Race report: Local athlete Nakamura beats the stars in Echigo Country Trail
The Echigo Country Trail in Oguni Forest Park did not miss its debut on the Asia Trail Master series' calendar last weekend. A quality field of about 300 runners in total enjoyed an event that was superbly organised and received lots of support and visible enthusiasm from the local communities in the Japanese countryside around Nagaoka in Niigata. The men's race even got a local winner: Toru Nakamura. While that may not be surprising in some races, in this one it was given the presence of Japanese trail running stars like Shunsuke Okunomiya and Masahiro Onu. The women's race was won by a very strong Yukoku Takashima, who even finished in fifth place overall.
The event began on Saturday evening with an opening ceremony, attended by the mayor of Nagaoka, followed by a local buffet dinner with some cultural performances to round off the experience. It was great occasion for the majority of runners to meet and greet before the race on Sunday morning.
It was already very warm at 6 o'clock in the morning, and the temperature would continue to rise to 30 degrees. Moreover, it got increasingly humid later in the morning. For plenty of runners this turned the 52k Echigo Country Trail into a very tough day of work. Especially, as quite some areas were entirely exposed to the sun. Another characteristic of the course was the steepness of the hills. Echigo is again one of those races were numbers do not tell the whole story. 2000 metres of elevation gain is not extreme, but several of these hills actually were rollercoasters with steep gradients that for many people often required the use of a rope.
As expected, Okunomiya went off into the lead, but less expected was that Nakamura was able to keep him within range. Masahiro Onu, who is better on the ultra long distances than on 50k, took a relatively easy start and was running as far down as 8th place in the first 10km of the race. Then, after the third checkpoint, around the 22km mark Okunomiya did a misstep and twisted his ankle in the process. The race favourite cleverly decided to stop running and prevent more injury. Nakamura gained the lead and would keep it till the finish. Behind him, Onu had been moving up the ranking throughout the race and arrived second at the finish.