Place: Nagano prefecture, Chiisagata District, Nagawa - Blanche Takayama Sky resort (長野県長和町・ブランシュたかやまスキーリゾート)
Distance and elevation gain: 79.50km / 3980m+
I selected this race because when I asked people about a race with beautiful views, this one popped up. What they did not mention is that it's raining almost each time. Of course, it's in the middle of the rainy season, what should we expect ?
This year was particularly rainy, enough for the organizers to decide to change the course and make it shorter and avoid the high parts. No more beautiful views.
What it should have been...
...and what it was.
The morning of the race, the new course was posted, but there were so many people that I could just catch a glimpse. I saw (I think I saw) "45 km" on the map, and at the same time I heard the speaker saying something like "you can consider that you will run a 45 km race". OK, we will do only the half. Then I don't need so much things to eat. I hided few bars under a canvas sheet near the start line that I would take back after the race. Let's be as light as possible.
I was close to Tomohiro Machida on the start line, winner of the Okukuji 30k one month ago. When I told him it would be a "Speed race", he had the polite smile we have when someone do a poor joke. Well, this was a poor joke.
4am: start. 3.5km uphill on a ski track. I started fast, even for 45km. As usual, I didn't want to be stuck in the single track that we will find up there. It will be only a short portion of downhill track, maybe one or two km, then most of the race will be forest road, with a little more single tracks in the second part. About 90% of the race was runnable.
Every thing was going fine until I arrived to the aid station at 35km. There was a foreign guy here that told me, "Good job, you only have the way back now". I told him "But it's only 10km to go". He gave me a strange look and didn't answer. I left the aid station rapidly, but I had an odd feeling, so I asked another runner what was the total distance. He told me about 75km.
Oh my god...
What a shock. 40k to go.
Immediate change of gear. Survival mode engaged.
No mater if I'm passed by many people, I want to finish the race without to much suffering. Well, first of all I want to finish the race.
Then I thought about the food. Fortunately I didn't left too much food in the start area, but I was worrying a little. Will I have enough? OK, I will eat more at the aid station. I wished I ate that soba (I think it was soba, I didn't even had a look as I thought it was only 10k left).
Soon after leaving the 35k aid station, there was a more technical section, with steep up and steep down. Did I forgot to mention that it was raining more than half of the time, sometime quite heavily? It was. Fortunately it was not cold and I was in T-shirt all the time. That made the trail very slippery and I felt down in this section. But all the mud on my shirt would be washed away few hours later thanks to the rain ;) I worried that the second part would be much more technical, but it was not the case. We soon went back on the forest road.
Next aid station: nothing left, only water ! That aid station was the start of a 10k loop and we were passing there two times. First time I passed, there was cola, and few things to eat, but second time, as many other runners had passed, everything was out of stock, though many runners had still not reach the first passage of this aid station !
So I decided to ration myself. Finely at the end of the race I will still have few things to eat so I should not have worrying so much.
So I changed gear, but as we were now crossing other runners, I didn't want to look too bad, and I was still trying to run as much as possible though we were now going up most of the time, on a easy slope. Well, normally easy, but not after running 35k at huge overpace. Soon I was alternating walk and run. Then I met Martin Verdier who was coming from the other way with Yuko. We were surprised as we didn't know that we were both running this race. Still a long way to go for both of us, but more for them ! This made me put my situation in perspective. I had no much energy left, but "only" 30k to the finish line.
I was surprised that not so many people passed me. That would come later, especially the last 10k after the last aid station, because it was the time for those having energy left to give it all until the goal.
Well, to make it short, somehow I managed to reach the goal. It was tough, but I had worse time. I had another shock at the last before the last aid station because I though there was only 20k left, but they told 27k ! That was wrong, it was really 20k. Another piece of wrong information at the last aid station. They said that we would not go up again at the top of the ski track, and that it was mainly forest road now. That was wrong. We went to the top. Actually this was surprisingly good for me as I had more facility to walk in step uphills then to run in flat part at that time.
Once again, I was passed few km before the goal by the first women, Yukari Hoshino. She will be representative of Japan at the next sky running world championship as this race was also the Japanese ski running championship (Sky ultra category).
I finished 45th among 723 starters and 11th/258 in 40 yo class in a time of 8h48min42s.
My garmin distance and elevation gain were 74.55km and 2712m respectively.
I don't know if I could have done a better result knowing the real distance from the beginning, but I guess that the second part would have been more enjoyable, as passing is more fun than being passed.
Anyway, it was interesting. It was a new experience and it ended well, so it was a good day after all :)
I would like to go again to see the real course, but I feel that in this season, it's really gambling with a low success rate !
By the way, after coming back at the race site, I checked the posted map. I could see no sign of "45km". Was it so early that I was dreaming awake ? Well, the 45k was corresponding to something: it was the distance of the 50k race after the change of course. But nothing on the map...Strange. Anyway, the lesson is learned and I will double check next time !
PS: Interesting video that shows why it's not just a good excuse to cancel some section in order to protect the trails, and also how downhill can make big time difference between runners especially at the back of the pack. I think that this was just the beginning of the race (here the 50k race), the first downhill after reaching the top of the ski track (and the last uphill as we were coming back on the same trail).
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