I took part in the 5k, 10k and Half Marathon races at Disneyland Paris this September. I do consider myself a ‘runner’ but I am far from a fast runner! Disney Races suit me perfectly as they are not geared towards running competitively. This was my fifth half marathon, and I also took part the inaugural Race weekend in DLP in 2016. For the purpose of this review I will draw some comparisons between the two. There will almost certainly be some changes made for 2018, so please take my review as just that – my reflections on the events so far, rather than a guide to 2018!
My friends and I booked an onsite room at Sequoia Lodge with an Annual Pass Discount and were able to add race entries (bibs) on to this booking. There were other options to book. You could a package with hotel, tickets and bibs directly through Disneyland Paris, or through several nominated Travel Agents. Some people also booked offsite hotels, and purchased bibs separately in June.
In July, RunDisney emailed all participants with details for registering their details for the races. For those entering the Half Marathon, a Medicate Certificate had to be completed by a doctor and submitted by the end of August. Most GPs facilitated the completion of these certificates, usually for a fee. Due to technical difficulties encountered by some, the deadline was extended.
The Official Run Weekend Guide
The Official guide for the weekend was emailed to all participants in the week leading up to the races. It included the routes for all races plus practical information about the Expo, Spectators etc. You can see the guide for 2017 here.
The Expo was located between McDonald’s in Disney Village and Newport Bay Hotel. It opened on the Thursday at 3pm and queues for this both years started a few hours before opening but died down later on. At the Expo I collected my race bibs, t-shirts and gEAR bags. you get a t-shirt for each race you enter, plus an extra one for the challenge if you were doing that. I purchased my Photopass for the races (€35 for up to 3 bibs, and €60 for up to 6 bibs). I was also able to collect my limited-edition race pin that I had pre-ordered online. Last year the pins sold out very quickly and a lot of people were left disappointed. I was delighted to see RunDisney listen to feedback from this and this year to give the option to order in advance. I didn’t have to queue for very long for any of this, but it is a hot and stuffy tent, with very loud music. Not my favourite part of the weekend so I was glad to get it over and done with on the Thursday.
The Expo also hosted a variety of Run Disney merchandise for sale, a Speaker Series, various exhibitors, sports massage / KT taping, wristbands for spectators of the races, poster-making and a pop-up Starbucks.
A bib is allocated for each race, except for those who took part in the 10k and Half Marathon ‘Challenge’, which was just one bib. On each bib was a letter, A, B, or C, which corresponds to the corral you are in before starting the race.
Spectators / ChEARleaders
Spectators were encouraged to come to the races to chEAR on their family members and friends. There were two main areas for this; on Main Street USA (10k and half marathon only) and near the finish lines. To access these areas, wristbands needed to be collected from the Expo. For the 10k race and especially for the Half Marathon, there were lots of other locations for ChEARing outside the parks.
The 5k Race
This year saw a change to the day, time, start line, finish line and route of the 5k race! It was held on Friday evening at 8pm and started in front of Sequoia Lodge Hotel. We had to access the corrals at the other side of the lake, near the Expo. Corrals A and B closed at 7:30pm and Corral C closed at 8pm. I was in Corral C. The race was a few minutes late getting started and it did seem to take some time for all corrals to go over the start line. I started at around 8:35pm and the last runners crossing at approximately 8:45pm. This race was not timed.
The route went though Disney Village, into Walt Disney Studios, around the park and through some backstage areas. There were several character meets/stops along the route including Cinderella and Prince Charming (alternating with Belle and the Beast), backstage, Quasimodo, Esmerelda and Clopin (alternating), The Three Little Pigs, Gaston, Aristocats, Remy and Emile. The queues were long-ish but moved relatively quickly. There were also Photopass photographers at the Finish line. There was one water stop along the route. The backstage areas were not well-lit and I found this to be a huge drawback of the race. It was nice to see the parks all lit up while running, but I really think this race would be better if it were held in the morning like the other ones. (Unfortunately it has already been confirmed that next year it will also be held at 8pm on the Friday again.)
The finish line was inside the Studios, in the Production Courtyard. I found the finish to be quite disorganised. It was unclear as to where to collect your medal and where to go after that. Here; we encountered a huge problem. There were not enough 5k medals for everybody. Several hundred people were left disappointed. The staff, not knowing quite what to do, collected names and email addresses of those left without. There was supposed to be post-race refreshments but these also ran out, with only water left by the time I got there.
All in all, while I did enjoy the 5k race, I felt like it could not compare to how good the previous year’s race was. Out of this year’s races, it ranks at the bottom of the pile for me. It took us quite a while to wind down after the race. We got some food in Earl of Sandwich to bring back to the Hotel and it must have been 1am before we got to bed. Not too bad; if you don’t have to be up at 5am for another race the following morning!
The Studios Kick-Off Party
This party was held from 9pm on the Friday night but I did not attend. I had been to the one last year and didn’t have a great experience, and with the extra race this year I decided to give it a miss. I believe it was late starting and it was difficult to find out what was happening. There were some character Meet and Greets (mostly the same as the ones from the 5k race), access to rides, face-painting and a DJ. This event is NOT scheduled for Run Weekend 2018.
If you had breakfast included in your package (with a meal plan, or by staying Club Level), there was a runner’s breakfast provided in the hotels on both Saturday and Sunday morning. This was a continental buffet breakfast. Runners were also given a wristband in case they wanted to return for second breakfast after the races. Breakfast hours were extended to 12pm.
The 10k race
The 10k race was held at 7am and the start line was beside Vapianos at the side of Disney Village (Ave. Paul Séramy). Again, we were divided into Corrals to await the start of the race. Corrals A nd B closed a 6:30am and Corral C closed at 7am. I was given Corral B but moved back to C to be with friends (Moving back a corral is allowed, moving forward is not). The race started on time and we were on our way by 7:24am. This race was not timed. The route went into Walt Disney Studios, then into Parc Disneyland and then back into the Studios again for the finish. Some of the route also went backstage but not too much. Some of the later runners had a few hundred metres of their course cut off; no explanation was given but we can assume it was to get runners out of the parks to get it ready for opening.
Again there were several Character stops on the route. Jack Skellington and Sally, Remy and Emile, Woody and Jessie, Fairy Godmother and Merlin at one of the old Magic on Parade Floats, The Three Little Pigs, Stitch and Angel, Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, Aurora and Philip (alternating with the three good fairies) at Maleficent’s Dragon Parade Float, Aladdin and Jasmine (alternating with Genie and Sultan), Kuzko, Kronk and Yzma (alternating with Karl, Doug and Russell from Up), Alice and friends. One certainly couldn’t complain about that selection! The queue lengths varied, some being quite long and others being short. There were also lots of Photopass photographers at various locations around the parks, including in front of the castle, at Rex in Toy Story Playland, and at the finish. There were two water stops along the route.
The race went very smoothly, save for the finish line which got a bit congested with people taking photos with Mickey & friends in their running gear. It was my favourite race out of the three that I did. The route was unbeatable, the characters plentiful, and there was enough medals and post-race refreshments for everyone!
The Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo Challenge
Prior to the races, those entered into the 31k Challenge (10k and Half Marathon) had been told to collect a wristband at the end of the 10k race and wear it the next day in order to receive the Challenge medal. After the 10k, Cast Members told us that there were no wristbands, and all we had to do was present our Challenge bib the next day to get the medal. Potentially, this meant that one did not need to finish, or even start the 10k in order to get the Challenge medal! I believe they are more strict about this for the US Challenges.
The Kids Races
I did not attend the Kids Races this year as I did not have my children with me! They took place from 11am-12pm around Lake Disney. There were three distances depending on the age of the child: 100m, 200m and 1km. I learned from friends that were there that the organisation of them had not improved from last year; in fact they had worsened. The races ran over time, leaving children standing out in the direct sun for a long time. They ran out of medals. This was a huge disappointment for the children involved.
The Half Marathon
The Half Marathon was another early start, commencing at 7am. Again, Corrals A and B closed at 6:30am and Corral C closed at 7am. We saw some people trying to climb over the barriers well after 6:30am, only to be sent back to C by stewards! We were in Corral B and couldn’t believe our luck when we crossed the start line at 7:08am.
The route could be broken up into approximate thirds – first third in the Disney parks, middle third in the surrounding area including the partner hotels, and last third around the Disney Hotels and through Disney Village back to the Studios. There were around 8 beverage/fuel stops along the route. Some just had water, some had water and Powerade, and two of the stops had food, which included Balisto bars and cereal bars.
We stopped for lots of photos in the parks. Again, characters and Photopass photographers were plentiful. Along the route were The Three Caballeros (alternating with Kuzco and friends), Tinkerbell!!! (alternating with Alice), Hyenas from the Lion King (alternating with Rafiki and Timon), Stormtroopers, Joy and Sadness (alternating), Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps (alternating), Mickey and Minnie in their Anniversary outfits, Scrooge, Rapunzel and Flynn with Snow White and Prince Charming. Plenty for everyone and some of the queues were very short (non-existent in some cases!). There were plenty of other Photopass photographers at this race too; including in front of the castle, and the 25th Anniversary Car and the finish. According to my Garmin watch, I was stopped for 25 minutes in total, a very long toilet stop (this was the longest queue!) which included at least 6 character stops, plenty of photos and lots of hugs with ChEARleaders along the way.
Entertainment was also provided outside Disney property in the form of live music. This was great for keeping us going during that section.
At the finish line, Mickey and Co. were there again for some selfie opportunities. Everyone was presented with their Half Marathon medal after the finished, and then instructed to move along to a separate area for the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and Castle to Chateau Challenge medals. Again there was plenty of refreshments available in the form of a box of snacks for everyone and bottles of water and Powerade. There were also foil blankets to keep the heat in.
I could not fault the Half Marathon Race in any way. It was very well organised and it ran like clockwork. As I said already, my favourite race was the 10k, mainly because of the route. It would be impossible to have an entire half marathon inside Disney property but that middle section does drag!
A special shout out has to go to all the ChEARleaders, friends and cast members alike, who got up early just to cheer the runners on. You’ll never know how much of a boost it gives us to ‘Just Keep Running’. Thank you.
Photopass photos from the races were due to be available by 2nd October. This was delayed by two days. I did manage to download all my photos but some of my friends had trouble registering their passes and have not yet resolved this. The photos themselves, as with all Photopass photos from Disney, are excellent quality and high-resolution. Well worth the money.
Changes for 2018
As I mentioned already, the Kick-off party will not go ahead next year. The format of the races appears to be the same as this year. Once welcome addition is the 36k Challenge medal for runners who complete the 5k, 10k and Half Marathon. The 31k challenge also makes a return, which means that you could potentially get 5 medals for running 3 races!
The Challenge is not for the faint-hearted. With the right training, it is achievable for most people; but it does need to be taken seriously. On top of running three races in 36 hours, you have to contend with early starts, reduced sleep and the usual tiredness that comes with spending time in Disney parks! That said, it is definitely worth the effort, and I am very much looking forward to returning next year.
Roll on Magical Run Weekend 2018!