The Trans Japan Alps Race (Part 2)
Continued from Part 1
THE RACE ITSELF: HISTORY, CONCEPT, STATS & ENTRY
The idea for the Trans Japan Alps Race (TJAR) was first conceived by Mikio Iwase, a mountain enthusiast who for more than 20 years had been exploring Japan's Northern, Central and Southern Alps. One day inspiration struck, and he began to contemplate the possibility of linking them all together to form a long, continuous route across the country.
Through trail and error, and traveling mostly alone, he came up with several possible variations of a coast-to-coast route passing through all three Alps ranges. He not only pioneered the establishment of such a route on paper, but fulfilled his personal dream by completing it on foot, on three separate occasions!
Some years later, inspired by the growing popularity of adventure racing and ultra-distance events both in Japan and abroad, he realized that his unified route starting at the Sea of Japan and traversing each of the country's three major mountain ranges before finishing at the Pacific Ocean could be the perfect concept for such a race. He believed that such a long and grueling course, made even more difficult within the context of a timed race with hard cutoffs, would test the limits of even the toughest athletes, and that the process of completing this arduous challenge under those circumstances would be a tremendous, unparalleled achievement. And so in the summer of 2002, Iwase-san himself, along with 4 other eager entrants participated in the first official Trans Japan Alps Race.
The 2002 edition was dominated by rain for 5 of the 8 days, and in the end the experience of Mr. Iwase proved to be the difference, as he became the first and only finisher of his new race, clocking a time of 7 days 5 hours and 7 minutes. In the following years, the number and caliber of participants slowly grew as the word spread across the Japanese mountaineering and adventure racing communities.
TJAR 1st Edition (2002) - 1 finisher / 5 participants [20%]
Winner: Mikio Iwase in 7 days 5 hours 7 minutes
TJAR 2nd Edition (2004) - 6 finishers / 8 participants [75%]
Winner: Masato Tanaka in 6 days 2 hours 0 minutes*
*NEW COURSE RECORD
TJAR 3rd Edition (2006) - 2 finishers / 6 participants [33%]
Winner: Chigaya Mase in 7 days 10 hours 48 minutes to become the first female finisher, and first female champion in race history.
TJAR 4th Edition (2008) - 15 finishers / 21 participants [71%]
Winner: Masato Tanaka in 5 days 10 hours 32 minutes* to become the first two-time finisher, and first two-time champion in race history.
*NEW COURSE RECORD
TJAR 5th Edition (2010) - 15 finishers / 23 participants [65%]
Winner: Shogo Mochizuki in 5 days 5 hours 22 minutes* despite battling through a typhoon.
*NEW COURSE RECORD
TJAR 6th Edition (2012) - 18 finishers / 28 participants [64%]
Winner: Shogo Mochizuki in 5 days 6 hours 24 minutes to become the first back-to-back champion in race history. This edition of the race was filmed by NHK and broadcast sometime later as a TV special, bringing mainstream attention to the race for the first time.
TJAR 7th Edition (2014) - 15 finishers / 30 participants [50%]
Winner: Shogo Mochizuki in 5 days 12 hours 57 minutes to become the first and only three-time champion in race history, despite horrid conditions, a course change and a 3-hour extension of the cutoff time cause by a typhoon.
TJAR 8th Edition (2016) - 25 finishers / 29 participants [86%]
Winner: Shogo Mochizuki in 4 days 23 hours 52 minutes* to cement his legend status with a fourth consecutive victory, smashing his own course record and becoming the only person to finish in under 5 days in the process.
*NEW COURSE RECORD
TJAR 9th Edition (2018) - 27 finishers / 30 participants [90%]
Winner: Kosuke Kaito in 6 days 1 hour 22 minutes
TJAR is not a trail running race, it's a mountain race. The main distinction being that the race is entirely self-supported: there are no aid stations, nor are crews, pacers or external support of any kind allowed. Furthermore, because of the technical terrain and high altitudes (up to 3,000m) through which the race is run, the selection committee places a much higher value on mountaineering experience than on trail running experience.
The organizers state unequivocally that a high level of fitness is not enough to get you to the goal. It elaborates that participants must possess a very high level of knowledge and experience across a broad spectrum of topics ranging from mountain environments, weather forecasting, mountaineering equipment, first aid and crisis management, as well as an extreme physical conditioning.
Of the total race distance, approximately half is run on roads, while the other half takes place in the mountains. The actual route is not fixed, though there are 30 control points (including the 5 checkpoints) that the racers are required to pass through. Otherwise, in populated areas along the road or in alpine sections where multiple routes leading to the same destination are available, participants are free to choose the path they find most suitable.
The athletes are required to start the race with separate "hiking" and "emergency food" as well as a stove, gas canister, cooking pot and more than 1L of water, but the amounts or types of food to be carried are not specifically designated. As mentioned, there are no aid stations, but participants may eat or resupply at convenience stores, restaurants and grocery stores they pass along the road, as well as the mountain huts along the trails. There is only one designated depot point along the trail, where athletes are allowed to pre-mail a resupply package to themselves.
This point located at Ichinose, is reached after completing both the Northern and Central Alps portions of the course, and is situated just before they climb to and traverse the last mountainous section of the race - the Southern Alps. It is situated approximately at the 225km mark of the the race (roughly 190km from the finish).
Most athletes include a resupply of hiking food, change of clothes, fresh pair of shoes (usually a size larger due to the inevitable swelling of their feet), and maybe a different shelter/sleeping setup depending on the weather forecast for the back half of the race. At no point along the course, Ichinose included, may racers handoff or receive any items from family, friends or supporters, and any contact above and beyond a quick hug, handshake or high-five is forbidden (no shoulder rubs!)
Though numerous huts line the trail through each of the Alps sections, and athletes are permitted to purchase meals there, sleeping in any of the huts is strictly forbidden. Each person must carry and utilize their own camping equipment for the duration of the event.
Distance: 415km / 258 miles
Starting Point: Mirage Land, Toyama Prefecture
Finishing Point: Ohama Park, Shizuoka Prefecture
Course Breakdown: 47% Mountain Trails / 53% Roads
Elevation Change: 26,000m / 85,300 feet
Max Number of Participants: 30 people
Cutoff Time: 8 days
Time-Out Checkpoints: 4 throughout the race, 5 including the finish
Historical Completion Percentage: 69%
As the race has grown in notoriety year over year, the number of applicants has likewise increased, forcing organizers to slowly raise the minimum standards required for entry accordingly. They have again been updated for 2020, and are currently as follows:
1. Past completion of a 70km / 43 mile or longer trail running race*
* The race must be a publicly held event taking place on mountain
trails, with less than 50% of the course being comprised of
dirt roads and/or pavement.
2. Past experience of 10 or more nights camping above 2,000m*
1. Experience of 4 or more extended simulations of the TJAR event,
where you completed consecutive days of more than 20 hours of
course time while bivouacking* above 2,000m between those back-
* You must spend more than 4 continuous hours, including the hour
of midnight, at a designated camp site using only an emergency
shelter and an emergency sheet or bivvy.
2. Enrollment in hiking insurance that covers search and rescue
3. Demonstrated risk/crisis management capability, specifically:
risk avoidance and accident response
4. Willingness/ability to take complete self responsibility on the
5. Verification of both physical and mental health through the
submission of detailed health check results
6. You must be 20 years old or older as of the athlete selection
event, to be held in late June, 2020
7. Japanese language proficient as determined by either an ability
to converse fluently and/or the ability to read and write
8. Submission of a written consent form for race participation from
either a spouse or adult relative
9. Completion of at least an introductory life saving course* that
includes training in CPR and AED usage, held by a local fire
station, the Japanese Red Cross or other qualified entity
* Certification in comprehensive outdoor first aid from a company
such as Wilderness First Aid Associates, the Japanese Society of
Mountain Medicine, Slipstream, etc... is preferred.
10. Possession of the physical strength and endurance to run the
length of a mountain trail with a course time of more than 25
hours, in 60% or less* of that course time
* If sections of road are included, the course time is calculated
at a rate of 4km per hour.
11. Completion of either a full marathon in under 3 hours and 20
minutes, or a 100km race in under 10 hours and 30 minutes
These are the minimum standards that must be met to even submit an application for entry, and the organizers state that preference will be given to those who have gone above and beyond, and/or have trained in comparatively harder conditions.
Meeting all the qualification standards and submitting the proper application paperwork to prove it does not guarantee that you will be able to line up at the start line on race day. It is a long and complicated, multi-step process that follows the general outline below. Dates are estimated based on last year's timeline:
Application Submission: Friday April 17, 2020 to Friday May 15, 2020
After reviewing all of the applications, the organizers will notify the maximum of 60 people chosen to attend the athlete selection event no later than June 5th, 2020.
Athlete Selection Event: Saturday & Sunday, June 27th & 28th, 2020
This two-day event is a supervised mini-simulation of the Trans Japan Alps Race, held on a portion of the actual course, including both an extended stretch of 28km of road-running as well as more than 20km on hiking trails, with an emergency bivouac included along the way. Participants are evaluated and scored on the basis of their performance over a variety of categories, and must:
1. Pass a comprehensive gear check
2. Demonstrate an ability to create and submit a complete and
accurate (expected arrival times) hiking plan
3. Correctly navigate a specific line-orienteering course based on
their map reading and compass skills alone
4. Properly, quickly and safely setup an emergency shelter
5. Appropriately respond to a random risk management/accident
response scenario posed to them along the course by a staff
member as well as pass a written final test upon completion of
the 2-day event
In the Trans Japan Alps Race (Part 3), coming soon, I will go through the list of TJAR required gear, and detail more about which specific brands and items I plan to use, as well as share more information on my personal journey to qualify, train and prepare for the chance to line up at the start line of my dreams next summer.
TO BE CONTINUED...