January has been phenomenal for the both of us here at Run Plahr Run–as you see below, Alea completed her first half marathon and I my first 10K at the Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend held over January 15-18. I had no clue what to expect from a Disney-produced run and was pleasantly surprised at every turn. The hype is real, and I’m glad I partook of it at the Star Wars one because of all the Disney-related empires it is the one I can identify with the most.
I documented my experience at the Expo and my thoughts during the 10K race itself:
Friday Jan 16
Took the day off work on Friday to attend the expo with one of our other running buddies. Alea hadn’t arrived yet, but since my race was on Saturday I had to get my packet earlier anyways. I’ve never gone to a running expo. The RunDisney Health and Fitness Expo was overwhelmingly huge to me. From the beginning they had us weave through queues to get our packets, then shirts, and from there on it was onto the expo floor which was full of merchandise, booths, and people.
New Balance was the official RunDisney shoe sponsor and had a massive chunk of the floor to showcase their shoes.
Shots of some of the limited edition Disney x NB designed shoes:
The merchandise was fun to peruse. I limited myself to the Star Wars 10K official Disney Pin Trading pin, but I thought these headphones were neat.
At the expo they also had a booth dedicated to the RunDisney races held both in Florida and California. They showed off some of the medals from past races as well as the medals we would earn in the upcoming weekend.
This picture gives me “bling fever.” I didn’t get the whole mania surrounding Disney races until I went through this whole weekend. The atmosphere is infectious. Everyone is such a die-hard fan of either Disney, running, or Star Wars–or all three–and so everyone you come across is just super passionate and excited to be there. I like the story and message behind the original Star Wars movies, even if I can’t quote it like the back of my hand. It’s something to be surrounded by all that fervor: a little intimidating, but mostly exciting and a bit surreal especially for a first-timer.
With such excitement building up for race day, it was a miracle I even got any sleep on Friday night. My friend Erin was going to wait for me at the finish, so we tried our best to sleep as early (10 pm) as we could to be ready for the 5:30 am start.
Saturday Jan. 17: Race Day
5:30 am start time meant 3 am wake up. I didn’t really sleep for more than 2 hours at a stretch the night before, probably due to pre-race jitters. I’m still new to structured racing, so I still feel pretty nervous beforehand. This time, I wasn’t so much nervous about the distance or finishing but rather the temperature conditions at the start and finish. I’m a morning runner and while I’ve trained at 6:30 am before, I did so in the summer and fall, and not so much in November and December. I was unsure what 48F at 5:30 would feel like and I was worried about having enough insulation but not wearing too much because of mobility and overheating during the run.
I tried my best to prepare what I thought was a good outfit: leggings, thermal base layer, cold-weather top with long sleeves and thumbholes and a tall collar, and a hat. I debated on wearing a beanie but I knew that my head would warm up pretty quickly. Thankfully our other friend and co-runner Erin was there on my race day and was able to accompany me to the corral, where I could make my final decision on what layers to wear during the race.
What I learned:
I’m glad I didn’t wear the beanie, and my winter outfit was exactly what I needed–though at the beginning as you see here, I bundled up in an emergency blanket. I needed to keep my neck and head warm or risk illness. My dad got me this blanket so I’m pretty thankful for that, as it saved me in the corrals where I waited about an hour before the start of the race. When we did get going, I decided to junk the blanket by the side of the route. Next time I’ll try to find a way to save it or bring it along with me, because I needed it at the finish.
Running is running wherever you are–but the point of a runDisney race is you’re doing it at the Parks. I’m surprised I didn’t get claustrophobic with the amount of people barreling through. I did the 10K, which meant about half of the course route was through Disneyland and California Adventure, and the other half was shared between the perimeter of the park grounds and out onto some major cross streets in Anaheim. The first two miles after the start was out onto Harbor Boulevard and Ball Road, and was pretty uneventful. Just a slight uphill and quite dark. It was too densely packed to even really break into a jog, so I spent most of it power walking up over the freeway. I set my phone to some upbeat music and used the time to warm up my legs.
When I entered Disneyland, it was kind of impossible not to run in glee. It’s just such an institution. For those of us who have grown up in the area or at least have some ties or memories to these parks, it’s like seeing it in a different light. You’re there early in the morning, which is dark like when you’re visiting at night, but there’s less people. Main Street is lit up but empty. There’s a feeling like you’re allowed this rare look into “sleeping” Disneyland and it feels strangely intimate. Things are both familiar and unfamiliar as you run down toward the castle.
During the race:
I think it’s strange because while you want to appreciate Disneyland, you’re also still running a race. So while there were photo opportunities and places to take pictures of, I still wanted to keep a good pace and finish well. I took pictures of things that mattered to me–the Castle, It’s a Small World, but otherwise I kept a steady pace throughout. In the early part of the race it’s too dark to get any good shots, so that enabled me to keep going. If I had stopped for character opportunities then that would have cut into my time. Maybe I should have taken advantage of that, but it’s my first 10K; I wanted to go!
By the time I reached California Adventure, the sun was beginning to come up.
So many people stopped here for selfies and shots. I asked a fellow runner for help at this junction. It’s so neat seeing the park like this–who gets to do this? Probably janitors and the morning crew doing inspections and adjustments.
From here on out I just ran. I’d gotten a good warm up in and a significant mood boost from being in the grandeur of the park. The last 3 miles were done on the border of the parks in the backlots and through the hotel areas. There were great groups of volunteers cheering from the sidelines giving out water and Gatorade at several points; and I really appreciated seeing the Disney staff from the different departments come out from their stations to clap us on. Maybe they were told to be there, or they were already on the park to report for work, but either way, the support was very appreciated. I felt buffered by it and it was a good motivation to keep pushing.
In race mode, I think I did pretty well. There wasn’t any shooting pain or discomfort anywhere other than my right hip and left foot/knee, which isn’t out of the ordinary. Just a dull ache that meant I should probably pay attention to it with post-race massage. I’m very happy that my clothes did not induce chafing, though I feel as if my socks could have performed a little better, because the balls of my feet were sore afterwards.
I’d planned a playlist to use on Spotify during the race, but I found that my regular music worked well. Throughout the race I had Runkeeper set to give me updates every 5 minutes and at every mile reached. I thought I’d be able to run closer to 12:00/mile but it was more like 13 with all the photographing and walk breaks. I didn’t expect I’d want to use the restroom, but somewhere between mile 4 and 5 I took care of it. In the past I’d need to use the restroom immediately after I ran and I didn’t know what my finish would be like, so better to bank on a slower time than an embarrassing finish.
This felt pretty good. Mentally, miles 3-5 felt ok. Didn’t really remember anything of note. The mile 6 marker came up almost like a surprise–I didn’t know I’d gotten so far, even though logically I knew we were close to finishing since the amount of bystanders increased as we got closer to the finish line at Paradise Pier Hotel. You get into a groove, and you just finish. I tried to send a quick text to Erin to warn her I was a half mile away, but as soon as I sent that I saw Mile 6, heard the music, and was just glad to be almost finished. I sprinted the last 0.2 miles–just like I’d practiced at home. I felt silly lifting my fist, but in that moment, it felt good.
It’s that runner’s high they talk about in books. I definitely felt that. The crowd is so important, and your mental self-talk is crucial too. I always have thoughts in my head when I start a run, but music and the environment will always influence that. I try to think I’ll finish, succeed, I try to imagine how glad I’ll be to finish, or any permutation of positive thoughts and images to motivate myself to do my workout runs. For the 10K, even though in practice I hadn’t run the full 6.2, my body just went with it and kept going. How much of it was adrenaline? Probably a lot. I loved seeing peoples’ posters and folks giving out high fives from the sidelines. Clapping and cheering made me perk up and run proudly. And in the quieter stretches of the course I used the music as a center.
After that finish line shot they funneled us through some last minute photo opps, handed us food boxes, water, and Gatorade, and we exited into the Family Reunion Area, where Erin gave me a much-needed hug. In my training runs at home, I practiced post-race stretching and changing my top which at this point felt like a cold, sweat-soaked blanket. Not a good state for me to be in. Thank goodness my friend had my clothes; I changed immediately and started to stretch my hamstrings and calves which would lock up in the cold if I hadn’t.
I felt and still feel good about this whole run. I’m grateful that by the time Alea and I got a chance to sign up for the marathon weekend, the 5K option was sold out and I ended up training for the 10K. Increasing my mileage throughout the last 6 months was tough–especially from mile 3 to 4. Hitting that Mile 4 mark made 10K seem more plausible. And by the time I was a week out from the race running 5 miles, 6.2 seemed like a cake walk. The only thing that was left to the unknown would be my overall pace and finishing time. I ended up finishing at the time I’d predicted for myself, so that was even more of a bonus.
Like Alea said in her post, this race weekend was so uplifting and full of firsts for the both of us. Maybe it’s madness, or post-race delirium, but I want to run a half-marathon now. It doesn’t seem out of reach like it did last year when I went from lol wut to 5K. The next step looks like training for a half. Not sure how that will go, but I’ll be sure to document it here.
I’ll continue with more Star Wars anecdotes of Alea’s and Erin’s race day in an upcoming post, but this concludes it for me and the 10K.
First race of the year complete!