After climbing Gonta-zaka and blistering through the final 3km of undulations, the ace runners of each college run at full pelt to pass on their sashes. Or the front runners on the return route are searing ahead to ensure as high a rank as possible for their anchor. The Totsuka relay station is where those sashes have been passed from the 2nd to the 3rd and from the 8th to the 9th legs. Tackle Berry, a fishing tackle store located at the relay point, proudly displays the branch name “Totsuka Relay Store”.
”Hakone Ekiden Walk Part 2″ kicked off at the Tackle Berry Totsuka relay store. Responding to the invite of Atmos boss Hidefumi Honmyo was Ryotaro Otani, a triathlete with a penchant for sneakers. Otani, who was also an Aoyama Gakuin University Hakone runner (sections 2 and 10), gladly exclaimed, “This takes me back” as he stood at the Totsuka relay station.
Otani describes the third leg as the “bridging section.” Following the 1st and 2nd legs which are fun by the main pacers, the 3rd leg sets a rhythm ahead of the 4th and then the hill-climbing 5th leg. As per the description – “for smart runners” – the course is flat with a downhill slope. The route from Yokohama City to Fujisawa City and Chigasaki City sometimes intersects and runs in parallel with the old Tokaido Highway. It is a road where not just Hakone runners, but people, goods, and culture have come and gone since ancient times.
PAPERSKY editor-in-chief Lucas B.B. remarks along the way: “The best part of a walking trip is discovering how people used to think and how fast they used to go.”
We saunter down the 800-meter-long slope and pay a visit to Yugyoji Temple, the head temple of the Jishu sect of Buddhism which originated with itinerant preacher Ippen Shonin. Walking along the stone-paved approach, Mt. Oyama, which has long been a center of worship, loomed in the distance.
At the Fujisawa Shuku Kouryukan near Yugyoji Temple, Honmyo gives a debrief: “I am reminded of how there are places you can’t understand unless you actually walk around them. The Hakone Ekiden always looks spectacular on TV, but when you actually walk it, there are fewer places where you can feel the nature than I imagined. But it is nice to be able to sense the history here and there.” He has been at the forefront of the Japanese sneaker scene for a quarter of a century. A walking evangelist behind the recent boom, he has been strolling 4 km every morning for the last 10 years.
”I also think it’s important for the sneaker business to form this kind of community and to go walking to understand unmet needs. Something close to public opinion can be found within communities, so I hope this walking club can become a catalyst for such a community.”
Beginning in residential Totsuka and passing Fujisawa with its rows of commercial buildings, you know you have arrived in the Shonan area when a moist breeze can be felt from the south. Wearing a pair of Salomon XT-6 for this walk, Otani reminisces: “The latter 10km of the third leg is a straight road that follows the coast. The scenery is unchanging, so you don’t feel like you are making any progress, making it hard to get a sense of pace when you’re running”. Shoes designed for long distances have excellent stability and shock absorption, making them a great match for walking trips.
The Hakone road from Chigasaki continues along the coast all the way to the Hiratsuka relay station. The pine forests that block the sea breeze are a reassuring presence for Hakone runners, although we are only walking on foot this time. Here, they headed out to the beach to walk along the “Shonan Kaigan, Sandy Beach Road”. The paved walkway is splendid, with fantastic views all the way to the horizon. The reassuring stability provided by the Salomon XA PRO 3D helped Lucas cruise through areas with accumulated sand. Always great to have trail running shoes designed to perform well on rough terrain and in bad weather.
With Enoshima Island and Tsujido Beach to the rear, the seaside stroll continues along to Chigasaki Park and Southern Beach. There are runners who look like they could also be on the Hakone Road, surfers bobbing in the sea, and pedaling cyclists throwing up a cloud of dust. Soon enough, the mountains of Hakone towered far ahead, gradually getting larger.
They finally cross the Shonan Ohashi Bridge into Hiratsuka City, and reach the goal at the Hiratsuka relay station after crossing the Hanamizugawa Bridge!
It was indeed worth walking along the “bridging section” of the Ekiden route, as it provided a sense of the history of the road and the sensation of space provided by the coastal walkways. The next time they discover something, the mountains of Hakone may be even closer and looming even larger.