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.

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