Fujisan Marathon 2016 Write UpPosted on December 30th, 2016 No comments
When I found out that I didn’t get into Berlin again, I was so very disappointed 🙁 But I still needed a fall race, so I started thinking where do I want to go this fall? Then remembered Randy told me about Kobe Marathon last year after our Osaka Marathon. But wait, Kobe is by lottery also, what if I don’t get into Kobe either? I looked up JTB website and searched marathons in Nov. I was at Osaka at the end of Oct last year, and it was too early for fall foliage. The trees hadn’t quite turned colors yet, so Nov would be more ideal to travel to Japan. I found Fujisan Marathon (Mt Fuji) on Nov 27th. Perfect!!
I entered lottery for Kobe, and signed up Fujisan without second thoughts! Eventually I got into both, and I ran both marathons!
After Kobe Marathon (Nov 20th), I started traveling toward east. Stopped at Kyoto for couple days to see the temples, had my dream omijigari (leaf peeping) experience, very unique green tea and snacks, sake tasting…etc.. Kyoto truly is my favorite city in the world. Then went to Hakone to see Mt Fuji from the south, soaking in the outdoor onsen while snow falling on my head, and waking up to find Hakone completely covered by fresh snow overnight. Spent three days at Tokyo to retrace some of the Tokyo marathon course, meeting up with friends, running around the Imperial Palace, and it brought back so much special memory.
Sat Nov 26th, I took the JR Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Otsuki first, then transferred to Fujikyuko line heading to Fujikawaguchiko where the Expo and race would take place. But first I was going to drop my bag off at the onsen inn I would be staying. It’s a tiny hot-springs place in the middle of nowhere, and I found there was no bus, no taxi available after stepping out of the small Shimoyoshida station. There was no one working at this station, so I turned around waving “bye bye” to the abandoned station and giggled!!
I could see Mt Fuji covered by snow and was totally excited about how amazing it looked; it’s HUGE!!! After dragging my luggage and wondering in this quiet icy and snowy town for 30 mins, I found the tiny onsen inn. The old innkeeper’s wife greeted me by the sliding door, along with my friend Sumita-san whom I had met at Los Gatos Creek Trail when we were both training for CIM 2012. Certainly there are many ways to get to Fujikawaguchiko and different options for lodging, and I surely had taken a more interesting route to go there and picked a place that I thought was fun to stay.
Sumita-san and I went to the Expo together, and at the end of that afternoon I found that he actually already got his bib and packet couple weeks ago in Tokyo. So his coming today was totally just to accompany me, and to make sure I had a great race weekend. Another Japanese hospitality experience and I truly appreciate that. We took the Fujikyuko line again and this local Mt Fuji train continued west bound to Kawaguchiko Station. The race expo/start/finish were by the marina which was only a short 10 mins walk from the station. First thing that Sumita-san wanted to take me to was the houtou noodle — a local specialty that’s similar to udon but more flat noodles, cooked in light miso base with fresh vegetables, especially the pumpkin! It took 25 to 30 mins to cook, so one better isn’t in a hurry or too hungry when trying houtou noodles :-p
The Expo was outdoor, and it’s so cold — mid 30 degree and going to be even colder tomorrow with promise of rain! There were the typical tents for bib pick up, vendors booth and couple food stands — less than Kobe marathon, and far less than Osaka marathon of course. There was one tent dedicated for foreigners, and I got my bib fairly quick! There was no mega exhibiting booths to look at like Tokyo marathon, but I like the hassle-free and very local race atmosphere. I was hoping the weather would be better tomorrow, but as time went by I started mentally preparing for a cold and wet race tomorrow.
Sumita-san phoned the innkeeper from train station, so we did not have to walk 30 mins back to the inn when it started to rain. The innkeeper was very nice to make a quick stop at the Lawsons for me, so I grabbed couple onigiri as dinner, and anpan and canned coffee as my breakfast tomorrow. What awaiting for me at the inn was such a sweet surprise! As soon as I entered the sliding door mumbling “samui samui” (very cold), the old lady ushered me to my room which she already turned up the heat ahead of time, and told me that the private onsen was ready for me to use. With very limited English, she made me feel like how my grandma used to pamper me whenever I visited during school breaks. The innkeeper also had hot water in the thermal ready for me, so I made matcha tea to thank Sumita-san while he laid out the course map and explained what to expect tomorrow.
Sunday Nov 27th, I woke up before 6:30am, and quickly put on the running cloth I had prepared the night before. It had rained nonstop the whole night, so I slept on and off and worried about the weather condition. I had brought a special Kimono themed tech shirt for this race, knowing it’s going to be cold and wet so I put on my arm sleeves and winter Buff. Later I found out how good the merino Buff was after the race, and it’s truly had worked amazingly! I put on a puff jacket and planned to stash it away in the drop-bag. The Fujikyuko line is the main transportation for the locals, but on this Sunday morning it’s packed with runners bundled up in warm jackets.
So much snow and ice on the ground as we getting off the train, but I could see that the highly efficient Japanese had shoveled the snow to the sides of the roads for the race today. Came to the marina and unfortunately didn’t see much of Mt Fuji for it was hidden behind dark cloud, so disappointed!! The foreigners had our own drop-bag area; the volunteers easily spotted me by the bid color and pointed me to the right direction. We had plenty of time to walk around as warm-up and I saw many international runners, mainly from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China.. I could tell from the languages spoken. I had also met few American, German, French runners as well, but they were expats living in Tokyo area. There were 12,000 runners at this race, and roughly 2,500 were foreigners.
At the start line I was standing next to a middle age Japanese man, and his son had come for race support, taking his photos and carry his jacket..etc, which I had seen a lot at this race. Great place for runners to bring family members and make this into an year-end mini vacation. The man asked me what my goal was, and I answered that I could only speak limited Japanese and my goal was 4h:40m. He looked surprised at my kindergarten level Japanese, and a bit uncomfortable speaking to a gaijin :-p
The announcement was both in Japanese and English, and the God of Mt Fuji must have heard runners prayers as the rain just stopped few hours ago. “Hope the sky will clear up more and you will get to see Mt Fuji” said the MC. After the gunshot fired, runners immediately leaving the marina area at the southeast corner of Lake Kawaguchiko; today we would be running circling the Lake Kawaguchiko & Lake Saiko, and the roads and tunnels between this two lakes. There are five lakes at the foot of Mt Fuji, Lake Kawaguchiko being the big one and a major tourist attraction and Lake Saiko is smaller and less developed. I know many people come to climb Mt Fuji, but I think the best way to see Mt Fuji is to appreciate it from distance. At the end of Nov, the mountains in this area were in vibrant autumn colors, different shades of yellow, orange, red, with trees capped with snow — it’s amazingly gorgeous everywhere I looked.
It seemed strange to run away from the lake and head south into the crowded part of the town, but after running and climbing for about one mile I made a U-turn at a T intersection and just went “WOW“! Because I got this gigantic view of Mt Fuji! It was so close that I felt I could touch it with my nose if I am tall enough :-p
Going north again and making a left turn, soon I came to the first aid-station. There were signs through out the course indicating “Water” “Water, Nutrition” “Restroom”. It’s crowded at aid-stations due to the road was narrow and slippery from the rain & melting snow/ice. However, the volunteers were doing a great job managing such busy a/s. The most impressive part was the local merchants opening their facility not for business but for runners, so we could go in to use their restrooms.
Now with the beautiful Lake Kawaguchiko on my left, the mid 30s cool temperature, I was feeling pretty good. For road race I do GU every 10K, and for trail race I do GU every 45 mins, and right after my first GU we ran across a bridge and the course went northeast and took us into the town of Kawaguchi. With the road closures due to marathon, not many business going on today. There were not many spectators compare to other major marathons, but surely this race made up with enthusiasm. The local residents and merchants all came out to support runners, and quite interesting to see hotel clerks, chef, students, soldiers, waiters, old ladies..all came out to cheer runners!
After leaving Kawaguchi, I found myself running by the north shore of the lake and surrounded by mountains again. The nice rolling course and beautiful surroundings really made the run very enjoyable. Soon we came to the first tunnel that Sumita-san was telling me about, which was about 400 meter long. Some Japanese runners started to sing together, and really wish I knew what the song was about. Exiting the tunnel and the fun part that I was expecting finally come — the biggest climb.
Right at the foot of KM20, the race put a major aid-station right here preping runners for that 100 meter climb in about 1.5 mile. But what surprised and impressed me the most was the unexpected Oenden (応援団)! There was a group of Japanese high school students dressed in all black uniforms, each with horns, drum, banner, flag.. yelling through plastic megaphones. The short crew cut and stern face Oenden was something I had only seen in Japanese comic books, and so cool that I was running with their cheering for me. They were shouting “ichi ni san shi..” as I charging up the hill, up, up…and I could still hear them. OMG!! This is just way too cool, too exciting and too legit!!
After that climb I ran through another tunnel, a shorter one that I could see light at the end of the tunnel. What I didn’t expect was view of Mt Fuji as soon as I came out of it. This time Mt Fuji was looking over my left shoulder as the sun just coming out. Last night I was devastated about not seeing Mt Fuji due to the sucky weather, but turned out I got to see it many times today from varies angles. What an amazing experiencing! Looking down at my Garmin it said 2hr:18m, perfect!!
For the next 6 miles the course rolling along the north shore of Saiko (West Lake), and it’s obviously less commercially developed. The quiet lake flickering under the on and off sunshine was calm and peaceful, and my heart was just filled with sheer joy from running and just being here. I past couple gaijin runners here, and they seemed to be out of breath while I chatted with them. That climb from km20 probably had killed their legs I guess. I was feeling great, so parted with “good luck” “have fun, man“.
I didn’t really read the runner’s guide last night, so was totally shocked to see the line at the the km27 aid station. So many runners stopped and were eating, ahha… that famous Yoshida Udon — noodle soup loved by the locals here. A Mt Fuji specialty. I didn’t stop like those guys, cus not sure eating a bowl of noodle was a good idea in the middle of a race.
But came km30 aid station, and this time I did make a stop to check out what the locals had prepared for us. Miso soup… ah, wonderful in a cold day like this, and for sure my body would appreciate the warmth and extra sodium. So I accepted a small bowl of soup with chopstick from the volunteer, and finished in couple sips. They also had prepared mochi, onigiri, cookies for runners which I declined with nod and arigato. But then there was this huge, white, fluffy “Fujipan” and I just couldn’t walk away from it 🙂
I thought I would take it with me as a souvenir, so continue my run while holding that ridiculously huge soft bread in my left hand. “But it’s just too stupid,” I told myself. Then decided to do what ultra runners do, slowed down to walk and eat, and past a soldiers squad who were cheering runners.
Geez, that was a huge Fujipan and I had no regret that I slowed down for couple mins to appreciate what the local had prepared for runners. This kind of awesome and unique experience is why I came this far for, and no point to miss those special race culture and differences just for a faster finishing time.
Came to that shorter tunnel again and I knew I was heading back. After exiting the tunnel, the course started going down hill toward the southwest corner of Lake Kawaguchiko. I was enjoying the faster speed with my strong quads now, thanks to the strength workout my coach had made me doing since training of AR50. I pictured myself with wheels while flying down the hills and passing runners. I was ditching all the trees!! What a fun run!!
From km36 the course flatten and I was running on the south shore of Lake Kawaguchiko heading back to where we had been before crossing the bridge. But this time I ran underpass the bridge and running toward the marina. It felt kind of lonely here now because this morning this part was jammed with runners, but now there wasn’t many runners around. The course became wider relatively speaking, with lots of banners on both side and I felt like a real athlete. “Time to finish strong Michele”.
The rain started coming down as I sprinting toward the finish line!! Fujisan Marathon checked, 4:36! I beat my time at Kobe Marathon last weekend by 4 mins.
After accepting the medal from the Boy Scout, I had steaming hot daikon soup before went to retrieve my drop-bag, and again the special designated foreigners section was very easy to find. By then it was down pouring hard, and I felt sorry for the hard working volunteers still servicing runners. I went into a souvenir shop to change into dry clothing, and stayed warm while waiting for Sumita-san to come meet me. We celebrated our job well done with tempura soba and Sapporo 🙂
Fujisan Marathon is truly an amazing race experience, way beyond my expectation. Not only it’s well organized, but the beautiful scenery, magnificent Mt Fuji, and the super awesome local supports make this marathon one of a kind!
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