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