The CARSification of Disneyland: 2012 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, Part 2

“Adventures by Daddy” correspondent George Gensler brings us to the 2012 Disneyland Half Marathon weekend.  In Part 1, she reviewed the Health and Fitness Expo.  In this second of three-part series, she describes gives a mile by mile recap of the Cars Land 5K, and we run with her niece in the Kids Races.  Finally, we’ll be auctioning off a Disneyland Half Marathon poster and commemorative pin set for Give Kids The World.

Article and Photos by George Gensler

Friday – Cars Land 5k and 400m Dash

Disneyland Half Marathon weekend begins with the family fun run.  To commemorate the opening of Cars Land earlier this summer, the theme of the 5k was Cars and the course finished in Cars Land.  The bibs, t-shirts and medals all carried the Cars and racing themes down to the checkerboard pattern from the flag.

Now, you might think that a fun run 5k held during a half marathon weekend would be a throwaway event, especially because it’s not a competitive/timed event.  runDisney doesn’t operate that way, though.  Each event is treated as if it’s the main event.  Though it was only a 5k, the race had to start early enough that the runners would be clear of the theme park before it opened; so I was on my way at 6 am for the 6:45 start (thanks to staying onsite, which I highly recommend for these races).  Runners convened in the port-a-pottie-lined parking lot at the Mickey & Friends parking structure for the pre-race party.

When I got there, the DJ was rallying the crowds, along with some of the “pit crew” with a rousing version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”  With the usual brilliance of Disney theming, the DJs turntables and speakers were set up to look like toolboxes and his backdrop was a giant representation of the race logo.  He moved on to the “Tiki Room Macarena” and then, my favorite of the morning, the “Cars Land 5K” (sung and danced to the Village People’s YMCA – go ahead and try it yourself now – Cars Land 5K).  Tons of fun and dancing children everywhere.

About a half hour before the start, we were directed to move into the race path by pace with the faster runners in the front and the walkers in the back, but it’s impossible to separate into pace groups in the tram path, which is where the 5k starts.  It’s walled on one side by tall shrubs and hemmed in on the other side by barriers and volunteers.  I was able to move up to the front, but with 5000 runners, anyone arriving late was forced to start at the back.  This may not seem a big deal for a fun run, but quite a few of the runners are parents who need to finish in time to get to the Kids’ Races start.  With the set-up of the tram loading area, it wouldn’t be too difficult to set up corrals so people could actually line up by pace and I hope runDisney looks into that option for future 5k events.

As I mentioned above, the fun run is organized as if it were the main event.  The start area has a stage and a start banner and, in honor of the Cars racing theme, it had the best “starting gun” ever, but I’ll get back to that.  First off, we were treated to some funny skits about the National Anthem (your singing blows, I’ll show you what blows – trumpeted anthem), and the inability of the pit crew to get the car going.  In this scenario, we may have been the car of the story, but I’m not sure about that.

At last, an alternate pit crew arrives and we’re able to get the show on the road.

And here is where Disney’s theming and runDisney’s attention to detail really stood out.  For a 5k fun run, we were given one of the most magical starts ever.  We are cars on a race track. It’s time to Start Your Engines . . .

And we were off!  We followed the tram path to Downtown Disney, then veered off to run into the backstage area of Disneyland.  Going backstage is thrilling enough, if you think about it, but the fun didn’t stop there.  Have I mentioned how good Disney is at theming?  Well, almost every vehicle we passed on the course had been CARSified!  Yes, I made that word up, but check this out:

And here is what those vehicles look like when they’re not CARSified

The 5k course took us through Disneyland, passing rides that were not in full operation, but were running.  At 6am, the park is gorgeous.  The thundering herd being steered and cheered through are the only non-cast members in the park, so you can see the park buildings in all their glory, without jostling lines of eager riders blocking the view.  The cast members are wonderful, lining the course, cheering and high-fiving runners, and encouraging us as if we’re elite athletes.

After the first mile, we started seeing characters.  I had to finish up quickly to get back to the Kids’ Races, so I just stopped for a quick picture between runners.  In the second mile, we were treated to a run through the castle.  I’ve walked through that castle hundreds of times, but running through on a race course is something magical.

Out on the hub, more vehicles were CARSified.  I was/am delighted with the care that Disney took with this event, going above and beyond to make it magical for us.

After running a mile through Disneyland, we were guided out of the park, across the plaza and into Disney California Adventure.

As we passed under the monorail beam in the plaza, we were cheered on by the CARSified monorail

In the final mile, we saw more characters, more CARSified vehicles, and a great view of the new Disney California Adventure.

Mickey and Minnie cheered for us at the entrance of Cars Land, where the finish line awaited us, right outside of Flo’s V8 Cafe.

Lightning and Mater congratulated us on our finish and steered us towards the post-race water and snacks.  If you’ve ever participated in a smaller event (or, in my case, the New York Road Runner’s 5000-strong races held almost every weekend in New York City), you’ll know that post-race hydration and nutrition can be hit or miss.  In the case of NYRR, non-sponsored races tend to get you cups of water hydrant water, bagels or bags of pretzels, and some type of fruit.  Disney, however, even for a fun run, really treats its runners well.  There were bottles of Dasani water (and not just the little chubbies), plus a newly debuted runDisney snack box.

The new snack box is a welcome addition to the runDisney post-race experience.  It includes a perfect nutritional balance of foods, with variety enough that everyone will be able to find something they can eat.  I especially loved the crackers and peanut butter, which I ate right away, then had the Almond Roca for dessert.  Yum!

Red and DJ ushered us out of the finish area and back into the park so we could exit and continue on with our days, which, for me, meant hustling back over to Downtown Disney to find my family and get to the start of the Kids’ Races.

Over in Downtown Disney, the Kids’ Races were set up and waiting for the runners to arrive.  runDisney makes a real effort to include everyone in its races, so the start of the Kids’ Races is 9am, giving parents plenty of time to finish the 5k and head over to ESPN Zone, which is the staging area for the race.  The children are given just as much attention as the adults.  The holding pens for the kids have the same DJ from the 5k.  He played music, led dances, asked trivia questions.  There were little games and toys, including hula hoops, for the kids to play with while they waited.  And waited.  And waited, for their heat to start.

We were asked to be in the holding area by 8:30 for a 9am start, but the kids’ races take a long time to finish, because they’re designed to get all the kids through safely, so there is a lot of waiting around for the older children (and their running companions).

Happily, this year, there was a hydration station for the kids, with water and Powerade.  Clif also had a tent set up with their line of athlete nutrition for children, which are granola bars and fruit sticks.  This is a vast improvement over last year, when my then 7-year-old niece and I were standing around for over an hour and a half waiting for her heat to start, with no water, food, shade or any other comfort.  That’s hard enough on an adult, but for a child, it’s even harder.  Kudos to runDisney for listening to parents and creating a healthier atmosphere for the younger athletes.  We all want them to keep up their running, so we need to make sure they understand the right way to do it.

(Pit Crew teaching kids to run tall and strong)

The runDisney kids’ races are set off in heats and waves.  The 100m dash is run by 1-3 year olds and goes first, followed by the 200m dash for 4-6 year olds, followed by the 400m dash for 7-8 year olds, and finished off with the diaper dash for babies under 12 months.  Each heat is divided into waves of 5 to 10 children, so there is little chance of a collision between kids.  Each child can have one adult run with them.  I am my 8-year-old niece’s chosen adult (I’ve run with her every year she’s run it).  This is the first year that I was unable to keep up with her!  She took off like a bat out of… a cave… and didn’t stop until she hit the finish line!  It took me a good 30 seconds to catch up to her.

(it’s blurry because she was that fast!)

I haven’t mentioned the Kids’ Races course, but it’s very important because it illustrates, again, the attention to detail of runDisney.  The course is looped around ESPN Zone at the Disneyland Hotel end of Downtown Disney.  It is designed so that every child crosses the half marathon finish line with the Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy) cheering them in.

As with the adult races, the children are given bottles of water and food snacks, but, for them, it’s the Clif kids’ nutrition again, rather than the snack box.  From the t-shirts to the bibs to the medal, runDisney helps children feel like athletes, giving them a sense of pride and accomplishment.  My 17-year-old goddaughter was with us this trip and was so inspired by these events that she has decided to run the 5k with me next year and has already started her training.  runDisney had a lot to do with that, by putting on such great events and really building up the excitement for not only the participants, but the spectators, as well.

I asked my nieces for their impressions of the event: “amazing” “so fun” “I liked it” “good post race snacks” “I loved them” “the party at the beginning was fun.”

After the races, we had to get back to the hotel to change, because how else would you prepare for a half marathon, than to spend the day before walking around in the Disney Parks!  Next up, part 3 with my half marathon experience.  Don’t forget we’ll also be auctioning off a Disneyland Half Marathon poster and collectible pin set for Give Kids The World.

Disclosure: runDisney provided George Gensler with complimentary admission to the Cars Land 5K and Kids’ Races in exchange for this post.  However, all opinions expressed are her own.

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Bio: George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends.  She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents.  She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland.  She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises.  She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.