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Mt Fuji Mountain Race

27 06 2017

The first time that I knew about this iconic Running Event held in Japan was when a group of Filipino runners joined this event 3-4 years ago and it did not create any “noise” or “trending” on the Internet. If I am not mistaken, this is a running event which popular among “Skyrunners” or maybe, among “mountaineers”. I am not even sure if these runners were able to reach the Finish Line (Summit of Mt Fuji) within the prescribed cut-off time of 4:30 hours. To add mystery to this event, nobody is “bragging” or let me say, saying that they have joined or finished this event. It could be that they are not my friends on Facebook or subscribers or readers of this blogsite.

After I have finished the Tarawera 100K Ultramarathon Race in Rotoura, New Zealand, I’ve read a story or article about a New Zealander/Kiwi Runner who won this event who happens to be a Olympic Gold Medalist in middle distance running. The said Olympian also won in one of the past editions of the Jungfrau Marathon Race in Interlaken, Switzerland. Through this Kiwi Runner, I was inspired to have a try on these two running events.

Mt Fuji Website

Photo Of The Official Website Of The Event

Through its Website, I was able to find out the details of this race. This year, 2017, it will be the 70th edition of this race which means that this running event was born 2 years after the defeat of Japan during the World War II. It was a period when the US Armed Forces had ruled over the whole country of Japan. I believe that the US had no influence on the creation or birth of this iconic running event. However, I strongly believe that the Japanese people came up with an activity/event that will boost their morale, thus, a running event to unify the Japanese people to the peak of the highest mountain in their country which they consider as their nation’s symbol & sacred place in addition to the the “rising sun” in their national color.

This running event will be held on July 28, 2017 (Friday) and I really don’t understand why this iconic event is being held on a working day and not on a weekend. There is no point in asking such question or concern to the Race Organizer, which is the Mayor of Fujiyoshida, Japan. There must be a good reason for the Japanese why this race is being held on a Friday.

It is specifically mentioned in the Website as to when will be the opening of the Registration Period which is March 21, 2017 at 9:00 PM (Japan Standard Time) up to March 23, 2017 at 9:00 PM (JST). The registration period closes after the desired number of participants is attained but only fifty (50) foreigners are allowed to join this event.

There are two (2) races: The Summit Course which is a 21K race from the City Hall of Fujiyoshida to the Peak of Mt Fuji; and The Fifth Station Course which is a 5K race from Umagaeshi (Km #10) up to the Fifth Station (Km #15) along Mt Fuji’s slope. The Summit Course has a registration fee of 15,000 Yen while the shorter course has a registration fee of 10,000 Yen.

Mt Fuji Mountain Race Schedule

Schedule Of Races

The race starts in an elevation of 770 meters and finishes at an elevation of 3,776 meters which is the elevation of of the peak of Mt Fuji. The cut-off time at the Fifth Station (Km #15) is 2:15 hours and the cut-off time at the Finish Line (Peak) is 4:30 hours.

What is the award if one finishes the Summit Course? A Finisher’s Shirt Only! This is a Finisher’s Shirt that is worth preserving in a nice picture frame!!!

Mt Fuji Mountain Race Cut-Off Times

Cut-Off Times For The Two Events/Courses

Not so fast on thinking that I would be able to finish this race! But first, one has to be quick and fast also in making sure that you are registered to this event!

I was in the United States when the registration period started and I have to wake up at 4:00 AM on March 21, 2017 (JST is +15 hours from the PST) and ring my alarm just to be sure that I would be awake before the opening time and then register immediately once the registration button turns on! At exactly 5:00 AM (PST), the registration button turned on and I immediately registered to the Summit Course Race. It was problematic at first in paying the Registration Fee because all Foreign Runners had to pay through Pay Pal. Since I don’t have any previous Pay Pal account, I had to create one on the spot! After almost 30 minutes creating a Pay Pall account and answering and filling-up some questions online, I was able to get in as one of the participants from the limited number of 50 foreign runners!

I went back to sleep after I have received a confirmation message in my e-mail that I have registered and while I was having my breakfast at 8:00 AM, I was surprised to see that the Registration for the two races was already CLOSED! The registration was supposed to be in 3 days but it closed after 3 hours of registration! I found out later that the Race Organizer usually cap this race up to 5,000 runners to include the 50 foreigners!

The most significant question that was asked on the registration form is my last 3 Marathon Races with finish times below the 5-hour limit. I mentioned my sub-4 hours MILO Marathon finish; Condura Skyway Marathon Finish (sub-5 hours); and my latest 2017 Los Angeles Marathon (4:24+ hour) a week before.

Mt Fuji Mountain Race Qualification

Qualifications To Join This Event

I was happy that I was able to get in among the 50 foreigners to join this race. And from that day, I started to browse on the Internet on posted stories and blogs of runners who joined this race for the past years. From these of stories of DNFs and successful finishes, I was able to gather some data and information on what to expect during the race. I would gather also suggestions and advise on the things on what to do during training/preparation and the things needed in order to meet the challenges the mountain have to offer to each of the runners.

Looking at the tabulated course of the event, I could not imagine how I would be able to finish this event! The only way to find out is to take the challenge and make the necessary training and preparation.

Mt Fuji Course Elevation Profile

Course Description: Mt Fuji Mountain Race

Last week, I was able to receive a Congratulatory Letter from the City Mayor Fujiyoshida for being one of the 50 foreign runners and participants in the 70th edition of the Mt Fuji Mountain Race. The letter was sent through the mail which the Race Organizer started sending to all the participants since last April 2017.

Mt Fuji Letter

Letter Of The City Mayor Of Fujiyoshida

I am on my third week of focused training and I am very positive that I am becoming a stronger and faster mountain runner! Wish me luck!

Lace up and go run!

 

 

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Tendai “Marathon Monks”

13 06 2009

July Oconer, one of the Finishers and Sponsors of the 1st Bataan Death March 102K Ultramarathon Race, posted the following article in Facebook about the Tendai “Marathon Monks” of Japan. It is a nice reading item to runners and the reason why Japan is one of the top sources of marathon runners in the world.

Tendai Marathon Monks – The Run of A Lifetime

by James Davis – The London Observer

Some of the world’s best athletes gave a very good run for their money in the London Marathon, others picked up their appearance fee and pottered round without threatening to win. The world’s top distance runners are well rewarded – the best earn one million dollars a year – and they reckon to run only two or three marathons a year.

What a comparison that is to a group of men who can claim – though they never do – to be the greatest, toughest, most committed athletes in the world. They run for no other reward than spiritual enlightenment, hoping to help themselves along the path of Buddha towards a personal awakening. They are the so-called ‘marathon monks’ of Mount Hiei, Japan.

The monks, known as Kaihigyo, are spiritual athletes from the Tendai Sect of Buddhism, based at Mount Hiei, which overlooks the ancient capital city of Kyoto.

The ultimate achievement is the completion of the 1,000-day challenge, which must surely be the most demanding physical and mental challenge in the world. Forget ultra-marathons and so-called iron-man events, this endurance challenge surpasses all others.

Only 46 men have completed the 1,000-day challenge since 1885. It takes seven years to complete, as the monks must undergo other Buddhist training in meditation and calligraphy, and perform general duties within the temple.

The first 300 days are basic training, during which the monks run 40km per day for 100 consecutive days. In the fourth and fifth years they run 40km each day for 200 consecutive days. That’s more or less a full marathon every day for more than six months.

The final two years of the 1000-day challenge are even more daunting. In the sixth year they run 60km each day for 100 consecutive days and in the seventh year they run 84km each day for 100 consecutive days. This is the equivalent of running two Olympic marathons back-to-back every day for 100 days.

Author John Stevens, in his book, The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei describes the running style which dates back over a thousand years. ‘Eyes focused about 100 feet ahead while moving in a steady rhythm, keeping the head level, the shoulders relaxed, the back straight, and the nose aligned with the navel.’

What makes all these distances even more amazing is the manner and the conditions in which the monks run. These runs are usually begun at night and are over mountain paths that are uneven and poorly marked. During the winter months the low temperatures and snow are a great hindrance to the runners. These monks do not wear the latest in footwear and clothing, but run in straw sandals, an all-white outfit and a straw hat. They also run on a diet of vegetables, tofu and miso soup, which modern athletes and nutritionists would deem to be unsuitable for endurance events.

Not only do they wear clothes and shoes unsuited to running, but they have to carry books with directions and mantras to chant, food to offer along the way, candles for illumination, as well as a sheathed knife and a rope, known as the ‘cord of death’. These remind the monk of his duty to take his life if he fails, by hanging or self-disembowelment. The course is littered with unmarked graves, marking the spot where monks have taken their own lives. However, there have been no cases of monks’ suicides since the nineteenth century.

During these long runs the monks must make stops at temples of worship that can number up to 260. This means that the 86km run can take up to 20 hours to complete leaving the monk with very little time for recovery or rest, but as an old saying goes: ‘Ten minutes’ sleep for a marathon monk is worth five hours of ordinary rest.’ They also learn to rest sections of their body while running, such as their arms or shoulders.

And then there is the doiri, where the monk faces seven days without food, water or sleep or rest. During this time the monk will spend his entire day reciting Buddhist chants and mantras – perhaps up to 100,000 each day. The only time the monk will leave the temple is at 2am to walk the 200m to a well and return with water to make an offering. He is not allowed to drink any himself and the 200m walk can take up to two hours in the final days of the fast. During his time spent meditating there are two monks who are in constant attention to ensure that he does not fall asleep.

For several weeks before doiri, the monk will reduce his food intake so his body can cope with the fast. The first day is no problem, but there is some nausea on the second and third days. By the fourth and fifth days the hunger pangs have disappeared, but the monk has become so dehydrated that there is no saliva in his mouth and he will begin to taste blood.

The purpose of doiri is to bring the monk face-to-face with death. During this fast, the monks develop extraordinary powers of sense. They talk of being able to hear the ashes of incense sticks fall to the ground and, perhaps unsurprisingly, of the ability to smell food being prepared miles away.

Physiologists, who have examined the monks after conclusion of the rite, find many of the symptoms of a ‘dead person’. Monks talk of experiencing a feeling of transparency where everything good, bad and neutral leaves their body and existence in itself is revealed in crystal clarity. Relatives of those who undergo this rite of passage talk of the difference that the seven days makes to those who undergo it. One remarked, ‘I always dismissed Buddhism as superstitious nonsense until I saw my brother step out of Myo-o-do [the name of the temple] after doiri. He was really a living Buddha.’

When the Japanese Emperor maintained his court in Kyoto, the monks were afforded a special thanksgiving service in the Imperial Palace after completing their 1,000-day term and the ‘marathon monks’ were the only people who were allowed to wear footwear in the presence of the Emperor.

Even today thousands will turn out to watch a monk nearing completion of a 1,000-day term, as he runs the old course that now passes through Kyoto’s shopping streets and the entertainment district, complete with its bars, restaurants and strip joints. Many turn up hoping to be blessed by these special monks whom they believe have powers to heal.

Japan has the largest number of marathon runners per capita in the world. From the Arctic northern island of Hokkaido to the balmy tropical islands of Okinawa in the Pacific, each and every town will organise a number of long-distance runs and each school will have a strong running club.

There is even a corporate-sponsored running league, whose teams are even allowed to have one foreigner in their team. Jeff Schiebler, a Canadian Olympic runner, is the only non-African foreigner who competes. He described what it is like to run in Japan. ‘It is totally different from anything in North America. They have multimillion-dollar contracts, team chefs, great training facilities. That kind of thing makes Japan a power in long-distance running. They go mad for road races. Kids there grow up wanting to be the next marathon champ.’

Japan’s love of marathon running was epitomised with the incredible outpouring of emotion that followed Naoko Takahashi’s victory in the women’s Olympic marathon in Sydney last year. The race and the prize-giving attracted a massive 84 per cent TV rating as the fresh-faced girl from the mountains of Gifu became the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

She became an overnight superstar and her face was splashed across newspapers, magazines and on talk shows. She even received The People’s Honour (only the third woman ever to do so) from the then prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who said: ‘You have given inspiration and encouragement to youngsters as well as a whole people by crossing the finish line with a refreshing smile.’

Very few runners will cross the finish line in London with a ‘refreshing smile’ after 26 hard miles. Grimaces of exhaustion and relief will be a more common sight. However, after looking back at the 26 miles and a bit, there will be a feeling of great personal pride and achievement in their performance. Many will have achieved personal best times and others will have raised hundreds of pounds for charity. But will many of them be able to say they have gained something spiritually, as with the ‘marathon monks’ of Japan?








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