samedi 12 mai 2018

Race Report - Hieizan International Trail Run

比叡山 International Trail Run
Date: 2018/05/12
Two distances available: 50k +3700m elev. gain and 50miles +5000m elev. gain
50k course forms a 8. 50miles course is the same + another time the second loop of the 8 minus the first downhill/uphill. Cutting times are very severe, 7:10 at 50k (changed to 7:30), 11:30 at 50miles.
Pre-race day pictures:
Race day pictures:
Post-race day pictures:
Course on strava:

*** Warning *** Warning ***
*** Ultra long (race) report ***
Expected finisher rate: 10%
Qualification criteria: having completed one of my race report before.
Time limit: 45h
Good luck !

Why this race?
As I have decided not to do ultra-long distance race this year, I chose this race as a replacement challenge, not for the length but for the cutting time. Last year result: 20 finishers among 81 starters, only 2 women, none finished.
When looking at the results of last year finishers in MtSN ranking (, they were all better then me. So I knew that I would need to have a very good day in order to finish the race in time.

It's expensive (50 miles 18,000 JPY, 50 km 15,000 JPY), and even more expensive from Tokyo, as you need to go to Kyoto. When I applied I checked a box "will stay in accommodation the day before the race" and I thought it was for the reservation of a place in an hotel near the start of the race and that they would contact us later for details. Then I forgot about it. Later Chih proposed me to stay with him in his parents in law's house, but I declined as I was thinking that I had already reserved the hotel.
It seems that it was just some survey as I finally realized two days before the race that I had no place to stay. I reserved in emergency a guest house in Kyoto, not too far from the cable car + ropeway + shuttle bus leading to the start. I also realized that I could not go back to Tokyo the day of the race. Worst, I could not even go down the mountain as there would be no more cable car or bus at my expected goal time. When I talked about this problem to Chih, he proposed me again to stay with him and this time I accepted gratefully ! (though feeling a little guilty as he would have to wait for me as he was doing the 50k). He also took for me a bus ticket going back to Tokyo from Shiga, slow (7h) but cheap (4500 JPY). Thanks Chih!
Moral: plan well in advance and double check !

Thanks to Chih and Chih's parents in law for the invitation to stay in such a nice place!

Pre-race day.
I went to Kyoto by Shinkansen (13000 JPY), then I had the choice between bus and subway to go to the guest house. I decided to take the bus so I can see the city. It took me 15min or more to find the bus stop! Later when I took the train from the guest house to the cable car, I got into the wrong one as the line was separating in 2 directions and I went left instead of right. I lost an additional half an hour.
Moral: when you are in an unfamiliar place, be more careful than usually, especially if your dear Japanese wife is not with you!

Anyway, I thought it was a chance that it did not happened the day of the race.
The one car train was very cool, very stylish, reminded me some kind of captain Nemo's ship. It's in service since the beginning of this year. A deer popping from the forest almost bump into the train but he managed to stop in time. This is not Tokyo for sure. In Tokyo, from the Yamanote line, we may see dressed up dogs in pushchair, or maybe, if we are lucky, Taro san doing is third Yamathon of the day as a warm up for the beer mile, but no deer for sure !

Finally I arrived to the cable car, the longer one in Japan. There were some French tourists, and a Japanese old man was trying to communicate with them explaining that this area was the origin of the Buddhism in Japan. As he was not speaking French at all and no much more English, I had to help a little.

Cable car
Next we have to take a short ropeway, then to walk 2km to Enryakuji kaikan, which is the hotel were we can get our bib. On the way I met Joe Grant, a famous trail runner. He's speaking French fluently as he lived for a long time in France. He was on a short reconnaissance with his Japanese friend Tetsuro. He was going back to the start, so he guided me very kindly on the first km of the course. Thanks Joe ! After all, I was lucky to have taken the wrong train :)
Moral: bad things can turn out to be good things (and vice versa...)

With Joe
After getting my bib, I went around. I really liked the place, peaceful, nature in harmony with temples, beautiful contrast between the vivid green of the leaf, the red of the temples and the blue of the sky. I took a lot of pictures (links above).

Finally I went back to catch the last cable car to go down. On the way I met a French guy, with a slight accent from Alsace. He was looking at monkeys on the side of the road. There were plenty of them. I'm not sure I would have seen them if he hadn't tell me. He told me that they were in the middle of the road when he arrived. He wanted to go back to Kyoto by foot but he didn't know how. I mean he knew that he had to put one foot in front of the other and repeat again, but he didn't know if there was a convenient path to do that. We went down a bit together on the trail leading to the cable car, then he went on a path that, I'm afraid was going in the opposite direction of Kyoto. But he had a headlight, food and everything necessary to spend the night in the forest with monkeys, so I'm sure that everything went well for him.

I was more conservative and returned to my guest house by cable car and train. I ate there as there was a Thai restaurant at the second floor with a free drink for people staying here. Rice was very good. The steamed chicken was...rice was very good. The beer too. Then I went to a local bath, prepared my stuff and went to sleep. The problem with guest houses is the noise. When we stay in shared room with runners only, it's OK because everybody sleep early (let's forget about snoring). But here, it was populated with usual tourists, and there was some light and some noise until past midnight. I had my revenge the next morning as I was the first to wake up and I had many plastic bags to play with ;)

Race day
This time I caught the right train. Kirill, a russian guy that I first met at the 2016 Spa trail (where he started strong, lost his way and managed to pass me again and finish ahead), was in the train, with his girlfriend Angelina. He was in the 50miles and she was in the 50k.

With Kirill after the race
In the ropeway, a non Japanese girl was sitting next to me. I asked where she was from. Guess...of course, France ! She applied to the 50miles, but lately her foot was painful on long distances, so she decided to change to 50k. But when I told here how challenging was the time limit in the 50miles, she decided to change to the 50miles again! She didn't know that we had to pay for the cable car and the ropeway, so she didn't have enough money for the way back. No problem, she will go down by foot or find a way ! She lost the cap of one of her tow bottles. No problem, she will do with one bottle ! Inspiring frivolity of youth ! She survived, and after the race, she was about to go home by hitchhiking, limping along the border of the road, probably as a tentative to make the drivers feel compassion, and it worked ! Another runner took her in pity and drove her home (I know she was limping and she was driven home by another runner, the rest is my own interpretation ;) )
Morality: don't care about planning well in advance and double checking as anyway, everything will end up well (probably).
That said, Anaïs finished the Grand Raid de la Reunion last year in 58h, sleeping only 1 hour and an half, so she must be a very tough young lady.

Tough Anaïs
After the ropeway, we had to wait for the shuttle bus for 20min and we arrived to the start location only 15min before the start time and we had to leave our luggage in the hotel were we had to take off our shoes, argghh. We could line up only 5min before the start. This is something to improve for the organization ! Earlier cable car, more shuttle bus please.

Then here we go. At 8:50, it was already hot. My strategy was simple. Going at a 50k race pace in order to pass the first cut off time. Then hope I can continue. We were only 80 people in the 50miles race, including 3 women, so there was no traffic jam which is a chance as I was close to the end of the pack at the beginning. Then it was a succession of up and downs. No much flat on that race. Typical Japanese trails, with plenty of roots, rocks, steps. Not something that will let you much time to look at the scenery. But I liked it. There was quite a lot of cheering too, with some unofficial water station offered by dressed-up dudes. The police squad was interesting.

I was already feeling tired before the end of the first loop, that is before 20k. But not feeling bad yet. I could still enjoy the journey. Next downhill and uphill were rude, probably the tougher or the race, but I was still OK. I didn't hit any wall, I was just getting more and more tired, little by little, but nothing too unusual.
Then I finally got stomach pain in the last downhill before the 50k cut-off. That was after 6h and 40min. This was the same pain that I had at Hasetsune cup, but there, it was only after about 9h. It was sooner this time because it was hotter and we didn't had time to get used to hot weather.

My problem is, I think, that I'm sweating a lot. Thanks to this, my body can refresh well, so I don't feel too bad in hot weather. However, I have to drink a lot, which put a heavy load on my stomach. It's OK on short races, up to about 6h. Actually, I think it may be an advantage. But for longer races, I end up having problems with my digestive system. Going a little over-pace is not the main problem I think, but it doesn't help.

Finally there was a last steep uphill before the 50k cut off which was tough. I was getting exhausted. I even thought about slowing down a little bit more in order to arrive after the cut off and to have no choice but to stop. But I could not resign to do this. I arrived to the aid station positioned just 100m before the cut off point and I took time to refill my bottles with water because I though I had 15min margin. I was mistaken by 10min. That's probably why everybody looked so excited around...Finally I thought that it was strange and I hurried up to the cut off point. I made it with 3min margin. Oups...

Once I passed it, someone made signs meaning "go, go!", and I replied with signs meaning "calm down, I'm going to take a little rest, OK?"
I sat down and started to eat a bar which was feeling very dry, so I guess I was dehydrated. Then two people dressed with yellow sports chasuble asked me if I was going to continue. I said yes, probably. Then they told me they were the sweepers and it seemed that they were willing to go. WTF!!! I didn't imagine there would be sweepers so early. Well to be exact I never thought about sweepers as I never had to worry about them before. It was a new experience. Great ! It's always good to have new experiences...OK I'm lying, it was not such a great feeling after all.

So I could not take as much rest as I wanted before leaving again. I didn't finished my bar and started to walk up the hill. After few meters, I looked back and they were running a pace I could never keep. I said "Wow! At this pace it's impossible!" They said "Don't worry, we will adjust our pace to yours"...OK, I started to walk again. I saw one runner hobbling back, giving up. Then another one. Then another one. After 5min came the first downhill. Immediately I could feel the same stomach pain, so I decided to give up me too and went back to the 50k point. End of the story ! No, not the story, only my race.

Kirill arrived 15min later. He had a bad moment at some point but was finishing in great condition. It's a pity he didn't make the cut off because he could probably have completed the race.
Then I met another French Eric, a strava friend, that finished the 50k in about the same time as me.

The other Eric

Last year it was raining a lot and the trails were very slippery. In spite of that, times were slower this year. 25min slower for the winner time. 30min slower for Chih. So it seems that heat is more a problem than slippery trails.

I took a bath in the hotel close to the goal, wait a little for Chih, then Chih arrived and called his father in law to come to take us. One hour later he was here, but he was looking so young. Wow. Shiga prefecture's air seems very healthy! Later in the conversation, he told me that he was my age. Hum really something is wrong here. I asked Chih is age, then is wife age...Hum, either he had his first child at the age of 6 or he was not Chih's father in law. I decided that the second solution was more plausible. Indeed, he was not the father, but the brother in law!
He warned me that his father would keep asking me to drink alcohol and keep pouring alcohol in my glass. But when we had diner later, it was the brother in law that kept filling my glass with beer, not the father! Anyway, we had a good diner and a good sleep in a beautiful house.

Looks like a ryokan!
Next day was quiet and peaceful, starting with taking out mame chan, the dog, and culminating with a delicious unagi restaurant. There was a little incident though. During the breakfast, the father in law proposed us some fermented garlic, baked at low temperature for two weeks in a rice cooker. It was completely black. Chih didn't hesitate, so I had one piece too. It was not fantastic, but manageable. Then the father took another garlic out of the fridge, saying that the cold one are even more tasty. Yabai. This was too much. I couldn't finish my piece. When the father looked away, I hidden the last bit in my paper napkin. It was terrible. I had the taste in my mouth, or maybe just in my mind, for the rest of the day, until I sleep. Every thing was tasting or smelling like that fermented garlic, even my bed sheets. Never again! I prefer running again 100miles rather than having another bit of fermented garlic !

Mame chan

OK, we are getting close to the finish line of this report. Only few more steps. The results and statistics !

50miles: 80 starters, 16 finishers including one woman (Asahara Kaori 11:05), thus the finisher rate was 20% (25% last year). The winner was Kotera Akihiro in 9:26. Joe Grant was third in 9:48. The slowest time at the 50k that finished the race was 7:16:20. My time was 7:26:48. 21 more runners made the 50k cut off but couldn't finish. Kirill passed the 50k in 7:45 and Anaïs in 9:26. We have our time at 50k but those that have not finished the 50miles in time are all DNF of course.

As for the 50k, there were 742 starters and 534 finishers. 
First man: Ito Kenta in 5:57
First woman: Ishimoto Erika in 7:17
Eric: 21th in 7:27
Chih: 139th in 8:48
Angelina: 44th woman in 10:21