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I am Proud To Be A Part Of The Mountain Running Family - Fujio Miyachi

I am Proud To Be A Part Of The Mountain Running Family: An Interview With Fujio Miyachi

In the latest of our interviews with the members of the WMRA Athletes' Commission we speak to Fujio Miyachi, a Japanese athlete who is incredibly passionate about growing the sport of mountain running in Asia. He wasn't one of those athletes who discover a great talent at a young age, but he was determined to improve. He talks about how mountain running has enriched his life and he wants others to experience that. 

Can you tell us a bit about your background in running?

Many professional athletes share the common experience of being good at sports from an early age.  They further strived to improve their physical and athletic performance while enjoying the sport and receiving the appraisal of people supporting them. 

On the other hand, as a child, I did not play any sports very well including running.  Because I was overweight and did not excel in sports, I did not even like PE class at school.  However, at the same time, I had a strong desire in my mind that I did not want to graduate from school with an inferiority complex that I was not good at PE.

The chance to change myself came at the annual school marathon race of my junior high school. As you can easily imagine, I was very slow and finished with the last ten runners when I was in my first and second year of junior high school. When I entered my third year of the school, I decided to train for one month before the race.  Of course, with only one month of training I was not able to run drastically faster than before, nonetheless I was able to finish in the middle group, a great improvement for someone who mostly ran with the last group.  I was able to feel not only with my heart but also with my body that I have the potential to change by making the necessary efforts.  This experience became the tipping point of my life.  In the three years after, I trained continually and in my last year of high school, I was able to complete the same race in the top group.

Through this successful experience, I learned the importance of actively trying to improve oneself and I was also able to overcome my lack of confidence.  In the hope of sharing this lesson with many children, I took teaching courses at university and coached students on the track and field team at my high school which I graduated from. Initially, I had plans to become a teacher after graduating from university, but instead I decided to become a mountain runner.  One day, when I went to a sports equipment shop with some students from my team, I just happened to see a poster of the Ontake Sky Race (one of the mountain running races in Japan) and signed up.  Since then, I have been running through the mountains not only in Japan but also all over the world as a professional runner.

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Representing Japan at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in 2019

Though I enjoy running around in the mountains all over the world, it’s not always easy.  Though sometimes I have to travel alone and other times I am faced with issues, many times I encounter amazing views that I have never seen before and meet unique people by chance.

Mountain running has refined my ‘instincts’ over the years, and my life has become richer than I could ever imagine.  The fact that sports, which I was not good at as a child, could enrich my life so much, still surprises me.  And it continues to fascinate me even now after I am 41 years old.  Playing sports is not only about moving our bodies, but it may also open new doors to discovering another you.  That is why I want many people to enjoy playing sports in their lives.

Of course, life is not always fun.  We sometimes make mistakes and feel pain from it.  However, the lessons we learn from this ‘experience’ can become valuable for our future life and make us stronger if it we tackle them seriously.

Through sports, I believe we can refine our ‘instincts’ and accumulate ‘experiences’ which as a result will enrich our lives.  This is the reason why I recommend playing sports to many people.

Is mountain running a popular sport in Japan? 

In Japan, many people love running in the mountains and joining races longer than marathon distance. There are many mountain running races but they are usually called trail running races.  However, the rules of this type of race are a slightly different from mountain running.  Many Japanese runners do not know mountain running yet.  So, it is a big issue for me to familiarize them with it and hopefully make mountain running a popular sport.  

What are the best mountain races in Japan? 

In Japan, there is no race defined as mountain running race, but I would like to recommend some major trail running races. 

Short distance (Less than 30 km)

Ome Takamizu International Trail Run

In Japan, April is the starting month for a series of trail running races.  As a kickoff race, Ome Takamizu welcomes 2,500 runners every year.  Because the race venue is located near central Tokyo, more and more international participants also join recently. 

Long distance (More than 50 km)

Japan Mountain Endurance Race, Hasegawa Tsuneo Cup (HASETSUNE CUP)

This is one of the biggest trail running races in Japan organized in middle of October every year.  Its race distance is 71.5km and its starting time is 1pm.  Many runners run throughout the night, making it totally different from mountain running race.  Many Japanese trail runners aim for this race.

Shinetsu Five Mountains Trail Race 

This race has 110 km course along Shinshu area of Nagano prefecture and added the 100 mile category 3 years ago.  This is a very popular race in Japan so that the application is filled immediately after the registration is open.

Generally speaking, long distance races are more popular compared to short distance ones.

If you are not a full-time runner what is your day job? 

Many Japanese top runners work as firemen or are members of the national Self Defense Forces who have daily training in their job.  Though I do not belong to any company or institute, as an individual, I organize mountain running races and running activities targeted for children.

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Fujio at a junior mountain race he organises in Zushi, Japan

Why did you join the WMRA athletes' commission? 

I am proud to be a part of the mountain running family. I think that it is a wonderful community in which commission members support each other across national boundaries.

I believe that it is important for more countries and more people to participate in the commission’s activities in order to popularize mountain running as a global sport.  From this aspect, the commission can play an important role as a hub to seek more opportunities for our activities in Asia.  I can contribute to the commission’s outreach activity targeting Asian region as a regional focal point. 

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Fujio at the 2018 Malonno Race

How can we make sure that more athletes from Asia take part in mountain running and WMRA events?

Many Japanese runners are very interested in a new race in which WMRA and IAU plan to organize together in 2021.  Because there are many trail runners in Japan who know IAU’s trail running race, this initiative may become a good opportunity for WMRA to obtain more interest from Japanese runners who do not yet know mountain running.  Unfortunately, I have never seen any Asian runner in the recent WMRA’s races I joined.  However, I found in the Internet many trail running races which are organized in the Asian region.  I also discovered many non-Japanese, Asian runners joined the Ultra Trail Mount Fuji, 100-mile trail running race in 2019, held in Japan. This may mean that the trail running population in Asian counties is as big as that in Japan. Potentially, they may join the joint-race of WMRA and IAU show more interest in WMRA events.   

If we can organize WMRA’s World Cup in Japan, it will be another big opportunity for more athletes from Asia to take part in mountain running and other WMRA events.

I would like to continue to support WMRA by disseminating relevant information such as the results of questionnaires with my friends in Asian countries.  If you can assign me as an official focal point for the Asian Region of WMRA, I will try to conduct more outreach activities in the region.  

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