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Q&A: Team East Wind’s Masato Tanaka

Team East Wind was on the cover of Outdoor Japan Traveler after you competed in the grueling 2011 Patagonian Expedition Race (PER). You returned in 2012 and 2013. What keeps you going back for more?

There’s no other race like PER. The Patagonia wilderness is really special (ice fields, fjords, glaciers and pristine wilderness), and PER is the wildest and toughest adventure race on the planet. It beats you up every time and, no matter how many times we come back, there are always new challenges. It showed us what it takes to be one of the top teams in the world. That’s why the other top adventure teams such as Adidas TERREX Prunesco (UK) and Yogaslackers/GearJunky.com (USA) also keep coming back.

Can you compare the terrain in Chilean Patagonia with anything in Japan?

Chilean Patagonia has a variety of terrain, such as fjords, ice fields, glaciers, swamps and primeval forest. There’s really no place in Japan that has this diverse landscape. However, the weather and the scenery in Yakushima reminds you a bit of Chilean Patagonia; it rains a lot in both places, so the forests are really thick and harsh and everything is covered with moss.

What’s most challenging about the terrain there?

Crossing swamps, never-ending bushwhacking, swimming in glacier-fed rivers and the beaver dams.

Team East Wind finished seventh in 2010, fifth in 2011 and finished second in the last two races. What has been the key to the team’s improvement?

There are many reasons. For one, the team participated with the same four members in three consecutive international races; PER 2011, the adventure racing world championship in Tasmania, and PER 2012, and all of the members were committed to winning PER. After finishing fifth in 2011, it was natural for us to aim for the top three in 2012.

We also changed tactics. In 2011, we slept only an hour and a half each day during the race. It was physically very difficult. We got very sleepy during the day, which made us move slowly, and we started making a lot of navigation mistakes which was inefficient. Also, it was really hard to make much progress in the dark, and we ended up getting lost a lot.

So we learned the lesson and decided to sleep three hours at night in 2012. Surprisingly, when we got three hours of sleep our bodies felt quite rested, and we were able to keep moving fast during the day. In Patagonia, it gets dark at 10 p.m. As soon as it got dark, we started looking for a good spot to pitch our tents. We would make camp by midnight, sleep for three hours, wake and pack up. We were moving again by 4 a.m., and the sun would rise an hour and a half later. We didn’t waste much daylight.

Another thing we did was push ourselves physically, going as fast as we could from the start. We hardly ever stopped to rest until we camped at night and spent minimum time in the transit areas. We never stopped focusing on catching up to the team ahead of us. All four of us kept motivating each other with positive comments and by telling jokes the whole time. We had a real good and positive energy going on in 2012, and that really helped all of us mentally – which is super important – to keep moving fast, enjoy the race and finish in the top three.

How close were you to catching the leaders the past two years?

In 2012, we finished 12 hours behind the winners, and we were more than a day behind them this year. Last year, our goal was to finish in the top three, so we were very happy with the result. When we learned we were just 12 hours behind, it felt as if we should have tried harder to catch them. All the teams were fairly close together during the race, and we learned what it would take.

But this year was different. Our focus was to win the race, and we gave it our all, yet we were more than a day behind the winners. We did our best but learned what we still needed to work on to win next year’s PER.   

What is most important to become a successful adventure race team?

Each team member has to completely get their ego out of the way, and be humble toward other team members and nature.

Has the adventure race scene changed much in the past few years?

Many of the big adventure races around the world, such as Primal Quest and Raid Gauloises, disappeared after they lost big sponsors because of the recession.

In Japan, the adventure race community is not really growing; the sport is not as popular as other sports such as marathons or soccer. But races will never disappear completely, because there are enough devoted racers who will support adventure races.

Are there any races or events with which you are involved in Japan?

Former Team East Wind and PER member Kay Sato organized a two-day event called Nokogiri Yama Adventure Weekend; it is a training camp for beginners. The event includes a presentation by Team East Wind, navigation, rope activities, sea kayak training and mini-adventure race.

I organize the Adventure Racing Japan Series (ARJS), X-Adventure (four-day adventure race), Satoyama Adventure, training camps, navigation and trail running lessons and Snow Country Trail.

Does Team East Wind team have any international races coming up?

The team will participate in the world championship in Costa Rica in November and plans to participate in PER 2014 in Chile.

Was there anything that made Chile a particularly interesting or memorable travel destination outside the race itself?

We always stay at Hostel Keoken because the owner is very helpful and takes great care of us from the moment we arrive at the Punta Arenas Airport until we leave.

There are a lot of great restaurants, but we ate at a local hamburger restaurant called Lomit’s almost every day. You can select anything you like in your burger – chicken, pork, beef steak or hamburger, cheese, avocado, tomatoes…and the size of their burgers is perfect for endurance athletes. We looked forward to eating at Lomit’s after finishing the race.

Chilean people are very friendly, and they seemed to take a liking to our Japanese team. PER 2013 ended in the middle of Punta Arenas town, so there were thousands of people welcoming the racers at the finish line. Many people asked us for photographs, and a local TV crew was filming us when we crossed the finish line. We were eating at Lomit’s when they aired us on the evening news, and everyone in the restaurant applauded.

What would you say to people thinking about entering an adventure race?

I wish more people would try adventure racing. Some people seem to think adventure racing is too extreme or too tough a sport to join, but it’s really not like that. Adventure racing is a wonderful experience; for some, it can be a life-changing experience. Once you participate in your first race, you’ll realize it’s more than just a sport, it goes deeper than that.

Patagonian Expedition Race: www.patagonianexpeditionrace.com
Team East Wind: www.east-wind.jp/team/
X Adventure Series: www.x-adventure.jp

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