Friday, August 22, 2014

Fuji Ascent Race 2014

Fuji Ascent Race
Friday July 25, 2014
The Fuji Ascent Race was 5 days after the Kurahashi Aquathon and would be wrapping up my last race while participating with a year in the JET Program in Japan.

Signed up for this race back in March w/ Danny and we found out we both got in. Was very excited to run this race for several reasons. After running around Fuji for UTMF back in April, now I was getting a chance to run up it, which would also be my first time climbing Mt Fuji.  I was looking forward to returning to Yamanashi after all the special memories made at UTMF and because the general beauty of the area (also the delicious hoto fudo). Every time I went to Yamanashi, I was always stimulated and aroused (literal translation of J-word "Koufun") by Mt. Fuji. It's impossible to not want to attempt to get to the top of it. Look!
In real life, it looks so prominent and breathtaking. Sure is something special in Japan.

On Wednesday July 23rd, made the trip from Kurahashi out to Danny’s place. Had a special trip from Kurahashi to Hiroshima by car, so that was nice :)

Met up w/ Danny and another JET Gavin for some kaitenzushi and after headed back to Danny's apartment. Made some smoothies and Danny participated in his first shave party. Haha. 
Went to bed and slept in because Danny had to go into school for a bit that morning. We headed to Hiroshima station and got on the Shinkansen to Mishima where we would be taking a bus to Yamanashi.  We met another runner Yuji Iseki
on the bus from Mishima to Kawaguchiko and it was awesome to hear about his previous 9? race attempts with 7? finishes. After arriving at Kawaguchi-ko station, we headed back to drop stuff off at the K’s Hostel and then took a train and a bus to the race packet pickup. It was dark and we were the only ones there. We quickly registered and paid and ran back to the bus to catch it back to one of the stations where we almost decided to eat dinner before scrambling back up the downward escalator and running to catch the train back to Kawaguchi-ko station. 

With Kawaguchi-ko station/ and Kawaguchi-ko town being pretty small mostly family owned shops/restaurants, we were unable to find any places to eat dinner the night before the race and resorted to eating at the closest convenience store to our hostel.
sushi, bento, tofu/kimchi, udon, nuts and after icecream
After eating our fancy meal we walked back to the hostel and got our stuff put together for the race. 

Was a little anxious to see how the legs would hold up after being pretty sore still from the Aquathon. Running an all out half-marathon after swimming for an hour on untrained legs left my legs more sore than usual and although I wasn’t worried about finishing the race, was a bit bummed I wouldn't be able to be competitive for it. The ankle was still swollen and weak from the injury 2 months ago and had to accept the conditions and be ready to just enjoy the race. This was my first ascent race and was looking forward to only having to climb as I feel that’s what I’m strong at comparatively to descents or even flats.

We went to bed and for some reason woke up at 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep after.  We got ready and met Justin Andrew’s (Wisconsite based in China) and Ruth ( NF Kiwi based in Taiwan) and another Kiwi to head out to the start together. As we were on the train, ended up running into a girl wearing a Grandma’s Marathon shirt which was bizarre. 
small world
We got to the race venue and hung out for a bit. It was fun seeing the many runners and it felt more like a road marathon was about to happen, rather than all of us running 10,000 feet up Fuji.  Did a short warmup w/ Danny after he dropped the kids off at the pool we got in line to start. 
Race Specs
3000m of elevation gain (approx. 10,000ft)
Believe 1500 people or so signed up for the “summit course” and there was 50 foreigners registered 

This race has pretty strict cutoffs at certain stations but was confident in Danny and my chances of not having to worry about making them. The race has super low finish rates for the males and even lower for the females. This year the finishing rates for the full course were 44.7% for the males and 27.7% for the females.
The above pic shoes routes up the north face of Fuji from the 5th station. We started several miles below this and zig-zagged up to the top. 
Race route from the Fujiyoshida City Hall to the summit of Mt. Fuji

After a loud intro and warrior-chant type of thing from all of us and the MC, we were off. Tried to keep a steady pace that wasn't using much energy and with trying to keep in mind of the future climbs ahead of us.  

The legs sure didn’t feel fresh and my ankle was sore, but not bad enough to slow me down significantly. We ran past a cool large wooden entrance gate thing that just seemed symbolic. I believe this is where the ascent route up Fuji officially started. Ticked away the first couple miles and always had in my head the balance game I was trying to play with making gains on the relatively flat section without burning the legs out too much for the when the hurting really started. 

At one point during the first few miles, it was eerily quiet as tons of runners we running up a woodsy section of road. Happened to see some hikers whom we met early in the morning at the hostel and wished them good luck on their hike. 

Saw Chuck whom Danny and I had met at the beginning of the race and we ran for a mile or so together before I tried to pick it up a little.  He was a two-time finisher of the race and was wearing 5-fingers..ouch.  For this race I chose to wear Asic Hyperspeeds because they were lightweight and wanted something light because all we were doing was ascending. I think next year if I do this race, I will wear even lighter shoes but will need to keep in mind they will get pretty torn up but the end of the day (pic shown later).

after road section the trail starts 
We reached the trail, trail section of the race and it was beginning to gradually increase in steepness. My legs couldn’t take hike quite how I would have liked but somehow started passing a fair bit of people as we got onto the trail. Everynow and then would either come up on a guy with a really goofy audible breathing pattern and did my best to past them as fast as possible to not have to listen to it. Haha. It took me probably 5 minutes to pass one of the noisier ones and boy it was nice to get rid of that sound. Hard to even describe the noise he was making but I guess imagine a pregnant dude giving childbirth as he’s running up Mt Fuji. Ended up meeting Iwakuni's Leah's husband Matt out on the trail which was nice to meet him and hearing about him from Leah.
another pic of the early trail section
The legs were starting to cramp early and had to take small quick steps to try and avoid that feeling in the legs. Was trying to eat/drink as much as possible from the aid-stations which seemed to  be helping. Before long we had reached the 5th station and the temperature was noticeably cooler and the views back down the mountain were awesome. The climbing was becoming very difficult and there was not much more running at this point. Still was passing people and it was cool to be actually climbing Mt Fuji. Breathing was in control, just the legs felt so gassed already. Was sloppily hiking as fast as possible and having a good time. 

As we were climbing up the side of Fuji, another Japanese guy and I linked up and were passing people together for probably 20-30 minutes. It was fun to roll together with him and he seemed to be enjoying it as well. We kept on encouraging each other as we purposely power hiked up the many switchbacks heading up to the top. Ended up passing him as we getting closer to the summit.
At this point, we were climbing more than 1000ft per mile and were switchbacking up the side of Fuji. We would come past aid-stations but unfortunately there was only for sale items and
many of them. Couldn’t feel much of the effects from altitude but my pace was slowing down significantly. Felt like I wasn’t moving fast, but it appeared that the others were moving slower than I was, as I kept passing people.

The top 10 males and top 10 females from the previous year were given red race bibs and I noticed I was passing the top females from the last year.

A hard part of trying to keep a decent pace was the footing with all the loose lava rock that was on the trail. There wasn’t a ton of racers around me but we had to often pass hikers who were very considerate of us racing past them. A few of the pics on this blog are ones that Danny took so there wasn't always that many people around me but sometimes would pass a group of 5 or more runners at a time.  Received many good lucks from hikers and it was inspiring to hear people from the U.S. wish me luck.

At about mile 11,  I realized we only had a couple miles left and tried to give more effort. It doesn’t make much of an increase of pace to wipe you out at this grade of incline.

Looking up, we could see the peak of Mt. Fuji and I was almost in disbelief it was this close already. Of course it was still a few thousand feet away but mountains always look more difficult to climb then they actually are.

Was getting closer to the top and continualy getting more and more tired. Several points I had to stop and stretch out the legs in hopes of working out cramps that were increasingly scaring me. A couple times I cramped up to a point where I was worried that it might not release. Thankfully though, with going slow enough and not pushing too hard, was able to continue the way up Fuji. 
Passed the female with the number 1 bib from last year (even though Ruth was still a wayyys ahead) and did best to keep her falling further back from me. She was storming up the “hill” though and it took some time before she was a comfortable distance back from me. 

As quickly as the race had started, and as quickly as the past year had gone by in Japan, was at the top of Mt Fuji and crossed the finish line that came up very sudden.

Post race stats:
5th station: 1:48:22
8th station 3:03:27
Finish 3:26:59

The sun was out and it was a spectacular view up top 12,388ft. All the non-racers were wearing heavy jackets while in contrast all the racers had lightweight minimal clothing on.

It was so rewarding to be at the top of Fuji. Saw Justin and Ruth hanging out at the top and after climbed down a little bit and found a seat on a rock to watch Danny finish.
Watched him hammer it to the end and we all hung out on the top of Japan for a bit before beginning the descent back down.
We took some pics at the top and started running/walking back down to the 5th station down a different path.
 It was tough running down the path with the legs being so tired and with the small lava rocks everywhere, when you ran, it was almost like skiing down the switchbacks. We ran as a group for a bit before Danny and I headed back on our own.
After 4 miles or so running back down the mountain, we reached the area where the buses came and say Yuki who had come out to the race to watch. Hopped on the bus and Danny wasn’t feeling that well. Took a Snapchat of him puking and we arrived back at park where the finisher’s ceremony was along with a host of food vendors. Ate udon, Takoyaki, a cold peach and hung out in the grass in the sun.
Saw the same icecream truck from UTMF at this race but it wasn't the same nice old drunk farmer working again this time.
Shoes were pretty beat up after this race from all the hard rock.
Was pretty sad knowing this was the last year during the JET Program and without knowing if I was returning back to Japan or not, tried to enjoy it to the fullest. We met up again with Justin, Ruth, Leah and her husband Matt.  Met the 12th place finisher Steffen who finished in 3:01 and we ended up hopping on the bus back to Kawaguchi-ko together. 

We arrived back at Kawaguchi-ko and stopped at a grocery store and bought some food and planned on meeting up with him in the evening.

Danny and I went back and met up w/ Justin at the hostel where we went out to a hotspring. It was pretty cool that this was Justin’s first time in Japan and first time experiencing a Japanese hotstpring. After we went and ate delicious hoto fudo.
fav food on the earth
We headed out of the hoto fudo restaurant quickly because we had to get back to meet Steffen at the convenience store near the hostel. We met up, had some icecream and hung out back at the hostel for a bit. It was kinda funny because you could tell we all would have had much more fun if we were running trails together, rather than sitting on couches.

Went to bed and Danny and I checked out of the hotel and headed to the station. Watched Danny bus out as he was heading to Vietnam that day.
swollen ankle on Shinkansen ride home
Had a couple days off before having any obligations in Kurahashi and considering hanging out in Yamanashi for a couple days but decided to head back to Kurahashi right after the race. Wanted to soak up all of the remaining time in Japan and reflect on things back home.

It was nice to have some quiet time on the way home to process all that had been going on that week and the reality that I was leaving where I had called home for the past year.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kurahashi Aquathon

Kurahashi Aquathon
2.4km Swim 21km Run
Sunday July 20th 2014

Cripes, trying to write this on the plane ride back from Korea and have a million thoughts going on in my head. Trying to process leaving Kurahashi and saying goodbye to many people who I’ve become so close to in the last year, trying to control my excitement of seeing family and friends back home, and trying to digest the last 3 days I’ve spent in Korea after some plane ticket confusion. Regardless, found some free-time on the plane ride back to the states and thought it was a good time to start catching up on the blogs.

After spraining my ankle and not letting it recover properly, found myself not able to run much after June 1st leading up to the Aquathon. I really regret not giving my ankle time to recover because now my ankle is still swollen and unstable.

Tried to swim a couple times and Kazuki’s friend Hiroki from Kashima borrowed his large size wetsuit that he let me borrow for the race (wetsuits required).

Was able to get out and swim in the sea a few times with the wetsuit and wasn’t looking forward to the 2.4km swim. It was always a bit scary in swimming in the sea because of the jellyfish and whatever other monsters are in the sea.

Kazuki and I also ran a section of the run course about a week out from the race.

The Saturday before the Sunday race, there was the Kurahashi Fireworks Festival in which many people come out to the rural island of Kurahashi to watch a popular fireworks display. This year the fireworks were being let of on Matsumura’s Miyahide ship and the graciously invited me to spend the day with them during the firework preparation time and we hung out and BBQ’d on a hot day along the ocean. 
 It was starting to sink in that I was leaving Japan within the next 2 weeks. I was sad and trying to savor each moment. Tacchan was playing a song in the truck and we quickly began to enjoy listening to it together. 
The name was “Kampai” by Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi and whenever I listen to that song, I will be reminded of these last moments in Japan.

Kazuki and I were excited for the race and I was excited for this to be Kazuki’s longest endurance event to date. Prior, he had done the B-Type course which is half the distance of the A-Type. 

After the firework preparation was done, we shipped over to Katsuragama
and took a small boat to Katsuragama.
We watched the fireworks down at Katsuragahama beach and mid-fireworks it starting pouring rain. Haha kind of fun.
The night of the fireworks, Danny, Daichi, Naoki and Mel stayed at my apartment and we hung out until pretty late enjoying Naoki playing the guitar and it was fun to have so many people over at the apartment.
Daichi and I woke up early in the morning and headed down to the beach. We ran into Kazuki after not long and sat down and lounged around for a bit. Also met Rudyard for the first time which was cool after following him on Strava for a bit.
 Got out race bins ready for the swim/run transition and with the race quickly approaching, we put on our wetsuits and heading down to the start area. 

I remember it felt like without much notice the race quickly started and we slowly jogged into the water. It was a pretty relaxed start and I tried to find an open area along the boeys on the right hand side of me. The swim consisted of a two loop course and it took a while to get out to the first turnaround. Have never felt strong and swimming and was trying to conserve energy for the run. Even though I wasn’t pushing that hard in the swim, I could feel my calves started to cramp a little bit on the way back towards shore after the first turnaround. I remember Rudyard passing me at this point and tried to keep up with him but he was cruising. After losing sight of him, just tried to keep relaxed with the buoys and rope on the ride side of me. Was wearing and ankle brace to keep the ankle from wiggling around too much but wasn’t kicking that much. Kept looking up to see how close I was to the shore and then slowly the water started transitioning from the dark deep water color to a lighter green meaning that we were getting closer to shore. Got out and jogged around the turn around point and headed back into the water. Cripes swimming is hard.

Slowly made my way back out to the turnaround for the second time and this time my arms and chest were starting to get tired. I remember wishing I would have had a sleeveless wetsuit because the wetsuit I was using limited the shoulder flexibility and made it tough to swim comfortably.

After making it to the turnaround for the second time, was happy that all I had to do was make it back to shore. More people were passing me at this point and didn’t even try to keep up with them because was started to get tired even trying to keep my slowing pace slowing from anymore. Definitely did not do enough swim training and was looking forward to getting out and running. Calves and hammys were now occasionally twitch cramping and wanted to get out of the water! Kept trying to remind myself to enjoy every second because this race would be over before I knew it. This thought helped me relax several times throughout the swim. 
Finally made it to the beach again and stripped off wetsuit and went over to the transition area. Chest was feeling typically big after swimming and was very excited for the running portion. Even though I hadn’t ran much in the last couple months, I was fairly positive I could keep a 6:50 pace or so on the difficult hilly course.

Didn’t rush too much trying to transition into running clothes and saw Yasuyo and Mayumi I believe right in front of me. Not long after arriving at the transition area I saw Kazuki coming in too and was excited to see him. Dried off a bit, ate a gel, threw on socks and shoes, GPS watch and headed out of the transition area wearing just a pair of spandex.


It felt so good to be out of the water, have the wetsuit off, and be on my feet. Started out pretty quick and I believe I saw 6:20s on my watch after a few minutes of running. Knew this probably wasn’t possible to maintain so slowed down a little. Was passing people and they were moving pretty slowly. Not trying to sound like a jacka$$ but I wonder how people run so slow and was grateful to be able to cruise on by.

Even only wearing spandex it was getting very warm with the sun beating down on the open roads and us. Drenched myself with water at the first aid-station and kept going along. Was continuing passing quite a bit of runners and slowly made way up the tough hills. Saw Rudyard after not too long and he was going at a decent pace. It was funny because him and me were the only foreigners in the race and we were both the only two guys running shirtless.

It was kind of crazy running through the small fishing town/villages and hearing so many people scream my name. I felt bad I didn’t know who half the people were. Started to see the leaders coming by on the righthand side of the road as they were making their way back from the first turnaround point. The course was a bit goofy as we ran out to the A-Type turnaround, ran back to the C-Type, turned back and ran out to the A-Type turnaround and then back to Katsuragama beach where we started out.

Made the way up and down the hills of the course out to the A-Type turnaround and now was seeing runners behind me making their was out to the first turnaround. Once arriving at the C-Type turnaround spot, someone gave me a blueshirt and told me I needed to wear it, as someone else handed me a bracelet. Thought that this was a penalty bracelet and was a bit surprised that I needed to wear a shirt in the burning weather but continued to run happy and tried to keep a decent pace. Saw Rudyard making his way to the C-Type turnaround and told him he would probably be needing to put a shirt on soon. Soon enough, saw him running in the same blue shirt I was given.

My pace was starting to fade and legs were starting to cramp. Was taking GUs about every 30 minutes but felt low on energy after the swim and running on untrained legs.  Because of the back and forth layout of the course, we were able to see other runners several times. It was cool to see Rudyard, Kazuki, and Daichi running.

After making it to the A-Type turnaround for the second time, it was nice to be on the final way back to the finish. Was still passing people every now and then and caught up to some people that were wayyyy ahead of me from the start.

With 3 or so miles left the hammys were starting to cramp along with the calves. Haven’t felt this in a while and credit it to the swim and not being trained to run a fast half marathon. Had to stop several times to stretch out the cramps. Pushed as hard as I could to the finish within limit of my muscles about to cramp. Wanted to go faster faster but if I took longer faster strides, the legs would have cramped up.

Crossed the finish line
 and saw Tacchan, Yuko and others. Was greeted by Morimoto Sensei and snapped a pic together.
Was a little disappointed I wasn’t able to have a better performance for him but what can you do.
did I start too fast...?
The Strava data says there was 2,461ft of elevation gain however I don't really believe that. Apart from the first couple miles, the course was by no means flat though. 

It was so fun to run a race on the island that I have lived on the past year, and it was special to see many people who’ve I’ve met in the last year.

After ate some udon and Tacchan and I watched Daichi and Kazuki finish.
 It was nice and sunny out and was enjoying the moment.

Went to the Kurahashi Onsen with Danny, Naoki and Yuko’s family member Masahiro who is an elementary student at Washo ES. Kind of fun to look after him.

Hung around Matahari for a bit after and had some beers before getting ready to go into Hiro with Kazuki, Tacchan and their volleyball teammates. Went to an Izakaya type of place and drank too much as always. After when Tacchan was singing at karaoke, ended up tearing up thinking about how limited the time was. Should write a separate blog on leaving Japan to try and capture all the moments, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on it.

Now I’m back at the local Caribou in Crystal, Minnesota and it’s hard to process what has happened in the last couple days, the last week, and even the whole the last year.

Haven't been running much because of the ankle but the swelling is starting to come down.

Hopefully I can do this race again in good ol' Kurahashi. Morimoto Sensei was talking about perhaps making a long course Aquathon next year with a 4.8km swim and full marathon. That would be pretty dope.

Need to get to work on the Fuji Ascent race blog.

Am maybe running around Mt Rainer in a week.