Thursday, December 28, 2023

Running Fujisan Marathon 2023: Mount Fuji in Autumn

The Fujisan Marathon has always been on my running bucket-list for its amazing views of Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji. As a bonus, it also takes place at the peak of autumn and this means even more amazing views of the autumn leaves, a chillier weather and ample training time throughout the year. 

Also it has one of the coolest medals, second only to my Nagoya's Women Marathon medal, when stacked together makes up Mount Fuji. 

So naturally, Japan reopened their borders for autumn 2022, I immediately started rallying the troops for this race. It wasn't hard. The race basically sold itself. So a group of us consisting of three runners and three smart people jetted off to Japan for the adventure of a lifetime, starting with this race. 

We met up at Haneda airport and headed off to Kawaguchiko on Friday, taking a scenic detour to Fuji city and then to Yamanakako for multiple photo stops. We decided to stop at Uniqlo for Heattech and grab dinner before checking in at our hotel at Royal Hotel Kawaguchiko after 7pm. By my standards, it was a pricey hotel at RM250 per person per night but the free parking and proximity to the race and everything in Kawaguchiko more than made up for it. It also had an indoor and outdoor hot bath which my friends fully utilized! 

Race kit collection was held at the race venue at Kawaguchiko on Saturday for foreigners and it was very fast. All we had to do was rock up to the info counter (aka the foreigner pickup counter) and show the staff our race QR code. In less than two minutes, we were rummaging through our goodie bag to check out our bibs, shirts and socks. Very generous I must say. 

There wasn't much to talk about the race expo itself but I did score a previous year's event shirt for only 1,000yen (RM31 approx) and we did some last minute shopping for Amino Vital gels, one of their official sponsors and gel supplier for the race. Unlike Malaysia's race expos, there were no freebies from the sponsors to try which made me grateful that we, Malaysians are spoiled by our events. 

On race day, I was the first to roll out of bed at 7am (what a treat!) and by 8am, the trio of us started walking to the start line. As soon as we stepped out, we could see Mount Fuji looming in the background and knew we will be in for a treat throughout the race. 

We dropped off our post-race bags at the drop bag section and after a few photos, said good luck and headed off to our respective pens. Mom and I were in the last pen, Pen D while my friend Hui was in pen C. We were freezing our butts off while we waited for flag as the entire start line was still casted in the shadow of the hill behind us. 

Then came 9am and after a barrage of fireworks over the lake, we were off! This time the new 29km category flagged off at the same time and place as the marathoners so the crowd was stifling. It took me 7 minutes to cross the start line and off I went, running my fourth marathon in Japan. 

TR:DR - I finished the race, got my medal and found out they had no more finisher towels. Most surprising for a Japan event but they did promise to send it to our home address. 

As for the long version of this race recap, well, let me preface by saying I went into it with a whatever happens happens state of mind, instead of my usual do or die attitude. You see, two months before the race, I had a bad knee injury (possible misalignment) followed by the big C. Yes, Covid bitch slapped me a month before the race. You can read the full rundown on that here

This race was also one of those races with a 6 hours cut off time, ie 6 hours from gun time. So you can imagine how stressful it can be. But oddly enough, I have accepted that I might not finish it and that was okay. It wasn't my fault I got injured or sick. It's just what it is. 

I don't know what zen spirit came over me but I will take it. 

At least the views were beautiful. As soon we rounded the 1km turning, Mount Fuji came into view and almost everyone came to a halt to take photos of it. I on the other hand started taking off my windbreaker because it started to get warm. Thankfully I have mastered the skillset of multitasking while running and quickly secured my jacket around my waist without stopping. 

And then I just ran. Phone in hand majority of the time, I took as many photos and videos as I wanted. Compared to the previous three runs I've done, I think I took the most photos and videos from this run because it was so damn BEAUTIFUL. 

10km in, I realised my pace was way above what I had trained for because everyone was going so fast. By 12km, I wanted to call it quits. Hahah, I had hit the wall. We had only just cross the bridge at this point and I thought, aiya, I will just run until 21km and hop on the DNF bus at that checkpoint to go back to the finish line la. 

With that in mind, I continued running at a slower more manageable pace and took EVEN MORE PHOTOS along the way. After a while, every shot of Mount Fuji started to look the same and I actually got bored of it! Kami-sama, please forgive me! 

Also, because there were so few clouds, the sun was out with a vengeance. Combined with the dry air, I needed to take sips of my own water bottle to keep my lips from drying. There were water and food stations every 4-5km or so but they weren't as well spread out compared to other races. I only went for the water and electrolyte drinks as I wasn't hungry throughout the race. What a miracle. 

Then came the 21km checkpoint and the split off for the 29km and 42km categories - left for 21km and right for 42km. Here I paused to grab a grape and to look for the quitter bus. 

To my horror, there wasn't a bus in sight! Have I missed it? Noooooo! I asked a volunteer and they said if I wanted to stop, I will need to take off my bib and walk the 29km route back to the start line. 

Excuse me? If I am going to walk the extra 8-9km, I mind as well continue on the marathon route in hopes of getting pick up by the sweeper bus then. Surely, they would not abandon us stragglers at Saiko, the more secluded lake of the two. So up I went on a 1.5km hill climb. Even walking uphill left me light-headed - is this what altitude sickness is supposed to feel like? 

On the other side, the front pack was blitzing the downhill. It must be so nice to be fast. 

At this point, I had resorted to a walk-run method and it kind of worked. Younger me would be horrified but I couldn't be bothered. 

Saiko was very quiet compared to Kawaguchiko with nothing much to see. Mount Fuji only made an appearance before we ran up to Saiko Iyashi-no-Sato Nenba which was actually a pretty Japanese village. Sadly we didn't run inside. 

Bored out of my mind, I started doing maths from checkpoint to checkpoint. If I can do the next 5km by in this time, I can make it with 10 minutes to spare. And somehow this worked to keep me moving. Then at 30km, I spotted the DNF buses and almost ran over to them for a hug. 

Yes! Take me back to civilization and get me off my feet!

BUT at the point, my running math as I called it, had taken over and I knew that I had two hours to finish 12km which was...entirely do-able for me if I walk-run. I just needed to keep moving. With great reluctance, I waved goodbye to the buses (drawing a nani-the fuck look from the race marshal) and continued on my way.

The next 12km passed in a blur to be honest. I remember running the downhill stretch, making eye contact with an official photographer and telepathically telling him to take my damn picture as I blitzed this part. 

Well, the telepathy worked. I got awesome photos. 

Golden hour was setting in and it make the autumn leaves even more beautiful from 2pm onwards. Out came my phone again for more photos and then eh, suddenly I was 1km from the finish line with 17 minutes to spare. How do I know how much time I had left? Because I took a photo with the sign to remember it by. 

And then as I power-walked to the finish, I had another idea - what if I was the last runner to cross the finish line before cut off? Imagine the fanfare and attention! 

Alas, my friend, Hui who finished 40 minutes ago spotted me, fiddling on my phone and egged me to the end. Okay la, I will finish it BUT not without one last trick up my sleeve to make sure I get more photos. 

I whipped out the Jalur Gemilang flag and sprinted to the finish line like the proud Malaysian I am. My official time was 5:45:36, which was not bad at all and still so much better than Tokyo Marathon, the perpetual black mark in my running career. 

I collected my medal and learnt that they had just ran out of finisher towels as majority of the 29km runners had returned and claimed them. Listening in on the complains from other foreign runners, I decided to hobble to the info counter and gave them my bib number for them to arrange for delivery.

They apologised profusely for their incompetency to which I was like, meh, more space for shopping in my luggage then. 

I was really liking my zen mode. 

I then hobbled to pick up my bag and quickly changed out of my shirt and pulled on a sweater and my coat as the sun would soon go down. Then at the 6 hour mark, the fireworks went off signifying the end of the race. 

I have yet to see my mother so I texted our group and two minutes later, spotted her and Hui wobbling towards me. She had finished the race but missed the cut off by two minutes. At the point, she was in too much pain to care. 

Much later once sanity had returned, she said she wouldn't mind attempting this race again so she could redeem herself and Hui agreed too, citing it was the most beautiful race he had ever done. I could not stop the gleeful grin on my face at the thought of planning our next trip here and this time, I will definitely not be running the race and will be enjoying Kawaguchiko's autumn views like a normal person. 

My past Marathons in Japan:

1 comment:

Paola from Manila said...

Honestly, so inspiring! I hope to join next year.