2015 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji
Scott’s blog post will tell the lead-in story, the crewing story and the after story. I’ll just stick with the race itself because there is no reason for me to write any more than I have to! 🙂 Visit www.scottlivingston.net if you have not already been there.
I found my friend Aliza Lapierre about 30 minutes before the start of the race. She runs for Salomon and they had a bunch of runners racing plus a local crew to support them. With 10 minutes to the start, Aliza told me to stick with her as her support crew whisked us to the front of the start line. I was lined up next to Amy Sproston, Gary Robbins, Jeff Browning, two Tarahumara runners and many other great ultra runners. We squished in together along with nearly 1,400 other runners, with two minutes to go. It got bit claustrophobic at the start line with all those runners getting ready to start. The countdown came to 1 and we were off. I worked on staying upright and vied for a place in the narrow walkway. I watched Aliza and a half-dozen women move ahead. I did not want to burn myself out in the first 4 km but I also did not want to get stuck in a conga line when we moved to single track.
We ran along the river and soon into the woods where the trail went straight up. It was a continuous line of runners for miles (or kilometers as they would say in Japan). The runners started to spread out. Eventually the trail went downhill for a fun and slippery descent. We popped out by some ice caves (I knew by the sign) and headed down a road. This segments was one of the re-routes due the the rain. There were two mountains we were not allowed to run on because the organizers and environmental groups felt the impact of 1,400 runners with wet ground would not be good. The road was slightly downhill the entire time but it was long and pounding. I was happy to finally get back on trails, but I was also dying to either find someone to run and chat with or be all alone. I found that most people did not want to talk or did not understand English. At this point, a female runner caught up and we started to chat. I found out she was from Flagstaff, AZ and quickly put two and two together. My coach Al Lyman had gone to Rob Krar’s Ultra Running Camp in Flagstaff and met Christina Bauer, his wife. Al knew she was running and told me too look out for her. We chatted a bit and she pulled away. At this point it was starting to get dark. I put on my headlamp and pulled out my handheld light. I realized pretty quickly that my headlamp was not nearly as bright as everyone else’s. My handheld was bright but was finicky. Every so often it would just shut off. I made do with what I had. Eventually, I fell into rhythm with another runner and we started talking. His name was Coonie and he lives in Tokyo but originally from New Zealand. It was so nice to have someone to chat with, plus he knew the course well, so he was able to warn me about what was to come. Just before Water Station 1 a videographer was running along side me asking me how things were going. I told him I was having a great time; running and meeting new friends. Coonie informed me the UTMF staff make a video for competitors to purchase.
At the water station, Scott was there to greet me. It was bustling. I filled the hydration bladder inside my UltrAspire Titan pack to the brim and went to the supporters area to pick up more gels and electrolytes from Scott. My friends at Ultraspire were kind enough to shorten the straps on a Titan and send it to me in advance of the race. My watch showed 50 km. Unfortunately, we realized that we left my race fuel bags back at the hotel! Luckily Rob Krar, who was crewing for his wife, was right next to us and he offered up some bars and gels. He was super helpful. I headed out into the Tenshi Mountains feeling confident. After a shoe wash station (we had to wipe our shoes in a bucket to knock off invasive species from the soles) the trail went straight up. And I am not kidding when I say straight up. Our friend, Rod Reynolds, said his GPS calculated 60% grade. The footing was terrible and slick. I wouldn’t call it a trail but instead a “way” up the mountain. Luckily there were some ropes and trees to hold on to once in a while. Once at the top it was finally runable again. I thought I was off course a couple of times in there, but was actually fine every time. I just waited to the next runner to catch up and continue on. Eventually the trail went downhill. Normally this is where I would tear it up, but the mud in Japan is like ice. it was insane. I tried “skiiing” down and that worked a bit until the trail had more rocks on the sides than weeds and I kept thinking how with one wrong fall the race could be over (i did hear of at least one broken arm in that section). In one of my hard falls, my headlamp flew off. My poor lighting did not help either. I found myself holding back a lot and was tense, which burned a lot of energy. I knew this section would take between three and four hours. Wrong! It took five and a half hours.
I stopped at one point to change the batteries in my head lamp hoping that would help but it did little to increase the brightness (note to self – buy new headlamp!) Scott had offered to switch with me at Water Station 1, but I declined…..that was a bad mistake! I tried to take in a caffeinated gel thinking that it was getting late and I was starting to feel tired. The course kept going up and down; more trail, more slick logs, more mud, more road…neverending power lines. At some point in there, my watch battery died. It was around 2am. I passed the Bridgestone Tire Company, ran up a sewer line (pew!) and finally into Aid Station 3. My stomach was starting to rebel a bit, and the front of my left ankle where my tendon sticks out was giving me a lot of pain as it had been pounding on my shoe for hours of downhill. I filled my bladder, sat down with Scott, loosened my shoelace and took a Tylenol. I immediately threw up. I have a gag reflex with pills and gels after hours of effort and eating energy food. Up came the water, banana and whatever else was down there. Luckily the Tylenol did not come up. I cautiously got some more food in me and headed out. I forgot to ask Scott for a new watch. At this point with so much time lost in the last section, I decided to stop racing and focus on running instead. Worrying about time and pace would not be good for my mental state. My main goal now was to reach the finish line.
The next section went on and on. It was lots of dirt road with a slight incline. I came into step with a nice Aussie named Nick. He was tall and had a distinct advantage with hiking. I got him to run with me for a while and it was so nice to have someone to chat with. After many kilometers he needed to walk. I went on ahead but after some time, I needed a walk break. He caught up. We would yo-yo like this for hours. I eventually did pull away. The sun was creeping up and by the time I ran into Aid Station 4, no lights were needed. There was the major drop bag station. I did not put together a drop bag since I had Scott crewing. I took a cup of green tea and headed back out. There was a short out and back section here, so I got to cheer for some fellow runners on the way back up, which was nice. I turned back into the woods and my phone vibrated. Scott sent me a text message that he would not be able to make the aid station and a bag would be left there for me. I told him I already passed through the aid station but he replied back that it was for Aid Station 5. I asked what happened, did he run out of gas? He wouldn’t answer. I figured if he is typing to me, then he must be okay.
I don’t remember much in the next section. It’s funny how your mind can be selective or how everything seems to blur together. I do remember some of the trail being washed out river beds. I tried another caffeinated gel to give me a boost but it was not going down. We popped out on a road and here I got passed by two women. I must have slowed quite a bit through that section. I kept them in sight, we turned onto a field and had to run out to Aid Station 5 for 1.5k, turn around come right back. The field was soaking wet. If our feet were not already soaked, they were now! When I arrived at the aid station, Scott was there. I filled my bladder and sat for a second in the supporter area. He told me the abbreviated version of his ordeal; a flat tire in the middle of the night. The car had no spare, so it got towed and now we had no car. He would now do his best to keep seeing me at the aid station but that I should pack like I would not see him again. Gels were not going to work anymore, so I needed real food. I ate some potato chips. He made me a peanut butter and banana sandwich to go. I trudged back up the sloppy field as rain began to drop harder.
Coonie caught back up to me and passed me. He was rallying. We climbed for a while and then the course rolled until we came upon a power line again. I was so sick of running on power lines! Eventually we did get off power lines and onto riverbeds and lava flows; which was loose black sand and rocks. It was very challenging to run on. It was nearly Impossible to run uphill on. And of course it went uphill. I was right next a Japanese woman, who (I later found out) was in her 50s. We ran together for quite a while. She was moving really well. We came into Aid Station 6 together which was on the side of Mt Fuji. It was all lava rock. I took a bathroom break here but did not stay long. It was a very nice downhill on dirt roads and trail from that aid station. I was alone most of the time. After an hour or so I came out onto sidewalk and ran downhilll into Aid Station 7. Feeling decent, I said hello to Scott and continued on. I was right with the 50-year-old woman again and we communicated about wearing the same brand shoes. When the trail went up, off she went. i never saw her again (she ended up finishing 1.25 hours ahead of me and 1st in her age group). Road turned to trail and at the bottom of a big hill we were asked to wash our shoes again. A few feet up the trail I came upon a Japanese elk. By the time I thought about taking a picture he was on his way. The climb was tough but I found I was leading a few guys up. When it went downhill, I took off. It felt good to just flow downhill. I kept thinking that the next aid would be at the bottom of the descent but it was not. More road! This was the other re-route because of the rain. It was downhill but it hurt. I hoped that every corner I would see the aid station but at every turn it was not there. I began to whimper. The road was killing me! Eventually we were along Lake Yamanakako.
Still no aid! I started alternating walking and running. I would walk to one power pole and then run to the next, and then repeat the sequence. I needed to move forward but I wanted a break from the pounding. I asked someone how much farther and the response I got was 3 km. What!!?? I let out an audible sigh and then worked on changing my mindset. I could see the aid now and then I saw Scott cheering me in. I stepped into the tent and was told this was a mandatory gear check. I was a little loopy so I had a hard time understanding what they were asking for but I was able to produce everything they needed to see. I sat down with Scott, let out a few tears and told him how much the road was hurting me. He started to rub my legs but the volunteers said if I wanted massage I needed to go the massage table. I said let’s do it. Boy, this guy was a masochist. Luckily there was a very nice woman next to me who would translate my words to Japanese, “too much.” As much as it hurt, it also felt good and I was ready to go when he was done. Another peanut butter and banana sandwich, more potato chips and lemonade and it was time to get out of there. I left walking, trying to eat and recuperate a bit. I turned onto a dirt road where there was a shoe washing station at the end. Right after the trail headed uphill on switchbacks. This section was a lot of fun. There were rocks to scramble over and ropes to help pull you up. I then enjoyed a slightly slippery and crazy downhill to Aid Station 9. Crew was not allowed here. I topped off my water and quickly moved on.
I knew it was about 14 km to the next aid station so I kept my mind occupied and my legs moving. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could make it in before dark. But because of wearing no watch and my mistake in thinking I only had a total of 20 km left; I was wrong and that would not happen. Luckily we stayed in the woods on trails with lots of turns as well as ups and downs which eventually turned to a long easily runable downhill which I took with gusto. It was super fun and I was making up time. I had to make a quick stop to pull out my headlamp which I held off, stopping only when I could hardly see the ground. I noticed my right toe was in pain and i figured that I developed a blister but ignored the pain and kept going hard. I dumped out onto road and thought the aid must be just down the street. Boy, was I wrong again! They wove us up and down streets, around corners stationed with volunteers holding red lights and some with flashing headbands. Aid Station 10 could not come fast enough. It surprised me to see Scott there along with our friend, Rod, and his wife, Nancy, from Hong Kong. He was supposed to be in the race. I found out he had dropped and came to cheer me on. I filled my hydration pack one last time and asked how long to the finish. The answer I got was not what i wanted; 12 km! Oh well, I thought, let’s get this done.
After being up to 30 minutes ahead of me, Christina, Rob Krar’s wife, was just seconds ahead now. I ran after her and just as I was about to head up stairs and over a road I saw Rob. I stopped, thanked him for all his help and continued on. I caught up to Christina and chatted a bit, but she soon took off on the uphill where I knew I would struggle. I focused on climbing; watching the bugs light up with my head lamp and I noticed white rocks and fungus glowing back at me. It is amazing how heightened your awareness becomes and night and when you’re tired. I passed a volunteer playing the Rocky theme song with his saxophone. I was dying for downhill, but instead got a rolling trail for a few kilometers. When the trail did turn downhill it was a crazy switchback with loose dirt and some muddy spots. I let go of all worry. I was ready to be done.
I just prayed that my legs would still work on the last 2.5 km around Lake Kawaguchiko. I passed a few people and came out to an observation deck with a beautiful view of the lake. It was dark, so the view was all lights. Blue and white LED candles lit the way down ramps and stairs and onto the lake walkway. I knew this last part well since Scott and I were staying right on the lake and had run the loop before. I focused on keeping a steady pace. I kept looking for someone, anyone, ahead of me. Just before the turn onto the bridge I passed a runner. I gave him encouragement, something like, “Let’s get this done.” The bridge felt longer than before. I knew I only had about 1 km remaining. A turn down the stairs and alongside the lake. At long last the finish line was there. As I ran to it, volunteers held up a tape to run through. I felt a little silly crossing the tape, but I realized that they love cheering and congratulating everyone who finishes because just finishing is an amazing feat. I crossed the line in 32 hours 15 minutes. I was 16th woman. And the course was more like 180k (110 miles) instead of 169k. To tell you the truth I was a little disappointed with my finish place and time BUT then I reminded myself that I was able to complete this beast and not everyone can or did. I don’t need to “race” every race, sometimes it’s good to just run!
I cannot even count the number of volunteers I saw out on the course. There were dozens at aid stations, volunteers dressed in panda suits in the forest, people camping on the mountain tops….they were fantastic. I am so thankful for my husband who is an amazing crew even when challenges arise. My coach, Al Lyman, is a huge supporter and keeps me strong and resilient. Thank goodness for UltrAspire who fixed that Titan pack to fit my small frame so I could carry all the mandatory gear. It take a village to complete an ultra like this!
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Hi Debbie, I was your running companion (part of it), Coonie (Kuni) during the race. Thanks for the honorable mention of my name. It was a good read of you and your husband’s race review…. really well covered and surprised that you seem to remember every inch of the race. I was truly amazed by your guts, courage, fitness and will to continue. Although I was a 2014-UTMF-finisher myself, the weather and seasonal change made it way harder this year for sure. I burnt out and had to finish at the half way point. I was in the similar state of mind of yours… I called it, you continued and finished. I take my hat off. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!
You were saying that you might hike up Mt Fuji after the race. If you really did, you have to tell me the stuff you eat daily.
I loved the way you ran down the Tenshi. You were so fast with THAT DIM LIGHT and left me no chance to catch up. Thank you for leaving me all by myself. I ended up in the completely different exit and had to hike back for one hour!! haha…. I thought I was chasing your shadow but must have been a local deer. Never mind
Well, there is an unfinished business for me to re-enter next year or perhaps one of those crazy US races. ummmmm I have to think.
Hi Kuni, I don’t know is you ever got my reply to this but I sent it via email since I could not figure out on my phone how to reply like this. I am glad I got to meet you and hope our paths cross again!
First, thanks for your write up. I read both your husband’s and yours, and both were very helpful. I plan to run UTMF 2016.
If you have time, can you provide any recommendations for this race? Do’s, don’ts, things you’d do different or the same, etc.? How to train/prepare? I’ve run a handful of 100s (some road, some mountain) and some other ultras.
Also, for the “portable toilets” — are you not allowed to use the bathroom off the trail at all? Do you have to carry #1 and #2 w/you to each aid station? And with no trashcans, can you throw it away?? I’ve been wondering about this!
Thanks in advance,
Sorry Mike. Somehow I never saw your comment until now. There is lots of climbing so training uphill and downhill is a must. Practice running with weight on your back since you must carry mandatory gear.
As for toilets you are supposed to carry out your “number two” but there are bathrooms at all the aid station so you hopefully don’t need to use the bag. And you are supposed to carry all your trash with you the entire race. I got yelled at for trying the throw out a bar wrapper at one point.Your crew can take all your trash though if you have one.