Saturday, May 19, 2012

STY 2012 Day 5: STY Part 1

The alarm clock on the phone went on at 4:00am. Sunlight was slowly shining in through the window. Sitting up, I took in few long deep breath and tried to feel the air flowing into my body. I was not nervous. That's good. I had plenty of time to get ready. Something I preferred to leaving just enough time for myself. No rush.

I took the time to wash up and change into the running gear. Some of the other STYers had woke up before me. I thought I am an early bird on race days. :p

I knocked on the doors of Andrea and Fey. They should be up by now. Fey answered the door, while Andrea responded with a loud "Thank you!" from within the room.

Dragging my luggage into the common room next to those of the UTMFers, I saw some people were resting in the room. Those who fall out from the race early would rest in this common room until the race was over. The trails must surely be hard. I did not take a closer look who they were but a quick glimpse across the room, there was this silhouette of a person that looks like Ted.

"Don't look. Just go off." I told myself.


Onigiri! Just what I needed. Rice!

I took an another two, wrapped them up and put into my hydration bag. Additional race fuel. :)

Waiting at the hall for the transport with my additional race fuel. My race gear was on my left.

This was Fernanda Maciel. Fey for short. She would emerge as the STY female champion.

We crammed into the van and drove off to Kodomono-kuni. It would be around an hour drive.

Lake Kawaguchiko. It was a good chance to soak in the beautiful scenery .. without running.

The sacred mountain showed itself. It was a day with clear sky.


This was the start point of STY.

Kodomono-kuni at altitude of 910m. STY did not actually start at aid station A7 which was nearby. STYers would need to run 3km before the route merge with the UTMF.

The time was 7:53am. The race would start at 10:00am.

The starting arch.

I did not like to cross the start line or finish line of a race unless the race had started. Besides having the risk of accidentally triggering the time chip, I just did not like to do so. I also knew of others who thinks the same as me.

So I just took this photo further back.

No prize for guessing the time at this photo was taken.

Luckily we had done our gear check the day before. Look at the queue snaking across the field.

Gear check before the race.

The mobile stage.

We had drum performance again.



Full gear.

- Buff around my neck
- New Balance running top
- 2XU long sleeve thermal compression
- 2XU long compression tights
- Injinji wool toe socks
- Innov-8 Roclite 295 trail shoes

Mr Shark. He was running as a supporter for his friend.

Andrea from Geneva. He works in a well known cosmetics company and he told all of us: "I will not be the fastest but I will be the most beautiful!"

Hahahahaha .. :)

He even prepared his own energy bar and offered some to me. Nice chap. :)


The guy was beating the drum and our heartbeats seemed to follow every beat of it.

5 mins to go!

One last shot before going off.

They started counting down with 3 mins to race start.

I was immersing in the moment. The cheers and excitement was overwhelming. I thanked Harry for staying with us and gave Andre a big hug. We said we would see each other at Ohike Park.

I was not totally confident I would be able to complete but I would just take things as it comes.

At times like this, we would just need to have faith in our trainings.

The drum beat quickened up as the time draws nearer. Everybody started counting down in unison. I just enjoyed every moment of it.

10 .. 9 .. 8 .. 7 .. 6 .. 5 .. 4 .. 3 .. 2 .. 1..


The front pack just blasted off around the park!

They kept drumming as we start our race.

You could see that I was more like a tourist than a racer. Hahaha .. :)

Participants running off with Mount Fuji in their sight.

Very, very beautiful.

I was busy taking photos and letting everybody run passed me until I looked around I realised I was literally at the tail end of the runners. Behind was were only another 3 runners. The others had all ran ahead. Hahaha .. I still took my time instead of speeding up. I knew it was early and I could catch up.

This was the race route of UTMF (blue) and STY (red).

This was the elevation profile of STY. 82km with 4200m D+.

A7 Kudomono-Kuni
Altitude: 903m
Time of day: 10:00am

Looking at the elevation of the race, the stretch from start till A8 seemed easy as it was generally downslope. The real challenge of STY (and also UTMF) was the 27km of mountainous region between A8 Nishi-Fuji and A9 Motosuko. They could not set at any aid stations in between because there were no service roads on the mountains. Pauline told us if anything were to happen to us on the mountain, they would need to heli-evacuate us. *gulp!* There was another mountain starting from A9 but it was not as high. Judging from the profile, it looks as if the 27km from A8 to A9, which was only around 1/3 of the total distance, contained at least half or if not even more of the 4200m elevation gain of the whole race.

Therefore, for the first 28km until A8, my plan was to take my time. From A8 to A9 would be to pray hard. From A9 to finish would be to pray even harder.

The weather was good. Sunny yet not hot at all. Temperature was around mid 10 degC. The first few km were on asphalt with a slight upslope. Within the first km, I knew I had made the correct choice of keeping the bear bell inside my hydration bag. The sound it made with each of our steps was a nuisance especially those who hang the bear bells outside their bags. We were supposed to have a mug with us for the race. Some participants got themselves a metal mug and they hung the mug outside their bag TOGETHER WITH the bear bell. The sound of the bell itself and the bell hitting onto the metal mug was really irritating.

At around 3km or maybe lesser, this was the point where the STY route merged with the UTMF route. The UTMFers would be coming out from A7 Kodomono-kuni where they had their official bag drop.

My friends who were doing the UTMF should have already passed this point by now.

A little further down brought us to the start of the trail.

The next few km brought us on an asphalt path running through the forest.

We began to overtake those slower UTMF runners. Most of them were walking slowly now. I could tell every step was painful for some of them. Some were so tired they could only look at the ground while moving forward. The earlier route must had been really tough.

The route was clearly marked with white ribbons and arrows.


This was at around 12km mark. We had started running the undulating path parallel to the telecommunication cables. We had to be careful of the steps as some were uneven.

The ground was soft and very good to run on.

As it was a narrow path, we encountered a few bottlenecks like this.

Everybody came to a halt.

It was due to this makeshift bridge. We crossed it one at a time.

We continued the run. Up and down and up and down. It was really narrow so overtaking was not easy. As it was still early in the race, I just decided to let it be. :)

Some parts of the run we had to cut into the forest. With the route clearly marked like this, it was actually quite difficult to get lost.

We came to another bottleneck.

This was the longest bottleneck we had for the race. We had to inch forward step by step.

It was a good time to rest. Some took the opportunity to take group photos. I just admired the many many footprints of different shoes on the soft soil we were stepping on. The ground was so soft we could leave a clear print on it with each step we take.

It was a good 10 mins and we were still stuck here. I lost all the spare time I had built up earlier in the race.

Strangely, none of us cut out of the path and ran ahead. Everybody just calmly stayed in the line and moved slowly forward. Was it the culture of the people there? Or was it everybody just wish to complete the race?

The cause of the long human jam seems to be right below the slope.

This was it. Some badly damaged steps on the slope.

W1 Kitayama
Distance: 18km
Altitude: 603m
Time: 02:36 hr

This was a water station, meaning it only serves water and no food.

Some were so happy to see each other.

Taking a break and using the toilet.

I had some water and decided not to stay here for too long. I wish to move further ahead of the running pack.

We continued the path following the telecommunication cables. It was fun going up the short upslopes and just let gravity bring the body down the downslopes.

We came across what looked like dried rivers.

It just kept going and going.

Somewhere along this stretch of the course, I met Shine. I was surprised to see him. I learnt from him that the night before was very cold so he had to stay put at one of the aid stations. I wondered if I would be able to handle it if I were doing UTMF.

The end of the long stretch running alongside the telecommunication cables.

We went onto the road ..

ran next to a canal ..

and back into the trail again.

As we ran, the passer-bys kept cheering for us. Somehow, I had a feeling that A8 was nearby. Its time for a rest.

2:13pm. This was A8 Nishi-Fuji.

As I ran up, I heard a voice called out to me.


I searched around and saw a lady in the red Avid Adventures tee. It was Jun!

A8 Nishi-Fuji
Distance: 28km
Altitude: 519m
Time: 04:13 hr

The entrance of the aid station.

The so welcoming sign.

Everybody took a good rest here, knowing the difficult stretch would being after leaving A8.

I ate a lot of oranges and some bananas. The oranges were so juicy and sweet. :)

This was the Avid Adventure's booth. I took the first can of coke (on the table) and my trekking poles.

Shine arrived shortly after me.

Sayaka preparing some udon for us.

The wonderful ladies Jun and Sayaka.

They were serving yakisoba. There was too long a queue if not I would have loved to try it.

I took out a small pack of chia seeds, poured them into my mug and added water and one Endurolyte Fizz tablet. I finished one onigiri while slowly drinking the mug of electrolyte chia seeds drink and chatted with Sayaka. Jun was out there spotting other runners. Sayaka told me she had never took part in an ultra race before and this was the first time she saw people racing in the trails. This was an eye opener for her. Races like this not only could bring valuable experiences to the participants but also to the volunteers.

She kept asking if I have eaten and drank enough and if I wanted to rest more. I used my hand to make an "upslope" gesture and said to her this would be the beginning of the mountainous region. She nodded back and kept encouraging me.

I stayed at A8 for around 30 mins. I would like to stay longer but I also considered the fact that the sky darkens earlier over here. So I would need to make use of the time time when there was still daylight.

There was a mandatory gear check for every body. They mainly checked for the items which you needed to survive in the mountains.

- water
- food
- jacket
- whistle
- headlights with spare batteries
- handphone

I heard earlier there were some participants who were made to do squats. If you were unable to do them, they would pull you out immediately.

Off I go marching into the unknown. The next aid station would be 27km away.

We would need to run for around 2km before coming to the foot of the mountain.

I walked this 2km to conserve my strength.

Some residents came out to cheer for us.

A glimpse of the mountainous region.

I had absolutely no idea of what was coming ahead of us.

Absolutely no idea.

The start of the upslopes. All of us stopped to have a sip of water and prepared ourselves for the climb. Some of us pulled out the trekking poles. Some even put on their headlights.

Lets go!

At this moment, we were at:

Distance: 30km 
Altitude: 500m
Time: 5:13 hr
Time of day: 3:13pm

The starting was easy.

Nevertheless, we chose to walk up.

Very soon, the path turned into zigzag-ing switchbacks. Steep ..

and it would get steeper.

This person overtook me as I went up. The tag reads "Doctor". I really give my respect for such kind of people.

Besides Mr Doctor, we also saw several other official photographers carrying their large equipment bags of lenses and bodies. I used to carry my camera and lenses out for shoots before so I knew it was very tiring. Moreover, now they also had to climb up this monstrous mountain.

All of us were reduced to an army of marching ants. The furthest runner above (or below) was greatly limited by the density of the vegetation.

One step and a time. Turning and turning and turning.

The ground was either soft dirt.

Or rocks. Other times it would be roots. Very technical ascend.

The end of the ascend. No, it was the end of THE FIRST ascend.

Distance: 34km
Altitude: 1300m
Time: 06:40 hr 
Time of day: 4:40pm

1hr 22 mins to cover 4km with 800m altitude gain. Tiring.

The organisers had volunteers stationed at different points along the mountain, especially at important junctions. Very good organisation.

A lot of the runners took a rest here. Wanting to take advantage of the available day light, I continued.

This sign was just behind the place where the people rested. We were approaching the "Heaven's Son's Peak".

I could still smile at this moment. I was convinced the pair of poles was a good investment.


Distance: 35.4km
Altitude: 1336m
Time: 07:14 hr
Time of day: 5:14pm

It was slowly getting cold. Runners start to take out their jackets for the night.

A slight downslope which gave us a slight relief from coming up the long upslope just now.

Time of day: 6:13pm.

Night was turning in.

There was still a long long way to go. Many runners picked up branches along the sides to aid them up the slopes.

As we made our way forward, the sky slowly turned dark. The weather was getting colder so I put on my running gloves. Progress was low. I was literally trekking up the slopes.

They said the weather would be around 0 degC in the mountains. Thank goodness we were surrounded by trees so we were blocked from the chilling winds. I felt warm enough wearing the jacket.

There were no open spaces for us to rest. The path was narrow enough for only 1 person to cross. In order to rest, we had to step to the side and hold onto some trees or just lean onto the tree trunks to prevent us from sliding down. Looking upslope, there was no end in sight. Looking downslope gave the same sentiment. Everybody was reduced to a single file of crawling ants, trodding step by step up the slopes. The technicality of the terrain did not help at all but just made things worse.

My heart rate began to go up. I could feel it even without a HRM. It was not due to the atmosphere up there. I did not feel any difficulty breathing. At least not yet. I had to stop more often at the sides to rest and let the heart rate settle down.

I started to have doubts about myself. Maybe I had not trained enough. My strategy went wrong? Did I started too fast? Was my nutrition plan not sufficient? Or simply, maybe I was just not good enough.

My heart rate keep going up and it made me worried. I wanted to give up. However, I could not. There were no service roads or aid stations on the mountains. To give up, I still had to make my way to A9, or back to A8. I turned back and only saw a stream of headlights from the runners behind slowly making their way towards me. I did not know why, but I chose to move ahead.

I told myself I would reach A9 and I would fall out from the race.

The upslopes were never ending. We would climb to a peak, only to start descending for a few 100m in height before going up again. This went on again and again.

We began to see more and more people lying down at the side to sleep. Some curled their bodies up, others had with them a sleeping bag. You would wonder why would anybody want to carry a sleeping bag with them as it added to their weight. Some of them left their headlight switched on to let others see them. Like me, they should be feeling very tired. I did not stop to sleep like them, I wanted to quickly get it over and done with. 

Shine overtook me at one of my breaks. He asked me to follow him but I had no strength to do so. I rested for a while longer before continuing.

Water started to become an issue. I was starting to run low on water. I even had to beg the volunteers on the mountains to spare me some water. I remembered there was supposed to be an additional water station on the mountains where each runner would be given a 500ml bottled water. Where was it? I did not see it all this while. Maybe we have not reach it? Or maybe I had missed it? 

Each time I stood up and tried to carry on, only to stop at the side again to rest a distance later. Tired, thirsty, not knowing when all this would stop and going up the endless upslopes in the night, I just wished everything was just a nightmare and I would wake up in the comfort of my bed the very next moment. Why was everything not just a nightmare?!!

My thoughts gradually changed from wanting to reach A9 and fall out of the race to just wanting to reach A9 alive! Right now, to give up the race or not was not important anymore.

Now, each rest took longer and longer. Finally I started to sit down during each short break. Looking at the face of each person that went passed me, I kept thinking were they feeling the same tiredness as me? Were they also cursing at themselves? Were they also wanting to give up?

Distance: 40.75km
Altitude: 1574m
Time: 09:23 hr
Time of day: 7:23pm

This was 云守山. One of the many peaks we had to conquer. This was the last photo I took in the mountains before reaching A9. It was too dark. More importantly, I was just too tired.

I used about 4 hrs to cover the last 10km! I have another 15km to go to reach A9.

During one of my breaks, I was sitting next to another guy who seems to be in his late 40s. He held out a piece of laminated paper. I looked closely and recognised it as the elevation profile. I asked to have a look. Thank goodness he understood some English. He asked if I was a local. I said I was from Singapore and this was my first overseas ultra. He replied me: "Very memorable." I almost cried out at that point.

(Note to self: For future races, have the elevation profile with you.)

I asked him where was the bottled water that we were supposed to be given. He asked around and another person also resting with us said it was at around 2km ahead. He asked me to follow him. Hearing there was water, I seemed to be able to muster some strength to follow him. 

We went on for quite a while until we came to another group of volunteers. They were at a split junction in the trail. There was a directional sign that pointed to the right. Most of the runners followed that path. Some turned left which went downhill. The guy explained to me it leads to a spring around 5 mins away where we can refill our water. I had heard Tony and some others mentioned about the spring before the race. He asked me to follow him to the spring to refill our water. The thought of going downhill and coming back up again, somehow stopped me from following him. I told him I would not go down and continued my own up the slope.

(On hindsight, it was the thought that I need to go the additional distance downslope and upslope that made me not follow him. I should have went to the spring to refill my water. My bottle was already empty. My hydration bag was less than 1/3 full. I dared not drink from it anymore as I dreaded I would finish the water and still having a long way to go. It was the mental fatigue that stopped me from going to refill my water from the spring.)

I continued my way upslope. Very slowly, I finally arrived at the highest point of our race route. It was on top of Mount Kenashi 毛无山 at 1946m elevation. I would forever remember this mountain. It was at around the 45km mark of the race. I stood at the top of the mountain. We could see the town faintly lit below the mountain. 

(Tony was sharing with me his training ground in front of his home in Idaho was a mountainous region. He said sometimes you just stop in your track and just admire the beauty of everything around you.)

By Tai Fung In

This was a photo of the top of Mount Kenashi taken by a fellow UTMF participant at an earlier part of the day.

The guys on the left were taking photo of the mountain view of the town. The path on the right was where the participants were supposed to go.

We had reached the top, so it just meant we would now be going down. YES!

It was certainly a morale booster of some sorts, although I was running low on water, feeling really fatigued and wanted to curse at everything around me.

I continued to move ahead. Having other people around you in such trying times seemed to provide some mental support. It was not downslope all the way. It would be much easier. Definitely much easier.

Lesser than 1km away from the top, we came to another upslope.


It was now midnight.

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