Every trail runner has unique reasons for starting. For many, it’s their love of nature and a sense of adventure that drives them away from the predictability of pavement running and onto the ever-changing terrain of dirt. For others, the move to trail was simply a necessity. For me it was the necessity to get fit and look good on the beach!At first, I was shocked at how much agility and balance I’d lost to age. The old saying, “Use it or lose it” was now being hurled at me, and it did not feel good to realize I had become complacent in what I asked of myself. To take my mind of the pains, I started to listen to music on the trails but I soon realized that I was missing the tranquility of the beautiful countryside. If I daydream while I’m navigating a mountain trail, I fall. It requires me to pay attention, but not to my noisy life. I have to listen to what’s happening around me, and that allows me to see the breathtaking beauty that surrounds us, whether I notice it or not, every day. Not only was the scenery a distraction from the effort required to stay upright on a rocky trail, suddenly mileage and time didn’t matter as much. Maybe my favorite aspect of trail running is that it’s never the same, trail running keeps me guessing. I have a favorite trail in Minekata courses, the view from the top changes drastically depending on the season.
Hakuba is a relatively small village, and word soon got round that I was training for the annual trail running event that takes place every year in September. To be honest, I was perfectly content running for pleasure and I did not give much thought to running in a formal race. The idea of running through the woods with a group of people did not really excite me. Then I started reading jogging magazines and talking to my fellow running friends at work. I quickly learned that there is a lot of strategy that takes place during long distance trail running events. I did my first practice race through the woods at Wadano and up to the top of Iwatake with one of my co-workers who graduated to trail running after completing numerous marathons. Even though Iwatake doesn’t look that big when compared to the three peaks of Hakuba, it took a lot of energy to run/jog/walk to the top, 345 steps all the way. (Yes, I did count them all!)I was still very apprehensive about giving the race a try in fear that a sub-par experience would deflate any existing motivation I might have for trail running. On the other hand, you have to try something before you can judge it so I figured what the heck, let’s do this thing! Just in case it was to be an awful experience, I coxed my manager into joining the race as well so both of us could suffer the same misery…hehe.On the morning of Sunday September 15, 2013 I stood at the starting line of the Hakuba International Trail Run. It was 9 AM, the weather was perfect though I was still apprehensive about this new endeavor. I was certainly not out to break any records or even come close to a top finisher mark. I was perfectly content with enjoying the trail, experiencing something new and hopefully placing better than 50% of the competitors. When the bullhorn sounded, I was off and running.As I ran past the Hakuba Ski Jump side-by-side with the other competitors, I thought to myself, “Jeez, there are way too many people
here. I have to spend more time watching out for people than enjoying nature. Maybe I just need to run a little faster to get ahead of the crowd?” Soon enough I was ahead of the masses and was plummeting downhill into the woods below. The trail was in excellent shape. The smell of late summer was all around and the crunching leaves and twigs under my feet provided for enough noise to block out the sounds of the runners behind and ahead of me leaving me with a feeling of isolation. On the winding trail I crossed many wooden bridges, climbed and descended some fairly minor hills.Slowly I started passing people, but I never felt like I was pushing myself. My mind started to wander, and I was soon thinking about all of my past training runs. The memories put me in a sort of trance like state, but every once and awhile I would think to myself, “Boy, this is so much easier than I thought.” Before I knew it, I could see the finish line ahead. I felt like I only ran a mile and had lots of energy left so I decided to sprint the last half of a kilometer or so. I crossed the finish line 3hours 00minutes and 04 seconds after starting 20km ago. As for my goals, I think I accomplished all of them. I tried something new, enjoyed the trail and experience, and finished faster than 50% of the competitors (actually I placed 6th in my age group). I cannot wait to take part in next trail run. When I do, I will be sure to let you know and start providing you with extra tricks and tips as I learn this new activity.