Last weekend four of our ladies represented WOOT in Okinawa’s very first “official” trail race. Held in the northern part of the island, where it’s much less populated and much of the forest area has been left alone, this race course proved to be very difficult and challenging. If you enjoy trail races, and are not afraid of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, then this might be a race you’ll want to do while you’re in Okinawa. Read more about this race, from Anna and Beth:
On February 8th, Okinawa had its first official trail race. As soon as Takako posted it on the WOOT wall, I knew I would be running it, if at all possible.
Four of us WOOT’rs: Beth, Mary, Takako and I went up on Friday night and stayed at Okuma resort. In the morning, we woke and lumbered around until 9 am when we met to head over to the parking area. To get to the race start, all racers have to take a bus, which stops running at 10:15. We jumped on the shuttle and made it to the start area at 10:30 ish. Then we waited…the 12 and 19km race start at noon so we had an hour and a half to wait, and so we did.
Instead of signing up for Okinawa City marathon, as I was poised to do, I switched my registration to the Kunigami trail race. There were various distances and even offered walks. I chose the longest distance race, 24km. This was later remeasured and dropped to 19km.
None of us knew what to expect on the course and were a little nervous, which prevented us from really eating much. By noon, we were more than ready to go. One of the lovely parts of the race, was the number of runners. In our distance, there were about 200 runners. Compare this with any race like Naha marathon at 26000+ runners. There were no lines at the port-a-potties! It was glorious!!
During the race brief, there was no description of the course, but they did cover manners on trail, aid stations and medical help was available.
We blindly headed off and followed the lead runners down a paved route that turned into a stair climb after the 1st kilometer. The stairs went on and on, up and up. It was very aerobic and burned the quads early on. Soon we hit the trail head, which was a rocky, slippery, beautiful single track trail. The difficult part of trail running, like driving on a two lane highway, is getting caught behind a slower group. You have to find the right moment to try and cut around them, or accept the pace they set.
The trail was very muddy on the first loop and it was deep lose-your-shoe mud. By the second loop, it was even deeper. Fun and challenging. There were points of the trail were you had to stop running and use a rope to climb up and/or down. Going down hill was like an awesome mud slide.
The support out on the course was minimal, and there are no spectators, unless they hiked their way up there. There were a few photographers out there; one who caught me around 14 km point, during a slick stream crossing and I looked at him and said, “Really?! Why couldn’t you get me at the one kilometer point?”. By this time, I was about 2:30 hours in, no lunch, one small water bottle with sports drink and half a Luna bar. I was hurting and pretty sure the photographer had to delete those shots.
Beth had a better experience; as she was coming down the shoot of the finish, a photographer sprinted by her, holding his camera behind him, capturing her finish. Now those are going to be some good shots.
The total ascent Beth’s Garmin clocked was 2743 ft, and hundreds of stairs. With the deep mud, serious climbs and constant up and down, this is most a trail run that you need to prepare for. Be ready to be out running and climbing for around 3+ hours. Yes, 19km in around 3 hours and we didn’t stop moving forward during that time. And the course closes at four hours.
At the finish, we each had a bowl of inoshishi, wild boar, soup. It was hot, salty and delicious. Perfect Okinawa style finish to a great day.
In the end, we all finished strong, tired, and worn out from the long day.
The morning dawned chilly, gray and windy with bouts of light drizzle but nothing could dampen our spirits on race day! The six hours between waking up and the start of the race seemed to drag on for about 24 hours. It has been a few years since I have run a trail race, so I was excited and nervous and excited and curious and…oh yeah, excited!
After a mass warm up/stretch and a countdown, we were off for the inaugural Kunigami Trail Race leaving behind the pre-race jitters and the goosebumps of the chilly morning. A bit of pavement wide enough to allow some passing and repositioning eased the start. And then came the steps of varying heights and lengths. These trail stairs seemed to be more of the up variety than the down, but maybe it was all in my head. The bad news was that because it was so close to the start, the pack hadn’t thinned out and it was slow going with traffic jams galore. The goods new was that it kept me from going out too fast.
Eventually, the trail transformed into a playground of mud, rocks, trees, and stream crossings. There were steep muddy bits to claw up with the aid of a rope and downhills to bound down. In my head, I was as graceful as antelope, but in reality was probably clomping and flailing like a wild turkey. And random intervals, there were short lengths of pavement, which served as a nice reprieve from the grueling ups and downs of the trail.
There were volunteers spread throughout the course keeping runners from taking wrong turns and deftly directing runners when the trail split for the different distances. Only once was I worried that I had been turned in the wrong direction but was, in fact, still on the correct course.
And then it happened a few kilometers from the end, when my legs were tired and heavy, the steps appeared ahead. The same sets of trail stairs from the beginning of the race! As Anna so adequately put it, “REALLY?!!!” In the opposite direction, it once again it seemed like most of the steps went up instead of down. But that isn’t possible; is it?! Finally, the finish line appeared beckoning me towards smiling faces, congratulations and amazingly delicious salty, warm soup.
All in all, it was a tough but awesome course that I would sign up to race again in a heartbeat.