22nd Yatsugatake Nobeyama Highland 100km Ultra Marathon, 22nd May 2016
Start time 5:00am
This was my second 100km ultra marathon after running Hida Takayama (Gifu prefecture) 100km in June 2015. I experienced so much from that event, but was also secretly envious when Rie and Yuiichi participated in Nobeyama last year. Their stories were so nice to hear, I like hearing about other people’s battles.
The Nobeyama course also appealed to me as I simply love the area of Nagano/Yamanashi border. This year, fellow Nambanners joined in too: Yukari Oimatsu, Taro Oguchi and Eric Lebrasseur, together with Rie Onodera as a support runner from the 72km point to the goal.
The start was 5am, and so a very early departure from the hotel in the dark, at 3am, was necessary. Many thanks to Yukari-san for driving and coordinating! The course started at a rather high elevation (1355m above sea level) and as it was before sunrise, the temperature was rather cool at the start, around 12 degrees Celcius. For breakfast, I had a banana, piece of cake and coffee, and had about 4 hours sleep, but I did not exert myself at all the previous day. In all, I felt good and prepared after Golden Week Boot Camp which was great preparation (merci Harrisson and Mika x2!) .
In the starting block, Yukari and I were in the middle section, there were about 2976 people starting (of which 2452 were 100km participants, the rest took the shorter courses of 72km or 42km – with the same start time). Yukari and I tried to look for Eric and Taro, but a) we didn’t coordinate ourselves very well, b) it was real early c) it was dark…
The gun went off and smoothly we progressed. Keeping a slow pace for the first few kilometres, we passed through a few fresh smelling cattle farms. Oh, we were definitely in the countryside.
Enter the Trail
About 8km into the course, the road ended and we entered the dirt surface. It wasn’t that narrow, but there were sections where there were rocks and watching where you put your feet was necessary. I was thinking at this point that Eric, who is a skilled distance trail runner, would be completely in his element here.
On the other hand, for me, I felt it rather frustrating and energy sapping having to focus on foot placement. Stay calm, stay calm I thought. The trail continued up the mountain and the maximum elevation was at the 20km point (1903m). Then there were to be three more kilometres down the mountain, on the trail. By this point I was saying “This is total BS, give me bitumen!”. Anyway, maybe I was just cranky being early morning still. I knew by 23km there would be road, so I continued to press on.
Finally the road appeared, runners were sitting on the ground emptying their shoes and socks from accumulated stones, I kept on going as there were only a few stones in my shoe and nothing which annoyed me enough. Just happy to see asphalt again.
Another few kilometres passed again, mostly downhill, before we slowly went to a forested area. Again. Why?
OK so we were suddenly back on dirt again. This wasn’t on the course map. Various expletives again. It was time for a morning coffee I guess. About 3 km later and another elevation rise, the road again appeared and by now I was feeling quite low on power and motivation. But thankfully, no more dirt from here on.
Passing the next peak at 35km (1610m elevation), the road went a fairly steep 9%-11% downhill, which I felt good about running after doing some training on downhills during Golden Week. The love
I love running on grass. For a good stretch of the downhill, there was an overrun grass area which we could run on and the feeling was elating. Back to normal levels of motivation and the first bag drop was close at 42km. Halfway there
I passed through the halfway 50km point at 5 hours which was a great feeling. I felt fresh still, my muscles were not too stiff and after rinsing my face using the buckets of water, was ready to plough on.
From about 53km to 65km there was a very long tough section, which overlaps, so you can see other runners. I spotted Eric going the opposite direction as he was about 5km ahead, much faster than me. I cried out to him and we were mutually glad to see each other, I think for me at least the race had been quite monotonous by this point. I asked him “How are you going?” to which he replied “Not good”, which got me a bit worried, but I know Eric is a fighter so I just wished him luck.
72km bag drop
After the overlapped area, we were back to the slow uphill again, and it was quite steep but more than that, it was hot. I started to walk a bit. Closing in to the second and final bag drop, I thought about the coffee thermos I had packed and started to slow jog. Another runner started chatting to me, and we laughed at the stupidity of this race.
After the bag drop rest, I felt more energised and could jog once more. This continued until we entered the gates of the next mountain which was 1620m. The runner I met previously had caught up, and she was on a mission. I later learnt it was her 4th try of this course, so it was good to get some advice. Up the hill, we ran for 45 seconds, then walked 10-20 seconds before repeating running again. It was working, but the mountain road was very long.
We ran together down the mountain which was an equally long descent, and continued to the 87km aid station. It was good to have someone to chat to and running the same pace on such a long run. It ain’t over til it’s over
At 90km the course went into a really annoying slow uphill and this would continue until the finish. Heading west, the afternoon sun was directly in front for most part, in your face and the heat was tough. The road was straight and without shade, lined by electric power poles. Again, the fellow runner had more advice, run for the next two electricity posts, then walk until the next one, and repeat. Slowly we progressed.
At 93km aid station, whilst grabbing a few cups of water, I was surprised to see Eric once more! He seemed to have been resting at the station. Not a good sign, I was very concerned now. He told me that he would rest for a while, something which was very sensible. If it were me, I may well have continued running until collapsing somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Heat stroke for sure, I thought.
The last few kilometres ticked over so slowly. It was not helped that one of my legs were cramping up now, I had lost a lot of salt through sweat and the muscle was feeling it. But spurred on by the “after x km” signs, which were now single digit. Finally, the finish was there and it was one of the nicest sights to see.
Finish time: 11 hours 26 minutes 43 seconds Placing: 228th position 100km course completion rate: 58.6% (1438 of 2452 runners)
Happily, all Nambanners finished within the 14 hour cut off!! Yukari did an amazing effort, she was in tears at the end from happiness, Eric won the battle and somehow overcame the overheating, and Taro who had minimalist training with a super busy schedule crossed with well over 15 minutes to spare before cut off.
The best feeling was just to sit down after standing all day, strange I know! I felt thirsty, but otherwise not too bad after the end, and so happy to see other Nambanners finish.
There was a super maniac on the podium who completed 20x 100k Nobeyama race. His comments were of all the years he had done it, this was one of the hottest and therefore toughest he has done. I was glad to hear that, because to me, this event this year was certainly beyond compare to any other event I have done in my running career.
Max elevation: 1903m above sea level (6243ft)
Min elevation: 880m (2887ft)
Max temp: about 28 degrees Celcius
Conditions: very strong sun by midday. Not much wind.