Wednesday, May 24, 2017

2017 Tinker Bell Half Marathon race report

Of course we were going to do this. Even if the weekend is an awkward one -- sorry, Mom! -- the race is less than amazing -- sorry, Anaheim! -- and we might be losing our Disney passion a little more every year. (Sorry, Mickey.)

This year was a little different: because we -- as legacy runners -- were given the opportunity to register early, so we did. However, we were only allowed to register for the half marathon, not the Pixie Dust Challenge. So we decided to let that "streak" lapse.

That meant we could shift our trip, a little -- fly in on Saturday morning, fly home on Tuesday and have a couple of semi-quiet (ha!) weekdays in the park.

We flew into Long Beach, our favorite airport in the world, and drove straight to the expo. It took us a while to get into the parking lot, largely because they were moving equipment around the finish area near the hotel.

We somehow had to clear security ... and then leave the secure area ... to get to the hotel. That was a hint of what was to come. Another hint: the ramp down to packet pickup wasn't decorated very much... just a generic runDisney sign, no Tink decoration at all. No special carpet -- not even the fun "track" carpet. Just... carpet. So boring that I didn't even take a picture of it.

But packet pickup was quick and easy, and the volunteers -- no, wait, this year they were paid employees -- knew to fuss over us as legacy runners. I was pleased, a little, that we got special bibs, though the color combination made them a little hard to read.

We also picked up our pre-ordered pins and my necklace. The necklace is pretty disappointing -- I don't think I'll pre-order another since it's clearly a risk to assume they'll be nice. It looks like children's jewelry, and won't even work as a charm on my bracelet. Another lesson learned.

The necklace reads "Earned My Wings 2017" -- amusing, because this is the first year the medal hasn't been a set of stylized wings! Thanks to Suz for picking up the medal pin, too.
Then back upstairs to the main expo hall, where at least they had decorated that entrance!

We picked up our shirts -- a strange dove grey color for the half -- Pixie Dust challengers got a luminous green-yellow, and I think the 10K was pale blue? But, again, pickup was simple.

We made a quick pass through the merch area, very picked over (as one would expect on the last day of an expo). Suz had been through the previous day and had managed to snag us a pair of half marathon medal pins and the coveted 2017 runDisney Tinker Bell ornament (thanks Suz!!!). Needless to say, the ornament was long gone when we went through. Amusingly, here in year six, Disney added a glass tumbler to the selection. But it was a strange size, wouldn't have matched anything else in our cupboard -- you know, like a PINT GLASS -- so we passed. There were dozens left.

This ornament is the best souvenir from a runDisney race EVER!
Then I wanted to see the New Balance shoes ... because I had heard that one had a Haunted Mansion theme:


Let's just cut to the chase here: of course I bought a pair:

And, no surprise, I managed to lose one of the "wallpaper icons" within a day of having them. Sigh.

We also picked up our discounted park tickets (thanks GET Travel!) and then headed over to the hotel. I'm super glad Suz warned me that the name had changed and the lobby had been remodeled.

Our beloved Anaheim Plaza is now the Anaheim Hotel ... with a much swankier lobby, a better restaurant, and nicer pool furniture. The rooms are in the process of being upgraded -- ours had nicer sheets and curtains, but no other changes, it seems. The quirky old staff is gone, as is the THIS ROOM IS CLEAN smell of cleanser. And they wouldn't honor the check-in time, or parking rate on the rental agreement I was sent when I booked the room in September, 2016. Pity. Ah, change.

We spent the rest of the day going on a hike (gorgeous!), trying In-n-Out Burger's "Animal-Style Fries" for the first time (meh.), and visiting an art festival (nice!). But we had an early night ... because Sunday would be a long day.

Security changes -- including metal detectors -- meant that runners were told that the gates across the plaza would be closed "promptly at 5am", so we decided to leave the hotel by 4:30, and set an alarm at 4. While this is still clearly better than being on a shuttle by 4 at WDW.... well, it's still a big change from last year where we set the alarm for 4:45 for the 5:30 start.

We left the hotel at 4:23, and joined the non-moving line at Harbor Boulevard at 4:25... just as a bunch of buses disgorged a few hundred runners. The lines sometimes inched forward, sometimes surged... as a dozen overwhelmed security guards tried to screen a few thousand anxious people, most of whom carried nothing more than their phones. Of course, some of the people carried supplies for their multi-stage race, with changes of shoes, clothes, food ... oh, wait, what? Everyone was running a half marathon in good weather? Huh. Wonder why some people were carrying BAGS OF STUFF.

Anyway, we cleared that security in 20 minutes (!!!) and then headed across the plaza and through Downtown Disney, where soon we joined another bottleneck near the Earl of Sandwich -- a narrow space where they were squeezing runners two by two so they could check their bibs. Seriously, this can be done more effectively. And perhaps it wouldn't have been such a mess if the security lines had flowed more evenly.

Finally we were through that, and got to the corral split at 5:25. There were still a LOT of people behind us at this point, but we entered our corral and tried to relax a bit.

Of course, we took the obligatory photos. I like this photo because you can see "our" screen, plus the screen at the actual start waaaaaaay in the distance at the bottom of the pic.

Obviously, we took the obligatory pre-race photo... We're clearly out of practice, because we didn't put our our RACE FACES.

And this was the view back up the starting corrals ... is there anything more Californian than lines of palm trees along a road? I don't think so.

The race hosts were clearly stalling and struggling to fill time. I always think it's funny that they don't have enough banter/chatter to make up for delays, and they just walk off stage. I mean, seriously, you can't find enough to say to fill 30 minutes, unscripted?

About 10 minutes after the scheduled start, they rushed out to say that they were going to start the handcycle racers ... all three of them. A few minutes after that, they sent out Corral A. Corral B was allowed to move up, and our corral followed.

A few more minutes, a tiny bit of banter, the release of Corral B, another shift forward, and finally, it was our turn to...

I'm always a little sad that Disneyland doesn't do fireworks at the race start. It must be out of consideration for the neighbors, I suppose.

We set off down the road, and I already felt tired. The course was different again this year, due to all the construction for Star Wars Land, and we turned into the park before even going up the "hill" on the overpass. I never like that set-up -- it's nice to have a mile or so for the corral to stretch out before getting into the narrow roads in the park. But backstage we went, winding around. Too soon, frankly -- at just over a mile in -- we ran through the castle. We didn't have too much bunching here, but in later corrals people stopped cold. runDisney needs to learn that the castle is always a slow point as people stop to try to get photos ... so having it later in the race means the crowds are much thinner.

I barely remember running down Main Street -- I had to look at the map to make sure. We did a lap around California Adventure, then crossed the plaza back into Disneyland, and ran a little more there.  Then into THE TUNNEL which was the steepest hill of the entire course. And how the people whined!

There is VERY LITTLE elevation change in this course. Seriously.
We did our first pass on the long road around the outside edge of California Adventure -- I wonder how many people jumped over to cut the course by 8 miles? Last year clearly a few did. We didn't see anyone already on their second lap (phew!), and by the time we came through on our second lap, no one was left on the first.

Then out into the quiet streets of Anaheim. People always complain about the neighborhood and how quiet it is, but I think these people suffer Disney enough, don't you? Up until this point we had been run-walking at 3:1 intervals. I was tired and felt like my legs were dead. Not sore, just heavy and dead. So at the halfway point we decided to walk. Ahhhh.

We crossed I-5 at the usual spot, but the usual dance troupe wasn't there... I don't think? Then over to "downtown Anaheim", past Anaheim Ice, and, thankfully, STRANGERS WITH CANDY.

Yeah, that picture is blurry because I was running, er, WALKING SO FAST. Seriously, eating a Red Vine at this point is the best thing in the world. I still wax poetical about the little girls handing out Dixie Cups with a handful of mini pretzels and a couple of Red Vines in them during one runDisney race. Now, I love downing a tiny cup of beer when the Hash House Harriers are on a course, but I ADORE a Red Vine.

Then the long haul down Harbor, a little mileage-padding spin behind Gardenwalk, and we were back  on the long road with less than a mile to go. Our feet were hurting, it was getting warm, and I was so ready to be done. Oh, did I mention that neither of us had run more than 3 miles since... summer 2016?

But we finished, hand in hand, trotting across the line in 2:50 and change. Not our finest performance, but better, frankly, that we deserved given our nonexistent training.

I'll be honest, I don't have a ton of memories from this race... just a few impressions.

I didn't feel like I saw a lot of character stops -- though I know there were some, unlike during the 5K. I do remember Peter and Wendy at the train station, because I thought that was a nice placement.

I don't remember seeing a lot of Castmembers in the park. Usually you have nice moments with custodial crews and gardeners, but the only group I saw was firefighters. And it was sweet, people were taking pictures with them because who doesn't love firefighters?

I don't remember seeing many people cheering as we crossed the plaza -- more just people annoyed while trying to cross the course.

The lack of on-course entertainment -- I think there was a cheer squad with a drumline (who weren't playing while we passed, but the cheerleaders were perky), a band (who weren't playing when we passed), and a random DJ on the side of the road. No Red Hat Ladies, no dance troupes, not much out there.

The paid workers vs. volunteers issue. Was it due to not being able to execute background checks on volunteers? (Actually, that's possible to do -- but perhaps Disney didn't want the hassle?) Was it due to the woman who sued Rock 'n' Roll because she was STUNNED that it wasn't all for charity? I refuse to believe it was a cost savings -- after all, free park tickets don't really cost Disney anything. Who knows. I felt the water stations were decently managed, but the "self serve" Clif Shots on a Table was a little weird. (Hey, it's not as bad as at Rock 'n' Roll Seattle last year, where there were individual "blocks" just sitting out on a table ... I'm not germaphobe, but EWWWWW.)

The race seems to have lost its magic, just a little. runDisney isn't stupid, they'll read the feedback and make changes. They learn quickly -- note adding character stops back into the 10K after the outcry with the 5K the previous day. So maybe they'll find a way to bring some magic back.

One nice touch: legacy runners were stopped in the finish chute and given special legacy medals. Okay, the medal was the same, but we had an additional, different ribbon with "Legacy Runner" on it. It's a sweet little way to honor the people who stick with you, and I appreciate it.

Of course, I think the medal is cheap and gaudy looking -- apparently due to the influence of Pandora, which makes me realize that I am clearly not the target audience if they make stuff like this:


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