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Enjoying the Sylvestercross!

January 1, 2014

The Sylvestercross takes place annually on the last day of the month. It’s a huge event in Zoest, The Netherlands for all age groups and abilities, and over various distances. From children in various athletic groups to up to 99 years old recreational race (choice 1 – 3 circuits from 2.9 km to 8,7 km). For many it’s a tradition and a way to burn off a few calories before we indulge in drink and olieballen!

This was my third time of running it. The terrain is down (sand) and woods and, for the Netherlands it’s hilly. The three years have also offered a variety of weather. The first time I ran it was in the snow and ice, last year it was wet and muddy and this year dry and cool.

I prepared this year, as I do for all my events, by checking my number – time and place of pickup, packing my products (see (protein shake for directly after the run). As the event was close to home I could make up my energy drink in a water flask. I added my telephone with the runkeeper app and my number belt. I had the added bonus of having my husband as supporter and bag carrier this year!

I checked the times of my last 2 runs: 2010 – 45 mins; 2012 – 52 mins. The fastest a little over 5 mins per km I figured that given the dry conditions which resulted in more than usual of the race being run in soft sand and the even more people than normal would be tricky to run so fast. In addition I am focusing on building up my speed throughout the race so that would mean that I would need to run the final round in average under 5 mins per km. I am not doing that yet. Running under 6 mins per km and so faster than last year, also seemed a challenge which I decided to go for.

The professionals were running when we arrived. Vests and shorts were the order of the day for them. It felt very cold. I had my 3 quarter length running tights and then… t shirt or t shirt and light fleece.  Most of the field were wearing long sleeves, hats and gloves. I never run in a hat or with gloves – I get far too warm. I thought about my goal. I would soon warm up. At the last moment the fleece was handed to Joost and I was ready!

The field was crowded! The start gun went off and we did not move! I remember from previous events that I sometimes feel irritated with so many people around. That’s not a great mind set to have to I decided I was going to embrace the challenges. I looked around and laughed and joked with my fellow athletes as we shuffled to the start. My group was even facing the wrong way and had to take a left turn as we funneled in over the start line! Runkeeper on. Now embrace the next challenge – the sand!! I watched as people used various tactics to attempt to run through the deep soft material. I spotted someone lightly running on his toes. He gained a lot of grip and did not seem to running as stodgily as many of us. I tried it. It certainly seemed to work.

As we approached the forest we ran into a narrow path and actually were slowed to a walk. I heard people becoming annoyed around me. I just thought – hah! This is all part of it – this is the Sylvestercross! As we continued I focused on finding a rhythm.  Not easy with the crowded and uneven terrain. It was a great distraction from thinking of being bumped and was a kind of game to run round the slower people whilst not being run over by the faster people! I also focused on thinking of the previous times that I had run this and how in the 2nd and 3rd rounds I had virtually been on my own! Difficult to imagine at this stage!

Runkeeper was also feeding me information about distances and averages. I was slower than the average required. There was little that I could do to go faster with all these people. I decided that this was, in fact, a positive as I often start my races too fast – I was still in touch with the time I wanted to run.

The end of the first round and the beginning of the second was through deep sand. I told myself one more time of this and then less of the sand to the finish. I focused, again on method and also thought about what good strength training this was for my legs! Such training I could only achieve here – fab!

In the forest the field was beginning to thin out and it was easier to find. There was a man who clearly was a trainer focusing on a group of runners. I heard him saying 10,5 good pace. This was, indeed for me a good pace for the second round – I still needed to be faster in the third to really come well within the 52 mins. It seemed already quite hard to speed up and I wanted to be sure that I had enough to go faster in the 3rd run.

The sand was again a super training moment. I experimented with posture and tried to run more upright and balanced. My husband cheered me on – that gave me a further boost. A friend of mine who also is also a race steward, shouted further encouragement.

The final round! I was really starting to enjoy this race. I used the downhill parts to power me back up the steep areas. It was also interesting to observe those around me – some powering up the slopes (that were really causing pain now!) and others choosing to walk. I came across the trainer again. He actually started to run beside me – or so it seemed. He muttered 10,8 good pace. Yes! He confirmed Runkeeper – I was running faster on this stretch than the previous round.

Then I had a decision to make. Do I go all out in the last part of the forest and accept that I will be slower in the sand, or do I save my energy for the sand? I knew I would be slower in the sand. It felt good in the forest so I upped the pace. Here it was – the sand was, in places, packed down so I stayed right and found the hardest parts. Focusing on a good rhythm, it meant passing people so venturing into the softer parts.

The finish was in sight! I focused on that sign and let the letters pull me towards them! Again I passed people. Over the line! Wow! That felt good!! Time according to runkeeper 49 mins! Yes !!  The netto time according to the race timers was 48,59!

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