I thought that you had been a sportsman since you were a student, but then I heard that you started exercising when you were in your thirties. How did you spend your time before?
When I was 24, I became a doctor at a university hospital in Tokyo. At that time, I took almost no holidays due to the extensive workload and could only return to my apartment and have a full night of sleep about once a week. I used to drink and eat every time I was stressed, so after six years of that lifestyle, I gained about 93 kg. I was not in good health.
However, at the age of 30, I moved to a hospital at the foot of Yatsugatake in the Nagano prefecture for two years. This was a big turning point for me. In my new workplace, I had good relationships, and above all, I was surrounded by nature, which was good for my skin. When I was not working, I rode mountain bikes, went swimming in the pool, and in winter, went skiing after work. Also, since many of the patients were farmers, I often received delicious vegetables, and thanks to the surroundings, I gradually became healthy again.
It was around that time that I started running.
There was an annual event in which about 50 members of the hospital staff would go to Lake Suwa and run a half-marathon. One day a colleague asked me, "Why don't you take part?" At that time, I had started exercising a little, but still weighed about 80 kg, and I thought, "I can't do it!" However, I decided, that I would try it at least once.
In the end I practiced only three or four times and then took part in the main event, which was extremely painful. However, I somehow managed to run within the time limit. Then I experienced a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and exhilaration that I had never felt before running through my body. I was surprised how it felt. Compared to the hospital staff I ran with, I didn’t perform well and landed in the bottom half of the standings, so I sought to run better. This was the turning point, in which I started to focus on running.
Was it due to running that you moved to the foot of Mount Fuji (Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture) in 2002 after spending time in Nagano?
Two years later, I returned to Tokyo from Nagano, but by that time, I was already obsessed with the idea of living in a place with nature and with running opportunities. When I started looking for my next place to work, I happened to receive an offer from a hospital at Lake Kawaguchiko. Initially, I moved there with the intention of staying a year or two, but I liked it. The running life fulfills me, and it feels good to be on the shore of a lake or in the mountains.
It seems that the environment at the foot of Mount Fuji has influenced you to start trail running.
I started trail running around 2003, and during that time, I used to do road running with an outdoor writer who lived in Lake Kawaguchiko. One day, he took me to the mountains to run, and I really enjoyed it. Since then, I have taken part in about 40 races per year: Trail running competitions in the summer and marathons in the winter.
Soon after I started running in these competitions, some magazines and media sources contacted me. While modeling, making plans, publishing stories and taking on other related activities, I was asked to design a running trail. This became the trail run at the foot of Mount Fuji, which is an 18 km course that runs behind my house on Mount Ashiwada.
In 2007, when the tournament started, trail running was still a minor sport. Now, it’s more popular, and people send me requests for new races – not only at the foot of the Mount Fuji area, but throughout the country.
Please tell us what is particularly important to you when designing a race?
To give each race and individual touch, I think a lot about the concept, the difficulty of the course and the participation prize in detail. It is both difficult and rewarding to visit the city and develop a course that suits the area.
Currently, you are the director of a long-term care facility and are contributing to community medicine. Did many of your patients start running because of your influence?
When it comes to elderly patients, those who are engaged in sports, agriculture, or civil engineering are physically stronger.
By popularizing running, I think that the number of people who get lifestyle-related diseases will decrease, and the number of healthy people will increase. I create marathons and trail running races because I want people who have never run before to get started. For that, the hurdles are low, and the race must be fun. If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to run again.
You are also known for your mountain trail maintenance and cleaning activities at the foot of Mount Fuji. What made you start?
When designing a race, you must prepare the new course first. There are many things that are dangerous for hikers and runners, such as fallen trees, rolling rocks, and large amounts of garbage. It costs money to maintain them, so the local government does not want to get involved. We had no choice but to do it ourselves.
Since we are organizing the race, we want the people who participate to see the beautiful scenery. It took a long time to cut down the windthrows and pick up the garbage, all by hand, but when the desolate mountain trails were finally cleaned, local hikers were pleased. Some people thanked me and told me that the mountain looked so beautiful when the race started.
These maintenance and cleaning activities are now carried out by the community Team RICKA, which has 250 members.
At first, it was merely a maintenance and cleaning activity to create a comfortable race. However, since I’m also racing here, I chose to go a step further. To make such a beautiful and wonderful mountain accessible to people all over the world, I took the reins and gradually started maintaining more land.