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What’s one of the best way to learn about yourself and others?

Can’t fool yourself

Ultra trail would usually not come to mind as one of the best way to learn about oneself.  Love of running/hiking, being in nature and endurance are more typically associated with ultra trails. In my experience this trinity is the basis to explore ultra trails but what keeps people coming back and exploring longer distances is the deep learning process taking place during such adventure.  We all long to discover ourself but as the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, once said « The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool ». 

The Transgrancanaria, an international race part of the trail running world championship, provides the conditions, where it’s both harder to « fool oneself » and easier to achieve what felt impossible only a few months before.

Karina finished her first ultra covering the 65km and 2,500m of positive elevation in 12h17min. On the starting line, there was no way to know whether she would conquer her fears and enjoy the experience. Mid-January she twisted her ankle, which added to the typical psychological restlessness going through one’s mind before such event. But magic it was, and one just had to observe the immense smile on her face when she crossed the finish line to understand how much she had endured and grown during this half day.

Another inspiring moment was to see how our friend, Jean-Yves 69 years-old, finishing the same race as Karina in 11h55m, taking the 3rd place in his age category. Jean-Yves is one of the most positive person I have known and keep showing us what a strong mindset can do.

Olivier and I started our 126km race at 11pm. We usually run together but this time he decided to hold back a little while I was ready to give it my best. The race started as planned with all the usual excitement. We have learned the hard way in previous races that the key is not to get overly excited and keep an easy pace at the start. The night section went well; despite colder temperature and much higher wind than expected, I passed the half-way mark about 30min ahead of my schedule. I just had to execute the plan for the second part.

« Everyone has a plan until he/she gets punch in the face ».

The first issue arose because of the rising  temperature late morning: the combination of the heat & salt from sweat managed to create small crystals making my contact lenses foggy.  I had spare lenses but after 5min the same problem arose on the new pair preventing me from seeing clearly, which was becoming dangerous when running downhill and between rocks.  I had to stop and think of my options before something bad happened.  Given my eyes were hurting, I decided to throw the contacts away and continue without it.  It felt very strange at the beginning as I’m strongly nearsighted (-4.5) but slowly my brain adapted and as I entered flow state I was able to start running again. 

The second issue arose because I didn’t train my digestive system to handle significant amount of sugar during practice. A lot of my training was done at easy pace to build endurance and enhance fat burning efficiency. That worked well but as a result after 12 hours eating carbohydrates during the race my stomach said enough. I quickly recognised the issue and stop eating to let it rest. Then as per Murphy’s law, my watch ran out of battery. I had set a reminder every 20min on the watch to remember to both drink and eat. So as you may have guess, a few hours later, while climbing a hill I « hit the wall » – it was the first time it happened to me and I had never felt so weak. Thankfully I didn’t panic – I just stopped and ate. Forty minute later I was running again trying to make up some of the lost time to finish in 18h36min, 4hrs faster than in 2016 – 50th/800 overall; 13th in the 40-49 and 3rd in the 50-59 age groups.

Main training take aways

Personally, I felt pleased with the improvement over a relatively short training period – 4hrs is significant being 3 year older and that put me in top 3 in my age group next year on an international level race. Karina and Olivier were also very happy with their performance, giving us the confidence that we started the season with a decent base and plenty of runway to improve.

We have also identified several areas of improvement including, our nutrition plan to better mimic race conditions during training, finding a solution for contact lenses, and improving our uphill lactate threshold.

Finally, we’ll keep working on our mental preparation to be able to « dig deeper” within ourselves and continue growing in the process.

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