Posts tagged japan
Alessandro Sherpa is the new ATM Champion!
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Singapore-based Italian Alessandro Sherpa has crowned himself as the new Asia Trail Master champion after beating his main challenger Salva Rambla in a straight dual during the Izu Trail Journey in Japan. Sherpa succeeds Malaysian Steven Ong as ATM champion. In the final 2018 ranking, Rambla is second and Japan’s Tomohiro Mizukoshi third. The iconic 72km long Izu Trail Journey itself was won surprisingly by Fuji-homeboy Ko Ito and the returning Yumiko Oichi in the women’s category.

After the Compressport Trail Blazer in Singapore, Salva Rambla had a psychological advantage over a still-injured Sherpa going into the big Japan final. In addition, Tomohiro Mizukoshi was running in the area he grew up in, and not for the first time. As Rambla more or less had to win the race of the ATM championship contenders (only runners who did two ATM races in 2018 are eligible for points in the season’s final), Mizukoshi was announced as the King Maker, who could make life even harder for Sherpa to retain his 130-points-lead in the championship. As last year, Izu Trail Journey was a brilliant ending to our championship, and six runners ranked in the top ten were present at the start line: Sherpa, Rambla and Mizukoshi, but also Diago Gonzales, Kitamura and Sungsik Joh.

The top 3 of the 2018 Asia Trail Master Championship: LtR: Sherpa, Rambla and Mizukoshi

The top 3 of the 2018 Asia Trail Master Championship: LtR: Sherpa, Rambla and Mizukoshi

It was cold again on race day, yet nowhere near the arctic conditions of last year when runners even found snow and ice on the way. Alessandro Sherpa had had a good night of sleep apparently, as rather than sitting back and following Salva Rambla he crossed the first checkpoint after km 10 as leader in the race together with former Izu winner Tomohiro Tsuji. Rambla was two minutes back in the main group of favourites. As the terrain became hillier, the local lightweight Japanese runners moved up the leaderboard. Four runners went ahead, with Sherpa and Rambla just behind and Hong Kong-based Frenchman Pierre-Andrew Ferriere gradually edging closer as well. Ferriere is on the Gone Running Team and had been announced as being in top shape for Izu Trail Journey, leading the Hong Kong Strava board in November in terms of elevation gain conquered. His first appearance in an ATM points race will be remembered, as he passed the two championship contenders half-way and continued to push through to eventually find himself as third on the race podium!

Meanwhile, Ko Ito had taken command of the race going up to Nishina Pass at the km 42 mark. Also Ito had made a relaxed start, and overtook everyone ahead of him uphill. However, even the Japanese race directors did not really know who Ko Ito was. Later in the interviews he would explain he hails from the Mount Fuji area and usually finishes races around the top ten rank. However, he had prepared himself meticulously for Izu Trail Journey, an A-goal, with many weeks of speed training, proving again how important that aspect of training is for trail as well. Ko Ito would not run away from the better known runners such as Katsuhiro Matsubara, Nobuya Tani and Tsuji (who clearly was too ambitious trying to follow Sherpa in the beginning), but four minutes was enough to take a unprecedented win.

Ko Ito was the surprise race winner of Izu Trail Journey 2018

Ko Ito was the surprise race winner of Izu Trail Journey 2018

Meanwhile, Rambla had managed to overtake Sherpa at some point downhill, raising the pressure on the Italian, who did not know where any of the other ATM runners were. If Rambla came first, and someone else placed himself between him and Sherpa, the ATM championship would go to the Spaniard. However, Rambla’s ‘attack’ did not last very long. Tired of all the traveling over the past weeks, he had to admit not having the best of legs for the final race of the season. Sherpa caught him back uphill and saw the moment. He pressed ahead by himself and opened a gap that later would never be more than a handful of minutes. But it proved enough. As he crossed the finish line as 13th, but first of the ATM championship contenders, he had the title in the bag. Salva Rambla eventually let go at the end and arrived just ahead of Tomohiro Mizukoshi, whose second part of the race was significantly better than his first. While Sherpa enjoyed his title victory after months of hardship (he kept on postponing necessary surgery), Rambla could not hide his disappointment, although in fair sportsmanship.

Behind them, Pablo Diago Gonzales and Hisashi Kitamura had their own fantastic battle going on for fourth place in this year’s championship. Both started the race on equal points, so Izu would decide their final ranking, too. The two runners exchanged positions continuously throughout the race. And just when Diago Gonzales appeared to have got it in the bag, Kitamura sprinted past him again in the last main downhill towards the finish! Caught off-guard, similar to Mantra Summits where he lost the race lead in the final kilometre to Elias Tabac, Diago Gonzales had no response left to the final burst of energy of the amazing Kitamura. Based in Kuala Kumpur, the Japanese runner has only begun to run trails exactly a year ago and has seen his performances grow steadily ever since.

The women’s race was won for the third time by Yumiko Oichi. The local athlete had just returned from a very long injury pause, and was delighted to have come out on top of a great battle with two other runners. Hakuba Trails winner Maki Tanaka was dominating proceedings until two-thirds into the race, when suddenly Oichi and Kaori Asahara returned to the front. Yumiko Oichi had the best final dash. A great run was also delivered by the now-Japan-based Carole Fuchs. After a modest early phase, diesel Fuchs managed to race herself in the top five of the race. She was also first of the runners eligible for ATM points, which puts her in the top ten of the final ranking. Aggy Sabanal from Mindanao, Philippines, was the second woman of her country to finish Izu Trail Journey. A mountain climber and specialist of technical trails, Sabanal can be very happy with her result on the hilly but runable Izu Trail. Her performance also resulted in second place in the ATM Championship ranking, splitting the Indonesians Ruth Theresia and Sri Wahyuni. Not bad for a 22-year-old university student!

Did they have a little tussle: Hisashi Kitamura and Pablo Diago Gonzales for 4th place!

Did they have a little tussle: Hisashi Kitamura and Pablo Diago Gonzales for 4th place!

Nagano-based New Zealander Richard Coghlan had a fantastic run to 9th place!

Nagano-based New Zealander Richard Coghlan had a fantastic run to 9th place!

All podium placers together on the podium

All podium placers together on the podium

Yumiko Oichi won Izu Trail for a third time, but after long injury troubles, this was special

Yumiko Oichi won Izu Trail for a third time, but after long injury troubles, this was special

Filipino Aggy Sabanal finished the race as one of the youngest in the field at age 22

Filipino Aggy Sabanal finished the race as one of the youngest in the field at age 22

Korea’s Sungsik Joh found Izu to his liking, but gastritis gave him a tough day on the trails

Korea’s Sungsik Joh found Izu to his liking, but gastritis gave him a tough day on the trails

The top five of the ATM championship in one pic

The top five of the ATM championship in one pic

At the press and race briefing on saturday afternoon

At the press and race briefing on saturday afternoon

No Mt Fuji this year: it was too cloudy to adore the mountain on the horizon

No Mt Fuji this year: it was too cloudy to adore the mountain on the horizon

Sherpa and Rambla run for the title during Izu Trail Journey
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For the second consecutive season Izu Trail Journey across Japan’s Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo will decide the outcome of the Asia Trail Master men’s championship. After 35 points races in 15 Asian countries, Alessandro Sherpa and Salva Rambla will battle for the title in a straight dual on the fantastic but challenging 72km course from Matzuzaki to Shuzenji.

Izu Trail Journey is rapidly gaining prestige and fame in the Asian trail circuit since it joined our championship series in 2017. Last year’s edition was of course also historical for its frosty and even snowy conditions. It won’t get that cold tomorrow but for sure wind jackets will be worn by most runners as they line up for the start at 6 a.m. by the ocean. Five of the top six male runners in the Asia Trail Master Championship will be competing against some local Japanese elite and international elites. An important novelty for the season’s final, though, is that ATM points will only be awarded to runners who have done minimum two ATM races this year. This means there will be a race within the race for the ATM protagonists. In the fight for the ATM title, it comes down to this: Sherpa leads Rambla by 130 points, but Rambla can still up his total score by 180 points. It means that no matter what anyone else does tomorrow, Salva Rambla needs to be first (+180 points) or second (+130 points) of the ATM protagonists to have a chance of winning the ATM championship. And then it of course still depends on Sherpa’s own performance. If Salva wins Izu and Sherpa is second, Sherpa wins the championship (2550 points vs 2525 points). If Salva wins and Sherpa finishes third in the race, they both end up with a total of 2525 points: a tie and then we look at the last direct confrontation of the two runners in question, which means Salva would be the new champion. That is of course the beauty of tomorrow’s race: Salva Rambla beat Alessandro Sherpa in Singapore’s Trail Blazer only two weeks go, and if fast-legged Salva were to go ahead solo on the Izu Trail, Sherpa must make sure nobody else of the ATM protagonists runs passed him tomorrow. Enter runners Pablo Diago Gonzales, home runner Tomohiro Mizukoshi, Hisashi Kitamura and Daisuke Kobayashi, to name the most likely ‘spoilers’ for Sherpa in this scenario. Tomohiro Mizukoshi has already been labelled the King Maker, because not only is he at home in Izu and did he run this race last year already, but most importantly, he beat both Rambla and Sherpa on a runable 70k course in Bali in October! Moreover, Mizukoshi needs to watch his rear mirror, too. Hisashi Kitamura is not too far down on ATM points and seems keen to finish the championship season as number one Japanese! Pablo Diago Gonzales ran Izu also last year and is back in Japan to do better. Diago Gonzales hails from Spain just like Salva Rambla: will there be a Spanish alliance? Finally, there is Daisuke Kobayashi: little known outside Japan, but a strong runner with Echigo and Hakuba Trails on his ATM record in 2018: he is in the mix for points tomorrow. Kobayashi finished just eight minutes behind Mizukoshi in Hakuba Trails proving his advanced level. In ultra trail running, it is a cliche that anything can happen and there’s too many scenarios to write down here. Let’s conclude with one that sees Salva Rambla finish as second tomorrow: then Sherpa can allow himself to be fourth only.

We could not have hoped for a better finish of the 2018 season, although it is of course a pity that the injured Milton Amat from Malaysia could not join the final in Japan. Amat would have been another candidate for the ATM title thanks to his great performances this season in four big races, three of which were SuperTrails.

In the battle for the race victory tomorrow, Japan’s elites Kei Kikushima (winner Hakuba Trails, but did not compete in another ATM race this season), Tomohiro Tsuji (winner Izu Trail Journey 2016) and Yuichi Miura rank among the top favourites.

The women’s Asia Trail Master Championship already reached a conclusion two weeks ago with Indonesia’s Ruth Theresia crowned as the new champion. However, Izu Trail Journey still has significance for the places of honour. Philippines’ newcomer Aggy Sabanal will be trying to snatch second place in the ATM championship ranking away from Sri Wahyuni. Sabanal, still just 22 years young and university student, is running her first race outside of her home country. She will try to follow into the footsteps of her compatriot Patricia Ann Morota, who completed the freezing edition of last year as first Filipino in great fashion. A strong runner who will try to finish a remarkable year inside the ATM top 10 is Carole Fuchs. Previously based in Bangkok, the French former IronMan professional and winner of Cordillera Mountain Ultra has recently moved to Japan and has been back in training after her successful but physically draining Mount Everest expedition in May. On a good day, Fuchs might as well aim for the top three in tomorrow’s race and a good race result would in any case propel her into the ATM championship top ten. Yukako Takashima, the winner of Echigo Country Trail this year, will be one of the Japanese elite to beat.

As usual we will be reporting live from the race via our social media channels. The race starts at 6 am local time.

Dinner in Tokyo for the two ATM championship finalists: nobody spiked any soup

Dinner in Tokyo for the two ATM championship finalists: nobody spiked any soup

The top 3 of the ATM Championship ranking in Tokyo, flanked by Aggy Sabanal and ATM General Manager Kris Van de Velde

The top 3 of the ATM Championship ranking in Tokyo, flanked by Aggy Sabanal and ATM General Manager Kris Van de Velde

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Kei Kikushima could win the race

Kei Kikushima could win the race

Maki Tanaka is among the women’s favourites

Maki Tanaka is among the women’s favourites

Carole Fuchs at Echigo just after her climbing Mt Everest: she finished second

Carole Fuchs at Echigo just after her climbing Mt Everest: she finished second

Mizukoshi and Fuchs join 900 runners in Hakuba!
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This Sunday the Asia Trail Master Championship series touch base in Japan again for the Hakuba International Trails, a new entry in our series after being a successful Candidate Race last season. Hakuba is close to former Olympic Winter Games host Nagano and takes place in and around a famous ski resort. It is a very popular race of 53 km with a good mix of runable and technical terrain - almost typical Japanese - and in the trend of Echigo in June, it is an event that is about more than just running. 

The 53 km race is the main event and has attracted nearly 900 runners of the 2000 event participants in total. There's also a medium and short distance race on the programme catering for beginning trail runners or athletes from other sports disciplines. Among the latter are even some olympians! Daichi Suzuki was a gold medalist swimmer at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. He is now the Director General of Ministry of Sport in Japan, and he will be having his first trail experience ever! In addition, nordic skier Akito Watabe, who scored silver in this year's Olympic Winter Games in Pyeungchang. And also Aiko Uemera, a four-time olympian in mogul skiing. 

This being the first time in the area, we will get to know a lot of new names this weekend. Tokyo's Tomohiro Mizukoshi and Niigata's Jun Kaise on the other hand are already established runners in our series. Jun Kaise is the double winner of Kushigata Wind Trail (2017 and 2018) and also a third-place finisher in Echigo Country Trail last season. Tomohiro Mizukoshi, of course, is the current number three in the Asia Trail Master Championship, having led the standings for a short while a few months ago. He has been running mainly in South East Asia and was second in Magnificent Merapoh Trail 100 only a month ago. 

In the women's we will be paying attention to the performance of France's Carole Fuchs, winner of Cordillera. Mountain Ultra in March, and 2nd in Echigo three months ago after climbing Mount Everest. Can Fuchs - back in training since weeks - take a win in Japan? If she does, she also becomes a serious contender for the Championship later in the year. 

We will be reporting live from the action at Hakuba Trails via our usual social media channels. 

Currently 3rd in the ATM Championship, Tomohiro Mizukoshi is at it again this Sunday

Currently 3rd in the ATM Championship, Tomohiro Mizukoshi is at it again this Sunday

Niigata ace Jun Kaise is always a podium candidate in 50 km races

Niigata ace Jun Kaise is always a podium candidate in 50 km races

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Echigo: Kota Araki unstoppable as Mizukoshi grabs ATM lead
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The 3rd edition of the Echigo Country Trail in Nagaoka, Niigata, was the most successful to date with around 1000 runners who traveled to the traditional countryside of Japan, roughly 2,5 hours northwest of Tokyo by shinkansen bullet train. In beautiful weather, Kota Araki once again proved to be one of his country's best trail runners with an outstanding race victory in the men's 53 km. Half a year ago, Araki also won the Izu Trail Journey. He finished in 4:46 - a new course record - and over fifteen minutes ahead of Sota Ogawa, who in so doing collected his first ATM championship points after the DNF at Penang Eco 100. Ogawa ran a strong race on the generally runable course, although he prefers it rough and tough. He concluded in 5h02, and was able to hold off Kenichi Kawano and Tsutomu Nagata. Seven minutes later, Kazufumi Ose arrived in fifth place. Earlier this season, Ose was second in the 9 Dragons 50/50 in Hong Kong. 

Another sixteen minutes later, in 6th, came Tomohiro Mizukoshi. His assignment was clear at the start: finish in the top 14 to claim the points lead in the 2018 Asia Trail Master Championship. He did it in style and therefore is the first ever Japanese runner to be on number 1 on our championship ranking. Mizukoshi wouldn't be Mizukoshi if he hadn't grabbed the bull by the horns in the race, of course. Just like in Penang Eco, he started fast and mixed with the naturally faster-paced runners ahead of him. A courageous strategy, but he pulled it off. There's a gap of four weeks till the next points race in the ATM Championship - Mantra Summits Challenge in Indonesia on 14/15 July - so at least until then Tomohiro Mizukoshi can call himself the ATM Championship leader! 

The women's race also produced an amazing result as 47-year-old Yukako Takashima took the victory in 6:16. An impressive feat as in second place was nobody else than France's Carole Fuchs in 6:52, winner of the Cordillera Mountain Ultra and several other races outside the ATM circuit. Fuchs, of course, had just returned from a mountaineering expedition and a successful ascent of Mount Everest. It is normal she is not at her best level right now, yet let's not take anything away from Takashima's win neither. The podium was completed by Mayumi Kobayashi.

Kirk Kenny's highly-anticipated photo album of the Echigo event weekend will be made available on our facebook page later this week.  

With Ultra Trail Mount Damavand (postponed to August 2019) and Tam Dao Mountain Trail (postponed to later date) not taking place this month, the ATM Championship is taking a one-month-break now until the Mantra Summits Challenge in Malang, East Java, Indonesia on 14/15 July. That one promises to be another cracker with a very technical mountain course of 75 km and 5500 hm. 

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The women's podium this year

The women's podium this year

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Mizukoshi aiming for ATM points lead at Echigo!
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The 3rd edition of Echigo Country Trail will see close to a thousand runners strike down in the Oguni Forest Reserve of Nagaoka in Japan’s countryside. This is one of the most colourful events in our series, thanks to the overwhelming hospitality of the local people, and the expert organisation and direction by local professional runner Hiroaki Matsunaga. On Sunday, there’s again a 52 km race on the menu: runable for the most part, but with some very technical hills nonetheless to break the rhythm and test runners’ resilience. 

As this is a race in Japan, obviously Japanese runners are top favourite to score the podium spots. But one woman could actually upset the natural order of things. Thailand-based Carole Fuchs from France will be doing her second ATM points race of the season, and after her demonstration during the Cordillera Mountain Ultra in Philippines last March it is hard not to see her at least on the podium on Sunday. One thing that could of course hamper Fuchs this weekend is that she hasn’t done much specific running training since CMU. Instead, she - successfully - climbed Mount Everest! Japan’s Tomoko Ueno was 4th last year in this race, can she improve this season to grab a top three? 

Back from Mount Everest: Carole Fuchs

Back from Mount Everest: Carole Fuchs

In the men’s, we can expect anything to happen. Jun Kaise is always a favourite on home soil in this part of Japan, Niigata. A few weeks ago, the sympathetic firefighter again won the short an crispy Kushigata Wind Trail. Clearly in shape, can he do better than his third place in Echigo from last year. Jun Kaise was also the best ranked Japanese runner in the 2017 Asia Trail Master Championship. 

Speaking of which, another Japanese runner can propel himself into the top spot of this year’s ATM championship! Tomohiro Mizukoshi from Tokyo has been a very busy bee traveling and racing in Malaysia and South Korea as well as Kushigata. Mizukoshi is third in the standings with 1510 points now with four race results in bag already. Echigo will be his fifth race and he will be the first of the top male runners to reach the fifth level. He needs 265 points to overtake points leader Pablo Diago Gonzales, which corresponds to a place in the top 14 on Sunday. If Mizukoshi succeeds, it would be the first time a Japanese runner is on top of the ATM championship ranking. 

For the race win, Mizukoshi - a good road runner as he showed during Penang Eco 100 - will be up against other big names in Japan such as Sota Ogawa and Kazufumi Ose. Ogawa had a DNF in Penang due to heat and stomach issues, and will be keen to set something straight this weekend. Ogawa has also planned Mantra Summits Challenge next month and wants to compete for the championship. Kazufumi Ose already has 500 championship points in the bag this season: he was second in the 50/50 of The 9 Dragons in Hong Kong last February. 

As usual, we will be reporting live on our social media channels from Nagaoka and the Echigo Country Trail. 

You can also follow action here with a webcam:

https://oguni.love/events/echigo-country-trail

Sota Ogawa and Tomohiro Mizukoshi finds themselves together again this weekend

Sota Ogawa and Tomohiro Mizukoshi finds themselves together again this weekend

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New points regulations for ATM Championship final weekend
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The final weekend of the 2018 Asia Trail Master Championship will again consist of two events where the final points for this season can be gathered: Ultra Trail Panoramic in Pai, Thailand on 7/8 December, followed by Izu Trail Journey on the Izu Peninsula in Japan on Sunday, 9 December. Upon conclusion of these two events, we know who succeed Steven Ong and Kim Matthews as the male and female champion in the Asia Trail Master Championship. 

Different from last year, we are introducing an added rule to the points distribution at these two events to allow for a fair conclusion to the championship and to offer runners a fair choice between the two events. The new rule is:

“Only runners who have scored points in minimum two ATM races during the 2018 season will receive ATM Championship points for their respective result in UT Panoramic 100 miles or 100k,  or Izu Trail Journey 72k.” 

In other words, the total race results of both Thai and Japanese events will be filtered, and only runners for whom UT Panoramic or Izu Trail Journey is the third ATM points race of the season will be retained and given championship points. 

Practical example: runner A finishes 9th in Izu Trail Journey. However, the runners in 2nd and 4th place have not done any other race in ATM this year, and the runner in 5th place has only done one before Izu Trail Journey. They are taken out of the list, and runner A gets points equivalent to 5th place. 

By introducing this added rule, runners in contention for the  ATM championship title can freely choose their final race without worrying about the competitive level of the potential local participants. 

Please note that Izu Trail Journey is of course the Japan SuperTrail, meaning 50 bonus points for the relevant finishers. Relevant finishers on the 100 miles of UT Panoramic likewise score the 100-miles bonus, i.e. also 50 points. 

To be clear, this concerns the ATM Championship only and not the Grandmaster Quest. All finishers of the UT Panoramic 100 miles and 100k races, as well as Izu Trail Journey 72k will score a point for their individual Grandmaster challenge. 

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Enter Hakuba Trails now!
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With Kushigata Wind Trail in Tainai City wrapped up - the 28km race won by Jun Kaise and Kazumi Matsuo - the Japanese chapter of this year's Asia Trail Master Championship has been opened. The next points race is Echigo Country Trail - a classic meanwhile - and on 9 September we have a new gem in our series: Hakuba Trails. Another solid 52 km race in the outskirts of the Japan Alps near Nagano, former host city of the Olympic Winter Games. Hakuba itself is a famous international ski resort in Japan, and in summer what can be better than using the available facilities to put up a serious trail running event. Hakuba Trails happens to be one of Japan's most popular races these days, and as of 2018 international runners have a great opportunity to join the event and score points for the Asia Trail Master Championship series. The official registration has now just been opened. There is an English form to do so, and below you can also find a contact person at Hakuba for your immediate queries in English. 

A short itinerary will also be provided in due course for runners who like to stay a few more days in Japan after the race. The itinerary will include 20 to 30 km runs/hikes in the Japan Alps area before heading to Tokyo. Please stay tuned for more on this optional trip, which is separate from the race. 

Link to Hakuba Trails English registration form: [LINK}

Email contact in English for quesions: Kento Maruyama (k.maruyama.shinya@gmail.com

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Hakuba Trails opens registration on 25 May
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Several of you have been asking when race registration opens for the Japanese new entry in the 2018 Asia Trail Master Championship, Hakuba International Trails. The local organisers in Nagano have now set the opening date for registration on Friday, 25 May. Hakuba Trails is one of Japan's most popular medium distance trail races with a longest distance of just over 50 km to be completed in 10 hours. The race is hosted by the ski resort Hakuba, famous in Japan's winter sports community, and runs around the mountains of Nagano, where the Olympic Winter Games took place in 1998. 

To get into the mood, take a look at the video of the 2017 event below. Hakuba Trails is another project of one of the UTMF co-race directors, as is Izu Trail Journey at the end of the year. 

The event takes place on 8/9 September and can be accessed via several international airports in Japan. 

Registration form (in English):

https://www.hakubatrail.jp/english

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Echigo Country Trail opens registration
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The 2018 Echigo Country Trail has opened registration for the 3rd edition on Sunday, 17 June. The colourful event in Japan's countryside of Niigata, Northwest of Tokyo, will have a slightly beefed up main race. Total length is now 56 km with elevation gain still just above the 2000 hm mark. 

As usual, the event receives full support from the local communities around Oguni Forest Park and Nagaoka City. All participants are invited to take part in the welcoming party on Saturday afternoon, and enjoy dinner with local delicacies, music and dance. It is also possible to stay overnight in traditional Japanese homestays. 

You can access Nagaoka easily via Shinkansen from Tokyo. Or you can fly to Niigata direct from a few Asian destinations. 

Apart from the 56 km main race, shorter distances are also available. However, only the 56 k qualifies for points in the Asia Trail Master championship. 

International registration, click here

Video trailer

Izu Trail Journey - Cold but beautiful... and FAST!
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The Japan SuperTrail on the Izu Peninsula proved to be a genuine SuperTrail. Not only because of the fantastic course, but also because of the harsh temperatures and the incredible average speed of the Japanese trail runners. It has to be admitted: the South-East Asians who came to Japan had a hard time competing with the elite of the country for the top positions. Japan is of course the distance running country par excellence, but it turned out that many of its top runners were also waiting for a race like Izu Trail Journey to motivate themselves to stay in shape during the cold winter. As such, Izu Trail Journey was an eye-opening experience for many participants. The race was controlled by four runners up front: last year's winner Tomohiro Tsuji, Kota Araki, Yuya Kawasaki and Yoshihito Kondo. These four took off after the first climb of the 72 km race roughly 9 km into the race. At that point, Brunei's Sefli Ahar, who was challenging for the Asia Trail Master Championship as the last man to still overtake Steven Ong on points, was running in 9th place and just 3 minutes behind the front quartet. Sadly, Ahar did start to suffer from the cold. Temperatures were only marginally above zero and the gale winds in the mountain zone made it feel a lot colder still. Winner of CM50 and BTS Ultra in the last six weeks, Sefli Ahar could not close the gap with the Japanese top runners and lost terrain as the race progressed. Suffering from frozen eyes and breathing problems, the 43-year-old Bruneian nevertheless finished the race - 61st - and with his chin up. Sefli Ahar certainly made the ATM Championship exciting until the last moment and we are looking forward to seeing him back in 2018. 

Meanwhile, Kota Araki turned out to be the strongest of the leaders and pulled away. Only Yuya Kawasaki was able to stay close and kept the pressure on. Kawasaki almost paid a price for that, though, as he faded towards the end and saw Yoshihito Kondo finish less than a minute behind him in third place. First non-Japanese was New Zealand's Richard Coughlan. Time of the winner, Kato Araki, was 6:43:48. Izu Trail Journey is 72 km with 4300 Hm and run in a deepfreezer. Araki and Kawasaki will allegedly now represent Japan in the Trail World Championships in Spain next year. Spain's Pablo Diago Gonzales was just outside the top 100 and Hong Kong's Isaac Yuen Wan Ho, who became a two-star Grandmaster,  just outside the top 300, which proves the very high level of Japanese trail running. 

The women's race was a tight battle between Ayano Saito and Kaori Asahari. Both runners were never far apart from each other, and finished also just three minutes separate. Okinawa-based Corinne Williams was an excellent third place. Philippines' Patricia Ann Morota and Indonesia's Shindy Patricia are two ATM protagonists who also finished the race. 

Jun Kaise being greeted by pandas at the km 42 mark

Jun Kaise being greeted by pandas at the km 42 mark

Kota Araki was the strongest runner and won the Japan SuperTrail 

Kota Araki was the strongest runner and won the Japan SuperTrail 

Yuya Kawasaki was a great second with a lot of fighting spirit 

Yuya Kawasaki was a great second with a lot of fighting spirit 

The top 3 of the Izu Trail Journey

The top 3 of the Izu Trail Journey

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The two top women at Izu: what a battle decided in favour of Ayano Saito 

The two top women at Izu: what a battle decided in favour of Ayano Saito 

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