translated and edited by Brett Larner
The Nikko municipal government in Tochigi prefecture announced May 28 that women will soon be handing off the tasuki on Nikko's mountain roads at the first running of the Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden on Nov. 30. The uphill course will feature six stages totalling 23.4 km, zigzagging its way up 700 m of climb. A city spokesperson commented, "We want to develop this into a race that will make people say, 'The men have Hakone, and the women have Nikko.'"
The new race is being organized by the "'Nikko: The Runner's Paradise' Executive Committee," a joint project of the local tourism board, sports bureau and others. To help the event grow into a major post-autumn foliage season draw, it will also feature a mass-participation race on Nikko's famous "Nikko Utsunomiya Doro" toll road a day earlier on Nov. 29.
Organizers are aiming for twenty university women's teams in the future, but in a survey sent to member schools of the Inter-University Athletics Union of Japan only nine programs committed to taking part. By expanding the criteria to allow alumni teams and mixed undergrad/alumni teams they hope to reach their target of twenty for this year's inaugural race.
The course will start at a park in the city, running up the normally one-way downhill Daiichi Irohazaka road to a finish near Chugushi at Futarasan Shrine on the shore of Lake Chuzenji. With 700 m of climb it will be one of the toughest ekiden courses in the country. The Hakone Ekiden may have its "God of the Mountain," but a new "Goddess of the Mountain" will be born this autumn on the roads of Nikko.