Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Race recap: Disney Tinker Bell Half Marathon

Be warned - this is a hefty read!

This past weekend, I finished up the second installment of the Disney Coast to Coast challenge by participating in the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in Anaheim, California.  To complete the challenge, one must run a Disney half marathon in Florida and California in the same calendar year.  My two choices this year were Tinkerbell and Princess (recap here).

I went super cheap and flew Spirit airlines for a quick 36-hour trip.  Once arriving at LAX, I went out to hop on the Super Shuttle, a third party bus service.  Despite my worry over their less than stellar Yelp reviews, I found the service to be solid and exactly "what I paid for".  I waited 10 minutes to be picked up from the airport and circled once before the van filled up and headed off to Anaheim.  On the return, the driver showed up right on time and we only had to make two stops before going to the airport.  Seemed pretty solid to me.

Before the shuttle got to my hotel, I took a chance and got off at Disneyland Resort Hotel, the site of the expo.  I figured my room wouldn't be ready and that I should knock the expo out since I was already there.  The volunteers were very helpful and I didn't have any problems collecting my bib, Coast to Coast bracelet, and shirt.  I wandered around some, chatting with a nice couple from Texas, locating Fellow Flower Gretchen and getting some KT tape love.

The amount of official merchandise was pretty pitiful but at this point but I was prepared for that.  The message is clear: if you want official Disney merchandise, get in line the very first day of the expo.  The pragmatic, coffee addict in me grabbed a Tink coffee mug and called it a day.

I meandered around Downtown Disney for lunch and realized that it was considerably smaller than Florida, though just as high energy.  I met a lovely mother and daughter, Cheryl and Ally, who told me all the secrets and mandatory spots at Disney, including some insider info on the movie premiere that was taking place there that night, Tomorrowland. After wandering around some more, I decided it was time to drag my duffle bag across the resort and check into my off-site hotel.

Happened to snap a Fellow Flower in Downtown Disney!
And a BLUE carpet premiere for Tomorrowland

Again, I was super thrifty in this area but my hotel was nice for the star rating.  Some of the fixtures were (quite) dated but everything worked and it was clean.  Boom. Done.

Fatigue hit me and I took a quick cat nap before heading back out for the obligatory carbo load.  And ice cream.  Mostly ice cream.

Lord of the Rings was playing on TV when I returned so I kept it on in the background while I laid out my race gear and fell asleep.

Okay - I had to show the tube TV and armoire

Race Day
Somewhere between Frodo and Gondor came an alarm clock that was waaaaay too early.  Even the pre-race jitters couldn't wake me up.  I slapped on my costume and hung out for a few more minutes to burn time.  The start corral was about a 20 minute walk from my hotel room and was strategically planning my exit to minimize standing in the corral.

The slapped on costume: a custom black tank with fairy wings 
on the back with a lime green sparkle skirt

I didn't have a park ticket and was anticipating having to walk around the via (via Katalla Blvd.) but to my surprise (and delight!), the main park entrance was open for runners and spectators to cut through.  Strolling through Downtwon Disney?  Awesome.

Arriving at the pre-race staging area, I found my corral easily and slipped right in.  I contemplated my race strategy and though I knew I wanted to take it easy, I also didn't want to phone it in.  Many factors were going through my head (a practice run in 5 days with my marathon training group, Chicago Endurance Sports, and the pinch in my ankle, which I am assuming came from the heavy lifting at work in my killer turquoise heels), so I decided to take this half marathon as a practice for the run-walk method, which is what I will start out with training for the marathon.

Standing in the corral, I set my new Garmin watch to 3:1 (that review coming soon).  By a stroke of luck, a Clif pacer named Sharon walked up alongside me and introduced herself to the crowd.  She was running a 3:1 as well!  Naturally, I was apprehensive but I got such a good vibe from her that I decided to give it a try.  If it didn't work, I would set out on my own.

The race started right on time and my corral passed the timing mat right after 5:50am.  (On a side note, there were no fireworks for each corral). The pacer was already 100 feet ahead of me at this point!  She really knew how to fight through the crowds and cut the turns so I spent the first few intervals just trying to keep her in sight.  Our corral was definitely a mix of runners, run-walkers, and walkers so it was very tight for the entire race, but particularly for the first four miles or so.

We entered the theme parks after 1.5 miles and the first disappointment set in: because the race was moved to May, we no longer went through the World of Illumination in the dark.  I was really excited for that photo op and was bummed because it was total daylight by the time we got there.  Besides that, we experienced a few awesome miles in the parks and took on the roads of Anaheim at mile 6.  For miles 4-10, I stuck very close to the pacer which was a great benefit as I could sneak around participants in her footsteps.

Miles 10-12 became much more difficult as we were on the asphalt: the sun was shining full force,  there was little shade, and the temps were beginning to rise (no photo taking here).  It was really a head game because my legs weren't tired but my breathing was shallow from the heat.  I kept staring at the pacer's feet and trudged along.  Once or twice, I fell more than 100 feet behind the pacer because I needed more time at the water stops.  

I told myself, though, that my regular running pace was much faster than their current pace and if I just stuck to the same intervals, I would eventually catch up.  Sure enough, after 2 intervals or so, I was right back with the group as if I had never fallen behind.  After a few twists and turns, we were suddenly back in the park and on a stretch of road we had run earlier that morning.  I didn't study the course well enough to know where we were but it hit me that we were just half a mile away from the finish!  Sharon confirmed my suspicions and announced that we were two intervals away from finishing and that we could run ahead if we wanted too (as she would hang back and keep a steady pace).  I found my legs and started running at a brisk 5k pace and crossed the finish at 2:58.  

I was hot but felt like I could have gone 8 more miles.  I went through the chute, grabbing a bag of ice and claiming my Coast to Coast medal.  We didn't receive the normal runners food box this year because Disney discovered that a expired snack was pre-packed in the boxes.  They had no choice but to get new snacks and put them in little Disney gift bags for us.  Besides the cosmetic issue, the bag was nice because I could stick other things in it.  

I got my legs stretched out and hung some before walking over to Downtown Disney for hot beignets and coffee.  

And just as quickly as the race passed, I was back to the hotel for a quick ice bath (which is absolutely terrible) and lunch (also terrible) before catching the shuttle to the airport (and by far, most terrible).  Ice bath was just unpleasant, dude at the restaurant said they had burgers just to sit me down and tell me they didn't have burgers, and my late night flight was further delayed by two and a half hours.

Florida vs. California: A side by side comparison
Complimentary airport shuttle: Florida - yes; Cali - no (unless your hotel supplies it)
Race course:  Both have their pluses and minuses.  Florida definitely had a grander feel going up to the castle but it took 4 miles just to get there and you only ran 2 miles in the parks.  California had you in the parks for pretty much the first half but "storming the castle" was not as exciting and the second half of the race was far less interesting.
Photo ops:  Florida, hands down.  Maybe I was caught up in my intervals but I remember seeing so many characters (and long lines) in Florida.  In California, I saw Tink's line....and that was about it.
Photo ops - Part 2: So California enforced a "no selfie" thing with the MarathonFoto employees.  In Florida, they had an employee designated to take your photo with your phone at every character stop. I am not a fan of the guy who told me to get away from the step and repeat.
Course support: This was sort of a toss up.  I felt like Florida had more spectators in the parks and more evenly spaced support (either through character photos, musical entertainment, or aid stations).  In California, I could get awesome cheer zones back to back and then nothing for three miles, though the Purple Hat Ladies at mile 6 get a BIG gold star for their support! And kudos to Cali for putting the Clif station in front of the water station...because for some odd reason, Florida had them a half mile apart?
The overall Disney magic: Winner goes to Florida. Every person I saw had a smile or chatted with me, telling a Disney story.  We had fireworks for each corral, fifteen or more characters on course, and pixie dust at the finish line!  Some of these issues relate to the openness of Anaheim - hey, it was great that I could go to CVS and get Gatorade and a banana - but with that, I think you lose a little strength with the Disney experience.  Maybe it would have been different if I stayed on resort but no fireworks for the corrals??  So few character stops?  A little extra magic? 

I'm not a hardcore Disney gal but I certainly appreciate the details that go into making these events extra special, extra magical, and extra DISNEY.  Considering the high price tag, would you expect less?

But look at all the shiny.......

Did you hear?  I'm running this year's Chicago Marathon on behalf of the American Cancer Society!  I am more than halfway to my fundraising goal so click here to read about why I am running and donate on my behalf!

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