After taking fourth at last year’s UTMB, Japan’s Kaori Niwa comes to the U.S. for the first time to take on the 2018 Hardrock 100. In the following interview (our first with Kaori), Kaori talks about her history with sports, her season so far, her preference for longer races on harder terrain, and her thoughts about running Hardrock.
Kaori Niwa Pre-2018 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Kaori Niwa before the 2018 Hardrock 100. How are you?
Kaori Niwa: Very well, thank you.
iRunFar: You arrived here a few days ago, a full two weeks before the race. Why is that?
Niwa: Well, I have to get used to this altitude. Japan does not have mountains this high. The highest is Mount Fuji.
iRunFar: Is this your first time this high?
Niwa: Yes, I went to Handies Peak yesterday and it was the highest mountain I’ve ever experienced in my life.
iRunFar: Was that exciting?
Niwa: Yes, exciting. Also, I went to the peak and went down and then back to the top – I did it twice and it was really tough. Yeah, I’m so tired today [laughs].
iRunFar: Well, you have just come from sea level to elevation. Hopefully, you’ll be able to prepare and in a couple weeks you’ll feel good.
Niwa: Yeah, I hope I get used to it.
iRunFar: You’ve already had a big season. You ran Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji and Lavaredo.
Niwa: That’s right. This is my third 100-mile race. I did Gaoligong by UTMBin March. In April, I did UTMF. This one will be the third.
iRunFar: How did those first races go?
Niwa: For Gaoligong by UTMB I wasn’t really prepared well enough. I was a bit sick during the winter and I was just recovering. I still came second and I was happy with that. At UTMF, I totally did it at 100% and I was really happy with my result, though Courtney Dauwalter was so fast and there was such a big gap of time in between [laughs].
iRunFar: So you finished second to Courtney?
iRunFar: There’s no shame in that [laughs].
Niwa: The last race I did was Lavaredo – 120k was a bit too short for me. I hope I will do better in this race.
iRunFar: I was going to ask – looking at your results, you seem to like really hard, really long races. Is that true?
Niwa: Yes, that’s true. I think I’m a very slow runner so I need that distance and I need very hard terrain.
iRunFar: The harder the better?
Niwa: I think so.
iRunFar: You’re pretty good at climbing, then?
Niwa: I have stamina, I think. I always start very slow and take it easy, then pick up the pace toward the end. Hopefully, I can do it like that this time.
iRunFar: Is that your plan?
Niwa: Yes. Although this time the altitude will probably do something to me and I don’t know if [my racing strategy] is going to work.
iRunFar: Speaking from experience, especially when running Hardrock in this direction, you’re up at very high elevation at the end of the race. You stay high at Cataract Lake and Pole Creek. So it can be difficult to keep going hard.
Niwa: Will you get used to it towards the end?
iRunFar: No, sorry to say! [Shakes head and laughs] So, I’d love to know more about your background with sports. How did you get involved with sports and, then, trail running?
Niwa: It’s very funny. I have a funny background because I never had running experience in my life. I had judo when I was in high school. In judo, you sort of learn how to be very strong against yourself. The coach was always telling me, “do it until you can’t.” You always try to do one step more than you actually can, that kind of thing. It’s still in me. When I’m running, I can still hear him: “don’t stop now.”
iRunFar: I need your judo coach in my head.
Niwa: Yeah! That was good experience for me. After that, I did start skiing. Why I started to try running was that when I do backcountry skiing, I have to climb. If I climb more, I can ski more, so I thought “I need more fitness.” So I started to run during summertime. Now, I get too busy and I can’t ski during springtime, but skiing is my sort of background.
iRunFar: How long have you been trail running, then? When did you start?
Niwa: Six years ago.
iRunFar: Only six years ago?
Niwa: My running experience is only six years.
iRunFar: When did you start ultrarunning, then?
Niwa: After one or two years, I think.
iRunFar: Still, to go from being in eight place at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc two years ago to last year being fourth – that’s incredible!
Niwa: It’s amazing. I didn’t expect it.
iRunFar: What’s next?
Niwa: I don’t know. Hopefully getting a spot at UTMB this year.
iRunFar: Well, you’ve got this one first. Is there anything you’re excited for?
Niwa: I want to complete the run. It’s amazing because I registered for the lottery for the first time, and won the lottery the first time. I have been so lucky and I’ve probably used all the luck, but I want to complete this race and, of course, I want to get a good result. I don’t know who the competitors are, so I can’t really say which place I’m targeting, but I’m targeting my best.
iRunFar: And you’ll know what that is.
iRunFar: Is there anything you’re nervous for, particularly with Hardrock?
Niwa: Not really. With this race I can run with my pacer, so that makes things… not easier, but more comfortable.
iRunFar: Do you have pacers lined up already?
Niwa: Yes, of course. My teammate, Kazufumi Ose, from Salomon, he’s coming from Japan.
iRunFar: That’s great. He’s a very strong runner. Hopefully he can keep up.
Niwa: Yes, he’s doing 100k. I’m not using two pacers.
iRunFar: That’s a big challenge! Sometimes a pacer can get tired, because it’s not their race.
Niwa: I know, I know. I told him to get ready for it [laughs].
iRunFar: No pressure! So, this is your first trip to the United States and I would guess, your first time with a pacer. It’s a whole lot of new experiences.
Niwa: Yes. That’s right. I’m so excited. I’m so happy to be here.
iRunFar: Well, it’s so good to have you here. Best of luck in your race.
Niwa: Thank you very much.