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5 Things I Did Wrong While Climbing Mount Fuji (and a few things I did right)

Last month, I had the opportunity to climb the majestic and challenging Fuji-San! I actually made the decision to climb it about 30 hours prior to climbing because sometimes I like to live life on the edge. 😉 However, because I had planned to climb Fuji sometime during our Japan stay AND because my husband had climbed it previously – I did feel SOMEWHAT prepared and also had most of the gear already. So here is my story of how I survived Mt. Fuji! *Beware: it’s long. 😉

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My daily view – so of course I HAD to go meet her in person! 🙂

Pre-Fuji Prep 

  • The decision – I decided the day before that I would go with a couple of friends to climb Fuji overnight.  Climbing season is only open from early-July to mid-September, so there is a small window to knock this off any bucket list.  Since it was already September 5th, I realized that my window was closing quickly for this year so I should probably take the leap and tag along with my friends.
  • Kids – Then I had to figure out what to do with my kiddos from Friday evening until Saturday afternoon.  Luckily, my husband was able to get off work on time to stay with the kids.
  • Packing – Now I had to decide what I should actually bring on this trip. I read a few blog posts from others who had done the overnight trip to get an idea of the necessities.  I made a trip to the grocery store for some snacks and water. And then stopped by Mega-Don Quijote (it’s like a Japanese Wal-Mart) for cans of air (and score! They were only 500 yen and Buy 2-Get 1 free!).
  • What to wear – Everything I read and learned from others was to dress in layers.  The biggest challenge of Mount Fuji is that the weather is unpredictable and can change drastically during the climb.  Thankfully the weather said it would be clear with no rain and little wind.  So I wore a moisture-wicking tank, long sleeved shirt, hoodie, moisture-wicking leggings, and beanie to start the hike.  I also already had a hiking stick my husband had gotten on his last Fuji hike, but didn’t get stamped.  This piece of information will be important later on in the story.
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What I wore to start the hike.

The Climb

Okay, here where things start getting real.  So I’m giving you a raw account of my experience!

  • The arrival – We arrived to the parking lot a little before 8pm – just in time to catch the last bus to the 5th station. We got to the 5th station for the Subashiri Trail around 8:30ish and ate some snacks and adjusted to the altitude.  It was important for us to hang out there for about an hour so we could adjust slowly and not get altitude sickness.  We packed our bags, checked our headlamps, and off we went! This brings me to Mistake #1 – My bag was way too heavy!  I was worried about not being prepared, so I definitely overpacked – and paid for it later on in the hike.

Into the forest – From the 5th to about the 7th station, it’s all forest.  And since we were on a less populated trail (Yoshida is the most popular) and it was nighttime, we only saw a handful of hikers in the beginning.  The forest is very thick and SUPER quiet.  There are no leaves rustling or branches swaying to make any white noise.  So needless to say, the first couple of hours were a bit creepy – it felt like the Blair Witch Project out there. Once we cleared the trees near the 7th station, you could see every star in the sky and lights shining in the city.  It was peaceful and beautiful!

Stations – While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about the Station system.  Stations are little rest areas that begin at the 5th station and go up to the summit – 10th station.  They sell food, water, and overpriced hiking supplies. What I didn’t know was that there are duplicate numbered stations. So I would get excited and see the 6th station only to find out that there are two 6th stations – an “old” and a “new” – and this happened at each station. 😦  Also, you have to pay to use the bathrooms at each station – the average was 200 yen.  You’ll also have to pay around 200 yen or so to get your hiking stick stamped – and yes, after all that hiking you will want some type of reward for your work.

Sunrise – Most people who do the overnight hike will stop at a hut and sleep for a few hours before finishing the journey to the summit.  We didn’t do this and it was probably for the best because it would be hard to get going again after resting for too long.  We decided to rest longer at each station, but not long enough for our bodies to get too cold.  We didn’t quite make it to the summit for the sunrise, but we were close and had a great view nonetheless.  As beautiful as the night sky was, hiking in the dark was starting to get depressing so I was looking forward to seeing some light.  There were a lot of people at this point surrounding us and set up with camera equipment ready to catch the first signs of morning. I couldn’t imagine carrying camera equipment around so more power to those people.

Almost to the top – Joy comes in the morning, y’all!  And viewing an amazing sunrise helped motivate me to keep going to the top.  Now we could lose the headlamps and actually see where we were going.  Our trail also combined with the Yoshida Trail somewhere around the 8.5 station so we saw a significant increase in traffic. I could see several “Caution: Falling Rock” signs along the way which made me uneasy but I tried to focus on the goal and pray – I prayed a lot.

We made it! – Woo hoo!  We made it safely to the summit and it was a joyous occasion.  It’s quite an emotional and exhausting experience to finally reach the summit.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather.  I did put on a jacket over my hoodie, but never needed by rain jacket or hiking pants (although there were some points where I could have worn them I was just too tired to put them on). We also all wore gloves – which were not just for warmth, but for the areas where you have to pull yourself up on to the rocks.  We spent at least an hour at the top just enjoying the views, eating, and resting.  Some hikers behind us pulled out a grill with bacon and eggs and I wished I had done that too. Although I wouldn’t have wanted to carry it up.  Then we headed over to grab some souvenirs – flags for our hiking sticks and of course the stamp.  The stamp at the top is red (the other ones are black) so everyone knows you made it to the top.

And we got a present! (aka SWAG!) The wooden keychain thing means that all five of the senses have been refreshed and renewed.  Which makes sense since the locals regard the Mt. Fuji climbing experience as something spiritual and sacred.

Above the clouds and the crater –  Mt. Fuji is 3,776 meters (12,390 feet) high so it is quite a feeling to be actually standing above the clouds!  We also took a look at the crater because this is an active volcano after all.

The Descent

This is where the story turns.  From my research I learned that going down was much harder than going up.  But I figured, ‘How hard can it be? It can’t really be THAT hard!’ Well, I was wrong.  Wrong, wrong. Just a reminder that we are climbing down loose volcanic rock here, which means it’s VERY slippery.  So combine steep with slippery and it’s a very challenging combination.  This is also where I made the majority of my mistakes.

Here we go – At first I thought, “This isn’t so bad.” But things starting picking up.  Mistake #2 – Not wearing gaiters.  I probably should have worn some gaiters over my boots or at the very least – put my hiking pants on to cover my boots.  My boots kept getting filled with rocks and sand which made the trek much more uncomfortable.  Things started out zig-zag, but then it was just one long, steep descent.  I also didn’t realize that the route down is different than the route up so there aren’t as many stations or places to rest/recharge.

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There are these cool, unique yellow plants that only grow on Mt. Fuji!

  • It’s so dusty – Something else I didn’t take into account was how dusty it would be.  While I did bring a Buff® to cover my face and wore sunglasses, there was much more dust than expected.  More experienced hikers would run down, yes run – which would kick up tons of dust (and feelings of anger) as they passed me.  Also, my legs were shaky from the hike up and I was exhausted.  So my goal at this point was to avoid injury since I have a patella that likes to go its own way sometimes.  Mistake #3 – Not wearing goggles or bringing my glasses!  Okay, this wouldn’t apply to everyone – but more for those who wear contacts.  My eyes were dry from not sleeping and the dust. My vision was blurry and I was getting a headache. I wish I had brought my glasses or wore some goggles.  Because not being able to see definitely slowed me down!

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  • Mental Fatigue – About halfway down the descent I contemplated whether or not I was going to make it.  In addition to there not being as many stations on the way down, there also aren’t very many trail markers.  So we had no idea how many meters we had back to the 5th station.  It really was a motivation killer and tested my will power.  I just wanted to know how much longer to the end.  But nope, just more steep hills and rocks.  And my contacts were now giving me a headache.  I remembered to bring Tylenol so I could at least fix that.

 

  • Homestretch – We finally made it back to the forest which meant we were close to the 5th station.  We also started seeing more happy hikers ascending which meant they had just begun their journey.  They were friendly with their “Hi’s, Hello’s, Konichiwa’s” – however, I was not up for small talk and just wanted to not die on this volcano.  I must have looked stressed because a couple of people asked if I was okay and threw some encouraging words my way.  I wasn’t having it though.

Finish Line – “Is that a Torii gate?” We asked that question a lot on the way down.  Because we knew if we saw the Torii gate, the 5th station was only a few feet away. Then I realized my next mistake – Mistake #4 – I underestimated the importance of the correct socks.  I figured my regular ole socks would work, but it was a costly mistake.  My toes were in pain and I could feel painful blisters.  I definitely should have invested in some hiking socks. Combined with the lack of gaiters, this almost broke me. But alas, after what felt like wandering in the desert for 40 years, we made it to the Promised Land.  Hallelujah!

 

  • The last stamp – We made it back to the 5th station around 4pm, but had to wait an hour for the bus to arrive to take us back to the car.  So we rested, hydrated, and ate some food at the small diner that was there.  The station was closing when we had arrived the night before so we didn’t get our stamps then.  They happily fired up the pit so we could get our final stamp of the journey.  After they started laughing and my friend translated for me, I realized my last mistake. Mistake #5 – My stick was upside down the WHOLE time. Remember in the beginning, my husband gave me his stick?  Yeah, he had the flag at the end that I thought was the top so I didn’t even check. Also, in hindsight hiking poles would have been the better option for this trip anyways.  My sweet friend let me borrow hers for most of the descent and took my stick (and she didn’t realized the stick was upside down either so I don’t feel AS bad, but still – rookie mistake).

 

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My last stamp! #stampmystick

Okay, so what did I do right? Here are a few tips in case you’re thinking of taking the journey yourself!

  • Tissues – Mt. Fuji messes with your sinuses plus the temps fluctuate – pack tissues.
  • Yen – I brought plenty of yen. Bring extra in case you have an emergency!
  • Dressed in layers – I felt like I was dressed appropriately and comfortably.  I also brought a beanie for the cold and a hat for the warmth.  Sunglasses are a must too.  Also bring sunscreen if you burn easily.
  • Water – I brought about 5 liters of water which probably would have been enough if I had paced my hydration better. I could have used another 16 ounces towards the end.
  • Station timing – The stations DO close for a few hours late at night.  I was happy we were at the top to get our stamps.  However, it’s possible that your timing is off and you don’t make it to the top in time for your stamp.
  • September – I think going at the end of the climbing season is a better choice.  July is still rainy, cold, and windy on the mountain – it’s possible that the top could even close due to bad weather. August is blazing hot.  September is starting to cool off again and while a typhoon did come through a couple of days later, it didn’t impact our climb.
  • Air – I brought a can of air, but ended up not needing it.  I’m glad I brought it though because I’ve heard altitude sickness is not pleasant at all.  And yes, I returned the air for a full refund.  Thank you, Mega.
  • Expectations – Before climbing, we all agreed that it was okay if we didn’t summit.  We would just listen to our bodies and be thankful that we could even attempt to climb.  I read in a brochure for a Mt. Fuji group tour that “The mountain doesn’t care – about your goals, your feelings, your health.” And that stuck with meMake sure you go with willpower, but leave your pride on the bus.  Mount Fuji is beautiful and brutal.

Climbing Fuji-San is an enlightening experience, but also a very humble one.  People ask me what kind of shape you need to be in to climb.  And while I recommend you have some type of endurance, stamina, and leg strength, you also need the mental strength and courage to carry on.  We saw elderly folks & kids climbing and people wearing Crocs and jeans.  Could you climb it solo?  Absolutely.  Logically, if something went wrong there are enough other hikers that would help you.  I don’t think you would have to 127 hours- yourself or anything (ya know, cut off your arm with an old knife to survive).  But would you have the emotional and mental strength to get through without the support? That’s the bigger question.

Overall, even though we hiked all night without sleeping, I’m glad I did it.  Would I do it again?  There is a Japanese proverb that says, “A wise man climbs Fuji once, a fool does it twice. And if you don’t climb it you are destined to return to Japan.” So I think once is good enough for me.

Oh one more thing – we went to an Onsen immediately after and it was the best decision.  The hot soak helped my muscles recover much faster.  I highly recommend going to one near Fuji!

What about you?  Is this on your bucket list?!

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On top of the world!

~SM

7 Steps to Running a Virtual Race

“Disclaimer: I received a free virtual race entry to the San Jose 408K as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!”

Living in Japan has been pretty great, but one downfall is that there aren’t as many local races as there are back in the states.  That’s why virtual races can often be a good option for those living afar, or maybe for those who don’t want to run with large crowds.  I recently ran the San Jose 408k and I was asked a few times, “How does a virtual race work?”  Well, here are the steps to running your own virtual race!

Step 1: Choose your run – The first thing you will need to do is decided which race you want to run.  I usually look for an event that contributes to a charity that I like and that also has good swag.   I really like the 408k because the benefitting charity for the 7th year in a row is the Pat Tillman Foundation! And sign up early or look for a promo code to save a few bucks! Bibrave is currently offering $10 off with code “Bibrave”! You can still register until September 16th!

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Step 2: Find a friend – You are going to need accountability since you are doing this thing on your own.  Running a race in person provides running support and an adrenaline rush that’s hard to duplicate when running a virtual race.  So it’s good to find a virtual running partner to sign up with you or even better- find a local friend and you guys can run together in person!  I didn’t have a local friend to run the 408k with me, but a couple of other BibRave Pros also participated which kept me accountable during my training and on “race day”.

Step 3: Find a Venue – The great thing about in-person races such as the 408k is that the course is already all marked out for you and usually includes some pretty nice scenery to keep the race interesting.  For instance, the 408k ends at Santana Row (a high-end shopping/dining area) and it’s the only event that finishes there.  So you’ll need to decide on your own (or with that friend from Step 2) where exactly you will be running.  Since the 8k is kind of an odd distance (4.97 miles), it’s probably best to run with a watch so you can measure your distance either before hand or during the run.  My plan was to run my 8k on the track, but I ended up having to hit the treadmill due to rain.

Step 4: Train! – Even though you aren’t running in person and won’t win any timing awards (well technically you’ll place 1st in everything if it’s just yourself) 😉 – You will still need to train so that you can run your best race – because it’s still YOUR race after all.  So give yourself enough time to train, especially if you’re just starting out with running.

Step 5: Race Day!- Once you’re all set with your training, it’s time to prep and run!  The cool thing about virtual races is that you can pick any day and time to run.  Not a morning person?  You can run at night!  Have a busy weekend?  You can run during the week! For the 408k I tried to run on the actual day the race was happening (March 4th), but I ended up running the day after.  Also, unlike a lot of other virtual races, you can still run the 408k as a Remote Runner even though the event has already taken place. So you don’t have to suffer from any FOMO. 🙂  And here’s how I prepped for my 8K!

Step 6: Share your results! – Now it’s time to show off your hard work! Take a pic of your time and post it on your social media channels!  Some events will even have special incentives for virtual races – i.e. all virtual runners email their times to the race director or post them to the Facebook page and fastest times win a prize. The San Jose 408k didn’t offer this type of incentive, but maybe it will in the future!

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Step 7: Collect your swag! Another benefit of running a race remotely is that you don’t have to wait in any long lines or go to any crowded expos to get your swag.  Everything is conveniently mailed to you either before or after the race.  I’m still waiting on my swag, but here is what the SWAG looks like! You can also opt to add on other things such as extra shirts, a tote bag, or a hat.

And that’s it!  Congratulations! You completed your virtual race!  Now you can go celebrate with a post-race brunch (or dinner depending on what time of day you ran). Then rest up for the next one!

So what’s another incentive of running the San Jose 408k as a remote runner? It will qualify you for a bonus medal if you decide to complete the Run the Bay Challenge series and run the Silicon Valley Half! Yay, more SWAG!

Have you run a Virtual Race before?  What did you think?!

~SM

Why Being a BibRave Pro Rocks!

“Disclaimer: I received awesome products and race entries to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!”

I’ve been a BibRave Pro for a little over a year now and I really wanted to share why I love being an ambassador for BibRave. I’ll also share how you can become one too! So here are a few reasons why I’ve decided to continue as a Pro into 2018! IMG_1274

  • Sweet SWAG!  – Let’s go ahead and get the obvious reason out of the way.  BibRave provides some awesome swag for their ambassadors and this year we even received a welcome gift from RunnerBox!
  • Awesome Running Products! – BibRave also offers their Pros opportunities to test out the latest and greatest in running gear and nutrition.  I never would have discovered some of my fave running products if it weren’t for BibRave!
  • Amazing Races! – Do you have your eye on a particular race?  BibRave partners with some awesome race organizations and as a BibRave Pro you’ll have a shot at free race entries to some popular events!  This year, BibRave partnered with the Hot Chocolate 15k and Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon just to name a few!

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  • Rad Running Community! – Once you become a BibRave Pro you’ll be connected with a fun group of other Pros to share all of your running-related questions, advice, and experiences!  You may even get to meet a few of them at some of your races!

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So do you love: Running? The color orange? Reviewing races? Social media? Testing running gear? Blogging about running? Networking with other runners?  Then BibRave is for you!  Apply today!

https://www.bibrave.com/bibravepro

Get Social!

See what all of the BibRave Pros are up to on social media by following the hashtag #Bibchat  – And join the BibRave party every Tuesday night on Twitter at 8pm CST!

Also learn something new each week on the BibRave Podcast!

And be sure to check out the newest BibRave Blog for all things running and racing!

So what are you waiting for!  Apply today and see where BibRave can take you!

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~SM

Buff® USA Review

One of the perks of being a BibRave Pro from Bibrave.com is that I get to test out running products for free in exchange for an honest review.  How cool is that?!  The first product that I had the opportunity to try was the Buff® USA.  You might be asking yourself, “What’s Buff®??”  Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s awesome and it will change your life!  Yes, your life will forever be altered.  It has many uses and is great for all outdoor activities.


***Checkout this video  from  BuffUSA.com demonstrating all of the ways to sport your Buff®!

Before discovering this little gem, I was always on the search for headbands that would properly stay in place during my runs.  I would get frustrated when they would fall out during a run or stretch out quickly and no longer be of use.  But then I found Buff®!  I can wear it so many ways and not have to worry about it falling out.  The first place I wore this baby was on a run at the lake.

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It was a beautiful day to use my Buff® as a headband and I liked knowing that my hair was being protected since I had just gotten it highlighted a couple of days before.

The next time, I tried my Buff® out as a wristband.

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Although, this is not one of the official ways to use the Buff® per the website, I still liked using it wipe my face since it was pretty warm this day.

Then, I took my Buff® on a little trip to the trails!

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The Buff® USA can be used as a dust mask for dusty trails OR you could use it to disguise yourself from a sneaky mountain lion! 😉

After the trails, I brought my Buff® to the beach!

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This time I used it as a cap which served as protection from the September, SoCal sun and the salty air!

I even took my Buff® to a theme park!

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That’s right, LEGOLAND pirates also enjoy using the Buff® while performing outdoor activities on their Lego pirate ships. 😉

The Buff® USA comes in allllll types of color combos and patterns.  As you can see from my pics, I chose a National Geographic® print in a pink/purple color.  Go checkout the website to see all of the beautiful colors/patterns to choose from!  You could even choose a Survivor® Buff® and pretend like you’re on a desert island with your own tribe.  The sky’s the limit!

I also liked that I could put my Buff® in the freezer before going out for a summer run to keep my neck and head cool.  You can’t do that with a headband, ladies!  So that’s what I did before going out on a sunset run…

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Look how adorable it is next to a flower bush…It’s like a work of art!  A functional work of art and well worth the investment!  I’m really excited to use my Buff® during the winter when it’s cold in the mornings and evenings and my lungs are on fire from inhaling the cold air.  I will be able to cover my neck and mouth…and presto!  My run just became more comfortable and I might even be able to extend my normal run by a few miles!

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this product since I was so unfamiliar with it.  I kind of thought it looked a little ridiculous and never really considered adding it to my running gear toolbox.  I was pleasantly surprised at not only the comfort and functionality of Buff® USA, but also the ease of use and the fashionable look that it provides.  I would definitely recommend this product to all of my friends and I can’t wait to add some more to my collection!

Also, if you plan to run the Marine Corps Marathon next month, stop by the Buff® booth at the Fitness Expo to grab your official Marine Corps Marathon Buff® headwear!

It’s way more fun to run…in the Buff®! 😉  What’s your favorite way to wear your Buff® USA??!

Again, I received this product as part of the awesome BibRave Pro program.  Don’t forget to review all of your races on Bibrave.com


And join BibChat every Tuesday on Twitter at 6 pm PST for your chance to score free and discounted running gear! Thanks, Buff® USA

~SM

 

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