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Features

2009
ISSUE
29
Ultrawoman
By Pauline Kitamura

“I really don’t like running fast. It’s way too exhausting!” –Hiroko Suzuki

There are a lot of runners out there who can run a lot faster than Hiroko Suzuki. But with more than 19 ultras under her belt, there are a very few trail runners, male or female, who can run as long and as hard as Hiroko. Her most recent ultra was the Bishop High Sierra 100K Ultra Marathon trail race (http://bhs50.com) in California where she came in first place in the 100 km. women’s category. The 100 km. distance is a darn long way for most people. So what exactly is it that keeps her running on and on and on and on…?

Trail Runner Profile
Name: Hiroko Suzuki (鈴木博子)
Age: 32
Sponsors: Vasque, Montbell
Accomplishments: Completion of more than 19 ultra-distance (50+ km.) trail races including the western states, Vermont, Leadville, Kettle Moraine, White River, Big Horn, Zane Gray, Ice Age as well as the Hasegawa Cup Endurance Race in Japan.
Sponsors: Montbell, Vasque
Favorite places to run: The Canadian Rockies and the Yatsugatake mountain range (八ヶ岳縦走トレイル) in Japan.
Other interests: Watching plays, traveling, reading, hiking.
Secret weapon:
The ability to draw energy from the nature around me. (自然からエネルギーをもらうこと)

INTERVIEW

How long have you been trail running? What got you started?

I’ve been running for about 6 years. A friend told me about this crazy race called the “Hasetsune” where you have to run 72 km. within 24 hours. I decided it looked kind of fun and signed up. That was five years ago. It took me 15 hours and 10 minutes to finish, but I was hooked.

You ran in the Hasetsune last year. How did you do?

I finished in nine hours and 57 minutes and came in 5th place.

It is a long way, but rumor has it 72 km. is not enough for you. You actually prefer even longer races?

Yes. I like doing 100 km. ultras the best. I’m a slow runner, and I enjoy trail running at a slow, steady pace over long distances. I really don’t like running fast. It’s way too exhausting. Short races tend to be very fast and competitive but, in longer races, you have the time and energy to actually enjoy the trails and the nature around you.

How do you go out and train for an ultra-distance trail race?

I actually don’t “train” in the traditional sense. Whenever I have time, I just go up into the mountains and run. I usually go two to three times a week; anywhere between three to eight hours at a time. I don’t really consider this “training,” though. I’m just doing what I enjoy the most.

You’ve been to a lot of trail races in the U.S. Why do you like to go abroad to race?

I love to travel. I love to go to new places and see new things. I also love meeting new people. Races are a way for me to go out and see the world while doing what I love the most.

What are the trails in the U.S. like compared to Japan?

The trails in the U.S. are built so you can traverse across a mountain without having to climb up and over every single peak. This makes the trails a lot more “runable” compared to Japan where the trails head straight up the mountain. The trails in Japan are steeper and a lot more technical.

What are your goals?
This year, my main goal is to complete The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (166 km.) taking place in Europe at the end of August. This is the first time participating in this race, so I’m not sure how I’ll do. My goal is to just make it across the finish line.
 
Are you doing any specific training for this race?

No, just the usual (laugh);running up in the mountains two to three times a week for fun.

So why exactly do you like to run up and down mountains?
When I’m running up in the mountains, even when it’s super steep and physically very challenging, for some reason, I don’t feel the “pain.” I feel like I receive energy from the nature, the mountains and the people around me and, I’m completely filled. This energy is what makes me want to keep running.

Trail Moments

Happiest trail moment: Every moment I’m up in the mountains.

Worst trail moment: About three years ago, I entered the Leadville 100, a race infamous for its high altitudes. I ended up getting altitude sickness, and they had to carry me off the mountain on a stretcher.