Oyama Tozan (Mountain Climb)

Nestled under imposing mountains in Tanzawa Quasi-National Park, Ohyama looks friendly enough from a distance. But this 9K race demonstrates why Ohyama literally translates as Big Mountain.
From Shinjuku it’s fifty minutes to Isehara on the Odakyu express. Get ready at the school around the corner from the start. Join your age group start (older earlier) outside Isehara Station. Run 6K of constantly rising road. Turn the corner into Tanzawa and see the road rise up like a cliff. Scale it. Continue up the hundreds of rocky, uneven steps that take you up, up and up to the temple at the finish. Collapse, suck a mikan, drink sports drinks, savour three kinds of soup, all gratis. Run back to the school to recover with solids and amber liquid. Make a note to do it all again next year: second Sunday of March. Goodies: t-shirt, nifty daypack.

Rate of ascent?
Start: 30m above sea level 1K: 38m 2K: 55m 3K: 80m 4K: 105m 5K: 160m 6K: 220m 7K: 300m 8K: 470m Goal (9K): 680m

Ohyama Tozan has a remarkable hold on the Nambanners who have once summoned the courage to enter. A surprising number return year after year after year — despite the cursing and the vows to never come back. Some people are even moved to write poetry about the event (see Good Writing on Running).
And Namban’s own Yuri Kanbara has actually won the women’s division!
Here are a few comments given in the bloody aftermath of the race:

I participated in the Ohyama race for the first time. It was a very hard up hill climb, so I kept thinking…it is difficult to continue running to the goal….
The first 2k were flat and after that it was all uphill slope so as to get tired of it. I think that I had spent almost all my physical strength before entering the stairs at the end. But after the race I felt very pleased the experience.

This is my favorite race in Japan. Everyone should try this race at least once!.

It was my first Oyama. The race was really unique and fierce, especially the steep hill from 6 to 7 km-point was crazy ! I wanted to run up the stairs after 7k, but it was too hard for me. I couldn’t help walking up. When I started, I went with a gentle pace because I didn’t know of the course well. I am sure that it was a smart decision.

The words that spring to mind are ‘Pain’, ‘Frustration’, Gruelling Heartache’ and finally ‘Relief’.
Under the lovely sunshine I began my plight up the seemingly never ending slope of Ohyama Tozen. Compared with last year the running field seemed to have trebled and the number of supporters out waving their flags and shouting their ‘Fight-o’s’ (most of who I’m sure were over the age of 80) were a warm source of much needed encouragement. As I expected the race was tough and very painful but strangely enjoyable.
The beautiful scenery, great support, fantastic organisation and of course being able to share the whole experience with a small handful of fabulous Namban-ers would make me say this race is a must and I’ll definitely be taking up the challenge again next year!

I had no idea what to expect from the Oyama hill climb race except that it would be really tough, and oh boy was it tough! Early start, but romance car was a nice ride out. Race is well organized and starts right by the station, so very relaxed. Lots of time to stretch and prepare.  I took the approach of starting quite slow and gradually building up to a crescendo of pain as my lungs screamed for oxygen. Having some experience with bicycle hill climb races, I knew that the key was to pace yourself by effort rather than speed. I took the first km or two nice and easy and gradually picked people off for a final time of 1hr05.  Missed the magic 1hr mark, but very happy with the result. This race really is one of those precious “only in Japan” kinds of experience, with thousands of dead-keen racers racing frantically through quaint shopping malls perched on the mountainside, then through shrines and on and upward further and further to the finish where you can sit down, catch your breath and enjoy a hot tonjiru, udon, or dango and a cup of green tea. I can see this race becoming a new annual tradition for me.

I tend to be a big fan of variety and prefer to enter new running events every year. Oyama Tozan is one of the few Tokyo races (along with Edogawa 10k) that I like to do year after year. 
I have done little hill training prior to Sunday. My plan was to push the relatively flatter first 6k and then hang on for the last 3k up the stairs (when our wave is blocked and slowed down anyway by runners from the first wave). I think my strategy worked well for me - I went out in 3:33 for the first kilometer and then consistently passed other runners until hitting the 6k mark in 24 minutes at which point I was 8th place among the 412 runners in my division.
My impression is that there is an “otaku” culture of hill runners who bring the exact opposite strategy to the Ohyama Tozan event - that is they live for the hill portion I clambered up the crowded, uneven, rocky stairs as fast as I could and felt like it would be all but impossible to cover the last three kilometers much faster than the 25 minutes it took me. But in fact 9 runners went by me and the guy next to me at the 6k mark finished a full THREE MINUTES ahead of me. 
That said, I am pleased with my 49:03 finish time and would follow the same strategy next time I do Ohyama.  That is unless I have moved up into the mountains by next year and can spend my days happily training on steep mountain trails.

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