4:11:50 (Personal Best!)

Black hearses on trail
White snowflakes gently falling,
Million shades of grey.

(Sanjurokumine Mtn Race, 30km, 4:11:50)

Wow, my personal best! I certainly didn't expect that one. At the last station I asked a volunteer what time it was, and she said 13:27. She then asked me it was a good time, and I said "I don't know"! And it took some time for me to do the math and realize my time wasn't going to be bad. But when I got my certificate with official time, and I was a little shocked, and happy of course. Oh, and by the way, the shades of grey mentioned in the haiku have nothing to do with the novel that only alludes to 50 (although it is a sort of reference); here grey stands for feelings (of pain?) between elation and agony. I felt much more than 50 shades on the trail!

I ran my race, and things went better than I'd thought. The main factor, the weather, wasn't too much of an issue, although I'll come back to it in more detail later on. For now, let me just say that it was cold! No rain and the alluded snowflakes were quite few, but there were a few times when I was pretty cold, and I'm glad I wore my jacket and not my fleece; the hood proved to be useful a few times, especially after stopping at the aid stations. Here's a highlight and lowlight report, mostly for myself to possibly improve my time next year.

Let's start with the highlights. My good time was caused by three things. First, I didn't stop at the aid stations for too long, especially the first one. I improved my time by 8 minutes, and perhaps I won half of that time at the aid stations. Was it a good strategy (recovery vs time)? Well, with today's cold weather, I think it was definitely the right thing to do. After the stations I always felt cold, and my legs froze rather rapidly, making the restart difficult.

The second reason is Run Less, Run Faster. The interval training really helped in the uphills, giving me a bit more oompf, even in the last kilometers when I was quite tired. The cross training, which made me an all-around better athlete (cough, cough) came in useful as mountain running involves different muscles going up, flat and down.

Third is I ate and drank more at the aid stations. If I hadn't, those last hard kilometers would have been much harder I think. Maybe carry a bit more food next time (those gels perhaps?), I only had a bit of water and one SoyJoy bar in the pockets of my jacket (something which worked fine as an alternative to wearing a light backpack).

Finally, I think minimal running also helped with those uphills, since my calves have gotten stronger. I didn't get any sort of cramps like last year, and even the last uphill wasn't that difficult on my calves. They were ready to go, it was my overall stamina that failed me there. I didn't encounter too many troubles with the minimal protection, at least against socks. When I did hit rocks or twigs, the immediate feedback had my feet get out of seriously injury quickly enough. A few times I stepped hard on pebbles  and stuff, but I didn't slide where others did.

Now with the lowlights. I think the main factor for me not going even faster is that I hadn't done enough long runs in my preparation. My legs were relatively fresh, but I just didn't have the energy to go faster from the second half - last third. If I want to go under the 4-hour mark, that is certainly something I'll need to work on. In my training, I missed too many long and tempo runs, and I felt it during the course. Loin muscle cramps prevented me the most from running uphill more.

Second, while the Five Fingers behaved basically as expected, I ran into (excuse the pun) two problems. First, with the lack of long training, my feet were killing me in the end. Just a few hours later I feel fine, but in the end it was really difficult. I need more training there, something I actually had anticipated, but not in this manner (I thought my ankles would hurt, which they didn't). Second, at times, which didn't help with the pain and running, my feet were frozen! I think my socks were mostly cotton, which is about the worse fabric against the cold. I'll need to find better socks next year. Also, I talked with a Frenchman who ran with NB Minimal shoes, and the added padding on the soles is something to look into.

Finally, I lose a lot of time in the descents, especially the technical parts. Shoes don't really matter here, as I was slow going down with trail runners and street runners, and again I think that practice would help me.

Well, overall, this was in a way the perfect race: I ran my personal best time, while at the same time learning some valuable lessons. What more could I ask for. So, next year, can I go sub-4? I'll certainly try to!

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