The Run in Lyon festival is on this weekend with its 10K, half marathon, and marathon. It’s a big event and probably the highlight of the local racing calendar for road racers. I’m not running this year but I did run last year and enjoyed it a lot, even turned in a good time. However, this year, it just didn’t fit the schedule and I don’t think I was really all that motivated to make it fit, either.

Since the Run in Lyon Half Marathon last year I’ve moved into ultrarunning and haven’t looked back. It’s strange but just tonight I was thinking how concerned I was about the half marathon last year. Not the distance, mind you, as I had run that a couple of times in training for the race – against good advice, I should say, too. NO, it was the sort of time that I would put up and whether I could be happy with that.

I went into the race with a relatively slow 1:55 dossard on. I had thought, signing up, that finishing under two hours would be good. However, that was months before and I knew that finishing in 1:55 would mean a bad day, not a good finish. I figured I would be a bit faster than that.

As it turned out, I was a whole lot faster than that and finished a touch over 1:34. I was really happy with the time and encouraged that, a couple of weeks later, I turned it up on a training run and turned in a 1:31 for the same distance. I was on fire, I was running great tempo, I was gearing up to break 1:30 the next year…and then I started thinking about whether that was all there was.

I mean, I could train all year, taper perfectly, run the perfect race, and hit a 1:27. I’d be happy, would have improved on my time, and would be demonstrating that I had mastered the distance, at least for an amateur like myself.

But that was about it. I could never go much faster than that and in a half marathon or a marathon that’s all there is to do: go faster than the last time. I wanted to try something different, something where the challenge wasn’t going to be how fast I could go but how far I could go, or even if I could finish at all.

So I turned to ultras.

When I ran my first ultra in Brittany I basically exploded. I ran a great marathon, a reasonable 50K, and then basically blew up. I had gone out way too hard, had no idea what I was doing, and basically moved around for 67-odd kilometers before calling it quits. A learning experience, to be sure, but I knew I could improve.

The second ultra I lined up for I knew a little more and I set myself a more reasonable goal. Could I run 60km in six hours? It turned out that I could and the feeling I had when I crossed the 60km mark and still had time left to run was tremendous – so much better than the feeling of sneaking a few minutes under my old half marathon time, that’s for sure.

By the time I was running my third ultra I had a good idea of what my body could take. I got a lot right, had a perfect day of running, ran further than I had just a few weeks before in the same time, and even managed to take home the trophy for first place. More importantly, though, I was no longer afraid of the distance or the time. I feared that I might not manage the race well but I knew what I was doing…so it was time to look for the next challenge.

I entered my next ultra knowing it would be the hardest yet. Up and down a hill, stairs, horrible descents, all sorts of surfaces. It was almost as if the race was designed to kick my ass. And it did – but wonderfully so. I wanted to do more than a marathon distance, hoped for a 50K as the best possible outcome, and in the end came out somewhere between the two. Another fearful race conquered.

Pushing the distance up further a couple of weeks ago, I ran 75km for the first time. I was happy with the run, never felt like giving up, and paced myself nicely. Sure, I still learnt a few lessons along the way, but I finished confidently and even found a couple of quick kilometer splits near the end.

And so now, as the rest of the city prepares for the Run in Lyon, I am preparing for another race a week later, one that is further than I have ever run. It’s the next challenge, the next barrier to overcome, and the next time I put it all out there and see just what I am confident and capable enough to get done.

It’s not just about the legs, you see; it’s the head and the heart, too. Unlike the Run in Lyon events, I am not sure that I’ll be able to finish the distance in Amiens. I hope I will, I should be able to, but I am not sure. And it’s that being ‘not sure’ that makes it a challenge.

A year after I ran as fast as I could in the Run in Lyon Half Marathon I’ll be heading to Amiens to run a half marathon, then another half marathon, then a full marathon, then a 10K, and then about another five kilometers all in a row.

A week is a long time in politics, so they say, but a year is a long time in running.

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