The eyes of the ultra running world will descend on Japan this weekend as the country stages the Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji (UTMF). Preparations, however, have not run smoothly. A typhoon this week hit the areas surrounding Japan’s iconic 3,776m volcano and has forced race organisers to slightly change the course route due to safety and environmental issues. The revised route now stands at 169km in length and includes 7,778m of elevation gain (the previous course was 167km/8,073m). It remains a stunning course run over trails, footpaths and forest tracks that circumnavigate one of the most famous peaks in the world. This year’s event is also the 11th and penultimate race in the 2016 Ultra-Trail World-Tour series.
Amongst the masses taking to the start line in Ohike Kouen will be US ultra trail runner Nickademus Hollon. It will be the 2016 Cruel Jewel 100-Mile winner’s debut at UTMF on his first trip to the land of the rising sun. Competition at the sharp end will certainly be fierce (the likes of Dylan Bowman, Sebastian Chaigneau and Xavier Thevenard are all entered to run) as the elite look to replicate the achievements of 2015 winner Gediminas Grinius (read Samurai Spirit & True Love).
We will be updating our social channels throughout the weekend with live news from the UTMF so follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Prior to flying out to Japan from his home in San Diego, Nickademus penned the following blog post:
A lean, mean, UTMF running machine
Cruel Jewel 100 was in May. I then retreated to my ‘hole’ for most of June, supporting my partner, Jade, as we built up her training towards the Cascade Crest 100 and really focused on how, where and when I was going to propose to her in Amsterdam mid-July. She said yes! Sometime around then, I was presented the chance to go to Japan and compete in Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji. How could I say no? Even with World’s Toughest Mudder only a short six weeks after, this opportunity was simply too good to turn down.
Most of late July/early August I focused on speed development, a known weakness of mine, neglecting excessive hill training and mileage, which are known strengths of mine. Coupled with high doses of weekly strength training, I ended my peak training phase feeling like a lean, mean running machine.
I’m really looking forward to participating in UTMF. And almost more than the event itself, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the foreign culture. It’s what I’d always dreamed about when studying anthropology back in college… traveling that is. And I feel so fortunate that I’ve found a career through which I can express and explore this passion.
Pre-conceived UTMF notions… right or wrong?
The following are five pre-conceived notions I’ve got going into this event. To prove to myself that anything pre-conceived is often very wrong, I’ll be writing a response to this blog post after the race, tallying up how (likely) wrong or right I was. Without further ado, here is what’s been going through my brain on morning runs over the past few months:
1. The bugs are going to be massive
One thing I learned about before leaving was the Japanese Giant Hornet. This thing is HUGE… like the biggest hornet in the world kind of huge. They grow up to 1.8 inches (about the size of your thumb) and their stingers on average are about a ¼ inch! They hide in the ground, colonizing unoccupied rodent holes. But they don’t stay in their homes. No. They hover for miles, pestering farmer’s fields and ravaging peaceful colonies of honeybees, which they violently slaughter and pillage. You’re likely to run into them anywhere. And peak season is… you guessed it, July to September. Responsible for 30-40 human deaths a year, these guys love low-lying forests and agricultural fields similar to the environments through which most of the UTMF is run. Hurray for the Japanese Giant Hornet!
Silver Lining: If I get stung or find one on me, screw coffee! That’ll give me enough of an adrenaline boost for a sub-5 minute mile at any point in the race. In addition to being massive, they’re also apparently endurance junkies and fly up to 60 miles in a single day. VAAM is apparently a Japanese endurance drink made up of the honey that these guys produce. Some athletes swear by the stuff, so I’ll be curious to check it out. Hopefully I won’t off-set the karma of the hornet gods by drinking their sweet nectar.
2. Half mountain race, half road race
According to the brief conversation that I had with previous UTMF runner and HURT 100 champion, Gary Robbins, this race is either on dead-flat runnable terrain (what we weird mountain people call ‘runnable’) or it’s horrifically steep mountains of infinite doom with ropes, chains and career-ruining rocks at every turn. Obviously, I’ve not been there, but from what Gary said, it sounds a lot like what I came across in Ometepe, Nicaragua, when I ran the Fuego y Agua 100km back in 2014.
Silver Lining: If it’s anything like Fuego y Agua, I’m hoping that I’ll do well. I prefer races that are over a mix of terrains and aren’t just entirely mountains (like Barkley or Tor des Geants) but also aren’t entirely roads (like Badwater 135).
3. An inevitable struggle with heat and humidity
It’s something I’ve fought with every time I’ve done the HURT 100. As the heat goes up, my ability to balance speed, temperature regulation and digestion begin to waiver. I’ve found it really difficult to pin point my sweat rate relative to the optimal amount of water I should be taking in per hour in humid conditions. There is a careful balance when running at the front of races. Too much water, and you’ll run slower because you’re carrying so dang much. Not enough water, and you risk dehydration or a drop in blood volume. The latter is far worse, so I’ll likely be that guy carrying two liters between aid stations!
Silver Lining: I live alongside the ocean here in San Diego, after moving from an inland base. The humidity index is about 10-15% higher in coastal communities than inland, therefore I’ll be that much more acclimatized, right? I also have much less of an ego than I had when I was younger, so I have no issues losing a few race positions temporarily as I take time to look after my personal hydration and nutrition.
4. A fool lost in translation
I feel it is not only right but also respectful to at least try and learn a few phrases in the native language of the countries I visit. No matter how terribly you are slaughtering it, the ‘attempt’ makes you vulnerable, approachable and shows the locals that you’re at least giving their culture a shot. Fumbling my way with Italian in the month leading up to Tor des Geants, this was exactly how I learned (a rudimentary version) of the language within such a short period of time. I will only be in Japan for five days, so I’m not expecting to pick up much. However, I look forward to giving it my all in terms of trying when and where I can.
Silver Lining: I get to experience a new language. And although it’s going to be a short trip, I get to sort of ‘scout it out’ for return trips in the near future.
5. UTMF is going to be insanely competitive
With top names from Japan, China, Europe and the USA all racing, the UTMF is going to be a competitive battle of the fittest. Cruel Jewel and Fat Dog (my most recent ultra wins), as great as they were, had nowhere near the depth of field that I will be toeing the line with in Japan. It’s an honor to get to compete with so many globally ranked athletes as part of the Ultra-Trail World-Tour, but it does make me shake in my boots a little bit.
Silver Lining: World’s Toughest Mudder, which I’ve done the last two years, had over 1,500 participants working and looping around a five-mile circuit. The UTMF, although also boasting around 1,500 participants (nearly double my biggest race) will be spread out through a one-loop course of roughly 106 miles!
* Nickademus will run UTMF in either the TrailTalon 250 or Terraclaw 220 trail running shoes. The deeper studs on the Terraclaw offer up more grip on softer terrain, so may be the preferred option given a typhoon hit the race area this week.
* Read other blogs by Nickademus: Inside The Mind Of An Ultra Runner