Over Three Hours and Five Mountains

You often don’t realize how far you’ve come until you pause for a moment and look back over your journey.

Photo 2013-03-03 12 34 00

Today I led three other members of my Facebook “Gifu Runners” group on a 19km run which included almost 10K of trail running on some very rugged terrain. Over three and half hours, we clambered over five mountains, ascending almost 800m and descending just as far.

I can’t feel my legs, but other than that I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful course.

The Kakamigahara Alps are my playground. It takes me just 21 minutes to run from my front door to the top of the 317m Mount Gongen that looms large behind my house. I don’t always run, but I do venture up into the mountains a lot. I’ve pretty much memorized the entire 20km route between Akutami and Sakahogi, and have discovered plenty of other trails off the main hiking course.

With all this hiking and trail running in my legs, I’ve learned how to navigate the rocky paths, scale the steep climbs and hurtle down the other side as quickly as possible without twisting an ankle or tumbling to my death.

But it wasn’t always like that. During my first few climbs into the Alps, I remember how my thighs and calves would burn from the steep slopes and staircases, and how my knees and lower back would scream from coming back down. It was very similar to how you feel after going to the gym and lifting weights for the first time in a decade. Very sore.

Now the guys I went with today can run. Really run. They can all run a full marathon in under four hours, and regularly bang out sub-45 minute 10Ks. So I thought nothing of plotting a 19K run on my favorite route and asking them to join me. Of course I told them to wear trail shoes and bring something to eat, but I didn’t really explain just how up and down this run was going to be.

I’m amazed how easily you and Hideaki ran some of those downhills. I was doing my hardest not to spill and you guys were flying down.

Running itself is not much of a strength builder. It’s obviously a weight-bearing exercise and will develop muscle, but you’re only going to strengthen the muscles that are specific to running. If you run on pavement all the time, your body will adapt very well to running on pavement. Likewise, if you want to be strong at running up hills, you need to incorporate hill training into your workouts. Trail running goes even further.

Running on uneven trails requires balance. Your body calls into action all the little stabilizer muscles that work to keep you upright. And as your body adapts and you find it easier to maintain balance, you grow in confidence. Coupled with the experience gained from tripping and slipping on hidden or loose rocks, you learn to trust the trail and let yourself go.

Even though I whined and moaned, it was fun.

It should have occurred to me that running over five mountains with little practice beforehand might result in a Monday morning limping around the office, and I’m sorry those guys will be hobbling for a day or two. But, once the pain subsides and the agony is forgotten, I’m pretty sure they’ll remember today as an awesome day of running through forests, over mountains, along streams and taking in some fantastic views along the way.

Today’s course was great. Not quite what I expected and maybe a little tougher than needed before the Kyoto marathon, but I’m in for round two!


Standing at the top of Mt. Meiou and looking back over the mountain range we had just run across, I turned to my fellow runners and pointed out how far we had come. That journey didn’t begin today, but years ago when we first laced up our running shoes. Now we’re running over frickin’ mountains!

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “Over Three Hours and Five Mountains

  1. Sounds like a great day! Definitely trail running is good for overall fitness and hills are basically like doing a session of speed work. But maybe 19K is a bit much “speed work” in one go!

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