Treated like royalty I was placed front and centre on the start line. This event had loads of runners, over 1500 I believe so the atmosphere was buzzing. As I stood there, I felt slightly like a deer in headlights, wide-eyed, glaring around with absolutely no idea what was about to happen... Which of course is what I love about this sport!
Bang... I'm running. I felt great at the start, (surprise surprise) and took off with the lead group. 'Maybe there's something to this 7 week taper' I thought momentarily. No. Within 4 km's we were climbing the side of a ski slope. The first section a was sealed concrete road that switched to fire trail. It was crazy steep! Once on the dirt, the gradient improved and I could run again, but I really noticed my strength and fitness had taken a hit. I knew then I had to run this race with my head more than my legs. I was lead female at this point jostling back and forth with this amazing Japanese lady who was using poles with impressive precision. I wanted her poles. Badly.
The climb continued for 5 km's before descending off the side of the mountain through a cow field. A fast and furious 'chose your own adventure' style descent, no trail, just a flag at the bottom of the hill... get there however you want. Grinning widely from my childish bolt down the hill I was thrilled to then find myself on spectacular single track that weaved through the Japanese forest. I exhaled, I found flow and started to get in to my feet and out of my head. It was beautiful.
Sadly, I got a little too far out of my head and at about the 15km mark, I ran past a ribbon indicating a sharp right up a trail. I got myself lost for 15 - 20 minutes. This was an interesting time, I've never been lost in a race before, I felt confused and frustrated. I paused took a deep breath and said out loud 'you're ok Jo'. Then my ringing bear bells (hooked onto my pants and ringing with every step) reminded me that there was in fact bears in these mountains and I soon found myself running like a crazy person, retracing my trails back to the last piece of tape. Interesting.
The single track wound through some wild terrain, it was stunning in it's rawness, soft underfoot and dark in parts from thick canopies. I was gaining rhythm in these sections and had pegged back a few places. There was only me and 1 other runner behind me as we approached the base of the final climb. This is when I got up close and personal with some nature. Hornets! First I heart a loud swarming sound then it felt like I was being pelted with stones. Hornets were banging into me and 6 managed to sting me and the poor guy behind me who was flapping and screaming in a similar manner to myself. I sprinted past the swarm then pulled over to let the other distressed runner get past. I was really shaken, stinging in lots of places and trying hard to compose myself. 'Relentless forward motion', I mentally reminded myself. This remained my mantra until the end.
As I climbed the final ascent, I started to react to the stings. I was swelling and throwing up. The climb was very steep and muddy so the organisers had tied rope to trees for runners to use to pull themselves up on, I was really grateful for these. I was worried about myself at this stage and constantly trying to calm my mind and keep my relentless forward motion. (whilst obsessively ringing my bell ;-)) At the top of the climb I came across a marshall who had a sting kit. He gave me an antihistamine, removed my stings and looked after me until I felt I could get going again. I'm not sure how long I was there.
My sincere thanks goes to Abe-San from Inov8 Descente for the invitation to this amazing race and for hosting me. We were shown wonderful hospitality. Thank you to Inov8, Barefoot Inc and Compressports for kitting me out in the very best gear. I used the Inov8 Race Ultra vest for the first time in this event and it was by far the best pack I have ever run with, and I was beyond grateful to be wearing Talons in every step! BIG cheers to the awesome Mark Trompp for helping me get my body to the start line and to Matt Cooper for the gift of self-belief. Thank you also to good friend and Inov8 team mate Brendan Davies for his support in getting me this opportunity.
Thank you to Man Joe for supporting me though not only the race but the difficult lead up. (It's never fun living with an injured runner) Congrats to him for his awesome race too, he totally rocked it! Last and biggest shout out goes to my parents, Phil and John. Mum and Dad looked after our 3 children so Joe and I could go on this adventure together. They endlessly support me in everything I do and I simply couldn't do it with out them.