Sunday, September 16, 2012

Surfing to Disney

"Ocian in view! O! the joy." - William Clark, Nov. 7, 1805

For those who know the story, Lewis and Clark hadn’t yet really seen the ocean when Clark wrote that line, and they were experiencing a lot of more cold and rain, and misery in general, than any joy. My Labor Day Marathon along Huntington Beach (Surf City), Calif., was mostly the opposite. It was warm, comfortable, with great views of the actual Pacific Ocean and its thriving beaches the entire course. It was my first race in the Charlie Alewine Racing (CAR) program, a series of low-key, limited enrollment races (i.e., up to about 25 runners each) from the 5K level up to 100 milers staged mainly in the southern California area, a natural attraction to Marathon Maniacs and other runners alike.

I planned this trip initially around a bucket list idea to run the Disneyland Half Marathon, an interest which grew out of the fun I’ve had running at Disney World in Florida, including its marathons and the Goofy Challenge, which begins with a half marathon on one day, followed by the full marathon the next. I have come to see the Goofy as the “only way to go” at Disney World, since it gives the maximum chance to explore the full length of the resort, with the maximum exposure to the “magic” that the 10-year-old in me still enjoys (forgetting for the moment that I just turned 60). So when the flights and frequent flier mile options came into alignment, I set up my own Goofy challenge with the Disney Half, Anaheim version, coupled with the 26.2 miles up and down (and up and down) Huntington Beach’s paved bike path the next day. (This race is not to be confused with the Surf City USA Marathon in February, a more traditional marathon fare in the same beach area. And I could still come away with multiple items of schwag, including two shirts and three medals (with Disney’s nice Coast-to-Coast bonus medal for running both Disney resorts in one calendar year).
The Disneyland Half and the CAR race are about as different from each other as they can be – truly separate Bizarro worlds from each other. Disney is, of course, a big race with a big expo and a lot of glitter and costumes. It features dressed-up characters during your run through Disneyland itself, right after running through the adjacent California Adventure Park, recently dressed up with a billion-dollar improvement to include the new Cars Land section and a remaking of the old Buena Vista Street that Disney himself saw when he arrived in California in the 20’s. The parks are started up good and early for your 6 a.m. race start, with theme music playing through the different sections, a water-and-light show running in Paradise Pier (it looks much better at night), and the 50’s do-wop music and neon lights greeting you in Cars Land. Then it’s on to the streets of Anaheim, with high school bands, mariachi dancers, Hawaiian singers, and a unique touch with dozens of re-configured antique cars and not-so-antique Mustangs and Corvettes parked along the course courtesy of the local car clubs. A run through the Anaheim Angels stadium was another high point, a couple miles before heading back to the finish in the Disneyland Hotel parking lots. The cold towel with the temperature activated by adding water was a nice touch, and I particularly liked getting the two medals at the end – which I really couldn’t wear again because they are so clunky – kind of like the Goofy medals in Florida. And, unlike in Florida, I was able to walk the few short blocks between the start and finish lines and my neighborhood hotel, and when ready, I could walk back to dine at Downtown Disney, or head to the parks. No shuttle buses or monorails needed.

The CAR race the next day, of course, was quiet, run mostly alone, and serene for the most part. You meet in the lot behind the Jack-in-the-Box and embark on a 6.55 mile route along a paved bike path, with an aid station at about mile 4, followed by a dedicated dog beach, all of which I covered four times during the marathon distance. No crowds cheering, no one dressed as Princess Jasmine (she was fast) or Tarzan (not so much) as in the previous day, although one denizen of the beach noticed my singlet and shouted out “Go Maniac.”

I will say that the beach started getting crowded the last two legs, as Labor Day picnicers replaced the earlier morning’s laid-back surfers and the bike path became more and more a challenge of navigating the foot traffic, just as the sun bore down without mercy on my partially sunblocked shoulders. And I would add that the beach parking lots were full of RV’s and tailgaters, and the smoke of barbecues became pretty much an unavoidable presence. The race had several Maniacs, including Yolanda and Larry, out to break their Guinness record of numbers of marathons, and Mad Hatter Fancy Pants Ed, who graciously offered to run me in the last mile, while he was putting in his 50-mile day (on top of the 100-miler Run-de-Vous a couple weeks previously, and however many of the quadzilla of CAR races that weekend).

It was a fun, interesting, and very busy Labor Day weekend. My race times (about 2:23 and 5:14) were a slight improvement over my Goofy totals at Disney World. More importantly, getting back to Disneyland was a great dose of some real nostalgia for me, having visited there once as a little kid with my family and a couple times in college with my brother.
I was glad to be able to share the trip with my son. And I’m happy to report that Disneyland takes no back seat to the mammoth resort the Disney company built in Florida, and the race was about as perfectly done as you could hope. Yes, the trip was very tiring, and the lessons learned about the logistics of the trip would be put to good use next time. I really wouldn’t hesitate to go back and do either race again, time and money allowing -- perhaps a different CAR race, and perhaps the 10th Disneyland anniversary race coming up in three years. I also hear that the big Surf City Marathon in February is a real blast, with miniature surfboards as finisher’s medals to boot.