When there were trees or branches at the side, we held onto one and struggled to move down while the other hand was stretched out to hold on to the next. Otherwise, we would just grab the small branches of leaves for support. Some occasions required us to sit down on the mud and slide down. There were a few times all I needed to do was squat down and and I would ski down on the mud. I had to lean backwards to prevent me from falling forward. There was once when I did fell forward. My mouth knock onto a wooden log on the ground. It was so loud I heard the knock. People around me were kind enough to help me up. I quickly tried to feel for my front teeth. Fortunately, all were intact.
The Tenshiyama section is a series of multiple peaks where runners need to go along the ridges through its countless up and downslopes. The main aim for most of us amateurs was to get to the next aid station alive. Finishing the race was another matter altogether.
|Photo from AllSports|
In UTMF 2013, I based on the estimated time needed to calculate how much food I needed to bring. That resulted in me bring more food than necessary. This time, I used the usual method of basing it on the distance covered. Several hours into this section, my food supplies started to run low. Luckily, I was still able to continue moving.
I still remembered what I learnt during STY and UTMF previously for crossing the Tenshiyama. No matter what happens, you need to keep moving forward. Be it run, walk, or crawl, keep moving.
I kept moving.
I was so happy when I saw the Chijagatake signboard. It would be downhill all the way now.
The way down was with a lot of steps. It was a nice change from the mud fields we had crossed. After about 50mins, we reached the foot of the mountain. All of us were feeling fatigued. We still have around 12km of undulating trails to reach A3.
It was 0400Hr plus. I could feel some sleepiness in my mind but I was still able to run. Time was very tight. I was not sure if I could make the cut-off but I would try. I pushed and tried to keep up with the people in front and overtook them if I could.
|Photo from AllSports|
(Now I know how people would know that I had fell forward in the trails.)
The sky was slowly brightening up. Sunrise was here. We had reached the town of Fujinomiya but not yet at the aid station. It was familiar sights to me again. The time had already passed 0500Hr and I knew I missed the 16hr cut-off. But I kept running through the town as I still wanted to reach the aid station as early as possible.
There was a large canal which we had to cross. I thought the aid station was located at the school compound behind the canal but the organisers actually shifted the location of the aid station this year. We asked the volunteer how much further was he and he replied 5km more. It was rather demoralising. When you thought you had reached but rather you still had more distance to cover. Digging up what little energy I have left, I ran and walked the remaining distance. I caught up with Terence and Shi Wei.
Two Japanese ladies run passed us and they said to us something in Japanese. I tried to hand gesture to her that I do not understand. She used whatever little English she know, added with some Japanese and hand gestures, to tell me that the cut-off time has extended by one hour. Hearing that, I tried to push forward again. Maybe, just maybe, there was still some chance left.
However, that surge of energy was short-lived. We kept running and hoping that the aid station would be within sight at the next turn. But there was none.
In the end, I reached A3 Fujinomiya at 0608Hr, 17:08 race timing. It was made up of several tents on a grass field. There were volunteers at the entrance helping to remove our timing chips from our shoes. As I walked in, people were clapping for us. Some Japanese words of encouragement were said. I smiled back at them and clapped for them in return.
Well, that had been a good fight.
The Avid crew had not left yet. They saw me walking towards them. I sighed and smiled back at them. Saya gave me a pat on my shoulders. As I was speaking to Saya about the race, Hitomi gave me a hug from behind. At least I had reached A3 safely, I told myself.
There was a shuttle bus to take the racers back to Yagisaki Kouen. All of us slept on the one hour plus journey back. I saw several other Hong Kong runners from the ryokan were also in the same bus.
Yagisaki Kouen was totally quiet when we arrived. A stark difference from yesterday. I collected my finish line back and walked to Togawaso. There was a transport to take us back to the ryokan.
By the time we reached the ryokan, Ken and Angela doing the STY had already left for Kodomono-Koni. I hope their STY did not have so much bottlenecks like ours.
We spoke about each other's experience. How each of us slipped and fell countless times at Tenshiyama. How we struggled to survive the brutality of the route.
All of us know that it was a tough course. The mud made it worse.
We shall live to fight another day.