Winter for me consists of very little racing but masses of training. I have found that this contrast is really healthy for both the body and mind. It can, however, cause quite a culture shock when racing starts up again. Traveling, jet lag, different food, race prep, pushing truly hard and dealing pressure are all things that go unpracticed during the winter. So although my shape may be better, this doesn’t necessarily translate to good results. This season I threw myself in at the deep end, my first race would be half way across the world and a Skyrace, which would be integral to the World Series, I was off to Japan.
My lack of practice with traveling was apparent during the first days of arriving. I was struggling to adjust to the time zone which left me awake during the night but feeling like a zombie in the morning. I was struggling to eat enough of the food to replenish my body after all the training I had done in the weeks before and I didn’t seem to have the competitive drive I needed to really push in this first race. My running form seemed ok in the intervals I was doing but I had no idea how it would be in the race. My biggest week running during the winter had been under 70km (pretty low for someone that makes their living from running).
Come race day I tried to push all these thoughts aside. The course had been shortened due to slushy avalanche danger, so we were now facing a 21km course with 1,500m of climb.
Uncharacteristically for a skyrace the opening 5km was on flat road. The Japanese guys immediately stormed off at a reckless pace leaving people like Marco DeGasperi, Oriol Cardona Coll, Kiril Nikolov and myself a little bewildered. I was trying to decide how fast I should run and imagine what this pounding would do to my legs. I had 2 hours of effort to put in in the mountains, but what speed does that equate to on the flat? In the end, I figured Marco is the favourite, so I’ll just run near him.
On entering the woods we were immediately faced with brutally steep climbs and descents which undulated along a ridge. Most of the Japanese guys had dropped back by now leaving Ruy Ueda out front. I was something like 5th still with Marco. It wasn’t long before he motioned for me to take the lead saying, I ‘had better speed’. In truth, I had no idea if I was pushing too much or too little and was happy for him to decide our pace but there wasn’t exactly time for discussion. Up and down we went, always gaining height but with so many small technical descents thrown in, such a fun roller-coaster to run along.
Before long, my quads started to feel a little heavy, every descent replenished them but the feeling made me question even more if I was pushing too hard or too little. I didn’t realise, but at some point we had gone through the check point and were now on a long sustained climb to our highest point. Now running (and hiking) on snow, I had dropped Marco and was slowly catching on Oriol in second. At the turn around point, Ruy had over a minute lead and I had made contact with Oriol.
From here, it was a big downhill starting out to be the same snowy ridge we had just come up before peeling off for a direct route back to town. I started to try and let loose and hurtle. I got into second and continued pushing. Just as we neared the bottom I got a glimpse of Ruy, I had closed the gap! I got the tingly feeling that I could do this. We hit the flat for the final 3km into town and my heart sank. My legs were empty. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t get them to turn any quicker. Slowly Ruy peeled away and Oriol came by. There was nothing I could do. My quads were destroyed from the beating I had given them on the downhill and had decided they were done for the day. Coming into town I was 22 seconds behind Ruy and 9 behind Oriol.
Was I happy with third? Did I think I should have been able to win? Should I have pushed harder earlier in the race? What could I have done differently? These are all questions I am not bothering to answer. My next race is Transvulcania in a couple of weeks and at over 70km, this is going to be a different kettle of fish. Skyracing is a go!
Photos by Sho Fujimaki