This is going to be a long one and full of photos, so put the kettle on, get comfy and prepare for a bit of pixie dust!
Imagine having a wish: a wish you knew would fill you with magic and joy; a wish so strong you felt envy whenever someone else had that wish come true; a wish you wished for so hard, for years and years. Then one day, that wish was granted…
It may sound like the plot of a Disney movie, yet it’s how I felt about taking part in a Run Disney event. For years I had yearned to create a costume, run through Disney parks and meet a host of characters. I coveted one of those HUUUUUGE Disney medals and was determined that one day I would achieve my dream. A couple of weeks ago “one day” became “today”.
Our day began super early with a 4:30am alarm call so that we could have breakfast at our hotel at 5am (one of the benefits of staying in a Disney hotel was the early breakfast and late check out provided for runners). I would usually associate such an early start with a marathon and spend breakfast time forcing down food (and hoping not to see it come back up again!), but not this time. This time I was excited and, despite legs that had that telltale weariness of a day spent in a theme park (no regrets – it was an amazing day!) I was desperate to put on the rest of my costume and head over to the expo to wait until it was time to get into the start corral.
We actually got to the expo in great time, giving us time to take a few photos, chat to some other runners, admire the costumes and, crucially, join the massive queue for the toilets before we had to head around to our corral.
We were in corral C and we knew we were supposed to be in our corrals about 30 minutes before the estimated start time for our group (corral A began at 7am and we got in our corral just before that so we could experience the beginning of the race. It was about half an hour later before we were to get started, but the time seemed to pass really quickly. The weather was mild, even so early in the morning, with a little drizzle in the air so it was going to be a humid morning.
Since the event had a “villains” theme, the start of the event was handed over from the Disney hosts to Cruella de Vil and her henchmen. It was great watching things get started and moving closer and closer to the start gantry.
At long last, it was our turn. We were counted down (I started my watch a little before the start line as I wanted my hands free to shoot some film) and I ran across the start line grinning from ear to ear.
The first part of the route took us under an archway announcing we were entering Disneyland then on into the Walt Disney Studios where we had spent the previous morning. We looped around different areas of the park, passing through “Studio One”, an enclosed area of shops and restaurants where all the cast members were out in force to cheer us on. It reminded me in many ways of the famed “disco tunnel” in the Paris marathon.
Emerging from the studio, I glanced to my right and spotted the first of the character stops. I had actually wondered about skipping the first couple in order to get ahead for some later stops, but when I saw who it was I realised I was definitely going to stop here after all. I was dressed as Belle and the first character was…Gaston!
From here, the route took us towards the main Disneyland park, and I did skip a couple of character stops as the lines were really long and they weren’t ones I was massively bothered about. For me, it was all about running around the different “lands” of the park and through the castle.
As we hit Main Street I realised that this section was an out and back – first running away from the castle, looping around the town square then running the full length of the street towards Sleeping Beauty’s castle. This was my iconic moment and I made sure to film, take photos and stop for an official photo to mark the moment.
We actually ran around to one side of the castle, via Adventureland, and into Fantasyland (pausing only for a photo with Jafar).
It was at this point that I found myself hit with a wave of emotion: I was actually running in Disney, I was running my dream race. The cast members were out in force and they were shouting “allez” in that rising way spectators do in the Paris marathon as well. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things that made me feel so happy I could burst – I very nearly cried with happiness and this remains a really vivid memory of the race for me as I looped around and through the iconic castle with an accompaniment of Disney music.
Once through the castle, I really was in photo mode. It felt like I was stopping for photos, shuffling a few steps as I put my phone/Go Pro away then immediately stopping again for the next one. During this time I chatted with others and was struck by how well organised these photo stops were, especially for someone running solo (I had told Steve he could run on at his pace. I mean, I was running in Disney, what else did I need!). Our package included a Photopass for the race and our bibs had a barcode on them which was scanned by a cast member before the photographer took our photos. There was also always another cast member on hand who took photos using our own phones so we would have photos right away. I was actually sharing some of these while I was waiting to see various characters so some of my friends on social media could experience the event along with me. I was having such a lovely time that I clocked a 37 minute mile. Nope, not a typo, it really did take me 37 minutes to cover a mile. My goal marathon pace is usually around 9 minutes per mile and I can walk a mile in around 16 minutes, so clearly I wasn’t in much of a hurry at this point!
Eventually, I made my way out of the park and embarked on the next section of the route which took me out into the French countryside, through a small town and around a reservoir before heading back to Disneyland. I know some people find this part rather random, but I quite enjoyed it. It was good to get my legs moving at a regular pace for a while and have some more consistent running without having the constant stopping and starting (except for stopping briefly to take a photo of each kilometre marker) and the scenery was quite pleasant. The part I found random was the fact that so many runners were in some kind of costume which pretty much looked normal within the magical bounds of Disney, but once outside I couldn’t help thinking that this must look like the weirdest parade ever 😂
Even in this section outside of Disneyland there was some entertainment – bands, breakdancers, cheerleaders – and lots of spectators, so the time did pass quite quickly. Because there were a number of out and back sections it also gave me a great opportunity to look at some of the costumes other runners had put together. Some were really elaborate and I’m not sure I could have run in them without feeling irritated, whereas I had put together something comprised mainly of actual running kit, with a sparkly skirt on top (the sparkly skirt was crucial as I had wanted to wear one of those for ages!).
The last part of the route brought runners over a road bridge from which we could see the traffic entrance to Disneyland, before heading in by the Santa Fe hotel and through part of the Cheyenne hotel (where we were staying. Thankfully I didn’t have to run past my room!).
From there, we followed the same path we had walked in by before the race that morning, around by the Sequoia Lodge and into the Disney Village which was packed with spectators, shoppers and those on their way to the parks for the day. It was so noisy with loads of shouts and cheers, yet at the same time a little bittersweet as I knew there was hardly any distance left to run. Yes, my legs were weary from being on my feet all weekend, but I didn’t want the experience to end so did my best to keep soaking up every moment.
Bur all too soon I could see the finish line ahead of me. We had retraced some of our steps from the early part of the race to finish behind the Hollywood Tower in the Walt Disney Studios park. I ran triumphantly over the line, collected my medal from a volunteer then walked over to the stage where Sorcerer Mickey was welcoming runners back. Sadly he was on a stage so there was no specific photo op, but I did get a cast member to take a photo and took a few seconds of video.
There were several Photopass photographers stationed in front of some of the Marvel statues in this area so I got a photo then began to make my way towards the exit to meet Steve. Along the way I collected all my goodies – a bottle of water, an iced coffee drink (it was pretty good), a box of snacks, a banana and a space blanket. There was also some Powerade but I managed to miss that (gutted – blue Powerade is my favourite!).
Once I met Steve, we had some more Photopass pictures taken outside the Studios before making our way back to the Expo to collect our bags (and take a few more photos because clearly we didn’t have enough already ha!).
I don’t think I ever stopped smiling throughout the race and had such an amazing experience. I had joked to Steve that I might take 3 hours and wasn’t too far off with 2:51:09. Near enough an hour slower than my half marathon PB! I did look at the results just out of interest, and my age category was won by none other than Paula Radcliffe, who is an ambassador for the event, but at 1:23:18 I suspect she didn’t stop for any photos haha!
I, however, stopped every kilometre as I wanted to make sure I had a picture of each marker. They were in keeping with the theme and were quite entertaining.
For me, this event was my fairytale, my chance to fulfil my wish of creating a costume, running through the parks and meeting a host of characters. Some wishes are for a once in a lifetime experience, but I have a funny feeling this won’t be the last time we take part in the Disneyland Paris Magic Run Weekend…