Trail race 45km/3,000m (28 miles/10,000ft) Kobe, Kansai, Japan
Red Lights in the mist
Red Lights in the mist
Well that was very interesting, to say the least. So many things I have never seen before in a long mountain race - some entertaining, like the woman who finished in still pristine make-up, wearing what appeared to be immaculate full 1980's disco gear including a skirt, tights and shocking pink leg-warmers, all topped off with a plastic mac. She did a decent time, too. Hats off to you madam, I always end up with panda eyes and sparkly tights round my muddy ankles when I go for glam in trail races. One or two novelties I'd be happy not to see again too soon, like queueing for a checkpoint stamp, amongst other things not involving actual running. My legs hurt and I have that 'day after a long race' feeling - hungry and thick headed with scary forehead veins and screaming skull eyes, but deeply satisfied - so something must have gone right.
|The finish of the Mt Rokko 45km race in Arima Onsen - that's the time of day, not the elapsed time|
Perversely, I was delighted to see the weather forecast was bad, and the first third was in heavy rain and wind, the 'real feel' at about 10c. Just a normal day at the office for an English fell runner, but not much to the liking of the average Japanese person. Not that trail runners are average - racing 45km with 3,000m of climb and descent (28 miles/10,000ft) is something of a specialised taste, but everyone was pretty wrapped up. Quite a few were wearing full length disposable plastic coats over their gear, as if in a last minute panic at the 'extreme' conditions - the first of the day's firsts. I decided that getting dehydrated was worse than being chilly and gambled on it getting warmer, raising a few eyebrows by setting off in shorts, thermal and pertex top, which proved to be right for me as I never felt cold, although there was a bit of ice around above 800m and it got a bit blowy. They will all have the last laugh when it gets hotter though. They will all be trotting along with nerry a bead of sweat in the summer, while I lie down, a crumpled and soggy mess of crimson heat stroke.
As predicted, the wave start was frustrating and even dangerous, as setting off last meant that the first 30% of the course was choked with runners, which provided a strange combination of being slowed down and frustration-induced adrenaline. I'm not sure if it made me push too hard or kept me to a sensible pace, but it felt weird. Not as weird as the controlled sections though - having to walk off the first hill on steps with no overtaking allowed, knowing that the first few through would have been running, was galling, followed by walking through a shopping street. Stewards were watching to disqualify anyone not complying. The most dramatic section of the course is the steep crag coming of Yokoo-san. There was a queue for this walking/no overtaking section, and again people starting in the first group would be quicker. I would usually look to pass a lot of people on this kind of terrain - not today! The second climb is a big flight of concrete steps, and threading past all the people strung up it took a lot of apologetic 'sumimasen' s.
|The finishing tape for every runner was a nice touch|
Releasing some frustration by blasting down the next descent felt good - until I got to the first of four sets of traffic lights on the route. Red. The wait of several aeons and a millennium gave all the people I'd passed time to catch up. Bugger. On the plus side, the next mountain had time to be eroded by 5cm.
The great thing about having run a course check beforehand is that on the day it all seems to fly by much more quickly, and the next few hills, mainly on one kind of step or another, didn't seem so bad. The field was thinning out now, and I had caught up the people going at my pace. Two more red crossing lights ("This is getting silly, is my race IC chip switching them from green?") and we were on to the long drag up Mt Maya, we had broken the back of that 10,000ft of climbing, and we were into the mist.
Running alone for long stretches now, more concentration on route-finding was needed despite the organiser's extra signs, but having seen the route before helped in reversing a potentially disastrous mistake - there are endless path junctions. I called back runners who were heading the wrong way several times. I buddied up with a young guy in orange that I kept seeing who was stronger on the climbs and slower on the descents and we ran the fast road section to checkpoint four together, time for one last red light, and off along the caged paths through the golf courses, until a sore leg slowed him down. I was slowing down too, loosing concentration after five hours running, keeping a dodgy stomach at bay and getting passed by a couple of guys who had paced themselves more evenly and knew where the finish was. After a few undulations and more steps threading the road Rokko-san top itself seems to come quicker than expected, and I felt I could have emptied the tank a bit more. Time to do just that.
The finishing descent is fun - fast, then getting rougher. I passed two runners who had stopped to refuel at the last checkpoint - thanks lads! Then another, and a tall young guy I'd chatted to earlier while queuing for one of the walking sessions earlier, who seemed to be ambling along looking at the trees. Well they were nice trees. "It's only 2km to the finish you know! Let's go!" I called, in case he didn't know. "Oh, be careful!" he replied. Erm...I don't think so, sir, more than enough control for one day methinks. This came out as a shouted "No!" A well-meaning marshal on the way down also told me to be careful before the rough section down a small steep-sided valley. The tank was well and truly emptied now, and the small climb near the end made sure I left it all on the course.
The finish was well organised, with a gantry, big clock, a tape for every finisher, and even, comically, someone holding up a card saying "You are looking good!" I think not. I needed a few minutes sitting down before I could face getting changed, which took a while - if you have done a mountain ultra you will know the feeling. Feeling half-human again I collected the certificate with time (5.46.08) and position (18th from 485) though I don't yet know how I'd done in the 45+ group. The winner took 4 hours 53 minutes. Hell, with my medical history and age (53), I'll take that. Still, we all have to take our times with a pinch of salt what with the lottery of queuing, red lights and all.
|Hello, is there anyone there?|
All that was missing was a bit of post-race banter and socialising. Like most of the races I've done in Japan it was just finish, get changed, and well....go home. Nobody talks much. English fell running is such a great social scene book-ending the races, starting with protesting about how unfit, untrained and unwell you are, and usually ending up with talking crap and swapping war stories in the pub afterwards. There is a shared history and everyone knows everyone else. So it felt a bit lonely, phoning my entirely underwhelmed family to say I'd survived and then wandering off to catch the bus. Still, that's what blogs are for isn't it, you know exactly why I feel so satisfied, don't you? There, I knew I could count on you.
Having found my way over 45km of mountain, I couldn't find the bus, until a sprightly gentleman of seventy seven, as he proudly told me, said he was going to the bus himself and showed me the way, and quite a way it was too, I would never have found it. He said that now he was retired he likes to take children walking on the mountain. When we got to the bus, he didn't get on, and I realised he had come right out of his way just to help me. So I wasn't the only one to have gone the extra mile.
|My number, after it had been through the wash by mistake - makes you want to run, doesn't it?|
The Mt Rokko Longitudinal Race (45km / 3,000m climb) takes place in mid March. See my previous posts:
Rokko course pt 1
Rokko course pt 2
Rokko race rules
It is organised by Actrep.