ChEARing at a runDisney race is not only motivating for the runners, but for the chEARers as well! Hey, it’s what got me to run my first race! As a runner, I love when spectators get creative and make signs, wear funny outfits and simply give out high fives. All of the effort they put into chEARing us on is one of my favorite things about Disney races. Jenna (who you might remember from her Disneyland Half Marathon recap) is no exception! She recently chEARed a few friends on at the Disneyland 10K with some super fun signs and has some great tips for spectators.
When I was chatting with my friends Andy and F.J. making plans for the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon weekend, I snuck one little secret plan into my itinerary. While I did run the 5K on Friday, there was no way I was ready for back-to-back races. Unlike my friends, I didn’t register for Dumbo, and not running the 10K on Saturday left a gap in my race morning schedule. I could have slept in, I suppose, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun!
Instead, I woke up just a tiny bit later than the runners and got ready to cheer my heart out!
While still at home, I studied the course map and figured out what I thought would be the best places to watch. Unfortunately, the runDisney site is a little vague on viewing locations, but I thought I could fit in three viewing locations without crossing the course while runners were on it.
I decided to make signs to show my support. I made three custom images and taped them to a tri-fold foam core board.
Sign 1: A picture of Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous which F.J. had posted to the Team Mousejunkies Facebook group. This one got some confused looks, but a couple of people at least smirked. Grade: B-
Sign 2: A picture of Sissy from the movie and TV show Sordid Lives with a comment about how crazy most people think Dumbo Double Dare runners are. No one knew what this sign was. It was very specific to my friends and I decided to switch from it pretty quickly. Grade: D+
Sign 3: A picture of Andy and F.J.’s Shiba Inu, Akai, done up in the style of the Doge internet meme. This sign proved to be pretty popular. Everyone loves Doge. Even if they don’t know Doge, they love fun dogs. Grade: A+, with extra credit for being personal.
On Saturday morning, I studied the more detailed spectator maps in the race weekend program, then headed out with my sign. I followed the runners and immediately got misdirected.
“I’m looking for the starting line viewing area?” I asked a volunteer in front of the Lego Store.
“I don’t really think there is a place where you can watch the start.”
I checked the program map and confirmed that the starting line was listed as a viewing area.
“I’m looking for the starting line viewing area?” I asked a Disneyland cast member a little further down.
“Well, the starting line is that way. Follow the runners.”
Hmm. I ran the 5K the previous morning and I didn’t remember anything like that near the actual starting area.
“I’m looking for the starting line viewing area?” I asked a security person waving runners toward the race start.
“Starting line is this way. Follow the runners.”
By this time it was about 5:00 AM and I knew I was running out of time to find the mythical viewing spot.
“I’m looking for the place listed in the program where you can watch the runners at the starting line?” I asked a runDisney staff member who saw me aimlessly wandering through a darkened parking lot with a sign in my hand and asked if I needed help.
He promptly pointed me to the spot in Downtown Disney overlooking the tunnel the runners go through right after the race start. I found the area, but it’s very small- only about 15 feet wide- and it was already full of spectators. I realized that not only was there no room for me, there was no way anyone was going to see a sign above them in the dark!
On the other hand, most of the coffee and snack places in Downtown Disney open early on race mornings. A quick trip to Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express and it was time to take my coffee down to the next spectator spot on my list.
The next viewing spot was outside the main entrance to Disneyland (known as “the Esplanade”), where the runners go from one theme park to the other. This is one of the places where the route for the 5K is very different than the route for the 10K. During the 5K, you actually exit California Adventure through the main gate, run across the Esplanade between the two parks, and then enter Disneyland in front of the train station. In the 10K, runners bypass the DCA main gate and head back stage for a bit before running through a quick corner of the Esplanade, and then into Disneyland.
Soon, we heard the race staff calling out that the first wheelchair participant was coming. The wheelchair leader flew through in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment. The spectators whooped and hollered. Then the first runner was coming through, bringing more cheering from the crowd. After several runners had passed, the staff announced the first woman runner was approaching. The cheering was punctuated by a few calls of “Go, girl!” I noted that the leading woman was dressed as Tinkerbell, complete with wings. Not only was she the first woman on the course, she was the first costumed runner on the course!
My first sign got some confused looks and then some smiles. My big worry was that they would think that I actually had booze to give them. No such luck!
I cheered on the pack as they ran through the short space on the Esplanade. Whenever I recognized a costume, I called it out by name. “Woo! Go, Jessie! Go, Captain Jack! Go, Mary Poppins! Run, Buzz Lightyear!” When there were no costumes, I cheered, “Woo! Go, runners! You look great! You’re awesome!”
I kept looking for Andy and F.J., knowing that they would be running together and what they would be wearing. Suddenly, I spotted them. “WOOO!! Go Andy and F.J.! YAY!” As far as I know, that was the first they knew that I would be up and cheering for them. I saw F.J.’s head snap around and the guys waved quickly, but that area goes by a little too quickly for more than that.
I switched my sign to the next in the stack and took it down to the next spot, Downtown Disney. Both the 5K and the 10K routes run through about a quarter mile of Downtown Disney at the very end of the race. I positioned myself near the fountain in front of La Brea Bakery, right after the runners exit Disneyland. I soon found out that I’d put myself in an area with an excellent echo, so my cheers were amplified even more. It was also getting light, which helped immensely!
The only reaction to my second sign from everyone who looked at it was confused looks. Sordid Lives is an LGBT cult classic, but not exactly widely known. I realized that this was probably the only chance I had for my sign to be seen by Andy and F.J. as they ran and I had to make it count. So I switched the sign to Akai as Doge. Sorry, Beth Grant!
It was awesome to get to cheer for the 10K runners! I saw so many Dumbo Double Dare bibs. I saw people in fantastic, meticulously planned costumes. I saw lots of people in regular running clothes. I saw a single-leg amputee running on a blade.
And I saw so many people recognizing and smiling or laughing at my third sign. A lot of people love Doge and the sign turned out to be a huge hit. One guy yelled “So mileage!” as he ran past and later, when he was walking past after the race, stopped and said, “That sign is so great! I love it!”
Soon, Andy and F.J. rounded the corner and I cheered louder than ever. The looks on their faces when they saw and recognized the picture were priceless. After the race, F.J. told me he teared up three times during the race: running through the castle, at the finish line, and when he saw the sign. “It was like having Akai with us!”
After my friends passed, I moved up the route a little bit to the 6 Mile marker to continue cheering and wait to meet up with the guys. When they made their way to me, they took over the sign holding and joined in with the cheering. We stayed through the last runners, yelling “It’s just around the corner! Go, runners! You look great! Keep going!”
And when we saw the last few people coming through on golf carts, we applauded them for their effort. It’s got to be so hard to get so close to the finish line and not finish, but just getting out there and trying is a feat that most people won’t achieve and wouldn’t dream of attempting.
Some tips for spectators at Disneyland races:
- Have fun making signs! The bigger the letters and shorter the message, the better. Make it personal, but make it something everyone can recognize and enjoy. (Cute pets are universal.)
- Some of the Downtown Disney coffee and snack places are open early on race days (e.g., Jamba Juice, Starbucks, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express).
- Pick your on-course spots carefully.
- During the 5K, the best spot to watch is along the route on the Esplanade between California Adventure and Disneyland.
- For the 10K, you can watch from both the short stretch along the Esplanade (closer to the left of the entry is best and most visible) and along the route in Downtown Disney. If you can only do one, pick Downtown Disney.
- The Half Marathon has a number of places where you can see runners, but keep in mind that you may have a hard time reaching some of them due to road closures. The City of Anaheim website publishes detailed road closure information about a week before race weekends. The most popular spot seems to be the halfway point (in the current race route, that is in front of Ganahl Lumber on Ball Rd.). I can tell you from personal experience that gummies, licorice, and other favorite running fuels are a welcome treat at that point!
- The 5K, 10K and Half Marathon all have bleachers available at the finish line. For the Half Marathon, this seating is reserved for ChEAR Squad Gold and Platinum packages.
- If you can, stick around to cheer for runners who are finishing at the back of the pack. That encouragement means so much to people who are struggling to finish.
- Show appreciation for the costumes! You never know when you will run into something like this marvel. She’s the Tiki Room. Best. Costume. Ever.