This road race is an offbeat challenge, and one of the few races where I carry my phone to take photographs because the scenery is so beautiful.
Mt. Norikura of Kita Alps, is located west of Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture on the Gifu prefecture border. The race is on a road which is only open to specific buses or cyclists for most parts of the year, and is actually the highest elevation road in Japan.
Aimed at those slightly mad runners like myself, who find uphills fun and downhills pleasant. Other similar people in this bucket for 2016 included Chika, Rie, Stan, Yuiichi, Taro and Takeshi.
For me, training involved a 100km ultra marathon in nearby Nobeyama. This was sufficient if probably overkill. I treated this as a taper run into the summer offseason.
Thanks to Yuiichi’s wonderful hospitality, the day prior to the race we enjoyed a nice tour of Matsumoto castle.
In 2015, the race was cut back to about 25km due to miserable rain. However, I participated back in 2013 (actually, with the same characters, Chika, Rie and Takeshi) and enjoyed glorious blue skies, so I was filled with optimism for this second attempt.
There is no denying the climb. A super smooth uphill gradient is perfect practice for Mt Fuji Summit Climb race, but slight twist is that 18km is up, the remaining 12 km is back down, whilst Mt Fuji race is only up.
The start elevation is 1,464m (4,800 ft) above sea level, then goes to a heady 2,576m (8,450ft) before coming back down to 1,809m (5,935ft). At these levels, altitude sickness is not a problem unless you are extremely sensitive.
There are a few aid stations, not too many, but sufficient for most runners. I’ve read some of the other participant’s post-race comments on the runnet forum, and there is a large number of people asking for a shorter race option. I would not be surprised if this would become an option for future years. However, to me, the distance is about right.
About a kilometre before the summit, you can see large walls of snow. If you have never experienced this before, it is an incredible feeling. The snow really silences all noise and feels like you are running in the clouds.
Every Nambanner this year finished very strong, particularly Yuiichi Kanamori, who smashed out a 38th overall placing at 2h36m. Rie Onodera came 8th position for the women’s category at 2h55m whilst, Chika Kanai was only slightly behind and completed the event in 11th placing at 2h56m.
I came in 99th overall at 2h50m. Stan, Taro and Takeshi all managed to be under the very respectable 3hour 10min time.
The rain began to fall soon after that, so we got very lucky this year with the weather conditions.
Admittedly, this is not a race easily accessible by public transport, and as a result, I would recommend gathering a group of friends and going by car. It is in the middle of the beautiful Japanese countryside, bring your supplies and just enjoy the simple life.
If this appeals to you, mark your calendar for 2017 and keep an eye out for this interesting event.