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Anaheim Antics: Battle of the Theme Park Races

Wait…there are races outside of Disney???   Ha Ha, just kidding!  Today John is back with more Anaheim Antics and compares a runDisney race to another Anaheim theme park’s race.  How do you think it will compare??

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“The Gold Standard”  That’s the term we often apply to Disney Theme Parks, describing superior quality and legendary guest service.  But that standard also comes with a price.  runDisney events have quickly become the gold standard of running events, not just in spectacle, quality, and service, but also in price.  Any runner who has done a runDisney race will attest to the Disney difference.  But here in Anaheim, Disney is not the only theme park in town with a race series.

Just a stone’s throw from the Happiest Place on Earth is Knott’s Berry Farm, proudly billing itself as “America’s 1st Theme Park”.  Indeed, Knott’s predates Disneyland by 15 years, when Walter Knott built a replica Ghost Town next to Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.  Today, Knott’s Berry Farm hosts their annual Coaster Run, which offers a 5K, 10K and the beloved Camp Snoopy Kids Run.  Having recently run the Disney’s Tinker Bell 10k, I of course had to run Knott’s Coaster Run 10k as well.  So how do two theme parks within a few miles from each other pull off running events? Let me tell you.

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OPERATORS:  Disney races, including the Tink 10k, are managed by runDisney, which means a very well managed race with high emphasis on service and quality.  You’re guaranteed a positive runner experience thanks to their management.  Knott’s uses Renegade Racing, started in 2004 by competitive athlete and former US Marine Jonathan Pauley.  Knott’s was the third Renegade race I’ve run, but it won’t be the last.  I’ve been very satisfied with their operations at every race.

REGISTRATION:  $43-$55 for Knott’s compared to $105 for runDisney.   Of course, runDisney’s Tinker Bell 10k sold out within hours, while the Knott’s Coaster Run had same-day registration available.  Put simply, $50 is a lot easier to swallow than $100.  But the laws of supply and demand say both of these races are reasonably priced.  Both use Active.com as their registration portal.

PACKET PICK-UP: Disney runners must pick up their packets at the runDisney expo at the Disneyland Hotel.  This means greater Downtown Disney parking lot congestion, and a guarantee of your wallet being thinner once you’ve found that perfect product in the expo.

By comparison, Knott’s runners can simply stop by the Buena Park Mall or Sports Authority in Irvine.  You should be in and out in 15 minutes, whereas the runDisney expo will carve a good hour or so out of your evening.  There’s no expo, but there’s also no congestion.  Unfortunately, there’s also no related merchandise, which might have a place there.

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RACE DAY PARKING:  Disney runners will want to park in the Mickey 7 Friends lot, but you’ll have to pay for parking.  The race start is on Disney Drive adjacent to the structure, so it’s not much of a walk at all to your assigned corral.  This is where Knott’s really shines.   Parking is in the Knott’s Berry Farm parking lot, and parking for race participants is free.  I wasn’t expecting this, as I pulled up to the parking lot with my wallet out.  It was a very pleasant surprise indeed.

THE COURSE:  Both courses start on-property, and wind through the respective parks.  Both have characters on the course, and both have courses that are clearly marked.  Both have parts of their courses on public streets, and both have finish lines in reasonable proximity to their park entrances.  What differentiates the two is the overall quality of each.  Disneyland is, without a doubt, the higher quality park as far as show standards.  Goofy looks like Goofy should, and Mickey looks like Mickey. Charlie Brown and Snoopy, though, look like 6 foot tall stuffed animals.  That’s not to say they look bad, but it’s hard to let go of the Disney show quality.

When it comes to the course, Disneyland paths are wider and more level, while Knott’s tends to have narrower walking paths with more noticeable changes in elevation.  I recall one very tight hairpin switchback in the Knott’s race, which had a great deal of bottlenecking and shoulder bumping, and another whose incline was steep enough that a runner near me almost lost his footing.

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THE FINISH LINE:  After an hour of running, there’s no greater sight than the finish line in the distance.  Disney’s finish line is festively appointed, with a huge video screen allowing spectators to watch your victory sprint.   Just past it is a nice wide area to prevent bunching of runners.  A runDisney volunteer congratulates you, and then awards you by putting the beautiful medal around your neck.  Next is a series of Photopass backdrops for the perfect shot.  And don’t forget to pick up your assortment of fruit, bottled water, and other goodies.

By comparison, the Knott’s finish line itself is just fine, but once you pass it, you immediately hit a wall of runners trying to squeeze through single, poorly placed photo backdrop, and then the medal distribution, where you are simply handed your medal as you continue for much needed fruit and water.  One thing Knott’s is known for, though, is boysenberries, and part of the perk is a slice of their famous boysenberry pie at the end of the race.  It’s a great perk, but this area of the finish line is so congested it can be downright uncomfortable.

THE MEDALS:  There’s no denying it:  runDisney medals are works of art.  They’re huge, have some serious weight in them, and are clearly where a good portion of your registration fee went.  The Knott’s medal is nicely designed, colorful, and the size of a standard medal (about 2” square, give or take), which will look great on your medal rack.

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PERKS AND PIQUES:  After the Knott’s race, my group proceeded right over to Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.  What better way to celebrate your victory than with a generous chicken serving of southern fried chicken smothered in gravy?  But it needn’t end there.  All race participants get 50% off park admission for the day.  You’ve already parked for free, so why not stay a little longer?  Disney doesn’t offer an admission discount for runners, but there’s the appeal of grabbing a post-race breakfast at Tangaroa Terrace, Steakhouse 55, Goofy’s Kitchen, or Storyteller’s Café, all of which are outside the Parks.  You’ve already paid to park, so why not?

OVERALL COMPARISON:  In some aspects such a show standards, it’s simply unfair to compare the Disney look to the Knott’s look.  They’re apples and oranges, and should rightly be judged on individual merit.  If I didn’t have Disney on the brain, I probably would find no fault in Knott’s characters or walking paths.  But some comparisons are rightly of concern.

Knott’s post-race bottleneck and areas of steep elevation changes should be reviewed.  Likewise, runDisney should give consideration to how packet pickup at the Disneyland hotel adversely impact traffic in the Downtown Disney parking area.  But successes of both should be similarly considered.  Disney’s atmospheric level of quality comes as an expectation given the price tag of the race, and even there, the level of Guest service exceeds expectations.  Knott’s doesn’t have to let you park for free, or let you into the park for a discount, but they do.

All in all, when weighing expectations, it stands to reason that there’s no race like a runDisney race.  But other theme parks are similarly capable (and in Knott’s case, quite successful) at putting on a race event that promotes a fitness lifestyle, a family tradition, and a fun atmosphere.  See you next year, Knott’s.  Please keep that slice of boysenberry pie at the ready.

RADically yours,

John

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John grew up in the Orange County area of California, always living in the shadow of the Disneyland Resort.  Known as the consummate storyteller to his friends, he has had an admiration of Disney since childhood, and is most interested in the Company’s history and heritage.  His favorite memory to date is setting foot in Walt’s apartment over the Main Street Firehouse.  John lives by what he calls the three F’s: faith, fun, and fitness.   Being healthy isn’t about adding years to your life; it’s about adding life to your years.  Nothing sums that up more than making Disney races a goal in every fitness plan.

One Response to Anaheim Antics: Battle of the Theme Park Races

  1. I was at the Tinkerbell 10K 2014 as well, but I ultimately did not have to pay for parking (I thought I would and had money at the ready). I wonder why…

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