ANAHEIM, Calif., February 1, 2012—With a little bit of faith, trust and pixie dust, the inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon got off to a flying start on Sunday, Jan. 29 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. More than 10,200 runners finished the debut event aimed at celebrating women and fitness.
The race marked my first trip to Disneyland, unless you count the time my mother says I went as a 4-month-old. So I decided to do it right. I willed my 5-foot-8-inch frame into a child’s XL Tinker Bell costume, wings and all, and lined up in the all-women’s corral A for the 5:45 a.m. start.
As I shivered in the 50-degree air waiting for the race to begin, I noticed I wasn’t the only one doing as the Romans do. A sea of fairies, princesses and tutus surrounded me. I saw runners dressed as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, Alice, Tiger Lily, Peter Pan, and, of course, Tinker Bell. It’s safe to say that half the runners wore something other than regular running gear, be it fairy wings, a sparkle skirt, or a full-fledged costume.
Even the eventual winner of the race, Kellie Nickerson of Albuquerque, N.M., went full fairy as she blazed the course in 1:27:52. She dressed as Tink, naturally.
Overall, the Tinker Bell Half Marathon was one of the best race experiences I’ve ever enjoyed—from preferred placement for women at the start to an embarrassment of Disney characters and cheerleaders to high-five along the way.
Getting into the corrals was a breeze, especially if you were staying at one of the Disneyland hotels from which you could just walk on over. I had plenty of room to run, even in the narrower parts of the course. And the finish line experience was refreshingly fast, from getting my medal to getting some food in my belly.
Shortly after fireworks blared during the national anthem, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck and an animated Tinker Bell saw runners off at the start. The race began with a three-mile loop in and around Disneyland Park before heading north to downtown Anaheim after sunrise, then back to Disney’s California Adventure Park and the finish.
The course was flat and—coming from New York City—scenic with palm trees swaying in the breeze and mountains hovering in the background. The Anaheim roads we ran were either charming residential lanes, the rather lovely downtown streets, or wide boulevards lined with shouting spectators. I was surprised by the number of people flooding the streets to cheer us on—including hundreds of ladies from the Red Hat Society.
The on-course entertainment was also rallying. While the Disney characters were largely placed in the two miles of the course that ran through the Disney parks proper, the rest of the course was loaded with local entertainment. Marching bands, drum corps, pom and cheer squads encouraged us on. We were even treated to performances by an all-male step team and lovely Hawaiian dancers. My favorite was a military rock band dressed in their camo playing Muse’s “Uprising” as I ran by after mile 10. Dare I say it? They rocked harder than Muse themselves. I gave them a fist pump and shouted, “Thank you! You guys rock!”
But of course, the real stars were the Disney characters themselves. They seemed to line every inch of the two miles that ran through the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks. Between Mile 2 and 3, I stopped for at least 10 minutes to have my photo taken with Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan and Wendy. I also stopped for a photo op in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, another with Pocahontas and John Smith, and to gander at Donald Duck, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, better known as The Three Caballeros. I went from a 9-minute mile to a 19-minute one, as I indulged the child not so deep within me.
Other characters I saw included Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, Hercules, Tarzan, Captain Jack Sparrow, a ship’s worth of pirates, Rapunzel, the Lost Boys riding King Arthur’s Carousel, the Monsters Inc., crew, the Toy Story gang including Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Jessie and the green army men, a tooting engine from the Disneyland Railroad and fun Halloween and Christmas parade floats.
Conspicuously missing was Tinker Bell. Other than an animated Tink who appeared on the starting screen to send the runners off, I didn’t see her on the course. She’d made a truly dazzling appearance at the Never Land Family Fun Run 5K the Friday before the half-marathon, swooping down from the sky to fly over Sleeping Beauty Castle. But I would have loved to take my picture with the titular fairy on half-marathon morning, especially dressed as I was in homage to her. It’s the only missed opportunity I saw in an otherwise flawlessly executed race.
As my second Disney race, I was pleased to find official brightroom photographers at each character stop along with Disney staff to snap pics with my own camera. That had been my only regret at the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon—a lack of official photographers at the character stops—since I had forgotten my camera. When runDisney folks say they really listen to runner feedback, they’re not kidding. I imagine Tink will be flooding the course next year.
By the time I reached Mile 3, I had seven photos with characters tucked safely into my belt. Just then, my fiancé—who was one of the 920 men registered for the race—caught up with me. He’d started with all the other “fast” men in corral C, and spent the first three miles of his race running 3 minutes per mile slower than his usual pace as he weaved around runners in front of him. But he didn’t care. Like me, he wasn’t doing this race for a personal record. We were both doing it for fun.
He said he was having a blast running a women’s race.
“First thing I noticed was at the first volunteer station, there was a whole lot of ‘Thank you volunteers!’ That happens less frequently in the men’s area,” he said with a laugh as we ran.
His usual race experience is far less polite, he said, running mostly with men and the very fastest women toward the front of the pack. I think he was enjoying the change of pace, so he ran with me until Mile 10.
We chatted the whole time, noting our surprise at the large number of spectators, how beautiful the day was as the temperature steadily warmed, the cool costumes we saw, and how friendly everyone was.
But at Mile 10, we parted ways so he could get in a fast 5K before the finish. As he jetted off, I was surprised to find that I felt great, barely out of breath at the conversational pace we’d been running. So I decided to do the same. I pushed the pace the last three miles to cross the finish line in 2:15:55. I was tempted to stop in the last mile for a photo with Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, but I wanted to see how fast I could run the last three miles. So I kept on flying, my wings flapping in the wind behind me.
Not only did I best my time from the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon—which I also did as a fun run—but I would have easily run a personal record if I subtract the 10+ minutes I stopped for photos in the early miles. Considering I’d run at a comfortable to comfortably hard pace, in a Tink costume no less, that put me over the moon.
Perhaps listening to “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” on repeat during training runs convinced me it was possible. Perhaps those fairy wings really did help me fly. Or maybe it was just that Disney magic. Either way, the Tinker Bell Half Marathon was a race experience to write home about. From the flat, well-thought-out course, to the enthusiasm of the runners, spectators and volunteers, the inaugural Tinker Bell Half Marathon was a resounding success. I enjoyed every step of the way.
Now, with Disney’s Princess Half Marathon in just three and a half weeks, I’ve got my eye on the prize: a new half-marathon personal record, a Coast to Coast Race Challenge medal, and another experience for the memory books.
There’s only one question left: Which princess will I run as next time?
Karla Bruning is a veteran journalist and running nerd. She has completed four marathons, trains with the New York Harriers and is a member of New York Road Runners. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.
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