I reached the summit in 4:16:05, 14 minutes ahead of the cutoff. I was in 538th place, and another 200 made the cutoff behind me. Looking down from the summit, I could still see a solid line of racers who had no chance to finish officially. It seemed sad to me that the race couldn't be more accommodating to regular people. We didn't have the Pikes Peak Ascent's cheering crowds and announcer at the top, but we did arrive into a highly commercial, bustling city street atmosphere. Vendors were hawking their wares as we walked past a line of huts offering food, drink and accommodation. The race supplied water here, and I bought a half liter bottle of aptly-named Pocari Sweat for 500 yen (about $4) to drink on the way down. My 1000 yen bill was still soaking wet when I handed it to the unfortunate salesman. Glad I didn't try to feed it into one of the vending machines.
After a detour to see the crater, I headed down the descending trail (separate from the ascending trail). I can see why they don't include the descent in the race, although it makes for kind of a bummer to have to hike down after you finish. There'd be a lot of dead hikers knocked off the trail by runners if we were racing down. This trail is MUCH busier than Barr Trail. I jogged most of the way through loose soil and gravel, reaching the 5th station in an hour. There I collected my spare clothing bag (marked with permanent ink after last year's rain-soaked debacle) and a bento (box) lunch of rice balls wrapped in seaweed. I was soon on a chartered bus filled with chatting, laughing runners, arriving at race headquarters by 2:15 in a driving rainstorm. Last year's winner was just presenting his 3 trophies (each one 6 feet tall) back to the officials in exchange for smaller, but still impressive, permanent trophies. After a meal of udon noodles in miso soup provided by the race organizers, I walked the 2 km to a train station and my ride back home.
In retrospect, I didn't give this race enough respect beforehand. I thought it would be a slightly longer version of the Pikes Peak Ascent, ending at only 12,380. But I wasn't prepared for the steepness, and the lack of breaks. I'll really value that gentle stretch before Barr Camp on Pikes Peak in the future! Although the average gradient is only 14% compared to Barr Trail's 11%, it doesn't account for the long, gentle stretch at the start. Thus for the last half, the gradient averages 23%.
Given that I only have 7 more years before I hit the age cutoff of 55 for this race, I think I'll obey the traditional Fuji credo, "A wise man climbs Fuji once, but only a fool climbs it twice."