I not only got to run the Kunigami 19k trail race for the first time a couple of weekends ago, but it was also my first time to actually run the course. I knew from previous comments and conversations that it was going to be a tough course, but “tough” might be a slight understatement.
Having run the Kunigami course now, I would recommend the following training tips for anyone contemplating either the 12k or 19k race:
1. Do take the advice of former race participants who tell you to spend a lot of time running and walking up and down sets of stairs. Luckily for me, I did listen, and while I never once set foot on Stairway to Heaven, I did spend some of my training time on another set of stairs closer to my house. I would run to the stairs from my house – about 30 to 60 minutes depending on which route I took – then do several up-and-down stair repeats (for approximately 30 to 40 minutes), and then run back home on tired legs. Training in this way really paid off for me on race day!
2. Also key to doing well on the Kunigami course is training on similar terrain as often as possible. If Kunigami is too far to travel for your training runs, then Mt. Ishikawa is a good alternative, and failing that then any of the other trails on Okinawa.
3. Make sure you plan – in advance – your electrolyte and fuel needs! Last year’s runners experienced very cold weather, but this year it was quite warm. After a couple of hours of running in warm weather, over a very intense and challenging course, I started to feel the effects of mild dehydration. By the time I finally came off the trail path and headed back towards the finish line, my legs were starting to seize and cramp up. I’m pretty sure I would have hit the wall if I hadn’t planned accordingly.
4. Do some ankle strengthening exercises, especially if you have injured an ankle (or both) in the past. I have a weak right ankle from rolling it pretty bad on a trail run several years ago, and during the Kunigami race I felt a twinge of pain more than once as I slightly lost my footing on some of the downhill slopes. And that brings me to the next tip:
5. Practice running fast on trail – downhill! The more practice you have at downhill trail running, the more confident you’ll be at running downhill at “race” pace.
6. Definitely add strength work to your training routine! Focus on strengthening your legs (front and back), as well as your core and even your upper body. The constant change in pace, as well as switching of muscle groups as the trails take you up and down, will really test your physical strength and ability. The stronger you are going into the race, the better your performance will be.
7. Stability exercises will also benefit you! Much of the course takes you over some pretty uneven terrain and your stabilizer muscles will be working hard to assist the primary working muscles so that you don’t lose balance.
8. I recommend wearing a garmin or timing device. I didn’t wear my garmin on race day and it could have prevented a couple of minor inconveniences. Twice during the race, I was stopped by race officials who debated over which way to send me. If I had been wearing my garmin, I think the data on my watch may have helped them to solve the problem a lot faster!
9. And last but not least, make sure your toe nails are well-trimmed and your shoes have some extra room in the toe box. Two weeks later and the nail on my large left toe is still quite tender.