A race course run in the opposite direction to keep runners healthy; an earlier date this year to protect local flora; and a gaggle of high-level runners at the starting line for this exceptional race. This year, the second edition of the Ultra Trail Mt. Fuji® (UTMF®) was marked by the presence of well-known runners and once again provided more than a few unforgettable moments.
A race course that kept both local flora and runners in mind
The UTMF is the sister race to the UTMB® (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc®). The course around Fuji-san was reversed this year with regard to the first edition. This helped to avoid the extremely difficult ascents after the 100km mark. These ascents, commonplace for the UTMF, proved much more like rock climbing than trail running, and had caused serious problems for quite a few runners last year.
The race was also planned for an earlier date this year. The authorities in charge of the protected natural area surrounding the volcano observed that certain seasonal wildflowers along the course had suffered during last year’s race. In spite of being extremely well-organized beforehand as well as extra precautions taken by most participants, the presence of thousands of runners and volunteers clearly had an impact. A race earlier in the year means much colder weather! If the frontrunners were affected little by the cold due to the non-stop physical effort, the rest of the pack suffered much more, especially those who spent two nights out in below-freezing temperatures on the trails of the five lakes region. Overall the weather proved relatively mild, even though it was raining just before the start of the race.
Lots of well-known runners at the starting line
It is almost 15:00 (3pm) on April 26 and the UTMF is just about to begin. On the starting line, many a well-known ultra-runner awaits the starting gun, like Sébastien Chaigneau, calm and concentrated, Julien Chorier, winner of the first edition, and other runners from Team Salomon who have come out in force. With bear bells clanging, a required piece of equipment for participants, and the encouraging “Ganbatte” (Go for it!) roar from the crowd, the official signal to start the race sounds. Keniji Yamamoto, 3rd last year, takes off in a sprint! The race looks to be run faster than ever!
At kilometer 36, 3:30:00 into the race, Julien Chorier comes into view just behind a beautiful cherry tree covered with its white flowers in full blossom. Out in front, he makes an attempt to widen his lead as much as possible before the night quickly falls. Behind him are Cyril Cointre, the Canadian Gary Robins, and the Australian Brendan Davies. Others, such as Hara Yoshikazu, are already more than 15 minutes behind, but there is still a long ways to go before the end of the race. Sébastien Chaigneau starts out running the race alongside 3 French friends: Antoine Guillon, Lionel Trivel and Christophe Le Saux. They are approximately 20 behind the leader. Seb spent the last few days before the race prepping for this course and remains cautious. Having donned his NAO headlamp a few kilometers back, he is ready to take on the night.
Hara San skyrockets to the front!
Both the sunset and sunrise are spectacular, with the reddish sunlight reflecting on the snow-covered slopes of Mount Fuji. The night proved eventful: at around kilometer 79, we learned that the Japanese Hara Yoshikazu had taken the lead. The public went crazy! Hara san took advantage of a more than 15 kilometer relatively flat road climb to pass Julien and put 5 minutes between the two. An ultramarathon specialist and a superb road runner, Hara is accustomed to this type of topography. He will maintain the lead all the way to the finish line and to victory along the shores of Lake Kawaguchi after running 161 kilometers and more than 9000 vertical meters in 19hrs 39min. A fantastic victory to say the least!
Back in the race, Seb gained ground little by little on Julien and Gary, catching up to Julien by daybreak, right around kilometer 122. The two would practically run the rest of the race together, with Julien finishing in 2nd place and Seb in 3rd not even 2 minutes behind for a total time of 19 hrs 50 min. What a podium! Those who finished next deserve their rightful accolades, especially Gary Robins who finished in 4th place and spent most of the race smiling from ear to ear, happy to run in the beautiful Japanese countryside, from village to village, cheered on day and night by the wonderful spectators and volunteers. A tip of the hat also goes to Kristin Moehl, who won 1st place in the women’s category, finishing in 24hrs 35min, and having led more or less from start to finish. Also of note, 5 of the top 10 finishers were French!
Overview of the results
1. Hara Yoshikazu - Japan (NAO runner) - 19:39:48
2. Julien Chorier - France - 19:48:28
3. Seb Chaigneau – France (NAO runner) - 19:50:13
4. Garry Robins – Canada - 20:20:39
5. Brendan Davies – Australia - 20:38:17
6. John Tidd – Uruguay - 20:50:44
7. Antoine Guillon – France (MYO RXP runner) - 21:04:44
8. Yamaya Koji – Japan - 21:05:12
9. Lionel Grivel – France (MYO RXP runner) - 21:10:16
9. Cyril Cointre - France - 21:10:16
1. Krissy Moehl - USA (Patagonia/Ultraspire) – 24:35:45
2. Shona Stephenson – Australia (Inov-8) – 25:56:52
3. Hitomi Ogawa - Japan (Patagonia/Vasque) – 26:15:25
4. Kumiko Amikura - Japan – 27:26:33
5. Hiroko Suzuki - Japan - (Salomon) – 27:52:06
6. Akemi Ban - Japan – 27:52:27
7. Chiaki Fjelddahl - Hong Kong (Salomon) – 28:43:59
8. Claire Price – Hong Kong – 29:37:08
9. Matsuura Mayumi - Japan – 31:53:29
10. Yoshiko Takahashi - Japan – 32:20:14
For lighting, the NAO has become the headlamp of choice over the past year among trail runners worldwide. We saw tens of runners with one on, both among the top finishers (including Hara and Seb) as well as those finishing in the back of the pack. We truly appreciate the thanks and positive comments from New Zealander Grant Guise, NAO runner who finished 16th overall.
Among all headlamps, the MYO RXP still remains by far the mostly widely used headlamp among UTMF trail runners. Roughly one-quarter of all participants used one. Incredible!
A quick word from Seb right at the end of the race, said as usual with a smile:
I never start with the desire to win a race or finish on the podium… Everyone is a winner when it comes to ultras… Just by completing such a voyage you win something, we all win something.
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