Category: Non-Disney Races

Anaheim Antics: Running the Same Race Twice

Do you run the same races year after year to see how you’ve improved?  It’s always a great way to gauge your progress.  Well John is back and recapping his second year running the Laguna Hills 10K…his improvement is quite impressive.  Read on to find out how good!


In my previous column, I shared with everyone my story of how I got into running, and of my first 10k, the Laguna Hills Memorial Day 10k, back in 2013. I shared how I finished the race with a time of 10:07 per mile, and how I was looking forward to running the race again, with the goal of shaving 30 seconds off my time. Well, the 2014 Laguna Hills 10k was this past Memorial Day, and I’m sure you’re all dying to find out: how’d I do? Did I beat my own time? Did I manage to meet my goal? Did I once again survive what is arguably the hilliest race in Orange County? The answer to all your questions is, in the words of the Bruce Almighty, “Yes, to all!” If you’ve ever run a race more than once, you’ll understand that feeling of familiarity one has with a race: the organizers, the course, the availability of water stations, the parking, the offerings at the expo, etc. One starts to develop a certain expectation, reasonable or not, when running the same race more than once. So, that begs the question: How did this year’s Laguna Hills 10k compare with last year’s?   Let me count the ways!


There are large races, and small races. With about 3500 participants, the Laguna Hills Half Marathon event fits into the “just right” category. Not too crowded, but with enough of a crowd to feel like a worthwhile race. Renegade Racing, the race organizer, does a professional job with all their events, and this is no exception. Everything from pre-race check-in to the post-race expo was reasonably organized and executed. They don’t corral the runners separately, but simply setup designated markers before the starting line based on your estimated time. All the participants start together: 5k, 10k, and half marathon. The start of the course is nice and wide, but there were still a few groups of runners that had bunched up, which I had to work your way around. The first 5k of the course is roomy. But the reason the city is named “Laguna Hills” is because it’s truly hilly. The 5k portion has numerous upgrades and downgrades, which can easily slow the novice runner.


My one gripe is that there was only one water station along the 5k portion. Most 5k’s I’ve done have two. As all the runners reached the 3 mile point, the 5k runners veered off to the right, directly to into the Finish Line area. All roads were very clearly marked with arrows directing the 10k and half marathon runners. Renegade does a great job clearly marking the course for all runners involved. Many of the 10k and half runners would call out cheers of congratulations to the 5k runners, and they likewise return cheers of encouragement.   Just after the 5k mark, I finally came to the second water station.   With the 5k runners gone, the course got a little quieter, and more serious. But just as I got to that new vibe, the 10k racers, of which I was one, peeled off to the right, with the half marathoners continuing straight ahead (again, the course was very clearly marked). “Go half marathoners, you can do it”, some of us shouted. “We’ll see you run with us next year,” one of them replied.


This is where it got rough. The rest of the 10k course was through a narrow wilderness greenbelt. There were a lot of very sharp hairpin turns, quickly descending trails, dark pedestrian tunnels, and steep inclines.   There was even the occasional low hanging tree branch. The course was now a narrow trail, with little room to pass other runners (word of warning: be polite when passing your fellow athletes; they’re just as tired as you are). One major difference between this year and last year was the weather. It was very mild and cool this year. Last year was slightly warmer, and I witnessed two racers on the side of the course receiving medical attention.   Not something you wanted to see in your first-ever 10k.

Once I passed the 5 mile marker, that last burst of energy seemed to come out of nowhere. But it didn’t last very long.   The last ¼ mile was a steep incline which made me feel like I was pre-qualifying for the Everest Challenge. Trying to keep a reasonable pace while traversing this last bit of course qualified as one of those “if you didn’t have bulging neck muscles before, you will by the time you reach the top” moments. But suddenly, there it was, the last 500 feet, a nice even flat surface. With relief, I poured on that last bit of speed, crossed the timing pad, and received my medal from the volunteer. Did I beat my time? Yep, 9:39 a mile. 28 seconds per mile faster than my time last year. A quick “woohoo” and it was off to grab the obligatory water bottle, slice of orange, and half a banana!


The Laguna Hills 10k is no Disney race, but having run it twice, I’m rather happy with how it’s organized. As noted earlier, one gripe is the long distance between water stations on the course. While there is some enjoyable entertainment at the finish (local pre-teen band Rikochet entertained us, and they’re quite talented), the on-course offerings are all but absent. It would be nice to see an occasional high school pep squad or drum corps cheering us on. Another gripe is the distance between the start and finish areas. The race starts at the Laguna Hills Mall, but the finish is about a mile away at the Laguna Hills Community Center. They have a shuttle that transports runners and spectators between the two locations, but the queue for the shuttles can be lengthy.


However, the course is well-thought out. Their medals are nicely designed. One special draw is their new medal series this year. The organizers have started a series of five medals over five years that honor a different US armed forces branch (this year’s is the US Marine Corps). If you race every year for the next five years, runners in 2018 will earn a “Joint Chiefs of Staff” medal commemorating runners who have run all five races in the series. So it looks like my next four Memorial Days are booked for me!

(Courtesy Laguna Hills Half Marathon)

(Courtesy Laguna Hills Half Marathon)

But first things first.   For now, it’s time to look ahead to the Avengers Half Marathon later this year. And now, with the advent of the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend next January, it looks like I’ve got a Rebel Challenge in my future!

RADically yours,



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.

Runner of Steel Virtual Run

Looking for a fun way to amp up your race training?  Why not sign up for a virtual run where you can help a good cause AND get a fun medal?!

RAD Reader Angela is hosting the Runner of Steel Virtual Run benefiting the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which is dedicated to curing spinal cord injuries and improving the lives of those that live with paralysis.  The race is only $20 to enter and you get this super cool die cast medal!

Runner of Steel Medal

So what do you have to do to enter the virtual run and get this fun medal?  Just go to the Runner of Steel event page and enter your information.  Once registered, you will be emailed an official race bib and you will have until the end of September (yes, September!) to complete the run.  You can run any distance you want.  Make it a full marathon, a 10K or just a mile run around your neighborhood and you’ll get your medal!  100% of the proceeds will go to the foundation and your medal will be sent to you by the end of September.

Virtual runs are a great way to add some variety to your training.  I took part in the Kick Ass 5K Virtual Run earlier this year to support the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.  Even though it wasn’t my best run (one of my worst actually!), I was proud to wear that bib and support a cause that is very important to me.

So why not sign up and be a super hero for someone in need?!

Have you every participated in a virtual race? 

Long Branch Half Marathon Race Recap

01 LB Half_RecapHalf marathon number 5…complete!  This was a great race for many reasons…perfect weather, familiar area, flat course, great spectators…a winner!

Since I’m used to running Disney races where my alarm is set for 2:45 am, the 4:30 am wake up call was a nice change.  I never sleep well before races so once the alarm went off I was wide awake.  We were staying at my Dad’s house that night and the queen sized bed is always a little tight for B and I as well.  Once you get used to a king, everything else feels cramped 😉

I got up and did my usual pre-race routine: brush teeth, wash face, KT Tape, Body Glide, get dressed, Blister Block, put shoes on, good to go.  I headed  downstairs to make my pre-race meal of a whole wheat bagel thin with almond butter & banana and a cup of green tea.  My Dad was nice enough to get up early to drop me off for the race.  We chatted a bit while I ate and headed out the door just after 5:30 am.

The starting line was at Monmouth Park, which is where the Expo was held the day before.  It’s only about 15 minutes from my Dad’s house, but we expected there to be traffic getting there and we were right.  There were funneling all of the cars into the parking lot across from the track, but we kept going and my Dad dropped me off at the end of the road leading in.  I walked from there and was surprised by how cold and windy is was.  50 degrees is perfect for racing, but that wind was tough.

Thankfully the grandstand was open, so I headed straight in there to keep warm.  Seemed like many of the other runners had the same idea.

02 LB Half_Track1

I stretched for a bit to warm up my legs and then decided to use a real bathroom before heading outside to the corrals.  The line for the women’s room was very long, but rumors were stirring that there were other less crowded bathrooms upstairs.  Well there was a line there, but then there were more rumors about another bathroom further down with no line.  So a few of us headed around the corner and then down an escalator to find a bathroom that alas had no line!  The whole area was deserted with only the remnants for the Kentucky Derby the night before.

03 LB Half_Track204 LB Half_Track3I noticed that some of the race horse were out exercising, so I decided to head out to catch a glimpse.  What beautiful animals!!  Such a peaceful way to start the morning before a big race.

05 LB Half_Track406 LB Half_Track5

It was about 6:30 am, so I decided to head outside to get in my corral.  The race was starting in about 15 minutes and I couldn’t believe how many people were still hanging around inside or on a very long line for the bathroom.  The port-a-john lines were even worse outside!

07 LB Half_Bathroom Line

Volunteers were yelling at everyone who had a clear bag to check that the trucks were just about to leave for the finish line area and that they had to rush!  It was a bit chaotic.  I’m surprised there weren’t any announcements inside letting people know what time it was and that they had to get a move on to check their bags.

Back Check Trucks

Back Check Trucks

Start Corrals

Start Corrals

I was in Corral E, the last corral, so I started heading toward the back.  Volunteers were checking bib numbers at the entrance to C, but when I got to D no one was there and people were just filing in.  I know it’s not right to do that, but I REALLY was nervous about starting in the last corral so I took the advantage when I saw it.  But I wasn’t the only one who had that idea, people were even hopping over the barricades!

011 LB Half_Corral JumpingOnce I was in the corral, the start was only about 5 minutes away.  Things seemed to be moving very quickly!  I guess I’m just used to Disney races with everything very far apart and having to stand around a lot, but I actually really enjoyed having everything close by!  Before I knew it, the announcer was counting down the wheelchair competitors and then the elite runners in A.  Since we were at a racetrack, it was only fitting that each corral was sent off by the opening bugle horn for horse races…pretty cool.  And then what else would be playing for a race on the Jersey Shore, but “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen…so perfect!

010 LB Half_Corrals2012 LB Half_Start013 LB Half_AnnouncersAnd before I knew it, I was running my 5th half marathon!!  There was a small hill within the first half mile, but for the most part the course was flat…very flat which was great!

014 LB Half_Mile1

The first few miles were tough as they usually are for me.  My legs aren’t warmed up and every stride feels strained, but just after mile 2 I got into the groove.  My goal for the day was to finish in 2:45 and when I started, I was positioned perfectly between the 2:30 and 2:45 pacers.  My average pace was 12:20 and I was keeping a 2/1 run walk ratio….right on track to finish in 2:45.  But surprise surprise…my GI system had other plans.  A pit stop was in my immediate future.

The lines for the port-a-john’s were long and I was so concerned about time that I just kept pushing through hoping that the next group had a shorter line.  No luck.  That was until I saw a few women standing off to the side of the road…in someone’s driveway.  The house was having construction done and there was a port-a-john there…probably for the workers.  Genius!  So I hopped on line.  I feel kind of bad for the owners of the house and the construction company, but this was getting to be an emergency so I had to do it.  However I did see the 2:45 pacer pass by while I was waiting…boooo.

015 LB Half_BathroomThis pit stop was just before mile 4, so I figured I had plenty of time to make up some ground.  But that 5 minutes is hard to make up!  I think this part of the course was my favorite.  It was through the town of Oceanport, which has some seriously cute houses and tree lined streets.  This was the first area where we encounterd spectators out on the course…it was so cool how people were just sitting in their driveways cheering us on.  I’m always so humbled by that.

We crossed our first bridge in around mile 5.5 and headed into Long Branch.  The skies were starting to clear and it was turning into a beautiful day.

016 LB Half_Mile 5_5019 LB Half_Mile6 BridgeHere is where we encountered some of the homes that were very badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy.  It’s still so incredibly sad to see the devastation that was caused even more than 6 months after the storm.

017 LB Half_House1020 LB Half_House2

But in true Jersey fashion, the storm didn’t damage spirits and even more spectators were out.  Many were even having full on parties outside their house, complete with music and Bloody Mary’s!

018 LB Half_Spectators1

The NJ Marathon began at 8:00 am and ran the same course as we did until the split at 11.5 miles.  When I came up on mile 8, the announcements began that the leader would be approaching soon and we should stay to our right.  I also noticed the mile marker signs and the time clocks had been changed to reflect the marathon runners.  I can’t event imagine in my wildest dreams running that fast!

021 LB Half_Mile8

At 8.5, I heard a car behind me and someone yelling on a bullhorn to move to the right.  This was the first time I had run in conjunction with a full marathon, so I was excited to see the elite runners pass by.  Man were they moving!

022 LB Half_Pace Car023 LB Half_Marathon Leader

These runners were passing by at twice my pace having full conversations.  Mind boggling to a slow runner like me, but very cool to see!

024 LB Half_Sarah

Mile 9…slow and steady 🙂

I knew we were getting close to the split and to the final 1.5 miles along the ocean that I was  looking forward to.  I was actually feeling really good and trying to make up some of the time that I lost from the pit stop.  The marathoners took off to the right down Ocean Avenue for the loooooong stretch to Asbury Park and back and I was so thankful I wasn’t going that way!

025 LB Half_Split1026 LB Half_Split2I on the other hand headed straight across Ocean Avenue and turned left towards the finish line…woohoo!

027 LB Half_11_5Yes, running along the water is gorgeous to look at, but when there is an insane wind coming off the water, it makes it VERY difficult to keep up your pace.  I always say it reminds me of being in one of those endless pools where the water just keeps rushing at you while you swim, but you aren’t actually moving.  I knew at this point there was no way I was going to make my 2:45 goal so I just settled in and did the best I could.  But I did have my best marathon time EVER! 😉

028 LB Half_Best Full Time

As we came upon Pier Village in Long Branch, there were a ton of spectators out along with bands and other entertainment.  A great way to stay occupied for that last mile.  I could see the Ocean Place Resort (where B & I got married) in the distance and knew the finish line was close.  So I took off to finish strong…it felt great!!

029 LB Half_Ocean PlaceSadly my family got stuck in traffic and weren’t able to be there when I finished 🙁  But I did finish incredibly strong and love that final stretch.  All of the memories of my wedding day came flooding back and I couldn’t help but smile 🙂  I crossed the finish line with a PR and my hand over my heart to honor the Boston Marathon runners and spectators.

LB Half_Finisher2LB Half_Finisher!

I may not have met my goal of finishing in 2:45, but I did cut 8 minutes off my last PR at the Virginia Wine Country Half, so I’ll take it!

030 LB Half_Time031 LB Half_MedalSince the wind was so strong, it was a little chilly after the race and I was sad to see that they didn’t have any mylar  blankets available.  So I headed to the food tent to keep warm until my family arrived with my clothes.  Not only did we get bananas and water, but there were soft pretzels as far as the eye could see!

032 LB Half_PretzelsHonestly, they weren’t very good but I was so hungry I ate that whole thing.  B and my Dad arrived with flip-flops and a sweatshirt not too long after I finished, which was very much needed.  To my surprise, B was carrying all of my clothes instead of the backpack I had packed him and my stepmom wasn’t there.  Apparently, they weren’t letting bags of any kind (even purses!) anywhere near the finish line area.  This is understandable after the Boston tragedy  but I wish the area was communicated better before the race.  There were MANY people complaining about how the police and security were treating the spectators and it was sadly another hindrance for people not getting to watch the finish.

We headed back to the car so I could properly change and then headed back to Pier Village to watch the marathoners come in and grab a bite to eat.  I chose tacos…big surprise there!

033 LB Half_Marathoner034 LB Half_TacoI was also able to meet up with my best friend from high school who came down to cheer me on.  She too got stuck at a security check point with her purse so we had to stand around outside the restricted area.  We chatted for about 45 minutes and it was like no time had past.  What a great end to my hometown race!

Overall, I loved this race.  The course was great and it was all run so smoothly.  I think I will definitely be back next year…who’s with me?? 

Long Branch Half Marathon Expo and Pre-Race Shenanigans

I signed up for the Long Branch Half Marathon only a few weeks ago because  had been looking for a flat, fast course where I could improve my time and this seemed perfect!  I grew up in this area and my dad still lives there, so I had a place to stay and I was fairly familiar with the course.  The finish line was also very special to me because it was right where B and I got married.  So with little training and my fingers crossed, I signed up for my 5th half marathon!

The race was on Sunday, May 5th so B and I drove the 2 hours to the Shore on Saturday morning so I get to packet pick-up.  The race expo was held at Monmouth Race Track, which was also the starting area for the race.  The funny thing about this day was that the track was showing the live simulcast of the Kentucky Derby and the windows were open to take bets.  Needless to say the crowd was an interesting mix of athletes and well, non-athletes… 01 LB Half_Monmoth ParkI had been to Monmouth Park many times in my youth as I used to love to watch the horses, but I guess I blocked out how small and dark it is in there.  Kind of seedy… 02 LB Half_Expo1The expo had a good mix of vendors, but the area was very crowded so I just headed straight towards packet pick-up. 03 LB Half_Expo2 As usual, I forgot to bring my waiver so I had to look up my bib number.  Unlike Disney where you do this yourself on a computer, here they had a booth where someone did that for you.  It was all very easy.  I then headed to pick up my bib, get my spectator parking pass and my shirt. 04 LB Half_Packet Pickup 05 LB Half_Race BibThe whole process took less than 10 minutes.  It was very well organized and a hassle free experience!  We didn’t stay long because we were famished so I did a quick browse of the merch and took off.

We met my friend Stephen on the Asbury Park boardwalk for lunch.  Considering all of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy, I was surprised to see that the boardwalk and some of the business were open.  A good portion of the boardwalk had recently been replaced and you could even smell the new wood. 07 LB Half_Asbury BoardwalkI had wanted to get tacos at Pop’s Garage, but sadly that hadn’t reopened yet.  So we went to a wonderful Italian restaurant called Stella Marina.  YUM!  I was so hungry that I forgot to take pictures, but I had a wonderful roast pork panini with arugula salad…perfect pre-race lunch!  I definitely want to return here for a nice dinner one day.  Oh and check out these awesome chandeliers! 08 LB Half_BottlesAfter lunch we made a quick stop at the grocery store for my morning supplies of bagels and bananas and then headed to my Dad’s to relax a bit.  We all love to cook so everyone had a hand in dinner.  We put together a healthy, pre-race meal of grilled BBQ chicken, roasted potatoes & cauliflower, tomato salad and avocado.  YUM!!! 09 LB Half_PreRace MealAfter dinner we watched Silver Linings Playbook (which was one of the best films I’ve seen in a very long time!) and I headed to bed around 11.  That 4:30 am alarm was about to come way too soon!

Full race recap coming up!

Christopher Martin’s 2012 Christmas Run for Children 5K

CM 5K LogoThe Annual Christopher Martin’s Christmas Run for the Children 5K was held on December 9th in New Haven, CT.  This race has a special place in my heart since it was the first local, non-Disney race that I ever ran.  And can you believe that was only one year ago?!?  Seems like I’ve been doing this running thing forever!  (Check out last year’s chilly race recap here.)

The weather for the race was about 45 degrees and overcast…perfect New England running weather.  Last year it was sunny, but a frigid 28 degrees…not so ideal.  So immediately, I had high hopes of a better race, not just because I’m in much better shape this year, but because the weather was in my favor.

I picked up my race packet on Friday, so I didn’t have to worry about it on the morning of the race.  I also got the race shirt, which I LOVE.  I still wear mine from last year all the time!


B (my #1 cheerleader) drove me into New Haven getting there about 20 minutes prior to the start of the race.  We proceeded to drive around for about 10 minutes looking for parking and I was about to jump you to go to the start line when miraculously we got one right on Orange Street.

We walked over to the starting area, which is right in front of Christopher Martin Restaurant on State Street and we saw this festive house on the way:

Xmas House

The starting area was PACKED!!  There were close to 2,700 participants this year, which is the largest amount yet!  I couldn’t even get on the street and had to wait in the gas station parking lot until the crowd started moving.  I didn’t cross the start line until almost a minute after the actual start.

Finish Line

The plan was to do a 3 minute run/ 1 minute walk pace for the race.  This is what I’ve been training with and it works really well for me.  I was going along at about a 10:40 average pace, which I was REALLY happy about…well until my Garmin died just before the first mile.  I unplugged it the night before and unfortunately I think it froze so the screen stayed on all night, which in turn killed the battery.  Awesome.  So I whipped out my iPhone and started the timer on there to try and keep the same pace.  This proved to be much more difficult, but it worked for the most part.

New Haven

That 10:40 pace I had during the first mile is fast for me and unfortunately it caught up with me.  Buy the time I finished mile 2, my legs were starting to feel tired and I cut my intervals down to 2/1.  I also felt some uncomfortableness in my left quad, which was new for me.  Ugh…did I push too hard???

Well, that might have been so, but I pushed it really hard for the final ¼ mile.  I was determined to get a PR.  I wasn’t really sure what my time was, but I felt that I was somewhere around 33 minutes at that point.

I crossed the finish line and overall felt great (except for that leg tweak)!  I found B and he said I looked so much better this time at the end of the race compared to last year.  That’s a pretty awesome compliment 🙂

My time for the 2011 race was 39:45 and that was my fastest 5K time to date.  This year for 2012, my official time was 35:52…that’s a 3:53 minute improvement!!!  Plus, my last 5K PR in early September was 36:40, so that’s 48 seconds faster there.  Even though I haven’t been putting in the mileage for my marathon training, I’m really happy with my progress.  I’ve come a long way in a year 🙂  Maybe next year I’ll sub 32 minutes!!

That's a PR smile!

That’s a PR smile!

Do you have a yearly race you run? 

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