Preview: Utsukushigahara, My Revenge!

This week I’ll head back up to Nagano prefecture for a second crack at the Utsukushigahara trail race.


There are a couple of differences this year. Firstly, the race has been moved from the end of August to early July, which should make things a touch cooler. Secondly, for the sake of calling it a “50-miler”, they’ve extended the course by 10K, but with only an hour tacked on to the allowed time limit. That means we have 16 hours to run 80km.

I’ve only done two races since I retired exhausted at Utsukushigahara last year, and I’ve not had much success in those, either. I pulled out after just 10K of the Kisogawa Marathon in January with a sore Achilles tendon, and I  missed the cut-off time at the first gate in last month’s Asama~Sugadaira Trail Mountain.

So what makes me think I can finish Utsukushigahara this time?

Well, actually, I’m not terribly confident! Saying that, I’ve completed four 50K training runs in the Kakamigahara Alps and I’ve hiked up some big mountains in recent months, too.

And then there was the Asama~Sugadaira Trail Mountain race I attempted. I went the same distance in that race as I did in Utsukushigahara last year, but on even steeper, higher terrain, with a much heavier pack.

Finally, I have the experience of running the first half of this race before so with that knowledge, I’ll make these changes:

  1. Even if I can’t sleep before the 4am start, I must rest well;
  2. Tape up my toes and knees since they often cause me trouble;
  3. Start near the back, removing unwanted pressure from behind;
  4. Walk up the ski slope at the start of the race;
  5. Go light. My pack will weigh just 2kgs;
  6. Adopt a slow, but maintainable pace;
  7. Use the “rest-step” technique for steep climbs;
  8. Adjust pace according to my time through each aid station;
  9. Eat at regular intervals;
  10. Remember that bad times will pass. Endure.


Perhaps my greatest fear right now is falling to my death. Last year I ran the race in Montrail Mountain Masochist 2s and by golly did my feet hurt after 30K. I then discovered Inov-8 and have worn Trailrocs and Roclites, both of which tend to crush my toes on steep descents, and neither of which I’ve found comfortable over long distances.

A few of my friends wear Hokas, but I opted to get Altra Olympus instead, because of the wider toe box. Unfortunately, as much as I love the comfort these shoes offer, the grip is absolutely terrible! They advertise them as trail running shoes, but after just 300km the grip has worn down tremendously and has very little traction on mountain trails here.

Just this morning I found myself unable to control a descent and ended up running off the trail into the trees that stood between me and a painful death. I was unhurt as I simply grabbed a tree to stop myself, but the prospect of falling in Utsukushigahara is very real.

Still, I will use the Altras because I know I would never make it 80km in my other shoes, and it’s too late to buy anything new. I just have to be very careful and avoid pressure from other runners to go faster downhill than these shoes will allow.

Final thoughts before I hit the expressway

Having DNF’d my last three races, I’m very keen to finish this one. I’ll be extremely disappointed with myself, and no doubt very grumpy, if I come back from Nagano without a finisher’s medal/towel/certificate or whatever a finisher gets! On the other hand, if I do make it to the end inside 16 hours, I’ll be full of confidence for the OSJ Ontake 100km, which is just two weeks later!

Thanks in advance for all your support.



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

5 thoughts on “Preview: Utsukushigahara, My Revenge!

  1. Definitely go slow on the downhills! I think that’s good advice even aside from the shoe problem, as downhills trash your quads.
    Good luck!

    1. That’s a good idea. I probably should have tried that for a training run. At this late stage though, I’m going to take my chances. I am taking my toe-crushing goretex shoes as well, just in case it’s pouring with rain. Their grip and waterproofness will serve me better on the mud.

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