At around 7:49 AM PST on the morning of September 6th, 2015, I crossed the Finish Line of the 10th Anniversary 2015 Disneyland Half Marathon with an explosion of joy and elation, the likes of which would make a First-Century Mt. Vesuvius stand up and say, “Hot Diggity Damn!” More on that in a bit, because while it makes for a great opening sentence I don’t want to give the ENTIRE store away right at rope drop. We here at Hokeyblog might be a collection of loose-lipped flibbertigibbets, but there are some standards of blogging excellence to uphold…
So yes, let’s get back to the overview. For those of you keeping score, my participation in and completion of the race marks the fourth time I’ve run the Disneyland Half Marathon; that’s four years in a row, mind you. And for you Hokeyblog Historians — meaning none of you, save for the dippy dude typing these words — the Disneyland Half Marathon has special meaning here, as my take on the 2012 race. I had no idea how to write a race review at the time, so go check it out for our version of Amateur Hour. I didn’t even throw in a music video at the end. It seems almost quaint, really. Like a vintage John Denver song.
Anyway, long story short, I loved the race so much I returned to run it in 2013, 2014, and now in 2015. This year also marks the third year in a row I’ve participated in the Dumbo Double Dare, which consisted of running both the 10K on Saturday and the Half Marathon on Sunday. This makes me “Three For Three at the Triple D”, a catchphrase I not only came up with myself, but one I concocted long after ordered our custom race shirts, thus depriving Boots and I of a killer catchphrase we could have sported around the Disneyland resort. Because that’s apparently how I roll. The shrimp store, as it were, was all out of me.
But the bigger question here is WHY… why do I keep returning to the Disneyland Half Marathon? For four Labor Day weekends in a row, you could find me in Anaheim, ready to pound the pavement with 15,000 other runners. Ready to break the darkness of dawn with a 13.1-mile romp through the Disneyland resort, past their hotels, through the backstage areas, weaving in and out of both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, and then off on an 8-mile trek through the streets of Anaheim and through Angels Stadium, before returning to Disney property for the last mile to the Finish Line at the Disneyland Hotel. What, exactly, keeps bringing me back there, year after year?
It’s a good question. One that we’ll refer to as “Question A”. In response to Question A, let’s take a look at the race itself as I experienced it that day, which naturally starts with…
The Day Before
After PR’ing at the 10K on Saturday, I knew I had to spend minimal time on my feet to prep for the Half… which I promptly ignored by going to hang out at Disney’s California Adventure. Because of reasons, like Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin’, Art of Animation, Monsters Inc… yeah. The lines were somewhat light (for a Saturday) and the park definitely didn’t seem to crowded. It was also brutally hot, so we met up with our buddies Jennifer, Dave, Dale, Bill, Ann, and Jennifer at Pacific Wharf for some shade and hydration.
I also randomly bumped into my buddy Suzannah in the Single Riders Line at Radiator Springs Racers, along with her friends Todd and Tracie, who have christened me with an allegedly Inuit tribal name of “Two Birds” Millheiser. Read my review of the 2014 Disneyland 10K to find out why. Anyway, it was a joyous reunion. I think Suz was a little happy to see me:
Damn we’re smooth. Anyway here’s a few other pics of that afternoon’s festivities.
Ann, Jennifer, Boots, Suzannah, Todd, and Tracie met up at Uva Bar in Downtown Disney at 4 PM for a refreshing cocktail… and by refreshing cocktail I mean the Chilly-Chata, which consists of homemade horchata, Rumchata, Fireball Whisky, and Captain Morgan spiced rum, with some whipped cream and cinnamon on top. THIS IS WHY I RUN, people. Afterward we walked over to Naples for our Mickey Milers group dinner, which consisted of about two dozen of us at a long table on the second floor. Shout out to Ann for arranging and organizing this wiley affair. Pretty much everybody showed up, and a fun time was had. NOBODY wants to piss off Ann. She’s always watching…
After a thoroughly average entree of a fusilli type thingy with meat sauce, Boots and I walked back to our room at the Disneyland Hotel. Our alarm was set for 3:45 the next morning; while the race was starting at 5:30 AM and we were literally a five-minute walk to the Start Line, I surely didn’t want to miss the group photo planned at 4:45 AM. Missing the team photo is one curse I thoroughly broke, and had wanted to keep broken. I laid out everything I needed for the next morning, showered, shaved, popped my favorite palindromic sleep aid, and was pretty much out like a light by 9:30 PM.
Which of course leads us to…
You know the drill by now: alarm goes off, Hokeyboy bounces out of bed, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, excitement palpable, we’re ready to tackle this race, it is so ON!… etc. etc. And that’s pretty much an apt description of everything. I was going to have my usual bagel with peanut better, but the bagel had gone somewhat stale and that’s the last thing I wanted in my stomach the day of a race. So I had to settle for a Peanut Butter Pop-Tart and a CLIF bar. Seriously, if you haven’t had Peanut Butter Pop-Tarts yet, they are about as fantastic as they sound. We bought a box of 12 and they didn’t last long.
Anyway, I quickly dressed, grabbed my gear, and out the door we went, neglecting to take our usual “Hotel Room Before The Race” pic. So we did one better and took this buttkickin’ shot in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel:
With that, we left to make the Miler Meetup at 4:45, and arrived with plenty of time to spare. The Staging Area was alive with music, dancing, and excitement, but I kept to my usual, low-key habits of posing for the group pic:
… posing with Boots:
… getting my hug and pic with Suzannah:
…and finally of course the trip to the Porto Potty for the PRP, and NO there won’t be any pics of that. Decorum, people. Always, decorum.
Just around 5:10 I said my goodbyes to everyone, smooched Boots for luck, and began the trek over to Corral B. It’s a mostly organized, very short and easy walk, save for THIS particular bottleneck leading out of the Staging Area:
The longest stretch of my short walk to Corral B consisted of getting through this very tiny opening leading towards the corrals. Located in the corner of a gated parking lot, this was the site of just a bit of grumping and grousing, but we all made it through eventually. I hope. There might still be a runner waddling about the Lilo Parking Lot to this very day. More on this as it develops.
I got to my corral and waited patiently while enjoying the hi-jinks of race announcers Rudy and Carissa. Say what you want about how silly and goofy those two can get, but they will definitely keep your spirits and energy levels high — and anxiety in check — before any race. Meantime, here’s the requisite view ahead of me:
… the view behind me:
… and your usual Start Line Selfie:
Cell phone reception was so clogged up, I couldn’t even load my Spotify playlist (VERY long story short, I had to buy a new cell phone the day we left for California, as my Galaxy S5 completely bricked. My new iPhone 6 Plus has no external memory, so my downloaded playlists couldn’t be copied over in time), so I had to rely on whatever music I had downloaded from my iTunes account. Turns out it was plenty, more than enough for the race, and EASILY the most bizarre running playlist of all time. We’re talking everything from the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack to vintage 2 Live Crew. Yeah…
Anyway we got a beautifully sung National Anthem, followed by the Wheelchair athletes, then followed by the Fastie McFastersons in Corral A. Finally at 5:40 AM, with temperatures at a very comfortable 64 degrees with no humidity, I crossed the Start Line with Corral B. My adventure on the 2015 Disneyland Half Marathon had begun!
Let’s take a look at the course route, shall we? Courtesy of Google Maps and my Garmin 920:
The course varied slightly from years past. As you can see we started southbound down Disney Drive, but instead of turning onto Katella and up Harbor into the backstage area, we turned directly backstage right across from the Paradise Pier hotel. Looping around backstage, we entered DCA from the east, through Cars Land instead of the Pacific Pier boardwalk. Passing through the Esplanade at Mile 2, we entered Disneyland, where we spent the next two miles going up Main Street, turning west at the Castle instead of east this time around. Through Frontier Land we went, past New Orleans Square, then backstage as we re-entered through Toon Town from the north. South we went, through the Castle, then turning east into Tomorrowland as we curved past the Matterhorn and exited next to It’s A Small World.
As we left the park at around Mile 4, the remainder of the race took us down the usual path through the streets of Anaheim, with the joyous romp through Angels Stadium at Mile 9. Returning to Disney property at Mile 12, the backstage course took us back and around the Paradise Pier hotel, just before making our way to the Finish Line at the Disneyland Hotel.
Having run this race three times before, the changes took me for a bit of a surprise. I assumed the course would be the same as usual, but the variation made for a more interesting and “fresher” first four miles of the race. And speaking of the beginning of the race, I had programmed my Garmin for 5:1 intervals. I had no plans to PR or run the race particularly “hard”; with the previous day’s PR done using 1-Mile running/1 minute walking intervals, I didn’t want a repeat of 2014 where I burnt myself out a bit by Mile 9. Plus I was feeling some small pains in my right hip; nothing major or even that serious, but I didn’t want to aggravate anything needlessly (especially a month before the Chicago Marathon).
So I stuck to my 5:1s, buckled down, and enjoyed my run… and enjoy it I did. While I decided not to stop for any character photos or photo ops of any kind, I resigned myself to enjoying a really nice run on a REALLY beautiful morning. And my God, people, was it nice. After a summer of roughing it through the sticky, steamy, muggy Florida humidity, a morning of low-humidity (almost NO humidity to my skin) mid-60s running was paradise to me. My first six miles hovered around the 10 minute/mile pace, with a low of 9:37 and a high of 10:29. I was good with it — the first mile is so congested at Disney races that, unless you’re up at the front or in Corral A, it’s very difficult to gun up to optimal pace right away. And even with all that, the first 5K split occurred at 31:57, which was just around average for race pace.
Boots, meanwhile, was stationed at the Esplanade near mile 2 and caught this somewhat unflattering picture of your narrator as he zoomed right by:
There was an even WORSE one. That pic has been nuked from orbit. It was the only way to be sure…
I also would like to take this opportunity to thank Marathon Foto for the crapcan job their photographers did this time around. Apparently they were only stationed before the race, at the stadium, and at the Finish Line. Because there was barely a single photo of me to be found elsewhere. Phooey!
Exiting the park just before Mile 4, we soon found ourselves deposited at the ONLY hill of the race, the Ball Road overpass. It’s really not that much of an incline, if you do any real hill or bridge training, but it behooves me to mention that it’s there for those unfamiliar with the race. Since Miles 4-9 are the “least interesting” parts of the race, it makes for a rather dour introduction to that stretch.
But if I say “least interesting”, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fun moments on this section of the course. Let’s talk about the spectators and entertainment, for example. Now while Disney can’t have character stops and “Disney moments” out on the streets of Anaheim, there’s still plenty of fun and entertainment to be found with lots of cheering spectators, school bands, cheerleaders, and dancers performing in traditional Hawaiian and Mexican styles. I took one notice of a young girl — she couldn’t be a half-second older than 6 or 7 — who was absolutely KILLING IT with her amazing Flamenco-styled dance moves.
And then of course we had the Most Embarrassing Moment ever when I ran past a group of local high school cheerleaders, who were encouraging and cheering everyone on. I usually wave or high-five or fist-pump to thank them for their encouragement. One teenage girl caught my eye, turned bright red, blushed, and whispered to her friend, both of them giggling away. “Yup,” I thought proudly to myself with a knowing smirk, as I ran by them, “you STILL got it, Hokeydude.” Boy was I pleased with myself. Forty-four years old, and still making the cute young girls blush. Score one for the Home Team, my friend.
It wasn’t until, oh, maybe a quarter-mile later when, during a walk break, I realized I had a SERIOUS snot rocket going on. Holy crap. You can’t take me anywhere…
*ahem* STILL… I was having a fun, enjoyable run. My energy levels felt up, my spirits were high, and I kept on trucking along. My pace actually got a bit quicker; I hit the 10K mark by 1:02:32, the second 5K coming in just about a minute-and-a-half faster than the first. After the sixth mile, my pace was consistently under 10 minutes/mile. I stuck to my intervals and resolved to set a COURSE PR for myself. The time to beat was 2:13:35 from 2012. If my energy maintained, I could beat it. If not, well then I’d simply enjoy the ride. No big whoop.
After the long row of exquisite vintage cars and cheering auto enthusiasts around Mile 8, we turned south, just past the Honda Center, onto the still-dusty but now half-paved Santa Ana River Trail. The course narrows here with a few ups and downs, but I was able to maintain pace during this section. I bumped into the great Jeff & Barb Galloway here and ran over to offer a quick hi — I didn’t mention I was in his blogging network, because quite frankly that would be gauche, but the man is so gosh-darn friendly, he seemed as happy as can be to return my hello and say that it was great to see me. He might not know me from Adam, but that’s how the guy makes you feel: like a really good friend. Every time. Awesome.
Mile 9 took us into the Angels Stadium parking lot, where I was met by the smiling face of my friend Kristen, who had set up a Mickey Miler cheering section right there in the parking lot. Her friendly face and big hug worked wonders for my enthusiasm, and while we didn’t really chat for very long, that entire moment gave me a huge boost that I carried through for the rest of the race. So thanks Kristen; see you at the Star Wars Half in January 2016!
So into the stadium we went, and nary a picture of me to be found, except for this one:
I still absolutely love running through the stadium. I grew up playing baseball, collecting the cards, loving the game, everything. Running past the infield, surrounded by throngs of cheering children, many of them in their scout uniforms, with their hands extended offering high-fives to all the runners, while your image is being projected on the Jumbotron? If any moment requires some stopping and taking it in, it’s probably this one. And yet, I kept moving. I was on a mission!
Exiting the stadium and passing the old First NLC office I worked out of for a week in July 2007, I quickly hit the Mile 10 marker. I assessed the situation and realized I had plenty of gas left in the tank. So I figured what the hell, let’s ditch our 5:1 intervals and finish the race with the 1 Mile running/1 minute walking interval I has used at the 10K the previous day. I knew I ran a risk of prematurely burning out, but I was equally curious to see how much afterburner energy I might still have.
It worked. While I didn’t go all THAT much faster, I did increase my pace slightly and was able to maintain my momentum very well. I found myself passing people who had zoomed by me earlier in the race, most of them looking a little worse for the wear. No matter, though; we all run our own race, and I was doing mine. I chugged right along, crossing underneath I-5 onto Disney Way, heading westbound back towards Disney property. At this point, I no longer wanted to settle for “just” a course PR. I knew an overall PR was out of the question, but I wanted to at least finish with a sub-2:10.
Crossing Harbor Boulevard, I made it back to the Disneyland backstage area and took my final walk break at the Mile 12 marker. While my iTunes playlist was doing a respectable job keeping me going, I knew I needed something else to fire my jets. With cell service less congested, I whipped up Spotify and dialed in “The William Tell Overture” from the 2014 Lone Ranger movie by Hans Zimmer. I cut my walk break down to 40 seconds as the familiar trumpet fanfare opened the track, and began running again with a smug grin and all the determination I could muster.
Oh yeah. That was exactly what I needed. I ran as strong as I could without going into any kind of heavy sprint mode and chugged it out of the area behind California Adventure, across Disney Drive, and behind the Pacific Pier hotel, where we cheered on by more bands and cheerleaders. I ran that 13th mile at an 8:56 min/mile pace. Easily the fastest mile of the race by far.
Boots spotted me near the Mile 13 mark and grabbed these swell pics:
Even the Marathon Foto dude got what would have been a cool pic, if I were in focus:
And now folks — hold on to your ass! — here’s where the Magic happened, in a little piece I’d like to call:
Where The Magic Happened
Ladies and Gents, especially those of you who have been following Hokeyblog for a while, I’ve been cursed. You see, before this race weekend I had participated in 18 Disney races held over the course of 11 Run Disney events. And as much as I had given it my all, never once — EVER — had my name been called by either Rudy or Carissa at the Finish Line. You see, there’s a timing mat placed about 50 yards before the Finish Line. As you pass over that mat, your name is displayed on a screen in the Announcers’ Booth. From that screen, Rudy or Carissa has a few moments to catch your name and announce your impending Finish for all the universe to hear.
However, there is always a long, continuous scroll of names to be called, and Rudy and Carissa — as amazingly talented as they are — simply can’t read all of them. No biggie. I was the Susan Lucci of Run Disney Finish lines. I could live with it. Maybe… maybe. *sniffs sadly*
And then, by the Magic of the Law of Averages: it happened.
At roughly 7:49 AM on the morning of Sunday, September 6th, Rudy Novotony announced over the PA that “Matt Millheiser” was rapidly approaching the Finish Line.
It’s a little thing, gang, but it made all the difference in the world. I raised both my fists to the air and joyfully screamed, “FINALLY!!!!” Several spectators around me thought I was celebrating the rapid approach of the Finish Line and started wildly cheering me on. I soaked every last bit of it up as I high-fived Donald:
… and crossed the Finish Line with the dopeyest grin imaginable:
I instinctively stopped my Garmin moments after Finishing, and obsessively checked my phone for my results. I was still over the moon from the Announcer shout-out, and my Final Time of 2:09:39 meant that I not only met my goal of setting a Course PR for myself as well as a sub-2:10, I also managed to run my fifth fastest Half out of 26. Yes. I’ll take it.
How happy was I, exactly? Check out this nut:
Yup, there I am with my Dumbo Double Dare medal, 10th Anniversary Disneyland Half Marathon medal (it’s a spinner!), and the 2015 Coast To Coast medal. That’s a lot of bling, and I’m not even showing my 5K and 10K swag either.
After collecting my medals, a cooling towel, a Powerade, and complimentary snack box (I’m thinking of changing my nom de plume to “Armond Rocha”), I walked back to Boots and steadily bored her with tales of my excitement with the race as we waited for our friends to pass by so she could snap photos of them. Boots was in an excited mood of her own; she had already captured awesome action snapshots of Sean Astin and the woman who played “Kimmy Gibler” on Full House. She managed to snap photos of almost everybody, while I starting doing a live Periscope from under the Disneyland Hotel’s “Big Hat” near the Finish Line. It seemed to get a nice response from viewers, so that’s something I might start doing more of in the Future. More as this develops.
Afterward it was back to the Disneyland Hotel coffeehouse for a triple soy latte and a chocolate croissant, followed by a trip up to our room for a shower, stretch, and some decompression time. We met Suzannah, Todd, and Tracie at the ESPN Zone for lunch at 11:45ish, where we celebrated our accomplishments with noshes and beers:
This was followed by yet another Mickey Miler meetup at 2:00 PM at the Sonoma Terrace in California Adventure, where we celebrated with even more beers, this time the Brother Thelonius Belgian Ale (9.4% ABV, and quite delicious).
I could keep going about the rest of the day, about more awesome fun rides, a trip back to Tortilla Jo’s for more nosh and beers, a return to the Hearthstone Lounge for proper cocktails, and a first-time viewing of World of Color for Boots and I that really capped off the day so wonderfully. But since we’ve already gone nearly four thousand words, let me just say that my experience running the 2015 Disneyland Half Marathon was so wonderfully fun and absolutely joyous that there’s simply NO WAY I won’t be returning in 2016. After all, look at this image below. I’m four-for-four in four years for a reason: I absolutely freakin’ love this race.
And finally, they called my name. Again, it’s a small detail, but it worked wonders for my spirits. What a fun race. I’ll be back in Disneyland in January for the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon, and on September 4th, 2016, I’m shooting for five in a row. They know my name.
Here’s the rather appropriate video: