The Complete Guide to runDisney

Disneyland Edition

by Christopher Schmidt | Release Date: December 14, 2016 | Availability: Print, Kindle

And You're Off...

Most Disney theme park guests are known for rushing, but if rushing isn't fast enough, and you want to run, then this complete guide to the many runDisney marathon races at Disneyland is just what you need to cross the finish line in a swirl of pixie dust.

From navigating your way through the human cattle pit known as the Health & Fitness Expo, to competing in the races themselves, Christopher Schmidt has done it all, and knows the tips and tricks you'll need for a safe, successful run. Swift-moving pros, fast walkers, and even happy-go-lucky shufflers will benefit from Chris' expert advice and motivational guidance.

The book features up-to-date coverage of each runDisney event at Disneyland, including the:

  • Disneyland 5K, Disneyland 10K, Disneyland Half Marathon
  • Captain America 5K, Dr. Strange 10K, Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon
  • Star Wars 5K, Star 10K, Star Wars Half Marathon
  • Never Land 5K, Never Land 10K, Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Don't break your stride with poor planning. Before you runDisney, read this book.

Table of Contents

Author's Note


Chapter 1: Disneyland, runDisney, and the Happiest Races on Earth

Chapter 2: Getting Started

Chapter 3: Race-by-Race Breakdown

Chapter 4: Running with Disney Costume Characters

Chapter 5: Motivation, Training, and Secrets to Success

Chapter 6: Tips for First Timers

Chapter 7: Etiquette

Chapter 8: Weekend Sample Itineraries for Participants and Families

Chapter 9: The Finish Line

If you are considering a Disneyland-based runDisney event, you must stay at the Anaheim/Disneyland Resort. It is not an actual requirement to participate. If getting a room did not carry a potentially prohibitive financial investment, I would push for making it mandatory. As it is, if you’re going to do it at all, seriously consider getting local accommodations.

This will be addressed again, and at length. It appears here as an admonition, because decisions involving where you stay and how you get to your runDisney race are as important as signing up in the first place. “Get a Room” was to have been the title of this book, though I was led to understand it would be misleading.

If you do not live close enough to Disneyland to walk to the starting line in the very early morning of your race, you need to find a hotel room that will allow you to do so. The unavoidable chaos that driving and parking adds to your runDisney day has the potential to ruin it. Additionally, the Expo, which you are required to attend to get your race bib—unless you have better friends than I, who will get the waiver and retrieve your bib for you—is not open early enough on the morning of any race. If you do not stay or reside nearby, it means driving into the storm of detours and impacted parking structures twice.

Disney does a yeoman’s job with human and spatial management. There are just certain confluences that are beyond even the most capable of coordinators. Stay close at least the night before your race. The next day and thus the rest of your life will be the better for it.

An incredible accommodation for runDisney participants, and one more reason not to drive, is that the city of Anaheim provides free transportation for guests of every motel and hotel within ten-square blocks of Disneyland throughout the weekend. With a valid race waiver and/or bib, you may request Anaheim Rapid Transit (ART) passes from any shuttle driver for you and any attending members of your family, for the entire weekend. Shuttles provide transportation between the Disneyland Resort and a laundry list of area hotels. If you are staying in the area, but are arguably beyond walking distance, the frequency and convenience of ART buses ought to help you keep your car in the lot.

Seriously, do whatever it takes to not get behind the wheel on race day.

Participation in a runDisney weekend belongs on your personal bucket list. If you possess even the most fleeting Disney interest, the time, finances, and logistical gymnastics necessary to get you to a starting line with a bib on are well worth the incredible spectacle that awaits. From the 10-meter Diaper Dash to the Star Wars 5K to the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, every magical minute and spectacular step is crafted with the signature Disney creativity and attention to detail for which Disney is renowned. A visit to Disneyland does not require anything additional to be extra special, yet through runDisney the entire resort and every second you spend in and running around it are graced by an added level of magic, achievement, and the accumulation of even more treasurable memories.

Anything associated with Disneyland, short of the arguable exception of Toontown, is vastly popular. Some might contend Toontown is crowded all the time; of course it’s popular. There is a difference between popularity and being architecturally designed to attract and ensnare children. This is a topic for another time and perhaps, Theme Park Press willing, another book. In the meantime, Disney is revered primarily because they know what they’re doing. From parades to Pinocchio to paper towel dispensers, everything attached to the Disneyland Resort is as well conceived as it is packaged and presented. runDisney is a noteworthy contribution to this impeccable reputation, and by association, the foot traffic. For tens of thousands annually, a brisk, five-kilometer family stroll in matching shirts or a crazy-early, yet charmingly themed distance run has become an indispensable part of the Disney tradition.

Participating in, or even simply attending, a runDisney Half Marathon Weekend requires special preparation and abundant patience. The Disneyland Resort sees a significant uptick in visitation during such events. With the advice provided in this book, Fantasyland will still be crowded, the line for Space Mountain will still be long, and no, you won’t get into Club 33, but you will understand the value of getting a hotel room within walking distance of the park and starting line, you will be aware of the most egregious Health & Fitness Expo pitfalls, and you will be less likely to sacrifice irrecoverable park time for some fleeting personal running record. With this book and a little faith and flexibility, above all else you ought to benefit from a combination of better preparation and reformed, realistic expectations. runDisney specifically, and Disneyland in its entirety, has been crafted for your enjoyment. The Complete Guide to runDisney is designed to help you cherish every single magical step, sight, snapshot, and second of your journey.

Walt Disney’s dream all started with a mouse. My runDisney journey began with some persuasive encouragement from a brilliant, well-meaning friend. As inspiration following a significant injury, this incredible human who knew and believed in me more than I did myself prescribed signing up and training for the 2008 Disneyland Half Marathon as part of my rehabilitation. I thought she was crazy, but did it anyway. I maintain we are both crazy, since after that first life-affirming event we have gleefully participated in at least one runDisney weekend every year. I will continue to do so for as long as I am able to move under my own power. After that you will find me along Downtown Disney, or, if I can get there, in front of Disneyland’s main gate, cheering on the next several generations of the blessed runDisney faithful.

Now, lace up your shoes, download the latest course map, and get ready to runDisney.

Christopher Schmidt

Christopher Schmidt is a former Disneyland Resort bartender and passionate Disney enthusiast. If it involves amusement, attractions, athletics, adventure, and responsible enjoyment of exotic libations, you will find Christopher in the middle of it, eager to write and tell you all about it.

Think you're in no shape to run a Disneyland marathon? Maybe you're not. But it's easier than you think.

Renowned for being the most forgiving and enjoyable courses in existence, a runDisney Half Marathon requires far less fortitude than any other race that is not influenced by Disney. Essentially, if you signed up for the race, you’re ready to run it. No, don’t show up for a half marathon without having trained for it. That would be silly. More importantly, though, don’t ever skip one of these amazing events because you’re worried you can’t handle it. You totally can.

There are no hills. There are no tricky obstacles, bogs, or rivers to negotiate. Based in the enviable southern California paradise of Anaheim, there shouldn’t be any weather concerns. What this race does have is thirteen miles of the most entertaining, accommodating distraction. Slapping Disneyland down in the middle of your race course goes a long way toward helping participants forget how far they have to run.

The downside: Disneyland half marathons start at 5:30 in the morning. That’s to get you through and out of the parks before the paying customers show up. They are also exceedingly popular, meaning crowded, even by Disney standards. That is the complete list of negatives associated with a Disneyland Half Marathon, which also helps explain why they are so well attended.

The route takes you into and around Disney California Adventure, Disneyland, and Downtown Disney. Runners have the parks to themselves, aside from a number of Disney cast members and costume characters lining the course to cheer you on. All of the property lights are on, most of the rides are running—though not open, of course—familiar music is playing, Mickey, Minnie, and friends greet and invite you to pose with them for photos. Before you know it, one-third of the entire race is behind you and the sun isn’t even up.

A few miles on the streets of Anaheim await you at this point. But they are all flat and copiously lined with onlookers, aid stations, and live entertainment. So, again, before you know it, and well before you have a chance to become bored, you will be within shouting distance of the finish. Full disclosure, in the third quarter of the half marathon is where I start to drag a little. It has to do with getting away from the Disneyland Resort, but also because thirteen miles is a long way to run all at once.

I tend to underemphasize the physical requirements, but I don’t want to mislead anyone. A half marathon is not easy, even these that are dense with Disneyland-powered inspiration. I got through my first runDisney half marathon thanks to an indispensable running partner, modest dedication to an ambitious workout routine, and my own Disney fanaticism. I am living, sweating proof that you can cut corners on training, but I implore you not to neglect it. I will admit that I’d spend the rest of my Disney visit in much better condition, physically and mentally, if I was more disciplined, or if I would just once commit to the Jeff Galloway method. Be smarter than me. runDisney weekends can be even better for you than they are for me, and I think they’re perfect.

There’s so much to experience within the race’s final third, which consists of a trip through Angel’s Stadium and a return to the Disneyland Resort, that runners might even forget to hit the fabled wall. The homestretch, which spans about two miles, is packed with fans who quite literally carry you to the end. The experience at finish itself is not unlike winning game seven of some significant championship in front of your home crowd. Embraced by waves of compassion and encouragement, flowing from masses of complete strangers, your body is beset by the kind of adrenaline that rockets you across the finish line, and will stay with for the rest of the week.

Do not feel you need to do any hardcore training. If you don’t train at all, well, that shows poorer discipline even than my own, and I can’t recommend that. At the minimum, know whether you can get your body through a ten-mile jog or quick walk. The 16-minute/mile requirement is not strict, but the clock never stops running. The time limit is not impressed with how quickly you finished your fastest mile, and the sweeper staff is only concerned with you getting through the last mile. Practice enough that you know you can make the distance without endangering your health and you’ll be ready. Your feet are going to be quite another matter; I’m just trying to help you finish.

If you registered and paid, and if you can get yourself to the start on time, you will have handled all the difficult bits. All that’s left is to passionately enjoy your runDisney experience. Spoiler: it’s impossible not to.

Continued in "The Complete Guide to runDisney"!

You know those Olympic dreams are gone when someone wearing a full-on Winnie the Pooh costume breezes by you half-way through the marathon.

People watching within a Disney resort ranks up there with the visual spectacle of New Orleans French Quarter and any of a number of Brazilian beaches. From Disneyland to Epcot to Shanghai, those who take a minute from the attention-seizing lights, attractions, and concessions to look around are treated to a marvelous, yet wholesome free show.

Bask in the anticipation and elation of an entire family approaching the Magic Kingdom for the first time. See a child’s face when their favorite princess appears, in real life, right in front of them. Watch another child become completely unhinged when denied cotton candy at nine in the morning. You may even bear witness to a surprise wedding proposal. The daily demonstration itself is nearly worth the price of admission. At the Disneyland Resort, during any of the four runDisney weekends, when guests are invited, not only to be part of the show, but to dress the part as well, the already incredible exhibition is almost overwhelming.

The collection of Mickeys, Tinks, and Dopeys during each of the runDisney festivities is as impressive as it is entertaining. Then there are Star Wars enthusiasts. These fans hardly need any encouragement to flaunt their passion. On Star Wars Weekend they get the green light anyway, and the results would defy even George Lucas’ imagination.

Every runner with a Chewbacca costume—there are more than you probably realize—is going to wear it, and try to run in it. You can bet there will be a healthy supply of Darth Vaders, Ewoks, and throw-together Ben Kenobis. There will also be an unhealthy number of gold bikini-wearing Princess Leias; there always are. If the person on Twitter claiming he is going to run as the Death Star actually does it, find him, applaud him, and extend him a Gatorade. Any of the hundred or so Jar Jar Binks characters? It is surely a violation of Disney spirit, but I encourage you to trip those people.

For each event, regardless of the theme, runDisney invites participants to dress up and show additional Disney spirit. There are certain understandable restrictions. The world’s premiere family entertainment company would prefer you don’t bring and wield a working lightsaber or run as the Invisible Man, i.e., naked. Runners are encouraged to wear mouse ears, tiaras, tutus, wigs, wings, hats, hoops, hooks, polka dots, leis, colorful leggings, sparkly socks. and yes, full-blown Disney-character costumes. runDisney does a typically-Disney job with the decorations, attractions, and accommodations. The extra enthusiasm from runners, then, adds considerably to the atmosphere and ambiance. Costumed runners are not cast members, and are not there to accommodate you. Be forewarned, the half marathon experience may be dampened somewhat when the Baymax, Pooh Bear, or Ewok you’ve been blissfully pacing the whole race starts to open up an insurmountable gap on you in the final mile.

For the fortuitous and motivated who manage to secure an entry into a runDisney Half Marathon Weekend event before it sells out—often within 24 hours—perhaps you are also keen enough to train for it. Disney races are renowned for being fun and accommodating, but they aren’t, specifically, a walk in the park. Delightful as they are, beyond the 5K, perhaps, you are still faced with an actual distance run. If you aren’t in the proper shape you are going to finish behind someone in a Buzz Lightyear costume. Not a big deal? Wait until it happens.

One of the many charming elements that lend to and help define a runDisney race is the committed throng of wholly passionate participants. Tens of thousands of your fellow enthusiasts sign up for each runDisney event the moment registration opens. On race day, we rise eagerly from bed at 3 in the morning (right?) to reach our assigned starting corral. Then, amongst us is that especially driven contingent with the fervor to pay for, plan for, and participate in a multi-mile road run dressed like an anthropomorphic cartoon character.

The sight of several thousand fanatics wearing mouse ears, jazz hands, and sparkly skirts at the staging area on Disneyland Drive is thoroughly motivating. Those that go the extra mile (intentional) to don a complete costume deserve extra-special recognition. Having Tweedledum and Tweedledee pass you at the halfway point like they’re on roller skates can be as infuriating as it is unavoidable. You’d better just prepare for it.

There are a great many runners out there simply bristling with Disney spirit. Watching powerlessly as one of them plods past you in full Mike Wazowski regalia is a real kick to your enthusiasm. To aptly compete with a Disney-costumed runner, it helps to be aware who is really behind the funny hair, huge feet, colorful cape, mask, and the madness. Understand that many of these individuals are not mere fanatics. Most are thoroughly conditioned, well-adjusted athletes who, for reasons all their own, possess the will and training to run a ten-minute mile dressed like Eeyore. Know that it is possible for someone to have more endurance than you no matter how elaborately and impractically they are outfitted. The compulsion to intentionally wear entire bolts of felt for a thirteen-mile race often accompanies a determination that you cannot match. If you are being closely trailed by a fully arrayed Ariel, Sebastian, and Flounder at mile 11, they may very well finish ahead of you.

Being paced by someone in a cumbersome getup, when you aren’t wearing one, means they have more stamina than you. Ergo, any costumed character you don’t put away early is probably going to beat you. When one or all of the Three Caballeros are still with you on the homestretch, it’s too late to put them away. If thirteen miles and your personal mental and physical wherewithal were not sufficient to distance you from a wing-bearing Maleficent, her closing kick is going to be stronger than yours and you will forever be immortalized in her finish-line photo.

Continued in "The Complete Guide to runDisney"!

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