I am trying to find the right words to describe my first 100 miles, aka 169 km and 9478 m of altitude gain of the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, and of course a lot of memories come up and I do not know where to start.
When I was picked up in Tokyo by the support team and met the other runners, I knew right away that the energy in the group was right for the race and that it would help me push through.
After comfortably settling into the lodge and trying to sleep and eat as much as we could before the race, the 3 pm start sound on Friday was welcoming ! I was not too nervous at the start, and my first concern was to try to get as much ahead as I could to avoid being stuck on the narrow sections ahead. On the first two sections, which will turn out to be the 'easier' ones with 'only' about 1800 m of positive online, I was running close behind a fast japanese lady dressed.....like Mickey Mouse. I kept passing her and she successively caught up with me, which soon started to make me quite nervous, and I felt stuck in a bad cartoon, waiting for the other Disney characters to show up. I tried to zoom her out , and the sunset helped me take care of that.
Japanese cuisine turned out not to be the best friend at the first two checkpoints. Villagers were eager to show off their local cuisine (which I would have enjoyed outside a race), but the strain of the distance played the usual tricks on my stomach. When a beautiful old lady presented me with a bowl of noodles with fish, I accepted it since I did not wanted to offend her. I did not stay long in my stomach....I was very ashamed to throw it all back up in front of her. My attentive support crew saved me later with sandwiches during the rest of the race, and my usual snickers bars and chips also did the trick....
Running through the night with a beautiful moon in the sky was certainly a big highlight of the race. I was fortunate to be running by myself most of the time, and truly enjoyed the silence and the peace of the beautiful forest. It was one of those moments where it was easy to keep going and running was just something my legs were doing on their own. After daybreak fatigue hit me heavily, and a boring stoney road through the woods followed by a roller coaster section under electricity lines almost got my sanity. I have a little quiz to check how tired I am, I make myself answer basic questions "where do I live'","what is my new phone number" etc. I got it all wrong at the first questions, which triggered some emergency bells. I gave myself a well deserved 25 minutes rest at checkpoint 7, changed clothes, ate some of my favourite muesli and drank loads of green tea. I took out my iPod and got the legs going again.
I knew that the beautiful but most dreaded section 8 lay ahead, also called ''torture chamber'. It is there that the race takes it toll, with this year a 55% drop out rate. In short, Tenshi-Sanchi is a succession of about 9 mountain peaks, with the highest reaching 1605 meters. The slopes are so steep that putting one feet in front of the other requires a huge effort and makes your calves burn, and on some sections you need to pull yourself up with ropes. The forest is so dense and the slope so steep that you cannot see any endpoint of this section. When you think you are done, another peak magically appears. A fellow runner was behind me, but was sick as a dog. I gave him all the stomach pills I had, and on the way down he flew past me with a big smile. I was struggling downwards, but managed to catch Mickey Mouse.It took me 6 hours to drag myself through those 19 km, and was warmly welcomed by my team at the checkpoint with those amazing sandwiches !! Unfortunately the steep downhill had taken its toll on my knees. I had them taped up, and took off again. Mickey Mouse abandoned at the checkpoint.
The next peak, Ryugatake, was 1495 meters with a beautiful leafy forest. Mount Fuji was in sight all the time, and my attention was taken up by snow and ice patches, beautiful moss and flowers I had never seen before. I ran in front of a group of 5 japanese runners for a long while, but soon had to slow down. My left knee started to ache bitterly and an icy wind reminded me that the sun would go down once again soon. I changed to warmer clothes in the middle of this wilderness, put on my headlight, ate some chocolate and gathered myself together to checkpoint 10.
After checkpoint 10, almost 139 km into the race, it all becomes a big blur. I met up with a very nice French lady, and we had a motivational chat. We stayed in each other's neighbourhood and it was reassuring to know that at this stage of mental fatigue I had someone who spoke my native language. This may sound silly, but most of the racers are Japanese, and their English is on average quiet poor besides 'nice rrrrrrrrun', and I realised that during 35 hours I had almost chatted to none besides my support team and singing songs out loud. At this point, it was just a matter of putting one feet in front of the other. I thought about all the people who had helped me to get ready for this race, the support team, my family who had so much patience with my training, and of course the amazing charity I was running for. I became a kind of robot, and soon realised that the end was not far. A lady told me that there was 10 more km to go. What ? This must be a mistake..... Other racers started to catch up with me in huge waves. I was thinking that I had ended up on a wrong path or that something was wrong with me, it was just not possible that so many people were passing me. Since it was dark, I did not realise that these were the fast runners from the STY (the short Mount Fuji race) . Finally, someone emerged from the dark and started to run and talk to me.....it was my husband !!! In 4 years of racing, he had never come to a race and there he was, running those last 600 meters with me. I was elated, and I passed the finish line after 35.5 hours at 3 am, and 19th woman overall ! I literally crashed at the lodge, and fell asleep on the dining table....
Thank you to all for all your support by email and Facebook, and generous donations to the charity Morning Tears. My Fuji journey is just a cakewalk in comparison to what the Morning Tears kids endure. Please keep supporting !
Last but not least, thank you to my wonderful teammates and support team, especially Teru, Shane, Amy, Jonathan, Steve, Karen, Anthony, Agnes, Hiromi, Phil, Denvy, Jihee, Dianna, Mayumi, Tomomi, Masami, Brendan, Owen, Sean, Rebecca, John, Yohei and all the other amazing people, I hope we can do it all over again next year !!