When it comes to Run Disney races, I’ve always preferred the West Coast races at Disneyland to the East Coast races at Walt Disney World, mostly for three reasons:
1) They’re significantly less crowded,
2) The weather is much more comfortable for running, and
3) The courses (especially the 5K and 10K races) give you far more Disney bang for your buck.
This of course leads directly into my recap of the 2016 Star Wars 10K, held at Disneyland on cold, wintry morning of Saturday, January 16, 2016, at the Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California. I had walked the Star Wars 5K the previous morning to much fun and happysauce, and was also planning to run the Star Wars Half Marathon the next day to complete the Rebel Challenge (aka more bling and shirts at an upcharge that far surpasses the cost of more bling and shirts). So let’s get into my summary of the event, and why I feel it probably ranks as the best race Run Disney has to offer.
And I’m not just saying that because I PR’ed. At Disney. The second time in less than a week. Because that would be gauche. I also wanted to use the word “gauche” again, because reasons.
Let’s move on directly to race day, except to mention that the Expo was at the Disneyland Hotel conference center and, by the time I got there late Friday afternoon, it felt spacious, well-organized, and easy to navigate. We didn’t even have to wait all that long in line for merch, and there was still plenty good stuff left by the end of the second day. Jennifer, Ann, and I (“The Zoo Crew”) even took this nifty green pic right here:
And yes. I am the only one who knows how to properly wield a lightsaber. The other two were perfectly content with slicing their limbs off at the shoulder…
The morning of the race started with a 3:15 AM alarm, in which I bounded out of bed with grace and poise and arms flailing akimbo — whatever that means — and quickly got prepared. I knew it was going to be a cold morning, and I for one was readily looking forward to it after dealing with one unseasonably hot travel race after another (I’m looking directly at you, Anchorage and Chicago…). And for this swamp-dwelling South Floridian whose blood is so thin I often drift into hibernation while opening the freezer door in the gleeful procurement of blistering-liquid-magma-infused Hot Pockets, it was positively Antarctic out — right around 48 degrees. I didn’t take any chances, wearing full compression gear from the neck down, a long-sleeved tech shirt on top of the compression shirt, and a cap to keep my head toasty. Overkill? Perhaps to some. For me, it was outright necessary:
I left my room at the Anabella Hotel at 3:45 and began the roughly fifteen-minute sojourn over to the Race Staging Area, which, as always, was located in the Lilo parking lot next to the Disneyland Hotel. I really miss staying at the Disneyland Hotel, like I do every summer for the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend. You literally can roll out of bed and into the Staging Area in a matter of minutes. But the cost for that privilege is a “bit” astronomical. The Anabella is a favorite; near the corner of Disneyland Drive and Katella, it’s a short walk and a clean, comfortable, awesome room at a quarter of the cost.
And there was your Completely Unsolicited Endorsement for this post… let’s move on. After reaching the Staging Area, I managed to find my awesome buddy (as well as fellow Florida native and Friends in Training pal) Francesca over by the stage, and after a brief, shivering exchange of joy we posed for this pic of two ridiculously good-looking people:
The stage was aglow in purple light, complete with banners depicting various Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters like (BB-8, Finn, Rey, and Han Solo), a DJ, and a big-screen featuring scenes from various Star Wars movies as well as video of the stage antics. It’s mostly SOP for Run Disney at Disneyland, just with a Star Wars-themed overlay. Still, it looked pretty cool:
The Mickey Milers Running Team were taking our team pic at 4:15, and I made it with plenty of time. For a change.
And The Zoo Crew grabbed one of ourselves as well:
Why do we call ourselves The Zoo Crew? That’s a good question. Let’s refer to it as Question A… which will remain unanswered for now. Anyway, as much as I enjoy walking the 5Ks with buddies, 10Ks are where I plug in and pound it out as best I can by myself. With this perfectly cold weather (for me, anyhow) I wanted to see how much I could push myself. I bid my friends a fond farewell and wishes for a great race, and walked the short distance over to the corrals. I correctly had been placed into Corral A (after Run Disney/Track Shack attempted to stuff me in the last corral after insisting I never submitted my Proof of Time… HAH!) and was able to make my way near the very front, for the first time at any race, ever. What a fun place to hang. As cold as it was (although it had slightly “warmed up” to the very low 50s) the excitement kept me plenty toasty… at least on the inside.
As usual, here was the view ahead of me:
and behind me:
…and since nobody demanded it and never will, my Start Line selfie:
While race announcers Rudy and Carissa entertained us with their playful banter and Star Wars-themed conversation (including even more Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Rebels footage on the screen), I found myself grouped with fellow Milers Eddie, Phill, Bernie, and Joe, all of whom are Speedy Speedersons. Maybe that gave me a jolt of confidence or ignited my nervous energy or some such cosmic performance enhancing mood swings, but as the clock wound down I couldn’t wait to fire off that Start Line. Soon enough the National Anthem came, followed by the wheelchair athletes, and at 5:32 AM I punched up Zombies, Run! mission “Scream and Shout”, hit the start button on my Garmin, and crossed the Start Line to begin my race. The 2016 Star Wars 10K had begun!
Let’s take a look at this really awesome race course, courtesy of Google Maps and my ever-trustworthy Garmin 920XT:
The course began westbound on Disneyland Drive, turning north onto Ball Road for a little while before making a turn onto Disneyland property soon thereafter. We then followed a path in the backstage area that wound east and southeast, finally turning south parallel to Harbor Boulevard. Looping west and then north, we ran through the Esplanade that separates Disneyland from Disney’s California Adventure and into Disneyland proper. Getting a brief tease of Main Street USA, the course turned right backstage behind Tomorrowland, emerging eastbound right next to Pizza Port and towards the hub. At the hub we turned right, through The Castle, and into Fantasyland. Past Dumbo, the Matterhorn, and Autotopia we went, making a left in front of It’s A Small World to enter a brief backstage area, emerging into Frontierland and, with a sharp turn in front of Pirates of the Caribbean, into Adventureland. The route deposited us back onto the hub, turning south onto Main Street USA and out of Disneyland into Disney’s California Adventure.
The DCA portion was certain twisting and turning, but always with plenty to see and hear. The southbound course took us to Carthay Circle, west onto Hollywood Boulevard, heading south to reach the Tower of Terror before a brief sojourn onto backstage roads, including a hairpin out-and-back section near the entrance to Harbor Boulevard. Turning south and then west onto Disney Way, we re-entered DCA between Paradise Pier and Cars Land, and then proceeded to head west directly past Radiator Springs Racers until we were backstage again. Looping around the backside of Tower of Terror, we re-entered DCA again in front of the signature attraction, heading east past Flik’s Fun Fair until we reached Paradise Pier. With the World of Color fountains glowing brilliantly in the dark of the pre-dawn, we made a full circle around Paradise Bay before turning north and out of DCA, into Downtown Disney. The last bit of the race ran us west down the main thoroughfare through Downtown Disney until we reached Downtown Drive, which took us to the Finish Line right next to the Disneyland Hotel.
I can honestly say that typing that was much harder than running it. But reading it you totally get a sense of how immersive this course was when it came to staying on Disney property… as in, the VAST MAJORITY of it was on Disney roads, backstage areas, and through the parks. Perhaps only the first half-mile or so was on public roads. The rest? All Disney.
There were character stops aplenty, many of them the same from the previous day’s 5K. There were Stormtroopers everywhere, of course, goading you to “move along”, but if you were quick and patient you could find yourself taking pictures with Boba Fett, Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3P0, TIE Fighter Pilots, Star Wars: Rebel characters who I wouldn’t even know by name in the first place, and of course the insanely popular (and recipient of the longest wait-times for a picture) BB-8. Seriously. That little dude was like crack for geeky runners.
Meanwhile, I put my head down, listened to my music (and Zombie storyline), and ran my race. I did my usual 1 Mile of running/1 minute of walking intervals for 10Ks, and they felt very comfortable to me. By the time I finished the first mile in 8:43, I barely felt the race at all. Maybe it was a combination of the excitement, cold weather, and lack of crowded running conditions near the front of the race, but I felt pretty fantastic. This was, as mentioned before, very much a twisting, turning course, but it was so damn entertaining and fun that, while I felt like I was pushing myself, it didn’t necessarily seem like a trying ordeal.
So that’s a good thing, I think.
My friend Joe and I maintained roughly about the same pace, but since we were running different intervals, we kept leap-frogging each other for the duration of the entire race. This was actually a fun spirit-booster; every time we passed each other, we passed along words of encouragement, thumbs-ups, or high-fives. Good stuff. I also recognized a few members from a Facebook running group to which I belong, which was pretty cool as well. And then of course there were my Mickey Miler cheering buddies, who called out to me as best they could. Except for Dale. She was stationed by the Starbucks in Downtown Disney but didn’t see me coming; to be fair, it was cold and dark, and I was dressed entirely in black. Who could blame her? Besides, I called her Jennifer once…
Anyway, I was loving the race, moving quickly (for me) through the course to the point that when I found myself passing Mile 5 in DCA, I actually felt a profound sense of disappointment. I didn’t want it to be over. But I also knew I was on the cusp of a PR. No Cooldown Cycles for this Psionic Psychonaut; it was time to wrap things up in grand style. I flew through Downtown Disney, feeling light on my feet and fiercely determined. By the time I passed the Mile 6 marker I knew I had the PR in the bag, but I didn’t let up. It was still mostly dark with the barest hint of daybreak as I turned at the Sorcerer’s Hat at the Disneyland Hotel and ran down the final 0.1 mile stretch. The announcers of course didn’t call my name out as I made my way across the Finish Line, but I was more than OK with that.
With a time of 55:15, I crushed my previous 10K PR by two minutes. The levels of elation flowing through my veins couldn’t even be charted. By the time I was knighted with my X-Wing themed Finisher’s Medal, I was feeling like all sorts of badass:
I also noticed something else: I was frozen solid. Shivering. It was still low 50s, but with a cold breeze blowing, and the sweat covering my body wasn’t helping. Since I had finished relatively early, they hadn’t started handing out mylar wraps yet. Grr. Ann, Jeff, Jennifer and I planned on hitting Coco’s for breakfast, but since they started later I knew it’d be a little while before they’d be done. I sat in the stands by the stage and drank some water and Powerade while waiting. I took this selfie in the glow of the purple lighting and the wolflight of early dawn.
Still, I was shivering cold, so I made my way over to Earl of Sandwich. It was warm and toasty inside, so I decided to celebrate as most runners do: with a cup of coffee, a chocolate chip cookie, and a beer:
Look you have your rituals, I have mine…
Anyway, the 2016 Star Wars 10K wound up being my favorite Disney race of all time. Not because of the PR — although let’s be frank, that didn’t hurt — but because it felt so complete and totally fulfilling. As mentioned earlier, the weather made for perfect running conditions. The course kept you on Disney property for the vast majority of the race. The Star Wars theme made for great character stops, on-course entertainment, and even some funky cool Darth Vader breathing-noises as you ran a brief pitch through an underground tunnel. There was so much to love about this race that the eventual PR was just the icing on an already darned-tasty cupcake. Run Disney has quite a few 10K races, but for my money (and in my experience) *THIS* is the one to beat. And that’s one to grow on. Here’s the video: