Monday, December 9, 2013

Miyajima "Cross Country" 15km


Miyajima is a very iconic Island in Japan. So much so that it has been deemed a World Heritage Site. I remember even as a kid, seeing pictures of the famous shrine called Itsukushima on the island. The Miyajima “Cross Country” 15km race brought me here.

Found out about this race not long after arriving in Japan and thought it would be a good chance to see Miyajima. Anybody who visits me in Japan, I am taking them there. So beautiful.

Miyajima means “shrine island” and this place has a lot of history. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about it but have been inspired to learn more after visiting.

With the name of this race being Miyajima Cross Country 15km, I was expecting the course to be off-road trails however, the weekend of the race, Paul Walsh informed me that it was 99% road.

A month ago was the Hiroshima Peace 10km and since then I have been doing relatively low mileage with averaging around 20 miles a week.  However, have been doing a ton of elevation (for me) with running/hiking Hiyama a few times a week.  

Slowly hiked/ran Hiyama Friday with Okada-Sensei and then slowly hiked with Ishihama-Sensei on Saturday.

Woke up 5am Sunday and had the perfect combo of my special oatmeal n’ coffee.
Living out in the sticks, it takes a considerable amount of time to go anywhere. Here was the schedule for the commute the day of the race.

Bus- Kurahashi-> Kure
Train- Kure-> Miyajimaguchi
Ship- Miyajiimaguchi to Miyajima Island

With nobody riding the bus at 5am on a Sunday, it felt like we were crawling around the island It was a bit stressful going slower than I could be going by bike. Met mountain hiking friend Kawamoto-san at Kure station and began to ride the train to Miyajimaguchi together. It was a fun train ride because we saw many runners also on their way to Miyajima.  Japan is so compact so you often run into people you know and the same people again and again (at least in my experience). For example, on the train ride to Miyajima, a friend Maki and her friends boarded the same train we were on. The ship ride was super fun as it was my first time taking a ship for public transportation. How fun to have a ship deliver a mess of runners to such an iconic island for a running race.  As we shipped over, we could see the shrine in the distance basking in the light of the sun. Very energizing.
We arrived in Miyajima Island around 9am with the race race start being 10:50am. Had some time before and ran into Kazuya from Kure City and a group of his foreign friends. Kawamoto-san and I settled our stuff near him and kind of putzed around the race hangout area and soaked up the energy of the approaching race. It was a bit chilly out so stayed in windbreakers until the sun became stronger and it was closer to the race. It was turning into a perfect day. Drank some warm lemon water drink they were passing out and saw Maki with her friends again. Ran into Kaori and her husband from the RUN+ group trail run I went on last week.

There was lots of excitement as over 2600 runners were here for the events. The spot we settled our stuff was near the highschool band that was playing. Very mood seting. After the school band finished, a M.C. led a jazzercise type of exercise warm-up and I joyfully participated. With about 40 minutes to the race, did some warm up jogging around the start area and a school-yard that was nearby. Decided it was a bit early to do a full warm-up and waited until about 20minutes before the race to do much of a warm-up. Didn’t do much besides jogging around 50-60% and probably would have benefited from doing more of a substantial warm-up.  With about 5 minutes to the race I snuck in line around 40th place or so. Was curious of the level of runners of the people around me. Was very aware of how much bigger (taller+thicker) I was than everyone and tried to not think that I would be hauling an extra 40+ pounds than most people. Saw Paul Walsh whom I had been following on Strava prior to coming to Japan.  He snuck in up towards the front. Was excited to chat with him. The announcer gave 3/2/1 minute warnings and then we were off.

Here is the race elevation profile:
It was cool to hear a few people cheering my name on the sidelines whom I had met earlier in the day. It’s fun to start meeting members in the running community out here. It didn’t take long before we started the first climb on the road. It wasn’t super steep but knowing the race elevation profile, knew it was important to keep the legs fresh and stay within a conservative pace. Thankfully the Hiyamas have made my legs pretty conditioned to uphill running however, in hindsight, it would have been smart to do a little more intense interval work running up Hiyama in preparation for this race. The only intervals I had done on Hiyama were 30sec repeats to the top. Such a killer but might have been smart to do 1min repeats and maybe 400m repeats. Will experiment from now on.

Came up on Paul a few minutes after the start and it was pretty cool to be running with him. He is signed up for UTMF for the 3rd year in a row and I looking forward to running w/ him in the future. It seemed like others around me on the climb were breathing pretty hard and selfishly recognizing this, I tried to relax even more and run quicker/smoother. Sometimes, someone would pass me on an uphill later matched by me passing them on a flat. This would repeat on the different climbs with different runners. Seems like each runner has their strength. Definitely, I felt more comfortable running the flats but enjoyed watching how tired others got on the climbs. It was pretty tough to run uphill, then having to transition to keeping a quick pace running downhill. Haven’t done much downhill training and usually just slog on the way down when running Hiyama. Could tell the quads were taking a  royal beating from the downhills. From 3k to 4k there was a 118m climb (in U.S. units that’s 387ft in .6 miles). Nothing too crazy but tough in race conditions and also tough with the race being 15km.

Saw about 20 people heading back to the start before I made it to the turn-around. The return trip was energizing as we could see many other runners making their way to the turn-around. Saw Paul not too long after turning around and then Kaz. High fived him and kept trying to cruise along. Seemed like the crowd of runners behind me was thinning out a bit and passed a few runners on some of the flats. To my surprise there was much less flats than I expected. It seemed like we were either climbing or descending for the majority of the race. Tough to get in a grove with this kind of terrain but kind of fun just to have to react to course.
the 1% of course that was flat and cross country!
As a few of us were nearing the top of the 387ft climb, a volunteer was calling out our position in the race. He said 23 to me and 24 to the guy quickly catching me from behind. As that guy passed me, I gave him a firm push up the hill and said “23!” He let out a good laugh and shouted back “24!” to me. Told myself I would overtake him and say “23” again to him but he started to storm the downhill after we reached the top. Think I passed a few runners going down as well even though the quads were taking not feeling so hot.  This was my first time ever really pushing it on downhills and in race conditions. 
The last few climbs were tough but kept a decent pace. Surprisingly, I was able to speed up a decent bit towards the end, even though it felt like I was starting to crawl. As we finished the decent saw the “23 guy” way ahead on the flat and knew he was outta reach.
With the last mile or so, the calves were starting to get dangerously close to cramping, making me take quicker strides and consciously try to run from the quads more. It was a fun finish with some spectators near the finish line.

GAP=Grade adjusted pace

Believe finished 22nd in 57:45. Definitely feel like can get in better shape.

Walked around for a tad and went to the finish line to watch other finish. Saw Paul, Kaz, Toshiya, Maki, Kaori and Kawamoto-san finish and enjoyed hanging out in the perfect weather. Chit chatted with Paul for a bit a snapped a photo together. Funny how it was our first time meeting, but we were chatting about the race as if we’d been friends for a while. Love how quick runners can become friends.

Met up with Kawamoto-san and went over to get the post-race oyster soup. 
It was burning hot and delicious. Could have had 10 bowls but found out this year the race decided to limit the runners to one bowl instead of having it all you can eat. L Came to Japan one year late.

After the oyster soup we headed over to a small room in the community center building that there was women in Kimonos passing out traditional Japanese tea and treats. We then quickly hurried over to a bath shop closer to town. It was funny entering the bath area seeing all the shoes were running shoes. What a cool group of people!
Such a great feeling soaking up in the hot bath and warming up from the chilly air outside. After the bath, we did some site seeing around the island. It was funny because all over the island, there were what seemed like domesticated deer walking around and begging for food. Couldn’t help but laugh over and over at how silly of a site that was to see deer just hanging around in such populated areas.

Checked out the shrine for the first time in person. It was much larger than I had anticipated and can’t believe it was build 1500 years ago. How they constructed such a massive piece of architecture that long ago, I have no idea.
When then hiked to Momiji (Fall leaves) Park. It was so beautiful with the fall colors only slightly past peak season.
Was getting pretty hungry after not really having a meal after the race. Kawamoto-san said that the hungrier we are, the better the food will taste. I laughed pretty hard at this, partly because how hungry I was, and partly because how true his statement was.

Another testament to how often you see people you know in Japan, saw another ALT whom had become separated from her visiting bf from newzealand and needed to use a phone to facebook him. Kinda silly.

Arriving back in the town area, we found an oyster shop to eat at called Kakiya. It was pretty busy and had a long line out of the door. Kawamoto-san said it was the most popular oyster shop on the street. Ran into Maki again with her friends and they ended up joining us for lunch. Ate a delicious set lunch of fried oysters with a cold beer. Kept thinking how lucky I was to be experiencing all of this.
Kawamoto-san and I said goodbye to the girls and we slowly made our way back to the fairy. Another fun ship ride later and we hopped on the train back to Kure city. By this time, was starving again so bought a boxed dinner, some nuts and chocolate. Saw some students from Kurahashi Gakuen middle-schools while I was waiting for Ishihama-Sensei to pick me up.

 It’s funny being here only 4 months and always seeing people I know.  Surprisingly, ended up spending 4 hours in Kure city shopping around and going to dinner at our favorite hole-in-the-wall Okonomiyaki shop Hayato.  Warm Kimchi type of soup and another beer later, we drove back to Kurahashi island. Ate some more food at home and was too lazy to properly unpack from the busy day so just scattered stuff across apartment.  Accidently slept past two alarms but luckily made it to school on time the next day. Actually kind of fun having to rush.

Miyajima 15km was a super fun experience and am surprised at the outcome of the race. Despite running half my typical mileage lately, am getting faster. I’m sure it's a combination of taking my first extended break from running in five years, doing Hiyama 30 times, eating relatively healthy out here, and the weekly yoga at the local doctor clinic. I’m really enjoying the yoga and need to continue going. The best part is doing partner shiatsu massage at the end. J Did I mention I’m the only guy there. Can’t wait until yoga tonight!

Kind of bummer the next running event is in 1.5 months. Was invited to run in the Kurahashi Ekiden (relay) January 12th. Will have some good time to recover and get some speed-work in. Also, looking forward to meeting up with new friends I’ve met in the trail running community out here.

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