Hey everyone! This February, my partner Yuta and I had an amazing trip to Sapporo thanks to Junko, Yuta’s super-energetic and athletic mom. She came all the way from the States to visit us in Tokyo, and not only did she sponsor our trip, but guess what? This amazing athlete also participated in the 44th Sapporo International Ski Marathon. She even snagged 6th place in a running marathon the day before in Tokyo!

While Junko and Yuta were the official skiers, I became their enthusiastic cheering squad. The trip turned into a whirlwind adventure, filled with new experiences and unexpected challenges – for me, at least! On our first day, Junko introduced us to her marathon coach, a champion himself. He generously offered to train not only Junko for the race but also teach Yuta and me the basics and the techniques of skiing.

Photo 1: Practice day before the marathon

Full disclosure: this was my first time ever on skis! Luckily, the practice area was a safe space for beginners like me, circling an ice rink. Let’s just say I only fell once, and that’s a win in my book. After our practice session, Yuta and I even got a certificate – the official “ski squad” (How cool is that?). To celebrate, we had a fun dinner with the coach.

Photo 2: Facilities at the international ski marathon venue

Race day arrived, and the venue was buzzing! People from all over the world, of all ages, were there with their families, getting ready. There was so much to see: ski waxing services, booths selling ski gear, snowshoe rentals, and even food trucks. The most impressive part, though, was how organized and clean everything was – from the restrooms and changing rooms to the waiting areas for the marathoners and their cheering squads. There was even a designated area to leave your ski bags and belongings.

Photo 3: The atmosphere at the beginning of marathon day

At the starting point, the excitement was electric. Everyone had their race bibs with names and numbers, and a tiny chip transponder attached to their ankle. The races started at different times: 50 km at 9 a.m., 25 km at 9.30 a.m., and 10 km at 1p.m.I learned from the other cheering squads that this marathon is the only one in Japan that belongs to the international federation.

The 50km course looked particularly challenging – all uphills and downhills, with designated stops for drinks and rest. The winners of the 50 km race were incredible: 2 hours and 30 minutes for the men’s race and 3 hours for the women’s race. In the 25km race, the winners clocked in at around 1 hour and 15 minutes for the men and 1 hour and 30 minutes for the women. Junko did fantastic, placing 12th overall! I bet if there was an “Over 50” category, she would have snagged first place.
Yuta crossed the finish line about hour after Junko, understandably exhausted since he hadn’t skied in a while. Luckily, there was some welcome relief at the finish line – soup and snacks to help everyone refuel. Even though the soreness set in later, that post-race refreshment was pure joy. We all left Sapporo feeling incredibly proud. Everyone who finished the race, regardless of their position, received a medal. That’s the spirit of the sport, right?

Photo 4: The starting and finishing points

This trip to Sapporo was an unforgettable adventure. I came as a cheering squad and left with a newfound appreciation for skiing, a certificate of accomplishment, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Photo 5: Sapporo Snow Festival

Oh, and did I mention the Sapporo Snow Festival? Talk about lucky timing! We hadn’t originally planned to go, but it just so happened to be on the same weekend as the marathon. We squeezed in all the must-see sights and must-try foods in the 24 hours we had left – a whirlwind tour that left us starry-eyed. That festival was the perfect way to end our Sapporo adventure. I would say I wouldn’t have had this perfect adventure if it weren’t for the invitation from Junko, Yuta’s mom. Thank you so much for arranging this wonderful trip!