Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ultra-Trail Mt. Fujil® 100M Adventure (Part 1)

Running the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji (UTMF) would be my 6th attempt at the 100 miles event but if I managed to pull it off, it would be my 2nd time completing a 100 miler (and 1st on the trail).  I arrived in Tokyo on 16 May (Wed) morning and took a bus ride arranged by Avid Adventures to Mt Fuji locality.  Weather in Japan was cool, which should be nice for running.  I unpacked my luggage that night and packed my drop bag for the race.  Once done, I had an early night.  The next day, I tagged along Fabrice (from France) to join in with the rest of the Avid Adventures group.  The bus brought us to somewhere near the end of the race.  There, the last stretch of the trail, we were shown the trail markers used for the race, as well as the kind of trail condition that we would be running.  Everyone was very excited, especially knowing that coming out of that section of trail, was another 4km to the finishing line.

We then went for a quick lunch at Forest Mall [what a name!].  Some of us make use of the time to do some last minute shopping.  I managed to get a 260ml mug (the cheapest that I could find) - one of the mandatory gear!  At 1pm, we went for the race packet pick-up and gear check.  There, I saw Hal and Carly Koerner.  I approached them and asked Hal what was his expected finishing time.  "18~20 hours" was his reply.  Knowing Hal completed the 2010 Canadian Death Race in less than 13 hours (I had yet to finish any CDR although I know I could do it [CDR being a 125km race, with a total elevation change of 17,000ft and to be completed within 24 hours]), I used his expected finishing time and multiplied by 2.2~2.3, which gave me a target time between 42~46 hours.  I started to have more faith in myself in completing UTMF.  After the gear checked, I went back to the hostel and took a nap.  At around 3.30pm, Fabrice knocked on my door.  It was time to go for the unofficial race briefing conducted by the Avid Adventures.  There, I saw Barefooot Ted McDonald, whom I met last year in England, as well as Andre Blumberg from Hong Kong and Seow Kong (I think so) from Malaysia.  After the brief, its time for carbo loading dinner, which comprised of mainly Japanese food, including sashimi!  I had a great time meeting other like-minded runners. :)

Pre-Race - 18 May 2012
I woke up early again.  It was hard to sleep when day brightened at 4.30am.  I re-checked my drop bag content by throwing out everything and re-packed them to make sure I packed more than what I need.  Then, Fabrice and I went for breakfast.  At the restaurant, Cao Jin joined us.  He was also staying in the same hostel - a Chinese from Qing Dao but had been living and working in Norway.  After breakfast, it was time for me to get some nap before checking-out time at 11am.  There, I met Winston Koh, SK Lim and Danny Wan, fellow Singaporeans whom I met during last year's Vibram Hong Kong 100km.  Winston and SK would be running UTMF while Danny would be running STY.  We went for a quick lunch bite at a nearby ramen restaurant.  At approximately 2pm, we made our way to the start!  There were many runners and supporters.  The area was buzzing with excitement.  But deep down, I was jittery as usual.  It was a scary idea to run (and walk) for anything longer than the full marathon distance.  Imagine having to run 100 miles in 48 hours!  And no matter how well a person prepared for the race, sometimes, we needed a little bit of luck on race day to succeed.  At 3pm, the race director flagged us off - and my journey round Mt Fuji started!

Start to AS1 (18km)
The first section of the race was mainly on tarmac road and pavement.  There were a lot of supporters as well as STY runners (their race would only start on Sat, 10am).  There was also a musical performance on the bridge.  For the first few kms, the route was flat.  But soon, we began climbing into the woods.  First, on tarmac road, then on metal (gravel??) road, and then dirt road.  I had lost count on the number of switchbacks.  The climb was not so steep but most of us were walking.  I used a run-walk strategy, and took the opportunity to train for my next race, Comrades.  At the top of the mountain, as I ran out of the woods and I could see the magnificent view that presented itself.  I could also see tiny version of runners at the far end of the woods!  When I ran out from the woods eventually, I stopped and had a can of milo as I was feeling hungry and I had no idea if we were reaching AS1.  I ran through a small town where every passerby cheered for the runners.  At almost 6pm, I reached AS1.  At AS1, I saw the Avid Adventures' table.  Although I didn't sign up to use their aid station support (I wasn't aware there was such a package), they were helpful and asked me what I needed.  I thanked them and asked if I could have a cup of plain water as I was too lazy to walk further up to the official water station, which they gave me.  :p  I ate a GU Roctane Ultra Endurance Energy Gel but almost vomited out immediately.  The taste was awful and I had to wash down with the cup of water to keep it in.  I thanked the 2 ladies before leaving AS1.

Distance Covered: 18km
Time Taken: 02:54:36
Accumulative Time: 02:54:36

AS1 to AS2 (13km)
On the way out of AS1, I took out my headlamp and hang it around my neck.  This section was hard.  It climbed from 700m to 1,600m in the first 10km, before descending in the last 3km.  I wasn't too concern since it was still early in the race.  Besides, I enjoyed going up.  After I entered the forested area, I switched on my headlamp.  The area was bright as there were other runners.  I was still doing the jog-walk strategy but the jog section was getting shorter while the walk section was getting longer.  Even before I reached the quarter-way point, I decided it was not economically worthwhile to jog anymore.  I pushed on by walking hard.  It was boring as there was no scenery to admire in the dark and the route was just up and up and up.  :(  There was no intermediate point where there was a flat section for you to catch your breadth.  I managed to pass a couple of runners but I had already lost track of time.  Then I heard something!  The ringing of the bell!  It must be from the top of the mountain!  I kept pushing.  But after 15mins, I was still climbing though the sound of the bell was getting closer.  Eventually, I reached the top but not before noticing someone (a photographer) snapping away photos of agonizing runners who reached the summit!  I took a breather before going down the mountain.  It was very difficult.  I was bad at going down and I just walked.  I fell twice - once after I tripped over a root which after I tried balancing, my right calf cramped up, and the other time I slipped and somehow trapped my fingers under a root.  But largely, I was not hurt.  I reached AS2 soon and took another GU Roctane, filled up both my water bottles before I set off for AS3.

Distance Covered: 13km
Accumulative Distance: 31km
Time Taken: 03:49:45
Accumulative Time: 06:44:21

AS2 to AS3 (6km)
The distance from AS2 to AS3 was one of the shortest but it was also one of the hardest for me as it was going down.  I couldn't run at all as it was steep and rather technical.  In fact, runners had to climb down big boulders at some sections.  It was so technical that there was a jam as we waited for runners to descend safely.  At some of these sections, I managed to snake around other runners by sliding down on my back, which I found it much easier than to walk down on my 2 feet.  There was no way to run or even walk fast since you know you would have to wait further up.  I didn't like this section and wondered how the fast runners managed to clear such technical sections.  At times, I had cold sweat as I almost fell over.  The good thing was that it was dark and you wouldn't know how treacherous the terrain could have been.  :p  I was glad that I came out of the mountain unscathed.  At AS3, there were a great variety of food just like previous aid stations: chips, oranges, bananas, chocolates, and buns, etc.  They also served hot soup and I gladly took two bowls to replenish my stomach.  The volunteers were very cheerful and encouraging.  This was also the aid station where the volunteers attached a blinking light to our hydration bag.  I decided to change the batteries to my headlamp too.  I also took out my long-sleeve dri-fit tee to wear even though I was not feeling cold.  It was better to use the available lights now than to try fishing it out from my bagful of stuff in the mountain, where I could be shivering.  I thanked the volunteers before continuing my journey.

Distance Covered: 6km
Accumulative Distance: 37km
Time Taken: 01:33:47
Accumulative Time: 08:18:08

AS3 to AS4 (16km)
Out of AS3 aid station was another few kms of road before we hit the trail.  I started the run-walk strategy again, following the blinking lights of the front runners.  But I was slowing down.  I wasn't that sleepy as I could still concentrate on counting my steps.  Soon, I was in the trail and it was almost total darkness as the runners had by then, spread out.  As I was rather blind at night, even with a powerful headlamp,  I switched it off to look out for the blinking red lights in front.  When I could see it, I would hit in that direction.  When I couldn't I would stop for other runners to catch up with me, before following them.  Once, I hit the wrong path although generally, it was the correct direction.  I had strayed onto the side of the forested area and had to climb back from the ditch onto the correct path.  The climb was relentless - short but steep sections.  For the downhill section, it was not that difficult and I could jog a bit.  And that was where I discovered the pain at the back of my right knee!  It was the same pain that put me out of action after last year's Canadian Death Race!  I wondered if it could be due to the steep descent.  I was upset and wondered if I should stop at AS4.  UTMF was not my main event, but Comrades, which would be held in 2 weeks time, was.  I decided to make the decision when I reached AS4.  I walked and jogged for the rest of the journey, which was uneventful.  I reached AS4 about 20mins past 3am - having ran/walked about 12 hours.  After filling up my bottles, I had a banana and milo.  Then I saw the Avid Adventure's table!  I asked if they could help me buy 2 packets of AA size batteries for my second night and handed over my ¥5,000.  One of them managed to find 6 AA size batteries and asked me to keep my ¥5,000 for other emergency.  I was extremely grateful for their gestures.  I followed the volunteers instruction but found myself staring at a room full of runners sleeping on the ground.  I told the volunteers that I need to continue running and she directed me to go further up.  Another volunteer ushered me to a tent where I saw beer (or was it sake or was I dreaming??) being served!  I turned around and asked a guy where I should go to continue and this time, I was on the correct way out of AS4!

Distance Covered: 16km
Accumulative Distance: 53km
Time Taken: 04:00:07
Accumulative Time: 12:19:05

AS4 to AS5 (8km)
By the time I stepped out of AS4, I had totally forgotten about the pain behind the back of my right knee, which was good.  I knew the injury was still there.  Just that I was no longer feeling the pain.  That stretch of road out of AS4 was nice.  I was walking on tarmac road and I could see Mt Fuji far in front.  Though it was a gradual incline, I managed to pass other runners.  This stretch of road should be about 2~3km long (or even longer) and it was straight and never ending.  Mt Fuji appeared bigger and bigger while the sky got brighter.  Then, the runners were told to make a left turn into the trail.  There was a very short section of flat ground before going up and up again.  The sky was bright again at around 4.30am.  I reckoned I should arrive at AS5 at around 5.30am based on my speed and the terrain.  Soon, I saw some runners running (afternote: they were leaving AS5 aid station).  I also heard the volunteers screaming and hitting the drum round a corner.  As I approached, I saw that I had to crest another small but very steep hill.  But it was worth it as Mt Fuji's magnificent view appeared right in front.  I thanked the volunteers and found a comfortable chair to sit down and had my breakfast - a banana and another can of milo.  And then I pressed on towards AS6!

Distance Covered: 8km
Accumulative Distance: 61km
Time Taken: 02:03:44
Accumulative Time: 14:22:49

AS5 to AS6 (6km)
The footing to AS 6 was easy but not the terrain.  We were running on tarmac road and this was the easy part.  The difficult part was the first 2km was a steep downhill.  By then, my quads were very tired and I didn't want to run fast as it meant that I had to apply a lot of brakes if I do so.  Fast walking was what I could do.  Once on the flat section of the road (it was actually a very slight uphill), I adopted my run-walk strategy again.  But by now, I was extremely tired.  I was yawning all the time and I couldn't keep my eyes open.  I reminded myself to have some coffee at the next aid station.  Opposite the road, I saw distance markers at every 100 meters (for the cars I supposed).  So it was easy to estimate how far I had been running.  At about 1km from AS6, I saw a sign indicating that the next aid station was 1km away!  My spirit perked up a hundred fold!  Soon, I saw a few runners running towards my direction.  Then I knew why.  They were leaving AS6!  I saw a man hitting a drum just before turning into the AS6 aid station, which was a huge car park at the Mizugatsuka Park!  I saw many runners at AS6.  Some were sleeping while others were taking a rest.  I asked for 2 cups of coffee with milk which the volunteer obliged.  It was the best coffee I drank even though it was a 3-in-1.  I refilled my bottles before making my way out of AS6.

Distance Covered: 6km
Accumulative Distance: 67km
Time Taken: 01:10:32
Accumulative Time: 15:33:21

AS6 to AS7 (9km)
A quick time check showed that it was about 6.40am in the morning.  The 2 cups of coffee did the trick and I was like given a jolt of energy boost.  Feeling alive again, I plodded along steadily.  The stretch towards AS7 was mainly downhill with the early kms on tarmac road, before we were directed into the trail.  I looked at my watch and thought I could perhaps reach AS7 aid station before 10am, where the STY runners (those running 82km from Shizuoka to Yamanashi, hence the STY acronym) would commence their race.  At around 8.45am, we came to a T-junction and was directed left.  Then, a Japanese guy runner ran past me and commented the cut-off time at AS7 was 9am.  I panic and picked up my pace.  I managed to catch up with another Japanese lady runner and asked her if she knew about the cut-off.  She said that we had plenty of time as the cut-off was 11am.  I was relieved and we started talking.  Her name was Miki and she was working overseas (if I remembered correctly).  Soon, there we met a few on-coming runners and Miki talked to one of them.  She said the runner told her that we were about 10mins from AS7 aid station.  I thanked her before running ahead as I wanted to take to take some photos.  I came to an entrance of a carpark area and reached AS7 at 9.08am.  Just before I crossed the timing mat, I heard some volunteers shouting to one another.  Almost immediately, another volunteer came running towards me!  With my drop bag!  They were so efficient!  Miki arrived a little while later and we took a rest at a nearby tree.  I reload 4 cans of milo into my hydration bag, as well as my spare headlamp.  I ate a packet of Maxifuel Gel and 2 slices of luncheon meat.  After a toilet break, I examined my feet and was pleased that I had no blister nor hotspot.  A quick change of socks and I was ready to push on.  I bade Miki farewell as she was taking a 2-hour nap.

Distance Covered: 9km
Accumulative Distance: 76km
Time Taken: 02:34:45
Accumulative Time: 18:08:06


Unknown said...

looking forward to the next part. utmfuji is on top of my bucketlist :)

Pink = Faded Blood said...

Hi Ripley,

I'm gonna be in Japan for the first half of 2013. How does one go about getting their hands on a slot for UTMF? I'm looking at something like the STY trail instead of the full UTMF trail as I'm definitely not gonna be able to do 100 by next year.

Louis K said...

I am so happy to find this. I live in USA and I am registered for 2013. I was in Tokyo 2 weeks ago to run the Tokyo Marathon and I did a little UTMF training near Lake Kawaguchi! Looking forward to go back in 1 1/2 month!