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Japanese Endurance

By Clare Morin

There are big things happening in Japan this year with the development of trail events and ultramarathons. 2011 marked the launch of the inaugural Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji, the sister event to Ultra-Trail du Mount Blanc. The Japanese competitors who have entered this year’s Roving Race in Nepal are talking about the increasing popularity of the sport back home.

Amid the 12 Japanese competitors at this year’s RacingThePlanet:
Nepal are some veteran racers, such as 66-year old Yoshiaki Ishihara. We catch up with the supremely happy and ever-content Ishihara to get his thoughts on the unfolding race. He has completed more than 200 ultramarathons; this marks his eighth RacingThePlanet/ 4 Deserts event. “Each event is so different,” he says, when we ask him to compare this race to others. “I can’t compare which is more difficult, or which is the best event. I love them all.”

We ask him if he’s noticed increasing numbers of Japanese competitors over the years. “Yes!” he cries. “Especially younger ones.”

So what of the newcomers from
Japan? We find Estuko Chida ready to answer our questions in a teahouse in Birethanti. Chida is taking on her first RacingThePlanet event here in Nepal. She is a seasoned athlete who has completed seven marathons, one half-triathlon and two full triathlons. Her first marathon was in June 1988, in which she was the only female who ran in the marathon celebrating the independence ceremonies in Western Samoa. Why did she want to enter this race? “Many reasons,” she explains. “I love mountains, Nepal, trekking, travel and the concept of RacingThePlanet.”

Chida says there are some parallels between this race and her work at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in
Kyoto, Japan. “With the UN you get to go to many place, including Nepal—but to work,” she says. “I never had a chance to really enjoy the places, the people, culture and nature. But I’ve found that the endurance required for the race is certainly similar to what is required to work for the UN. But it’s a limited time here, six to seven days, and with a group of people who all have the same interests… so it feels much more fun and easier to endure!”

She admits there was a disappointment when she was asked to leave the course after she didn’t make the cut-off point on one of the stages. But Chida has stayed with the group, helping at the camps. “It is very interesting and pleasant,” she says. “The staff and people involved are so dedicated and sincere, I’m very impressed.”

She says that RacingThePlanet can expect to see many more Japanese competitors in the coming years. “Long trail events, competitions and ultramarathons are getting very popular and fill up very quickly in
Japan,” she says. “The Mount Fuji trail run started this year and was full in a few days. There are many more potential participants to come.”

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