Disneyland Paris Half Weekend

The inaugural Disneyland Paris weekend is the first runDisney event to take place outside of the US.  Consisting of a 5k family run, kids races and a half marathon, it took place over the weekend of 24/25 September.  Having really enjoyed my first taster of runDisney races with the Dopey challenge in January, and Disneyland Paris being a regular holiday destination for us since the kids were little, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

We chose to fly to Paris (a short 35 min crossing from Gatwick), then take the TGV from the airport down to the park (just 9 mins!).  Leaving early on Friday morning, despite a slight delay at Gatwick, we were at Disney by midday.  We’d chosen to stay at the Sequoia Lodge hotel, which was slightly cheaper, but well placed for the start of the races (the entire resort is no where near the scale of Walt Disney World, so any of the onsite hotels are all within walking distance).  Luckily we were able to check in and drop our bags in our room when we arrived, we then headed off to the expo to pick up our numbers.

Situated in Disney Village (again a short walk away), the expo had opened on Thursday afternoon, so was pretty quiet when we arrived.  We picked up our numbers and t-shirts with no wait (but lots of forms), I also picked up a wristband which would enable me to get an additional ‘Caste to Chateau’ medal after the half marathon; having run a race in the US and Paris in the same calendar year.  The expo was fairly small (and ridiculously hot – some air con would have helped) but we had a quick look around.  Unfortunately they’d sold out of the commemorative pins as we would have liked some for the kids collection; it would have been nice to be able to pre-order these as is the case with the US races.  All admin sorted, we headed off for an afternoon in the park.  Being a ‘school day’ it was incredibly quiet, and we were able to get on most rides with minimal wait.

As with the races in the US, both the 5k and half-marathon had early starts (7.00am), in order for the runners to be out of the park before opening.  We woke the kids around 5.30am on Saturday, kitted them up and wandered round to the start of the 5km.  Despite the promise of a lovely day, it was a chilly start with the sun yet to rise, so both kids had jumpers on (I’d foolishly forgotten to take anything).  Luckily we’d been placed in the first corral, and found ourselves really close to the start, which minimised too much waiting around.  I was running with both kids, which raises a few issues, both being very different levels of runners.  Joe is a decent little runner, but doesn’t like early mornings; Cerys is a lot slower but has stamina to keep going.  We’d decided before hand to take things slow, enjoy the course and stop for a few character photos (a highlight of Disney runs, is the number of characters out for support/photostops along the way).

Starting pretty much at 7.00am, we jogged past Ruth (throwing the jumpers at her as we did), and headed down past the Disneyland Hotel and into the main Park.  Supporters were unfortunately only allowed at the start and finish of the race, but there were plenty of castmembers out to cheer us as we ran up Main Street.  This is still the highlight of any runDisney race, running up Main Street towards the Castle is simply breathtaking and worth the admission alone.  The 5km course was excellent; looping around the Magic Kingdom, before making the short trip to Disney Studios, running past the main sites and finishing just outside the park. Running with both kids was always going to be hard, and so it proved.  Cerys was fine, happy to jog along slowly, but keen to stop as often as possible, particularly for the sometimes lengthy Character photos.  Joe struggled, still suffering from the early start.  With hindsight he’d have probably been ok had we gently jogged round the course; but the consistent stopping and starting was not to his liking.  Nevermind we achieved it, crossing the finish line just over the hour mark, our slowest but most fun 5k ever!

A quick stop for breakfast at the hotel, then it was time for the kids races.  Taking part round the lake in Disney Village, Joe was entered in the 1k, and Cerys the 2k (distances were determined by age).  A typical chaotic and delayed start, as is typical with most kids races (it’s usually the parents that are more of an issue than the kids); the actual races were well supported and set out.  Joe was now in his element, running as fast as he could on a lap of the lake, and finishing very strongly, before picking up a Mickey Mouse medal – he loved it.  Cerys too took it all her stride;  initially I’d planned to run with her, but she was determined to go it alone and pick up her second medal of the day, which did admirably.

After a deserved lunch, and with temperatures now rising it was back into the parks for another fun filled afternoon of rides and shows.

Sunday, time for the half marathon.  We’d already decided before hand that Ruth and the kids would stay in bed, then after breakfast pop out and see me as I passed the hotel entrance in the last few kms.  So after a quick bit of food, I joined the other runners heading round to the start in the early hours.  Again it was quite cold, and foolishly I’d forgotten bring a top with me, which I could throw away at the start.  As such, and with a slightly delayed start, by the time we set off I was feeling quite chilled.  In comparison to the 5k, the half marathon headed into the Studios first before looping into the Magic Kingdom.  I love running through the parks, but the twisty course meant I found it hard to settle into a steady pace.  There were plenty of characters and cast members out to support us (breaking with my plan of not stopping in the half, I did have a quick photo with some Stormtroopers as there was no queue).  Clocking though the 5k mark at around 25 mins, we then headed out of the parks, through the backstage area, and around the surrounding villages.  It was here that I began to settle into the race, passing through the 10k mark at 48 mins and the 15k at 1hr 10mins.   As with all distance races there are long periods of just road, but as we turned to head through Val d’Europe there was plenty of local support.  The final few miles looped back to the Disney area through the Sante Fe and Cheyenne hotels, before coming past the Sequoia (where Ruth and the kids gave me a cheer), round the lake and through Disney Village.  Great support all along here from both cast members and the public spurred me on to the finish, stopping the clock at 1:36:39.  Never a PB type of race; idealy I’d like to have been within 1:35 but was happy with how the second half of the run had gone.  There was just time for a quick picture with Paula Radcliffe at the finish before heading back to the hotel, to refuel and shower before a final few hours in the park.

Overall impressions of the race?  Considering this was the inaugural year, I thought it was very well organised.  Both races went off fine (despite the slightly delayed half marathon start); the 5k course was excellent;  the half made the most of the area available (you’ve got to remember that Disneyland Paris is a lot smaller than its american counterparts). The staff and cast members more than made up for the limited areas of public support, with their enthusiasm.  My love affair with runDisney races continues; I’d certainly recommend this one to anyone in the UK or Europe as a more local alternative to the US races, the medals are great bling as well!



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