translated and edited by Brett Larner
With 4686 runners making up its largest-ever field, the 63rd annual Fuji Mountain Race took place July 23. With last year's race having been cut off at Mt. Fuji's 5th Stage due to fog and rain at the mountain's summit, this year under dazzling summer skies the event returned to its usual format with runners competing in either the 21 km, 3000 m climb Summit division or the 15 km, 1460 m climb 5th Stage division. In the men's Summit race, Shinya Takahashi, 35, of Iwate Prefecture, took his first win in 2:53:00. Yoshimi Hoshino, 44, of Shizuoka Prefecture, the course record holder and two-time winner in the 5th Stage division, took her fifth Summit win eight years after her last Summit victory. 5th Stage men's winner Satoshi Kato was only 38 seconds off the course record, running 1:19:57, while women's winner Mina Ogawa was only a minute and a half off Hoshino's record. It was the first win for both Kato and Ogawa.
Beginning this year, the Summit division is limited to runners who have completed 5th Stage division in less than 2 1/2 hours within the past three years. Thanks to this restriction, the rate of participants completing the Summit race under the 4 1/2 hour time limit rose 10% among men and 9.8% among women. 1198 men completed the Summit division, a finisher rate of 54.1%, while only 48 women reached the mountain's top, a finisher rate of 39.0%. On the 5th Stage course 2041 men finished, a rate of 97.9%, and 248 women completed the distance under the time limit, 94.3% of the starters. While temperatures at the start were over 30 degrees, Mt. Fuji's peak was only 8.6 degrees.
"I like courses that are so steep you have to crawl," Takahashi told members of the media afterwards, "so this was perfect for me, especially the rocky part near the peak. That was a lot of fun." At the 5th Stage checkpoint more than 10 runners were ahead of Takahashi, but, he says, "I told myself to just take my time." One by one he overtook the leaders as the course steepened, and near the 9th Stage checkpoint he took the lead and ran unchallenged to the finish, his first win in the prestigious Mt. Fuji race. However, his joy at winning is tempered by feelings of regret towards his colleagues at Hachimantai City Hall in Iwate. Takahashi leaves work promptly at the end of each day in order to get in his training rather than staying to work overtime with everyone else in the office. "Since today is a weekday I couldn't tell any of them that I was taking time off to come run here," he said. "I don't think I'll be able to tell any of them that I won once I get back. But for me this wasn't about winning or losing, it was about conquering myself."
Women's Summit winner Hoshino commented, "I came here to say thank you to Mt. Fuji for the last time. I was not thinking about winning." The 5th Stage course record holder, Hoshino won the Mt. Fuji Summit race four times in a row from 1998-2002. Her best time of 3:05:16 would be good enough to put her in the top ten in the men's race most years. But, she says, "Age is catching up to me, and my strength is slipping away. I've had a lot of problems with fatigue and injury." In recent years Hoshino has repeatedly dropped out of the Summit race and has frequently opted to run the 5th Stage course instead. She planned for this year's Fuji Mountain Race to be her last. "This time I wanted to leave everything, including my past shame, on the slopes of Mt. Fuji," she said. "But now I'm already thinking about running next year."
Men's 5th Stage winner Kato was running the race for the first time. "Damn, that was long. I'm beat," he told reporters. "Once we got into the woods I was completely on my own." Kato trains on mountain trails near his home in Aichi Prefecture each morning before work. "I always train in the mountains, but getting to the 5th Stage felt way longer than 15 km," he said. "I'm really happy to win. I wanted to run the Summit race, but this was my first time and with the rule change I couldn't. I'm going to take it easy for a while now but I'll be back next year."
Women's 5th Stage winner Ogawa was also running for the first time. "I was only aiming to finish, not even thinking about winning," she laughed after the race. A competitive marathoner, Ogawa typically trains 20-30 km a day, but the area she usual trains in is relatively flat. "The sunshine was so strong," she said, "and once we went off the roads onto the trails it got so tough that I was pretty doubtful of finishing." Nevertheless, she gutted it out and beat runner-up Noriko Onodera by more than 15 minutes. "I'm pooped. The people who run the Summit course are unbelievable," she laughed again. "I have to do more strength training to get ready for it next year."
Translator's note: Summit Division women's 3rd place finisher Kiyoko Shirakawa was the top Japanese woman at this year's 24 Hour World Championships.
2010 Fuji Mountain Race - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
Summit Division Men
1. Shinya Takahashi - 2:53:00
2. Suguru Emoto - 2:53:53
3. Dai Matsumoto - 2:56:52
Summit Division Women
1. Yoshimi Hoshino - 3:18:41
2. Naomi Ochiai - 3:27:18
3. Kiyoko Shirakawa - 3:30:47
5th Stage Division Men
1. Satoshi Kato - 1:19:57
2. Hiro Tonegawa - 1:26:01
3. Yoichi Nakanishi - 1:26:06
5th Stage Division Women
1. Mina Ogawa - 1:33:54
2. Noriko Onodera - 1:49:08
3. Keiko Nagasaka - 1:50:38