Race Report: 25 years of the Ome Takamizu international Trail Race
by James M.
Trail fans, the wait is over! While our road racing friends get to start their season in late February or early March, runners of races through forests and mountains have to wait a little longer. When I last reported in, it was early December 2022, having run the 23rd annual Mt. Mitake Trail Run. Almost 4 months later I’m back to welcome in the new trail season with one of the longest-running trail races in the country, the 25th iteration of the Ome Takamizu International Trail Race.
The race is once again put on by Samurai Sport’s longtime partner, KFC Triathlon club. In researching the beginnings of this race, they lay out some interesting tales of its history on their website (In Japanese only).
To save you some reading and translating, here’s some cliff notes on how this race looked in the inaugural edition back on November 28th, 1999.
In the early days of the race, obtaining road permits for sports events like marathons was a logistical challenge, so the inaugural race was an A to B course that covered a distance of about 10 km. Despite the limited promotion (done via paper flyers at running events and shops), about 100 people participated in the first race. Over time, as overgrown paths were restored and public road use permits became available, the course changed and eventually split into two distance divisions.
The start of the race at Nagayama Park has remained one constant through the years and is still a great venue for it. Back in ‘99, upon completion of the race, participants were rewarded with a (refreshing?!) glass of Guinness and 200 yen to take the train back to Ome station (since it was an A to B course). Although the glory days of money and beer for finishers are now over and have been replaced with rewards of coke and compression socks, the feeling of tradition and history still lingers over this event, especially in this 25th anniversary edition.
Despite its humble beginnings, the Ome Takamizu trail race has become one of the most popular trail races in the country, often selling out months in advance. For many in the Kanto area, it’s the perfect way to kickstart the trail racing season, with its early April start and two divisions, a shorter 15km course and a longer 30km course. Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned trail runner or a beginner looking for a challenge, the Ome Takamizu trail race is definitely an event worth checking out.
What: 25th Ome Takamizu International Trail Race
When: April 2nd (Sunday), 2023
Where: Ome City, Tokyo
Who: Over 2000 entrants; (1000+ in the 15km, 1000+ in the 30km) *Sold Out*
Last Edition: April 3, 2022 (24th Ome Takamizu International Trail Race)
Part of the appeal and popularity of this race is the sheer ease of access to the race venue, which is the spacious Nagayama Park Field. It’s a roughly 7 minute walk from JR Ome station on the Ome line. For myself, it took a shade under 2 hours to get there coming from northern Chiba prefecture.
For those in the city, the journey could easily take an hour or less. Take the Chuo Line Express to Tachikawa Station. Then, take the Ome Line to Ome Station.
The Lead Up
I’ll repeat what I’ve said in past race reports, I would highly recommend all those reading to get the Samurai Sports experience when signing up to this race. For non-Japanese speakers, it just makes everything simple and worry free. Their team is always available to answer any questions you may have and their fantastic all-English athlete guide always arrives weeks in advance with all the details you would want to know about the event, the course, the gear, start times and more.
In terms of getting to the venue and then making it to the start line, the Ome Takamizu trail race may have been the simplest and most stress-free experience I’ve had so far in my small resume of trail races, which is now up to 5. The first thing of note is that many of the pandemic precautions of the past few years seem to be getting phased out. Masks were not required at the venue and there were no longer temperature checks either, something that would have certainly delayed 2000 plus runners entering the venue.
All that was required was to show up to the park, find a spot for your bag in the grandstands, head to the starting line and run. The timing chip system has also been changed since my last race with KFC. Now, instead of attaching a chip to your shoelaces, the chip is built into the back of your race bib.
These changes, while minor, are all a step in the right direction to making for an easier, more enjoyable race experience and something that will keep me coming back to KFC organized events in the future. Before I get to the actual race, I’d be remiss not to mention another fun aspect of my Sunday, the event that was simultaneously taking place at Nagayama park the same weekend, T.O.A.D.
More shoes? Yes, please!
I think if my Sunday consisted of just attending the expo and getting to meet Ruy Ueda I would have been quite happy, so the fact that I also got to compete in a trail race on this day was just icing on the top.
Time to Race
As I mentioned, the race was split into two categories, a 15 km course and a 30 km course (or 14 km and 25 km depending on your measurements). I opted for the 30km course. This section has a difficulty rating of 5 stars from the organizers and features around 1100 meters of elevation gain and loss. It’s a challenging course with a lot of ups and downs and probably not for beginners.
For this section there is a cut off time of 5 hours, which is generous however, so if you’re up for a challenge and want a few more mountaintop views of the surrounding area, I wouldn’t dissuade a novice runner/hiker from giving this course a shot.
Something to keep in mind is that for the long course there is a cut off time of 1h50m for reaching the 10 km mark, which depending on how crowded the course gets could be cutting it close for some.
If you want to take it a bit easier or feel like your fitness isn’t quite up to the 30k division, the 15km section also has roughly the same 5 hour cut off time and only has around 430m of climbing and descending.
Catch a wave
The 30k race started at 10am and the 15k race started at 10:20am. Both categories sold out, with over 1000 participants each, prompting organizers to use a wave start with groups of around 100 released onto the course, minutes apart. Despite my aim to finish in the top 20% of the field, I got caught up in the open air expo in the morning and ended up starting in the 8th wave, which meant I had to play catch up to avoid getting stuck behind slower runners on narrow parts of the course. I’d advise future runners with similar goals to start towards the front from the beginning to avoid this issue.
With that minor (self-inflicted) annoyance out of the way it was time to get at it and explore the forests and hills of Ome and Mt. Takamizu. The course is a tough one because of the constant ups and downs your legs must endure throughout. The first half of the course is basically an ascent to the highest point on the course, Jofukuin Temple which is situated at over 700m. While the climb up to this point is the longest and the highest, your climbing is not over once you reach the temple, not by a longshot! The course zigzags its way back down to Nagayama park such that you’re constantly climbing and descending nearly all the way down. For those without a lot of climbing and descending experience (myself included), this can really do a number on your legs.
Despite the course being fairly long, measuring in at somewhere between 24 km – 30 km (GPS in the mountains is weird), there was just a single aid station. The aid consisted of an offering of a bottle of water and a small Japanese rice cake. While appreciated, it definitely won’t be sufficient for most to get them to the finish. I had my vest packed with gels, bars and candy in addition to the 1000ml of hydration we were all required to bring. I would recommend people to practice their nutrition strategies in advance if possible, preferably running up and down hills to see how they handle it.
If you are to race this course in the future, ideally I’d also recommend getting out on the actual course in advance and run sections of it to become familiar with the terrain. Obviously not everyone is able to do this, but if you live close enough I’d definitely recommend getting on the course a couple of times before the race.
Another reason I’d recommend this is so you don’t get lost or miss any turns. Despite how many people are on the course at a time, I did have a few minutes when I found myself running utterly alone and even taking a slight wrong turn. The course markings are not always clear if you’re not paying attention, so that’s something to note. One final thing of note on the course is that toilets are few and far between, so plan accordingly. I did spot and use the toilets close to Jofukuin Temple but those were the only ones I found over my 3 hour and change journey.
Pray to the Mountain Gods
Getting back to my race, I had managed to work my way past a few hundred runners, zigging and zagging, running and hiking to reach the biggest climb around 9 km into the course, a fairly constant slog up to Jofukuin Temple in which you ascend about 325m in 2.5k. It’s here where all 30 km entrants make a stop at the temple, give a quick prayer and pick up a charm to prove you made it. After a quick pit-stop to catch my breath I was ready for the slow descent back to Nagayama park. I enjoyed the challenge and made sure to soak in the quality time in nature. It’s this time, free from the stresses of the city and everyday life that I really cherish and value about trail running. There’s a feeling of being connected to nature and those around you sharing the experience that you can’t get running through the city on roads.
The course itself is often quite scenic and one I would also highly recommend hiking and taking in at a slower pace. The open ridgeline views on Mt. Mitake overlooking Ome city below are quite stunning. The course leads runners through paved and unpaved paths and roads, single track and wider trails, we pass through mountain huts and houses, farmland and get deep amongst forests and trees. There are steep climbs and dangerous descents. Trail running shoes, while not mandatory, are certainly recommended to keep your grip on the rocks, mud, dirt, trees and roots.
Despite the number of people running the course I was surprised that it didn’t bottleneck as often as I would have expected. There were small sections that came to a crawl throughout, but compared to my last race at Mt. Mitake, this course has a lot more room to pass.
It was a fantastic morning in the mountains. I had met up with a friend before the race and we were able to run the course together almost the whole way. I finished well within my goal of top 20% and still was left with plenty of things I could work on for my next mountain race.
Don’t forget the TOAD!
The race took me a bit under 3 and a half hours. It was a solid training session and got me back just in time to grab a spicy curry lunch and browse the many stalls of the open air exhibition.
There was really everything a trail runner could ask for at the expo. There were shoes galore, clothes, poles, headlamps, glasses, gels, powders, bars, snacks and plenty of knowledgeable people to chat with.
The expo really made the overall experience more enjoyable, despite returning home a little lighter in the wallet. Reflecting back on the experience, I can understand why this event is so popular and why I’m sure many return to the Ome Takamizu trail run year after year. The weather on this day was also near perfect for a spring race, partly cloudy and hovering slightly over 10C.
Fun for Everyone
Even if you don’t take part in the Ome Takamizu race I’d still recommend coming down on the weekend, checking out the T.O.A.D expo and getting involved with some of the events. If you’re reading this and thinking you want to get involved next year, make sure to sign up early as the race did sell out and judging by the success of this year I don’t doubt it will sell out again next time. The Ome Takamizu international has come a long way since its grassroots inaugural edition back in 1999 but so has the world of trail running in Japan and beyond.
About the Author
Coming from Canada, James has always been interested in the outdoors, mountains, skiing and climbing but his passion for running really took off as the pandemic forced people to stay at home. Now, as normalcy starts to creep back into the world and organized races are a thing again, James seeks to challenge his mind and body on the roads, mountains and trails.
James is also a big movie buff, he hosts a podcast interviewing creatives on inspirations, he’s a music lover, a sports fan of both team and endurance sports and a bit of a craft beer aficionado. Look to James for the perfect long run playlists or the best brew recommendation after you finish your next marathon or trail race.