“Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have” – Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper
From the minute runDisney announced Star Wars themed races with a teaser video of Darth Vader and some Storm Troopers emerging from Sleeping Beauty’s pink castle, I had no doubt that I would run those races. When I found out they were at Disneyland, I knew I wanted Carly to run those races with me. We both love Star Wars. We both love Disney. Only one of us loves running. When the races were announced and I saw there was a Rebel Challenge consisting of a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday with an extra medal, I did not hesitate to register. I figured Carly would be OK running just this once. I was right. She was OK for 19.3 miles and we had the time of our lives!
First, let me diverge here for a second (this is my blog, now, so I can). I absolutely positively loved Disneyland. I have been to Disney World more times than I can count. I love Disney World but I think I love Disneyland better. At DL, everything is so close together. Park hopping is actually possible. No buses, no transportation needed. We walked everywhere and I loved it. We stayed at the Hotel Indigo, which was great. It was a short 8 minute walk to all things Disney. I know DW has 4 parks but Epcot pretty much sucks for kids and, unless you want to eat your way through the “world”, I find it lacking so I don’t really count it as part of my regular DW routine. I love the Magic Kingdom but Disneyland is pretty much MK. What really sets DL apart is California Adventure. California Adventure is one of the best amusement parks I have ever been to. If I lived in Southern California, I would go there all the time. I’m going to retire to Disneyland. Just saying. We also met the nicest people in the world. Runners are really nice people. Star Wars fans are really nice people. Travelers to the Happiest Place on Earth are really nice. Put all three together, and you’ve got a great crowd. We made friends in every line we stood in.
I’ll skip the lead up to the races from March 2014, when I registered, until January 2015. Suffice it to say, I am in good enough running shape to be able to pull off 19.3 miles with no real training. I maintain half marathon racing status year round and could probably run one whenever I felt like it. Carly, on the other hand, only did 3 training runs. None longer than 5 miles. Sheer stubborness got that girl through those two races. There is something to be said for that kind of stubborn. It is hard as hell to parent but it might pay off for her in the end!
We flew into LAX on Thursday and took the Disneyland Express Bus to Anaheim. We made some friends from New Jersey on the bus. We dropped our bags at the Hotel Indigo and immediately headed to the race expo. We picked up our packets, bib numbers and shirts (they were ugly – I’m so disappointed). We bought some headbands and hit the race gear tent. We did some damage to our Disney Gift Cards here. The stuff for purchase was much better than the shirts that came with the race. Gee, you don’t think Disney does that on purpose, do you?
We then walked down to the ESPN Zone. We shared ginormous nachos and I had a Guniness in the recliners down front by the huge TVs. We went back to the hotel to get ready for the Wookie Welcome Party which was being held in Tomorrowland with the park only open for those with tickets to the event. We had the best time. We met so many Star Wars characters. Carly rode Space Mountain three times with no wait. Of course, we rode Star Tours!
Friday we spent all day and all night in the parks. 13 hours. Of walking. Of standing in line. Of not sitting down. Did you know they serve local craft beer at California Adventure? It made it more bearable. Friday night, we had lobster nachos. Carly and I love nachos. We split them all the time.
The 3:30 wake up call for the 10K came very early. For us, it was not so bad because we were still sort of on East coast time so it felt more like 6:30. Our costumes were Darth Vader and R2-D2. I’m going to have to give DL the leg up over DW as far as race logistics and course go. At DW, you have to ride a bus from the resorts out to the parking lot at Epcot. You then have to walk about a mile to your corral. The corrals at the Disney Princess Half Marathon were much larger than the ones for this race. Add on at least an extra hour of crap at a DW race. At DL, we walked right out of our hotel, down two blocks to cut through Downtown Disney and over to the race start. It could not have been easier. Our corral was easy to find (I felt pretty good about our corral time I earned – Disney races tend to be slow so it makes me feel just a little fast). The announcers set the corrals off and soon, we were out on the course. The course at DL is so much better than DW. For the Disney Princess, I’ll bet we were in Magic Kingdom for one mile. The rest of the course was the side of Florida highways. Boring. At DL, we ran through both parks and when we weren’t in a park, we were behind the scenes and the Disney Cast Members lined the back alleys to cheer us on! The characters on the course were plentiful but the lines were really long for pictures so we skipped most of them.
I don’t care who you are or how much you don’t think you love Disney, running down Main Street USA in the early morning during a Disney race is an experience you will never forget! Carly did really well during the 10K. We did a good job keeping up with our intervals and there was a fair amount of running. I was not worried about the 10K. I knew the half marathon was where things might get ugly.
We spent the rest of Saturday in the parks, wearing our medals (all the cool kids do it after a Disney race). A 12 hour day. No sitting. I had to make Carly go back to the hotel at 8:00 PM. We did get to see this super cool Pixar parade. And we met Elsa and Anna because, really, when are we ever going to do this, again? We did skip the Frozen sing-along. Colin watches Frozen about every other day so nothing about Frozen is the “first time in forever” at our house.
By Sunday morning’s wake up call for the half marathon, Carly and I were both really tired. She was hard to wake up and she briefly considered not starting the race. I told her the choice was hers to make but I feared that she would regret not doing it and we were not ever going to have this moment, again. She decided to do the race but I worried that we might not make it to the end. I reassured her this race was hers, not mine, and we would take it as easy as she needed to. The start was even easier to get to from our hotel than the 10K. Kudos to DL for making this so easy.
The excitement in the corrals was much higher than the day before. People really went all out on the costumes. Disney showed an extended clip of Episode VII, and, when they showed the Millennium Falcon, people went crazy in the corrals! Seriously, this was amazing. They counted down each corral with this sign, which was super cool, and when we actually passed under it, it changed to look like we were entering warp speed.
We headed out with two couples dressed like X-Wing pilots. The women had orange tutus and they were so incredibly nice to Carly for the first few miles. Clearly, they were parents. The amount of attention Carly generated during this race kept her spirits up. She is incredibly small for her age so I am sure people thought she was younger than she is but so many runners shouted encouragement to her that it made my heart full. Runners are really kind people. Runners who see someone doing something amazing, like running your first half marathon at middle school age, dressed like Chewbacca with you mom dressed like Hans Solo, are even more encouraging. Cops on the side of the road high-fived her. The paramedics and the firefighters cheered for her. This is my favorite picture from the entire trip. We loved Paradise Pier.
We ignored our intervals about 3 miles in. We were tired. We had spent so much time on our feet since Thursday. I let her set the pace. We had no time goal other than to not get picked up by the sag wagon. The first 7 miles were through the two parks and they were entertaining.We turned out of California Adventure onto the main road through Anaheim. There were tons of high school bands and cheerleaders on this part of the course. They were so enthusiastic and kept us entertained. Once we passed this part and were in the neighborhoods around Anaheim, Carly began to struggle around mile 8. Every runner struggles around mile 8 of a half marathon. This is the part where you have put in a big effort but you still have a big effort in front of you. I suspected she wanted to quit but I doubted she would. She did not complain. She put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward. Then, we found the Empire on a street corner in the middle of suburban Anaheim. The 501st Legion (that is what they call themselves, after Darth Vader’s guard). Who knew there was an entire world renowned group of cosplay folks who make their own Star Wars bad guys costumes and show up places for free to entertain people? I am in awe of these people. I kind of want to be one of them. That Bobo Fett costume was made out of real metal.
These guys helped us forget that sometimes racing sucks. Nice job, 501st Legion. The last 4 miles were hard for Carly but she did it. We were clearly in the back of the pack. No one was even attempting to run anymore. As we hit the parking lot at Disneyland right before mile 13 to head to the finish, the struggling runners around us started crying, cheering, walking faster. I often forget that finishing a half marathon is not a given for everyone. There was once a time when I did not think I could do this, either. I cried at the finish line of my first half marathon, the Disney Princess. I cried at the finish of my first marathon. This is kind of a big deal. I love seeing people you would never expect to finish a race at the finish line. It renews my faith in people. I made Carly stop for this picture. Yes, we were very slow (the sign is gun time, not chip time, but still). This was my slowest finishing time but it was also one of my favorite races, ever, because of what it meant for Carly.
She was so tired but I was so proud of her. Not once did she complain. We ran in the finish and I gave her a huge hug. We had to go to a special tent to get our Rebel Challenge medal.
We then went to Build-A-Bear in our costumes to make a Toothless dragon for Colin because isn’t that what everyone does when they finish a half marathon?
We showered and changed and were back in the parks by noon. Yes, we are crazy. This was a once in a lifetime mother/daughter trip and we did not want to miss a thing. We rode all our favorite rides, again. We met some more cool people. I drank some more local craft beer. We ate some more Dole Whip. We stayed out until 9:30 (remember, we got up at 3:30). We made some amazing memories.
On Monday, we boarded the Disneyland Express Bus and were dropped off at LAX where we stayed in an airport hotel for our last night in California (don’t recommend that, BTW. Rookie mistake). We rode the Big Blue Bus down to Santa Monica. That was a memory. A man decided to change his pants right there on the bus. Anyhoo, we loved Santa Monica. I see why people want to live there. I want to live there (but maybe not all the time). On Tuesday, we flew home to NC, me, with my 7th half marathon medal, Carly with her 1st half marathon medal and the two of us with incredible memories to cherish of that times we wore Star Wars running costumes and ran through the Happiest Place on Earth.