Two weeks ago on June 14th, I woke up at 4:00AM. I had a quick bite for breakfast, hopped on my old mountain bike and headed to our train station. I left my mountain bike at the best spot in the bike parking (no one up yet) and caught one of the first trains into Tokyo at 4:48AM. Once in Tokyo, I took the very first train out of Tokyo. We were headed to the mountains in the west of Tokyo where the urban landscape gives way to beautiful mountain scenery. West Tokyo is popular for living and the close access to these mountains is a very big selling point. For us in north of Tokyo, we had a long trip to make.
The trains in Japan run right on time and I had about four minutes to make my transfer. With the transfer done, I could slowly nod off on the train until our final stop at Uenohara which was more than one hour away. However, at Shinjuku party animals and early trail runners all boarded the train. Every seat was filled and the lady next to me reeked of booze. What a trip.
We switched to a local line and made it to Uenohara at 6:47am just in time to catch our 6:50 bus to the starting line. We arrived and checked in. As a souvenir I got some cool Japanese mustard which is fun to look at but I don't like the taste. We could have gotten miso, mustard, or a standard race T-shirt. Very nice to have a choice. We changed and put our bags away. After the long morning train ride I just had to take a dump. I did not want to start the race before heading to the bathroom. I ran across the street to find a line stretching down the hill and further. Wow. I lined up.
The line went slowly. I waited for 30 minutes before finally getting my turn. I finished my business at 7:57, filled up my water reservoir, and ran to the starting line. I saw my friend (who would go on to claim 10th place - Good job Eric!) lined up in front. I headed to the middle of the pack. Bang! We were off.
Every race start fills with me with enthusiasm as we all start this challenge - the 3rd Yaeyama Trail Run near the train station of Uenohara. Today's race was going to be an easy one, or so I mistakenly thought. The race is "just" 38km and had a couple of "minor hills". The train up to the race certainly looked like very large mountains.
I started the race off keeping up with the pack at a good pace. The front line was basically a sprint and I didn't see them again. Within the first 1km we all tapered onto a narrow trail head. The trail could only fit two people side by side. Basically our position in the race was determined for quite a while now. If you are fast, you had better be up front early in the this race.
Within about 2km the run slowly turned to a slow walk. We hit our first hill which I had assumed would be flat. The line slowly disappeared and we were running again up a shallow hill. I rang the first bell tower on the top of the first hill. Actually, I didn't ring it...nuts...how did I mess that up? The video below is a slight of hand movie editing. I would be looking forward to this bell tower later in the race.
Once down from this hill we hit a small road and ran to the first rest stop. I had a quick drink and a banana. I was mostly fueling up on the gels that I brought with me. In any case something in my stomach was still not feeling well from the morning and I had trouble getting my energy up.
As we approached the first mountain, two grandma's handed out lucky charms to everyone in the race. When entering the mountains this lucky charm would protect us runners. The touch was very thoughtful and I loved how the local community came out to support us.
This mountain was one of two in the race. The race also had a series of hills that turned out to be quite tough. The race was basically all up and down with very little flat portions. The mountains in Japan are certainly tough. This first mountain completely destroyed me. I walked the entire way down, which was embarassingly slow. One racer asked me if I was actually participating or not. She mentioned we had 30 minutes to run before the gate closed. Wow...I thought I could easily make the 22km cut-off at with 4 hours into the race. This race was not going well for me.
I found some energy and slowly jogged to the cutoff point. Surprisingly I passed the cut-off with just two minutes to spare. I had some sliced lemon which gave me a serious energy boost. I also added some VAM to my water reservoir which also gave me a great kick. The short course was finished at this gate and there were buses waiting to shuttle people back. I could have easily just hopped on one of these buses and called the day quits. BUT... I had a video to make. How embarassing if my video was cut short? Somehow I found the motivation to tackle the next 16km of the race. I knew having made the middle cut-off with just two minutes to spare that I had a lot of time to catch up on. I hit the second mountain hard. I didn't run but I also didn't stop going up the mountain one step at a time.
I passed person after person. At the false top of the mountain people were lying flat on the ground from exhuastion. They looked like they really regretted coming on this second half and still had half a mountain to climb. I kept going with a slow but steady step. I only walked the uphills and ran every other part. I kept passing more and more people. Being in the back at least gave me the chance to pass people. I am not the fasted runner...yet.
We finished the second mountain and I still had energy in me. I don't know what happened, but this second half was going much smoother for me. I rested a short break at the water stop and kept going. I asked for the time from one runner since my iPhone was in my backpack and I mistakenly thought was out of battery. . He said we had one hour left with 6km and one more hill left before the cut-off. I couldn't believe it! I thought I had been going much faster. We ran together until the trailhead for the next hill.
I found some strange energy to just tackle these uphills. I can't run fast downhill, but was doing very well on the uphills. Again I passed quite a few people.
I made it to the top and kept going. I knew these hills were full of false peaks and was searching for that bell tower. I asked for the time from a group of runners. My friend before was mistaken. We didn't have just one hour, but actually 1.5 hours left. We had a shot of finishing this race. I still had 30 minutes to finish the downhill portion to the finish line.
I ran my slow and steady pace and started to remember the trail from the morning. I saw the hill with the long toilet line and crossed the street to the finish.
I had finished with a time of 7 hours 18 minutes! I was so happy to cross this finish line!! I had just 12 minutes to spare before the race was over. I happily claimed my towel and record! I just finished a very difficult race with some steep mountains.
The course is very challenging and is almost entirely on trails in the mountains. These mountains have short ridge lines, steep inclines and steep descents. Your muscles get worn out very quickly and you have trouble making up your time on the short flat sections. I thought I would easily finish this race within 5-6 hours. I was deeply humbled and will be better prepared for the next race.
Trail running is awesome!
Runbell was great for trail running as a bear bell that doesn't ring constantly and to warn hikers with a fair amount of warning before passing. Since this train run was a race we didn't come across many hikers, but for other trail running (especially in Japan) Runbell is definitely useful. Hikers who also tend to be older have been complaining more and more lately. Runbell will start promoting and trail races and we'll report back with results of how that goes.
We surveyed the web and scoured the recent The Running Event for the most unique and practical gifts for the runner in your life. Yes, shoes, shirts, and shorts are all great gifts for runners, but use this list to find unique running gadgets!