• Elliot Cooper

2017 Yamanaka Onsen 50 mile trail race.

Updated: May 23

In 2015 this was my first ultra and my first trail race. Every year the course is a little different and a little harder. The organisers add more mountains to increase the distance run on trails. Physical changes in the earth such as landslides force detours. Each year the weather has been very different too. But I know the course well now and I feel a strong connection to this race.

Moments before the 5am start. Rain. I stand close to the front with Wolf and Yamada, “what’s your plan?” I ask, “Uh, try to stick with you for a while.” I shake their hands, the starting horn sounds, and we’re off.

Off the starting line I try to improve my position before we reach single track. Somewhere in the predawn darkness on Mt. Mizunashi is the last time I see Wolf. I blast through the first aid station with high 5s from race organizer Tamori and my friend Q. The track widens and I start chatting to the runner next to me, “what races have you been in lately”, I ask. “KOUMI 100; I’ve done all the OSJ races this year.” This is a formidable achievement. I wonder if I’m pushing too hard keeping pace with this guy, and he continues, “Next weekend I run the H.U.R.T 100” this is a tough 100 mile race in Hawaii in a totally different climate with technical sections featuring spiderweb-like exposed root systems. Clearly his commitment to the sport is a level above mine. Nonetheless, I think I can keep up. The pace on the Mt. Kariyasu descent is fast. We round a bend to meet a chest-high fallen tree. The H.U.R.T guy just crouches and slides under it as though on skis, then continues running like this is completely normal. But there’s no time to stand there and be impressed.

The climb up Mt. Fujisha is steady. I overtake a few runners and spend most of the time behind bib no. 1. (I’m not sure who this is, but I think he’s an inov-8 sponsored runner). The descent is, like last year, very slippery. I’m on my arse again and again, but I know this happens and I get down fine. I cross the Kyudani dam wall and ignore the second aid station. Before long I’m at the first time gate. My shoes are covered in mud. Mutsumi gives me more gels, changes my drink bottles and feeds me fruit while I change my socks. The next climb up Mt. Dainichi is the biggest of the course and I know this is an important one for me. Other runners are struggling and I overtake 5 on the ascent. But if you go up you have to come down. Now the rain is heavier and the descent is a monster slippery-slide of mud.

At the second time gate I eat noodles and rice balls. Mutsumi prepares my pack with more bars, gels, etc. I change my socks again. Due to a landslide on Sugi Pass the next section is rerouted along the road. A quick wet 8km and I’m at the 3rd time gate. I get my bib scanned and press on to the Mt. Sankoushi section. I know this is the toughest part of the course. It comes after 60km of hard yakka, and it just goes updownupdownupdown seemingly forever. It breaks people who are not prepared for it. I overtake one runner early in the section and see no-one until I’m back on the road. I grab a banana and a power bar at the aid station and keep running as fast as I can. Mutsumi is waiting about 1km from the time gate with Kaku and other volunteers. High 5s and Mutsumi runs with me while I tell her what I need. Just a couple of minutes at time gate 4 and I run towards Mt. Kurakake, the steepest climb on the course. Water pours down the rocks as I scramble upwards. I descend carefully, but quickly, then sprint to the final aid station. Mutsumi has just arrived, and I give her all my food. I won’t need it now. As I run back into the forest it gets very dark. I put my headlamp on full blast. It’s this very section of trail that 2 years earlier convinced me I needed a high quality headlamp, and I am very glad to have it. I move along the ridge quickly and reach the descent. It’s dangerous here, but I can see where I am going and in moments I am out on the road. With everything I’ve got left I sprint down the road to the river bank, negotiating stepping stones and waterfalls flooding the path. I nearly miss a turn at the last bridge. Out on the road I run full tilt to the line in front of the Yamanaka Onsen Kabuki Theatre.

The result: 12hrs 51mins - 19th place overall.

Tamori and his team did a great job getting the course ready despite a typhoon causing havok in the preceding weekend. Mutsumi did an amazing job as my support. The volunteers were great, too. Thank you everybody for another great event in Yamanaka Onsen!

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