Sunday, May 20, 2012

STY 2012 Day 6: STY Part 2

We had been running for 14 hrs now. I was still stuck in the mountainous (or rather treacherous) 27km region leading to A9 Motosuko. I made my way through the upslope slowly. It was another 100m increase in elevation. When I reached the top, I took a look back to the previous peak and could see small dots of light forming a wavy dragon gradually moving downslope. I was one of the small dots of light just now. Maybe there was another person standing at this spot looking back at me.

From now on, it was generally downslope all the way. The terrain was very challenging and the gradient made it worse. Imagine this, the elevation that we had gained going over something like 15km, we would descend in around 5km.

There were lots of roots and rocks. The ground consisted of soft soil. Each step downslope was a chance of falling down. I lost count of the number of times I ended up in a split, landed on my buttocks or turned turtle. The number of times I fell was more than the total number of times since I started running. Ironically, the thing that made me slipped and fell was also the thing that helped to cushion my fall - the soft soil.

We were able to see the lights from the street below the mountain. Every now and then we would also see some lights downslope some distance away from us. Thinking that it was the end of the downslope, we hurriedly made our way forward, only to realise it was some runners gathering together to rest along the downslope. Or, it would be a runner sleeping at the side of the track.

Before this it was never ending upslopes, now it was never ending downslopes. We just kept going down and down, falling and slipping all the way. In my mind, I kept imagining how the end of the downslope will look like. I imagined we would come out into the roads which will be level and continue towards A9. There would be directional signs and volunteers guiding us to the aid station. Such thoughts made my mind occupied throughout the descend.

It was around 2:00am (16hrs into the race at around 51km) that we reached the ground. It was really a relief. Its over! As we came out into the open, I was looking out for the things that I had imagined in my mind. The roads and the volunteers and the directional signs but I found none. Instead I saw the dark silhouette of another mountain and there was a trail of headlights making a zigzag way up the switchbacks of the mountain. I could not believe my eyes. Another mountain?!! I hurriedly looked around me for any volunteers or race officials. I wanted to give up. There was none so I could only keep moving forward.

I remembered seeing this mountain on the elevation profile. Yet, seeing it on paper and seeing it physically, especially after 51km and a monstrous Mount Kenashi, was a totally different thing.

This was Mountain Ryugadake. The elevation gain was like somewhere below 100m but at that moment it seemed a lot. I slowly inched upwards along the switchback. I looked back at Mount Kenashi. There was the trail of headlights moving downslope. It reminded me of the never ending downslope experience just a short while ago. It was simply horrible.

I looked towards the horizon and saw the silhouette of Mont Fuji. At that moment, I hated it. I hated the mountains. I hated the slopes. I hated myself. I hated everything. Everything!


The top of the mountain was relatively flat. Thank goodness.

The downhill side of the mountain was another series of switchbacks which also seemed to be never ending. I had lost my patience over the night probably due to the fatigue so I just wish all this would end as soon as possible. Through the vegetation, we could see some light emitted from a distance away. I was sure it was from the aid station. The switchbacks lead us to an open field. I could see clearer now the lighted was coming from a building. There were volunteers directing us to run towards that building. This was it! Aid station A9!

A9 Motosuko
Distance: 55km
Altitude: 906m
Time: 17:35 hr

From Avid Adventure

This was aid station A9 Motosuko taken from daytime.

Altitude = 906m

From Avid Adventure

This was Yuji and Miki waiting for us at A9 during the daytime. Behind them was Mount Ryugadake. We would be descending from that downslope facing their back and running across the open field to reach A9.

From Avid Adventure

Another shot of Mount Ryugadake taken during daytime.

The entrance of A9. I reached it at 3:35am. I had used 13hr 22min to get here from A8. I was so relieved that I manage to come here in one piece.

This was an open field and it was quite cold without any trees blocking the wind from us.

Biscuits, potato chips, sweets, buns.

Oranges, bananas, biscuits, sweets.

I was so thirsty I just stood here for 5mins and kept eating the oranges. Sweet and juicy.

They also served deer meat curry here but I did not try it. There was a very long queue and I was afraid it would upset my stomach.

I found Harry at the side waiting for us. It was dark so he could not recognise me initially. The other people from Avid Adventures had gone back to rest. He said he was very glad to see me. I was even more glad to see him! I tried to relate to him what happened during the last 13hr 22min over the 27km to him in 5mins. It was more like I was venting out my agony.

He told me there was one more mountain ahead but it would not be as difficult as Mount Kenashi and in fact I had survived the most difficult portion of the whole race. After listening to him, and knowing that I had arrived 1hr before the cutoff at A9, I got more confidence of continuing the race. I refilled my water. Morale booster! I took out my last onigiri and ate it together with a cup of water mixed with chia seeds.

27km more to go. Lets see if I could finish.

The sun was beginning to raise now. The next 13km to W2 Narusawa-Hyoketsu would be flat.

Everybody around seemed to have a sense of relief on their faces that we have made it this far. I myself do felt happy that I have made it to A9 and now my water were all refilled. The remaining aid stations were 13km and followed by 14km away, both within manageable distances.

4:41am. We entered the trails again.

On our left was a steep slope with a lot of fallen tree trunks. This photo was too blurred to show it.

The race route brought us to Aokigahara, or the Sea of Trees. Famous, but for the wrong reasons, it was well known as a suicide forest. Due to its dense and maze-like vegetation, many people in the past had went deep into the forest to end their lives, hoping not to be found by anybody.

We were on the perimeter of the forest. Through this stretch, I did not really dare to look into the forest, afraid that I would see someone else's dead body. *shiver*

We left the Aokigahara and hit the highway again. This section from A9 to W2 consisted mainly of roads.

Mount Fuji in the morning misty skyline.

Alright, Mount Fuji. I did not hate you know. :p

W2 Narusawa-HyoKetsu
Distance: 68km
Altitude: 1025m
Time: 20:26 hr

Coming to W2 was so very easy, comparing it to Mount Kenashi.

I met Shine again here. It was good to know that we made it so far. There seems to be more and more hope of finishing the race for me.

Refilling our water for the final push.

Besides plain water, they had this Mad Croc energy drink. It tasted a little weird.

I did not stay long at W2 and joined the rest for the remaining 14km back to Ohike Park.

The final mountain for us to go across was Mount Ashiwadayama, standing at a maximum elevation of around 1360m.

With Mount Kenashi still vividly fresh in my memories, although we were already very fatigued by now, crossing this mountain was easy.

A resting place for us on top of the mountain.

Mount Fuji in the background. My pace had became more relaxed, taking more photographs along the way.

From this point, it was downslopes all the way until we reach Lake Kawaguchiko, the place were we recce-ed 2 days ago. From there it would be 4km left to the finish line at Ohike Park.

A aerial view of the town. Lake Kawaguchiko was on the left. Ohike Park would be somewhere down there.

The end was in sight.

My quads were screaming by now and could not really run fast downslopes. I also did not wish to fall down at this stage of the race. It would be totally not worth it. It was only lesser than 10km to go. So I tend to go slowly down the slopes and and the others overtake me.

With the steps having a vertical log protruding out in the center, we had to be extra careful not to trip over.

I finally saw this sign again!

Woohoo!!! The end of the trails! 4km to go!

Lake Kawaguchiko at 9:08am.

May peace prevail on Earth.

2km to go.

1km more!

This was the Kawaguchiko Bridge. The bridge where the UTMFers would turn into after starting out from Ohike Park. This meant Ohike Park was just ahead. We could hear faint music coming from in front of us.

Ohike Park!

Everybody was cheering for us.

One shot before crossing the finish line.

Finish line: Ohike Kouen
Distance: 82km
Altitude: 837m
Time: 23:39 hr

I made it!

I finally finished the race. Really tough and very challenging course.

I felt a big sense of relief that everything was over. Ironically, there also was a little sadness that everything was over.

The race director Tsuyashi Kaburaki was there to personally welcome everybody back. A very nice gesture. When he saw me running in with the national flag, he said to me: "Congratulation, Malaysia!"

Hahaha .. well .. you were close. :)

The trail shoe after the race.

My reward for crossing the finish line. :)

Naoko was there at Ohike Park waiting for us. Shine had arrived not long before me. Nora came with the transport from the ryokan. She had came back to wait for us. I heard she won the 3rd for UTMF Women. She's wonderful!

We were among the last to return to the ryokan. Most of the people had returned during the night before. They were having breakfast in the hall when we returned. I did not join them for breakfast straight away but went to a tap at the side to wash my gear. It had became a habit to clean my gear first before cleaning myself. The sun was not blocked by any clouds so I just laid them out to dry at the side.

I quickly grabbed a few bite at the hall with the rest. We ate mainly cup noodles (the cup noodles in Japan tasted super!) and biscuits. Andre and I were so happy to see each other. He completed the STY in 18hr plus. Fantastic timing! He said he kept thinking of me during the race. Knowing I came from pancake flat Singapore, he was worried how was I going to handle it. I managed to get through it but I admitted I almost gave up. It was a wonderful and eye opening experience.

The few people from Hong Kong who completed UTMF described it as a nightmare of crossing mountains. I could not agree better.

I quickly went to wash up as everybody was going to the prize presentation ceremony at 2:00pm. There was no time for me to rest but my new found friends won prizes so I wanted to go too.

Waiting for the transport at the hall. I was really lucky not to have suffered from any blisters, abrasions or injuries.

The results were already posted when we reach Ohike Park.

UTMF Women prize winners.

1) Julien Chorier (France) 18:53:12
2) Adam Campbell (Canada) 19:26:29
3) 山本 健一 (Japan) 21:15:02

UTMF Women
1) Nerea Martinez Urruzola (Spain) 24:05:04
2) 鈴木 博子 (Japan) 27:16:32
3) Nora Senn (Hong Kong) 28:31:57

1) 宮原 徹 (Japan) 8:48:30
2) 美済津 修 (Japan) 9:00:24
3) 近藤 敬仁 (Japan) 9:33:39

STY Women
1) Fernanda Maciel (Spain) 11:08:12
2) 網蔵 久美子 (Japan) 12:32:30
3) 小林 知美 (Japan) 13:02:37

There was a post race party for us at the end of the day.

From Tai Fung In

The owner of the ryokan with his daughter cooking the noodles for us. Yummy!

This was Hiroko Suzuki, 2nd for UTMF Women.

We thanked the owner of the ryokan, Noboru Miyashita, for his wonderful hospitality and delicious cooking skills.

The marvellous folks from Avid Adventures. Without them, the race would not be as great and as memorable.

The ladies ..

and the men.

We were all surprised when Mr Noboru laid out 2 big tables in front of us and brought out such a big tuna from his kitchen.

Even Pauline and Harry were surprised as this was not arranged for.

He began cutting the fish open in front of us. We immediately knew we were in for a show.

Pauline explained to me only very established chef were allowed to display their skills in front of everybody.

He got into a horse stance when slicing the fish. You could not get to see people doing this everyday.

Very fresh, tender and sweet. One of the best sashimi I have tasted. :)

I went up to the room earlier than the rest of the guys. I was really tired from the run. Tomorrow morning, there would be a solar eclipse at 7am. A few of us wanted to watch it as we had never seen one before so we had to wake up early.

I slept like a log.


Looking back at the race, I learnt more about how to run ultras from the experience of this race and from my new found friends. There was also new nutrition methods which they had taught me that I had not tried before. I believed because of this race, my training and nutrition would change in the future in order to prepare for more ultras and mountain racing.

If I were to do anything different for this race, it would be:

1) Get a bag with a bigger capacity so I could carry more water.

2) Start the 27km section from A8 at a slower pace to sustain a longer duration.

3) Learn to embrace the mountains. 

4) More often to stop in my tracks .. and just admire everything around me.

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