Longtime runners might understand this, but sometimes you can tell exactly how your race will go within the first five- to ten-minutes. And that’s basically how and when I first realized I was not going to PR at the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
The Star Wars Half Marathon is the newest of the Run Disney races located on the West Coast. This year represented the second running of the race, and by most accounts it had already become a fan favorite. And it’s not too hard to figure out why, really. The Star Wars brand is probably the strongest brand in the universe right now, given the massive blockbuster commercial success of the latest Star Wars movie and near-rapturous fan goodwill that accompanied it. I can’t imagine any other pop culture entity coming remotely close right now that hits that sweet spot of sci-fi-geekery, four quadrant-appeal, and skimpy metal bikini attire on both sexes. Something like that.
But it’s more than just hardly-normative gender cosplay. The race also takes place in Anaheim in mid-January, which means much colder average temps than at any other Run Disney race, anywhere, at any time. The staggering heat and humidity and torrential monsoons that can (and do) accompany Walt Disney World races in Florida? You’re not likely to come across that at the Star Wars Half. Lows in the 40s and highs in the 50s sound great to me.
Also, the Star Wars Half is a Disney running enthusiast’s first opportunity to earn a Coast-To-Coast medal in any given year. Them’s bragging rights right there. If you ran a half or full (or both) at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend the previous weekend, you’d have a Coast-To-Coast medal in your hand in a week. Pretty cool.
Then there’s the Rebel Challenge — running both the Star Wars 10K on Saturday and the Half Marathon on Sunday earns you a bonus medal. Because if there’s anything Run Disney nerds enjoy, it’s challenges and bonus race shirts and bonus bling, all at a ridiculous upcharge.
And finally: it’s at freakin’ Disneyland, man. The theme park that Walt built… along with his former parking lot turned second theme park, Disney’s California Adventure. That’s a lot of entertainment.
So anyway, there’s a lot going on here, and let’s dive right into it. Because, as J. Danforth Quayle put it, verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.
After meeting the crew for a god-awful dinner at the Naples restaurant in Downtown Disney — worst gnocchi on any coast, as far as I’m concerned — I schlepped my tired behind back to my room at the Anabella Hotel. I did the usual alarm set-up, laying out of the gear, pinning on the bib, and all the other “night before the race” rituals. The plan was to get up at 3:15 AM the next morning but to be asleep by 9 PM the night before. As long as I have a good six hours, I’m solid.
I got a good six hours. Score one for the away team! I quickly freshened up and dressed. As I had done in the previous day, I was geared from neck to toe in compression wear, as I have difficulty acclimating myself to cooler temps. Thanks for the thinning of the blood, South Florida. Grr. I wore my Mickey Milers race shirt and a pair of running shorts over my compression wear, and had a cap to keep my head warm. Overkill? Probably to most of humanity. But it was still oh so very necessary for this iguana.
I also brought a mylar wrap from the 10K (given to me by a buddy), my hoodie for an extra layer of warmth, and a check-in bag to store all that stuff during the race. With all that done, I left the hotel at 3:45 and was over at the Race Staging Area by just after 4:00 AM. As usual, I met the Milers for our usual round of pics, which by this point had become quite the routine. But it’s still fun to hang with buddies before a race, as much as a loner as I can be.
The Staging Area (located in the Lilo parking lot next to the Disneyland Hotel) was its usual bouncing, boisterous pre-race self. The stage was alive with activity (DJs, dancing, announcements, etc.) but I normally eschew that scene anyhow. It was PRP time… except that it wasn’t. My normal trip to the porto-john was not conducive to PRP-positivity. This would come back to haunt me later.
I’m DREADFULLY close to crossing into TMI territory, aren’t I? Drat.
Anyway, with all that done (or not done, as it were) I high-tailed it over to my corral. I was in Corral A (as I was for the 10K), but I didn’t bother slinking my way near the very front again. I planned on starting out steady and remaining steady, and didn’t feel the need to clog the front of the corral with my Slower-Than-Front-Of-Corral-A-Should-Be rear end. There I waited patiently throughout all of the witty banter from the race announcers onstage; not that Rudy and Carissa weren’t every ounce of entertainment that they always are, but I had a level of anxious anticipation I couldn’t quite come down from. I have no idea why. This was my 30th Half Marathon. I’d been to this rodeo far too many times to ever feel anything but cool control and steady determination. Shyeah…
Here are some views from the corral:
There was plenty of Star Wars-themed music, video clips, and of course peppy excitement from Rudy and Carissa. Then we had the usual National Anthem, Rudy’s inimitable countdown, and at 5:34 AM I clicked my Garmin, hit Play to start the Zombies, Run! mission “Dynamite”, and crossed the Start Line to embark upon the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon!
Here’s a look at the race course, courtesy of Google Maps and my Garmin 920XT:
It was another cool (read: FLORIDA COLD!) morning — 52 degrees at race start — but I was loving it. I took off with my usual 7:1 half-marathon intervals, but I wasn’t even three minutes into the race when I noticed my energy levels weren’t quite where they usually are at the start of a race. I felt off; sluggish even. Perhaps I ran the previous day’s 10K too hard, or maybe I hadn’t eaten enough and glycogen levels were off. Who knows… but I plugged in and ran. I did the first mile in 9:44 which was respectable but not optimal.
The first four miles took us straight into and through the theme parks: Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. There were character stops even before Mile 1; as we entered the backstage office area, Chewbacca already had a huge line waiting for him. And this was just minutes after Corral A started! Disney runners are committed, regardless of speediness. There were plenty more Star Wars photo ops throughout the parks, each with ginormously endless lines attached to them. I made the conscious decision to run this race for time, so as much as I would have enjoyed a picture with BB-8 or Random Rebel/Resistance Pilot #43, I was fine without them.
It was still dark throughout my entire park running time, so it was great to see Main Street, Fantasyland, World of Color, and other sections still lit up in their nighttime regalia. If I had any complaints, it was that Disneyland seemed especially wet and slippery. It hadn’t rained the previous night, so I wonder if they had done their nightly cleaning of the park entirely too close to race time. I had to be especially conscious of my footing, especially during some of the narrower portions of the course (and especially that sharp turn in front of Pirates of the Caribbean!)
It was just after Mile 3 when Nature caught up with me, and I had to duck into the men’s room near Soarin’ at California Adventure to take care of business. The lack of proper PRPitude caught up with me by the 5K mark, and it knocked off a good 90 seconds off my race time. These things can’t be helped, but I was still simmering with my own self-annoyance.
Still, it was a beautiful morning running through the Disney parks. The neon glow of Cars Land, the Technicolor splendor of World of Color, the Castle in all its glory… makes everything totally worth the price of admission. And being Run Disney, that’s one hefty price of admission. It’s all a matter of what running in a Disney environment is worth to you, and I was definitely in my happy place. That is, until Mile 4, when you turn south out of DCA onto Harbor Blvd, and you’re now running through Anaheim, Garden Grove, and back to Anaheim again. Miles 4 through 6 take us southbound down Harbor, which mostly consists of hotels, strip malls, restaurants, and other such scenic delights. Run Disney knows this, and while they can’t provide the sort of photo opportunities, entertainment, character stops you can find in the parks, there were still plenty of school bands, cheerleaders, dancers, cosplayers, auto enthusiasts, and cheering spectators throughout most of the course to keep your spirits up.
I particularly enjoyed running through Garden Grove. I hadn’t visited that area before, so I considered it a fun “walking” tour, especially through the quaint downtown area. My pace had quickened slightly as well; up to the Mile 9 marker, my average pace was in the 9:35 range. I could still feel that a PR wasn’t going to happen unless I hit some major afterburners, which I doubted would really happen. In any case, after Mile 9 my pace slacked to the 9:50 range. My energy and drive just wasn’t there to go any faster. While annoyed, I was ultimately OK with it. It was still a nice morning for a run.
Someone (and I forgot who) remarked that what really would have made that Star Wars run perfect would have been twin suns rising in the cloudy morning haze. Our lone sun looked perfectly swell, but still…
My awesome buddy Kristen had a Mickey Miler cheer station set up around Mile 9.5, so after a quick sweaty hug (sorry about that KJ) and some words of encouragement, I had a bit of second wind blowing through my veins. The huge line of Star Wars cosplayers around that area helped immensely as well. Here’s where you’d expect me to extols the virtues of Slave Leias cheering on runners as proof positive of a benevolent deity, but I thought the parent/child TIE fighter pilot pair at the end of the line was my personal favorite. Awesome.
My favorite part of the run occurred just past Mile 11. I had just turned north onto Harbor Boulevard, beginning the return back to the Disneyland area. Since the later corrals were still making their way southbound down Harbor, this presented a host of opportunities to get high-fives, hugs, cheers, waves, and encouragement from buddies running in either direction. And sure enough, I saw so many friends on Harbor that I was smiling ear-to-ear like some colossally cheerful dork for most of that two-mile stretch. So here’s a colossally cheerfully dorky shout-out to Julia, Jennifer, another Jennifer, Jim, Mike, Dale (another Jennifer), David, Pam, Darren, Lisa, and I’m sure a bunch of other awesome peeps I can’t remember right now, because I’m a dingbat.
By the time I turned off of Harbor, heading westbound down Katella, I was in great spirits. Passing Mile Marker 12, I was determined to finish as strong as I could. This required a bit of audio encouragement, so in true Disney style I punched up The William Tell Overture (The Lone Ranger theme) and gunned it as best I could, abandoning my intervals to run the entire rest of the race straight through. Something must have clicked properly; maybe it was the excitement of the last mile, but I ran Mile 13 at a 9:15 pace (and the last 0.1 miles at 8:07!). Down Katella I went, turning north onto Disneyland Drive and into that last straightaway next to the Disneyland Hotel, with the Finish Line finally in sight.
I crossed the Finish Line with a total run time of 2:08:20, which, considering how much I thought I was slacking and not up to the challenge of the day, ended up being quite surprising. While that time was about 90 seconds longer than my last Half, it still remained my 6th fastest half-marathon out of 30, and my 2nd fastest Disneyland half-marathon out of six. A PR would have to wait for another day. I had a fun time on the race, so I had nothing to complain about.
I grabbed my post-race accouterments: Powerade, water, snack box, banana, and mylar wrap. I was knighted with my race medal (which resembled the medals given to our heroes at the end of Episode IV) as well as the Rebel Challenge medal, which featured the Rebellion logo with an R2-D2 imprinted on it. Pretty cool!
I then retrieved my hoodie from Runner Check-In, dumped the rather unsatisfying-looking snack box in the garbage, and made my way back to Earl of Sandwich for some real post-race grub: coffee, cookie, breakfast sandwich, tomato soup, and a cold beer. I ended up dumping one of these five items all over myself. I’ll leave it for my gentle readers to ponder which one.
The day ended awesomely with a trip to DCA for some thrill ride fun, along a schlep over to Disneyland for the can’t-miss Star Wars overlay on Space Mountain (dubbed “Hyperspace Mountain”, and it was worth the 80 minute wait). We finished the night over at Tortilla Jo’s, where Jennifer, Kristen, Bill, another Jennifer, Dale, Dave, Ann, and myself enjoyed a barrage of frosty beverages and some totally sweet table guac. Plus the inimitable return of the Redheaded Mexican Manager!
So in the end, I very much enjoyed the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon. Of the three West Coast Run Disney half-marathons courses I’ve run (including the Disneyland Half and the Avengers Half), Star Wars is fairly unique in that takes you through Garden Grove to the south and skips the Santa Anna trail entirely. Of course it also skips Angels Stadium as well, which is a highlight for me, so your mileage may vary. (The Tinkerbell Half also skips those portions as well, but I haven’t run that race. Yet.) Still, it’s freakin’ Star Wars, man, and it’s a Star Wars half marathon in buttkickin’ running weather, cool and comfortable and totally enjoyable. As to which race is more preferable (Star Wars or Avengers), I’ll leave that up to which theme is more to your liking, and which travel period (November or January) is more convenient (or cheaper) for you. You can’t lose with either one, although the Disneyland Half Marathon event (during Labor Day weekend) is still my personal favorite. May the Farce Be With You, my friends, and here’s the video: