TOKYO, Japan - Eagle trail-running champion Anita Ortiz has had her share of racing experience, but her first Japanese trail run will surely go down with a flag in her memory files.Ortiz was one of six Americans on the U.S. Mountain Running Team to compete in the inaugural Challenger's Race Japan Cup, a series of 10-kilometer, 25K and 50K races intended to draw an international field April 29.The event, which Ortiz said was organized by the Japanese trail running federation in an effort to bolster the image of the sport locally and showcase the country's course potential to outside participants, had a few missing links. Specifically, the courses were unmarked, and those competing who were not well-versed in Japanese symbols either didn't finish the race or took several wrong turns until they reached the nearest semblance they could find to a finish line.
"I didn't see any markings," said Ortiz, who also said she would have surely won the 10K had there been a clearly marked course. "There were check points, but of course, nobody got through them all. Most of the people that ran the 50K didn't even finish the course. One guy was lost for eight hours. He was out lost in the mountains of Japan. I know when I went off-track. It was like 40 minutes out. I was plenty ahead when I went off-course."Ortiz ended up "finishing" in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. She said about 360 racers competed in the three events. According to a recent article in Colorado Runner's online magazine, only 33 of 110 who competed in the 50K finished and just 11 of the 160 competing in the 100K finished, with the first-place finisher reaching the end point after more than 18 hours."It was a royal muck-up," Ortiz said of the event, which took place in the hills of a Tokyo suburb. "It was too bad because it was my kind of course - pretty technical and with some hills that were wicked steep. Some of the course had ropes you had to use to go up and down. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Their trail system is so interwoven and crisscrossy - kind of like ours, but it's especially bad when you can't read Japanese. We were there for seven days and they treated us wonderfully. It was a good place to go and a good experience, but pretty much everyone got lost. The ball got dropped for the race."
The Japanese federation financed the U.S. team's expenses getting to and from the Challenger's Cup. Ortiz will be one of the premiere local athletes competing in this year's Teva Mountain Games at Vail. The National Trail Running Championships at this year's games kick off at 9 a.m. on June 4.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.