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"The Further We Got the Longer and Steeper the Hills Became" - The Kyoto Isshu Trail Run

by Gregg Yarborough

Reader Gregg Yarborough recently visited Japan on business, running the 6th Kyoto Isshu Trail Run while he was here.  This is his account of the race.

When I was informed by my company that I would be traveling to Japan for 3 weeks on business I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to find a trail race in Japan to run during my visit. Not knowing anything about races in Japan I enlisted the help of Brett Larner who got me registered for the Kyoto Trail Run, a 32 km trail run across the mountains in the north of Kyoto, Japan.  Although I never received my race packet I took the bullet train to Kyoto with the assurance that just telling them my name would be enough to get my number and be able to line up on the starting line, and so it was. When I arrived at the check-in area I could only hope that someone there would be able to speak English since I know almost no Japanese. As it turns out the first volunteer I approached spoke enough English to understand and I soon had my race number and packet.

With clear skies and temperatures from 14 C at the start of the race to 21 C for the high one could not ask for a better day for a run. 597 runners showed up to start the race: 1 American, 2 Canadians, 1 British, and 593 Japanese. Beginning at 8:30 am we are sent off in waves of 100 every 5 minutes.

The race begins following the road through the park for about a mile allowing us to spread out before hitting the trails. It starts with a gradual climb on the Higashiyama trails up Daimonji. It does not take long before the climb becomes much steeper. I quickly slow to a walk as do many of the runners around me, reserving our energy for what is to come. The scenery is beautiful as we travel through the cedar forests and eventually near the top where we can see out over Kyoto and to the mountains in the distance. The views are absolutely breathtaking and I as well as many of the other runners could not resist the opportunity to pause in our run and snap off a few pictures.

We begin our descent back into town running down steps built into the mountain. Once we get to the end of the stairs, we begin to see some of the technical areas that we will be facing throughout the course of the run. Large rocks, and deep crags created by rain washout mark some areas of this section. Once we have navigated this area we come out into town where we are made to slow again to a walk. It is also here that we come across the first of our three aid stations.  Aid stations in Japan are much like those in the States in that they both provide raisins, bananas, chips, water and sports drink. The biggest difference is that the aid stations in Japan also offer green tea. The volunteers throughout the race were very courteous, friendly, and helpful. You couldn’t have asked for a better group of volunteers and staff to run any race.

After almost a mile we again hit the trails. It seemed the further we got into the race the longer and steeper the uphill and downhill sections became. Throw into that mix the fact that many have steps cut into the mountains or many very large roots protruding. The trails quickly became some of the most technical that I have run on. For someone not used to running up and down so many steps these began to take quite a toll on me.  Almost 5 hours after beginning this journey I finally and almost regrettably reached the finish line. While this was one of the hardest and most technical courses that I have run it was also one of the most beautiful. By the end of the race I was beaten, battered, and sore from the sheer physical effort it took to accomplish this run.

Even so with the views of Kyoto from above, the blooming springtime flowers throughout the mountains, the shrines and temples that were all along the way, the tall cedar forests, the many people that I encountered throughout the run always yelling encouragement to us all or even just simply saying hello, it is one experience that I shall never forget. This will always rank as one of my favorite races of all time. The scenery alone could have accomplished that but combined with a group of runners and volunteers such as those at this race makes this one truly epic.

text and photos (c) 2014 Gregg Yarborough
all rights reserved

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