Neverland 5k at Disneyland
July 21, 2016
I have been a runner for several years, and when I first heard of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland, I squealed like a little girl! I couldn’t believe there was a race at Disneyland where you could actually run in the parks, meet characters and get a really cool medal. Thus began my Tinker Bell race journey in 2013. I had full intentions of signing up for the 2014 race, but due to knee and ankle injuries, I had to pass. I was really sad, and friends asked why I didn’t just run a local half marathon. My response was simply, “If I am going to complete a half marathon, it is going to be at Disneyland!”
With much rest, tenderness and therapy, my injuries healed, and in 2014 I was back to training. I was feeling very excited that 2015 was going to be my year to complete a Disney half marathon. It was even better that the races were being held over Mother’s Day weekend!
I showed my family photos of all the amazing costumes and videos of past races. They loved the start of the race, with fireworks and Tinker Bell flying overhead. Soon everyone was on board with the idea that we would run the 5k as a family.
Registration opened for the 2015 Tinker Bell race weekend on August 12, 2014. There was a lot of social media hype about how these races fill up within a matter of minutes sometimes, so I made sure I was on my computer and ready to go before noon Eastern Time. Thankfully, I had no problem registering the five of us for the 5k and myself for the half marathon.
So that left us nine months to train, prepare and get even more excited. I joined the Facebook group and took in as much information as I could from veteran runners. Every time I took a training run through my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like when I actually got to run through the parks! I would even tear up with excitement. Two years is a long time to wait and train!
Overall, my training went really well. I did have some setbacks with my ankle and knee, but I was able to keep progressing. My husband even learned to experience the joys of running and has become quite the athlete! My three girls, however… that’s a different story.
At race time, my girls were ages 14, 12 and 9. I knew this was a “family fun run”, so there was no pressure for us to set any records or even to run the entire distance. I also knew that completing 3.2 miles was going to take some effort. My girls, being the ever-wise tweens, “knew” differently. “Mom, I dance three days a week. I am in shape!” Yes, my girls are very strong and athletic. Yet, running is an entirely different sport than dancing. I wasn’t going to force anyone to train, but I really tried to stress the importance of regularly getting out for a walk/run session. I shared the Jeff Galloway run-walk-run method with them, put great songs on their playlists and hung a count down calendar.
After several months, we decided to go for a one mile walk/run as a family. “Mom, that’s so easy!” they said. My girls quickly discovered the need for good posture and calm, regular breaths. A few more weeks of regular family runs and all five of us were going the distance, plus some, with shrieks of excitement as they too began to imagine running through our “Happy Place” and getting pictures with characters. Soon enough, the countdown calendar showed that our Tinker Bell races in Disneyland were right around the corner.
We arrived on a Wednesday in order to attend the Runner Expo on Thursday morning to pick up our race packets and bibs. We even got to meet Jeff Galloway! He was extremely pleasant to chat with, and he was very positive and encouraging to my girls.
After we got our race gear and a few souvenirs, we enjoyed a lovely day in the parks. It was a bit difficult to head back to the hotel at an early hour, but we all knew the Never Land 5k started at 5 a.m., and everyone wanted to be near the front of the pack to have a good view of the fireworks and Tinker Bell’s flight at the beginning of the race.
Three o’clock in the morning comes very quickly after a day in Disneyland! … But what was that sound?… POURING RAIN! California was supposed to be in a severe drought! Where did all this rain come from? Time to layer up, pull on our green tutus and don our ponchos!
There was no way a little rain (ok, a lot of rain) was going to spoil our fun. We came all this way to have a good time and complete the race. We could have a warm breakfast and take a hot shower once we got back to our hotel. So at 3:45 a.m., we made our way to the entrance of Disneyland. At 4:00 a.m., the volunteers opened the gates, checked everyone’s bib, and we entered the park! (insert giddiness and high pitched squeals!)
There was a table of water set up for the runners right in front of the Emporium on Main Street, and we could hear fun music and an energetic DJ coming from the Walt and Mickey Partners statue at the Hub. We bounced and danced down Main Street admiring all the great running costumes. How can you not be ecstatic at an event like this with such great energy, even at four o’clock in the morning!?
By this time, the rain had settled to a light sprinkle, and we found our way to the front of Corral A on the right side of the Partners Statue. The DJ did a great job of keeping everyone warm with music so great you couldn’t help but dance. Finally, the race hosts appeared on top of a double-decker bus right in front of the castle, the National Anthem was played, and sponsors were thanked. We were told that something new would be on the race course this year. We were to keep an eye out for Peter Pan’s shadow. When we saw it, we were to crow… um, ok!
Then came what we were all waiting for, FIREWORKS and Tinker Bell’s FLIGHT! With great enthusiasm, the race started at Pixie Hollow, and we were off! As we made our way through the first part of the race, we enjoyed the music and Cast Members cheering us on. We wished them a hearty, “Good morning!” and thanked them for coming out to support all the runners. Cast Members were even waving from their office windows!
Then we began to hear faint crows in the distance and all at once, up high on the side of a backstage building, we saw Peter Pan’s shadow! Everyone around us began to crow loudly. We saw Pan’s shadow several more times throughout the race.
The course took us through tunnels, near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and into New Orleans Square where Captain Hook and Mr. Smee were taking photos with runners. I was pleasantly surprised by how efficient the photographers and Cast Members were at helping the character lines move along very quickly. We didn’t wait for more than 1 or 2 groups at any character stop.
The anticipation of what was around each new corner kept everyone’s excitement and energy up. As we made our way past the monorail and into California Adventure Park, my girls were doing great. It was hard to believe that our magical time was halfway over. The spectators cheering for all the runners were amazing with their clever signs, cowbells and clappers. We also got photos with the Lost Boys, John and Michael, and Peter Pan and Wendy were waiting near the end of the race.
About the time we met Peter and Wendy, the rain came back with vigor, but it didn’t matter. The finish line was right around the corner in Paradise Pier. We had finished a most fantastic run as a family. Plus we earned a pretty cool medal!
Volunteers were ready with PowerAde and water bottles. Other volunteers were passing out snack boxes. We are very grateful to all the Cast Members and volunteers who supported us and made the Never Land 5k such a fun event.
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Click here for a video with highlights of the entire race. Stay tuned for my next blog about the Half Marathon!