Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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

No comments:

Post a Comment