Ultra Trail Mount Fuji (UTMF)
It has taken me over 18 months to write the blog for UTMF. I have been really dreading entering back into that head space that I was in at the time. I felt like the UTMF was the perfect representation of my depression all bundled into 130km of pain and anguish. Yes only 130km out of 172 or however long the race ended up being. It was my 3rd Ultra Trail Mount Fuji and I had hopes to revisit my favourite sections of the course. This year ignorance would be bliss as the course had changed considerably so my knowledge and expectations of what was once really added to my anguish whilst trying to make it around the 168 or more km circuit of Mt Fuji.
The other reason why I am I am writing this blog because so many people contact me about the race as it seems to be one of the most accessible Ultra Trail events to Aussies and Kiwis. Simple key tips like, get as much money out in Yen at the Airport as possible as it is impossible to get Yen out on your credit card or Visa Debit card at any ATM machine other than at the airport. I’ve been caught out 3 years in a row now. Also get your sim card at the Soft Bank booth at the airport too as it is impossible to get a pre-paid sim in Japan. It would be smart to get a global roaming package before landing in Narita Airport. You will need a car for support crew at Fuji for the race also as the bus is really meant for the back markers. Getting support crew service is the way to go as there is only 1 drop bag for 100 Miler which to us Aussies seems insane!
There are many reasons why I pulled out of the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, but in the end there was one that pushed me over the edge and scared the crap out of me enough to really make me rethink my Ultra Trail Running. Here is the race report.
I lined up with my then partner Steven in our first 100 Miler together. We jumped on the plane together with my house sale going unconditional, with then the Mount Nebo Cottage going unconditional at the same time. We did it. We’d made it though 3/4 of the year of pain of a separation and we were now flying to Japan with all the hope of our future together.
I guess I could say I was still recovering from Run Larapinta in my lungs. I was also exhausted mentally from the separation with my x-husband. I’d been through hell and I was drained mentally. I had to fight the whole year and I was not sure how much fight I had left in me.
I love Japan, I love my Japanese Sponsors Inov8 + Descente and I always love to run for them. They have such belief in their product, a deep history of champion athletes and they always make me feel like I am worthy of greatness even if I feel like I’m not. Their belief in their athletes is just amazing. I guess that is why I’ve always raced well in Japan. I also love the course of UTMF. It is ruggered, technical and extremely steep. This year we had the steep ups and the run-able descents. The next year the course will switch directions to steep descents and run-able ascents.
The count down went off with Steve by my side, rain starting to come down and before we could give each other a proper kiss goodbye we were off and running out of the race shoot, turning right and at the first corner my flashing light flew off my pack without me knowing. I ran on just trying to chill out, relax and just tuck into the group of female runners, Fernanda (Spain) , Amy (USA) Dong Lee (China). After about 3 ks Steve tapped me on the shoulder and gave me the flashing light back, worried that it was part of my mandatory gear. The poor guy had to sprint at sub- 4min ks for 3 ks to catch up with me. I gave him a big hug and kiss and thanked him for the light back and left him there, resting, trying to catch his breath back.
I pushed on up the hill and I knew at the first real climb that I was not well. It was cold, wet, miserable. I had a head wind pushing in my face and my asthma just started off right from the start. I was sick with asthma I just did not feel right in my lungs. I chose to not worry about this, I just pumped in the ventolin, and just waited for it all to kick in and for my lungs to relax. Something happens to me with a head wind. It is totally psychosomatic, I just freak out and go into a spasm in my lungs. I pull Wraggs over my face and just hope that the wind direction will change. I climbed up the first mountain with female after female passing me. I dropped to about 10th place and just waited for the descent to come so I could get them all back.
I finally made it to the top and rolled down the other side catching 3 females on the one descent. I cruised through the fairy forest with rain still falling, wind still blowing and just tried to stay calm. I hopped out onto the road and rolled down the hill across the bridge and turned right and started the next climb. My lungs started to warm up, maybe the wind direction had changed. I pumped up the hill and rolled down the other side securing my position in the field no longer loosing places by the fist full. I enjoyed the beautiful run-able switch backs into CP 2 and quickly checked in and out, started my run on the edge of Lake Motosu and found an English Runner to pace off up the road towards the next mountain climb. We chatted to each other, it is always nice to hear English being spoken. He asked why I was so far back and I just let him know that I was suffering from asthma and I just have to wait for better conditions, it may take until lunch time tomorrow for this to happen. He was also suffering, from the Flu and he was hoping just to survive the day. We worked out that we’d run a large section of the UTMB together and we hoped to help each other out at the UTMF too.
I pushed up the climb with him, we both sounded as bad as each other, at the top of the climb I popped away from him and cruised down the hill into the technical re-route as a section of the UTMF trail was closed due to excessive rainfall. I followed the trail and with a head wind I started to really suffer again. I pulled out my Ay-Up as it was getting dark already and regrouped as I was starting to drop back off the pace again but realised what was happening, I jumped onto the back of a Japanese Runner with a Rainbow Afro Wig on and wearing a white t-shirt. I followed this runner, staying in his heals for about 3 kms. I followed him blindly hoping he knew where to go. I followed him past a water tank and onto a really rough, technical trail, down a descent, over rocks through reeds, over tree routes and then into a wall of grassy reeds that were 8 foot tall. Oh know! We’ve gone the wrong way. You idiot! I thought to myself. I blindly followed a bloke wearing a Rainbow Afro. What did you expect would happen? We missed the turn at the water tank with the visibility being a bit hampered by the drizzle. His white shirt was the same colour as the white UTMF markers so I missed the markers in the rain and poor visibility. Shit!
I quickly back tracked and made my way back up the climb, not wanting to look at my watch to see how far extra I’d gone but I expect it would be 4 km plus the climb. I pushed hard back up the climb trying not to get upset but finding a real reason to run and right the wrong that I’d just done. I made it back to the water tank and turned left, being filtered back into the pack where female after female was again running past. Shit! I ran along trying not to push too hard but wanting so much to leap over all these runners and get back to where I’d started. I ran into the 3rd CP running almost 1 hour late. Shit! I looked around and there must have been about 20 females in the check point! Bloody hell, that detour really cost me time and places.
I quickly explained to my support crew the problem and let them know I’d make my position back. I changed over my nutrition and ran straight up Tenshi Mountains. I just wanted to get back into 7th place. That’s it just right the wrongs. I started to pull my way up the mountain using the ropes when a girl grabbed the rope I was using and shook me off it. Bloody hell! I did not realise trail running in just one year got so competitive, in just a year. LOLl! I let her have the rope and let her past me. I was not going to start a duel now so early in the 100 Miler or get upset. I climbed up Tenshi Mountains with the smell of Keytone wafting out of my pores. I’m in the fat burn now. At the bottom of the climb I am always passed by many runners, but as I near 1/2 way I start to catch them all back. I was pushing, maybe pushing too hard too early as I headed up the calf killing steep muddy slope, trying to right the wrongs of my mistake. The head wind I suffered from earlier in the race felt now like a tail wind now. I felt like I was being assisted up the mountain by mother nature. I felt great, strong and full of energy, passing runners with every metre. I watched as the vegetation around me started to become more alpine and 3/4 up I found my English mate again. He was really struggling. His breathing was laboured and he said he was going to pull out at the next CP. He looked slightly puzzled as to why I was behind him, I let him know I took a little detour. He sounded really sick and I was a bit worried about him. I gave him a few words of encouragement and then headed onwards and upwards, up the muddy single trail, through the forest, hopping over tree roots, rocks and power walking with hands on quads towards the top.
This year the race organisers took out 2 mountain Peaks which made the ascent much easier than last year. I reached the first of 3 peaks and caught up with Dong-Lee who was struggling in the mud. The ground was so slippery that using your butt as a form of movement forward seemed like the best option on some sections of the trail. I ran past Dong-Lee only to then slip and slide on my arse down a short slip, catching the branches next to me but not before my butt slid along the ground for a few meters. I jumped up back onto my feet, spotted ropes, reaching for them, grabbing them, regaining my footing before controlled falling down the steep wet trail in still rain.
I ran up and down the undulating narrow Ridgeline of the Tenshi Mountain, under a head torch happy that I could not see the sharp descents on either side of my footing, passing runners on the descent. I then power walked and paced off stronger runners on the climbs. After what seems to be an eternity I reached the top of the final Peak and I was on the descent.
This is a 1km descent over about 2km . It was made up of muddy, slippery, log stairs, sharp switch backs and more mud and rocks. I hopped down the stairs catching the girl who shook me off the ropes at the start of the climb. I had passed so many females and male runners on this one ascent I felt like I was back in my place before I’d had my extra adventure. I leaped from step to step and enjoyed the ankle killing descent that awoke old injuries and made me think of my then partner Steve, if I was suffering from the impact from this monster of descent he will be stuffed.
I reached the bottom of the mountain, hopped out onto the road and thought the CP 4 was just a few kilometers away. I drunk all my water and eaten all my food at the top of the 20 minute descent. I passed a Tarahumara Runner who was wearing his trademark sandals. I’d hate to think how he’s made it up or down the Tenshi Mountains wearing those sandals, this was X-Talon country. He was walking on the road section.
I pushed on feeling pretty good and looking forward to seeing my support crew in the position that I was in after CP2, I soon past the area that the CP was in the years past and realised that it had been moved and I was not going to see it for another 10km. Shit!
I was out of water and nutrition and I just had to do my best to take it easy until the CP4. I soon caught up with a male couple and one of the Japanese male runners decided that he would start to run with me as the other mal runner had slowed to a walk. I chatted to this new found friend in broken English and I realised that it was his first UTMF but he was an experience road marathon runner. He tucked in behind me and let me set the pace. We cruised past a grumpy French runner who was also caught out by the CP movement. It had been over 5 hours now between CP’s and water stops and it is almost impossible to gauge this distance and correctly estimate time by looking at the map.
I tried to push his negativity out of my head and continue on with Him and my new Japanese Friend to the check point. We followed the roads, taking turns though the village of rice paddy’s, creeks and grasses and eventually we climbed up the road and into the check point.
I was extremely dehydrated now. I grabbed my water bottles and nutrition and ran straight out of there and within about 2km I’d finished both bottles and needed to be replenished. This section of the trail is under high tension power lines, and on the map profile looks like a nice gradual ascent but in reality is undulating steep small hills up and down wooded log steps and small creek beds. It feels like you are getting no where. I was past by aJapanese Girl, and I wished her good luck. This place I feel like I never move fast, but it did not seem as bad as years past. There is more of a trail here now than in the past years I’d run this section but it is just so hard to break into a rhythm with all the sharp drops into creeks. I ran along on and off with my Japanese Friend and before long we were at another Drink Stop where I filled up on water and sports drink.
Almost immediately after the drink stop I felt sick after consuming the race sports drink. It just did not sit well in my guts. I decided not to let this worry me. I worked out that I only felt sick if I walked. I then started to run slowly up the mountain to the highest point on the course towards CP5 and the 1/2 way point. I ran along the forest trail pretty upset as where it use to be a lovely thick forest the tree had been logged. I was filled with sadness after seeing this destruction of what looked like a beautiful landscape. The CP seemed like it was further away that it was meant to be and a few runners were also commenting on this fact to as the course had changed slightly from the years past.
I kept pushing onwards up the fire trail, catching walkers as we made it higher and higher, closer to 2500m now, feeling sick either from not getting enough altitude exposure before I raced, lactic acid build up or that sports drink. The higher I went the harder it became for me to breathe too. My lungs were starting to clog up with dehydration and diminishing oxygen and exercised induced asthma. I ran into the CP 5 feeling relative good compared to past years. I quickly swapped over my nutrition, Ay-Up, water bottles and spotted Amy Spronston in the CP waking up from a sleep. Seeing her kind of reminded me that it was a race and I really did not want to race so early, I really could not have given a damn about my placing so soon in an event. I left the CP in front of her but she soon caught up with me and passed me on the out and back before the right hand turn to continue our push up Mount Fuji and into the Army Base.
This next section is just pure mud, steps, single track and mud for about 10 km before hopping out onto a spongey, grassy alpine marsh and running into the Army base CP where Amy kindly let me know on the Out and Back that the soup was good. I ran into the CP6 feeling okay, after doing lots of walking over the stair sections due to my asthma making me just feel sick and rubbish. I just had to walk as I would not make it to the end if I pushed too hard. I was feeling sick in my guts too now and finding it really hard to eat anything also. I wanted to try the soup but I was too scared to eat it was the CP Staff who mainly spoke Japanese could not guarantee that it was GF, DF, Sesame, Peanut and 220 free. (LOL).
I ran back up the spongey wet marsh and waved to the other females following me, now closer after my rough patch for that section. I started to pump in the ventolin, simbacort and hoped that the weather would improve and I would be able to breathe better. The ventolin made me feel even sicker. It just felt like it was going straight into my guts and not into my lungs. I was rejoined by my now guardian angle as we continued forever onwards and upwards towards the highest point of the UTMF.
We were warned at the race briefing that the next section of 20km was going to be a bit of orienteering. Cool, how bad could this be? In the years past we were blessed to follow a gorgeous single trail along a temple towards the summit of Fuji. This year were not blessed. Instead of some of the most beautiful trail running in the world we instead were to follow ribbons tied to trees were dotted through the forest and went in a line via the crow flies but through a chain of about what felt like 100 pumice sand creek beds that were up to 10 metres deep. We ran along literally falling down the side of the creek beds, sliding on our butts to the bottom of the dry creek bed then have to climb straight back out again, hands on quads, over and over and over again for 20km. This I could take. I knew that if this was hard for me I could only imagine how hard it must be for other runners.
The disheartening part of it was that with every creek bed we dropped into we had to climb back out again, and still continue up our ascent on the soft volcanic rock. I started to look for my positives. I felt like I’d entering my own personal hell. I was having problems with my breathing and I felt like I’d entered a cruel survival race with no real tangible beginning and end. The Cp’s seemed to be not where they were meant to be. CP4 and CP5 were a few kilometers past were they were meant to be and the next CP was due but it seemed that due to the new course we really were not to know how far we were going to run in the UTMF in 2015. I’d also been lost for an extra 4ks or so I was doing the sums and I think I was going to end up running 174kms or so.
Where is Fuji? Where is the God Fuji-san? The magnificent mountain that gives love, hope and energy with every view. Where are you? Why have you forsaken me? The weather was over cast. I was running though a closed in grey, dreary hell. The dirt was volcanic black, the sky now with sun rising was still a miserable grey. I’ve been spoilt by living in beautiful Queensland, the sunshine state and I was just not use to so much grey. This landscape just depressed me. I felt like I’d entered my own personal hell, pure depression, living mental depressive hell. It was like I was running my own personal torture session. Not being able to breathe properly, starved of Oxygen, dark cloud, black soil, exhausted, unable to really eat that much food. I was feeling really depressed. I started to cry. No. I started to ball and wail.
My Japanese Guardian angle, being the beautiful man that he was apologised for this country for not being sunny, or the trail not being as beautiful as the years past. He apologised for Fuji-san not being viewed whilst racing. He apologised for the pumice being soft and the trails not being marked. What a beautiful man he was. He was so considerate of me, a true man of a pure heart. I did not want to ruin his experience with my own personal problems. I told him to go on without me as I did not want to ruin his race with my depression. That was not fair on him.
I felt like the UTMF had all my favourite parts of the course taken out of it. When you are sick with asthma and your away from your family there has to be pay offs. The trails, well it seemed like all my favourite trails were removed from the UTMF this year or there was not trail at all.
The Views, the weather was crap. It was closed in with no visibility at all. I did not get a chance to view Fuji once. Usually with every mountain climb we are rewarded with views but there was no views. It was closed in grey fog.
Personal Achievement, I felt like I was really happy with what I’d achieved so far and wrecking my health and killing myself was really not seeming worth it. I was in a real depressed stated. I true representation of depression. I just was not enjoying this race.
I still continued onwards pushing up the soft volcanic soil with my guardian angle behind me. Still pacing off me. He’d been there for 40 km. He was still there with his smiling face. We push forever onwards, upwards on the soft volcanic pumice into the CP6 and the highest point in the race. I saw my support crew and they asked me how I was. I told him that I was not feeling very good and that I was not enjoying myself. In Australia due to snake threats we are taught to stick to the tracks. I contemplated how beneficial orienteering as part of my training. I would suggest this for next time as we really were not following marked tracks and it was extremely technical course.
I turned and pushed onwards and looked forward to my favourite sections that were coming ahead, yet I realised that we were not going to be following the same route. Instead we were sent down a massive pumice dune, then up scraggly switch backs and under a high tension power line, service track for the next 10km. With every time the track turned the wrong direction to what I was expecting from the years past I would stop and cry with my guardian angle feeling so sorry for me, patting me on the back. I would then have to ask him to go on his own, I was mindful that my mood might wreck his race and I wanted him to enjoy himself. I would send him on ahead, wail and cry to myself and I’d then catch up to him a few kilometers later when I was feeling more positive. It was not fair that I was so depressed and he was so happy and felt like it was his fault that his country was not putting on the usual impressive UTMF show for me. I think I must have pulled it together a nit not wanting to ruin his race and started to think more positively thinking I could pull out and end the torture at this next check point.
I’d recovered and started to move quickly as I then made it to the next water stop very fast, before the predicted time and I then and there decided to pull out but I’d made it to 115km before my support crew had arrived at the CP. I had no idea if they were coming to this CP or not. The CP staff convinced me that I was meant to go on as I was in 7th place. They asked me why I wanted to pull out and I told them that “I just was not enjoying myself”.
Maybe I was mentally exhausted from my year of break up? Maybe it was asthma, lack of food, depression, man the list can go on. I just was not mentally prepared for it. I did not leave enough in the tank for my mind to be able to think it’s way out of this depression. I wanted to stop but I had no one to pull out too.
My support crew was not there so I decided to go on another 15km to A7. Maybe it was a sign. A sign to teach me that I can’t have things my own way all the time. The course was changed but this is life. Life changes and we have to be prepared for these changes. I had to learn to be adaptable. This was my lesson here. I ran on quite happy. Laughing, happy that I was forced to go on. In the end I was doing really well it was just me, my head that was upsetting me. I could just choose to be happy and enjoy the race now.
I was then made so upset as I ran and walked up the next mountain of another one favourite forest had been logged. Bloody Hell! Again destruction. I had to do a “go slow” up the mountain as I was having problems breathing again. I was so sad. The roller coaster of emotions were insane now. I looked forward to the beautiful trail at the top of the mountain but we were again diverted down another creek bed with no trail.
My Guardian Angle was behind me again. Maybe now he was too strong for me and pushing me a bit quick down the descent with the track now using this mountain creek bed as a trail again following the white ribbons on trees as there was again no trail. I had to jump over rocks, tree roots and react quickly on smashed up quads and killing feet. I tripped over a tree root and totally twisted me knee. It was killing me. This race had become dangerous to me now. I’d really injured myself. I ran on to the bottom of the descent and let my Guardian Angle go on without me now for the last time. I’d had enough.
I tried to run down the road but my quads were smashed. I decided to take panadol but I could not swallow the tablets, my throat was so swollen. I felt like I had inflammation from my tonsils to my lungs. I drank some water and decided to walk. Maybe with the walking something happened in my lungs. I then started to vomit phlegm out of my lungs, kneeling on the side of the road puking up my lungs of white phlegm. I continued on walking trying to decide what to do next. I’d taken so much asthma medication my hands here now shaking. I was out on the road following the white ribbons along the side of the Lake into A7, I must have looked like crap, when a car stopped in front of me and offered me a lift. I waved them on and said no. About 200m later a truck pulled off the road and stopped literally 5m in front of me. The truck driver got out of the car and told me to get in Japanese to get in. I decided to take him up on his offer.
Never before had I been so relieved to pull out of an event. The mental and physical torture could stop.
My Race Set Up
Inov8 Race Ultra Elite Vest
Inov8 X-Talon 200 Shoes
Inov8 Compression Calf Guards
Descente Thermal Armbands
Inov8 Race Elite Wool Thermal Top
Inov8 Thermal Fleece
Inov8 Thermal Gloves
Inov8 Race Elite Water Proof Jacket
Inov8 Race Elite Water Proof Pants.
Hammer Banana Gel 50% Strength in Gel Flasks 1-2 gels per hour.
Hammer Heed 50% Strength 500ml Water every 2 hours (When possible)
Hammer Apple Cinnamon Bars x3
Bananas at every check point
Miso Soup at every check point throughout the night where possible.
Hammer Endurolytes 1-2 every hour.
500ml Water Every Hour when possible