Ultra Trail Mount Fuji – Asia-Pacific Got Talent

Rachel is a HK-based Aussie ex-pat who loves all thing trail and writing
Rachel is a HK-based Aussie ex-pat who loves all thing trail and writing

This weekend sees the running of the mighty awesome UTMF race in Japan. It’s a monster of a run with huge elevation gains in one of the most amazing places in the world. As a lead-in to the race this year, we have been very fortunate enough to have Hong Kong-based writer and trail runner, Rachel Jacqueline write some previews for us. First up, we begin with some of Australia’s and Asia’s finest who could be in contention. Tomorrow we’ll focus on some of the local Japanese runners too. We hope you enjoy!

When legendary Japanese ultra runner Tsuyoshi Kaburaki first ran the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) six years ago, he began dreaming of an event just like it in his country. But he knew only one place was worthy to sister the famous European race: Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest and most sacred mountain at 3,776 metres.  And so the Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji (UTMF) was born: Asia’s big mountain 100 miler, circumnavigating the ancient volcano with over 9000 metres of elevation gain, crossing through two prefectures and offering views of alpine lakes along the way.

This Friday, 800 runners from around the globe will gather by Lake Kawaguchiko before setting off at 3pm for the 2013 UTMF. They will be two hours behind 1,200 runners taking part in the “half course” in the Shizuoka To Yamanashi (STY) race.

After the success of the event last year, in its second year the UTMF has drawn big names from Europe and North America and promises to be more competitive than ever. Famous ultra runner Krissy Moehl from the USA looks set to lead the women’s field, equipped with over 12 years of racing experience and some impressive titles over the 100 mile distance under her race bib, including first place woman in the 2012 Hardrock 100 and in the 20090 UTMB.

In the men’s field it looks to be a battle between the strongest French runners, with last year’s winner Julien Chorier from Salomon France back to defend his title from Sebastien Chaigneau from The North Face France. Fellow Frenchman and trail running veteran Antoine Guillon from Lafuma France also adds more European talent to the field.  Meanwhile, from Canada, Gary Robbins from Team Salomon is back from injury and looking stronger than ever, having just set a new course record in the 2013 H.U.R.T. 100 mile Endurance Run

Apart from these well-known international runners, there are a number of contenders from Australia, New Zealand and the rest of Asia – with specific mention to the local Japanese runners – who we believe will be among the top finishers.

In the first of a two-part series on the 2013 UTMF we caught up with some top female talent from Australia and Hong Kong – Claire Price – who will likely be battling it out for a podium finish with Moehl, as well as some top runners from the men: Brendan Davies from Australia, Jeremy Ritcey from Hong Kong and Grant Guise from New Zealand. In the second part we learn more about the top Japanese talent and Japanese trail running through the insight of local runner and blogger, Koichi Iwasa.

Claire Price one of Asia-Pacific's finest female runners
Claire Price one of Asia-Pacific’s finest female runners

Claire Price (Hong Kong based Brit)

Coming out of a course-record smashing season in Hong Kong, Claire is in the form of her life. In the 2013 Vibram Hong Kong 100 she was the first woman over the line in 11 hour 58 minutes, beating Lizzy Hawker’s course record by 20 minutes. In November 2012 her women’s team also took out the course record in the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker. After an impressive 22 hours 32 minutes in her first 100 miler at Western States last year, Claire is looking forward to her second 100 miler on new soil.

1. You’ve had a big season in Hong Kong so far, how are you feeling about the UTMF? 

It’ll be my first race in Japan and I love the country and the people. Plus to get to run around Mount Fuji – their iconic mountain- will be very special. So all in all, I’d say I’m very excited, but of course also daunted and going in with a lot of respect for the distance – it’s a tough race for me.

2. Your last 100 miler was Western States last year. What did you learn over that distance that you think you’ll apply to UTMF?

Western States in 2012 is the first 100 miler I’ve finished. I attempted UTMB in 2005 and 2007; but I know I’ve learned a bit since then about pacing, organisation and perseverance. Western States was tough and I didn’t feel great, but it was a good experience overall – an amazing race to be a part of and I felt very lucky to be there. It always amazes me how you can come back from a low point to finish strong – which is what happened at WS100 – so that’ll definitely be something I’ll be reminding myself of during the low points on UTMF.

3. Fuji is going to be much colder than what you’re used to. How are you going to stay warm?

Yes it looks as if UTMF will be cold and it’s a month earlier than last year. I’ll layer up and will trust my Salomon gear. We’re so lucky nowadays, running with all the amazing kit that’s out there – imagine what it was like 20 years ago before all the light, technical wicking and waterproof materials existed? Not to say that it’s easy now of course, and it’s not all about the gear, but good gear definitely helps.

4. What is the one thing you’re most looking forward to at UTMF?

To discover this stunning part of Japan, to hang out with people who share my passion for running in beautiful places around the world and of course the onsens, the Japanese hospitality and all the delicious Japanese food. That’s more than one, but there is just so much to look forward to!

Brendan Davies (Australia)

Australian ultra runner of the year in 2012 pretty much says it all. With a speedy 9 hour 51 minute finish in the competitive 2013 Tarawera ultra (fourth overall and first Aussie finisher) Brendan is fast. Damn fast. Though UTMF will be his first proper 100 miler, he’s got the legs over the long distance and looks set to achieve some good results in Japan.

1. You say on your blog that UTMF is pretty significant for you, being your first international miler and first true 100 miler (having completed the GNW (108miles) in 2012). How are you feeling about racing over this distance?

I’m in a very good place at the moment. I am feeling the fittest, strongest and fastest I have ever felt. To have all three systems working well together is one part that makes for a successful run. The other is race plan execution. I will be drawing on my GNW experience, but I think I can afford to be a little less cautious as well at UTMF now that I’ve run actually longer than the distance before.  I am not intimidated by the distance, it’s more the unknown terrain and amount of elevation gain that is most imposing.

Brendan has been training the house down again for this race
Brendan has been training the house down again for this race

2. Coming from the “flattest place” on the planet, how have you been preparing for the serious 9000m elevation gain?

Yes, Australia is very flat however thankfully I live in the only mountains around Sydney (I guess they would be hills on world standards!) – the Blue Mountains. It does give me the opportunity to do a lot of training over hilly terrain and also practice my ascending and descending skills. There are a couple of major climbs of around 700 -800m gain that I have been able to do repeats on and these have copped a hammering from me in the last couple of months! Over Easter I ran 170km with around 5000m in total of elevation trying to simulate Fuji and that’s about the best I could do but it was very beneficial.

3. What are you most looking forward to about racing in Japan, where you can expect noodles and sushi at the checkpoints, as opposed to the regular vegemite sandwich?

Ha! I would rather a yummy Sushi roll over a Vegemite sandwich any day! Actually, when it comes to nutrition, thankfully I’m very well looked after with Hammer. Come late in the race though, a nice strong Saki might fire me up and get me going! Jokes aside, I’m really looking forward to experiencing the unique Japanese culture; being in a country where running is such a big part of the culture is going to be special. Also the significance of running around Mt Fuji, which has such a strong spiritual link with the Japanese people, will not be lost on me either.

Jeremy Ritcey (Hong Kong based Canadian)

With a background in adventure racing, Ritcey is known for his grit. One of Hong Kong’s consistently top runners, Ritcey is stepping up to the UTMF this year (his first proper 100 miler) after placing 4th in the shorter STY race last year. Ritcey was part of the team in the 2012 HK Oxfam Trailwalker only four minutes behind the Salomon France team (of which Julien Chorier was a part) and recently came second in Hong Kong’s grueling Lantau100 behind Nepal’s Samir Tamang.  

1. This is your first 100 miler – how have you been preparing for the extra distance?

This is sort of my first 100 miler.  I started the UTMB a few years back and ended up pulling out at the half way mark (I was frozen to the bone and my ITB was acting up).  I feel much more mentally prepared now and am focused on finishing and pushing myself to move well all along the course.  Training wise, I was well on track up until about a month ago.  I’ve run more 100+km races this season than I have in the past (4 since August) and was generally sticking to my 10-12 hours a week accompanied by lots of racing.  Since the Lantau 100, however, my training hasn’t been looking too stellar.  I have three things to blame over the last month – a swollen foot, a bad case of stomach flu and a wedding.  I wouldn’t return the marriage, but I sure could have done without the other two!  Anyway, I think my good season of training and racing up until mid-March will serve me well – one month of less than ideal training hopefully won’t make any difference come race day.

Jeremy Ritchie is seeking to avenge his previous UTMF experience
Jeremy Ritchie is seeking to avenge his previous UTMF experience

2. Last year you came 4th in the STY. Why the step up the UTMF this year?

After my unsuccessful attempt at the UTMB, I had always wanted to prepare well and come back ready for a big one.  I love running long and really getting into the groove of a long mountainous race.  I also usually find myself feeling better at 80 and 100km than I do at the 50km mark of a race so it seems like a natural progression for me.  More mountains = more fun.

3. What do you think is going to be the highlight of UTMF this year?

The whole thing is going to be awesome!  The whole running atmosphere in Japan is great, the Salomon team I’ll be hanging out with are fantastic people and the race itself offers some of the most technical terrain and scenery to be found anywhere!  I just wish I could get to see my wife finish the STY.  Maybe you could get a video of that for me 😉  [I’ll do my best Jeremy! ]

Grant Guise, (New Zealand)

The last time Grant was in Japan in 2007 he took out the Asian Ski mountaineering championships – an insight into his hybrid background skimo/trail running background which lends perfectly to races like the UTMF. His race highlights include 1st place in the 2012 Canadian Death Race and 3rd at 2011 Tarawera Ultra. UTMF will be his first 100 miler. When the incredibly modest Dad is not running or skiing, he’s running New Zealand’s trail running site www.backcountryrunner.co.nz.

1. You’re used to hills in NZ and being a back country skier – how are you feeling about the elevation-rich UTMF course?

I would probably feel better about it had I be coming off a winter of ski mountaineering – I think the best summer of running I had was on the back of the last big winter of ski mountaineering training I did. On one hand I am really looking forward to it (I love going up and down mountains and climbs). On the other hand, it is 9000 vertical meters – that’s huge, and way more than I have ever done in a single push. I think to some extent everyone on the start line is going to be intimidated somewhat by the amount of climbing. But it is a good thing. From what I can gather the climbs are not really long, mostly shorter and very steep, so that is what I have tried to focus on. And I think in 100miles with that much gain everyone is walking at certain points, so I have been working on that also.

Grant is back in Japan to run this time, leaving the skis at home
Grant is back in Japan to run this time, leaving the skis at home

2. How’s the preparation been leading up to UTMF?

I did the Northburn50km (2400mD+) and Avalanche Peak (22km, 1100mD+) races in my build up. The NB 50km was not much of a race, more of a run with the boys. I made a few mistakes nutrition wise so it was a good reminder of what not to do at UTMF. Other than those races I have managed a few good long runs – I had a great day on the Rees-Dart with KDay, Ruby and Vajin and paced Mick Donges at Tarawera. Other than those long runs it has been a mix of tempo or speed stuff, either on the flats or hills. It’s all been good training, apart from falling on my back trying to keep up with Greg [Vollet] and François [d’Haenine] in Dunedin. This led to some other issues/pain, but I am getting on top of that now. For the last year Christophe Malarde from France has been coaching me. He is the coach of many top French runners including François and Sebastien Chaigneau, so that gives me a lot of confidence having that kind of experience pulling the strings in my build up to UTMF.

3. What is it about the UTMF that made you want to race there?

I have been keen to do a 100 mile race for a few years now and felt after running the 125km Canadian Death Race in 2011 and 2012 that this year would be a good time to make that step up.  I spent four months in Japan (winter 2006/07). It is an amazing place: great people and culture, amazing landscape and the food. As soon as I heard about UTMF it shot to the top of my “to do” list as I have wanted to return to Japan, but did not expect to. We have a young family and are self-employed, but I am probably the luckiest runner alive. For whatever reason I managed to be picked up by Salomon Running International (after getting support from Salomon NZ for a while). Greg and the team have been amazingly good to me and have given me opportunities that I could have only dreamed of other wise. I know my place within the ranks and I expected nothing and then UTMF come up – I couldn’t say no!

4. What are you most excited/apprehensive about on this course?

The only apprehension I have is my leg and the pain it has been giving me, but come race day that will be the last thing on my mind I think. Pretty much every aspect of this trip excites me. I never went to Fuji last time I was in Japan, so almost the whole trip will be full of new experiences- the race is almost a side note, but is obviously the main focus. It will be great to see fellow “Death Racer” Jeremy Ritcey again and I am excited to see how Brendan Davies goes. He is in great form at the moment! Finally getting to meet fellow Salomon Team mates Gary Robbins, Clair Price and Julien Chorier will be really good. I am really looking forward to spending time out on a new trail with a bunch of folks. That is something I don’t get to do often and have never be a part of a race this big in distance or number of runners.

Rachel Jacqueline threw in the life of a lawyer early in 2012 in the pursuit of running and writing. When the Aussie ex-pat is not out exploring Hong Kong’s trails, she writes for the local English newspaper and blogs on all things adventure, fitness, health and the outdoors in Asia’s global city. Read her blog here – www.hkadventurebaby.com – or follow her on Twitter @raejacqueline and on instagram @hkadventurebaby.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

4 thoughts on “Ultra Trail Mount Fuji – Asia-Pacific Got Talent

  1. Great article Rachel. Do you know if Stone is still planning on heading across? He surely has to be included in the mix of top Asian talent!

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