Race preview - Echigo Country Trail opens ATMs in Japan
This weekend marks the beginning of the Asia Trail Master series in Japan, the country that has embraced the sport of distance running perhaps more than any other Asian country since decades. The Echigo Country Trail in the Oguni and Ojiya Nature areas close to Nagaoka in Niigata promises a great weekend out and a race that fits the time of year just before the real heat of summer kicks in. The event is very welcoming to international runners, which due to language barriers is unfortunately not always the case in Japan. As such, the Echigo Country Trail will provide runners from all over Asia a great opportunity to get a first hand experience of trail running in Japan.
The 52k race course will lead participants through Echigo, Oguni and Ojiya counties on authentic local mountain trails. Total elevation gain is respectable, yet not excessive with 2000 hm. The race is set to commence at 6 a.m. and the cut off time is 10 hours later.
The event is organised by Hiroaki Matsunage, who has been a very familiar face on the Japanese trail running circuit for years. Exploiting his own extensive international running experience, Matsunage established the Echigo Country Trail last year in a shorter version, and has now beefed it up to a genuine long distance trail course with the support of the local authorities in Niigata.
One of the race favourites for sure is Shunsuke Okunomiya. Winner of the Hasetsune Cup, a popular race with tradition in Japan, the 37-year-old has made it in the top 15 of UTWT races amongst the very elite.
"At Echigo there will be many famous and strong runners at the start line. So I have been quite excited for this race for some time already," says Okunomiya. "It will actually also be my first time running in this specific area, so I will be using all my five senses and have fun for sure. This race is also my first race in which I can score points for the Asia Trail Master championship. To be honest I had not yet heard about it, as this will be the first time points can be scored in Japan. Let's see if I could in the future target more races and aim for a high ranking at the end of the year. For sure I hope that Echigo will be joined by other Japanese events in the Asia Trail Master series. I want more international runners to come to Japan and enjoy our great trails and natural scenery."
The Echigo Country Trail will be run on Sunday morning, but the event already begins a day earlier in the afternoon with a local fair and opening ceremony with dinner. As such, the event is about much more than just running, and is set up as a genuine cultural community event.
As usual, we will be reporting live from the event on Saturday afternoon and Sunday throughout the race, subject to mobile connectivity, via our standard social media channels.