We love hearing about our customers adventures and achievements, Paul Kelly is an ultrarunner and took part in the SainteLyon Ultra Marathon last year, here he tells us all about his incredible achievement!
I’ve been running ultra marathons since 2013 and each year I’ve added in a new level of complexity – 2015 was set to be the year of the European ultra and the race of choice was the SainteLyon.
The SainteLyon, as well as being one of the worlds oldest ultra marathons, is also run in the middle of winter, starting at midnight and with 72km of running through the French ‘hills’ its enough to make anyone think twice.
However, I stood in at the start line in St. Etienne surrounded by 6,500 equally committed runners dancing along to French Europop and bouncing up and down watching the twinkling of thousands of head torches.
Then, on a cold, crisp night everything got very hot as the klaxon sounded and we set off in pursuit of the finish line. Ultrarunning tends to be about running your own race and mental strength therefore, I had to be careful about not getting too swept up in the early ‘speeding off’ or pacing myself against a relay runner. I didn’t want to find myself injured in the dark on a French trail.
As I arrived into checkpoint 1, after just 10 miles of running, I had slipped into the back 10% of the runners but I refuelled on fruit pastilles and a variety of French cheeses, yummy, and felt more prepared for the next section. I rolled up my arm warmers, switched the head torch back on and pushed harder. From here I had figured out what the terrain was like, what the weather was like and how runnable the course was. I could now go faster and started to make up ground on those that had gone out too quickly. I employed the strategy of speed walking up the hills, and running the flatter sections/downhills, this meant that I made up over 500 places between checkpoints 1 and 2.
This very much was the recurring theme of the race and though I took my time and enjoyed watching the twinkling of the city lights in the distance and the procession of head torch lights both in front and behind me I was in a proper race.
My original aim had been to complete the race within the 15hrs offered but as time marched on I realised I was running well, fuelling well and most importantly had the required level of mental tenacity to run a 10hr time. As each checkpoint fell I made up more and more ground on the runners in front of me and the terrain suited my more ‘devil may care’ attitude as I hurled myself across the muddy, rocky and uneven terrains.
There was however a problem and during my last few kilometres into the penultimate checkpoint I could feel an old injury flaring up and I had to stop. I gingerly stretched my glutes at the side of a French vineyard and watched the sun come up – it was a stunning sight – Lyon was lit up in a blaze of red and orange. It’s the kind of sight you run ultra marathons to see. However, it wasn’t all sightseeing and 20 minutes later I set off again but this time more sedately, sadly this meant I had lost ground on the runners in front of me but my thinking was to take it easier on the Tarmac section and warm my injury up before assaulting the final 15km of trail.
It worked I hit the trail again and the final checkpoint but I was still lagging behind those who has overtaken me and so I pushed on through forest, crossing streams, fording rivers and nearly ending up over the edge of a vertical drop. My pace and my tail was up and as I reached a high point in the city of Lyon I could see the finish in the distance. I bounded down the dozens of steps to the riverside and prepared to thunder home my last few kilometres.
At this point you’re tired, hurt, dirty and emotionally all over the place and all I could think about was overtaking people.
I pushed harder and harder – listening to the sound of the applause and cheers from the hundreds if not thousands of supporters who lined the final kilometre. Boom. I saw the ‘200 metres to go’ sign and my body does what it always automatically does and I felt the afterburners kick in, my stride increased in width, I started pushing myself and I screamed at the runner in front who was in my way, cheers of ‘allez! allez! allez!’ roared out from the crowd and I sprinted into the hall for all I was worth, launching myself under the illuminated finish line arch. Woohoo – done!
Sadly I didn’t make my sub 10 hour time but it didn’t matter because I’d just done something spectacular and finished in the top half of runners – which given my position after checkpoint one wasn’t too shabby. After my disappointment of running the CCC (Courmayeur-Champex-Chamonix) and DNFing at the 57km point the excellent finish at the SainteLyon was just what I hoped for and I will be going back.
Preparation is key to these races and you need to marry this with a good dollop of mental strength. Knowing yourself and your limits will ensure you make it round. I’ve spent lots of time getting the right kit together and the right services and part of that was my sports insurance, something that is often mandatory in European (and especially French races) – I had no hesitation in taking Sports Cover Direct again as they’d offered swift, efficient and reputable service. While it was me that got me round, had I fallen off that vertical drop trail face at kilometre 65 then I know I’d have been grateful to be covered.
Most importantly if you love running then the SainteLyon is s uniquely brilliant event and deserving of its longevity.