On April 26, trail runners from around the globe gathered at Japan’s most iconic mountain to take part in Japan’s largest trail running race, the Ultra Trail Run Mt. Fuji (UTMF). The race featured the 161-km. UTMF, and the 85-km. Shizuoka-to-Yamanashi (STY) race.
The courses were a grueling mix of mountain and road, requiring racers to negotiate technical mountainous terrain as well as quickly run across long stretches of asphalt and gravel road. Night running high in the mountains was also a useful skill during this extremely challenging race.
“Brutal. Tough. Painful. But absolutely beautiful.” These were some of the words chosen by racers to describe the course.
“I couldn’t believe just how steep the trails were in Japan. There were some sections that were so steep, I literally had to use both my arms and legs to pull myself up the mountain,” exclaimed one Australian participant. “Next year I’ll train by throwing in some climbing to my running schedule,” she laughed.
The UTMF race pamphlet forewarned athletes the weather could be unpredictable in April, with cold temperatures and even snow a possibility. The temperatures on the mountain were cold indeed. However, UTMF was once again blessed with good, relatively warm weather over the two days, and 73 percent of the UTMF starters and 92 percent of the STY starters were able to successfully cross the finish line.
According to the race committee though, they consider themselves lucky this year and are keenly aware the statistics may not be so great if the weather gods don’t cooperate in the future.
Although many trail races in Japan are locally organized and mainly attended by Japanese runners, the UTMF is one of the first races in Japan to earn a strong following among the international ultra-running community. So much so, that some racers traveled halfway around the world to reach the start line at Lake Kawaguchi.
This year, 269 racers from 40 countries (almost 13 percent of the total number of participants) signed up for the race.
The UTMF also attracted some of the best racers from around the world, including Sebastien Chaigneau and Julien Chorier of France, and Gary Robbins (Canada). They placed second, third and fourth respectively in the men’s UTMF category.
On the women’s side, international runners Krissy Moehl (USA) and Shona Stephenson (Australia) placed first and second in the women’s UTMF.
This is the top race for many of Japan’s top trail runners – the one they say really matters. Despite the home-turf advantage, the world-class competition proved to be humbling. There was one very big surprise however in the form of Yoshikazu Hara. A relatively new, unknown roadrunner, he beat out an elite group of international runners to take first place overall.
The 2014 race dates have not been announced yet but, as soon as the dates are official, race details and registration information will be posted on the ULTRA-TRAIL Mt. FUJI official race Web site. Web: www.ultratrailmtfuji.com
Racers coming from abroad may also want to check out Avid Adventures Japan about travel and race support packages in English. Web: www.avid-adventures.com ✤