Trails & Ales: Beer and Running in Japan

Exploring big mountains, craft beer and sushi in Japan

I’ve had the incredible opportunity to travel around the world in pursuit of challenging trail running races and great beer. Well, really it’s been about going for the trail running and staying for the beer.

My globetrotting adventures are highlighted and memorialized by trail names, beer styles and the people with whom I have been able to share them. 

Just a few months ago, my wife, Nora, and I traveled to Japan in search of the big mountains, the craft beer scene and just to experience Japanese culture … and sushi, definitely sushi! (Shhhhh, don’t tell my sponsor inov-8 that. They thought I was there for a different reason!)

It turned into an even more epic journey than I could have imagined. After some major delays, lost luggage, 90 minutes of sleep in a 48-hour period and lots of frustration, I was able to forget it all with the experience of a true Japanese ultra-distance trail race. Witnessing 700+ people running 80K through the mountains was awe-inspiring. I handed out high-fives until my hands were sore and watched as the racers would cross the finish, turn and bow to the line as an honor to have been pushed so hard and ultimately to have persevered to reach the finish. I also participated in a race myself, a 7K up and down the slippery ski slopes of Utsukushigahara … during a typhoon. Yeah, you could say it was very memorable! (It was supposed to be a 14K race, but it was shortened because of the weather.) 

The run/trek up Mt. Fuji was a truly memorable experience—especially because I wasn’t blown off the top.
I visited specialty running stores like Michigama, Harajuku and L-Breath and to promote new inov-8 products and was shocked—EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.—I walked in and was greeted by a larger-than-life banner of a a big-bearded dude who looked just like me hanging on the wall. I even found him in a popular fashion magazine and on a billboard! 
The kindness and welcome that I received by every single person I came in contact with will remain one of my most memorable experiences of human interaction. Often, no words were even required: a run and a beer shared was still run and a beer. It linked us, made us good friends even though we had just met one another. We didn’t speak the same language, but it was as if there was no language barrier in the first place.
I managed to find many good beers in Japan, including several inside this vending machine and a few with new running friends. Photos: Peter Maksimow

One of the biggest highlights of the trip was making the run/trek up famed Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest peak at 12,389 feet. This active volcano, which last erupted more than 300 years ago, is made more majestic by the fact that is an almost perfect stand-alone symmetrical cone that can be seen from Tokyo on a clear day from 100 kilometers away. I scaled the relentless 6K almost-5,000-foot climb in under 90 minutes and had the scare of almost getting blown off the top by 80 mph winds at the summit. This video I made shows the force and severity of those winds…..wait for it… 

The beer I earned for surviving that ordeal tasted that much more impressive. My new friends at Run Boys, Run Girls running shop gifted me a Japanese craft Indo no Aooni IPA brewed by Yo-Ho Brewing Company from Karuizawa, Japan. When the Japanese put their passion into something, it definitely shows. The smoked apple saison by Yorocco Beer in the beach town of Zushi and the Yuzu ale from 100 K Craft Beer & Pizza in the historic town of Kyoto were some of the most unique and artistic beers I’ve ever tried, and they served as a reminder that a big mountain trail deserves a delicious reward.

Nihon no minasan, Arigatō! 

Awaiting a fresh pour at 100K Craft Beer & Pizza in Kyoto. Photo: Peter Maksimow
For more highlights of my Japanese beer and running odyssey, check out this video:

 

Peter Maksimow
Peter Maksimow is an inov-8-sponsored trail runner based in Manitou Springs, Colo. He not only runs trails and imbibes in fine beers all around the world, but is also the Outreach & Partnership Specialist for the American Trail Running Association, a coach for the Kokopelli Kids youth racing team, the race director for the Barr Trail Mountain Race, “The Prez” of Team Colorado, a member of Team USA’s silver medal-winning team at the 2015 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Zermatt, Switzerland, and all the other things he forgot to mention. Plus, he once organized a beer mile race at the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak and up the 2,000-foot Manitou Incline. His other sponsors include Enduro Bites, Swiftwick Socks and Manitou Brewing Co.