runDisney offers many different races and challenges to entice runners to keep signing up. For the last ten years, the Coast to Coast Race Challenge has been on my race bucket list. In January 2017, after finishing the Dopey Challenge in Disney World and completing the Star Wars Light Side Rebel Challenge, I received my Coast to Coast medal! I was thrilled. With 29 Disney World runDisney races under my belt, I couldn’t wait to run at Disneyland and had a blast doing it. However, there were things I wish I had known about Disneyland races before I arrived. Here are the 7 things you need to know to get ready for your Disneyland race and Coast to Coast Race Challenge.
1 – runDisney’s Coast to Coast Race Challenges
2017 is the 10th Anniversary of runDisney’s Coast to Coast Race Challenge. The challenge consists of running a half-marathon or marathon at both Disney World and Disneyland in the same calendar year. After your second race, you will receive a special Coast to Coast Race Challenge medal. There are now several different Coast to Coast challenges and a single race can be used for multiple challenges. The main point to remember is that the races must be in the same calendar year.
You don’t have to do any extra step to register for the Coast to Coast challenge. The registration happens automatically. When you pick up your race materials for your second race it will be noted that you are eligible for the challenge. You will be given a bracelet that they will put on you then. Do not take this off! Wearing this bracelet is the only way to receive your medal after you finish your second race. Volunteers will also remove the bracelet when they give you your medal. That way runners can’t slip off the bracelet and give it to another runner.
2 – Time Zones, Jet Lag and Managing Schedules
If you are coming from another time zone, traveling to California for the Disney races will likely disrupt your sleep and eating patterns. Thankfully, I find it is much easier to travel east to west than west to east. How long it takes your body to get used to the time change varies greatly, but there are a few things to keep in mind when planning your Disneyland vacation around the races. First, runDisney races begin very early, usually at 5:30 am. That means you’ll likely be getting up anywhere between 3:00-4:00 am to make it to the race on time. East coasters have the benefit of a 3 am wakeup call feeling like 6:00 am. Still early, yes, but not so early as 3:00 am. Remember, though, that you’ll also be tired and ready for bed much earlier in the evening. If you are used to getting to sleep at 10:00 pm, that is actually 7:00 pm in California. It’s hard to get yourself to bed at 7:00 pm when the parks are open and calling to you. You’ll need to make some priorities and decisions for your race weekend. Here are some questions and some tips to consider:
- What are your race goals? Are you going for a PR (personal record)? Running for fun and time doesn’t matter? Will you mind going into the race tired because you stayed up late?
If your race experience is the top priority, then you may benefit from keeping on your normal time. This means that you will eat and sleep on your normal schedule until after the race. That also means you’ll be missing a lot at night. You may be going to bed around the time everyone else is finishing up dinner, but it’s more likely you will arrive to your race rested and refreshed.
If you are planning on a more relaxed race experience, then you can stay up later and push your body to get used to Pacific time. You’ll be able to enjoy more of the parks and the race. You may need a nap or two, but it may be worth trying to get the best of both worlds.
- How much park time do you (and your family) want before the race? Will they stay out while you go back to bed early? Will that bother you?
The decision of how much park time to have before the race is entirely up to you and depends on your race goals. I knew I was going to take an easy pace for the races and so I was able to spend more time in the parks before hand. If your schedule allows it, you may want to have more time in the parks after the races, especially if you have a fast race goal in mind.
No matter when you hit the parks, keep all the extra walking in mind during your training. The two days leading up to my races in January, I walked 12 miles on Thursday and 9 miles on Friday in the parks. Saturday, I walked an additional 6 miles in addition to my 10k run. On Sunday, I walked an additional 10 miles after my 13.1 run. Monday after the races we walked 13 miles in the parks. In total, including my running, my legs covered 71 miles in five days. Needless to say my legs were toast at the end. My race challenge was 19.3 miles, but I actually did 71 miles with all of the park walking. It wouldn’t hurt to include extra walking in your training plan to prepare your legs for all the walking and standing you’ll do in the parks.
- How long are you staying at Disneyland after the races(s)?
If possible, save the special evening activities for after the race. For example, we saved seeing World of Color until after the race since it was at 9:45 pm. By the time we watched it, my body had mostly adapted Pacific time.
Extra tip: do not plan on World of Color the same night as your race. We made that mistake. I had been up since 3:00 am, ran a half marathon, and walked hours in the parks. By the evening I was struggling to stay awake and we ended up leaving the park without seeing the show. We had the flexibility to see it the next night, but if you purchase a dinner package with reserved seating you may not be able to switch nights.
- When do you need to make dining reservations to accommodate your schedule?
When making dining reservations, keep in mind that you will be hungry a few hours earlier than normal until your body has adjusted to Pacific time. Those early days of your trip you may want to make lunch reservations at 11:00 am and dinner as early as 4:00 pm. As your trip progresses, you can make reservations at later times. It’s a good idea to have something in your hotel room for breakfast that first morning. We find our bodies tend to wake up at their normal eastern time. We often find ourselves awake at 3 or 4 am and very little is open. If you have access to a grocery store, or Disney resort store, it may be helpful to pick up some breakfast items for your room in those early days.
3 – runDisney Health & Fitness Expo
For your Disneyland race, you can expect the same general process and Disney World races. You must attend the Health and Fitness Expo to pick up your race packet that includes your race bib and other items. The process is same. You’ll need to get your packet, pick up your shirts, and do any shopping if you care to.
Overall, the biggest difference you’ll notice when you arrive at the Disneyland expo is size. The expo itself is much smaller with fewer exhibitors. More importantly, the merchandise area is also much smaller. At ESPN Wide World of Sports in Disney World, there are two official runDisney merchandise stores. A smaller one at the HP Field House where you pick up your packets and a much larger store in the Jostens Center where most of the exhibitors are found. While long waits are common for the store on the first day, we’ve never waited more than 30 minutes to get into the store at Disney World races. The following days of the expo, you can expect to simply walk into the store with no lines at all. Because of the much smaller store at the Disneyland expo, we found that there was always a line to enter the store on both Thursday and Friday. While the line move quickly, because of the smaller store I found the shopping experience Disneyland to be much more crowded. I could barely move once in the store and shopping was difficult. However, I was able to get everything I wanted on the second day of the expo at Disneyland, something that is harder to at Disney World with merchandise frequently selling out the first morning.
4 – Transportation to Expo and Race Start
Disney World, as you may or may not know, is twice the size of Manhattan. Because everything is so spread out, transportation to the expo and race area takes a lot longer. When you plan for your Disneyland race, however, you can expect a much shorter time needed for transportation. There are three on property resorts at Disneyland and they all are a five minute or less walk to the expo and race start. Also, there many non-Disney hotels that are within easy walking distance. We stayed at a hotel that was only a five-minute walk to the race start and it was very easy to get around quickly. Since it was my first-time racing at Disneyland, I wasn’t sure how much time to give myself to get to the race start. I arrived too early and would leave later then next time I race there.
For those who are a bit too far away to walk, Disney does offer complimentary Anaheim Resort Transportation shuttles from your hotel to the Disneyland transportation hub during the weekend. (A full list of participating hotels can be found in the event guide). These shuttles pick up and drop off about every twenty minutes. Be advised that the drop off point for these shuttles is near the park entrances and you’ll still have about a five-minute walk from the drop off point and the race start/expo area.
For those driving, expo and race parking is in the Mickey and Friends parking garage. Those who are used to free parking at the Disney World expos and races, should be prepared to pay for parking. In January 2017, the parking fee was $18. Be sure to keep your parking ticket since you may want to use it to re-enter the parking garage later in the day. From the garage, you’ll have a short walk to the expo and race start. Directions are clearly marked.
Note that just like at Disney World, all runners and spectators must go through a security checkpoint before entering the race area on race mornings including bag checks. Unlike Disney World though, at Disneyland, everyone is required to either pass through a metal detector or be scanned by a wand. My time through security was quick (only about 5 minutes), but I arrived to the area around 4:30 am on both mornings and it wasn’t very busy yet. If you arrive later in the morning, be sure to give yourself enough time to go through security. Even those without bags must be scanned.
5 – Running Through Disneyland Parks
The 5k and 10k at Disneyland are great courses. The best thing about these races is they are almost entirely in the parks. In fact, you usually have more time in the parks than you do on the half marathon courses. For the Star Wars10k, you’ll be in the Disney California Adventure Park within the first mile. The one mile marker is just after a brief run through Cars Land, then you’ll have over a mile run through the rest of California Adventure. You’ll have a short section backstage after you leave California Adventure and then you head onto Disneyland. There, you’ll enjoy another mile and then some through Disneyland, including of course running through Sleeping Beauty Castle. After you leave Disneyland, you’ll have one mile to the finish. It’s a fantastic set up with breaks in all the right places and so much to see in both parks. The Tinkerbell 10k and the 10k during Super Heroes weekend does include some sections on the streets of Anaheim. However, please note that due to construction and expansions, course changes could vary from year to year.
Just like Disney World, your runDisney race at Disneyland will have lots of photo opportunities and characters. The characters will only be in the park section of the course. So be on the lookout early for those character appearances. At the Star Wars races there were also photo areas at the race start/finish area.
6 – Run Through the Streets of Anaheim
Disneyland has three half marathon races: The Star Wars Half Marathon – The Light Side, the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, and the Super Heroes Half Marathon. They all offer different courses. Yet, they all go through the parks and they all have most of the race taking place on the streets of Anaheim. Unlike Disney World, Disneyland has a space issue and the only way to get in 13.1 miles is to leave Disney property.
The Star Wars Half Marathon – The Light Side 2017 course that runs through Disneyland and the streets of Anaheim was not the most exciting course I’ve run. I understand the challenges though. The first four miles are similar to the 10k. However, unlike the 10k, you do not run through Adventureland or Frontierland in Disneyland Park. Seems odd that they would cut miles out of the parks and add it to the city streets. It was also mentally challenging to go through the excitement of the parks and then be faced with 8 miles of city streets. However, out on the streets Disney provided high school bands and cheerleaders and many spectators came out to liven up the course. Below is our highlight video of the 2017 Star Wars Half Marathon – The Light Side. Watch for sections that show cheering and support on the streets of Anaheim.
7 – Final Thoughts
Completing the Coast to Coast Medal Challenge is on many runDisney runner’s bucket lists. While Disneyland has its space issues, I thoroughly enjoyed running there and can’t wait to go back and earn another Coast to Coast medal. With some planning, you’ll be able to have a great race along with some great park time at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure.
For a no obligation, FREE Quote on a Disney vacation package, please contact our travel partner Magical Vacation Planner at 407-442-0227 (407-442-0215 for Spanish). You can also request a FREE quote online by Clicking HERE.