Fernanda Maciel is the fastest-finishing female returning to this year’s Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji, having finished second in 2014. In this interview, hear what brings Fernanda back to this race, what power she draws from running around Mount Fuji and through Japan’s wilds, and how she stays focused on the sections of the course that don’t favor her strengths.
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Fernanda Maciel Pre-2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here Kawaguchiko, Japan ahead of the 2015 Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. I’m with Fernanda Maciel, a Brazilian who lives in Spain, and you are the fastest women’s returning finisher—second place last year, and you’re back again this year.
Fernanda Maciel: Yes, excited to do that because Mount Fuji, as you can see, is inspiring. It’s a beautiful mountain. To be here again is a pleasure. I really feel like it’s a blessing to be here again. So happy.
iRunFar: This is a really hard race. It’s 100 miles. It’s got some pretty gnarly mountain sections and some fast road sections. You had a great race last year—really, really strong. What brings you back? Is it the mountain or is it something else?
Maciel: Yeah, I think when I came here, if I can train in the place before—that’s what happened last year; I did two training sessions here—when you have the connection with the mountain and the feel of the trails, how it’s working, the terrain, it helped a lot for the run I think. To be here meditating and to be in the temples, I think this kind works well for your mind. Then you are really with your mind and your body prepared for the race. That helped with me last year. This year I really am quiet and at peace. I think I will do well at the race as well.
iRunFar: The Japanese are really spiritual people and they historically have been. There are these beautiful temples all around. There’s actually a temple very close to the start/finish. When you visit a place like this, do you go to experience that and feel or take on a little bit of that spirituality?
Maciel: Yes, sure, because from the people and from the place, I think this kind of energy comes to yourself when you are so deep and emotional during the race. It’s grateful.
iRunFar: The 100-mile distance is physically challenging but maybe even more mentally challenging sometimes. Do you use the power of the mountain, the views of the mountain? Do you use the power of the culture here? What will help you get through the toughest times in this race?
Maciel: Yes, sometimes the power that I have inside myself helps a lot, and sometimes the power that is outside helps me a lot. So I try to work with both. Mount Fuji, they call here Mount Fuji-san because “san” means that there’s a god. So Fuji-san means there is a god. Each mountain here is a god. I think this is important because you really feel this power. Yes, nature helps us a lot during the race.
iRunFar: Mount Fuji is kind of a… it’s like a pilgrimage place for many Japanese people. They can see the mountain from far off wherever they live. They come here to climb it or to see it in some way. There must be some sort of magnetic draw that you can feel when you’re running around the mountain?
Maciel: Yes, because here the race is around the Mount Fuji, so many parts of the race, you can see Mount Fuji during the race. That is motivating us at all times. This is amazing. The sunrise and sunset that you have here is just unbelievable. It gives you a lot of power.
iRunFar: We just saw you not very long ago at UTMB over in France. You had a tough race there. You didn’t make it all the way around the mountain. Can you back up and tell us what happened at that race?
Maciel: I did a lot of little mistakes. I lost my light during the middle of the night.
iRunFar: The batteries went out?
Maciel: Yes, the batteries, so I spent two hours going down the hill without lights. It was really stressful for my mind. Then I had some problems with my feet that they were feeling so sore. At some stage, I didn’t have food enough, so I lose some energy. After 20 hours, I was just blocked. My body and my mind couldn’t keep going. It was a strange experience, but it was also really good for me, for my ego. No race. You have been training all year, but no race. It was like that. Yes, you need to recover from that. Then I recovered my feet. I had a big problem in my feet, but now it’s okay. My motivation to run is good.
iRunFar: It’s come back?
Maciel: Yes, like now, I’m feeling that I’m a bit tired from racing 20 hours at UTMB, I know that, but I have the motivation to run. I’m really inspired to do my last run during this year. This is why I came here and because the Japanese and I cannot lose this opportunity.
iRunFar: This will be your last race of the season? Then you’re converting to a little off-time?
Maciel: Yes. Yes, I’d like to have some wine in Spain and relaxing and do some climbs and do some yoga I think will really help myself to recovery. Yes, I enjoy my family and my friends. This equilibrium and this balance I think is good for each person and each other.
iRunFar: The race last year went clockwise, and this year it’s turned around and going counterclockwise. There’s a mountain range that you pass through this time during the first half of the race, the Tenshi Mountains. They’re sort of, I don’t know, what people refer to as the ‘great equalizer.’ If you’re having a good day, you’re going to get to the Tenshi’s in a good position. If it’s not your day, the Tenshi’s are going to show you that. Having them in the first half of the race as opposed to the second half of the race, how does that change your strategic approach?
Maciel: I think it will be better because last year the hard part was at the end. The hard mountains took me four hours. I needed to carry more water and more food. This year the hard part is in the beginning. Then my strategy is I don’t need to carry too much water for that. So, it will help. It’s still really hard. I cannot push so hard in the beginning. So let’s see how it’s working.
iRunFar: Yeah, you’ll have to go a bit easier through there so you’ll have something for later.
Maciel: Yes, especially because I just did UTMB and longer races. So for me, here, will be a surprise. I’m not sure how my body will work, so that’s why I’d like to enjoy especially in the beginning of the race. I’d like to go out really slowly.
iRunFar: Probably especially for you, the Tenshi’s are going to show you if you’re having a good day or if it’s going to be kind of a painful day.
iRunFar: This race is pretty unique in that there are some pretty steep mountainous sections, and then there are some miles of pretty flat roads. You’re a self-proclaimed mountain person who likes the more technical the better. How do you get through the road sections mentally?
Maciel: I love the road section after a hard mountain.
iRunFar: It’s a break.
Maciel: Yes, I think about it like that. After so hard mountains, so steep—like some parts here I need to use my hands to climb—after that, when you see 8k on the road, it’s bad as I’m a mountain runner, but I just think in a positive way. It’s so nice. It’s good flowing. My legs just run. It’s amazing.
iRunFar: It’s probably a mental break, too, if you’re spending so much time concentrating on where you’re putting your hands and your feet—just getting to turn off a little bit.
Maciel: Especially the downhills here—some parts are so steep I need to also use my hands to catch some trees. It’s really dangerous. When you get to the roads, it’s like a break for my mind.
iRunFar: Japan is a place with so many people in the cities here. The population is really dense, but then we come out here, there are some true wild places you run through. There’s the possibility of seeing wildlife like big birds and possibly bears. What goes through your head thinking about traversing through the Japanese wilderness at night?
Maciel: No problem. I’m from Brazil.
iRunFar: Bigger things there.
Maciel: Yes, I’ve been through a lot like really scared of big animals. But here, you really feel safe during the race. I prefer not to think about it.
iRunFar: Okay, no more questions about that then.
Maciel: It’s always nice. Here you have a lot of big birds in this area. I think it is really nice for us to feel like in a wild place.
iRunFar: Especially in a country where in the cities, it’s so city, city, city.
Maciel: The Japanese are amazing. They’re always in the future, but they keep their tradition and all the old culture. This is really a good balance. I appreciate the culture they have.
iRunFar: Yeah. This is your fourth time here?
iRunFar: Third time here in Japan. You ran the shorter STY in 2012 and then the full loop around the mountain last year. You’ve spent some time here, a couple weeks of your life. You’ve learned a lot about the culture, the food, the people. What are some things you’re taking in this week and really enjoying?
Maciel: The sushi and sashimi—I love this food, and it’s like I cook at home. I love the Japanese restaurants and food. Also the culture of the land and how they work and how they respect the nature and their religions and all this kind of things—it’s amazing to observe how they work every day. They are so quiet as a people, well, talk is not so quiet. Yeah, intelligent people. It’s nice to observe another culture for a long time. Yes, I’ve been learning lots here.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend.
Maciel: Thanks, Meghan.
iRunFar: Good luck on your second total trip around the mountain and third partial trip.
Maciel: Yes, and it will be my third 100 miler.
iRunFar: Third 100 miler! Alright, well, best of luck to you.
Maciel: Yes, I’d like to enjoy it a lot, each mile.
iRunFar: Each mile—that’s a lot of miles.
Maciel: Yes, I think that’s the way. Being in the present is so hard, but when you have 100 miles, you can try that—trying to enjoy each second, trying to enjoy because we love to run. So you need to try to remember that each time especially when you are suffering because sometimes you feel so sore or some pain in your knee or something like that, or something has happened that is wrong. But you need to remember that you love to run and you love to be in the present so you can enjoy each step. It’s special for me, and I’d like to train that.
iRunFar: Awesome. Good luck to you. May the 99th mile be as pleasant to you as the first mile.
Maciel: Thank you. Arrigato, gozaimasu.