June 17, 2024

2024 Disneyland Half Marathon Report & Review: runDisney Returns After 7 Years Away!

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After a 7-year hiatus, runDisney returned to California and I returned to running with the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon. I'll share photos and thoughts in this race report–including my take on events at Walt Disney

After a 7-year hiatus, runDisney returned to California and I returned to running with the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon. I’ll share photos and thoughts in this race report–including my take on events at Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland, plans to run the 2024 Halloween Half Marathon or 2025 WDW Marathon, and more.

When I say that this marked my return to running, I mean that in the since that I haven’t done a runDisney event since the last Disneyland Half Marathon. I was registered for the Walt Disney World Marathon when that returned, but something came up that prevented me from running. Other attempts at race registrations failed when the events sold out. I was actually fairly lucky to get a spot in the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon–it filled up within minutes after I scored my spot.

This also more or less marks my return to running–not just racing. Longtime readers might be familiar with my training regimen, which is more or less don’t. I mention this up front because I know runDisney has a fervent fan following, and some of you might be running zealots. This race report is not for you. It emphasizes the Disney in runDisney, rather than the run.

I am not a runner. I have never gone for more than a 5-mile run outside of a runDisney event. Literally not once, ever. While I did some neighborhood running out of boredom back in 2020, I can’t even remember the last time I ran more than 2 miles prior to the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon. It was probably 2020, maybe early 2021.

With that said, I did some kinda-sorta training. Sarah has a Peloton bike, so I used that 4 times in the lead-up to the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon. I even did an 11-mile ride one time, which I’m told is totally the same as running 13.1 miles. I also refrained from eating at In-N-Out Burger for about 4 weeks before the race. But I did have a lot of ice cream, assorted meats, and other unhealthy foods during that time frame. Whoever schedules these flagship runDisney races right after the heart of the holiday eating season is just plain cruel.

While this lackluster training has more or less worked for me in the past, I was nervous going into the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon. Although I generally have a healthy diet and am reasonably active, my body has also aged 7 years since my last run of any appreciable distance. Not only that, but I have been eating less healthy and been less active than normal in the last ~11 months.

But we’ll circle back to all of this in the closing remarks at the end of the race report…

Not knowing where the start or finish would be, we opted to hedge our bets and book a hotel months ago that would (hopefully) be relatively convenient–or at least not inconvenient–to either potential option. With that in mind, we booked the Westin Anaheim as soon as race registration opened and before prices skyrocketed.

For those planning to do future runDisney races at Disneyland, making reservations ASAP is the way to go. Most ‘real world’ Anaheim hotels raise their rates based dynamically based on demand and supply, and there simply is not enough inventory for Disneyland plus runDisney plus Anaheim Convention Center.

The day you register for the race should be the day you reserve your room. Book something refundable in case the map comes out and you’re not happy with the location, but get something. (If the start line stays in the same spot for future races, there are a ton of affordable options with better locations than the on-site hotels.)

We just wrapped up a stay at the Villas at Disneyland Hotel (see Our Stay in Disney’s Smallest Hotel Room) last week, but I didn’t want to pick up my race bib or do the expo (both indoors) in a congested and slow-moving environment. I also figured it would be a bit of a cluster, so I waited until 3 p.m. on Saturday.

This was the perfect plan. Instead of the lengthy line and long wait that other runners reported, I encountered zero wait whatsoever. It took me 5 minutes total, and that included a quick pass through the store to see if there was anything worth purchasing. I actually really liked some of the race merchandise…until I saw the price tags!

On the plus side, there was a ton of stuff left at the end of the expo, so perhaps it’ll end up at the outlets. Half price on some of those shirts is closer to my range. I do want to give props to the runDisney design team, as the graphics and merchandise for several recent events have been phenomenal. No wonder runDisney has become so popular!

I was hyped to be in Corral C for the race, but this was a good and bad thing. The good thing about being so far up in the corrals was that I started about ~10 minutes after the race itself. In past runDisney events, I haven’t crossed the starting line until 30-45 minutes after the event started.

There’s also the reality that even in the longer distance events, Disney races draw a more “casual” crowd. RunDisney has gotten pretty good about sharing “race etiquette,” but a lot of people assume that doesn’t apply to them. Suffice to say, there’s definitely something to be said for not having to dodge hordes of people walking 5-wide for the first 2 miles of the event. It’s also nice being in the home stretch by the time the sun comes up.

The downside is the contrasting “energies” at the back of the pack versus the front. Like a mullet, runDisney corrals are business in the front, party in the back. There are way more Disney fans wearing costumes, excitement, and general hijinks in the back, as compared to people who are very serious about completing this race as quickly as possible to achieve a new PR. You can’t have it all, though, so this is admittedly a stupid complaint. It’s either a smoother run early on or having fun with fans–not both.

The opening act of the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon was a good one. The first mile was on Harbor and Katella, heading back towards Downtown Disney before cutting onto a backstage road behind Avengers Campus and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, and then into Hollywood Land right around the second mile marker.

Following that, the course weaved through just about land in DCA–over a full mile just in that park–before heading across the Esplanade to Disneyland. This was another hearty stretch of the race, starting with the quintessential run down Main Street USA before weaving through Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and coming back through Sleeping Beauty Castle.

The race then continued to the Rivers of America and, for the first time, through Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toontown before exiting backstage and heading past the Team Disney Anaheim offices. This wrapped up the first 5 miles (roughly) of the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon. It was a very strong start to the event.

Every Disneyland Half Marathon that I’ve ever done has begun in the parks. While I would personally prefer to backload the race with running through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure when I need more motivation and, ahem, magic to finish, I get why they do it this way. Have to clear the parks before they open for the day!

My only real complaint with the in-park portion was the lack of characters. I really liked when runDisney introduced the elevated selfie stations a number of years ago with characters on elevated platforms. For whatever reason, those are now gone and meet & greets are back…and not nearly as many of them. It also was a really perplexing decision to put Dumbo so close to the start of the race in the Hollywood Backlot–his line was already cut by the time I got there, and I arrived fairly early!

Nevertheless, the biggest positive of the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon was that the first 5 miles or so of the run were knocked out inside Disneyland Resort. Previous races I’ve done in California entered the parks slightly earlier and were out before mile 4. Getting an extra mile in the parks was huge.

But that’s because the bulk of the race is through the streets of Anaheim, and this is consistently the worst portion of any runDisney race I’ve ever run anywhere. It’s like the interminably long part of the Walt Disney World events that head out to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, except in this case, well over half the race.

This was basically the same stretch of road as prior Disneyland Half Marathons, except even worse than normal. For those who are unfamiliar with this infamous portion of the course, it largely runs through the Anaheim Business Campus, which is a very industrial portion of town. It’s basically the real world inspiration for Avengers Campus–but minus the super heroes. Just boring building after boring building in a neverending office park.

Normally, this is punctuated with a run through Angel Stadium. Even as you’re trudging through the boring portions, there’s that to look forward to. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen this year. I am inclined to blame the biggest villain in Southern California now that Bob Chapek has been dethroned: Arte Moreno.

The course went through the parking lot at Angel Stadium, around Angel Stadium, but not inside Angel Stadium. It was really bittersweet to be right there but not go inside. Almost like we were being teased.

On the plus side, we did circle the exterior of the Honda Center, and that was more lively than normal. I don’t recall ever seeing Wild Wing during one of the previous Disneyland Half Marathons–that was one of the highlights of the entire run for me!

The other big blow was a lot less on-course entertainment during the Anaheim portion of the race. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been Disney entertainment during this portion of the race. I assume that’s because it’s a non-Disney environment and the company has strict character integrity rules (and probably doesn’t want to attract crowds of non-runners), all of which makes complete sense. That’s not my complaint, though.

For the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon, there was also less entertainment and visual interest, period. Granted, it’s been ~7 years and my memory isn’t perfect–but I have a huge catalog of photos and video from previous races. During prior events, there were lengthy stretches featuring cultural groups (flamenco dancers, etc.), high school bands, and more.

In the past, there were literally mile-plus stretches of classic cars. This year, it was a blink-and-you-missed-it lineup of a few dozen vehicles. There’s no getting around the Anaheim portion of the course being boring. It is what it is. Not having much of anything to help fill those lulls made it even worse.

It also felt like there were far fewer spectators along the Anaheim stretch of the course. I don’t have photo ‘evidence’ of this and even if I did, it’s not like that would be the fault of runDisney.

If anything, I’m guessing that the frigid weather kept a decent number of people away who otherwise would’ve been there. But it’s hard to be mad about the weather (who would you even get mad at, anyway?) since I’d far prefer to run in cold temperatures than hot ones.

There were other issues with the race, but I’m willing to grant some grace and attribute that to hiccups after a 7-year hiatus. I do think that it would’ve been wise for runDisney to not run its two flagship events at Walt Disney World and Disneyland on back-to-back weekends so they could’ve better prepared for both. Perhaps their options were limited and this was the weekend the City of Anaheim wanted. So I’ll even be forgiving of that. The lack of entertainment wasn’t a simple mistake, though; it was a conscious decision.

As for my personal performance in the race, my “goal” was to finish the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon in under 2 hours, but that was a goal I set the morning of the race after reviewing my previous results (from 7+ years ago), so it’s not like I had my mind set on this or spent months training to achieve it. To the contrary, I hadn’t trained at all (save for those few Peloton rides).

Through the first 10K, I wasn’t doing too terribly, with a time of 1:02:38. That would’ve put me within striking range of the 2 hour mark, assuming I could improve my time in the back half of the race. In the past, I’ve done exactly that–since I’m stopping for photos quite frequently in the front half, my times tended to get better outside the parks.

Not so this time around! This is where my lack of training and age caught up with me. In order to maintain a reasonable running pace, I started cheating on my mechanics and landing on my heels instead of the balls of my feet at around 7-8 miles. Shortly after that, I had terrible knee pain–precisely why I worked on changing my stride to avoid heel strikes over a decade ago in the first place! The final few miles were painful, and I had to walk on several occasions not because I was tired, but because running hurt.

Obviously, this is my own stupid fault. It’s not the lack of running as training; I haven’t been as active in the last year as normal. I should’ve seen the red flag last August when I was tired after only a week of 30,000 steps days in the parks–but I assumed it was the heat.

I ended up with a total time of 2:23:16. I know a lot of people would be very happy with this, and I probably should be one of them. It’s not that I’m unhappy with it–I didn’t deserve anything better–but more that I’m disappointed in myself. I feel a kick in the pants to do better next time. Being healthy is incredibly important to me, especially now that we have a daughter, and I want to do the work to actually earn better results, if that makes sense.

With that in mind, I’m left wondering when and where I’ll want to do another runDisney event. Honestly, I was losing interest in the Disneyland events before they went on hiatus, and I probably would’ve stopped running them had the decision not been taken out of my hands.

I started doing runDisney events in 2012, and really ‘peaked’ on them in 2015-2016. After that, things started going downhill for me, which was presumably due to a combination of diminishing returns (subjectively) and less entertainment (objectively).

Even back then, I remember singing the praises of on-course entertainment and the fabled “Disney Difference” in my race recaps and to first-timers on the fence about the races. Longtime runDisney friends basically said in response, “you should’ve seen it ___ years ago, it was even better!”

My hope was that several years away would result in runDisney hitting reset and the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon feeling fresh. To be sure, it was awesome running through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure again, but I did not get the sense that anything was reinvigorated.

It felt like more or less the same trajectory as before. To the extent that it felt more magical than last time, it was because I hadn’t done it in 7 years. Objectively speaking, the 2024 was not as good as the Disneyland Half Marathons I did from 2015 to 2017. The in-park course was longer, so that was nice, but just about everything else was inferior.

Honestly, it’s difficult to fault them given that runDisney events have been more popular than ever in the last few years. Sure, there’s been an element of pent-up demand, which would be doubly true at Disneyland where races went on hiatus for the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Even at Walt Disney World, though, events seem to be selling out faster than ever.

(With that said, I can remember writing at length about declining demand for runDisney back in 2017, and how runDisney’s “solution” to slower sales was to cut corners. So it would seem that high demand is an excuse to reduce entertainment…and so is low demand. Not really sure what that leaves?)

In any case, I’m already eager to run another runDisney event to ‘remedy’ my results from this half marathon and achieve some sort of vindication. Even though I’m already “over” the regular Disneyland Half Marathon once again, I find myself tempted by the Disneyland Halloween Half Marathon.

For one thing, it’s an inaugural race and, like all Disney fans, I love the first of anything. The Disneyland races are also closer and more convenient to us, and I prefer the comparative predictability of Southern California weather. By contrast, the next Walt Disney World race I could do is the Wine & Dine Half Marathon, and Florida weather in early November feels like playing with fire.

Perhaps I’ll just wait until the 2025 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. I’ve loved that flagship event in the past, and have really wanted to do it again for the last few years. When setting weather aside–which I think you can do for the January races–the Walt Disney World events are better.

This isn’t really a California vs. Florida thing, just the practical reality of Walt Disney World having complete control over its courses thanks to 43 square miles of size. Disneyland Resort does not have that same luxury due to being the size of a postage stamp and having to work with the surrounding City of Anaheim. (Normally, I think the compact layout is mostly advantageous for Disneyland–but not for running!)

This isn’t to say there aren’t boring stretches in the Walt Disney World races–there definitely are–but none of it goes past office parks and due to all of it being on-property, there’s more themed entertainment even when you’re just running on boring ole roadways. The park sections are also just as good, and typically spaced out better–since there’s more than just an Esplanade separating them. And hey, maybe if I actually train, I could do the Dopey Challenge again!

Wrapping things up, we headed to In-N-Out Burger for the fourth not-so-annual “Disneyland Half Marathon Double Double Meat-Up.” Per tradition, none of you showed up to the event (thanks a lot, everyone). Granted, I didn’t tell any of you about it, but I expect the wise readers of this blog to always be stationed at In-N-Out Burger, ready to protect our nation’s greatest treasures.

Devouring two Double Doubles immediately after underperforming in the 2024 Disneyland Half Marathon probably isn’t the best way to say that I’m serious about healthy living, but this post-race recovery meal was needed to replenish vital nutrients and so forth. Perhaps the In-N-Out celebratory meal is the best reason of all to continue the runDisney tradition in California. As much as I love Sonny Eclipse, Cosmic Ray’s just doesn’t hit the same way!

If you’re planning on getting into runDisney, read my comprehensive planning & prep post, “The Idiot’s Guide to runDisney” for everything to know: training, what to pack, recommended races, the registration process, and more. If you want my first-hand accounts from past events, check out my runDisney Race Reports. Also be sure to check out my runDisney Packing Tips post for what you should use to train, and what to carry on race day. For more Disney tips, special offers, and news, subscribe to our newsletter!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Do those of you who ran the race have anything to add? Do you agree or disagree with my perception of a quality-decline in the entertainment of this year’s Disneyland Half Marathon? Are you considering the 2024 Disneyland Halloween Half, 2025 Disneyland Half Marathon, or a different runDisney event at Walt Disney World? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!

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