During my lengthy stay here on Okinawa, I have enjoyed participating in several endurance sporting events. You only live once, right? I’ve completed 26.2-mile marathons in exotic places like Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and Hawaii. I’ve biked 330 kilometers (206 miles) in the 2-day non-competitive Tour de Okinawa. I’ve also been able to finish the Izena 88 Triathlon twice (2K swim/ 66K bike/ 20K run).
Although I’ve been told many times that I cannot leave Japan without climbing Mt. Fuji, this was another adventure that never really sparked my interest. Why would I want to climb Mt. Fuji? Everybody does that. Then one day I came across information about a 1/2 marathon Mt. Fuji Mountain Race. Perfect. Let’s do it! .
According to the race website, the 21 kilometer race to the summit starts in Fujiyoshida and climbs a total of 9,770 feet, finishing at the summit, 12,388 feet above sea level. Challenging, but something I hoped that I could manage.
It’s been 3 years since I entered this race, but as I recall the first 5 miles weren’t too bad. Well shaded on a nice trail, with the exception of the first kilometer, all uphill. I remember thinking just set the treadmill at an 8% or 10% incline for a few miles and you’ll get the idea what this is like. The stretch between 5 and 10 miles proved a bit more challenging, with some short little climbs over steps and rocks. No big deal.
My time at Station 6 (10 miles give or take) was 1 hr 57 minutes, and little did I know that the fun part of the course was still ahead. At that point all running was replaced by slow, steady, uphill, never ending climbing/walking. The pace wasn’t bad, but I kept looking up, where as far as I could see was a winding trail of people disappearing into the clouds. People that I had no hope of catching.
Below me was a similar image, only they were passing me one by one. I was supposed to be in a race, yet here I was falling farther and farther behind.
With the idea of racing all but over, I focused on reaching that still invisible summit, chatting with hikers carrying their precious walking sticks along the way. Forgetting place and time, I just wanted to get this one over with.
Finally, right at 4 hours, I crossed the finish line! I was happy to beat the 4 hr 30 minute cut-off with a half hour to spare, but then it hit me that I still had to get down. That took another 2 hours.
Was it worth it? I’ll remember this race for the rest of my life, so I guess so. Could I have done better? Sure, if I’d done a lot more uphill running and Stairmaster training. It was harder than I’d imagined, but not as painful as running a full marathon. Will I go back? You know what they say about Mt. Fuji. “One who never climbs Mt. Fuji is a fool, and one who climbs it twice is twice the fool.” That bit of wisdom certainly applies to the Mt. Fuji Mountain Race.
This year, the 59th running of the Mt. Fuji Mountain Race will be July 28th.
Dave Elger is a well respected authority within the running community having written hundreds of articles on the topics of running and wellness. You can contact him at http://www.daveelger.com. He also supports the Okinawa Running Club.