When the world needs them, superheroes are always ready to answer the call and assemble to fight for justice. Last spring, the call was put out for a different sort of hero to rise up to a challenge spanning 13.1 miles – athletes from all over would join forces in Anaheim in the fall for the inaugural runDisney Avengers Half Marathon. And on November 14th through the 16th, the challenges of the weekend’s activities were met with feats of superhuman strength and endurance by over 12,000 runners. I counted myself among the brave thousands who trained and prepared arduously to tackle [and eventually conquer!] the challenge.
The weekend began with the Race Expo on Friday, held at the Disneyland Hotel, where runners assembled to get their racing bibs with their numbers as well as to listen to nutrition and exercise experts offer advice on preparing for and recovering from the events of the next few days. Additionally, various companies had vendor booths inside, selling race apparel, nutritional supplements, and advertising for other racing events in the upcoming future. At the back of the expo was the Disney official merchandise store which hosted a variety of Avengers running gear – shirts, sweatshirts, water bottles- as well as accessories- necklaces, car stickers, pins, and even a limited line of Dooney and Bourke purses and handbags designed exclusively for the race weekend. Demand for the items was high, with lines lasting over an hour just to get a look at the merchandise stalls.
I, thankfully, encountered none of these lines and managed to purchase one of the purses, which is covered in Avengers-logo fabric featuring the Avengers “A,” as well as symbols for S.H.I.E.L.D., Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, and Black Widow. If you’re thinking I forgot someone, you’d be right to notice what many people brought to the attention of friends and family over the weekend – a distinct lack of Iron Man on any promotional material. You couldn’t see him anywhere, on any merchandise or banners.
It is unknown the exact reason for this (some speculate copyright issue with IronMan triathlons, but that is merely a rumor), but I personally didn’t mind. With the omission of the iron-suited Avenger, there was more space for the lesser-featured heroes. Considering that 2/3 of the runners of the half marathon [which saw 12,000 participants cross the starting line] were female, it was great to see Black Widow in place of Iron Man on nearly everything. Even featured were Hawkeye and Falcon, two heroes who are seen even less than the others on usual merchandise in stores and on shirts. Just this small bit of representation was extremely exciting and encouraging for the race weekend.
On Saturday the 15th, Disney hosted the Avengers 5k, which saw runners taking the course through both California Adventure and Disneyland park at a lovely, early hour of the morning well before either venue opened to the general public. Later in the morning, they hosted the Children’s Races, for babies, toddlers, and young children alike. Finishers for both of these events received medals featuring the cartoon likenesses of some of the hero mascots for the weekend. The expo was also open on Saturday following these races, and those arriving for the Half Marathon on Sunday came to get their runners’ packets.
That afternoon, unofficially organized, the Grand Californian Hotel in Downtown Disney played host to a small meeting of the Carol Corps. For those of you who don’t know, the Carol Corps is a legion of fans of Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, as written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who attended race weekend with her husband Matt Fraction, another comic writer, and their children who participated in the children’s races. [There is a smaller division of the Corps, called the Kamala Korps, devoted to G. Willow Wilson’s run of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel.]
At the meet, a good, strong handful of both racers and volunteer cheerers for the race gathered in the lobby to pep-talk, chit-chat, and swap race training stories with one another. Some decorated signs that they then used to cheer on the runners who arrived to find the Corps stationed at about Mile 6 of the Half Marathon the next morning. DeConnick herself even came to the meet, bringing along her mother, her daughter, infinite friendliness, and some temporary tattoos from her upcoming book Bitch Planet for Image comics [releasing in December]. The group of us all took photos flexing our arm muscles and duck-face muscles, fostering a community of support and encouragement before the big day.
Later, everyone dispersed and went back to their hotels for healthy dinners, plenty of water, and as much sleep as could be had despite all the excitement and nervous energy in the air. There was no time for late-night partying. The race began at 5:30 am Sunday morning.
Racers filed into corrals [determined by their projected running time] with groups A-F hosting those whose varied times were under 3 hours with proof from a previous race. Corrals G and H held about half of the 12,000 runners, who could not provide a previous proof of time or were going to finish the race in over 3 hours net time. Times were tracked by a small electronic chip on the back of race bibs, and then recorded for later viewing online. As this was my first race, I joined thousands of others in the final corral, waiting in the dark of the morning for the gun to go off.
Many runners came dressed as superheroes, either layering running gear reminiscent of their favorite characters or being so bold as to wear a full-on costume. I had a black running shirt onto which I sewed a silver spandex sleeve to imitate the look of the Winter Soldier. My dad, a veteran to these sorts of races, bought a Captain America running shirt and a small shield to match. Our motto for the race morning was “Til the end of the line,” and it might have been adrenaline or sleep deprivation, but when my father leaned over to reassure me he’d be there “til the end of the line” as I ran my first of these races, well, I got emotional.
Some notable runners’ costumes from the weekend included Thor, Wiccan, Hela the goddess of death, Amora the Enchantress, Ant-Man and Wasp, and Beta Ray Bill. There were even some runners dressed as DC heroes Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman, as well as characters from the newest Disney film Big Hero 6.
At the beginning of the race course, a giant archway featuring the Avengers greeted runners as they passed over the starting mat. There were bright, colorful lights and loud, heroic music to inspire enthusiasm as the morning race went underway. There was a giant screen on the arch, showing video footage as racers took off. It was all very stimulating and exciting, but I quickly came to realize that with 12,000 runners to get over the starting mat, I would have to wait a while in the last corral while others got their starts. It ended up being about 30 minutes from the start of Corral A before I even began to walk onto the course. The sun had begun to come up, but the morning was thankfully still cool. Finally, it was Corral H’s turn to move, and slowly, the crowd rolled to an enthusiastic start.
The race first took us around the perimeter of the Disney Parks, then to the inside, as we ran past dormant attractions through the first few miles of the course. Within the parks were several stops for runners to take pictures with Disney park actors dressed as Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. Their lines were long, and I unfortunately sacrificed this experience for the integrity of my running time. When I passed by, the Captain America actor was not at his stop, but there was a big image of his shield where I could see he should be.
Once out of the parks, we took to the streets of Anaheim, running past hotels and outlet malls, eventually making it all the way to Angels Stadium to run over the infield before making our return to Disney property. There were nine hydration stops along the course, staffed with patient volunteers who passed cups of water and PowerAde to the thirsty runners. There was additionally one nutrition stop where Clif energy product was provided for those who wanted it. I could always tell where one of these stops would be due to debris blowing in the ridiculous winds that plagued the course that morning. I don’t remember much of miles 4 and 8, as I had my eyes nearly closed to avoid dust in my face. This was a strange racing condition, and definitely unusual for one of these SoCal races.
The water and energy gels weren’t the only thing keeping runner energy up along the course. Entertainment volunteers and cheerers lined the courses with homemade signs, wearing cosplay, or playing music to make the journey that much more exciting for the runners. A large band played the instrumental theme to the Avengers at about the 5th mile. For a stretch of the 6th miles, dozens of volunteering cosplayers dressed as Falcon, Thor, White Tiger, Captain Marvel, Star Lord, and many others cheered and high-fived the passersby. Many held signs of encouragement and humor for the runners to see. My personal favorite motivational signs read, “Stan Lee just passed you… Run Faster!,” “This is the worst Disney parade ever,” and “Run like you just stole Thor’s hammer!”
Towards the end of the race, we returned to Disney backlot property for a strong finish in the Downtown Disney district where the Avengers characters from earlier in the race stood on a platform at the finish, urging words of encouragement to the exhausted finishers. Past the finish mat, volunteers distributed medals to all the runners who completed the 13.1 mile trek through Anaheim. The medal features the Avengers “A” as well as the symbols of Cap, the Hulk, and Thor on the back of the spinner piece. The ring around the spinner gives the details of the event, being the Inaugural Mission of the Avengers Half Marathon, meaning there will be others in the future.
The turnout of this event, as well as its general reception by the public, were overwhelmingly positive. There was a lot of fun to be had amidst the hard work and self-sacrifice it took to complete the events of the weekend. Personally, as this was my first, I wasn’t expecting any miracles, but I had a genuinely good time tackling the challenge Disney put out this weekend. I am not a regular runner, so I was content with my finishing time of just under three hours despite the crowds and the winds.
I would advise serious runners who wish to compete in this event to provide a recent proof of time in order to avoid being put in one of the latter two race corrals. From there, the crowds rarely thinned out, and I spent a lot more time maneuvering around people than just straight running. I can understand where people in the less crowded groups would have opportunity to shatter personal records, but if you are at the back of the pack, this becomes very difficult.
Even still, I set my own personal record just by finishing. Now that my soreness is subsiding, I’m thinking I’m just crazy enough to try this again next year, but that’s a long time to wait. In the meantime, runDisney hosts plenty of other themed runs, including the upcoming Star Wars Half Marathon weekend in January of the new year. If you’d like to set a goal for yourself to complete one of these races, head over to their website and start researching training schedules. Registration fills up fast, so be sure to keep an eye on it and then make your plans. Finishing one of these races is a lifetime achievement in itself, and you’ll have something cool to tell your friends for years to come.
The medal’s not a bad reward either.