2015 Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend: I Ran, But That's Not the Story.

Ask any runner what’s one of their favorite aspects of the sport and you can bet racing will be near the top of their list. The excitement of getting into the corrals with fellow runners, the hype of the emcee, the national anthem, crossing the start line and battling the course are all very exciting. It’s even more exciting when the race is out-of-state, giving one the opportunity to experience new adventures. I absolutely love racing, and love it even more when the race destination includes a ton of good people at a cool place. Of course, I’m referring to last week’s 10k race at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Not a bad medal.

Truth be told, the 10k race was the last thing I was excited about. Rather, my excitement was geared more towards the people I would get to see.

The main reason for my visit was to attend a cupcake meet up, held by my good friend, and Outrunning the Monorail host, Krissy Murphy. At each race, Krissy holds a cupcake themed meet up and donates the proceeds to charity. This year, the meet up selected my charity, PAWS Chicago, Chicago’s largest “no kill” shelter and group for which I would be running for at the Chicago Marathon for a second straight year. It’s a tremendous organization that holds a near perfect Charity Navigator rating, and does a wonderful job saving stray animals. So, I though the least I could do was to be at the meet up and personally thank everyone for the generous donations.

Since this was well past registration, I reached out to Jen at Travel Girl on the Run to secure a 10k bib. I could have also done the half, but with Chicago so close, I decided to stay with a short race so as not to overextend myself. With bib secured, my next job was to suck up to some local friends who may have an extra pillow I could rest my head on for a few days. That search took all of five minutes, when my dear friends, Tracy and Phil offered up their extra bed in their Grand California room. You may know Tracy from her efforts with Sean Astin’s “Run 3rd” team, as she is the west coast leader. At any rate, when we get together, awesomeness always follows. This trip was no different. Thank you Tracy and “Pops.”

As the time to travel neared, I was contacted by health provider, Cigna and invited to a special blogger meet up they were holding race weekend. In addition to that and the cupcake meet up, the ballers over at #WeRunSocial were also getting something going that I just had to be at, filling my weekend card fast.

So, on Thursday I hopped on a cramped and outdated United Airlines flight for a 6.5 hour (or eight West Wing episodes) trip across the country. I’ve must have seen every episode of the West Wing over 1,000 times, but it always takes my mind off of long trips.

Landing at what could be considered a tangible experience of hell on earth, otherwise known as LAX, I was picked up by my bro-in-law and we immediately made a beeline for the one thing that had consumed me for the whole flight, In & Out Burger. Yes, it’s quite cliché to visit LA and head straight to In & Out, but I don’t care. It’s delicious and a welcome respite from Boston’s questionable “food scene.” We caught up a bit, but jet lag was taking a monstrous toll on me and I had the Cigna meetup early in the morning, so I hit the hay and dreamed of what west coast activities lay ahead of me.

Naturally, Friday morning came early and I was out of the shower and dressed by 5:30. As I was going through a few work emails, my phone buzzed with a text,

“Your shuttle has arrived.”

It was none other running diva, and my west coast partner in crime, Linzie from Sharp Endurance. A few days prior, I was mentioning to him how I planned to take an Uber from Pasadena to Anaheim, and he was like, “Son, please! I’m coming to get you and we’ll drive down together.” We hopped in the Linz-mobile and due to lively conversation and music, our trip to Anaheim was near instantaneous.

Since we were there well before the Cigna meet up, Linz and I helped ourselves to some breakfast at Earl of Sandwich and then pregamed at a nearby watering hole. You know, just to get the blogging juices flowing. This turned out to be a great idea, as it gave us time to meet up with some more super awesome runners. Kira and RJ, who I had met at the Boston races, Emelia and Jindy, both well-respected bloggers (and all-around amazingly awesome people!), who were friends from the social medias, and Carlee, who is an inspiration and unstoppable force of energy. We all bonded immediately, and enjoyed stirring conversation for the early morning (plus, the libations made it pretty easy). Wrapping up our drinks, and saying by to Kira and RJ, it we hopped over to Disney’s Grand Californian upscale restaurant, Napa Rose for our Cigna meet up.

The world wasn't ready for all of this awesomeness. (Photo credit: Sharp Endurance)

Arriving at Napa Rose, I was pleasantly surprised a bunch of friends I have met over the years via blogging events. There was Krissy, Jen, Brandi, Kim, Gail, Patty and now with us rounding out the mix, this was going to be a great event. Cigna really had pulled out all the stops for this shindig. By partnering with the good folks at the culinary division at Disney, Cigna had brought us a veritable stable of top chefs across every discipline for a cooking class, followed by a 3-course lunch.

All the bloggers.

We were split into groups, with Linzie, Emelia, Brandi and I in one group (with some mommy/foodie bloggers I didn’t know) and then rotated from station to station. Our first stop, of course, was the bar. However, there were no booze. Rather, our chef was there to help us concoct healthy smoothies to get us up and going out the door in the morning. One of the smoothies was a blueberry-agave smoothie directly developed from the heavens. Another smoothie we concocted was a chocolate coffee one. They were both super delicious and exactly what I needed after the morning’s pregame.

Bars can be used for more than just booze. Whaaaaa?

Rise & shine for this deelish smoothie.

From the smoothie station, our group moved over to the appetizer station, where we created a raspberry salad with a honey/sugar vinaigrette. This section required a little audience participation to where Linzie and I were volunteered to whisk the vinaigrette. Whisking was tougher than I imagined, as the chef continued to make us whisk for what seemed like hours. Finally, the dressing was creamy enough to drizzle over the salad, but before we could enjoy, it was time to move on.

Don't let these guys near the knives. 

Station three was the main entrée with Chef Chris, the head chef of the kitchen.  We learned to prepare a roasted chicken with vegetables and an au jus. I was impressed how fast Chef Chris could debone and clean the chicken, as well as how little time it took to cook the bird. I guess I know why when I cook chicken it comes out dry.

You get a chicken! You get a chicken! EVERYDODY GETS A CHICKEN!

Easier than it looks. 

The last station was dessert, to where we learned to make a peach crumble of sorts. Along with the dessert, we also learned about seasonality of fruits and tried a few in-season ones, namely the cotton candy grape. If you haven’t had it, the taste is directly in line with the name, as they literally taste like cotton candy!  Because, Napa Rose sources a lot of its ingredients locally, many of the foods we tried were not available on the east coast (yet another reason to look west).

After we all completed the stations, lunch was served. But, before we ate, a few of us were asked to do a quick video interview of our experience.  You’ll probably recognize most of the faces in the video below.

Breaking hearts and breaking camera lenses. (Photo credit: HalfCrazyMama)

The experience was really enjoyable. Cigna did an amazing job putting on both an entertaining and educational event, and I applaud their effort. The mix of fitness and foodie bloggers really allowed for different perspectives on the event to multiple audiences. Nice job, Cigna!

After the Cigna event, it was time for the Cupcake Meetup and the reason I had traveled all the way to California. Here, I met up with a lot of folks who I’ve known via social media and it was great to meet them all in person. After a quick speech thanking the attendees and giving a quick background on PAWS Chicago, Krissy did the prize drawing and handed out some killer prizes. Thanks to everyone who attended, donated and supported this effort. I will be running Chicago on your behalf.

Cupcake meet up for Team PAWS.

From here, I was able to grab some downtime, so I headed out to the parks to relax a little bit. Heading into Disneyland, I walked around and soaked in the sights and sounds of “Walt’s Folly.” Being here without my wife was a little depressing, as it’s always more fun when she’s around. Luckily, I caught up with Brandi and her family, and was invited to join them on Splash Mountain.  Little to my knowledge, this attraction would be the basis to their running costumes for the weekend’s race. I’m not much for flume rides, especially with my brand new New Balance kicks on. However, sitting in the back kept me from catching a ton of water, making the ride rather enjoyable.

After saying bye to Team Brandi, I caught up with Lena, Heather, Jen & crew for lunch. This group would end up being my partners-in-crime for the rest of the weekend. Adding Sarah and Krissy to the crew later on only made it even more fun. We hung in the parks for the rest of the day, finally saying adieu to each other about 9:00. I hit the bar at the Grand Californian for a few beers and to reflect on an amazing day.

Point us to the bar. 

The next morning came fast at 3:30a. Tracy had woken me up by testing the luminance of the room by turning every light on (I love her so much). Out the door we skulked towards the start of the Disneyland 10k. I’m not going to talk about the race too much as it really wasn’t why I came out west. Other than to say this; the DLR 10k may be my favorite of the Disney races. It’s nearly all in the parks, and the backstage areas are awesome. You get to see all the Central Shops (where they paint, do maintenance on attraction vehicles, and keep the farm animals). It reminds me a lot of when I was a cast member at WDW and having to walk backstage to get to/from work. I finished in a time that doesn’t matter, cleaned up and headed down to Storytellers restaurant to have brunch with some friends.

Rockin' and racin' in New Balance.

At Storytellers, I met up with Jen, Boris, Erin and my weekend roomies, Tracy and Phil. Of course, it was a character breakfast, and I’m not one for characters. Like, really, I’m not about the characters at all. I high tailed it out of there when the furries showed up and met up with the crazy crew from the previous day.

We spent the day in Disney California Adventure, and I have to say, it may be my new favorite park. The revamp of the park was really well done. I’m for all things vintage and their redo of Carthay Circle is so good. It’s straight out of the late 30’s/early 40’s, with swing music and period-dressed characters, and reminds me a lot of early Disney MGM Studios, before Disney completely destroyed (and continues to destroy) the theme of that park.

Such a great park. 

Seriously, this park is amazing. 

A few of us broke off for a quick meet up at Trader Sam’s for the #WeRunSocial crew get together. This is a great team of individuals, hosted by Linzie and Carlee. I was especially excited to meet Casey, since we’ve been such good friends via social media, and as expected we hit it off. Another attendee was Andrea Barber, from TV’s Full(er) House. She is super cool in-person, and definitely one of us. As we were talking, someone mentioned #makinglemonadeoutta and she was like, “Oh, the lemonade thing.” So, of course, we just had to get a medal picture with her in it. Seriously, guys, she’s a cool chick. I also ran into all my other blogging friends, Kelsey, Connie, and a whole host of others. I, even had a few fans in attendance who introduced themselves and mentioned how much they appreciate Always Running Forward. All in all, it was a tremendously welcoming group, and a good time was had by all.

#WeRunSocial meet up. 

Really cool ass people. (Photo credit: CaseyRuns)

Breaking the internet. 

I met back up with my “park ladies” at Carthay Circle lounge, where it was time to get my Bay Lake Society on with a Hendricks and tonic, while everyone else enjoyed Manhattans. Then, we headed over to Naples for dinner, and I feasted on Quatro Fromaggi pizza (a staple at their Epcot sister restaurant, Via Napoli).  It was getting late, so we all said our goodbyes, and I headed back to the bar at Grand Californian to meet up with an old friend from my Tapestry of Nations drumming days.

All class.

The next morning, I saw Tracy, Jen and Boris finish strong at the half marathon and then headed out to the airport to catch my flight home. I ran into Casey at the airport and we chatted a bit before going our separate ways. The flight home was long, I was upgraded to First Class, but so were six kids and it was a veritable Romper Room across the country.

As you might have noticed from this post, the trip wasn’t really about the race or running , or even riding the park rides. Rather, it was about the people. I had wonderful opportunities to spend quality time with some really great people; many of whom I’ve known, but never met in-person. This trip brought me close to those I haven’t really known and closer to those who I do know.  Races come and go, but it’s the people that make them special. This weekend cemented that belief.