Overview: The Disneyland 5K is the kick-off event for Disneyland Half-Marathon Weekend. This year's race was themed to Alice in Wonderland.

If you're curious about Disney races, you want to try a 5K for the first time or you simply love Disneyland, there isn't a better option than the Disneyland 5K. It's billed as a "fun run," is untimed, and is very low-key.

When: August 31, 2013. The race started at 5:30 am.

Where: The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Orange County.

Why: Well...I didn't see any beneficiaries listed on the RunDisney website for this race.

Course Access: There's a lot of mass transit to Disneyland (the OCTA bus 43, Metro 460, etc.) but unfortunately none of it is going to get you to Disneyland at 5:30 am (and runners were asked to be in the corral by 5). The only way to work this was to drive or to come in the night before and stay over.
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Pre-Race: The packet pickup was at the Expo at the Disneyland hotel. Unfortunately, you had to do this on Friday, since there was no day-of packet pickup.

The Expo was a bit of a diaster this year. About 10,000 runners from the 5K , 10K and Kids' Races needed to pick up their bibs and t-shirts on Friday, and by some reports, lines were as long as three hours. In addition, there was disappointment when race-related Disney merchandise sold out by the end of the day on Friday - only to appear promptly on eBay. It appears that many eBayers and other secondary market sellers hit up the Expo and got to the merch before the runners did.

The pre-race festivities on race morning included a DJ and commentary from the White Rabbit. It was a very hot day and Disney ensured that water was available before the run.

Course: The course began near the Mickey and Friends parking structure, went backstge and then onstage at Disney California Adventure, crossed the esplanade, went down Main Street and near the Castle in Disneyland, wove through Disneyland and Downtown Disney, and made its way to the Disneyland Hotel.

The course itself was almost entirely flat, but had a lot of corners and winding paths. There were announcements made over the PA to warn runners any time the course changed directions or narrowed.

What made the course special this year were the spectators at Downtown Disney (including the famous and beloved Peggy, who shows up to every race on both coasts to cheer on the runners!), the cast members who lined the course to cheer the runners on, and the large number of character photo ops.

Runners: At a Disney 5K you will find runners who run the gamut from serious athletes (some use the 5K as a warmup for the half-marathon) to first-time participants. Some wore costumes; some didn't. The course was so crowded that it was more of a power walk than a race, but almost everyone was polite. After the serious runners broke away at the beginning of the first wave, most people just meandered along.

Chip Timing: None. This was strictly a fun run.Technically, a 16-minute mile pace was required, whether you were running or walking. However, given the huge numbers of people at the race, given that the pace requirement didn't start until the last runner had crossed the start line, and given that the last wave started almost a half hour after the first, I think that one would have needed to fall way, way behind to get swept. I wouldn't have pushed it, though...getting swept from a race at the Happiest Place on Earth would have been a bummer, to say the very least.

Shirt: A lovely baby-blue t-shirt with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Swag: Everyone received a gorgeous finisher medal: a full color vinyl medallion made to look like a pocket watch on a blue satin ribbon with the race name and date. Some people complained because the Disney 5K races get these vinyl "medallions" instead of medals made out of metal, but I was not in that camp. I thought the medallion was beautiful, well crafted and a wonderful finishing prize.


Disney unfortunately uses those useless "virtual gift bags" so the only thing in the gear check sack was a Clif bar.

Post-Race: The post-race process was very organized - I wouldn't expect less from Disney. Runners were given water, Powerade, bananas and a cardboard lunch box filled with a variety of snacks. Some people kvetched about the boxes; I personally liked them.

Would I Do This Race Again: YES!
It's a few days before the race, and the email pops up in my Inbox: "RunThisWay, here is the link to your virtual gift bag!" *sigh*

I've now run in three races that have used "virtual gift bags." I haven't liked them. Are they the wave of the future? I surely hope not. Some races seem to be gravitating toward them--RunDisney, for instance, now lists them as a race perk instead of traditional tangible goody bags.

In general, I'd prefer to receive a real bag with real products. The pros and cons of virtual bags, as I see them, are such:

Pros:

1. Environmentally friendly.
There's no way around this one. Letting people browse online doesn't waste paper. In addition, since runners will only take the offers they want, they won't have to discard or dispose of the rest of the goodie bag's contents.

2. Marketing help. This one isn't a pro for the runners as much as it is for the sponsors. They can get clear numbers that tell them how many people use each offer in the goody bag.

Cons:

1. The goodies aren't nearly as good.
Instead of free samples, the online goody bags generally contain discount coupons.

2. They're not as exclusive. In the age of Groupon, RetailMeNot and other discount code sources, there usually isn't anything in the virtual race bags that the runners can't find elsewhere.

3. They are privacy risks. Often, using the offers in the goodie bags requires handing over personal information to companies, who in turn can turn the data over to marketers. No thanks.

4. They deny runners the chance to try new things, which in turn denies companies the chance to get new customers. I didn't like Under Armor products until I got a free set of wristbands in a goodie bag. Now they're a company I patronize. I started using Clif Shot Bloks after trying a sample. And so on. I always passed the samples I didn't want to friends or colleagues, which gave them the chance to become customers, too.

5. They aren't as fun. "Fun" is an entirely subjective concept, but for me, a lot of the appeal of the goody bag is the appeal of getting a surprise. You never know what will be there. It's like opening your Halloween bag after trick or treating to see what you've been given. Looking at a lineup of marketing banners just doesn't have the same thrill.

Is it greed? Probably.
http://espnwwos.disney.go.com/events/rundisney/tinker-bell-half-marathon/

Overview: The Never Land 5K, a night race through the theme park, was the first event in the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland, operated by RunDisney. It was an exciting, whimsical event, with typical Disney "magical moments."

The one major drawback to this race was the price: at $100, the Never Land 5K was more expensive than many half-marathons. It was also double the price of the Disneyland Family 5K, held in September. The reason for this was likely to be the "Twilight Ticket" that was included with the registration, which allowed admission to one Disney theme park after 4pm during the Half-Marathon weekend. I'd seen complaints about this online: for Annual Passport holders, the Twilight Ticket was a bit of a waste. I also have an AP, so in 2013, I'd appreciate it if the Twilight Ticket was optional.

When: January 27, 2012. This was a night race, and the first wave started at 10:30 pm.

Where: The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Orange County.

Why: Disneyland's races benefit the Anaheim Community Foundation, which helps families, seniors, children and and adults with many issues; and the City of Anaheim. I really liked that the beneficiaries of the 5K were local residents.

Course access: The race was held at Disneyland, so it was accessible by Metro bus 460, the Disneyland Express from LAX, OCTA bus 43, various shuttles and more. After the race, transportation was a problem. The last 460 bus of the evening went back to Downtown LA at about 12:20, but some of the connecting buses and trains shut down before then. The Disneyland Express stopped running at 10:30. During the other events of the Half-Marathon weekend, Disney offered free shuttles to and from various pickup points at hotels around Anaheim.
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Pre-race: The packet pickup was at the Expo at the Disneyland hotel. Fortunately, one could go to the Expo on the same night as the race, so two separate trips to Disneyland were not required.

Disney's pre-race festivities included an appearance by Tinker Bell, who flew over the Castle. Fireworks were also on the schedule, but had to be cancelled due to high winds.

There were several corrals/waves, which were self-assigned. Each wave was treated royally, with confetti canons and a special sendoff from the Emcee.

Course: The course started in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, wound through most of Disneyland, crossed over to California Adventure, and ended at Paradise Pier. There were several forays backstage, through areas that are normally verboten to visitors. There were also photo ops with Disney characters, floats from the Soundsational parade, and whimsical mile markers. It would have been very tempting to just meander through the course and spend a few hours taking pictures! At the end of the race, Paradise Pier was awash in color.

The course itself was almost entirely flat, but had a lot of corners and winding paths. There were announcements made over the PA to warn runners any time the course changed directions.

Runners: The Tinker Bell races were geared toward female runners, and women of all ages, shapes and sizes were well represented. There were also men of both serious and casual running styles, families, and older people. Many runners of both genders opted to wear costumes. It went without saying that there were numerous runners dressed as Tinker Bell or Peter Pan. There were also many who chose to wear costume pieces, such as glittery wings and tutus. Many children participated, but not as many as I expected. I'm guessing that this was due to the late hour, the price, and the fact that Disney also held a full contingent of (much less expensive!) Kids' Races later that weekend.

The course was so crowded that it was more of a power walk than a race, but almost everyone was polite. After the serious runners broke away at the beginning of the first wave, most people just meandered along.

Chip timing: None. This was strictly a fun run. RunDisney did give split times, however, so you could check your own pace. Technically, a 16-minute mile pace was required, whether you were running or walking. However, given the huge numbers of people at the race, given that the pace requirement didn't start until the last runner had crossed the start line, and given that the last wave started almost a half hour after the first, I think that one would have needed to fall way, way behind to get swept. I wouldn't have pushed it, though...getting swept from a race at the Happiest Place on Earth would have been a bummer, to say the very least.

Shirt: White short-sleeved T-shirt with the Never Land 5K logo in vibrant color.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Swag: Everyone received a gorgeous finisher medal: a full color vinyl medallion on a midnight-blue satin ribbon with the race name and date. Some people complained because the Disney 5K races get these vinyl "medallions" instead of medals made out of metal, but I was not in that camp. I thought the medallion was beautiful, well crafted and a wonderful finishing prize.

I also want to mention the bib, which was a work of art in itself: the same midnight blue with stars and personalization. For the goody bags: there wasn't much, in all honesty. There was a big race program, but the GEAR bag only included an energy bar. About two weeks before the race Disney sent a link to an "online i-gift bag" with promotional offers; this would seem to be the wave of the future.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Expo: Lots of vendors offered running gear, from shoes to iPod holders, and reasonable prices. There were also free lectures throughout the weekend with RunDisney experts, including Olympian Jeff Galloway.

Would I Do this Race Again: Yes. Without question.

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