|At the second water stop, Umagaeshi Shrine, the official splits show I was in 876th place out of 2,100 starters. This was about an hour into the race and half the distance, but only 22% of the elevation gain. At least I think it was Umagaeshi. Since I can't read the Japanese Kanji characters, I was pretty much in the dark as to location the whole way.|
By this point everyone was walking most of the time, so I turned to my power walking mode and began steadily passing people. The trail soon narrowed to single track, much of the time running straight up the mountain in a V-shaped ravine 15 feet deep, cut by hundreds of years of erosion on this ancient trail.
|We were in deep forest up to the 5th station, which provided welcome shade on a clear morning. Passing became a constant challenge with a lot of sweaty body contact, accompanied by "sumimasen" (excuse me) and "domo" (thanks). I constantly reminded myself to take the inside tangents on curves, frequently passing 3 or 4 people by sticking to the inside of each curve. By the 5th station, I had gained 200 places to about 675.|
|After almost 2 hours I began to run out of gas. At the 5th station, there was a welcome spread of food including empan (rolls filled with sweet bean paste), bananas, grapes and lemons (there were lemon slices at every water stop). I took a couple of minutes to wolf down a lot of food and water, miraculously feeling much better after that. This was to be the last real water stop until the top, despite having over half the elevation still to gain. (The photo to the right is the third water stop, the one before the 5th station. Sorry.)|
|After the 5th station we joined the mainstream hiker's trail to the top, since there is bus access up to that point via a different route than ours. We also broke out of the trees into a tilted volcanic moonscape of variously colored gravel. The trail became wide enough for 3 or 4 people side by side, with enormous highway-grade embankments to hold back the slopes. There was a solid line of people switchbacking up the mountain as far as I could see both up and down. Clouds were streaming across the slopes above (and below) us, but it never rained. We spent the rest of the day surrounded by clouds, never able to see up or down more than a couple thousand feet, but frequently in sunshine. I wondered if my sunscreen would be effective after so many hours of soaking wet skin, but the only sunburn I got was 3 little dots through holes in my watchband where I didn't put any on.|
|With the humidity, my clothing was completely soaked after the first half hour. I've never felt a Coolmax shirt dripping wet from sweat in Colorado! My favorite mark of distinction now is the rust spots on my shirt from the safety pins. These photos are from a single-use camera that I carried in a mesh pocket in my shorts. The viewfinder was always too fogged to see through, although by keeping the lens facing out it stayed mostly clear.|
At one of the 7th station huts, a young woman was yelling my first name. I guess she picked me out as a "gaijin" (foreigner) and found my number in the race booklet. At least it got me running across the stone patio of that particular hut. Interestingly, I was listed as "L. Randy" which is in keeping with Incline Club tradition. Most gaijin got the same reverse treatment for their names, since Japanese typically write the family name first.
By the 8th station, I was in about 600th place, having gained another 75 places. I was starting to be concerned about the cutoff time, a new experience for me. I had 45 minutes to climb the last 1,200 feet, and it was looking like a long way up there -- I still couldn't make out the top. It had been rock scrambling since the 7th station, and I was having to use my hands to prevent balance errors. But around the 9th station, the rock turned back into gravel and the gradient eased slightly (to 18%). Finally I could see the top and my confidence increased.