The Ultra Experience

Here's to the adventures of my life which are usually ultra marathon trail running or fly fishing but may include other trips, experiences, thoughts, opinions, or pretty much whatever I want. As co-founder of Altra Footwear my life and adventures seemingly revolve more around developing and promoting the best footwear in the world...and I love it!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shinetsu 110k Race Report

Short Version-
An amazing race through Japanese mountains and forests with forays into the pain cave, extreme heat and humidity, vomiting, intense fatigue, cramps, and other masochistic fun.  Finished 54th out of 600 starters in a time of 15 hrs 47 min.
Plenty of Japanese Altramaniacs.  Seriously, Altra's were everywhere!
 Really Long Version-
One of the perks of my job is traveling around the world promoting Altra.  I have a Japanese distributor who has done very well with the product as the Japanese love low profile foot shaped shoes.  Altra has been a smash hit in Japan!  Takashi, my distributor, has been inviting me to Japan for 8 months.  Finally he begged saying that he really wanted me to come run a race in Japan and spend a week traveling around the country promoting Altra.  I looked at my schedule (his number), thought about it, and said YES!  Check out Altra Japan
Going over race plans and course with the locals.
The race happened to be the Shinetsu 110k, one of the most popular and difficult ultra's in the country.  Even though it was 3 weeks after Cascade Crest 100 I thought I would be fine and looked forward to the challenge.  The weekend came quickly and after pacing at Wasatch 100, I had an ankle that was still not recovered after running Corner Canyon 50k, Cascade Crest 100, and pacing Wasatch 100 in 4 weeks.  Shinetsu would practically be my 4th ultra in 5 weeks.  I was a little worried and went to my PT/Chiro/masseuse/magician Dr Eric Brady 2 days before flying out and 4 days before the race.  Dr Brady is amazing.  If you live in Utah County and need something fixed, he is the man!
Standing Banquet and Pre-Race Meal
Enthusiastic Taiko Drummers
I'd never been to an Asian country and was excited to experience Japan on several levels.  I arrived with my ankle and spirits feeling good.  I was immediately treated royally by Takashi and Manabu my hosts.  The night before the race was a carnival of people, drums, food, and race preparation excitement.  I loved it. Only 1 other non-Japanese runner was in the race that I was aware of, Justin Angle.  Patagonia athlete and super-stud, we chatted about how different the culture was but the same ultra-vibe.  As a business and marketing professor we had a great conversation about how Altra got started by 3 guys in our 20's from a basement in Utah.

Many Japanese runners approached me testing their English, which typically was very poor, but the smiles and bows made me feel like I knew every word they were speaking.  The Japanese ultra community has been very receptive to our concepts and there were people wearing Altra's all over!  It was so much fun seeing people from halfway around the world wearing my shoes!  When the excitement died down, I headed to bed.  Prep'd and ready to go I toe'd the start line.

Game face
600 runners and over a 1000 volunteers
The first few miles of an ultra seem to always fly by.  This one was no different.  We hiked up a ski slope and started a circumnavigation of the first of 5 mountains.  It was a beautiful trail that went through rice fields, 10 foot high grass, and old growth forests.  After 5-6 miles my stomach wasn't feeling so good.  Very unusual so early in a race at such an easy pace.  I took a gel at mile 7 and within 30 seconds found myself on the side of the trail pucking my guts out.  Not the best start...but I immediately felt better and continued on. Eating extremely different food the two days before an ultra is not a great idea...

This picture was taken at 5:50am...the sun was up and 75 degrees
Beautiful early section of trail
I loved the next section as we turned straight up the mountain.  This would be the steepest section of the course and I felt at home.  The forest had a high altitude tropical feel.  One minute I felt I was in Park City and the next I felt I was in Hawaii.  Very cool.  Up and down I was feeling good and moving well.  I was in-and-out of the first major aid station at mile 14 and running through incredible single-track.  It was 8am in the morning and I was sweating profusely.  I couldn't believe how hot it was already.  I decided that I would back off a bit as it was early and I had already lost some liquid at mile 7.

Up and over mountain #2 I found myself on a long dirt road that I didn't like.  The footing was horrible and I longed for the beautiful singletrack we had left a few miles back.  There would be 3-4 long dirt road sections on this course that were just brutal.  They don't use gravel but instead used rocks ranging from the size of a marble to that of a baseball and everything in-between.  My ankle started to hurt.  We came out of the forest through a little town.  The low point of the course, hotter than Hades, and spectacularly beautiful with small Japansese cottages, farms, and mountains in every direction.

Cooling off!
Still Smiling...
Aid Station #3 was a welcome sight.  I soaked the body, drank some water, and was off.  Within 2 miles I was in trouble.  It was 10am and in the high 80's with 90% humidity.  I didn't know my body was capable of sweating that much.  I was still moving but the heat was really getting to me.  Aside from heavy legs and tired body, I felt ok.  I was eating, ankle/knee felt fine, feet felt great, but I just couldn't move very fast.  At 40km/25m I was already tired.  Soon I was out of water.  I also stumbled upon Justin who sadly was done for the day.  I wished him the best and kept moving.  Coming to the 52km aid station was a relief.  Takashi and crew went to work cooling me off and getting me to drink.  I also took an additional hand-held for the next sections.  I left with a rejuvenated mood.
Oh yeah!
I was now going through another ski resort which had planted acres and acres of flowers.  There were tourists riding the ski lift looking at me like I was crazy (yet to be proven!).  It was surreal as the flowers seemed to go on for miles.  Finally they ended as I was heading up another horrible dirt road.  The hi's and low's seemed to be rather close and I went to another low.  I decided to focus on nutrition and ignore the several runners who were able to run by me.  It was a 5k climb that seemed to last forever.  Soon it leveled out and turned onto a technical single-track.  My energy was coming back, probably due to my eating and drinking on the climb, and I re-passed everyone who had passed me on the climb.  It was the best I'd felt all day.  There was a VERY steep decline and incline that was brutal but I seemed to thrive.  We ended up in an old growth forest that was a perfect trail.  I was buzzed and loving it.  It lasted all the way to the next aid station nearly 5 miles away.  I passed a dozen runners and was smiling all the way.  The subtle differences of terrain seemed to accentuate the feeling.  I'm not good enough with the English language to describe these differences but it was stunning scenery running through old Japanese forests, fields, and pathways.

Coming into the Aid Station
I swear I drank a bathtub of water...and was still dehydrated.
At the 67km mark I hit my crew with smiles.  I felt great.  I swapped bottles, socks, and shoes feeling really good about the next 40km. The Superiors continue to impress but I swapped to Lone Peaks for the last 43km for additional protection. However like the day was going, the fun wasn't there to stay.  On a long climb at the 70km mark it all came crashing back down (they had signs every 10km telling you how far you had gone!).  It was another long exposed dirt road and I was drained.  I didn't even know what was wrong aside from I could barely move.  The heat seemed to sap everything away.  I plotted along as best I could.  I definitely seem to thrive on single-track as after a couple miles I was back climbing up the most remote overgrown part of the course.  I think I'm more comfortable in this terrain and I think its cooler temperature.  It was apparent that I was not prepared for the heat/humidity.

I gained momentum on the climb and cresting the top was now in the shadows on the east side of the mountain.  Again I was feeling better and moving well.  Several of these sections were severally rutted and overgrown with mossy roots but I loved it.  I came down to a lovely lake at dusk with bugs buzzing everywhere and silhouetted mountains in the background.  It looked like it was from a movie.  I was not flying but still running well.  I seemed to be in no-mans land seeing almost no other runner for miles.  I passed two runners through here but saw no-one else. 
Typical terrain and view of the course
One highlight was an ancient shine with thousands of tourists.  We ran about 1/2 mile dodging tourists to then see this amazing site.  I'll need to research more about the place but a sharp left turn took me away from the crowd and shine.  It was on a wooden pathway through old growth forests.  Beautiful.  Suddenly several runners appeared both ahead and behind me.  Having seen nobody for hours the pressure was now on...and I was tired.  I pushed into the last aid station with the group.  My crew gathered around giving me Coke and chips.  18km left.  I gathered what I could and left too quickly.

Sunset in Japan
Mustering the courage to leave the last major aid station
Within minutes I had to turn my headlamp on.  There was a huge climb to the hi-point of the course.  I was dead set on distancing myself from those behind and taking in the 3 runners that were within minutes of me.  I powered up the hill the best I could.  It kept going and going.  Finally at the top I stopped to adjust my laces and cramped up fiercely.  I had to sit down for 3-4 minutes watching what was a couple close lights bound away.  As I got up and started down the mountain, I was struggling terribly.  My ankle was trashed, I was dizzy, cramping, tired, and I just couldn't get a rhythm going.  With 10km left I was a mess.  I found myself walking into the next aid station where I sat for 20 minutes hyperventilating and trying to pull myself together.

I drank 4-5 glasses of soup (they had water, soup, and chips...nothing else at this last little outpost).  I was four miles from the finish and DEAD!  After watching 10 people pass by, I started walking.  Desperate to finish and just plan tired I walked for over a mile.  Slowly I increased the speed and was slowly running.  I vowed to let nobody else pass me.  Soon I saw a light ahead.  I was re-passing someone!  Within a mile left I was giving it all I had and managed to pass 2 more people.  The last mile was coasting down the mountain.  I knew the finish was close and pushed all the way down the mountain.
Triumphantly Done!!
I had finished.  Worn out primarily by the heat, fatigued from travel, and too much racing on not enough base but I had finished.  54th place (600 starters) 15 hours and 47 min.  It wasn’t my goal finishing time but I left everything I had on the course.  The experience as a whole was quite incredible.  Amazing course, more volunteers then ANY US race (they had people at every turn..yes, every turn!), better organized then any US race, more festival like then but still a good ole fashion ultra feeling.  Thank you to the volunteers, my gracious hosts, and Altra Japanese supports.  I hope to come back soon!


jun said...

Amazing report Brian. Congrats on even getting to go to Japan and an even bigger congrats to finishing what appears to be a very difficult race. What an incredible opportunity.

Brian Beckstead said...

Thanks Craig. It was an amazing experience.

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