Think Japan and you can’t help but think of the iconic Mount Fuji. Rising 12,389 feet (3,776 meters) above sea level, the cone-like mountain is one of Japan’s highest and holds deep significance for the Japanese people. With alpine lakes nestled into its steep foothills and abounding in lush green goodness, it’s perhaps the perfect setting for the premiere 100-mile race in Asia: the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji (UTMF).
The UTMF was envisaged by legendary Japanese ultrarunner Tsuyoshi Kaburaki back in 2007 when he raced at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) for the first time. In awe of the epic race, he wondered whether there was a way to bring a sister race with some of the same spirit to his country. If he was to do it, he knew the race had to be at Fuji. Six years on and in its second year, it’s safe to say Kaburaki has succeeded.
In only two short years (thanks in part to its seamless organization and incredibly happy local volunteers), the UTMF has evolved into Asia’s number one and most challenging 100-miler, and every bit worth its association with the famed UTMB. When you look at what’s in store for runners along the way, you can understand why.
Starting 3 p.m. this Friday local time (midnight early Friday MDT), 800 competitors have 46 hours to run 161 kilometers (100 miles) around Mt. Fuji while tackling 9,000 meters (~30,000′) of elevation gain in extreme conditions. (It’s been snowing at the start over the last week.) Then there’s the very real prospect of encountering bears (all racers must carry a bear bell) and the added challenge (or bonus for Japanese food lovers!) of the aid stations – not stocked with your usual array of gels and powders, but Japanese delicacies like miso soup and sushi balls called onigiri. The intensity of the challenge is only softened by 360-degree views of the sacred mountain and numerous alpine lakes along the way.
Though last year’s start line was missing some top runners (who had registered but were unable to make it), the success of the 2012 race has drawn and secured perhaps the best ultrarunning field Asia has seen yet. Top runners from Europe and North America, as well as the best of local Asian talent, look set to battle it out in this increasingly popular race. Let’s take a look at some of the top contenders.
2013 UTMF Men’s field
Julien Chorier (Salomon) is back to defend his title against a number of his fellow countrymen. With a win at the Hardrock 100 in 2011 and having only recently won in Asia with fellow Salomon teammates at the 2012 Oxfam Trail Walker 100k in Hong Kong, Chorier is in form, familiar with the quirks of running in Asia and this course (although the course runs anti-clockwise this year).
Perhaps his greatest competition comes from The North Face’s Sebastien Chaigneau, as the Frenchman recently won the 119k TransGranCanaria in March. After being unable to make the race last year, Chaigneau will no doubt be looking to make an impression in his debut.
Also from France in his first race in Asia is Antoine Guillon from Lafuma France. A trail running veteran, he has been ranked in the top four of the Grand Raid de la Réunion six times and fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth in the UTMB. Another Frenchman worth mentioning is Christophe Le Saux who was fifth at the 2012 Sur les Traces des Ducs de Savoie (105k) and ninth overall at the 2013 Marathon des Sables desert stage race.
Representing North America is Gary Robbins from Team Salomon in Canada. After some time off due to breaking his foot (twice – ouch), Robbins is finally back in action. In January, Robbins shattered his own course record at the HURT 100 in 19 hours and 35 minutes and earlier this month broke another course record at the Diez Vista 50k trail run. UTMF is one of his big races for the year and we expect to see him among the top finishers.
Japan’s best will be represented by Kenichi Yamamoto (Houdini), who came third in UTMF last year. In 2012, he became the first Japanese runner to win an European event when he won the 100-mile Grand Raid Des Pyrenees. He has had consistently top ranking results in the UTMB, placing eighth in 2009 and 10th in 2011. With experience in 100-milers and international races, he is the pick of the Japanese runners.
Another local runner worth mentioning is Shogo Mochizuki (La Sportiva) who was fourth in UTMF last year. Winner of the bi-annual Trans Japan Alps Race (TJAR) 450k foot race though Japan Alps in 2010 and 2012, Mochizuki’s strength is long races – the more challenging the race is, the better.
Coming from Hong Kong is Canadian Jeremy Ritcey (Salomon) stepping up to the 100-mile distance after placing fourth last year in the shorter 85m sister race of the UTMF, the Shizuoka To Yamanashi (STY). Ritcey was part of the team in the 2012 100k Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker only four minutes behind the Salomon France team, of which Chorier was a part.
Sadly, the race will not see one of HK’s best, Stone Tsang, who had to pull out due to injury.
From a little further south is Australian Brendan Davies (Inov-8), 2012 Australian male Ultra Runner of the Year. The first Aussie over the line (and fourth overall) at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in New Zealand last month in 9 hours 51 minutes, Davies is looking strong.
New Zealand’s Grant Guise (Salomon), who was first in the 2012 Canadian Death Race and third at 2011 Tarawera Ultra, is tackling his first 100 miler at the UTMF. With a background in ski-mountaineering, Guise looks set to be strong over this terrain.
2013 UTMF Women
Krissy Moehl (Patagonia/UltraAspire) from the USA looks set to lead the women’s field being the most experienced runner at the 100-mile distance. Her recent fourth place at the 2012 Hardrock 100, backed up after a fourth-place finish at Western States and a win in the UTMB in 2009 show her impressive credentials over both distance and elevation.
British Claire Price (Salomon), who lives in Hong Kong, heads to Fuji with a string of course records under her belt after the Asian trail running season. She is in the form of her life, having recently taken 20 minutes off Lizzy Hawker’s course record at the 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100 in 11 hours and 58 minutes (100k over 14,700 feet of elevation gain). In November 2012, her women’s team (including relocated American runner Kami Semick) took out the course record in the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker.
Another Hong Kong runner worth a mention is Chiaki Fjeddahl who was second behind Price in the 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100.
Hailing from Australia is Shona Stephenson (Inov-8), who recently chicked all but two of the men with a third-place finish overall at the New Zealand Northburn 100. She’s undoubtedly one of the best Aussie female talents, with a swag of top placings in local races to her name. Her recent form at Northburn, after having to pull out of the Tarawera Ultra at the 85k mark with medical troubles, revealed her true grit of the type required over this distance.
The pick of the local Japanese runners is Hiroko Suzuki (Salomon), who placed second in UTMF last year. She was the age-group winner of the 2006 Western States (18-29 female) and fourth in the 2012 Tor des Geants in Italy.
During 2011 Yumiko Ohishi (La Sportiva) won several major ultra races in Japan 2011. However, due to injury she was unable to finish the UTMF last year. Now back from injury, having recently won the Izu Trail Journey 71k in March, she is another local Japanese runner to look out for.
Live Race Coverage
Local Japanese runner and blogger, Koichi Iwasa, will be providing live coverage of the race from his website.
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
- For those who ran UTMF last year, what are your thoughts on the race? How do you think reversing the course direction will affect the race?
- If you’re running this year, what are you most looking forward to about the race? What do you think will be most challenging about this particular race (other than the distance)?
- Who do you think will win the men’s and women’s races?