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2nd Sugadaira Skyline Trail Run Race
2nd Sugadaira Skyline Trail Run Race & Outdoor Meeting
Sept. 27, 2009
“C’mon. It’s just a walk through the mountains. It’ll be a fun day out in the woods.”
The invitation was too reminiscent of an early ’80s teenage slasher flick. However, despite the warning lights going off in my head, I threw caution and good sense to the wind and participated in my first trail run.
Sugadaira is just up the hill from Ueda in Nagano and is known as an area where Olympic athletes are born, bred and trained. I come from the stock of flatlanders whose only experience in running was back in the days of moonshine and prohibition. This run did not involve law enforcement, so I assumed a leisurely plod would be well within my athletic means. Looking back now, I should have stopped halfway, set up a still and jugged whiskey until someone came to arrest me.
There were three races: 5K, 15K and 40K. I originally planned to join the 5K “fun run,” as the title seemed more inviting. However, upon being called out by an “over 40 and feeling foxy” female participant in the 15K, I was forced to “man-up.” A 45-year-old guy slugging beer (actually micro-brew from the Outdoor Japan booth) the day before tried convincing me to join him in the 40K race, but I claimed my religion forbade such acts of flagellation. Thankfully, Japan’s polytheistic traditions gave him reason to believe this was true.
Making the ultimate sacrifice, I did not imbibe the night before the race, although the BBQ at The Hoshi Boshi Lodge tested my fortitude. The morning came, and I arrived a full 10 minutes before the start of the race. The taiko drums played what I should have recognized as a funeral durge and, with the sound of a pistol firing cleanly into the cool air, we were off.
After a quick jaunt through town, we arrived at a ski slope. Unfortunately, the lifts were not in operation, so I enjoyed my first run up a ski hill. The legs were feeling good and delirium had not yet set in. An extended run across a ridgeline fluttering between 1,300 and 1,600 meters saw me passing a large portion of the other 700-plus runners.
I had found my rhythm and was quite chuffed with myself when I ran across a watering station and asked the lady how much farther I had to go. She replied, “Five kilometers.” That’s all? At this point I was a “master of the universe” straight out of Bonfire of the Vanities.
Unfortunately, the race dragged on for another hour and the next checkpoint came into view: 5K remaining. Something was wrong. I should have seen the finish line by now but, instead, was treated to a line of runners passing me on the downhill like a gaggle of pygmy hunters.
In the end, I crossed the finish line in just under three hours – a respectable time – and was treated to a free bowl of tonjiru (pork stock soup) and a towel. Where were the cheering crowds, the laurels and a trail run’s equivalent of F1’s “race queens?”
As fatigue, pain and post traumatic shock set in, the 40-year-old lady appeared again. At least she seemed happy to see me.