Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Souja Kibiji Marathon (Okayama Prefecture)

Sunday February 23rd, 2014

After nearly a week of having no cellphone/internet, the weekend of the Souja Kibiji Marathon was here. I intended on getting a phone prior to traveling to Okayama Prefecture but unfortunately, there was not enough time to get one, being on the island and all. Planned a time to meet a Hiroshima City ALT JET, Danny at Hiroshima Station on Saturday and we hopped on a bus to Okayama at about 2:20pm. The combination of not having a cellphone the past week and not interacting with many English speakers period, it was sure a treat to be chatting with Danny on the bus ride out to Okayama. We had some fun on the bus talking about running and making friends with a drunk couple heading to a wedding party. The bus ride took about 2 and a half hours to get to Okayama.

Once arriving at Okayama Station, we met up with another ALT, Erin, and walked around Okayama for a bit before meeting up with Danny/Erin’s friend Keisuke.
@Okayama Station
 He picked us up in a car and recommended an Indian curry restaurant for us. It was so fun talking with so many people who could speak English and it was kind of a surreal feeling to be communicating so easy. So much isolated time on the island really has helped me appreciate friends, communication, convenience and so much more.
We ordered relatively large meals at the Indian resturaunt which was a large piece of bread type of thing and a couple different curry dishes. 
Wasn’t the most filling meal but then again, there’s no reason to binge eat before running a marathon (binge eating is for after! J).

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and met up with ALT Emily, who was also staying at the same hotel and would be running her first half-marathon the next day. Per usual, I took the stingy way out of accommodations and just paid Danny to sleep on the floor at the hotel. Never being too picky about sleeping arrangements before even coming to Japan, after sleeping on a thin futon out here I can get away with sleeping on just about any hard surface.  Went to bed at about 10:00pm but due to excitement and nerves, it took a while to get to bed and woke up several times during the night. This was the first marathon I’d be running in over 8 months and first marathon in Japan (although running Honolulu Marathon is quite similar to running a marathon in Japan).

Woke up at 4:30am and couldn’t get back to sleep so waited for Danny to get up and took advantage of the free WiFi the hotel offered. It’s too easy to pass time on the internet but after spending a week without any phone/internet connections, can’t say I’m necessarily more happy with it. Of course it more convenient and makes things easy.

Ate a banana and a riceball for breakfast.

Was a bit anxious how the legs would hold up running such a relatively long distance and also with the course being so flat in comparison to the types of runs I’ve been doing recently. The legs feel powerful and efficient when running up mtn roads and trails but it has became kind of a grind to run on the road. Trying to still keep running the roads despite the uncomfortable feeling because don’t want to lose that “skill”.  My longest road run in Japan was not over 10-miles and the pace has always been relatively slow. In addition, I’ve been logging about ½ the weekly miles in comparison to a typical marathon training plan I usually do back home despite compulsively wanting to try to go sub-3, knew it was not in the cards this time around.

Prior to the race, I considered running a comfortable pace with Kenshu who was also running the Okayama Marathon. With having no phone, was unable to properly connect with him before the race and decided to run with Danny and his goal of 3:20. This was his second marathon and he was looking to better his time from his previous marathon at the Seoul Marathon in Korea.

We checked out of the hotel at about 6am and it was funny how many people were walking around town and occupying 24-hour restaurants in which apparently their nights were just ending. Danny and I grabbed a coffee at McDonalds. We hopped on the first train from Okayama station towards Souja. 
It was cool getting on the train with a bunch of other runners at such an early hour in the morning.
Each following train stop, we picked up more and more runners until the train was jam packed full of people sporting warm-up gear of all sorts. As the train was quickly carrying hundreds of runners towards Souja, the sun was just beginning to rise in the semi-dark, cloudless sky. Despite it being a little chilly in the morning, it seemed it would warm up as the day went on.

Once arriving at Souja station, we walked to the Sports Center which was near the Start/Finish of this race. We checked in and received our race bibs that morning. Not many marathons where you pick up your race bibs the morning of the race!

We found a spot in the Sports Center gymnasium to set our belongings down and began to get ready for the run. Only in Japan would I leave an unattended backpack with a laptop, 2 iphones (1 broken) an ipod, and a wallet containing over $300   Snapped a quick pic near the finish line
while running a marathon. We began pinning on our race bibs and starting to stretch out a bit. With about 20 minutes to the race, we all headed out of the gymnasium towards the start line. We ran into two of Danny’s friends who were also running the marathon. Had been trying to spot Kenshu all morning but wasn’t able to see him.
 and wished Erin and Emily good luck with their races. Jogged around a tad before finding some bathrooms near the start line. We squeezed our way into the start and Danny’s friend Daichi spotted us again.

As this was Danny’s second marathon, it was fun soaking up his excitement and anticipation of this race. It was crowded with marathoners on the left side of the road and the shorter distance races on the right side.  Daichi saw us as Danny and I stood up on the curb trying to be spotted by our friends.  We snapped some pictures prior to the start
 and at 9am on the dot, we were off!

It was quite crowded (as is most marathon starts) and the people around us were running much slower than our 3:20 marathon goal pace (in what we thought was 7:43min/mile but is actually 7:38min/mile. Guess we got a bit mixed up because Danny uses kilometers for distance and pacing.  We slowly danced around the other runners and tried to get to some open road to hit our pace. It was difficult with all of the half-marathoners running together too.

Despite the typical crazy commotion at the start of the race, within the first ½ mile, I spotted Kenshu coming from the back right in which apparently he had spotted me in all the people (not like two blonde dudes stick out in a sea of black heads). I excitedly greeted him and introduced Danny/Kenshu to each other.  Told Kenshu we were shooting for a 3:20 marathon and he say “OK, me too”. It’s funny how flexible he is. Guess you need that kind of mind set when you are training for a 400km race (Trans Japan).

For a bit we had a group of 5 guys running together and we were pretty chatty. Danny was rocking to his headphones as he had prepared a marathon playlist. We saw a beautiful girl in a red/white costume and began talking to her. She said she was wearing a ‘Miiko’ (temple maid) costume and had traveled from Tokyo (Saitama). She was able to speak English quite well and said she had been to the U.S. before to run a marathon in LA. The rest of the guys properly separated from the Miiko girl and I (haha) but after several minutes realized it prob was best to catch up with them. Bid farewell to the Miiko girl and rejoined the group who was running slightly faster than goal pace.

Souja was a relatively local town with occasional spectators throughout the course.  After not long into the race, we ran down a road that had a large temple off to the left in the distance. Many times during the run, was pleasantly reminded that I was in Japan.   With the spectators cheering in Japanese, running by traditional Japanese houses, and hearing the Japanese Taiko drums, I guess that’s a hard thing to forget.

There was aid-stations every couple kilometers that all had water, sports drink, bananas and sandwiches. Although it was tempting to grab a sandwich while only at mile 3, was able to resist those urges.

We split off from the ½ marathoners and the road opened up a bit. There was one spot where we looped around an out and back section of the course and saw the Miiko girl again. After she passed, was thinking, “shoot, might not see her again..”.

Danny seemed to be locked into his pace and was in good condition. For a while he sped up for a bit while Kenshu and I stayed back and stuck to the 3:20 pace.  After a little bit, we caught up with him again.

The course was a bit hillier than expected, but nothing too crazy. Actually the uphills were a nice break from the repetitive pounding that the flat roads we creating.

It was crazy how fast the first 5-7 miles went by but as semi-expected, already at the 10-mile mark, thought that it would be nice to give the legs a break. Was drinking at most of the aid-stations and occasionally grabbing bananas.

The weather was absolutely perfect with the air nice and cool and the sun creating enough warmth to make it not so chilly.  Interesting to be able to wear shorts and a T-shirt outside during February.  

Before the half-marathon mark, there were several other runners following closely behind us and I remembered wondering if it was because in comparison to the Japanese runners, we were giant (wind breakers-not that there was much wind though).

Danny and I were still sticking to pace and I would often call out the pace upon his request as he did not have the instantaneous pace on his Nike+ app. Not long after the half-marathon point, Kenshu was out in front of us  and before long, he was out of our sight. I wondered if we would see him again later during the race.

Around mile 15, took a quick bathroom break even didn’t need to go that bad. It was a nice break to rest the legs for a second and it actually felt nice to need to run about a 6:40 pace to catch up to Danny again.

At mile 16, I remember saying to Danny, “only 10 miles left… does that sound good or bad?” and he comically replied, “only 10km left will sound better”. I laughed at the truth of his statement as we both continued to keep pace. We were actually picking it up a bit and Danny seemed to be running strong still.  We were passing many runners who were going quite slow at this point. The course was a bit goofy as it ran some sections with the half-marathoners, then would wonder off on it’s own course, before rejoining again with the half-marathoners. 

At about mile 22, Danny said he was starting to get a side-ache and our pace was starting to fade. We were running 7:50s for a bit before getting into the 8:00s. Told him that we needed to pick it up a bit and that I would continue to hit the 7:43 pace.  One of our followers continued to follow me and I would occasionally look back to see if Danny was catching or slowing. After a bit, couldn’t see him anymore and with about 3 miles left, decided to speed up a little. Was matched by the follower still and as I continued to speed up, so did he. Looked back at him and he quickly smiled and I let out a short laugh. Funny how with using no words, we communicated so much (or at least I think we did).

After this acknowledgement, he came up on my side and we started to chat. His name was Kazuhisa and he was from Okayama. Was surprised because he was wearing what seemed to be a pretty heavy hooded jacket with a pair of gloves and still seemed to be not sweating and running effortlessly. It was nice chatting with him because it took the mind of the quickly fatiguing legs. We continued to speed up  and were running sub 7min/miles now. It was fun buzzing past many people together and again there were many half-marathoners on the same course.

The legs were getting close to cramping now and was wishing of having done some longer road runs before this. Ran into Erin at an aid-station which she was on an earlier section of the course and wished her luck. During a long straight stretch we made our way closer to the finish and even though the legs didn’t feel like picking it up, tried to speed up maybe just to get the race over with quicker. Was hoping Danny was doing alright and sticking to a decent pace.

Was also becoming a little worried about how much damage my legs were taking from running this race so underprepared. Near the finish, another runner in green came up pretty quick behind us and passed us. He took the lead and ran in front of us for about 30 seconds. As we approached the last turn not far before the finish line, I gestured toward the guy in green at Kazuhisa and with no hesitation we both sped up. He seemed to have no fatigue in his legs as he sped up quickly and I followed him to the finish. We congratulated each other and it felt good to walk around for a bit. The watch said 3:20:07 and I noticed that our target pace of 7:43 had to have been wrong.

At the finish, saw Daichi who got a 3:17? And Kenshu who got a 3:18?. Not long after, Danny came through the finish and we congratulated him on a job well done. He was pretty beat and we all made our way over to the post race food/beverage area.  There was only coffee and soup for runners and the rest of the things were available for purchase. Fortunately Danny borrowed some money to me and I bought a chicken/rice bento lunch and a strawberry bread thing that could not have been healthy but what did I care at the moment. Sat down in the sun together and ate our food.
By chance, saw the Miiko girl for the 3rd time that day and she sat down with us for a bit.  Congratulated her on a 3:47 finish, took a picture together and exchanged contact information. Look forward to running with her sometime in the future!

We went back inside the Sports Center gymnasium and changed into some warmer clothes. Sat down by a heater and exchanged massages to each other. It was kinda funny because one guy would lie down by the heater as three other guys massaged him. Maybe not the most culturally appropriate things in the U.S. or Japan for that matter but all of us being pretty beat from the race, we willingly through aside cultural norms.
After the massages,we headed back outside to watch Erin finish.

It was cool to see her run by us and she seemed to be in happy spirits as always. We then stuck around until the last finisher (which was by chance Danny’s coworker) who had a finishing time of 5:59:50 maybe with a 6 hour time limit.

After we went to a sports shop near the finish and then waited for a ride to an Onsen in Okayama. Upon arriving at the Onsen, we were warned of how crowded the baths were and that there would probably not be available lockers inside. Indeed, the Onsen was super crowded but luckily for us, we found lockers and were able to hop in the crowded baths with many other runners. It was so so SO nice to be able to wash of the sweat from the day, hop in and out of multiple outdoor/indoor baths and rotate between the sauna and my favorite, the cold bath.  Ahhhh

We spent about an hour there before we had to head out and meet Keisuke who was waiting for us and who would be bringing Erin to the station. We said goodbye to them and Danny, Daichi Hiroki and I headed to a nearby Yakiniku restaurant. Usually don’t eat much meat, but with not eating much that day and being super hungry, I had no problem setting aside any negative ideas of meat consumption to be able to indulge in an all you can eat meat buffet. Yakiniku restaurants are so fun because you grill your own meat right in front of you on a mini-grill. We indulged in cow tongue, heart, other pieces I didn't know, chicken, wakame soup, and some edamame. With all of us stuffed and content, we hopped in the car and made our way back to Hiroshima. We stopped in Fukuyama for bathroom breaks and it was comical how we all limped our way from the car to inside the rest station.

Got back on the road and I was realizing it would be a close call to catch the last bus from Kure City to Kurahashi. Since I didn’t have my cellphone, wasn’t able to access the photo of the bus schedule so didn’t know what time the last bus left. After dropping off Danny at a station nearby his house, going to pick up keys that Daichi had left somewhere the previous day, I was dropped of at a station further east of Hiroshima. Daichi told me I needed to transfer at Takehara so I planned on keeping my ears open for Takeyama. The train arrived at Hiroshima station and stopped for a bit. I ate some nuts and a riceball and wondered if I was even on the right train. I heard that the train was bound for Saijo and that sounded awfully wrong.  I saw another train across the station that said Takehara and wondered if I needed to take that. Asked someone on the train if the train we were currently was on went to Takehara and they told me that in fact, it didn’t, and that I needed to go over to another set of tracks where there was currently no train. I pointed in the other direction at the train that said Takahara and he said, “or that one too..”. haha. I quickly got out of the train and ran up the stairs and over to the other set of tracks and thankfully was able to get into the train. Funny how quickly your body can forget pain/soreness in necessary times.  Asked someone on this train if it was headed towards Kure in which they assured me it was. Phewww. How lucky was I to not miss that train.

Still had to worry about what time the last bus was from Kure to Kurahashi and it was pretty crazy to think that I was in Hiroshima city at about 9:30pm on a school night. Was a bit uneasy what I would do if there were no more buses to Kurahashi Island once arriving in Kure because with no cellphone, would either have to take a 45min taxi or walk home. Comically considered walking home as it would have been a funny story to tell.

The train ride from Hiroshima to Kure went by quickly as I had some old ultra-podcasts on the ipod.  Arrived at Kure station at 10:16pm and knew it was going to be an awfully close call if I would catch the bus. Got off the train as quickly as possible and ran to the #3 bus station. To my relief I saw a group of people standing their among the other now empty bus stations late at night. I now knew there was a bus going to at least my island and not until I looked at the schedule, I was able to learn that the bus I needed to take was arriving in two minutes.

For one of the first times, I happily boarded the bus back towards Kurahashi and with a nice peace of mind now, sat down in the bus. Fell asleep several times on the hour ride back to Uwagi and arrived home about 11:30pm. Scattered belongings and things from the last couple days on the floor, ate some more food and went to bed.

Woke up at 6am as quickly as that, and perhaps was in the same position as I went to sleep in. Decided that my knees were in no condition to ride a bike that’s too short for me to school that day so took the bus. It was funny because the students commented and asked why I was on the bus when it wasn’t raining out.

The first marathon experience in Japan was super fun and I appreciated being able to spend it with other ALT JETs and make new friends as well.  Keep thinking how big of a shame it is that I’m leaving in less than 6 months but should do my best to enjoy the remaining time, and be grateful to have a group of running friends on the other side of the world when I return home.

Next week is Matsuka (Mazda) Ekiden with Kenshu and his friends.

Despite not having a phone this past week, it made some things inconvenient, but it was nice to disconnect and reconnect fully with the moment and others around me.

Now have a phone again though.

Saijo Ekiden

Saturday February 15th, 2014

(lost pics from this race)

It’s Kind of funny how some opportunities arise. I got the opportunity to run the Saijo Ekiden because 5 months ago I participated in a Japanese study during the Saijo Language Camp at the Hiroshima International Plaza. By chance, the girl (Yukiko) conducting the study was also a trail running and we chatted a bit around running and exchanged contact information. 5 months later, she invited me to run the Saijo Ekiden with a group of her male friends. She sent me the team roster and told me there was 3 Hakone Ekiden (most prestigious collegiate relay race in Japan) runners on the team.
This Ekiden consisted of 7 relay sections and the sections were a bit longer than the Kurahashi and Ondo Ekiden’s sections. I was selected to run the first segment which was 5.4km (3.3 miles).

Unfortantly before this relay, I didn’t make time to do much speed work and the legs felt a bit heavy/slow from doing so many Hiyama repeats lately.

The day before the race (Friday), was Valentine’s Day and was very active as usual at Hatami Elementary School. It’s always fun going to that school, playing and running every couple of hours with the students. They are insanely athletic for their age and particularly the 5th girls. Also did yoga that night which always feels good but usually leaves the knees a bit stiff after sitting cross-legged for so long. Also I felt a cold creeping in that started on Thursday but did best to not worry about it.

Caught a bus from Kurahashi to Kure city at 6am and then took a train to Saijo Station. It took about two hours to get there but was pleasantly reminded of the fun time at the Saijo Sake Festival upon arriving at the station.  Yukiko’s friend Masaki picked me up from Saijo Station at 8:30am with several of his friends who were participants/spectators of different Ekiden teams.  Masaki drove the course and showed me the first leg. I was very surprised at how hilly it was. I became a  bit nervous at the climbing but almost was more excited because of how much hills there were because of the type of training I’ve been doing lately.

After we drove to Hiroshima University and hung out a bit before the opening ceremony. The opening ceremony was quite comical as it was help outside on a super windy and cold day. The ceremony ended and we had a quick team meeting inside the meeting center.

Started warm-up wearing the comfy Forever21 slippers and warm clothes. Was stiff from sitting the last 3 hours and from being outside in the relatively cold temp. After slow jogging of a mile or so, took some clothes off and changed into race shoes. They felt super light and comfortable. Did some accelerations and got ready for the start. Despite it being pretty chilly/windy, decide to just wear short spandex shorts and a lightweight race shirt w/ a pair of gloves. Almost wore long orange sleeves on calves but took them off at the very last second before the start of the race.

I was very excited to be running the number 1 leg of the relay because this is the only segment that everyone starts together. I was looking forward to seeing how quickly the others were running and be able to race together.

The race started and I consciously tried to start pretty slow. Lots of people took off from the start and there was probably 15 people ahead of me. Slowly passed some as we ran the beginning flat section of the race. Going into the first climb, I was in about 5th place and could see the leaders not far ahead. They seemed to be cruising so I tried to speed up as much as possible. The legs didn’t feel very fresh but tried to push through the sluggishness. Kept asking myself “why the heck did I not do more speedwork before this”. Was in 4th place and the top 2 guys were probably 20 seconds ahead with the 3rd guy being about 10 seconds behind them. Stayed within this reach throughout pretty much the entire race. On the biggest climb, got close to catching the 3rd place guy but the 1,2,3 runners stormed done the long downhill. Am awful at running downhill.

By chance, I realized that some of my Ekiden route was a section of a run I had previously did 5 months ago while staying at the Hiroshima International Plaza. Funny coincidence.
Saw Yukiko and others cheering on the hill and tried to spin the legs more as we were quickly finishing the first section of the relay.
Took a sharp turn to the right and headed down the last stretch seeing the 3rd place runner not far ahead and was already regretting not running faster earlier on in the race as the legs were too fried to try and catch him now. Saw Yuusuke Ouchi (2nd relay runner and Hakone Ekiden runner) waiting for me to pass of the ribbon to him and tried to run to him as fast as possible. Passed off the ribbon and he quickly took off.
 2 of the top 3 runners were on the ground in what looked like exhaustion and I wondered if they were just being pusses wimps or if I should have ran faster. Walked around for a bit and watched the other runners finish. Saw Yukiko again and hung out at this checkpoint for a bit as it was also a transition point for a later section of the relay. Started to get chilly after the run from not moving but another girl on Yukiko’s relay team Hikari? Borrowed me her cute little jacket to wear. After staying outside for about an hour, we jogged over to the start to watch the finishers. Believe we finished 5th place behind some quick teams. Believe teams 1-3 were Hiroshima University collegiate teams.

Think the group of people I was with had 3 different relay teams so we watched the last finishers come through. After that we slowly made our way to an udon restaurant and had an udon set lunch.
 It was really fun talking with the other runners and almost all of them work at Mazda car company. There was a guy who came from Tokyo to run and also a girl who came from Osaka to cheer. Everyone seemed very affluent and were conversational in English. It seemed much different than the interactions that take place on the island.

We drove back to Hiroshima University for the awards ceremony. The pre/post ceremonies are starting to feel a bit repetitive the third time around as it's always a regimented schedule of speaking, bowing, clapping, repeat. Following the closing ceremony we had a closing team meeting and took a group picture.
Was able to exchange contacts (now lost on waterlogged phone) with a few of the fellow runners and looking forward to running with them soon. It’s funny before the race, one of the runners asked if I was running UTMF because earlier on, he had posted a picture on facebook of our relay team, and one of our mutual friends, Shingo Tono, commented on the picture saying he knew me. The running community (especially trail running) is very small in Hiroshima. After adding others on FB saw we had several mutual friends. It’s a shame that I have only 6 months left here before heading back home. Feels like it has taken 6 months to get my feet under me, make friends and start being able to enjoy daily life here.

Regardless, it will be nice to enjoy the remaining 6 months and also nice to have running friends on the other side of the world and hopefully they can make a trip out to the U.S. or even Minnesota for a race.

Rode the train to Kaitaichi with another member of the relay team and then transferred to Kure. Met up with Kenshu and we hit up a hot spring for a bit. My cold was really startling to settle in and even in the hot bath I was getting goosebumps. We headed to Nanshu Ramen and got Chanpon-men again and chatted with Nanshu ramen girl. We guessed her name, in which it is not Kanna..haha, but this made for a convenient Valentine’s gift. 

Bused back to Kurahashi and was feeling pretty sick so went to sleep. Woke up several hours later at 5pm and felt sick so went back to sleep for the night.

Each Ekiden I’ve participated in has progressively been larger than the last. Next weekend is the Matsuda (Mazda) Ekiden in which I’ll be running with Kenshu and his friends.

Next week is the Souja Kibiji Marathon and am pretty excited for that.

Notes for UTMF
Hydration pack-buy/practice wearing
Buy necessary requirements (15 or so grr)
Nights runs
Back-2-back runs
All day hiking

Ondo Ekiden

February 2nd, 2014

(Lost pics from this race)

The previous race, (Kurahashi Ekiden) led me to running the Ondo Ekiden. After Team Uwagi took 1st place at the Kurahashi Ekiden, another member from Team Uwagi, Nakada San, invited me to run the Ondo Ekiden with Team Doi-Chan. Later I would find out Mr. Doi is the mayor or some leader of Kure city. Didn't know the teammates and only got around to doing 1 speed word exercise the week of the race. These interval and sprints left my legs feeling pretty sore going into the weekend, however, it felt necessary to wake them up after doing so much climbing and slow miles recently.

A couple weeks before the Ekiden, got up to 60 miles in a week for the first time since last May and one of the runs was a 21-miler w/ almost 7000ft of climbing. This was followed by Kenshu and my routine going to a hot spring and then going to Nanshu Ramen shop for Oomori Chanpon-men, Nanshu Ramen, and a rice ball. It has been so much fun doing these kind of runs on the mountains and will miss it when back in Minnesota. How lucky I am to have pretty much in my backyard, a 1200 mountain that has both road and trail routes.

The day before the race, Kenshu and I went into Hiroshima city because he had to buy some things followed by a hotspring session in Kure city at the Yamato Onsen. Spending several hours bathing in hot outdoor baths in the cool winter air, relaxing in a sauna, and dipping in the cold bath can cure any pain in the legs and subdue any nerves in the mind. After the Onsen we went to a nice udon restaunt similar to Marukame in Waikiki and I had a large portion of curry-udon, fried pumpkin, then decided to go for round to and got another portion of udon with another fried pumpkin.

 Nakada-san picked me up the AM of the race and we drove to Ondo. We met with the 2 Team Doi-chans, both which I found out included females and middleschool students. Not to discredit women and children, but I ruled out any chance of placing in the relay race because I heard there were two teams of Japanese Self-Defense Force runners who have won the last few years. Realised it was best to just enjoy the comradeship of running together on a team.

We hung out in the parking lot and I found out another runner from our team (Yusuke Ikeda) is a triathlete and hopefully will be meeting him for a run soon.  We were given 2 sports drinks, amino acid drinks, and other goodies for running. We all then headed over to the gymnasium where the opening ceremony would be held. It was cool to see so many students from Kurahashi Middle school, Meitoku Middle school and a school I just started going to, Ondo Middle school. Each of these schools had at least one team running in the Ekiden. Saw many familiar faces from around Kurahashi and also saw Morimoto Sensei’s team. Unfortunately, Morimoto Sensei invited me to join his team after Nakada-san had invited me to Team Doi-chan and I felt bad to have to decline his invitation. In hindsight, it might have been better to check with Morimoto-Sensei to see if he had a team before accepting to run w/ Team Doi-Chan, but live n’ learn I guess.

We were driven to our respective relay starting points in which I was dropped off at the #3 spot in which I would be running a 3.8km (2.3mile) segement. By chance, Kenshu and Uwagi’s Iwamoto-san were both running in the #3 position as well as several students from the schools.  We began on the “main” island road in which there was an elementary school right up a set of stairs from the road. This was nice because there was a large school ground where we could warm-up despite it being pretty soggy from rain the night before. Still, it was a nice area away from all the cars and people. Did some slow jogging around the grounds w/ another Team Doi-Chan member and Kenshu. Kept warm clothes on and heavy Brooks Ghost in the meantime. Did some slow jogging along the road and came back to change into the change into the lightweight shoes. Boy did they feel nice. Was pretty warmed up and did some last minute accelerations and tried to wake up the legs/lungs/heart for the ensuing struggle.

I get so nervous before races that are relatively short because I’m anticipating how intense and tough it will be. Usually my heart gets pounding well before the race starts and I have to consciously take some deep breaths to calm down.

Hung out at the transition spot where our #2 runner would pass of the shoulder ribbon. Saw several official vehicles drive by, followed by a motorcycle that was leading the front runners. They were calling out the team bib #s of the upcoming runners so the next respective relay could be ready on the transition line. After 9 runners left the #3 transition, I heard them say “28” which was our team’s bib number. Was so ready to run and just Needed the ribbon. The ribbon was passed off to me and I ran nearly as fast as I could as I quickly put the strap around my shoulder and tucked in the lose string into my pants. Felt like I was flying and didn’t feel the slightest bit of fatigue. Looked down at the GPS to saw low 4:00min/miles and wondered if the watch was broke. Figured I better slow down regardless but the watched stayed around the 4:40 range for at least the first kilometer (.6miles). Was passing runners who were going relatively much slower. Slowly came up on Kenshu and exchanged words of encouragement as I tried to keep a quick pace. As I was continuing to pass people, it was quickly becoming tougher to pass runners and a.) the runners I was catching were becoming progressively faster, and, b.) I was becoming progressively more tired. 1st mile split was 5:05 and was a bit surprised as this is my fasted 1-mile time to date. Continued to try and pass other runners and eventually saw the lead few runners along with the motorcycle leading them. They didn’t seem too far away become I was quickly losing the spring in my step. I thought to myself, “Why the f did I start so fast..” but nothing I could do at the moment besides run run run. I kept wondering how fast some of the other fast runners were doing at this time.

Came up on the 4th place runner who was wearing a Team Soldier bib. Did my best to pass him and leave him behind but his footsteps continued behind me. Tried to stay as relaxed as possible while trying to speed up if at all possible. I was enjoying the competitive feeling of fighting like this and it was definitely helping me keep a decent pace, despite slowing down significantly from the beginning of the race.  As we got closer to the finish, the soldier made a move on me and I tried to keep his pace. Tried so hard to keep up with him but the legs weren’t responding as I’d have like them to. Felt like we were accelerating as my GPS now said 5:20s and we were both approaching the front two runners. He continued to speed up as we approached the finish which was just infront of the Hayase bridge (connecting to Etajima island). Here I passed off the shoulder ribbon to our #4 female runner.
Was pretty tired right after but it didn’t take long to walk out the soreness in the legs and regret not pushing harder. Definitely will benefit from more speedwork before the next race.
Congradulated the soldier for the battle we had at the and as I genuinely enjoyed getting beat by him. With him running up on me, it make me keep a pace that would have not been possible without the influence of other runners around.

Watched all the other runners finish and congratulated Kenshu, Iwamoto-san and Meitoku’s Keito on their job well down. Saw Morimoto-Sensei take from the #4 position and hoped in our team van to drive back to the start/finish area. I felt bad for the runners beginning at #4 because the road was congested with tons of cars that the runners had to run alongside. Yucky.

The finishers came through and saw Doi-chan himself (Mayor Mr. Doi) finish as he was the #7 runner. Met up after the race for a post-race photo and enjoyed bento lunches together on the steps over looking the see. Morimoto-Sensei came buy and informed me I was recthe eived Kukanshou which is the award for having the fasted time within your race segment. Hung out and talked with the team members for a bit before heading back to Uwagi to get ready for the celebration party.
Headed into Kure with Nakada-San, Nakanou san and our DD for the night. Had our after party and a nice Japanese style resturuant and quickly drank to much. Had a rough day at school the next day. Enjoyed the time our from what I can remember, and have been giving some serious thought to giving up drinking.
With Doi-chan-san
Nakada-san and friend
Enjoyed the second experience of an Ekiden relay race and look forward to running the Saijo Ekiden in a week and a half. Only thing is I’ll be running an 18-mile race 4 days before. Hmm might not run it.

Surprised to see how I am still getting faster without putting in much speed specific work outs. Have been doing a ton of climbing and was biking about 50miles a week to and from schools but now need to replace back tire! Cripes bikes are too much maintenance.  Still think I am benefiting a ton from the weekly yoga. Now during the day, I am often consciously thinking about my body position and posture.  If only I was a PE teacher and could move around more!