Mad and Muddy Race in Nagano – sounds fun – and it was great fun!
Saturday morning, I hopped on the Shinkansen in Tokyo Station and not even 1.5h later we stopped in Ueda Station. During the ride, beautiful scenery passed by: mountain ranges with a large river flowing through the valleys.
Ann, the wife of the coordinator Takahashi, picked us up – it’s the first time I also met Julien, the other German participant as we were just being in contact to organize the arrival. The car ride took about 20 minutes passing pure green rice fields, sunflowers and little villages.
Ann was telling us a bit about the race: it’s the very first time to take place and there will be only about 20 participants. We almost arrived to Reisenji village when Ann says: „Here to the right, there is a small stream. And there where the bridge is, is a water hole where you have to jump into the water!“ I am slowly getting really excited (and a bit frightened) about this race!
First, Ann brought us to our accommodation where we stayed for the night – a little old but nice Ryokan with of course Onsen and a beautiful garden. They could not really speak English but their hospitality was as big as their smiles, and the daughter as well as the grandmother were welcoming us wishing me all the best for the race before we left for the registration.
The registration was easy and quick, we got some cloves (didn’t think of bringing some) and a map of the course: 4.3km, off-track and you have to do it twice, having the final and start right at that point…
Next to the registration there was a man offering shoes as try-out for the race. “Hello, where are you from?” “Germany.” – “Ahh, guten Tag!” Being in such a small village I wouldn’t expect anyone to know German, but this Japanese man has been working for sport companies his entire life – a long time also for a German brand, why he had visited Germany in 1980/81 – and he still remembered some German!
I got a pair of nice shoes, and I was happy not to get my own shoes dirty and wet while trying the Japanese brand “inov” (And they were really comfortable!)!
At exactly 12 am, the organizers of the event welcomed all participants. Takahashi presented the course and gave some hints while Ann was translating for us.
“If you are on a path – you are most probably off the track. Follow the white stripes, they are every 5-10 meters. If you can’t see them anymore, walk a little back to find back on the track. This race is off-path most of the time. Besides, there are three obstacles. Become an animal, behave like an animal! Be careful and have fun!”
Having a little rest before the race started, we got prepared (especially mentally) at the Ryokan. I took a small towel with me, the gloves, the map, and the provided shoes – ready to start!
At 12.40, the countdown begins and our small group starts to run. Soon we are split in the more fast ones (Julien is one of them) and the slower ones (like me :P). But you never know what it’s going to be, so I decide to save some resources. It’s only about 500 metre on a normal street, until a Japanese man directs us into the forest. Running becomes impossible, climbing over roots, down through a small stream, up again heading to a huge steep slope. Seeing where the others are going, I can still not believe we have to go almost vertical up the slope! The ground is somewhat loose, a bit slippery, so you really become an insect trying to get up the mountain on all four legs.
After this first “hike up”, it goes up and down and along the mountain through the forest, once we have to crawl under a tree, follow a small source downwards, with mud splashing everywhere! The name really says it all! Didn’t they mention a first obstacle with water being supplied? How far can it still be… I think back to the runners who brought small backpacks to carry some water – lucky them!
I take a look at the map, but no idea where I am, why I’m just going on, getting to one point where we have to go down on a rope for about 3-4m, going even further and finally – there is the obstacle and some water. There, we have to carry a tire for about 10m and back – easy regarding what we just did before.
After this obstacle, the next part is along a paved street. Following the road, I arrive to the bridge that we have just seen in the morning where we have to jump into the water. I have to wait for a while until they ask me to jump. I am looking down in the water: It seems to be deep, but is it deep enough? It’s not as a big stream! I am trying to climb further down, just leading to a big stone falling into the water. They are all whooping “Go, jump!” I close my eyes and jump! What a relief, the water is nicely cold, the best refreshment.
After catching a rope to walk up a small waterfall, I follow the river against the stream for quite a while. No more white stripes – Am I still right? On the other hand, there is not really any way to get out of this small river. So, I keep walking. As the water is so clean, you can have a sip to refresh! It’s sooo good.
While walking through the stream, sometimes the water is just a few centimetres deep, but then suddenly dropping to a depth where it is up to my hips or even higher. At the next corner, another camera man is waving to me. There were already a few encouraging us along the course: “Gambatte!” – “Hai gambarimasu”. He is asking me how I like the race. “Sugoi desu yo!” – “It’s amazing”. I am laughing and waving to the camera, making my way through the river. At the end of the river part, another man is leading the way: A spider net is welcoming us being soaked wet. I climb over and under the ropes, getting confused by the yellow-black pattern.
After this it is only a short walk to the final obstacle: Instead of a tire, we have to carry a piece of wood for one round. Luckily, they have different sizes, so I can choose a lighter one. From here you can already see the final, where Ann and Takahashi are already waiting for me with cold drinks and crushed ice. Hmmm… One guy passes by who can’t do the second round as he lost his glasses – I am glad I thought of contact lenses! After a short break, I start for my second round.
Somehow the second round feels easier as you know exactly what to expect and you are still cooled down by the wet cloths. I reach for the second time the first obstacle, carrying around the tire, racing for the water hole. Now there are some inhabitants of the small town enjoying the cold. I have to wait again, and overcome myself again to jump. The second time it’s even more fun walking through the river, drinking the refreshing water. As I reach the spider net, I know I am almost done, walking to the last obstacle and brace myself to come home.
Julien is already there having a bandage on his hand as he hurt himself in the second round but he was the fastest to finish. Congrats! Together with the organizers, some other participants whoop when I finish the second round. I did it! After welcoming the following runners finishing the second round (only 9 of the 20 carried to a finish!), we are going back to the Ryokan to have a shower and a rest before the after party.
The party is as great fun as the run before. First the winners are announced – I finished as second woman (out of three)! All finishers get some presents: sport equipment like sports underwear or small backpacks and rice as local omiyage!
Being super hungry, we get some grilled meat, eggplant and potato, together with fried noodles, rice with fish and shrimp, salads and vegetables – all grown in the region. It tastes delicious! “Totemo oishii desu!”
While we are eating, suddenly we hear drums – some locals play on African drums and a couple of women move along with the rhythm! They make everyone dance around! To calm down again, a phenomenal singer starts to play Japanese songs in the background.
Everyone is super nice and although I cannot speak good Japanese “Chotto shika nihongo wakarimasen!” and the others cannot speak fluent English, we are having nice conversations. We have to promise to come back in one year – and I would love to! After hours of singing, dancing, eating and chatting, (and the race!) I am going to bed and fall asleep right away
The next day, most of us are too tired to do the morning yoga, but we enjoy the awesome Japanese breakfast with Miso Soup, Fish, sausages, salad and of course Japanese tea. After getting ready, we head back to Ueda, where I decide to accompany two of the Japanese participants to the Ueda castle. It is a small castle but a lot Japanese dressed up like Samurai are walking around and we take a picture with them!
After buying some omiyage, I am taking the local train to Nagano to visit the huge and famous Zenkou-ji temple. The night I stay in Matsumoto – famous for its black castle – that lays actually only a 30 minutes car ride from Reisenji.
After this exhausting weekend, I am happy to come back home to Tokyo and relax – but as I promised, I want to come back next year for the second Mad and Muddy Race! It was great fun with super nice people!
Yoroshiko onegai shimasu!