon for me to think about signing up for a 5th half marathon and going for that elusive sub-2-hour goal but yeah, I might be open to it. I didn’t think I would be because it takes so much time to prepare and train not to mention it’s freaking hard to run 13.1 miles and I'm having a harder and longer time bouncing back from injuries. But a sub-2 half is on my bucket list and I’m stubborn enough to want to check it off at some point in my life. Not to mention, I'm now tempted to add to my Disney bling collection of 1.