Scheduled to happen Oct. 16 for the first time in three years, the 28th Shimantogawa Ultramarathon has been abruptly canceled. Shimanto mayor Masahiro Nakahira, chairperson of the event's organizing committee, announced the decision at a press conference. The mayor cited the difficulty in locating volunteers due to the ongoing pandemic situation in the city and area, and concerns that the local medical system could be overwhelmed. Whether the race will go ahead next year remains undetermined.
Applications for the race were open until July 29. 1506 people paid to sign up for the 1800 slots available in the 100 km division, with the 60 km division attracting 524 paid entrants out of a maximum field size of 600. Mayor Nakahira commented, "In the past we've always had more applicants than available slots, and there were even years where the number of applicants was triple the field maximum field size. This is one impact of the coronavirus pandemic." The number of volunteers was also lower than anticipated. 1800 applicants were expected, but only 1300 people applied to volunteer.
The race's course along the Shimanto River passes through mountainous areas where the effects of depopulation and the aging of those who remain are evident. "We heard from several villages this month that said they are afraid of the coronavirus or are simply too old to volunteer anymore," said Mayor Nakahira. "We might have still been able to do something by playing around with the course layout, but we thought it was important to make a decision as early as possible."
The event's future is currently a blank page in its history book. The organizing committee is exploring ways to keep the race going by re-examining its recruitment and utilization of volunteers, but the struggle to get enough volunteers has been an issue for years and the organizers are said to be considering ending the race as one option. "The Shimantogawa Ultramarathon is a very popular event, and locals in the mountains always turn out to cheer the runners on," said Mayor Nakahira. "It's my hope that we'll be able to come up with options."
translated by Brett Larner