Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ultra Trail Mt Fuji – Round 2!

It was a year ago that I first tasted the warmth and hospitality of the Japanese culture and the sheer beauty and brutality of the UTMF. When the opportunity to return arose, naturally I jumped at the chance! Japan is simply one of the most charming and hospitable countries on Earth. Their meticulous attention to detail and efficiency is balanced perfectly by their wicked sense of humour and their embracing of the comical in life; from the zany TV shows to the fascination with pop culture…in essence they never really take themselves too seriously!

With the best crew in the world!
Last year at UTMF, I was overjoyed in finishing 5th and within an hour of the winning time of the Japanese bullet train Yoshikazu Hara. I found many sections of the course particularly difficult; the gradient of the climbs and technicality of the terrain are quite different from what I am used to in Australia and I hadn’t done any hiking training either! However, I was fortunate that many of the sections between the large climbs and descents are reasonably flat and runnable and I thought that this was a race that, despite its massive elevation change (9,500m) I could do quite well on if I had a golden day. Turns out that it wasn’t far off that! But there is always room for improvement...

With last year’s race now stored away in the bank, my training this year has been quite different. I’ve used a couple of races (Tarawera Ultra in NZ and specifically The Buffalo Stampede Ultra in Australia) as key races in order to come to UTMF with more specific conditioning. Like a jig-saw puzzle, the order of these races just seemed to ‘fit perfectly’. Strength and endurance have been prioritised over speed in the hope that I can improve my overall climbing (and hiking) times. I’ve also done a lot of hill training with trekking poles; an idea I got from watching many of the top guys in last year’s race. However, it helps to pay close attention to the race rules. This year, unlike last year, trekking poles have been prohibited! Doh!

All competitors were thrown a bit of a curveball about a month ago with the announcement that the course will be run in the reverse direction (from last year’s race) and additionally be a BONUS!! 8km longer due to a section of the course now not being available. Even though it’s now 169k, the course rather ironically is arguably faster and slightly less arduous and I wouldn’t be surprised if the winning time was faster than last year’s. One very technical climb late in last year’s race now becomes a faster descent and the long 25km section of gravel road that was a uphill douche grade grind up to the highest part of slope of Mt Fuji now becomes a faster, mostly downhill run.

Inov-8 will be well represented with the men’s field also boasting one of North America’s finest ultra trail runners, Joe Grant. Joe eats mountains like these for breakfast and with Fuji being the perfect lead into Hardrock later in the year, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Joe on the podium. For the ladies, my Australian team mate Shona Stephenson returns, and knowing Shona, she will be looking to go one better this year.

Saying this however, the field; both internationally and locally, is seriously much stronger than in previous years. The inclusion of the event on the Ultra Trail World Tour has lured the very best from all parts of the world. The start list reads a bit like the who’s who of ultra trail; plus most of the top 10 from last year. It’s going to be a battle all day (and night) for sure! You can read some good previews of the pointy end at iRunfar and on Ian Coreless’s blog.

For the race, I will be wearing the Inov-8 Trail Roc 245s, which are the perfect balance between grip and comfort and well suited for a course of this nature. I’ll also get to wear the whole range of Inov-8 clothing; There is more snow on Fuji this year and no doubt be very cold temperatures reached at night and I’ll be wearing the lightweight yet toasty warm Thermoshell that’s for sure!

I'm feeling confident I can race smartly and use the experience gleaned from last year to my benefit. I will be aiming at completing the course quicker than last year, and like always when you race your best and with spirit and determination, the place is always a bonus. I can tell you one thing though, being an hour behind the winner last year won't get me 5th place this year. There literally could be up to 20 positions within an hour of the winner; such is the competitive of the field.

Lastly a big shoutout to a couple of other Aussie mates racing; Paul Cuthbert and Tegyn Angel. Go well boys!

Live coverage of my race splits can be followed here! My race number is 5. There is also some live streaming cameras out there too here!

Race Eve Morning