Despite being still jet-lagged from a two-week trip in Europe, I decided to join my 2nd race of 2015 last week-end. I guess those things don’t really matter when you love running and spending time in the mountains. Anyways, I showed up to the starting line with a lot of skepticism on my abilities to perform well on a 4-hour or longer period. As you may know from my previous posts, I have been dealing with a runner’s knee since the beginning of the calendar year; this meant that I didn’t go out for long runs during the last 6 months. However, I’ve had 15 straight days of intensive short distance training in France and Spain during my Golden Week holiday. As a consequence, I have been trying to recover during the last few days leading up to the race (by going swimming rather than running.)
- Date: May 17th
- Start Time: 08:00 AM
- Distance: 38.1 km
- Bib Number: 192
- Time: 06:23:00
- Average Speed: 6.0 km/h
- Overall Ranking: 48/412
- Category Ranking: 19/91
I decided to change my pre-race routine compared to last year. In fact, I used to rent a car and sleep on a parking lot close to the venue the night before the race. It was quite enjoyable at the beginning, but it started to get old at some point. This year, I decided to show up the day before and book an hotel room wherever I would race. On this occasion, I asked my colleague to book me a ryokan (or traditional Japanese inn) for the race. I showed up on Saturday night after 2 hours of train commuting; it was quite far away in the prefecture of Saitama.
After a light dinner and a good night of sleep to recover from the jet lag, I woke up with the sun. It was 5:15 AM and already warm outside. Actually, I was looking forward to have a nice and hard day in the mountains. Anyways, I geared up and had a light breakfast before heading to the train station. After a 10-minute ride, I arrived at Koma Station where the race would start. I collected my bib number and finished preparing as people were progressively arriving. I had very few details about the race, so I was toeing the starting line completely blind.
After listening rapidly to the race briefing and the ceremony (not that I understood a single word of it by the way), I went towards the line. The particularity of this race was that runners would start one by one every 5 seconds or so; this was meant to regulate the flow and prevent a traffic jam when stepping up onto the trail. I positioned myself in the first 40 runners and started at 8:00 AM sharp. The sun was already burning, and I knew it would be a long day. We started on an uphill road section for about 2.5 kilometers where the pace was very fast, but I kept pushing anyways. I then finally stepped onto the trail knowing that the profile of the race was pretty much all about going up for the next 28 kilometers. The issue was that I didn’t know the total elevation gain before the race, and this proved to be quite a big liability.
We started to climb Tenkakusan where I decided to follow runners in front of me. They were going at a good pace, and I had no trouble following them; I was losing ground as we were climbing, but I was immediately catching them in the descents. The trail was going up overall, but there were regular short and steep descents. I knew this would take a toll on my quads. Anyways, we continued until the 6.8-kilometer mark where was the first aid station. I ate half of a banana rapidly and continued my progression as I was already starting to feel alone on the trails. In fact, some of my race friends had either gone away or pulled back from me.
I continued my progression by running through A2 and A3, which were the second and third aid stations respectively located at the 10.4 and 14.5-kilometer mark. On each of those, I grabbed something to eat as I usually go almost empty into races to avoid digestive problems. I had a small bun with beans as well as a small rice ball, but I also enjoyed some Coca-Cola and fresh water. My experience shows that I can get the right amount of calories by consuming liquids; in fact, it helps my stomach in the long run. I was passed by a few runners that were in a different gear mode, but we soon arrived at the fourth aid station.
I reached A4 (at the 16.1-kilometer mark) after almost 2.5 hours of running. My legs were already burning, but I was catching up runners that were giving up already. It was a very nice moment because we went through Nenogongentenryū-ji Temple at that point in time. As far as I understood, this is an historical temple of the Tendai sect for the enshrined god of luck that heals leg and hip troubles. Interestingly enough, I started to catch my breath and was able to feel better on the trails from that stage.
I then continued my way through Mount Takahata as well as A5 and A6. We continued to go up and down continuously on the ridge, and I passed some runners that had made a big impression on me earlier on in the race. I knew I was still behind my usual expectations, but I was starting to catch a more appropriate pace. I paid attention to drink consistently as well as I tried to get some calories in. I recently started eating dry fruits rather than gels, and it’s working very well on my digestive system. With less sugar, I guess it is easier to process during intensive efforts.
I passed A7 (at the 27.4-kilometer mark and) after a little more than 5 hours of running. I looked at my GPS watch, and we were way beyond my expectations in terms of total elevation gain. We still had 2 kilometers of uphill climbing, and I was already way passed the 2,000 meters of D+. I caught 2 runners that had burnt out completely, and I made my way through A8 that was located right after the highest point of the race (Mount Maruyama). The last 7 kilometers were meant to be a steep descent of 4 kilometers, followed by a flat 3-kilometer road section.
With the most difficult part behind me, I tried to hammer down the descent; however, I don’t think I ran as fast as I could or would have liked to. In fact, I realize that I am very cautious when comes the end of mid or long distance races. I am always trying to avoid ankle sprains or big falls. Unfortunately, I tripped down on a root and felt hard midway through; I stood up immediately but I got a cramp in my right calf. It didn’t prevent me from continuing my progression, and I soon reached A9.
I didn’t stop at A9 where two runners were drinking water; mainly because I knew there were only 3 kilometers to go. I am trained for races that go way beyond the 40-kilometer mark, which means that I am usually fresher than other runners at that point. Actually, the two runners saw me and tried to chase me immediately; I could hear them stress out behind me, but it didn’t last for long. I pulled away very easily as I was able to run passed 12.5 km/h.
After going through the streets of Yokoze, I arrived at Buko Hot Spring. I crossed the finish line in 06:23:00, and I noticed that Shunsuke Okunomiya was still there. He is one of the best trail runners in Japan: he ranked #13 at Western States 100 in 2011 and also won Hasetsune 30K in 2015. He participated to the race as a guest runner and finished in about 04:30:00.
With runners starting one by one in the morning, I didn’t know what was my ranking at the time. One of the organizers told me that I was among the top 30 runners. He was wrong since I ranked 48th overall and 19th in my category. I am deceived by the result, but I know I couldn’t run faster; mainly because I didn’t go out for more than 3.5 hours during the last 6 months. I then headed to onsen where I bathed in both very hot and cold water. I ate some nice rice curry at the train station and finally headed back to Yokohama.
Looking back to this race, I only kept good memories. I have been able to get back to longer runs without any knee issues. I have had a very nice time in the mountains despite the lack of long distance training or the jet-lag. It is now time to recover and improve my uphill running before the next trail race. I will be going for 42K with 2,400 meters of D+ in June: the race will be in Nagano Prefecture and will be part of the 2015 Skyrunner Japan Series.