Thursday, April 3, 2014

Setouchi Trail 22km

Sunday March 30th 2014
Kamagari Island

It’s sad to think I’ll only be writing a couple more race blogs while out here in Japan. Unfortunately, I have neglected posting any blogs lately on the “Jet Diary” but have been writing occasionally on paper and will eventually post.

The Setouchi Trail 22km took place in Kure city but was far away from the city itself out on Kamagari Island.

The day before the race, Hiroshima JET Danny planned on arriving in Kurahashi at 6:30pm but after a few missed connections, and Iwashiro-san getting in a minor car accident, we began our spaghetti dinner around 7:30pm with the addition of Kazuki and Tatsuya. It was so fun having guests over for the first time at the apartment. Sure, I’ve had a person or so visit occasionally, but this was the first time having a group of guys over. Despite having a bare bones apartment, it had never felt so comfortable as it did with having friends over for the first time. It was nice chatting and joking around with the other guys and it made me miss the “Gentle Tuesdays” with the guys back home. If I had met Kazuki and Tatsuya earlier on in the year, it definitely would have been more of a difficult decision to reject the contracting offer and return to the USA this summer.

Made waay too much spaghetti and in addition, Kazuki and Iwashiro-san both brought foods to the dinner. After Dinner and listening to some music for a bit, Kazuki, Tatsuya and Iwashiro-san left and Danny and I got ready for bed pretty quick. Ishihama Sensei graciously brought over an extra futon during dinner so we were both able to sleep comfortably.

Woke up at 5:25am and made some coffee. We both showered quickly, ate a quick breakfast of a bagel and banana, and headed out the door by 6am to meet Iwashiro-san at Komeri. How convenient that the only runner in Kurahashi was going to the same race and we could drive together. Instead of the 3+ hour public transportation commute from Uwagi to Kamagari Island, we enjoyed a quick 1.5 hour pleasant car ride. Danny caught some shuteye on the way out.
We arrived at about 7:30am, picked up our race packets from Kenshu’s friend Fujii-san’s wife Reiko (haha seems distant connection but have hiked with her several times), and spread out Iwashiro-san’s small tarp on the gymnasium floor. It’s kind of funny, all the Japanese bring little tarps and blankets to sit down on at these races. Cute.
We went over and chatted with trail running store Run+’s owner Torobu
and picked up a HoneyStinger for Danny to try. It’s funny because this wasn’t just Danny’s first trail race, but first trail run ever. Talk about full immersion with how intense this race elevation profile was, and in addition it rained quite a bit the night before and the morning of the race so the trail conditions would be super difficult.

Was chillin in the gym and saw a few people I knew. Really like the feeling of being connected to a group through running and will be sad to leave this network of friends at the end of this year. Starting to have second thoughts about leaving after just a year.

We pinned on our race bibs and stretched out a bit. Saw Kenshu who came with Fujii-san and they were both would be running the long course (22km). A pro runner, Shunsuke Okonomiya arrived and gave us a pre-race briefing and would lead the gym in some warm-up stretches and exercises.
My shoulders and chest were super sore from doing a ton of push-ups on Thursday and regretted doing them.  After finishing the stretches and with having about 15-minutes until the start of the race, we headed outside. Jogged a minute or so with Danny around the parking lot until meeting Kenshu and we walked over to the start line. Snapped a picture together and got in line on the beach.
At the start line, ran into the tall/skinny guy (Hiko) whom we battled it out at the Miyajima race back in October. We both excitingly greeted each other and I was happy or a chance at a rematch after he outran at the previous race.

Was pretty anxious for this race as the race profile was equivalent to running 3 Hiyamas and have never ran a race like this before. before that continued into the morning had now stopped but would prove to leave the trails sloppy and wet.

Am so used to doing slow ascents and descents that I knew this was going to hurt.

We started the race and with the first mile on a pretty flat road, starting out at a decent pace. The professional trail runner Okonomiya-san was leading the group running very effortlessly. His running style reminded me of Chris Lundstrom’s.  I was curious if he would be actually running the entire race or what was up. Turns out that after the first mile and as we headed into the first trail head, he stopped and high-fived us as we made our way to the first climb. Was in 3rd place and felt very comfortable at the pace we were climbing. It was nice just following the first several guys and trying to stay relaxed. Wondered how the rest of the race would turn out, as have never been this close to the front of the race before. With climbing being my strength in comparison to descending, knew I had to do my best to stay reserved and close to the leaders during this first climb.

The legs began to burn but the Hiyamas have conditioned the legs for this.  We continued to power hike the steep sections which was interspersed with several sections of several seconds of jogging. I was wondering how Danny was enjoying the race so far with the big climb we were doing. As we got closer to the first 400m climb, it began to get foggier and cloudier and our visibility was reduced 50ft or so which was exciting. It was fun taking a look up from the steep climb to barely see the first couple guys ahead of me. It was motivation to keep the leaders within this restricted view from the cloud we were in.

We reached the top and began to get to a runnable section at the top. It was tough to transition the legs from slow climbing to trying to open them up. We began the descent in which we were going down many wet stairs covered in fallen leaves. All of us were slipping and slidding around but the trail was actually pretty runnable in terms of not having any rocks/roots. It was difficult to try to maintain the pace of the leaders in these conditions and felt like the legs were getting pretty banged up.

Reached the bottom of the first descent and was slightly worried about the rest of the race. Only was several miles into the race and already it felt difficult to speed up on the flat section. Was already looking forward to the next climb to change up the beating of quick running on tired legs.

The next climb was not so eventful and similar to the previous climb. I think at this point, I had passed one runner and another had passed me so was still in third. As we reached the top of this climb, it became super clear. Just earlier at the other mountain there was low visibility and now the trail almost looked too clear. Saw Volunteer Shingo Tono whom always posts many trail running events on the Hiroshima Trail running facebook group. Felt like I had woke up from a hazy dream and had a bit of a second wind at this point. Going down the second descent was tough as the legs weren’t as quick and responsive as they were on the first descent and we still had over half the race to run.  Slowed down a bit on this descent as was passed by another runner. Would occasionally slide 5-10ft on one foot at a time and was often coming dangerously close to wiping out. I remembered back to a podcast I listened to earlier on in the week that someone was talking about how when he runs downhill, he doesn’t think but just reacts. It was so fun feeling so immediate and just reacting to the trail. Definitely feel like playing hockey since a child help out the balance while slipping down the muddy trail. It was actually nice to have the slippery conditions because I feel it reduced some of the rough braking the knees would have experienced had the conditions been dry.

Running downhill is a skill I have yet developed and it was tough to try and keep pace with my long uncoordinated legs.  Feels like the little Japanese legs are much more quicker than my Gaijin legs. Hah.  Stayed pretty close to the 3rd, 4th place guys and we had a little bit of a road section before the 3rd climb. It felt tough to run on the road surface after the legs had been burned up from the previous climbs/descents. Arrived at the aid-station and with believing I was grabbing a cup of water, poured the cup into my face to cool down and quickly found out it was a sports drink mix. Just laughed off the mistake and wiped off face/hands on a nearby low hanging tree branch leaves by running through it. After properly feeling nice and barbaric, tried to speed up more on the road and gained some ground on the 4th place guy.

We headed into the final climb within 5 seconds of each other. This climbed proved to be the toughest yet, with it very steep, very slippery and many portions at the beginning required pulling on ropes, tree branches to get up the terrain. How fun was this! My adrenaline is flowing from rethinking and want to do it again! The legs were tired and was slopping all over the place breathing heavily. Lost site of the 4th place guy after we finished the rope area. As we continued the climb, the trail was pretty narrow in sections and the shoulders got a little scratched up. Saw a sign that said “10km” and was in complete disbelief because the legs were just fried and it meant that we were less than halfway through the race.

As I neared the top, started seeing other runners heading down the trail who were on their way out. The course was a little confusing as it contained some sections of trail with the other runners. Was running through rolling climbs and descents and saw Danny run by and he affirmed that I was in 5th place. It was motivated seeing the other runners on the trail and made me run tough sections of trail I may have walked had others not been cheering me on.  After reaching the top, started to feel energized as it was all downhill from here.

It was a bit difficult descending with other runners coming the other way because was not able to weave as much as usual had no one been on the trail. For the most part, people we over accommodating by getting out of the way and saying “Fight!”
Accidently booted a descent size rock at another runner’s lower shin and he leaned over in pain. Sadly am kind of laughing as I’m writing this but I felt bad as I continued to run down the trail. Since this was the last descent, was able to speed up knowing we were approaching the finish. Finished the last bit of the trail descent and there was 3 miles remaining.  We came to another aid-station and had some confusion and went the wrong way before turning back and asking the volunteers which way to go. After assuring I didn’t need to use the bathroom, they directed me to the trail which was the same way the Short Course 11km runners were running.

Was a little bummed to lose 30seconds or so at this section but noticed nobody passed me. All I could do now is try to transition the legs to the road but it was tough in the current fatigued condition and the downhill road was pretty steep. Surprisingly held a decent pace running downhill but it felt like the tired legs couldn’t turn over at the pace my momentum was taking me. Need to do some more downhill training but it sure beats up the legs.  Was passing several of the 11km runners and had to stop to tie a shoelace. Haven’t had that happen in a while in a race.

Continued trying to run quickly and not decrease the pace to what I had initially started out on this section of road to the finish. A volunteered notified me that we were 1km away which was relieving to here. A couple minutes later, I noticed we were in the location that Okunomiya-san told us that we were one 1km into the race (meaning now there was 1km from the finish).

Finished up the last km and came to the finish and ran through the puddle-filled parking lot and across the finish line on the beach. 
Was greeted by Reiko handing a souvenir race towel and a sports drink. Drank it quickly as I only consumed a small dixie cup of water through the race. Cripes it felt nice to stop and knew my legs were going to feel it later.

Talked with the guys who finished ahead of me and then went to go watch Kenshu and Danny finish.  Chatted with a cute girl from Onomichi who was also watching her friends finish. Kenshu ran by in similar time that he finished last year and surprisingly Danny was only a minute or so after him.  Nice job at his first trail run! Haha.
After hanging out at the finish line for a bit, we went and got our bags inside the gym and dropped them off at Iwashiro-san’s car before walking to the nearby hotspring. The legs were abnormally sore and the knees were painful. Sore, stiff, and full of mud from the trails, we limped our way to the hotspring.  Nothing like the therapeutic hot/cold baths to relax the muscles after a tough race. There were many runners washing off the dirt/mud from the race and it was fun to chat with others about the race. Gosh, going to be tough to stop this tradition once going back home.

After the hot spring, we went to a nearby restaurant and had large set lunches with all you can eat rice and a beer.
I was jealous hearing Kenshu and Danny talking about the races they would be doing next year together. It’s pretty special to participate in the mountain races followed by hotsprings and the best food in the world.

Will try to post pictures online of actual race later. 

Now it’s three days after the race it feels as if I ran a max pace marathon or ultra several days ago. Quad muscles are just fried and have goofy pains in the feet.  This is due to a combination of the new terrain at the race and also wearing a relatively lightweight shoe (Asics Hyper-speeds).

Maybe wasn’t the smartest idea to run this race so close to UTMF but probably the legs will recover by then.

Next week is the Sakura Challenge in Hiroshima city and will be jogging/walking the 3-hour event with John and maybe Kenshu. Will try to get in a night run this weekend too.

Plan on doing Hiyama and hotpsring with Kazuki this even after school.

Today is my first day at Washo Junior High school and wow, what a nice feeling arriving at this school. Saw the baseball/track/tennis teams practicing with the cherry blossoms blooming around the school grounds, and in the distance you can see Haigamine mountain and other surrounding mountains. Hard to not think how different my life would have been had I lived in Kure city. But enough of living in the past and hoping for this/that. Am very grateful for what I have experienced so far and looking forward to Kayla and Aunty Share coming soon. 

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