Preview: Utsukushigahara 70K

In a little over a week I’ll be on my way to Nagano prefecture for the biggest race of my life, a 70 kilometer trail run across the Utsukushigahara highlands.


Since my disappointing performance in April’s Kakegawa Marathon, I’ve been nursing myself back to running health. The Norikura Marathon in June came too soon, but by running slowly and enjoying the experience I was able to finish it without any further injuries. By July, I was gaining confidence and ran a satisfying 45-minute 10K in the last leg of the Imizu Triathlon.

Speed is not something I need for Utsukushigahara. Instead, I’ve been concentrating on hiking and trail running in anticipation of an extremely up and down course. From what I gather, we’ll be running up and down ski-slopes, roads and hiking trails between 800 and 2000 meters above sea level.


Even if I feel good, pushing the pace would be madness on such a long, hilly course under a hot sun. Instead, I’ll adopt a “slowly slowly” approach starting with a walk up the 400m ski slope which immediately follows the start line.


Last year, only 35% of starters finished the course within the time limit. This year, we’ve been given an extra hour, so assuming that 60% of the 400 competitors cross the line in under 15-hours, I’ll need to be among the first 240 runners.

In order for me to go slowly yet still make the cutoffs at each aid station, I need to keep moving. With this in mind, I bought some new equipment: an Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest. The biggest time-saver with this pack is that the bottles are up front. When I approach each of the six aid stations, I can pull out the two bottles for refilling without taking off my pack and messing around with a hydration bladder. I can be refilled and gone before the next guy has even got his pack off.


Also, I won’t be taking photos! It’s a bad habit that would only slow me down. I estimate that the 177 photos and video I took on my 70km training run a few weeks ago cost me a good hour!

Besides my photo addiction, another problem I face is inevitable sore knees later in the race. Obviously I’ll tape them up, but I got myself a pair of trekking poles to use. They’re “ultra-light” carbon sticks and I’ve fashioned a way to attach and remove them from my running pack while on the move, without taking the pack off.


I still have time to familiarize myself with the elevation map so I know which climbs and descents are coming up and plan my hiking/running strategy around them. With a bit of luck, the course, although long, will not be as technical as the mountains I’ve been training on and I’ll be able to cruise to a good finish and qualification for next April’s STY race at Mt. Fuji.

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

4 thoughts on “Preview: Utsukushigahara 70K

  1. When I get over this half and full marathon obsession I have the ultra / trail races sure look inviting. That is until I looked at that elevation map you had posted for Utsukushigahara. Really looking forward to your race report. Good luck.

    1. Thanks Mark. I’ve yet to find a course in my part of Japan that is literally “trail running”. It’s really power hiking with a bit of running. Still, I find it more enjoyable than road running… at the moment, but that might change after this race! 😉

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