Last month, I ran the Lyon Half Marathon. It was my 7th half marathon (including the one race I paced), and definitely one of my favorites—look at that big grin despite the rain and cold!
For several reasons, I didn’t have high performance expectations. There was the nasty weather, for one (we were graced with showers and temperatures in the 40s to 50s when of course it had been sunny and 70 the day before). I’ve also been in a bit of a slump since fall 2015, both pace-wise and energy-wise. While my PR is 1:44:03 (7:57/mile), I hadn’t run under 1:55 in THREE YEARS. A lot of my runs had been feeling heavy and joyless, and I wasn’t sure if I had just peaked early and was getting old or something (I know how ridiculous that sounds as a 22-year-old).
So, my primary goal was just to enjoy the run and hit around a 1:50 if possible. But when I go into a race with a more lax “let’s have fun and see how it goes” attitude, I’m often pleasantly surprised.
I ended up finishing in 1:45:07 (8:01/mi or 4:59/km), almost within a minute of my PR. My pace was pretty steady throughout, with my first 10km just about a second faster per kilometer than the last 11km. While the weather wasn’t a spirit-lifter, it felt badass to dash through the (moderate) rain with the 10,500 other runners. And it felt badass to finally be close to my PR again!
I think my summer speedwork in Boston definitely played a role in my race performance—I did a handful of 800m and mile repeat workouts across 1.5 months, and while they didn’t feel great at the time, they made running a consistent quicker pace easier in the half marathon.
Race impressions are intrinsically tied with performance, so I definitely had a positive experience at the Lyon Half. There are some things, however, that I wish I’d been more prepared for. If you’re thinking about running Lyon, here’s what you should know:
You can’t pick up your bib the day of, so plan to spend at least a night in Lyon. The city is gorgeous, so I would recommend staying longer anyways!
The expo was at Place Bellecour, a square at the heart of the city. It was outdoors with a bunch of tents for different vendors and packet pickup. Pickup itself is well-organized and quick, though I walked by again within a couple hours of closing, and lines were huge. I also did hear that they ran out of size small 10k t-shirts by midday on Saturday. So bottom line: arrive as early as you can! There aren’t a ton of freebies at the expo (I think I only picked up a couple pastries and a sip of smoothie), but the energy is good.
A random tip: French races require a medical certificate to participate, and they are strict about checking these at the expo—you cannot race if you don’t have this document. To save some time at the expo, I uploaded a photo of my medical certificate on the race’s online platform, Time To, and got approved in advance.
Unlike American races, French races often don’t have sports drinks or gu (even for major marathons like Paris!). The is, however, no shortage of water and fruits (like bananas). We were also given a small stick of Stimium (the French equivalent of Honey Stinger I think) in our race packets, so I took that along and had it around 11-12km.
Since the race was so large, you could easily get stuck at the aid stations. A tip a friend gave me was to grab refreshments towards the end of the stations—that way you skip the traffic jam at the beginning.
You should also know that aid stations are less frequent, about every 5km. If you need fuel more frequently, plan ahead.
The refreshments at the end of the race are another story though—I’ve never seen so many options! There was quinoa salad, cherry tomatoes, fruits, granola bars, energy chews, soft drinks, etc. And, you take all your heart desires.
We ran primarily along the Saone river, which was relatively scenic and quiet. The course was a quasi out and back, but we crossed over and came back on the other side of the river.
It definitely felt like a fast course to me, and I don’t recall any particular incline. A few things to watch out for though:
1. Your starting time is based on your estimated finish time. The slower the time, the later you start (this is to avoid congestion at the beginning). I put down 1:45 as my estimated finish time and started the race 15 minutes after the first group. I’d never run a road race with a staggered start before, so this was surprising (in the States, there’s usually only a separate corral for the elite runners).
2. There weren’t consistent kilometer marks—there were signs maybe the first 5km and the last 5km, but we were totally on our own for the rest of the race. Since I don’t have a GPS watch or race with my phone, I had to rely on the beeping of the GPS watches around me to figure out when we’d hit another kilometer (I did bother someone once for the distance, but I didn’t want to keep asking when we were all in the zone haha).
3. There is a long 1-2km tunnel within the last 5km of the race. It’s really easy to be caught behind people here, so plan ahead and try to pass people beforehand. This part is probably the toughest, as there are no spectators and it can get pretty stuffy and boring. On the bright side, there’s no rain 🙂
4. Speaking of spectators, there really aren’t a lot along the bulk of the course. There are quite a few when you run in the city center, but the river section is pretty quiet. I’ve read this observation on other blogs in previous years, so I don’t think it was just the bad weather that made people stay in.
For some comic relief, here’s some very attractive race photos that I shared on my instagram story last month:
Tips + Summary
- You must pick up your bib in advance, and you need a medical certificate to participate. Upload yours online to save time, and get to the expo by midday to avoid long lines.
- There are multiple different start corrals based on estimated finish times. The slower your estimated time, the later you start (you could wait as long as 30 minutes after the official start!)
- There is no gu or sports drinks, so bring your own salt and electrolyte replenishment. Go to the back of the aid stations to avoid getting stuck in the crowd of runners.
- The course is flat and fast, but not well-marked. Run with a GPS tracking device if you want to know what distance you’re at (or listen to the beeping watches of other runners).
- Be prepared for the stuffy 1-2km tunnel in the last section of the race, and don’t expect a lot of spectators throughout.
- The post-race refreshments are fantastic and portable—I took a prepackaged quinoa salad, a container of cherry tomatoes, a couple granola bars, and a banana.
Despite all these surprises and points for improvement, I absolutely loved the race. I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a fast course with good energy and pretty scenery.
If you have any questions about my race review, definitely leave a comment or shoot me an email. If you’ve run the Lyon Half Marathon yourself, I’d also love to hear your thoughts!