If there’s one half marathon that’s guaranteed to keep a smile on your face the whole way round, it’s the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon. Having recently taken part in this year’s event and as someone who hasn’t exactly got the best past track record with half marathons I wanted to put together my top tips for anyone who’s thinking of entering this frankly most epic of races!
Here’s my race round up of everything you need to know before signing up to the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon.
There is a list of approved tour operators on the Disneyland Paris Run Weekend website so make sure you book your race entry and travel package through one of them. I opted to go with Great Days Holidays and went for the 3 night package staying at Disney Hotel Cheyenne, which included bed and breakfast, entry to the half marathon and 2 day park access. The total cost of this was £245, which breaks down as follows:
- £75 – race entry.
- £170 – 3 nights B&B and 2 day park pass.
Note that this does not include the cost of travel to get here and so you will need to sort out your own travel arrangements. I went for the train up to London and then the Eurostar to Paris option, although please check when you book Eurostar tickets as the train only stops at the Disney station (Marne-la-Vallée) on certain days of the week. Unfortunately it didn’t stop there on the day I was arriving and so my journey involved getting the Eurostar to Gard du Nord and then hopping on the Metro to get to Disney. Not ideal, so definitely worth taking into account when you decide what day to go.
When you book your package you will be given the choice of which Disney hotel you would like to stay in and this will affect the overall price. In terms of how far away the hotels are from the park, there’s really not that much in it, as they are all located along the same stretch of road, so don’t let that be a deciding factor for you. More than anything it’s about the price you’re prepared to pay and the style of hotel you like the best, as each one has it’s own unique style. For example, Hotel Cheyenne where I stayed has a Woody from Toy Story theme, so think cowboys, Indians, lots of cow hide and yee ha’s.
As part of French regulations all runners taking part in the half marathon need to have a medical certificate signed by their doctor to confirm that they are fit to run. Most doctors charge for this (I had to pay £30) but without it you won’t be allowed to run. You will be sent an email to upload the signed certificate to complete the registration process and I would also advise that you take it with you when you go just in case they aren’t able to find it when you pick up your bib number at the Health & Wellness Expo.
As the date gets closer you will be sent a barrage of different emails about upgrade packages that you can buy to pimp up your stay. These include things like a special Pasta Dinner the night before the race, but in all honesty there are so many restaurants in the Disney village that paying over the odds for some pasta really isn’t necessary.
Once you’ve arrived at Disney and before the actual race itself you will need to register and pick up your bib number and Gear Bag. This is all done at the Health & Wellness Expo in the Disney Village and you will be told what times it is open for in the registration email you should have received the week before. Make sure you bring a print out of your signed registration voucher along with valid photo ID, otherwise they won’t hand over your race bib. If you haven’t had chance to print out your voucher they do have printers there.
The Gear Bag is a big clear drawstring bag that you can use on the day of the race to store your personal items. Inside the Gear Bag you will find your bib number, 4 safety pins to attach it and information and a map of the race. Keep this bag safe as it is the only bag you will be allowed to leave at the bag drop stations.
In the Health & Wellness Expo you’ll also be able to get a sneak peak at the medals (more on those later), buy any merchandise you might want, and take a few selfies with the giant photo frames and in front of the wall of names; a really cool wall featuring everybody’s name who has signed up to run the race.
On the morning of the race you can leave your Gear Bag at the bag drop off points in the Health & Wellness Expo. There are different stations depending on your bib number, so it’s a really smooth system and there are no long queues. I didn’t have much in mine, but it’s worth throwing in a jumper for if it’s cold afterwards, plus any food you think you might want, and of course it’s a handy place to keep your hotel key. Simply flash your bib number at the end of the race and your bag is returned to you.
I don’t care how good your bladder control is, at some point either before or after the race you’re gonna to need to go to the loo so finding out where they are in advance is essential!
There are toilets located in the Health & Wellness Expo so it’s a good idea to use them when you drop your bag off before the race. I’m not gonna lie, they ain’t pretty (well OK the glowy door handles are…) and the smell is BAD, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. Remember to give yourself plenty of time because the queues are long. And I’m not just talking Ladies loos, because the Men’s queue is equally as long with everyone desperately lining up in a bid to get rid of their morning poo so as not to be caught out during the run!
During the run, there are toilets within the park itself however there are just two toilet stops marked on the route and these are located outside of the parks, roughly halfway through the course. Although I didn’t try these out for myself, they are your bog standard (excuse the pun) portaloos and will do the job if you’re desperate, but certainly ain’t gonna be luxurious.
Let’s not beat around the bush here… you sign up to a Disney half marathon, then you’ve got to accept that you’ll be getting up very early on the morning of the race.
- The race starts at 7am – that’s early by anyone’s standards!
- You need to get into your corral (see below) by a particular time.
- You need to allow time to get into your costume (if you aren’t running in some kind of costume, even if it’s just Minnie ears, then why the hell are you taking part in a Disney run!?!).
- You need to fit in breakfast and allow time for it to go down properly.
- You definitely need to allow enough time to wee as much as you possibly can and get that morning poo over and done with (see ‘Toilets’)
- You need to allow time to walk from your hotel to the race village, which will be between 10-15 minutes depending on which hotel you stay at.
- You need to allow time to get through security.
That’s a lot of things to think about, so I would suggest you put a plan of action in place the night before and then work backwards with the time you think you need for each before working out when to set your alarm.
And my top tip for race morning?
Buy yourself one of those disposable plastic ponchos, because it is flippin’ cold when you’re stood around in the dark in just a tutu and vest. OK it isn’t exactly the height of fashion, but trust me you will thank me for it, as there is a LOT of hanging around. Just simply rip it off when you get to the start line and throw it in one of the bins before you start running. You stay warm (ish) and your outfit and hair stays looking good despite a bit of drizzle.
Like most English races, the Disneyland Paris half marathon race is broken down into waves, or corrals as they call it in France, to help stagger the start line and ensure runners aren’t too bunched up. With over, 9000 runners you can see how this is absolutely necessary from a health and safety point of view. However, unlike most other races I have taken part in, entry into these corrals doesn’t appear to be based on the time in which you think you can complete the run in (certainly not according to the mixture of runners I saw waiting in each section that’s for sure). Instead it seemed completely random, unless of course people lied about their times on the registration form…
When you pick up your bib number you will see a coloured letter in the corner; this is your corral. This year there were 5 corrals in total from A through to E and each one is given a time by which you must arrive at your designated corral position. It is recommended that you arrive at your corral 30 minutes before the race starts, however make sure you double check the specific time for your corral as they will stop you entering after a set time.
You’ve been waiting for this moment for what feels like forever, you’re filled with a mixture of excitement and nerves, you’re in your corral, tension’s building, Paula Radcliffe’s just walked on stage along with some random French woman who wants to say happy 10 year wedding anniversary to her husband (random!) and basically you just can’t wait to head up to the start line and start running.
But it’s now coming up to 8.30am and you still haven’t started…
Listen, just because the race start time is listed as 7am, does not for one minute mean it’ll actually start at that time. There is a LOT of faffing around. Plus remember those corrals I was talking to you about? Well, they only go and split them up so that there are waves within waves of start times. If you are unfortunate enough to be in the last wave of the last corral… expect to witness millions of countdowns to start. The excitement does start to wear a bit thin after a while, I’ll be honest, but it is all worth it in the end so have patience my friends, your time will come.
Trust me there are plenty of photo opportunities along the run, but they way I see it is you’ll be one of either two different types of people.
1. You want ALL the photos, with every single Disney character you can possibly get your sweaty little paws on.
2. You’d like some photos as memories, but you really don’t want to be stopping mid-race to have to queue up for character photos, especially when it’ll affect your overall finish time.
If you’re person 1, then you’ll need to buy yourself one of the PhotoPass packages from Disney before the race. You’ll receive information about it when you book your race entry or you can sign up to it at the Health & Wellness Expo. PhotoPass collects photos during the race by recognising the number on your bib. Photos include those taken of you running as well as the ones you have with any characters if you can be bothered to stop and queue.
There are two different PhotoPass packages to choose from:
- PhotoPass+ Just Run = (£39.00) includes photos from the race.
- PhotoPass+ Run & Parks (£74.00) includes photos from the race and time spent in the parks.
If however you are person 2 and the thought of wasting any precious running time queuing up for a photo with Maleficent sends shivers down your spine, then you’re gonna have to rely on taking your own pics I’m afraid! Other than the paid PhotoPass photos, there are no other official photographs taken during the race so it’s a question of a steady hand and positioning yourself in front of the characters while someone else gets their photo taken with the characters. The use of selfie sticks isn’t allowed (although I definitely spotted a few along the way), so action shots are highly likely to be blurry unless you stop and pause for a bit. Just remember to indicate you are about to stop by putting a hand into the air before pulling to the side and staying out of the way of the other runners.
The course, as you would hope, starts and ends in the parks. Running through the Disney parks is one of the most memorable things I think I have ever done in my life, it was truly stunning and running through Sleeping Beauty’s castle is something that will stay with me forever. The race sets off early in the morning and so the parks are not yet open to the public. Starting in the Walt Disney Studios park you weave your way past rides and attractions, some of which are lit up and playing music. The course is carefully marked out with cones and there are plenty of Disney staff on hand to cheer you along and give you a massive Mickey high five. After going through and behind the scenes of Walt Disney Studios, you then go into the Disneyland Park where there are more characters waiting to have their photos taken with you. It would be impossible to run the distance of a half marathon in just the parks alone, and so at some point it’s necessary to head outside of the parks. This is the most boring and the hardest part of the race, as although there are bands and entertainment along the way, there is obviously far, far less to look at and be amazed by than if you’re in the parks. This part of the course includes long stretches of roads, running alongside corn fields and through housing estates, and it just seems to go on forever, and the drizzly rain and wind rushing across certainly didn’t help. There is no other way than to push on through it, because this is the tough bit, and the only way you can get through it is to just keep running.
In general the course is relatively flat, there is the odd hill here and there, but we’re only talking very small inclines and actually it helps breaks up the run a bit. Because it had been raining the cobbled streets in the parks were a bit slippery and so care had to be taken on those parts, but in general the terrain was relatively safe and easy to run on.
Each year’s race has a theme and this year was Disney villains. You obviously don’t have to dress up, but come on spoil sports why on earth would you not!?! I went with Cruella de Ville and my friend was a dalmatian, but we’re only talking accessories like tutu’s, ears, glitter tattoos etc. to hint at these characters, because well there is the small matter of having to run 13 miles after all! Some people went all out – men in massive evil queen dresses, wigs, accessories, full on make up… I even saw one woman dressed as a character from the film Up who had balloons tied to her hat, which may have been funny to her but was really annoying when you’re the person running behind her and you’ve got balloons flying around in your face!
Not everyone seemed to get the Disney villain memo, as it was basically a costume free for all. From princesses and Toy story characters, through to literally hundreds of Minnie Mouses, you’re more likely to be stared at if you’re not wearing a costume than if you are. It helps create a fun atmosphere, gives you something to look at and talk to people about as you’re going round and it looks amazing. So please, if you’re seriously thinking about running the Disneyland half marathon you have got to dress up. It just wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t.
The Finish Line
Maybe it was just me, but even though each km was marked and therefore I knew the end of the race was coming up, the finish line bizarrely seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute I’m running, looking around thinking “I’m back in Walt Disney Studios, surely I must be near the end now?” and the next thing I know I look up and realise I’ve already passed the finish line! It was all a bit strange if I’m honest and a bit flat. Possibly it was because I’d finished the race on my own (more on that in my personal account of the race) and didn’t have anyone to share it with? And I’m not really sure what I was expecting to happen exactly. But there was no announcement, no one immediately putting a medal around your neck, it was just a mass of runners walking around looking lost. Very strange. Yes so Mickey Mouse was prancing around on stage, and yes I eventually found the people who were giving out the medals, but it wasn’t as spectacular a finish as I had necessarily hoped for that’s for sure.
There are ample drink and snack stops along the course of the run, where you can help yourself to bottles of water and isotonic drinks, plus chewy snack bars and gels. I personally prefer to take my own fuel with me when I run and so I ran with my water bottle the whole way and stopped for a GU gel about halfway round. However, I do like a goody bag at the end of a race and had high expectations of what I might get after a Disney race. But disappointingly it isn’t anything that spesh and you certainly don’t get handed a goody bag like you do at most English events. You can help yourself to more water, more neon coloured isotonic drinks, some weird coffee milkshake thing, a banana and a Disney box filled with a dry bit of very sweet cake, a bag of nuts and dried fruit, some grainy breakfast biscuits and a squirty sachet of honey. None of which got eaten – I saved myself for the second breakfast that the hotel kindly put on for all us runners. Bacon sarnies here I come!
It’s good. So, so, so, so good! Proper solid, looks the business and it is MASSIVE! If you are a runner who loves their bling then you need to do this run for the medal alone.
Over the course of the RunDisney weekend, in addition to the half marathon there is also a 5k and 10k race (as well as a kid race) each of which have their own medal design. You can enter all three of the races in order to get all three medals and also bag yourself an additional challenge medal. Or for those real hardcore Disney fans you can also complete the Castle to Chateau Challenge which involves you finishing the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon as well as a Half Marathon or Marathon at the Disneyland Resort in California or Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
The Disneyland Paris run weekend is quite literally out of this world. Hands down the best race I have taken part in for a whole heap of different reasons, but something that I will remember forever and would recommend to any runner I know. You need to tick this race off of your running bucket list, whether you’re a Disney fan or not!