In the three years that I have been writing Running at Disney, I’ve found that one of the best things about this experience has been getting to know my fellow Disney runners and reading their stories. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know John this year when he stared writing Anaheim Antics for RAD and it has been wonderful to follow along in his journey towards his first half marathon. I’m so proud of what he’s accomplished (wait until you see his time!!) and lucky to call him a friend. I can’t wait to see where his legs take him next, but for now here is the the big race!
When I first signed up for the Avengers Half Marathon, I knew I would want to write about the experience for RAD. What I didn’t know was that my actual race experience would differ from my expectations, and not for any reason that had to do with training, fitness, or endurance. In this case, it was the course itself. Winding through several Orange County sites of interest, the course was a personal. Many of the sites on the route were places that held personal and fond memories for me, and numerous other runners.
The start of the race was, of course, on Disneyland Drive, which was once known as West Street. West Street, along with North Street, South Street, and East Street, mark the borders of the original 1857 settlers’ colony of 200 arches, which became the City of Anaheim. Today, few people know the history of these four Anaheim streets, despite crossing them every day.
After winding through the Parks, the course continued down Harbor Blvd, and then turned right on Chapman Avenue. Chapman Avenue is named in honor of Alfred Chapman, who served as Los Angeles City Attorney and Los Angeles County District Attorney. But he is most known as the real estate businessman who, with partner Andrew Glassell, founded the City of Orange in 1888 (Anaheim borders Orange just east of Disneyland). I had the privilege of growing up in the City of Orange, and previously worked at Orange City Hall, so this bit of heritage was rather personal to me.
The course then wound through a site that was even more personal, and more famous: Christ Cathedral. Previously known as the Crystal Cathedral, it was the home base of Possibility Thinking preacher Rev. Dr. Robert Schuller. Dr. Schuller founded the church (originally known as Garden Grove Community Church) in 1955, the same year Disneyland opened, and built the Cathedral 25 years later to accommodate a growing congregation. Many will recognize the church’s Welcoming Center as Starfleet Headquarters from Star Trek: Into Darkness. On the church’s south side is a decorative display of gold bells, which was donated by Disney Cast Members attending the church in the 1960’s. In its heyday, the church had arguably more of Cast Members in its congregation of any other church in the area. After Dr. Schuller retired, a series of poor management decisions forced the congregation into bankruptcy. The property is now owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, and known as Christ Cathedral. The former Crystal Cathedral congregation renamed itself the Shepherd’s Grove congregation, and moved to a new location just down the street: Our next stop on the course.
The course continued south on Lewis Street, passing the current home of the Shepherd’s Grove congregation. Many will recognize it as the home of the nationally televised “Hour of Power” television program, the longest running religious television broadcast on the air today. This is also my church home, where serve as director of the Shepherd’s Grove Handbell Ensemble. It was very heartwarming to see members of the congregation line the route to cheer the runners on as we passed by, especially at 6:30am.
The course then continued down Garden Grove Blvd, then up the Santa Ana River Trail, and then through Angel Stadium. Angel Stadium is home to the Angels Major League Baseball team, which Disney owned controlling interest from 1996 until the team was sold to Arte Moreno in 2003. Under Disney’s leadership, Angel Stadium underwent a $118 million renovation, turning it into a state of the art facility. Many OC residents like me have grown up here, spending countless weekends in the stadium seats rooting for our Halos. The treat for the runners this day was being able to run through the Stadium itself, running the track around the field. One could easily imagine the good old days of Walt Disney sitting with original team owner Gene Autry in the suites overlooking the field.
The final leg of the race headed back to the Park, with the Matterhorn straight ahead. Several friends warned me about hitting the wall around mile 11, but it never happened. Perhaps it was the sight of the Matterhorn, or perhaps I was just in good form. I regained some of the speed I lost around mile 7, when encountering brutal wind gusts. The most grueling part of the course was just prior to mile 13. It was a straight shot up the Downtown Disney access road to the finish line, but for some reason, time seemed to pass very slowly. As the crowds got louder, and the finish line came in sight, it seemed like forever until my feet crossed that line. But when I did, it was such an insatiable feeling, as though could run 100 miles more.
Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of this half marathon course. It’s mostly flat, easy to traverse, runner-friendly, and with plenty of points of interest to keep you interested. I truly hope they use this same course for upcoming Disney half marathons. Local residents will no doubt fine many personal touchstones along the route, and out-of-town runners will discover new gems in the jewel that is Orange County’s Resort District.
Oh, and how could I forget to mention my own achievement? This was my first ever half marathon. My final time was 2 hours, 6minutes, 47 seconds, for a pace of 9 mins 40 seconds per mile. That pace put me 1060th out of 10463 runners. Now it’s on to the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend, where I will be participating in the Rebel Challenge!!
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.