Friday, April 26, 2013

UTMF Trip 2013 Day 4: Race Report 1/3

There was no alarm clock set this morning. All of us wanted to get as much sleep as we could. In the end, I still woke up at around 0630Hr.

Brekkie was another spread today. We were really spoilt for choice.

We sat down and engaged in our small little conversations. Strangely, our topics did not revolve much around the race later. Some of us asked each other: "So, are you ready?" My reply to them was "I hope so". :p

I seem to realise now that you could never be ready enough for a miler.

I had several packets of the nori (seaweed) in the middle.

Nora wanted to have a quick massage before leaving for the STY. Coincidentally, one of the volunteers was an acupuncturist and he knows how to do massage. We asked him to charge Nora Y10,000 for it. Hahaha .. :)

Nora, you had better win something back so that their efforts would not go to waste. ;)

From Avid Adventures
We gathered at the common area again. The STYers would be going off soon. Their transport was at 0845Hr. For the rest of us, we had a whole morning to spare.

From Louis Kwan

Brian was learning how to speak chinese and he asked me to help him with some meaning of the words. He was really good and he learnt it all by himself using books without having a teacher.

From Louis Kwan
Before going off, we gave each other a big warm hug.

Good luck, my friend.

The next time we see each other would be at the finish line at Yagisaki. I hope. :p

(L - R): Bei, Nora, Adrian, Olivia (doing UTMF), Mikko
The STY people going off.

Oh yah, back on the issue of the trekking pole. Instead of carrying it with me from the start, I have decided to place it into the drop bag at W1, right before the ascend up the now infamous Tenshi mountains. I placed my Avid drop bags at the common area. I thought I had looked through them enough. The items inside would never seem enough. Lets not worry about it anymore. I need to relax now.


The race registration started on 21 Nov 2012. I still remembered the start of the registration was delayed for like a week or so. When I signed up, I had totally no confidence of completing the miler. I just wanted to try.

Shizuoka to Yamanashi (STY)
Distance: 84.7km
Elevation Gain: 4860m
Time Limit: 24 hr
Start: Fujisan Kodomo no Kuni, Fuji-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Finish: Yagisaki Kouen, Kawaguchiko, Fujikawaguchiko-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture

Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji (UTMF)
Distance: 161.0km
Elevation Gain: 9164m
Time Limit: 46 hr
Start: Yagisaki Kouen, Kawaguchiko, Fujikawaguchiko-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture
Finish: Yagisaki Kouen, Kawaguchiko, Fujikawaguchiko-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture

This year, there were some changes to the route.

1) The direction was switched to counter-clockwise (CCW) around the mountain.
2) The section crossing the Tenshi mountains was reduced to 18.9km between Fumoto and Nishi-Fuji, in 2012 it was 27km between Motosu-ko and Nishi-Fuji.
3) The start point was shifted from Ohike Kouen to Yagisaki Kouen.
4) The entry requirement was raised. In order to enter the UTMF, you need to complete a 100km (or longer) trail race, or two trail races that are 70km (or longer). For the STY, one trail race that is 70km (or longer), or two trail races 40km (or longer). In 2012, a race that is 100km (or longer), or two races 50km (or longer) for the UTMF. There was no entry requirement for STY 2012.

So, for most part of the first half of UTMF 2013 would be the reverse direction of STY which I had done the year before. According to my friends who had done UTMF in both years, there were no changes in route for the second half of the UTMF 2013, other than the change in direction.

2012 UTMF race route (blue line), clockwise.

2013 UTMF race route, counter-clockwise.

In 2012, we ran alongside the lake (clockwise) to the finish line at Ohike Kouen.

For 2013, the start line was shifted to Yagisaki Kouen and the course cuts (counter-clockwise) through the town.

2012 crossing of the Tenshi mountains.

2013 crossing of the Tenshi mountains. The 1900m Mt Kenashi (毛无山) was bypassed.

2012 UTMF elevation profile

2013 UTMF elevation profile.

So how did a runner residing in runway flat singapore, prepare for such races? We did not have any high mountains as our "natural resource". :(

I just make use of whatever we had. We have a 163m high "mountain". However, the ascend is only 100m as the base is already at 60m altitude. Sighs ..

During the weekends, trainings consisted of both long runs (slowly leading up to 50km a session in the trails) and hill repeats. We have high rise flats too. I spent some days climbing up and down the high rise buildings to build my leg strength. Weekday runs were alternate days of tempos and easy runs early in the morning before going for work. I slowly increased the weekday runs from 2 to 3 days a week. The HK100 held in January at Hong Kong became a "build up" race for UTMF. After the HK100, I was badly sick for a few days. When I recovered, I had a 2 weeks "reverse tapering" to ramp up the weekly milage to pre-HK100 milage and continued my UTMF training from there onwards. Progressively increasing the distance, I reached a weekly milage of 120km 3 weeks before the race.

It was followed by 2 weeks of tapering. My favourite phase of training, other than resting. Hahaha .. :)

During the tapering period, the race nutrition was planned. I have absolutely no experience in nutritional needs for such races. Everything was planned along the direction of "I think I would need" and erring on the side of caution by having more.

I also slightly shifted my diet from around late 2012. I took more veggies, lesser meat and white rice and tried to have salads for dinner for some days of the week. I had noticed that it had helped to shorten my recovery time. There was less muscle aches, or even none. More surprisingly, my endurance level remained somewhat the same. Initially, it all started out of curiosity, thinking that even if the shift did not help my running, having more veggies and lesser meat would also be good for health nevertheless. Seeing that it did have some benefits, after returning from HK100, I went a little further and tried to have salads for dinner for as many days of the week as possible. I still do take meat though. I still love my chicken wings and chilli crabs. I just try (very hard) to control. I am not a vegan. :)

My friends also offered me advice on my training. By listening to what they had to say and comparing with what I was doing, I was glad I was on the right track. Encouragement from them was a great help too. Other than that, the tune of "Conquest of Paradise" by Vangelis often plays in my mind. It is one of the music played at the start line of UTMB. Naturally, being a "sister race", UTMF will play it too. Every now and then I will listen it on youtube too. It always calms my mind, reminding me the reason why I need to wake up early in the mornings, when my body just wish to go back to sleep. Reminding me the reason why I am doing all this.


So here I was, lying on the tatami in the room and trying to get as much rest as I could.

Back at the common area, our Avid drop bags were all lined up according to the respective locations and ready to be collected. The bus to pick us to the start point would be at 1330Hr.

I went for a shower again. A good long one, soaking myself in the hot water tub in the shower area for some 10 mins. It felt so good and comfortable.

Lunch was at 1200Hr. Hot udon with pumpkins in it. Just what we needed. Something that was easy to eat.

After lunch it was time to get ready. Before that, I went to brush my teeth (AGAIN!), shaved (AGAIN!) (feeling scared the race would cause me to age so much and grow a beard upon finishing), cleared my stomach (AGAIN!) as we knew we would not be able to be clean again until we were done with the race. Or the race with us.

If time crawled like a snail from waking up in the morning until lunch time, it sped through right after that.

From Avid Adventures
The next thing we knew, we were ready to go!

Alright, I was not wearing that hat during the race. Hahaha .. :)

In the bus en route to the start line. It also stopped to pick up runners from the Yesterday hotel. We alighted at Togawasou hotel and walked over to Yagisaki Kouen just behind it.

Depositing our drop bags. There was a finish line bag deposit for runners too but I just placed everything into the drop bag.

This was my gear.

2) 2XU thermal compression long sleeve top
3) New Balance running top
4) 2XU long compression tights
5) Injinji NuWool crew toe socks
6) Patagonia merino wool crew socks
7) Inov-8 Roclite 295 (new 2-arrows version)

Sofree from Hong Kong. We were here last year too.

Wonders how did he run in that? :)

The dog belongs to the man in grey. He was carrying it on his back standing around. When I asked to take a photo, he transferred the dog over to me.

Arrgghh .. he was damn heavy! Please dont pee onto me too .. :s

Me, Adrian, Chris, Edzra and George.

Bryan, Jeri, Edzra, Chris, Adrian, Kenny, Wee and me.

Brian and I were discussing who fitted the tube correctly onto the bottle.

Harry and the other people from Avid were around to send us off. Jeri was here with Anders for a tour. They came to wish us good luck.

This was the elevation profile of the race. I cut it into 2 halves and wrote the respective cutoff times and other information on it. This was always very useful for a race.

Good to go. Its your show now. :)

From Mark Fielding

The atmosphere was just awesome at Yagisaki Kouen. People wishing each other good luck, taking photos. Some, like me, just stood there, immersing ourselves in the surrounding yet in our own little spot. The japanese MC was introducing the various race directors and the mayors of the places which the race would pass through. I was not listening to what he was saying. Not that I understood anything he said too. The only thing I was waiting to hear and understand was the countdown.

As the numbers flashed across the gigantic TV screen on the stage, everybody shouted in unison:

10, 9, 8 .. 3, 2, 1, START!

I slowly moved together with those around me towards the start line. The volunteers had raised up the starting tape (or whatever you called it) to allow runners to pass through. Just as I was about to cross the start line, I lifted my hand up and touched the tape. At that moment, I told myself: "Okay, lets go!"


Distance: 0km
Altitude: 835m
Time of day: 1500Hr

The race director, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, was there as we began our journey.

From Jeri

From Seivland Poh

Weather was just fine when we started. Not very cold with a casted sky.

I started walking as the rest began running passed me. That was my way of warming up my body. We went passed the town and the people passed cheered for us. I kept hearing the bearbells of the people around me ringing as they ran. Out of a sudden, the ringing sound seems to have faded off. I looked around and realised I had dropped to the last of the pack. Literally. Its time to start running. :)

As I passed her she called out my name but I could not recognise her. It was only when she pulled down her BUFF then I knew she was Chantel.

After around 3km on roads, we entered the trails and began the ascend up the first mountain, Mt Adshiwadayama (1355m). Met Reuben as we entered the trails.

Slight up the trails we went into a bottleneck. This was a common problem along narrow trails especially near the start of races.

I noticed nobody overtakes the rest in the queue. Everybody was obediently moving in the queue. It seems the every day politeness culture of Japanese had also found its way into running.

As we ran up the mountain, we could see Lake Kawaguchiko on our right. I could even see Nagahama Ryokan. The wind got stronger the higher we climbed.

A view of the town and Lake Kawaguchiko. Last year, I was so happy when I ran passed this exact point as the race was coming to an end. This year, we had just started.

It was starting to get colder as the sun begins to set. My hands were starting to feel cold. My gloves were inside my hydration bag. Since we were already near the aid station A1, I was thinking I would only take out eh gloves when I reach it.

Distance: 11.4km
Time: 01:59:21
Altitude: 1024m
Time of day: 16:59:27

When I reached A1, the first thing I wanted to do was to quickly take out the gloves. At this moment, I realised my hands were cold numbed. I could not grip the clips of my hydration bag firmly enough to detach them. I exhaled deeply into my hands, wriggled my fingers, rubbed my hands against each other, trying very hard to get back enough blood circulation into my fingers. I used around 5 mins to detach the 2 clips. Next, I used like another 2 - 3 mins trying to put on the gloves as my fingers were still numb. :s

Lesson learnt: Put on your gloves, or jacket for that matter, early before its too late.

Narusawa Ice Cave.

Runners leaving A1.

I looked at the temperature reading on my Fenix. It was 12 degC. I was wearing it on my wrist so my body temperature would be affecting the reading. I was guessing it could be 10 degC or below now. The time was now only 1730Hr. It was not even nighttime and we were still not up on the mountains. *quiver*

I was running alongside another Singaporean. I recognised him through his typical Singaporean accent. He was speaking to another caucasian runner about the race. I remembered what he said because the other runners were conversing in Japanese and his was the only one I understood. :p

I remembered he told the Caucasian that UTMF was his second ultramarathon. He added that his first ultra was MR25 in Singapore and went on to describe the race.

I did not pay attention to what he said after that as I was enjoying the scenery around me. We ran this same highway last year. It certainly brought back memories of STY. Sweet, wonderful .. and painful. :)

In fact, from going up Mt Adshiwadayama till now, I was able to recognise the route. Maybe not totally but I was able to say "I ran here last year." I believe the rest of the way until A4 Kodomo-No-Kuni would do the same too, especially Tenshi mountains. :p

Aokigahara, aka Suicide Forest.

We ran on the outskirts of this infamous forest. Famous for the wrong reasons.

Mt Fuji as we approached A2 Motosu-Ko. Time is 1826Hr. It was going to get dark soon.

Running towards A2 which was just ahead beyond the bend. In the background was Mt Ryugatake (1485m). It would be the first technical (and steep) ascend of the race immediately after exiting A2.

Entering A2. They distributed the flashing red lights to each runner as they entered.

Distance: 23.8km
Time: 03:30:48
Altitude: 905m
Time of day: 18:30:54

A2 was situated at a school compound and the first aid station where they served food inside the hall. A lot of the runners came in to take a rest and eat the food prepared for us, knowing the next checkpoint at W1 Fumoto about 12km away, immediately before going up Tenshi mountains, would not be serving food. I met Sofree and Reuben inside the hall too.

Porridge and hot tea. The porridge tasted like glue. Hahaha .. :)

The sun had almost set at this point. We took out our jackets and put on our headlights, preparing ourselves for the long night ahead. It would be a long night of climbing.

I left A2 at about 1900Hr, ready to go up Mt Ryugatake.

The climb up was damn steep. 30% slopes up along switchbacks that keeps turning and turning. Everybody was walking up and the single track made overtaking difficult. I wanted to conserve energy so I just followed the pace of others and overtook only when the person in front of me was really slowing down. It was too early to push.

From Kristen

What greeted everybody at the summit was the view of Mt Fuji's silhouette with the moon at its side. It was really so beautiful. It made the hard climb up all worth it.

A lof of people stopped and took photos of the view.

It was very difficult to take photo of the scenery as we needed to do a long exposure to capture all the details.

I took a photo handheld and tried to blow up the details in photoshop but it turned out very ugly. :p

The light in the foreground was from my headlight.

The slope down the mountain was just as steep. Going down made it worse. We had to grab onto trees or rocks. I was still not confident in going downslope on steep slopes so some areas I had to take small steps and tread down slowly, praying very hard I would not slip.

This was the view looking back at Mt Ryugatake as the runners made their way down the steep slopes. Not much details were captured but you could see the runners making their way through the switchbacks.

The rest of the route leading to W1 was gently downslope. We ran at the foot of the mountains. As I ran I could see the silhouette of the mountains on our right. One of them would be Mt Kenashi (1950m), the highest point in the 2012 edition. I could still visualise myself standing at the top of the mountain last year looking down towards my present location, wondering when would all the climbing going to end. Whenever I thought of STY 2012, the Tenshi mountains section was never far from my mind. Up till today, I still could not figure out just how I managed to survive that 27km section.  It took me 13hr 22min to cross that 27km.


Distance: 36.0km
Time: 06:22:38
Altitude: 818m
Time of day: 21:22:44

According to race information, W1 was one of the stations not having any food. However, they still have some simple things like chocolates and biscuits for runners. There were also inari and dango.

W1 was the first aid station where Avid would have people stationed there waiting for us. I took my drop bag from them and replenished my nutrition.

Sofree had reached slightly before me. She said to eat some more food before leaving W1 as we would not know how long do we need to cross Tenshi mountains. I had the same thinking too.

I ate some inari and dango and filled up my third bottle with water. I brought it along mainly because of this Tenshi mountain section. It was due to the worry of not knowing how much time I need to cross this section and the fear of running out of water in the middle of the mountains (like I did in STY 2012).

W1 was just a small sheltered area but the sides were not enclosed. The night was getting cold and I could feel my body rapidly cooling down as I was just sitting on the canvas sheet on the ground. People lined up at the entrance to welcome runners coming in and to cheer for those leaving. You could clearly see they (the supporters) were also suffering in the cold. I did not dare to imagine how it would be like up in the mountains.

I need to quickly move off before my body cools down some more. I extended my trekking poles (I put them in the W1 drop bag), took a few deep breaths, and left W1. Would it be a nightmare again this time like in STY 2012? We would see. The main difference was this time I was mentally prepared. I knew what kind of shit was waiting for us up there.

The very first slope was enough to kill. 40% steep along with loose soil, rocks and tree roots. Everybody was moving up slowly step by step and breathing in hard. It was more than enough to let us know that we would be having a difficult time crossing this section. I did not think of anything else and kept moving forward. I remembered seeing a guy kneeling at the side with his body bow forward .. sleeping. Somewhere further up, a caucasian was kneeling in front of a race volunteer, asking (not sure if he was crying too) how much further was the peak.

"You dont want to know." I said to myself in my heart.

In order to cross this section, there was a series of mountains we need to pass through. It was like going through a roller coaster - up and down and up and down. Laying in front of us were all technical trails in a freezing cold weather. Going up the slopes was tough. When we go downslope, every step we had to take a chance. A lot of people (including clumsy people like yours humbly) kept slipping down. The difference was whether if you land on your butt, or you do a split.

There was once I slipped and fell down the slope on the left. Lucky for it it the slope was covered with dead leaves so it somehow slowed down my fall and I stopped just a short distance away from the trail. The tip of the straws of both my Raidlight bottles were filled with soil from the fall. Damn! I used a small twig to dig out the soil. I even had to forcefully suck a few mouthful of water from each bottle and spit out the content to try and clean the tip. They were still not throughly cleaned which meant I may be eating some of the soil when I drink from the bottles later. Hmm .. I would just take it that the water I drank contained the essence of the mountains (literally) .. :s

I remembered passing George. He was using only one of his trekking poles. He was holding on to the other pole in his hand. I could see that it was badly bent. It must have been due to a fall or something. There was once I slipped and somehow, the trekking pole on my left hand ended up beneath my buttock and I was almost going to sit on it. Luckily, I quickly used my right hand to support my body. If I had really sat on the pole, my pole would have just fractured as it was made of carbon. :p

Like in 2012, this section was a running group filter again. It separated and spread out the runners like nothing else. I did not want to push. Not now. Not here. Keeping moving fast enough but yet conserving your energy! Soon, we found ourselves on our own. The next runner was a faint beam of light a distance in front or behind us. Every now and then, I would overtake some of them and just to be overtaken by the same person a distance ahead. We became each other's running partner. We knew each of us was suffering but still kept going on. We sensed each other's presence by our headlights, the sound of our footsteps and bearbells. Whenever we overtook somebody, we were silently hoping that they would quickly overtake us again later. Unfortunately, some did not.

There was a lesson I took back from STY 2012 to help me get through this mountainous section. The lesson was in fact so simple:

Keep moving.

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