While many eyes were turned towards various Skyrunning races in Europe and several other quality ultras around the world, a major new event had its inaugural year in Japan, The North Face Ultra Trail Mount Fuji (“UTMF”). It’s the brain-child of Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, the Japanese ultrarunner who has had great performances at ultras for years, especially UTMB and Western States.
He first went to UTMB five years ago and this led to the vision to create a similar race in Japan. Actual preparation for the race started around two years ago and it was meant to occur last year, but the tsunami forced a cancellation. The course had to be revised in 2012 and many sections of the race had to be re-routed because the earthquake that caused the tsunami had caused damage due to landslides and rock-falls.
Mt. Fuji was the obvious choice for location since it’s Japan’s highest mountain with an elevation of 3,776m (12,388ft) and is an active volcano straddling the Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures. Five lakes are located in the foothills of the mountain and the full course includes a view of every angle of Mt Fuji.
In terms of stats for the race, here it is in numbers:
- May 18-20, 2012
- 156km (97 miles)
- 48 hours cut-off
- Limit of 800 runners, which was reached very quickly
- Approx 8,530m of ascent and the same amount of descent (28,000ft)
- Approximately 4% of the runners were from overseas
- 15 different nationalities, 11 different countries
They also offer a shorter version like at UTMB, going from Shizuoka to Yamanashi and covering 82km (almost 51 miles) with a limit of 1,200 runners.
Many top North American and European runners initially entered the event, including Scott Jurek, Mike Wolfe, Sebastian Chaigneau and Tracy Garneau but they didn’t make the start line. That left the field open to be dominated by the likes of Julien Chorier (2011 Hardrock 100 winner), Adam Campbell (2012 Chuckanut 50k winner), Hal Koerner (double Western States winner), Duncan Callaghan (double Leadville 100 winner) and Nerea Martinez for the ladies (2nd in the last two UTMBs). Many fast Japanese runners obviously turned up to race hard, as well.
Although live coverage of the race was limited and mainly in Japanese (Bryon was too busy at Zegama watching the North American contingent, which included the author, falling around in the mud), all reports seem to be positive. The men’s event was a two-horse race between Adam Campbell and Julien Chorier, with Hal Koerner dropping early and Duncan Callaghan off the pace. For the women, Nerea Martinez destroyed the field with over a 3 hour margin of victory. Translated results are below and come from the Petzl blog which also has great photos because the official results are mainly in Japanese (men and women).
UTMF Men’s Results
- Julien Chorier (Salomon) – 18:53:12 (race report)
- Adam Campbell (Arc’teryx/Salomon) – 19:26:29
- Kenichi Yamamoto – 21:15:02
- Shogo Mochizuki – 21:54:56
- Minehiro Yokoyama – 22:33:48
UTMF Women’s Results
- Nerea Martinez Urruzola (Salomon) – 24:05:04
- Hiroko Suzuki – 27:16:32
- Nora Senn – 28:31:57
- Yukari Nishida – 29:03:31
- Hitomi Ogawa – 29:39:34
Other Notable North Americans
- 11. Duncan Callaghan (Vasque) – 23:35:08
Adam Campbell’s Report
I really want to have a good crack at UTMB and, without having done a 100 miler, I figured this would be great preparation. I also think the race will grow in popularity in the coming years, so being part of the inaugural event is special.
From a cultural perspective, Japan has an amazing relationship with running and endurance events and my grandfather was the Canadian ambassador to Japan in the ‘60s and spoke very highly of the country and the people. I grew up surrounded by Japanese art and memorabilia, as well as his stories and have always wanted to visit. Also, my wife has been competing in Japan, almost annually for the past 6 years and always comes home raving about the experience.
I like to call mountain ultra races, “competitive adventures,” so adding in travel to a foreign country adds to the adventure of it all. Plus, it kept me motivated through the long, cold and dark winter months of the northern hemisphere.
Overall, the race was amazingly well organized. The course was well-marked, beautiful and challenging and they had a tonne of volunteers and spectators. I had a few language barrier issues at a couple intersections and ran off course by about a kilometer at one point, but that was my fault as much as the volunteers at that corner. Even at night, they had LED lights marking the route through the woods and grassland areas, which made it easy to follow.
The race also gave a great sense of local culture, in that they had us run past temples and sacred areas, through towns, as well as some magnificent views of Mt Fuji and the Southern Alps. I also saw quite a bit of wildlife, with several deer and animals called raccoon dogs.
There is a very vibrant trail running scene emerging in Japan and along with their respect for endurance sports, you could feel how welcoming they were and how excited they were to host this world class event.
The technical sections of the race were incredibly steep and technical, very similar to what we have on the North Shore mountains of Vancouver, but that was partly offset by about 40 kilometers of road running, which still had noticeable amounts of climbing.
Hal Koerner’s Report
I was initially draw to UTMF partly because it’s a point-to-point course, if you will, with amazing scenery and I also wanted to be a part of the participation base that is off the charts for this inaugural event.
Getting the chance to visit Japan, from the massive urban complex to the countryside surrounding Fuji, the hospitality of the Japanese people, getting exposure to such a vastly different culture was something I couldn’t pass up.
Indeed my race ended early, I was running well and in fourth or fifth position through 24 miles when we cruised out of town and began one of the many ascents on the course. About ten minutes into the climb my breathing was erratic and my legs became more and more fatigued, almost on the verge of cramping? Four hours later, I walked into the next aid station completely shot. A repeat of 2011 UTMB was not in the cards. [Author’s note: Hal death marched in just under 39 hours, which was inspiring to see first-hand.] I also think that traveling to foreign countries and indulging in the culture and excitement of it all takes a larger toll on the body than one expects. I do know that no matter how hard I try to put the disappointing circumstances that caused me to retire from the event out of my mind there will be a number of instances that make me want to relive it for years to come.
From a racers perspective, the event was unbelievably well run. Race management (a shout out to Kab, TNF Japan, and Goldwin) was unbelievable. Everything was well organized and abundantly taken care of for this inaugural event. Remember, this is the first 100 mile race in all of Asia.
The event has many striking similarities to UTMB, the first being the massive amount of volunteers and their associated efforts along the course and in aid station as well as the copious marking and human markers at most intersection. (No, really, most intersections along the 100 miler.) The aid stations had everything and as I followed Carly along the course later on I saw the workers there bend over backwards to get runners fed, massaged, encouraged and on their way.
The Start/Finish line atmosphere was very inspiring with its large staging area and numerous vendor booths, but, in typical Japanese fashion, everything was well-organized, clean and RELAXED. Something I needed to help ease the nerves leading into the race. UTMB can feel overcharged at times and crowded, which is great for building excitement, but it can be exhausting at times as well. I mean, I’m used to start lines with a couple hundred people at most.
They offer a great view of life here in Japan, but I found the diverse running conditions exhausting. Changing gears from very steep/technical climbs and descents onto 6-minute/mile pace roads was taxing at times and necessitated even more pacing that I eschewed too early I believed. Speaking on a technical standpoint, there are three or four mountainous areas that rival anything at the HURT 100 and there is once section, some 17 miles in length with over 6,000 feet of climb. It is arduous to say the least with rock outcroppings and ropes to facilitate a walk at best. Remember, this section took the winner 4.5 hours and most well over 7 hours.
The course is beautiful though, there are expansive views of Fuji on almost every section as they refresh the mind and help to carry the runner on. The forests and mountains are unlike anything seen in the US and are well worth the easy trip to Tokyo and beyond. The numerous Japanese spectators and volunteers along the route definitely stepped up to match the cheering throngs akin to UTMB and made the experience uniquely cultural.