Saturday, April 27, 2013

UTMF Trip 2013 Day 5: Race Report 2/3

When you are running in the mountains, it seems so easy to immerse and lose yourself in the surroundings. Until you lost track of time. Especially in this section of the race. There was always another upslope followed by a downslope .. and another up and another down. It just never seems to end at all. Never.

Suddenly I remembered about my fenix. I had forgotten to check the power left until now. I left it on normal tracking mode so it should last around 17 - 18 hours there abouts. The cold weather might cause the battery to drain faster. When I looked at the battery level, to my horror, only 20% was left and I was just around 10hrs into the race. Luckily, I had my powermonkey charger with me in the hydration bag.

I used a few minutes to attached the charger to the Fenix and attached the Fenix to my hydration. When I was done and continued running forward, I was feeling cold again. My body was cooling down rapidly. The Fenix recharges quickly but I decided to leave it attached to the charger until I reach A3 as I did not with to spend time keeping the charger and letting my body cool down again.

There were several peaks along the Tenshi mountains. Amongst them, I had the most impression about the Tenshigatake (天子岳) (1330m) and the Chojagatake (长者岳) (1336m). The reason was they were the first and second peaks we passed through when I did the STY last year.

So you could imagine my joy when I saw this Tenshigatake signboard! This was at around 47.5km and the time was around 0220Hr.

From this point onwards, it would be downhill all the way to A3. Hahaha .. yesh!!

This was the same location taken during STY 2012. :)

The descent was faster as the morale was increased knowing the end of this section was in sight. The pace was quicken but I still had to pay attention on where I land. The route brought us 800m lower in elevation over just below 4km. I was feeling so elated when I excited the trails. We passed through the same route we took through the small town again, this time in the opposite direction. I could still recognise the roads and buildings as I ran through.


Distance: 54.9km
Time: 12:34:53
Altitude: 520m
Time of day: 03:34:59

From Louis Kwan
I finally reached A3! In one piece too. :p

Every runner who arrived sat down in the tentage to rest for a moment. There was fried udon being served and I had a few mouthful of them. Avid also had people waiting for us at this aid station with our bag drops.

The weather was really cold. Some of the Avid volunteers were wrapped out in blankets and you could imagine how tough it was for them to wait for us through the night.

From Louis Kwan

I was resting and replenishing my nutrition from the drop bag. I had not ate as much as I thought I would on the mountain. I also emptied my third bottle in the hydration to lighten my load.

The guy in grey was Jason from Canada. He came with his wife Kristen to take part in UTMF. Kristen was still inside Tenshi mountains when he arrived at A3.

I spent around 35 mins at A3. When I left, I could see golden yellow rays emerging from the East. The sun rises very early at 4am plus. The next checkpoint is W2 which was 9.5km away with a gradual undulating upslope.

0442 Hr in the morning. Good morning Mt Fuji!

This marked the start of the section along these pylons for those cables. It was 记忆犹新 for me as I ran through them. It was all familiar terrain.

Although the terrain slightly undulating, it was relatively easy for us to slowly run or to power hike upslopes.

One possible downside in this 9.5km section would be as you made your way through, everywhere looked roughly the same. It make the distance seems longer than it was.

Distance: 64.4km
Time: 14:56:08
Altitude: 604m
Time of day: 05:56:14

After what seems like forever, we finally reached W2. It was another aid station where the organisers only provided water.

I kept both my headlights into my hydration as the sun had risen. My waterproof jacket was still on as it was still cold.

There was another 14.9km to A4 Kodomo-No-Kuni, the official bag drop station and midpoint of the race. There was a slight incline but the terrain was really manageable. That means it was able to run on.

Most of the runners were now walking. Maybe they were still recovering from the after effects of Tenshi mountains.

I passed Brian who was with another guy. Its good to see familiar faces after so long out in the course.

I was running slowly forward, overtaking them one by one. It was a very slow pace but I was really surprised I was still able to run now. Even the other runners seems amazed that I could still run. Some even clapped and cheered for me.

At this moment, there was this feeling in my heart that my trainings had actually worked.

0717 Hr and en route to A4. The tip of Mt Fuji could clearly be seen.

We were nearing A4 now. There were some runners running opposite direction to me. I guess they were those who had left A4 and starting their for the second half of the race.

A poster at the side of the route near some supporters.


Distance: 79.3km
Time: 17:16:12
Altitude: 923m
Time of day: 08:16:18

I had hoped I would reach A4 somewhere before noon. Now I had reached almost 4 hours before it. :)

A4 Kodomo-No-Kuni was at a open compound. We had to break out of the race route loop to get there. On my way in, I saw Adrian Wong coming out.

When we entered, there were volunteers who would call out our BIB numbers into a walkie-talkie. I could not understand Japanese but could roughly make out he was reading out my BIB number. As I walked further in, another volunteer was already having my drop bag (the official drop bag) in his hand and passed to me.

Sofree had already reached before me and was enjoying her food. I quickly found a nice spot and sat down. There was no shaded area and lucky it was not hot. I opened the bag and looked at the things inside. I was still trying to recompose myself when my phone rang. It was from my friends in Singapore who were following my progress. They were at Macritchie Reservoir going for their morning run when they checked that I had reached A4. When they asked how was I, I related to them what happened in the past 17hr 16mins in 5 mins! I would imagined if they were standing right in front of me, my saliva would have landed on all their faces. :p

I felt very thankful for them to spend the time to track my progress and making this call. I was told they even knew how long I stayed at each aid station. What?!! "Why did you stay so long at the aid stations? Wow .. The food must be good!" Sigh .. 人在做 天在看 .. :s

I did not know what was this called but it was served at A4. It was shaped like our horfun. Each serving has three slices of it. No more, no less. I had two bowls of them.

I replenished my nutrition, water and changed my running top and BUFF. From here until A10 (63.5km away), no trekking poles was allowed so I deposited them into the drop bag. I was not sure if this was a wise decision as the last 18.2km from A10 back to Yagisaki-Kouen had another mountain waiting for us and I would not be able to pick up the pole again. I would just have to take things as it comes.

I spend 1 hr 03 min at A4. Time to go!!!

Everything from A4 onwards was new terrain to me. This section of 9.5km to A5 seems quite rocky.

Initially, I was thinking to myself it would be good if we were allowed to use poles but I got used to the terrain after a while. It was afterall, what I was practicing all this while, running on rocky uneven terrain.

Mt Fuji again!

Distance: 88.8km
Time: 20:21:28
Altitude: 1449m
Time of day: 11:21:34

At A5.

We would be ascending up Yotsuji (1800m) from here and it would be the highest point of the whole race and also the closest to Mt Fuji we could get.

Inside A5.

There were benches for runners to rest on.

From A5, it was the start of a 4km "No Running" section. This section was normally closed and the local authorities would not allow people to pass through while running. Don't ask why.

The path was wide and smooth. It was so "runnable", yet we were not allowed to. I broke into a power hike and "charged" forward. There were volunteers somewhere along the path to ensure we did not run.

Soon we emerged into the open. There seems to be some sort of a path on the ground and the course marker ribbons tied regularly in intervals on the trees.

No end in sight and we just kept going up. Breathing was in sync with my foot steps. They were deep and hard not because of the high altitude but due to the ascent.

The terrain got more and more open. There was no more visible path on the ground. We were stepping on loose volcanic soil. Every step we took, our foot slide back half a step. Each of us just went the way which we reckon was the easiest, as long as the direction was going up.

Yotsuji at 1800m, the highest point of the course. From here it would be around 3km downslope to A6.

It also marked the end of the "No Running" section. Now RUN baby!!

The scenery was really spectacular. Mt Fuji on our left with the top covered by clouds. On our right, it was miles and miles of vast land as far as your eyes could see.

Every runner would like this 3km downhill. While the uphill portion was difficult, it was so good to run downhill. Let go of everything and fly!

It was those kind of moment where you imagine yourself as those professional trail runners dashing downslope. Fast and fearless. Or, at least I was trying very hard to be so. There were photographers along the way downhill and you try to look good. Hahaha .. :)

As I ran down, the loose volcanic soil beneath my foot would gave way slightly thereby helping to cushion my landing. I felt myself cutting across the strong wind.  I could see A6 at the bottom of the slope. There were supporters outside A6 and I could hear them cheering for me as I dashed down. At that moment, I felt like I was a superstar. Hahaha .. :p

When I reached A6, one of the supporters shouted out to me: "Nice downhill!" I just waved back nonchalantly at him in return. Oops .. :p

Well, honestly, when I was running down, in my heart I was saying to myself: "Dont fall down! Dont fall down! That will be very embarrassing!"

Distance: 95.9km
Time: 22:18:12
Altitude: 1441m
Time of day: 13:18:18

A wide spread of food waiting for us again.

This was Junko, one of my Facebook friends from Japan. She was a volunteer at A6 and she recognised me through my BIB.

A7 was 9.4km away on a downslope. When I finally cleared the volcanic soil section, I had to remove both my shoes to pour out the loose pebbles inside. Maybe its time to invest in a pair of gaiters.

(When I got back to Singapore, I had to wash my shoes and socks five times to remove the fine volcanic sand inside them.)

As the race progressed, runners were spread wider apart. Right now, we were almost running alone. Occasionally, we would pass by other runners. During times like this, you must be able to motivate (or push, or whatever you like to call it) yourself to run.

The terrain was full of tree roots and while there were regular placed course markers, there was in fact no clear path on the ground. So while trying hard to maneuver downslope through the tree roots, we still had to look out for the next course marker.


Distance: 105.3km
Time: 23:58:38
Altitude: 848m
Time of day: 14:58:44

From Transition 3 Photography
Runners turning into A7.

What was this called? Its made of flour and the volunteers were heating it up in a pan before serving it to us in a bowl of soup.

Avid people were stationed here and they passed my drop bag to me. I took out lesser and lesser items from the bag because I was starting to eat lesser gels and bars on the way. I could not finish what I still had in my hydration bag.

I had ran for a whole day and although I was still feeling mentally awake at this moment, I could tell I would start to feel sleepy very soon when the night arrived. My movements were starting to get lethargic though. The next aid station was 16.4km away over mountains. Having some sleep would be beneficial for me. I laid down on the grass patch and asked Hitomi (one of the Avid volunteers) to wake me up in five minutes. She passed me a huge blanket to cover myself and another towel to cover my eyes. Sleeping is always the best solutions when you were feeling very tired in such a long race. It would always do you good, no matter how short the duration. However, I was unable to fall asleep at all. My mind was still busy spinning and spinning.

With nothing much I could do, I got up and prepared myself to go. I prepared my headlights for the night too.

With Hitomi, Rena and Yumiko. Maso helped to take the photo.

From Masao Noda
Leaving A7.

Shortly after that, I met Brian again. He had left A7 earlier than me and had saw me lying on the ground. We exchanged a few words of encouragement before we split up again.

1829 Hr. It would be another long night again.

As the sun slowly set, I started to feel sleepy. The weather was starting to get cold too. My body seems to be set on autopilot and I continued running.

There was a stretch where I fell asleep while running. We were going downhill and I could not control my eyelids falling down. I would be running at a moment .. and the next moment I realised I was some distance ahead. We were moving through rocky terrain so it was a miracle I had not tripped.

A8 was in a town right at Yamana-Ko. We were made to run through the streets of the town. Every turn we came to, we wished the aid station would be right behind the corner. In the end, we ran like 3 - 4km through the streets, before reaching the aid station which was right beside the lake itself.

Distance: 121.7km
Time: 28:40:11
Altitude: 984m
Time of day: 19:40:11

When we entered the aid station, we were urshered to a table at the side for a gear check. There were several sheets of paper pasted on the table, listing down the items to be checked in english and french. It was not a 100% gear check but only for items like waterproof jacket and pants, headlights, emergency blanket and phone. All items which we realy need to have to survive another night in the mountains.

(L - R): Ume, Sonoka, Ari

Avid had people stationed here too. I collected my drop bag from them but again I took out minimal stuff from it. I had been eating very little of the gels and bars I had in my hydration bag. Surprisingly, my body was still able to keep on going.

From Avid Adventures
Keeping a close watch over who had passed the aid station.

I did take some light snacks and hot teafrom the aid station. The tea was really a 雪中送炭.

I also met Miki here. She was one of the crew member of Avid in 2012. This year she was supporting her friends who were running the race.

Upon exiting A8, we were stopped by Ricka and a couple of volunteers. We were briefed by Ricka on the mountainous section ahead. He spoke in japanese and a volunteer at my side translated it to me. Not very well translated but I was able to grasp the gist of it: the two sections (A8 - A9 - A10) ahead would be very tough!

From Masashi Ikeda
This was the exit of A8. Daytime view.

A8 was beside Lake Yamanaka-ko and Mt Fuji lies in the background.

The lady in the photo was Hiroko Suzuki, who eventually won #5 for UTMF Women.

They asked us to do squats which I could still manage …. to hide the pain from showing on my face. :p

We were further probed a few questions by Ricka. Again, the volunteer translated them for me. It went something like this:

Q: Do you have enough food?
Me: Yes.
Q: Do you have enough water?
Me: Yes.
Q: Do you feel tired?

In my heart: What do you mean "do I feel tired"?!!! I have been out running in the course for like 30 hours without any sleep over mountains and mountains. Of course I am feeling tired!!!

What came out from my mouth: No.

Sigh .. runners .. some of the biggest liars in the world.

Leaving A8 behind me, I could not help but feel the cold surrounding me. Tonight seems much colder than last night. I was only at ground level so I could not imagine how it would be like up there.

I stopped by the side of the road and put on my waterproof pants. I also pulled down my BUFF to my neck from my forehead and put on my TNF beanie. With the hood drawn over my head and jacket fully zipped up, I was feeling fine now, but I did look a little like a small dumpling.

The path going up Ishiwariyama (1413m) was narrow and technical. It was full of tree roots and rocks. There was no way to overtake and I was following closely behind another lady.

Keep moving! Keep moving! Keep moving!

Distance: 127.6km
Time: 31:18:13
Altitude: 1152m
Time of day: 22:18:19

A9 was a welcoming sight. I sat on the benches for some five minutes, staring aimlessly into blank space. I knew I needed some sleep but my mind was just spinning so fast. Was it due to the race adrenaline? Or the caffeine from the perpeteum I was drinking?

This was how most of the runners were like at A9. Cold, fatigued, hungry but with no appetite.

From Toshiko Sato
I would have looked very much like this.

From Toshiki Sato

(I remembered going to the public toilet at A9. There was no flushing system. We just did our stuff into a pit of .. saw dust. hmmmm .. )

From Toshiki Sato
Exiting A9 going up the mountain. Daytime view.

We went into a narrow trail which soon brought us into the mountain trails. The path was steep. Except for the round spot illuminated by my headlights, I could not see my surroundings clearly but we were surrounded by trees. I made my way step by step up the slope, controlling my deep breathing to sync with my footsteps. There were a few moments where I pushed against a tree at the side and closed my eyes, hoping to get whatever small amount of rest I could. The Z monster had slowly crept in. Once I just sat at the side and was about to fall asleep when another runner from behind overtook me and said “Gambatte!” I looked at him walk up the trail further and further away. The next runner behind me was just a faint glow of light away in the distance.

“Arrgghh! I cannot sleep here! Not in the cold mountains!”

I stood up and continued my way. I thought of Jacq. If she were here, she would surely be persevering and grinded her way through. I imagined she was just beside me, just like how she had “accompanied” me in my past ultra races. I remembered her bugs bunny grin.

What do we have inside us that made us keep on going? Endurance? Maybe. Never-say-die mentally? Maybe. Sometimes, I thought it may be just plain stubbornness.

I came to a point where there were no more paths. I looked up and saw a near vertical rock wall around 2m plus high with three ropes hanging down. They even had small lamps shining onto the ropes to ensure we could see them. I checked around again to make sure I was in the correct route. Yes, I was. Next, I saw a course marker at the top of the wall. Alright, looks like there was some climbing to do.

After climbing up, I saw there was another similar steep wall waiting for us. And another. And another! We were climbing on all fours, grabbing dearly onto tree branches, roots, rocks or anything they could get our hands on. I was already on the verge of falling asleep so my movement was slowed down drastically. It was a single track with no space at the side for us to rest. Other runners behind were catching up or climbing right underneath towards me. I was being “pushed” forward by them. I had managed to maintain my cool from the start of the race until now when I started to become anxious.

How much further was this going to last?!!

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