Monday, April 7, 2014

Sakura 6-Hour Challenge

Saturday April 5th, 2014
Hiroshima City

Will try to post more pics later.

Reid Landes, whom I believe we met through the Strava GPS website, organized the Inaugural Sakura Challenge in Hiroshima City. This event consisted of the 6-Hour Challenge and the 3-Hour Challenge. Was able to convince my buddy John (Saijo ALT) to do the event together.

After school on Friday at Washo Junior High school, took the JR to Saijo. This worked well because instead of making a 2-hour+ commute in the morning from Kurahashi to Hiroshima, from Saijo to Hiroshima is only about 40 minutes.

Met John at Saijo station around 5:30pm and he took me to his favorite ramen shop in town. There were two college kids working there and it was cool to see the relationship John built with them. We both got oomori kimchi ramens,  With the plan of running/walking for 6 hours the following day, enjoyed overeating. 
had some gyoza after and throughout the meal consumed 3.5 generous sized cups of sake. We hung out at the ramen shop for a bit while the buzz from the Saijo sake named “Kirei” set in. After heading out, we stopped at a nearby convenience store and I got Oden daikon and tofu.

We walked to the nearby YouMe town for some shenanigans.  We stopped at an icecream store where the worker’s name was “Hiyama”, tried on some shoes, grocery shopped, and had a second dinner with a mother and her daughter, we headed back to his apartment and got to bed around midnight.

Woke up at 6am and thanks to the 2 dinners and foods throughout the night, barely felt the sake from the night before and was excited for the event ahead of us today. John kept saying how nervous he was, which seemed appropriate for how new of an event this was for him. He does not consider himself much of a runner and it’s pretty funny he agreed to do a 6-hour challenge.

We headed out of the apartment and it was raining and pretty chilly out. We walked through several of Saijo’s large sake factories on our way to the station and could smell the sake walking through the narrow wet roads. Both of us were trying to cram under a small broken umbrella, freezing our butts off, is now a funny memory.

We arrived in Hiroshima station and needed to take the tram to Central park. Not knowing exactly where the start was and with the time becoming tight, we got on our running clothes inside the tram and scrambled to get off at the right stop. Hopped off the tram running to find the start (wherever it was) and kept our eyes peeled for a tent they had borrowed for the event. After running around for a bit and John guiding us with his phone GPS, we found the tent and ran over to it.  Kept trying to explain to John that this was not a typical method of doing an event like this (not training for it, drinking sake the night before, arriving just in time for the start) but thankfully he seemed to enjoy flying by the seat of his pants, just as much as I was.

Arriving with a whole 5-minutes to spare before the 8am start, met Reid in person for the first time and was introduced to other runners/volunteers. Reid passed out race bibs for everyone in which the numbers corresponded to our event length (6-hours or 3-hours) and each of the race bibs had little messages on it. The cute little things in life!

Reid gave us the pre-race briefing explaining the course.

The course consisted of a 2.6km loop around the Otagawa River in Hiroshima city. This time of year, the Sakura (Cherry blossoms) are blooming along the river and it’s a very beautiful sight to see. Often back in the U.S., I saw pictures of Sakura and never thought much about it but they sure a special sight to see in person.
Throughout the 2.6km loop there were 3 bridge crossings, an aid-station and volunteers to help us out, and 2 bathrooms.

John was not sure if he was up for the 6-hour challenge but kept pestering him assuring that we were doing the 6-hour challenge, half jokingly. With his longest run before being less than 10-miles, he would most likely be setting a new PR for himself.

With the 8 or so of us starting the 6-hour challenge, Reid gave us the GO and we were off.  John and I began jogging slowly with another runner named Boon. He was from Singapore and had recently moved to Japan with his employer Micron. He later told us about how he’s lived all over the place and also has participated in marathons and trail races all over Asia. Pretty cool!

Our pace was around an 11min/mile and we were both talking comfortably. Despite the gloomy weather, our spirits were high and we were enjoying the beautiful view of the Sakura and the thought of the ensuing challenge of running/walking around this loop for the next 6 hours.

Was very curious how John would hold up throughout the loops and miles of this event. We completed the first loop and was greeted by the volunteers at the aid-station with a cowbell and cheers. They graciously had various food selections set out for us. After the third loop was the first time we grabbed anything from the aid-station and it was nice to get some water, oranges/bananas and also some bread.

It was a treat to see the friendly volunteers after each loop and be rewarded with foods/drink. There were many food choices throughout the day.

Reid would occasionally hop in for a loop with us which kept things exciting. John and I kept on jogging away and chatting which made the time go by very fast. We shared stories and it helps that we have similar interests J.

Occasionally I would tell John how far we ran and each time he seemed surprised how many miles we had already done. 

We would occasionally sync up with other runner’s pace and chat with them for a bit as we kept running around the Sakura lined river.

Despite it being a bit chilly and having rained earlier in the AM, by about 10AM (2 hours into the event), people started laying down tarp sheets along the river and in open fields for Ohanami (flower viewing) parties. It was funny to keep seeing the same partygoers every 20 minutes or so and more people continued to arrive.

By about 3 hours into the event, we plugged away at 16 miles or so and were well over John’s longest run of his life. Pretty crazy of him to still be running at this point and be in such good spirits. I remember my first long runs with the Marathon Training Class at the U and towards the end of long runs, kind of just went into the pain cave and wasn’t very chatty. Sure takes some mental endurance/flexibility to be doing what he was and just keep running.

Also at the 3 hour mark, several others started the 3-hour challenge. It was nice to have the addition of new runners on the course. At about 18-miles or so, John took a little walk break while I made a quick loop and caught up to him again. Tried to open up the legs a little bit but they were stiff from the previous hours of repetitive road running. Have not been running much roads out here and with UTMF having a fair bit of roads in addition to the trail, was grateful to be getting in this kind of training.

Caught up with John again and we began jogging the remainder of the loop together. This put him at 20-miles which was pretty stinkin’ impressive. He took a seat for a bit at the aid-station while I ran a couple laps on my own. 
By this point, I was eating mostly oranges and bananas for fuel and stopped eating the breads.

 By chance, other Hiroshima ALTs were having a Hanami party along the river and along the 2.6km course we were looping around.  Saw Erin F. getting ready to meet other JETs and later saw Danny and other ALTs. Was funny to see them and cool that every time I would pass by they would either cheer or hop in and run together for a bit.
Danny hoppin' in for a bit with me
The knees were feeling pretty stiff and was a little worried that the distance was going to be too much with less than a week after the Setouchi Trail race which crippled me for a few days.  Was also worried that this was too long of a distance too close to UTMF (20 days out) but with the lack of training/long runs thought should try to squeeze in one last long run before tapering out.

After doing two laps on my own, to my surprise, John was up and out of his chair and wanted to run another lap. Thought this was hilarious because of how tired he must have been, and after sitting for the last 30minutes, yet he still wanted to get up and keep going. Laughed pretty hard at this because of how inspiring it was. Often times I laugh at strange times and usually it’s a way to let out emotion. Also after running for 5 hours, small things become funny.

We jogged most of the loop together and arrived at the aid-station tent with about 30-minutes remaining in the 6-hour challenge. We decided to walk out the last loop but realized if we didn’t jog we would be cutting it short so ended up jogging the last half of the loop. Saw Boon at the last bridge crossing and we ran it in together to the finish with about 4 minutes to spare. Reid suggested we finish out the 6-hours and it was pretty funny because as it was raining more now, the aid-station now had BBQ ready to eat, and Reid’s wife says, “You can either eat, or you can keep running”. Thought this was hilarious but with Reid’s seniority and report he had built with us throughout the day, we decided to finish it out.
John finished up the day with over 26.2 miles (hahaha) and I did a bit over a 50km. 
Pretty awesome that John does his first marathon distance on such a whim like this. 

Boon suggested we pick up some beers so we ran to the closest grocery store and picked up 2 6-packs of tallboys. It was so warm inside the grocery store. After getting slightly confused on the way back and using Boons phone to get direct us back to the the start, the rest of the others seemed to get a kick out of our detour.

Ate some delicious BBQ, had a beer and hung out by the warm grill for a while after the race. Everyone there was super cool and it was so fun being bonded to everyone from the event that we all did together, both the volunteers and the runners. Thanks to the awesome volunteers who were out there on a cold rainy day, many people ran their furthest distance of their life that day which is awesome. Was inspired by both the volunteers and the runners and was enjoying the delicious food with the others around the fire. We put onigiri on the grill, pieces of bread and just about anything that we could. One of Reid’s co-workers Eric who was “manning” the grill, even put some crackers and chocolate on the grill and Ken’s kids were lovin' it. 
Poor Boon seemed to be freezing his butt of with only wearing what he ran in but kept insisting he was fine. He’s such a down to earth guy and it was cool how much he was helping out after he ran the last 6 hours.

Spent some time relaxing and enjoying the company of the others.
Packed up the tents and said goodbye to the others.
Reid offered John and I a ride to the station which saved us from some walking. Gosh he’s such a cool guy. This event was a FREE event and thanks to Reid, many people were able to have a great time together.
John was pretty beat up and was struggling to walk. Had to escort him across a couple street crossings (actually arm-to-arm haha).

 He decided to come on back to Kurahashi with me to attend the Ohanami party the next day in Kashimi island at Kazuki’s place. Pretty funny that he decided to travel to a new place instead of going back to his home after wrecking his body.

Took the train back to Kure station and met Kenshu and Yuko outside of Daiso on our way to the Yamato onsen. Kinda funny Kenshu was with Yuko.

Kenshu, John and I headed into the hotspring and after quickly rinsing off, stood in the cold bath for prob 7 minutes to try and care for the stiff knees.  After being chilled from the cool weather all day, it was so nice to soak in the hot baths. We stayed for around 2.5 hours rotating between the many different baths at the onsen.

For dinner we went to the cheap/delicious Udon restruant in YouMe town. Got oomori udon, 2 onsen tamago, pumpkin, and ebi/onion fri and loaded up the negi and goma.
 Was super full and John and I hopped on the bus from Kure to Kurahashi.

It was fun to see John’s impression of Kurahashi as we got off the bus and the first thing you see is a small cemetery. It was dead quiet (no pun-intended) and John asked if this is where I brought to murder him.

Slept pretty early and it was nice to have a good night of sleep with a full stomach.

Woke up around 9am and went to Fuji-san to pick up breakfast with John. It felt good to stretch out the legs. We ate our breakfast at the ocean and was fun to just be hanging out by the sea.  Soon Kazuki would be picking us up for the Ohanami party so after breakfast we both quickly showered and met Kazuki at 11AM.

Met the other guests of the Hanami party at Fuji-san and together we picked up alcohol and some other things for the party. Had planned on not drinking in April for UTMF but decided to throw that idea out the window.

Together we drove to Kashima island and John was surprised how far out in the sticks we were. Heading further south from Uwagi, it becomes even more rural and is mostly small fishing towns.  Kashima island is the furthest south point in Hiroshima prefecture and there is really not much besides houses, fishing boats and the sea. 

The weather changed from rain in the AM to a nice sunny day. The guys went out to the garage to prepare the tables, seating, and start the grill while the ladies got the food prepared.

We started having some beers and started the grill. Masaya brought some fish that he had caught earlier that day and salted them and put them on the grill. They were super delicious. Kazuki cooked up some meat and we had curry-rice, potato salad, sashimi, grilled veggies and many other foods. Kept drinking the beers and it was a fun time hanging out along his seaside house, BBQing and enjoying the nice day. It was cool that John made it out to the party and nice to have a friend to speak English together with. Haha. Was playing music from the laptop and it was fun to have everyone listen to the English music. Don’t remember a ton as the night progressed but later in the night Tacchan showed up. Vaguely remember taking out the giant Snickers bar and everyone taking a bite from it. Haha.

Returned back to Uwagi with Tacchan and Haruka and ate more food before going to bed.

It was a very fun weekend and am happy to be enjoying the limited time left in Japan.

Next blog write-up will be UTMF. Crazy! Keep thinking how now I need to be careful while biking to school to not have any accidents. Would be a shame to get hurt this close to the race. From now, will be careful, eat healthy, sleep well and not drink! 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Setouchi Trail 22km

Sunday March 30th 2014
Kamagari Island

It’s sad to think I’ll only be writing a couple more race blogs while out here in Japan. Unfortunately, I have neglected posting any blogs lately on the “Jet Diary” but have been writing occasionally on paper and will eventually post.

The Setouchi Trail 22km took place in Kure city but was far away from the city itself out on Kamagari Island.

The day before the race, Hiroshima JET Danny planned on arriving in Kurahashi at 6:30pm but after a few missed connections, and Iwashiro-san getting in a minor car accident, we began our spaghetti dinner around 7:30pm with the addition of Kazuki and Tatsuya. It was so fun having guests over for the first time at the apartment. Sure, I’ve had a person or so visit occasionally, but this was the first time having a group of guys over. Despite having a bare bones apartment, it had never felt so comfortable as it did with having friends over for the first time. It was nice chatting and joking around with the other guys and it made me miss the “Gentle Tuesdays” with the guys back home. If I had met Kazuki and Tatsuya earlier on in the year, it definitely would have been more of a difficult decision to reject the contracting offer and return to the USA this summer.

Made waay too much spaghetti and in addition, Kazuki and Iwashiro-san both brought foods to the dinner. After Dinner and listening to some music for a bit, Kazuki, Tatsuya and Iwashiro-san left and Danny and I got ready for bed pretty quick. Ishihama Sensei graciously brought over an extra futon during dinner so we were both able to sleep comfortably.

Woke up at 5:25am and made some coffee. We both showered quickly, ate a quick breakfast of a bagel and banana, and headed out the door by 6am to meet Iwashiro-san at Komeri. How convenient that the only runner in Kurahashi was going to the same race and we could drive together. Instead of the 3+ hour public transportation commute from Uwagi to Kamagari Island, we enjoyed a quick 1.5 hour pleasant car ride. Danny caught some shuteye on the way out.
We arrived at about 7:30am, picked up our race packets from Kenshu’s friend Fujii-san’s wife Reiko (haha seems distant connection but have hiked with her several times), and spread out Iwashiro-san’s small tarp on the gymnasium floor. It’s kind of funny, all the Japanese bring little tarps and blankets to sit down on at these races. Cute.
We went over and chatted with trail running store Run+’s owner Torobu
and picked up a HoneyStinger for Danny to try. It’s funny because this wasn’t just Danny’s first trail race, but first trail run ever. Talk about full immersion with how intense this race elevation profile was, and in addition it rained quite a bit the night before and the morning of the race so the trail conditions would be super difficult.

Was chillin in the gym and saw a few people I knew. Really like the feeling of being connected to a group through running and will be sad to leave this network of friends at the end of this year. Starting to have second thoughts about leaving after just a year.

We pinned on our race bibs and stretched out a bit. Saw Kenshu who came with Fujii-san and they were both would be running the long course (22km). A pro runner, Shunsuke Okonomiya arrived and gave us a pre-race briefing and would lead the gym in some warm-up stretches and exercises.
My shoulders and chest were super sore from doing a ton of push-ups on Thursday and regretted doing them.  After finishing the stretches and with having about 15-minutes until the start of the race, we headed outside. Jogged a minute or so with Danny around the parking lot until meeting Kenshu and we walked over to the start line. Snapped a picture together and got in line on the beach.
At the start line, ran into the tall/skinny guy (Hiko) whom we battled it out at the Miyajima race back in October. We both excitingly greeted each other and I was happy or a chance at a rematch after he outran at the previous race.

Was pretty anxious for this race as the race profile was equivalent to running 3 Hiyamas and have never ran a race like this before. before that continued into the morning had now stopped but would prove to leave the trails sloppy and wet.

Am so used to doing slow ascents and descents that I knew this was going to hurt.

We started the race and with the first mile on a pretty flat road, starting out at a decent pace. The professional trail runner Okonomiya-san was leading the group running very effortlessly. His running style reminded me of Chris Lundstrom’s.  I was curious if he would be actually running the entire race or what was up. Turns out that after the first mile and as we headed into the first trail head, he stopped and high-fived us as we made our way to the first climb. Was in 3rd place and felt very comfortable at the pace we were climbing. It was nice just following the first several guys and trying to stay relaxed. Wondered how the rest of the race would turn out, as have never been this close to the front of the race before. With climbing being my strength in comparison to descending, knew I had to do my best to stay reserved and close to the leaders during this first climb.

The legs began to burn but the Hiyamas have conditioned the legs for this.  We continued to power hike the steep sections which was interspersed with several sections of several seconds of jogging. I was wondering how Danny was enjoying the race so far with the big climb we were doing. As we got closer to the first 400m climb, it began to get foggier and cloudier and our visibility was reduced 50ft or so which was exciting. It was fun taking a look up from the steep climb to barely see the first couple guys ahead of me. It was motivation to keep the leaders within this restricted view from the cloud we were in.

We reached the top and began to get to a runnable section at the top. It was tough to transition the legs from slow climbing to trying to open them up. We began the descent in which we were going down many wet stairs covered in fallen leaves. All of us were slipping and slidding around but the trail was actually pretty runnable in terms of not having any rocks/roots. It was difficult to try to maintain the pace of the leaders in these conditions and felt like the legs were getting pretty banged up.

Reached the bottom of the first descent and was slightly worried about the rest of the race. Only was several miles into the race and already it felt difficult to speed up on the flat section. Was already looking forward to the next climb to change up the beating of quick running on tired legs.

The next climb was not so eventful and similar to the previous climb. I think at this point, I had passed one runner and another had passed me so was still in third. As we reached the top of this climb, it became super clear. Just earlier at the other mountain there was low visibility and now the trail almost looked too clear. Saw Volunteer Shingo Tono whom always posts many trail running events on the Hiroshima Trail running facebook group. Felt like I had woke up from a hazy dream and had a bit of a second wind at this point. Going down the second descent was tough as the legs weren’t as quick and responsive as they were on the first descent and we still had over half the race to run.  Slowed down a bit on this descent as was passed by another runner. Would occasionally slide 5-10ft on one foot at a time and was often coming dangerously close to wiping out. I remembered back to a podcast I listened to earlier on in the week that someone was talking about how when he runs downhill, he doesn’t think but just reacts. It was so fun feeling so immediate and just reacting to the trail. Definitely feel like playing hockey since a child help out the balance while slipping down the muddy trail. It was actually nice to have the slippery conditions because I feel it reduced some of the rough braking the knees would have experienced had the conditions been dry.

Running downhill is a skill I have yet developed and it was tough to try and keep pace with my long uncoordinated legs.  Feels like the little Japanese legs are much more quicker than my Gaijin legs. Hah.  Stayed pretty close to the 3rd, 4th place guys and we had a little bit of a road section before the 3rd climb. It felt tough to run on the road surface after the legs had been burned up from the previous climbs/descents. Arrived at the aid-station and with believing I was grabbing a cup of water, poured the cup into my face to cool down and quickly found out it was a sports drink mix. Just laughed off the mistake and wiped off face/hands on a nearby low hanging tree branch leaves by running through it. After properly feeling nice and barbaric, tried to speed up more on the road and gained some ground on the 4th place guy.

We headed into the final climb within 5 seconds of each other. This climbed proved to be the toughest yet, with it very steep, very slippery and many portions at the beginning required pulling on ropes, tree branches to get up the terrain. How fun was this! My adrenaline is flowing from rethinking and want to do it again! The legs were tired and was slopping all over the place breathing heavily. Lost site of the 4th place guy after we finished the rope area. As we continued the climb, the trail was pretty narrow in sections and the shoulders got a little scratched up. Saw a sign that said “10km” and was in complete disbelief because the legs were just fried and it meant that we were less than halfway through the race.

As I neared the top, started seeing other runners heading down the trail who were on their way out. The course was a little confusing as it contained some sections of trail with the other runners. Was running through rolling climbs and descents and saw Danny run by and he affirmed that I was in 5th place. It was motivated seeing the other runners on the trail and made me run tough sections of trail I may have walked had others not been cheering me on.  After reaching the top, started to feel energized as it was all downhill from here.

It was a bit difficult descending with other runners coming the other way because was not able to weave as much as usual had no one been on the trail. For the most part, people we over accommodating by getting out of the way and saying “Fight!”
Accidently booted a descent size rock at another runner’s lower shin and he leaned over in pain. Sadly am kind of laughing as I’m writing this but I felt bad as I continued to run down the trail. Since this was the last descent, was able to speed up knowing we were approaching the finish. Finished the last bit of the trail descent and there was 3 miles remaining.  We came to another aid-station and had some confusion and went the wrong way before turning back and asking the volunteers which way to go. After assuring I didn’t need to use the bathroom, they directed me to the trail which was the same way the Short Course 11km runners were running.

Was a little bummed to lose 30seconds or so at this section but noticed nobody passed me. All I could do now is try to transition the legs to the road but it was tough in the current fatigued condition and the downhill road was pretty steep. Surprisingly held a decent pace running downhill but it felt like the tired legs couldn’t turn over at the pace my momentum was taking me. Need to do some more downhill training but it sure beats up the legs.  Was passing several of the 11km runners and had to stop to tie a shoelace. Haven’t had that happen in a while in a race.

Continued trying to run quickly and not decrease the pace to what I had initially started out on this section of road to the finish. A volunteered notified me that we were 1km away which was relieving to here. A couple minutes later, I noticed we were in the location that Okunomiya-san told us that we were one 1km into the race (meaning now there was 1km from the finish).

Finished up the last km and came to the finish and ran through the puddle-filled parking lot and across the finish line on the beach. 
Was greeted by Reiko handing a souvenir race towel and a sports drink. Drank it quickly as I only consumed a small dixie cup of water through the race. Cripes it felt nice to stop and knew my legs were going to feel it later.

Talked with the guys who finished ahead of me and then went to go watch Kenshu and Danny finish.  Chatted with a cute girl from Onomichi who was also watching her friends finish. Kenshu ran by in similar time that he finished last year and surprisingly Danny was only a minute or so after him.  Nice job at his first trail run! Haha.
After hanging out at the finish line for a bit, we went and got our bags inside the gym and dropped them off at Iwashiro-san’s car before walking to the nearby hotspring. The legs were abnormally sore and the knees were painful. Sore, stiff, and full of mud from the trails, we limped our way to the hotspring.  Nothing like the therapeutic hot/cold baths to relax the muscles after a tough race. There were many runners washing off the dirt/mud from the race and it was fun to chat with others about the race. Gosh, going to be tough to stop this tradition once going back home.

After the hot spring, we went to a nearby restaurant and had large set lunches with all you can eat rice and a beer.
I was jealous hearing Kenshu and Danny talking about the races they would be doing next year together. It’s pretty special to participate in the mountain races followed by hotsprings and the best food in the world.

Will try to post pictures online of actual race later. 

Now it’s three days after the race it feels as if I ran a max pace marathon or ultra several days ago. Quad muscles are just fried and have goofy pains in the feet.  This is due to a combination of the new terrain at the race and also wearing a relatively lightweight shoe (Asics Hyper-speeds).

Maybe wasn’t the smartest idea to run this race so close to UTMF but probably the legs will recover by then.

Next week is the Sakura Challenge in Hiroshima city and will be jogging/walking the 3-hour event with John and maybe Kenshu. Will try to get in a night run this weekend too.

Plan on doing Hiyama and hotpsring with Kazuki this even after school.

Today is my first day at Washo Junior High school and wow, what a nice feeling arriving at this school. Saw the baseball/track/tennis teams practicing with the cherry blossoms blooming around the school grounds, and in the distance you can see Haigamine mountain and other surrounding mountains. Hard to not think how different my life would have been had I lived in Kure city. But enough of living in the past and hoping for this/that. Am very grateful for what I have experienced so far and looking forward to Kayla and Aunty Share coming soon.