Run Disney’s Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Race Recap

Long, long (LONG) ago, we ran the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland.

My goal with my race recaps is to provide information to other runners (sometimes too much information), so I wanted to at least make sure I got something up before registration for this race opened for the next year…which happens in a few weeks. So here we go! Disneyland!

(Sidenote: I tried uploading my Garmin activities for the first time since August, but it looks like their platform has completely changed, and no matter what I do, it crashes in the middle of syncing every time.  So for the moment, my statistics are being held hostage in my watch. I’m not happy about it).

First, if you are considering doing this race (or any Run Disney race, or even really any race), search facebook for related groups. I belong to a Star Wars Half Marathon group with great admins (e.g., no spammy stuff) and no matter what question came up, someone knew the answer.  That group is HERE, but they will look at your public profile to determine that you are a real person who is likely interested in running, Disney, or Star Wars to reduce spam, so be prepared to defend your membership.

Second, this race sells out faster than light speed.  Last year, the Rebel Challenge sold out in about 20 minutes.  If you want to do this race, know when registration opens (June 16th this year) and be prepared because chances are it won’t be open for long. Annual Pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members do get to register early, but those limited slots fill very fast too. I think they’ve also started some sort of registration “queue” system this year which frustrates the hell out of people, so it will be interesting to see how many strongly worded complaints result from people not getting into the races of their choice.

UPDATE – July 7th: Registration went pretty smoothly for everyone in my family.  Make sure you have an Active.com account set-up, and that you are logged in before registration begins…this will pre-populate most of the information for you.  Also, as of today (July 7th), there are still spots open for the half marathon race.

UPDATE – August 18th: Everything is sold out.

Anyway, last summer, Run Disney made the momentous announcement that they were adding a Star Wars race to their line-up.  With Star Wars, Disneyland, and the chance to escape to Southern California in January, it wasn’t hard to convince my entire family (all adults, no children) that we NEEDED to do this race. As mentioned in previous blog posts, Aaron and I went in with 3 long runs under our belts, hoping our marathon base from August would be enough to propel us through 13 galactic miles, but we were also prepared to enjoy running this race for fun in costumes without a time goal.

IMG_2805

I don’t know about this…

We flew into LA on Thursday morning and spent the day exploring Brentwood and The Getty Museum before making the torturous drive down to Anaheim.  LA, I love you, but your traffic is enough to drive someone to madness.  There is a much closer airport to Disneyland called Orange County Airport (SNA) with a pretty efficient shuttle system that takes you to the resort area, but the prices for us to fly to LAX were cheaper.  It is nice to have those two options. Depending on your hotel, you may be able to get transportation from LAX to Anaheim, but a taxi fare will run up pretty high since it can take about 2 hours during peak traffic times (as we found out).

The Star Wars Half Marathon consists of 3 events that take place on different days: a 5-K on Friday, a 10-K on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday in addition to the Rebel Challenge which just means that you run both the 10K and the Half (you get a special medal for completing both races) and kids races broken down by mobility sophistication.  Additionally, if you run a half marathon at Disneyland and a Half (or full) at Disney World in the same calendar year, you get a special Coast to Coast medal.

The most ideal hotels (cheap, nice, and within walking distance) sell out quickly, and most people suggest reserving before registration even opens to ensure that you get the one you want.  I was advised to stay at the Best Western Plus Stovalls by Jac, but when we were looking at hotels, a few weeks after registration, it was fully booked. This is probably the closest non-Disney hotel to the start line, and it gets pretty good reviews on Trip Advisor, and we are considering it for next year. We stayed at The Hotel Indigo (the boutique version of Holiday Inn). It was close enough for us to walk, but there are definitely closer options.  Overall it was a great/reasonably priced hotel.

The expo opens on Thursday and runs until Saturday, and apparently it is quite the stampede to get to the official merchandise area when it opens. Each race has limited race-specific merchandise and some items, like pint glasses and hats go within minutes.  Other items like race-specific Dooney and Bourke purses and special Disney themed New Balance running shoes can be ordered in advance.  If you want specialized merchandise, plan to get to the expo when it opens.

IMG_2847

Packet Pick-Up

IMG_2849

LOVED this neat little detail. Also, we had to wait a few minutes for our turn to get this picture.

IMG_2856

The Expo is held at the Disneyland Hotel, and there were plenty of signs directing the way. Packet Pick-Up is in what I think to be an underground parking garage. We went on Thursday night, and there were almost no crowds.  I had to make changes to both of our birthdays because I’d entered them incorrectly at registration (because it is a stressful process), and it was very easy.  If you are a runner, you can also purchase discounted Disneyland tickets through GET travel (a third party travel agency), and those were also available at packet pick-up which was very convenient.

The actual commercial part of the expo and t-shirt pick-up was held upstairs in the hotel. Truthfully, I found it to be less than impressive.  Unless you like sparkle skirts or fancy medal holders (I kinda don’t), there wasn’t a whole lot available. They did have a race merchandise section, but nothing caught our fancy.  Disney’s apparel sponsor is Champion which I think is disappointing considering the price point of these races.

IMG_2851

We did have a hobbit sighting (also known as Rudy and the roider brother from 50 First Dates). Sean Astin is a RunDisney ambassador so he does a lot of the Expo talks and runs the races.

IMG_2855

RUDY! RUDY!

We spent the next two days at the parks and exploring beaches and meeting up with my college friends.  Saturday morning we spectated the 10-K which my sister ran.  We set up camp right at Disneyland Drive in front of the Paradise Pier Hotel which was a prime viewing location.  I think it’s maybe mile 5.5 of the race, so most of the runners are spread out enough to spot anyone with ease.  I was completely impressed with how organized Disney kept the spectators (they have a system in place to get people to cross the street that you see below without disrupting the course which I COULD NOT get over).  And the costumes were just flat out incredible.  The amount of time people put into this stuff is really pretty impressive.

IMG_2890 IMG_2887 IMG_2888

I made all of our dining reservations about 3 months in advance when they opened. If you plan on eating at sit-down restaurants at the parks (“table service”), making reservations in advance is essential. For our pre-race dinner we ate at Storyteller’s Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel.  It was ok, but not the best pre-race meal that I’ve had.  I was kind of hoping they’d have some sort of runner’s special on the menu, but they did not.  The restaurant itself was very beautifully themed and decorated.

IMG_2923 IMG_2925

Disney races start at ungodly hours of the morning to ensure that everyone is out of the parks by the time they open.  Our race started at 5:30, so our wake-up time was earlier than I care to remember. We both had homemade costumes (I had Leia buns and a Leia belt made out of poster board that  I attached to my fuel belt and Aaron made these ridiculously amazing Yoda ears) that required extra effort. Thank goodness for traveling backwards through time zones.

We left the hotel at about 4:40, and joined thousands of other runners on the walk to the start line including my sister, her husband, and my dad.  The start line is right at the Paradise Pier Hotel across from Disney California Adventure.  I made the big mistake of bringing a bag to check-in, but bag check-in is about half a mile away at the finish line (TIP: there weren’t any signs pointing toward bag check.  Be sure to study the course layout if you are planning on dropping off a bag so you don’t look like a dummy like I did).  By the time we walked over there and used the restroom, we were cutting it very close to start time and I was getting visions of having to start at the very back. They say they close the corrals 15 minutes prior to race start, but I’m pretty sure we got there after that. Not the type of stress I’d recommend on race morning.

We were in Corral A (I think anything under a 2 hour half was in Corral A), but because we were so late, we were almost at the back of our corral.  They did some sort of cool little routine with Darth Vadar, but I couldn’t see it (and neither could the like 10,000 people behind us). What we did see were the awesome fireworks to signal the start of the race.  One of the many magical touches we would experience! And we were off! We did have to do quite a bit of weaving, and it was a bit congested for the first mile or so, but overall, running in Corral A was a great experience.

Pre-race start. Relieved that we made it!

Pre-race start. Relieved that we made it!

Something is happening up there, but I don't know what!

Something is happening up there, but I don’t know what!

The first four miles of the race are in the parks.  A lot of it is running through backlots and “behind the scenes” type places, but they have so many little touches like giant light reflections on buildings and great cheer sections of employees to make up for the fact that you are running in places not meant to be seen.  In the actual parks, many of the rides were lit up and running, making everything very whimsical.  We even saw some Storm Troopers riding the carousel!

I attempted several times to run while taking pictures, but that method didn’t actually work.

IMG_2949

California Adventure…see the ferris wheel?!

IMG_2937

We found my dad!

IMG_2939

Castle sighting!

They had several Star Wars character photo stops in the park, and Aaron and I had decided ahead of time to stop for some pictures.  The first couple already had really long lines (TIP: if you are in corral A, try to get to the front for faster picture lines), but we finally stopped for Chewy (about 5-7 minutes), and Storm Troopers (about 2 minutes).  I estimate Luke/Leia and Darth Vader to have had 10-15 minute lines at that point.  They have a pretty efficient picture taking system to keep things running fast, but the lines build up, and I imagine the further back you start, the worse it is. They also have professional photographers at each of these stops if you want to order fancier versions.

IMG_2943 IMG_2944

Probably my favorite part of the whole race was turning the corner into Cars Land (my first time ever seeing it actually) with the sunrise in the background. The Cars Land mesa backdrop is so impressive, and I really wished I had stopped to take a picture. I know it isn’t possible at Disneyland with limited space, but I wish more of the race could be in the parks because that is what really makes the price worth it.  Seeing Cars Land at sunrise and running through an empty Tomorrowland without getting yelled at? Who else gets to do that?

At about 4 miles, you exit the parks and head into the streets of Anaheim.  While the course was flat and accommodating, running through Anaheim wasn’t exactly exciting.  Luckily, there were spectators almost the entire way (we found my mom and sister), and they had what seemed like every high school band and cheerleading group in the area performing which was awesome (they were all playing the same Star Wars medley which was appropriate). At one point, we came across a Chewy holding a sign for free hugs.  Aaron took advantage! I wish I had a picture of him.

From my mom's camera. You can kind of make out both of us!

From my mom’s camera. You can kind of make out both of us!

At about mile 8 or 9, an entire block full of “movie accurate” costumed people were cheering on runners (they bowed to me and said “Doing great, Princess!).  I don’t know if Disney had invited them or if they just showed up on their own, but it really helped give the otherwise nondescript Anaheim portion of the race some spunk.  And I swear the Obi Wan was actually Alec Guinness from the 70’s.

While Aaron was definitely a crowd favorite in his pretty awesome Yoda ears, we saw some other neat and intricate costumes including a Tinker-Darth, Tinker Stormtroopers, Lego Slave Leia, Man Slave Leia (lots of men Leias in general), and a ton of people wearing R2D2 mouse ears.

As far as the actual running went, at about mile 11, I could really feel myself slowing down.  Aaron was being a great cheerleader, but I hadn’t really trained for this race, and I could feel my legs tiring out.  At about mile 12, you reenter the parks, running behind California Adventure and into the parking lot behind Paradise Pier.  The last half mile kind of has you going in a giant circle with changes in direction which I remember thinking was really annoying.   But we made it! We crossed hand in hand, finishing in just over 2 hours.

The last couple of miles through palm tree lined streets!

The last couple of miles through palm tree lined streets!

I totally didn’t notice until now, but there is a person on the ground in that photo above?  Hope they were ok! (I took this photo after we finished and were walking back to the hotel).

From the Run Disney facebook page.

The medals were awesome as expected (Disney is known for it).  Coast-to-Coast runners and Rebel Challenge runners can pick up their extra medals after the race.  Apparently they are requiring photo verification now to discourage cheaters.

IMG_3529

They had finish line photos available and “runner food boxes” which were not that great, but it was nice of them to provide.  They had a band playing which helped keep the energy up, and you could hear the announcers as they yelled off finishers.  Sean Astin finished just slightly after us, and of course they made a big deal when he crossed.

My mom had tickets for the Cheer Squad, so she had finish line seating in the Grand Stand.  She also got to see N’Syncer Joey Fatone finish!  If I had passed him, I probably would have yelled out “BYE BYE BYE, JOEY!” because I’m sure he’s never heard that before.

10891861_859932584027951_3409996855680205886_n

Joey Fatone and bodyguard?

After the race, we walked back to the hotel to get ready for another day at the parks.  All of the volunteers get free park entry (as they should), so to say that the park was crowded was an understatement. I haven’t seen it that crowded since pre-Fast Pass days.  And I finally put on my big girl pants and rode Tower of Terror for the first time ever. My fears were far worse than it actually was. It was a great ride with a fun back story!

My view from Tower of Terror.

My view from Tower of Terror.

We celebrated our victory with dinner at The Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure.

10926833_859941670693709_2562253851171862648_o

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Yes, it is expensive, but it is damn near flawless (except for maybe registration).  From the volunteers to the entertainment to the little Disney/Star Wars touches along the course, in no way do I feel like the cost was unjustified, and truthfully, I didn’t hear of any complaints like I normally do for big expensive races.  They do adhere to a pretty strict time limit, and my mom said she saw several people get swept early on if they weren’t keeping the minimum pace, but even at that, I didn’t hear people complain because this time limit is very well publicized.  The course is flat, and I really think if you are at the front of your corral, it can easily be a PR course if you aren’t stopping for character photos.

Race support was more than adequate.  They had a fuel station (I forget which gel company sponsored it), and water/sports drink was well stocked with enthusiastic volunteers. In the park, you are able to use the park bathrooms which I know is a huge perk for some.  Crowd support was great during almost the entire race.  I think there was more “rock n roll” here than in the actual Rock n Roll races.

You don’t get tickets to Disneyland with the race, BUT you can purchase discounted tickets through GET Travel (all of their info is on the Run Disney website).

UPDATE – July 7th: It looks like discounted tickets might not be available for this race.  Information isn’t posted on either Run Disney or GET travel.

UPDATE – August 18th: GET travel has posted discounted ticket prices! Yay! Sadly, they aren’t as discounted as they were last year, but a discount is a discount ($15 off a 3 day park hopper pass). You can find them and other info HERE.

I do want to note a couple of things.  First, from what I understand, each Disneyland Half Marathon has a different course. For example, a couple of them run through Angel Stadium. I’ve heard multiple people say that this is the best course at Disneyland as far as scenery and flatness, but just because this course is great doesn’t mean that the rest of them are. Also, I think a huge part of the coolness/geekiness of this race revolves around the cult following of Star Wars.  While I haven’t run any other Disneyland races, I almost feel like this race in particular had a lot of community support because it was Star Wars related.  I’m not sure that a race like Tinkerbell would draw the same funky spectators (or runners) that this race does.

If I do this race again, I think I would stop and take more pictures along the way (and not just try to take them while running).  There were so many fun little details and I really enjoyed every second. We ARE planning on doing this race again next year!

UPDATE – July 7th: We are all IN for various Star Wars races in January!

Amy Race Details:

Finish time: 2:00:21 (including maybe 7-10 non-running minutes for character photos)

Fuel: Luna Bar pre-race, GU (with caffeine) at the halfway point

Gear: Brooks Adrenaline shoes, CEP calf sleeves, Lululemon Pacesetter skirt, Under Armour racerback (RIDES UP SO MUCH…I don’t recommend), homemade Leia belt attached to a Nathan’s pack (carrying my phone for pictures).

Favorite Moment: Running through Cars Land

Least Favorite Moment: Waiting in line for photos, the twisting course at the very end, almost getting to the start corral too late (my own fault).

Biggest Piece of Advice For Anyone Considering This Race: If you do want to PR, go for it, but remember to look around and enjoy all of the run stuff!

IMG_2958

Post-race beers at Cars Land.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “Run Disney’s Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Race Recap

  1. Oops – commenting under my teacher blog profile, but oh well. Glad to see you enjoyed it, I’m currently planning a school trip to Disneyland Paris next year, and I DID check for potential races. No luck, not like I’ll even be able to race in the near future….
    Also, because I can’t resist the comment, Nice buns! 😉

    • I had to click on your blog to figure out who you were! They actually did just add a race to Disneyland Paris (I’m tired just imagining you having to supervise a bunch of kids at Disneyland). I think you’d enjoy the number of costumes on the course! Hope you are able to race sometime soon. Still dealing with injuries?

      And I was actually considering wearing a tank that said “I have nice buns.” I yelled it out a few times to other Leias, but I think they were either confused or unappreciative. Hope you are doing well!

  2. Ha, seems we were both motivated to post our runDisney recaps by the rapidly approaching registration date… took me roughly 4 months to post mine as well. Luckily it sounds like your Star Wars experience was significantly better than my Avengers experience. And based on what little I could see from my vantage point as a finish-line photographer (e.g. Darth Goofy), it did feel as though Disney put more effort into Star Wars than they did the Avengers. Glad you and Aaron had a positive experience (running with family and in cool costume helps!) and plan to run again, since that’s the bottom line with a race this expensive. And SoCal’s “dead of winter” sunshine never hurts…

    (Hopefully you’ll post this on RaceRaves also, since it’s incredibly helpful and other runners would be highly appreciative!)

    • I’m not even sure the Avengers Half has sold out yet for this upcoming race which really says something about the overall impression that most people had. Hopefully they’ve taken some feedback to heart and will make some improvements this year.

      And I will be sure to post to RaceRaves before next week!

  3. You see a ton of people dressed up as Star Wars characters in tons of races around the country, so I can’t imagine the sheer number of costumes this race must have featured. It was only a matter of time before someone made this race. That franchise has long outgrown its cinematic origins and become a cornerstone of popular culture. Man it must have been fun.

    I ran the Disneyland 1/2 in 2010 and almost lost my mind when I saw Storm Troopers in Tomorrowland. So to have an entire race dedicated to the theme AND be part of it yourself must have been crazy fun. Yeah, definitely expensive, but like you said, you can see where all the money goes. I also agree that the Anaheim portions were uninspiring, but it’s good that for this race the community really bought into the theme. Glad to finally read about it!

    And that dude on the ground near the finish line looks to be a photographer, so I wouldn’t worry too much about him.

    • The great thing about these types of themed races is that they get people (nerdy people?) interested in running. It was a far more diverse crowd than I’m used to seeing, and it was all because of the cultural obsession with Star Wars!

      And I think you are right about the photographer. I was thinking maybe a paramedic, but if that was the case, I’m sure people passing by would be more concerned!

Please leave some commentation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s