L'aventure vous attend: My first half-marathon...in Paris!
Let me start this off by saying: I am NOT a runner. I was never interested in running beyond mandatory PE classes in middle and high school, and I never imagined that I would willingly sign up to run 13.1 miles at once...until my sister came up to me and asked if I wanted to sign up for a runDisney half-marathon. Blah blah blah Disney? I'm in!
As soon as we finalized our registration, it immediately set in...I have to start training??? I actually have to run for hours on end?? What did I sign up for!!
My only consolation was that it was Disney so I was probably gonna love it, and I was going to Paris for the first time!
In terms of logistics, I had read tons of horror stories about how unorganized runDisney Paris was with getting you your necessary forms in a timely manner and providing you with the information you would need for the race weekend before the actual race weekend. I think I was fairly lucky in that the registration and pre-race process went pretty smoothly for me. Not sure if that speaks to runDisney's improvements or if I was actually just lucky. As a participant coming from the US (and I believe this is true for all non-France residents), I needed to submit a medical exam form signed by my doctor basically saying I was healthy enough to run. runDisney makes these forms electronically available shortly before the race date so make sure you get those done and submitted otherwise you won't be able to participate! This process was fairly smooth and I was able to submit with little to no issues. The main concern was actually the waiver form that was to be printed out, signed, and submitted at the race expo in order to get your bib. I had read so many stories of people being unable to get their forms before they left for their trip so they couldn't find a printer once they had left for Paris and ended up having to wait in terribly long lines at the expo in order to get one printed and all that. Luckily for my family, our waiver forms were made available a few days before we were off to Paris, so we got those printed and signed and ready to go!
If you're like me and you CANNOT procrastinate if you tried, you're probably going to be heading to the expo the very first day. The runDisney expo runs for a few days leading up to the start of race weekend. You can technically go any day before the first race day, but you're looking to purchase merchandise or anything like that, you probably want to go early because there's no guarantees the items you want will still be in stock. I arrived at Disney Village around four hours before the expo was to open and already there was a huge line!
(to be expected) but it actually moved pretty quickly and we got into the expo hall probably around 20 minutes after the expo opened, so not bad!
All the booths were pretty spread out and they metered the people entering the hall so it was pretty easy to move around and get to your bib pick-up window. After handing the volunteer your documents, they'll hand you your runner's kit which includes your gEAR bag, your bib, your shirt, and race weekend information. Another benefit of coming to the expo early is that if your shirt size is not actually to your liking you can head over to a different booth and exchange them if they have extra sizes. So if you're early, you have a VERY good chance of leaving with the shirt size to your liking, especially if you have a very common size. Now for me, I'm either a small or a medium (both very common sizes), but since I don't like form fitting shirts, I registered with a medium. When I got my shirt it was much too large for me so I was SO happy that I could exchange mine for one that fit me much better! There are a couple other things you could do at the expo like buy some race merchandise, purchase a photopass, register for a photopass you already bought, and take some pictures. Aside from that, you're pretty much good to go until race weekend comes along!
For my trip, because my family and I did a whole lot of sightseeing before and after the race, we chose not to stay on property. This was partly because most of my family is not as interested in Disney as I am, and because Disneyland Paris is a ways away from central Paris. But what that meant for us was that we had to find a way to get to the parks early in the morning for the start of the race. The nice thing about race day is the RER A train, which is the train that takes you directly to Disneyland Paris, has a special service train that runs before regular Metro hours that day! We felt very fortunate that we didn't have to figure how to Uber to the parks because that would be quite expensive and word on the interwebs was that roads are closed near the park so getting dropped off may prove difficult.
By my estimate, the special service RER train was going to reach our closest station around 5:15-5:20AM so we all got dressed and took a warm-up jog to the station entrance.
Arriving at 5:00AM, the gates to enter the station were still gated. I was a bit concerned because I had done the planning and I started panicking that maybe I misunderstood how the special service train worked or that we were in the wrong place or something, but then we started seeing other runners with their gEAR bags in tow arriving to the entrance with the same confused faces as we were. We patiently waited as more runners gathered and I was slightly relieved to know I hadn't totally messed up, but the time was drawing nearer to 5:20AM and I was growing concerned that the gates were still not opened. Would the train leave without us? They wouldn't leave if the gates aren't even opened yet, right? I noticed a woman who had been waiting with us jog away and wondered where she was off to. Then from the bottom of the Metro stairs I could hear a man with keys and the gate starting to rattle so my family and I bolted down the stairs and waited eagerly for him to open the gate (as he took his sweet time). We fast-walked past him as soon as we could and started increasing our pace as we wound through the station tunnels (that felt like they were going on forever). Then I spotted the woman I had seen leaving before the gates opened coming from a different direction...and she was running! So my sister and I quickened our pace until we started running too, and my heartbeat raced as I feared we would miss our train. We quickly got through the turnstiles and at the bottom of the stairs what do we see but the train! Getting ready to leave! We bust out into our fastest sprint to the train doors before they could close, all while my mom and my other sister were still jogging towards the turnstiles!! My sister and I who had just made it onto the train were screaming at the others in our party to HURRY HURRY RUN FASTER as we literally stood in the doorway and pushed the train doors open! My mom and sister had just barely made it onto the train before the doors closed harder, but we had all made it! I can't even imagine what a nightmare it would have been if we had gotten separated... And what a warm-up that was. If any of us were feeling tired, we sure were wide awake now.
We were also the only group of people dressed head to toe in Disney attire on the train for quite a few stops, which made us feel pretty silly. As we got closer to the parks though there were more people dressed in their Disney best.
So what's the moral of this fun anecdote?
1. My estimates were pretty accurate! (as a person who obsesses over things going according to plan, I was very proud)
2. Maybe consider staying on property?
3. If you think something's running behind schedule RUN
4. The farther you are from Disneyland, the more likely you'll be stared at if you wear your Disney costume on the train. I didn't totally mind, but if you do, consider either staying closer or bringing your costume and changing when you get to Disneyland.
Now that we've gotten THAT out of the way, onto the actual race! Word to the wise: CHECK THE WEATHER. On our particular race day, it was forecasted to have a chance of rain so it was chilly and misty. None of us brought anything to keep us warm; we didn't want to store our stuff at the gEAR bag check-in so we didn't bring any jackets or space blankets or anything - that made the morning particularly tough, but at least we had each other to keep us a little warmer. Before the race as people file into their corrals they have some live entertainment to get the crowd psyched for the race. Our race's mascot was Genie so we saw a whole lot of him! Since everything they said was in French I had no idea what was going on but it was cool to hear what French Genie sounds like!
The corrals were pretty large and as the race began, each corral set off in waves. I was on Corral C so even after the race started it was quite a bit of time before I actually set off. But oh boy, when you're being shuffled to the starting line, it sure is energizing! I was so nervous but so excited...I couldn't believe I was actually excited to run! With my Disney playlist jamming and my family by my side we were off to the races!
This was my first experience at the Disneyland Paris resort and it was just so cool to run through the property and see both the backstage areas and the park areas! We first ran around the outskirts of Walt Disney Studios, entering Disneyland Paris through Frontierland, heading down Main Street towards the entrance, then back in a straight shot towards the beautiful and majestic castle. Our route then took us through Adventureland out of the park then circled back through Fantasyland to Discoveryland, then back out to the beautiful and serene back country road Boulevard de l'Europe behind the parks. We ran through the different Disney hotels areas, first the Vienna House area, then through the Hotel Cheyenne and Hotel Santa Fe, circling back to Disney Village.
Throughout the park we came across different character photopass opportunities and saw characters like Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen, Jane and Tarzan, and Buzz and Jessie! Once out of the parks, characters aren't present anymore, but there are a bunch of volunteers, cheerleaders, and entertainment along the way to keep everyone motivated! The km-markers were also very welcome reminders of my progress and very adorable!
By the time I reached Hotel Santa Fe there was about 5km left to go, and I was surprisingly feeling very good about pace and my energy. In my training leading up to the half-marathon I had only gotten as far as 10 miles and even then only did it two to three times and felt horrible afterwards. So to me this was such a good sign, I was actually going to be able to get through this! And then I hit a wall. I suddenly started cramping and I could actually feel the exhaustion and weight in my legs and exerted so much effort in picking up my feet. I was absolutely miserable the last 5km and completely dreaded every time I saw a weaved path knowing that it was doubly as long as it looked. But as I neared the finish line, I could hear the music and cheers and activity at the finish line, which pushed me forward. At the very last stretch, I grabbed my sister's and my mom's hands and we crossed the finish line together! My other sister was unfortunately super sick that day and had insisted that we continue the race ahead of her because she needed to walk more of it.
But that was it! I actually did it! My first half-marathon! With so much relief I gratefully collected my medal, devoured the water bottle I got from a volunteer, and collapsed against the fences to wait for my sister. After we were reunited, we made our way back to the Disney Village entrance, receiving a nice snack box on our way. In all of our exhaustion, we completely forgot to go to the Events Center to see if there was anything to check out there after the event! It had also just started to rain so my family was pretty eager to head home before the downpour. I, of course, could not leave before combing through their World of Disney, which, as all Disney stores are, is magnificent and makes me want to buy everything off the shelves.
And so my invigorating half-marathon experience had finally come to a close. Would I do it again? Actually, yes! I say that having completely forgotten the pain I felt during that last 5km stretch and choosing only to remember how it felt holding my first race medal in my hands.
Whether you're a fan of running, a fan of Disney, or both, I hope you found this entertaining! Adventure is out there, and there's so much to explore and experience!