I channeled my inner white rabbit on Sunday and ran like I was late for a very important date! Waking up on race morning I was overcome with a feeling of excitement. I felt so lucky to be back in the french countryside running one of my favorite half marathons.
After pulling on some Lulu tights, a red shirt adorned with accents giving subtle hints to the Alice’s Wonderland trapped rabbit, a tutu for extra race strength and speed, I was out the door. I followed the path along the water’s edge, walking up towards the event hall which was just minutes from my hotel.
I passed through some security guards and was happy to see my corral was fairly empty. Forty minutes of standing usually feels long to me but with the help of pre-race speakers, music and group stretching, it was go time!
Being in France made me miss the usual anthem sung start but the fireworks exploding into the sky, sending runner’s through the start line was spectacular. The beginning of the course prompted runners through the Studios park first. The path took competitors into a slightly different entrance than the 5 and 10k races, still going through the Toy Story and Ratatouille themed areas as well as along the Tram Tour path.
While I had run through the main park the morning before, I could run through it a thousand more times and still feel the same level of excitement! Runners entered through the backlot leading them through the ranch area and around part of the Thunder Mountain waterfront. Finally we hit Main Street U.S.A featuring many ecstatic cast members landing high-fives, wiggling handmade signs, and cheering in metachronal rhythm. The genuine feeling of excitement could be felt by all. Mickey and Minnie were stationed at the top of the avenue, decked out in their glittering blue suit and dress. I have to say it is a fun sight to see the castle in all of it’s sparkling 25th anniversary glory at the end of the iconic street, as you bound towards it.
After a quick loop through Adventureland where runners could pose with Captain Jack Sparrow and all three hyenas from The Lion King (Shenzi, Banzai and Ed) it was time to pay a quick visit to Fantasyland before running through the castle. Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder were posed with chariots just by the It’s a small world attraction. Runners went into the extensive backstage area but it was not long until we found ourselves back in Tomorrowland. Nick Wilde from Zootopia greeted runners as well as Sadness from Pixar’s Inside Out.
After exiting the parks, the course continues onto the farmland ring road, Boulevard du Grand Fossé which cradles the outskirts of the resort. It is hard not to enjoy the picturesque shades of green and yellow fields which form Coupvray. I feel the scenery gives me a little extra vigor! While this stretch is long, local high school bands were playing music and cheering the runners up a gentle elevation gain. (Pro tip: Sunglasses are highly recommended for this portion if race staff recycles this portion of the course for future years.)
A left hand turn takes runners into the residential area of Magny. There is lovely new architecture in this area showcasing charm with the sun’s glow. Local families line this section of the course with signs and enthusiasm (Most of the kids were yawning but when listening to music, it appears they are participating in some hard-core acclamation :))
Once leaving the residential roads, asphalt turns to dirt and short loop takes runners around a pond. More french students dressed in cheer attire complete with luxuriant pom-pom’s gave a much-needed boost. A man I had recognized from the previous year had once again set up his kite display. While these don’t draw breath from the wind, metal stakes plant them in place. The array of colors and patterns is beautiful and they seem to wave runner’s onwards creating a tunnel of zest.
It was just about the half-way point and I glanced at my watch to get a feel for the time since non of the kilometer markers on course have timers. I had to do a double take! My watch was displaying a time that was a similitude to some of my faster 10k’s. With another 6.5 miles to the finish, I was determined to keep up a good pace!
After passing through a water station, I found myself on the backside of the pond, a canopy of trees pitching shadows to the rising sun. The course here becomes more rugged with wet grass and potholes. This short stretch of varied terrain requires the brain to be sharp for optimal foot placement.
Soon my feet were striking pavement once again and the course herds runners back towards the resort. Letting the momentum pull me forward, runners turn off down an avenue, a straight shot to the hotels and parks. Fields of green and yellow line either side of the road and towering trees provide nice shelter. It had the appearance of an avenue fit for Austria, harboring climbing von Trapp children.
A sharp right turn takes runners into the entrance of the Hotel Santa Fe, one of Disney’s themed hotels playing tribute to Cars. With beige tones and cacti every few feet, I kept my eyes peeled for any troublesome tumble weed threatening my path. Running around the backside of the hotel, runners came up on Hotel Cheyenne, modeled after an old western town.
Food and water were stationed by the entrance into this particular property. After weaving around the Saloon and Chuck Wagon, runners soon tipped their hats to Butch Cassidy and followed the river leading back to Lac Disney.
We hit the Lac and a quick loop would take participants back into the Village and backlot before I arrived at the finish line with a twelve-minute PR.
I was misty-eyed. Last year this race mean’t so much to me to be able to travel solo from the States and create friendships and experience what it means to be a runner. Once again, this year demonstrated the love and strength found within the running community between the competitors and those on the sidelines rooting us on. While I was never shooting for a PR, I sure can see how my Dopey training is allowing me to find my stride.
After throwing my hands up and hearing the announcer state my name as I traversed the line, I went to receive my finisher medal. I got into another line to receive my Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo challenge medal since I completed the 10k the morning prior as well as the Castle to Chateau medal for running a half in Paris and the U.S.
I wanted to savor the moment, not sure if I would ever be that fast again! I texted that to my best friend who stated that I wouldn’t be. I would be faster! With my medals clanging victorious chants from around my neck, I made my way back to the hotel all smiles from a perfect morning.