Once upon a time, I spent hours creating scrapbooks. I had more stickers, paper choices and paper punch tools than one person probably needs. I enjoyed the creative process of telling our life story through photos. When our daughter was born seven years ago, scrapbooking was this insurmountable mountain to tackle. I hadn’t set time aside for me to keep up with my scrapbooking hobby. I was years behind where I wanted to be with our books. It became clear... [Read More]Read more
Our latest adventure began with me despising winter and ended in a galaxy far, far away at a runDisney event at Disneyland.
Living in the middle of Wyoming means roads leading out of the state can be closed for heaven knows how long throughout winter. Weather forced us to drive to California through New Mexico and Arizona. It was ridiculous. I am blessed with fantastic traveling companions. I don’t ever want to do that again, but it was completely worth the hassle. I’m sure I’ll laugh about that 520-mile detour, but I’m not there yet. Let’s move on to the good part.
runDisney does several events on both coasts with multiple themes including Tinker Bell, princesses, Avengers and, our choice, Star Wars. Star Wars Half Marathon — the Light Side race is held in January in Disneyland. Racers have the choice of kid races, 5K, 10K, half marathon or all three for the Rebel Challenge medal. I wanted all six of us to run the race, so we participated only in the 5K.
The most stressful part of runDisney for us happened eight months before the race on registration day. The 5K races fill quickly. We had multiple browsers open and working the minute online registration opened and worried we wouldn’t get the sixth person registered. Each racer is registered and paid separately. We had to wait about 15 minutes until online registrations from other people were abandoned before our last spot became available. The 5K is not a race as much as it is an experience. A least 50 percent of the participants walked the entire route. This was the only annoying thing about race day. I don’t mind people walking, but if you were running, it was difficult to find a route around walkers. We ran the race except for one portion connecting the two parks that was so congested we were forced to speed walk. The 5K is most definitely family-friendly. Our seven-year-old had no problem with the race. I’d like to take a moment to give Disney a standing ovation for its ridiculous ability to take something simple like running three miles and make it fantastic. Party planning at its best.
In conjunction with the races, runDisney holds a health and wellness expo. There are speakers at the expo as well as many vendors and enough merchandise to increase credit card debt substantially. I’m not a shopper and still felt like I needed items I most definitely did not. We left with only a commemorative pin we had preordered during registration. The expo is where runners pick up their race bibs, have questions answered concerning the races and get their event t-shirts. The Disneyland Hotel in Downtown Disney hosts the expo. Parking at Downtown Disney is free the first two hours. We picked up our race day gear, walked through the expo and part of Downtown Disney in less than two hours.
We stayed at a hotel on West Ball Road near the entrance for the Disney parking structure. The 5K began at 5:30 a.m. We left our hotel at 4:20 a.m. and were parked near the top of the parking garage, through security and in our corral by 4:50 a.m. I talked to quite a few racers, most who have raced in several runDisney events on both coasts, and the consensus was that Disneyland is the preferred place to race. I think the ease of getting to the races plays a large part in that. It helped immensely to not take shuttles and wait in lines before sunrise with four kids in tow.
The 5K race had four corrals with hundreds of people in each corral. We were placed in corral A and arrived early enough to be right at the starting line for the race. That was amazing. The pre-race show began at 5 a.m. with two announcers, Carissa and Kwame, taking the stage. They were witty and entertaining for the early hour. A screen stretching across the starting line showed crowd footage and the original trailers for the first three Star Wars movies. California races begin with confetti while Florida races begin with fireworks. Disneyland is located in the city so fireworks at 5 a.m. are not looked upon kindly by the neighbors. Running through the confetti at the start was a bonus that added to the excitement of the day.
The course takes runners through both California Adventure and Magic Kingdom via backstage areas normally open to only cast members. I enjoyed seeing what is behind the decorated walls and carefully constructed facades. Various rides throughout the course were running, although not taking riders. Star Wars music was piped throughout the course adding to the ambiance of the race. The race had three character photo opportunities, R2-D2 and C-3PO, Darth Vader and Chewbacca. There was also a speeder bike photo op and decorative backdrops at each of the mile markers. Stormtroopers and Boba Fett were also patrolling the course along with giant emblems shining on various walls in each park. Each of the photo stops had photographers and moved quickly for the number of people stopping for photos. There’s one water stop during the 5K. There are a lot of volunteers handing out water, so run past the first couple of tables to farther down the line to grab your cup.
As we ran out of Disneyland and back into Downtown Disney for the final stretch, there were several spectators with signs who were cheering us on. The vibe surrounding the race was fabulous. People were supportive and positive. It was interesting to see the different costumes people chose to wear to celebrate their geeky love of Star Wars. The announcers commented on runners as they crossed the finish line. The atmosphere at the finish felt like we had won the race. Several volunteers were available to dispense a medal to each runner. The medals are substantial and heavy with a wide ribbon. Honestly, they were better than I anticipated. We were also given emergency foil blankets after the race which we didn’t feel like we needed. The weather was overcast with moist air, but nice for a January morning to us Wyomingites.
We were told there would be water and a snack after the race. We received way more than a 5K required. We were each given a bottle of water, a bottle of Powerade, a banana, and a snack box with chips, applesauce, granola bars, cookies and trail mix. We ate part of our boxes for breakfast and saved the rest for in the park. When we first decided to run the race, I thought the $80 fee was steep. After running the race, I believe we got our money’s worth from the race. It’s really much more than a 5K. It’s an event with multiple forms of entertainment. Disney is good at what it does. I have my eye on an Avengers race, but don’t tell my husband.
Things to remember:
- The kid races and 5K fill up fast on registration day. The kids racers don’t do more than 400 meters and are awarded rubber medals that aren’t nearly as cool as the metal medals. Those races are held at Downtown Disney, not in the parks. I’m glad we put our youngest in the 5K over the kid races. If you have a large group of people you’re trying to get into a race, you may want to contact a travel agent to help make sure everyone gets registered.
- When deciding which coast to race on, take into consideration the ease of arriving at the races, especially if you have young children. I haven’t raced at Walt Disney World, but I’m glad we didn’t have to wake our children up really early only to stand in line for a shuttle and then sit for a bit before arriving at the venue. Also, we brought everything we would need for our day in the park after the race with us in our vehicle. After completing the race, we went back to the parking garage, changed out of our costumes, grabbed our backpacks and headed into California Adventure. We’ve visited Walt Disney World and it takes much longer to get around than Disneyland. I’m glad we didn’t have to go back to our hotel to change and get our backpacks for the day and then head back to the parks. If you have plenty of time to spend in the parks, this may not be an issue for you.
- Take advantage of what Disney offers. Our 12-year-old was annoyed that we didn’t allow him to try and win the race. The times for the 5K were SLOW. Runners are in it for sunrise in the parks and photo ops with characters. I’m glad we stopped for photos and took in the atmosphere of the race. One of my favorite parts of the race was seeing the third shift janitorial staff, who were just getting ready to head home, cheering us on and waving signs in the park. I also enjoyed the volunteers greeting you as you entered each land. Seeing smiling faces welcoming you as you round the bend into Tomorrowland is different than any other experience I’ve had in Disney parks. Read the signs. Thank the volunteers. Cheer and smile when you approach the Disney photographers. We have some fantastic photos thanks to Disney.
- Be prepared for a lot of people. It is Disneyland. The 5K was crowded, but not unmanageable. Most walkers were happy to move over when runners were racing by. The entire course is lined with volunteers. You won’t become lost in dark corners of Disneyland.
- Consider wearing a costume. I promise you won’t be the only person dressed like a character. There are loads of ideas on Pinterest for inspiration. People are creative, and costumes add to the atmosphere of the race. Our two younger boys chose no to dress as a character and opted for Star Wars t-shirts. The rest of us were dressed as characters from Return of the Jedi.
- The security was tighter than we’ve seen previously at Disneyland. We arrived early so I’m not sure if lines became backed up the closer you got to start time. They searched bags and had metal detectors.
- Set a budget for the expo. There are tennis shoes, running tech, frames and hangers for medals and the longest line we saw in the park was to enter the official Star Wars race merchandise area. It was insane. We spent nothing at the expo which was what I’d budgeted.
- Wear your race t-shirt into the park. We planned on wearing our medals during the day but those things are heavy. I knew I’d end up with six medals stuffed in my backpack. It was nice to chat with people in the park about other Disney races they’ve run. I swear we were the only people who were running their first runDisney event. runDisney has a cult following. I learned the most about the races on both coasts from a gentleman that would run his 15th runDisney race in the Star Wars 10K. Characters pointed out our shirts throughout the day. Captain America told us it was good that civilians were keeping up with training in case the Avengers needed help.
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