It was not until Friday morning that I finally decided to run. Although the doctor had said that he could not see any cracks or factors in the X-Ray he had taken on the 1st Nov, my chest and side had continued to hurt every day since. He had told me that sometimes there are cracks but they cannot be seen and to come back if it was still hurting. It was still hurting and I went back the following week. There was a different doctor who told me “of course it hurts” and that there was not point in taking another X-Ray. Doctor #2 said that it would take 4 weeks to heal while doctor #1 had said it would take only a week. I am not one to complain about doctors or healthcare professionals in general, but I have to say that I left feeling a little annoyed. The following Tuesday, 10 days after the fall, I went out for my first test run with my son for 5km. It hurt like hell and to make matters worse I could barely keep up. I decided to try the same again the following Saturday to see if things had improved. They had, but only slightly. So there I was, one week out from the marathon with a pain in my side and ribs that did not show up on an X-Ray but would not let me keep with my son. I decided to have one more test run before I went ahead and purchased the Shinkansen tickets.
The plan was to run on Tuesday or Thursday and then decide on Friday. However, real life events got in the way and I could not get out. So at lunch time Friday I decided “what the hell I would give it ago”, it cannot be that bad. I bought my train tickets and headed out for my final run before the race that night. The schedule was to do 5km with 3km at goal pace. I was still labouring under the illusion that I would run at 4:30 pace for as long as I could and then drop back in the second half of the race. However, my HR at goal pace on Friday night stayed about 180 bpm for the full 3km and I realised that I was in no shape to run the race that was my original goal. For the next 36 hours I thought about at what pace to go out and changed my plan every 30 minutes. The only thing that I knew was that I was not going to start out at 4:30 pace or I would end up walking half the course as I did last year. If you go back to the beginning of this blog you will read how I tried to run at 4:30 pace last year but at 23km could not continue and tried to drop out. The problem was that the sweeper bus would not come to that point for one hour so I had to struggle to the end, half walking, half running.
I left my house just before 2pm on Saturday afternoon. It was a glorious day and promised to be a lovely weekend. The train journey from Tokyo to Nasu Shiobara was an uneventful 1 hr 20 mins and I enjoyed a couple of cans of craft beer and a big bag of mixed nuts. In Nauso Shiobara you have to change to the local line to Nishi Nasuno and of course there is only one every 30 minutes so I waited patiently on the platform listening to Ellie Goulding and drinking black coffee while trying to guess where would be the best place to get on the train. Last year I had to wait 30 mins in Nishi Nasuno to get a taxi to the hotel so I wanted to be first out and up the steps this time in case there was only one taxi. My urgency was not required as there was 3 taxi drivers having a smoke at the rank with no customers and I made it to the hotel before 5pm.
This is almost the toughest time of the Ohtawara Marathon. What to do for 17 hours before the race in the middle of nowhere when you can only realistically sleep for 8 of them. I lay back on the hotel bed and watched Sumo on NHK for the first time in about 20 years. Right after a program on marathon running came on. The former WBC flyweight champion, Daisuke Naito, was planning on running his first marathon in under 4 hours and the program was following his progress and giving advice. I found the whole thing surreal and a little ironic as I had no time to take all the good advice that was being offered.
After making a mental note to watch the follow-up program on Monday night when I got home, I headed out to my annual trip to Big Boys to have my final dinner before the race. As I have been trying to avoid processed food I gave the pasta a miss and ordered a steak along with the salad bar. It was all very good if not disappointing that they did not recognise me from the previous 2 years. Back in the hotel I killed the remainder of day watching Oblivion on the “Room Theatre” and turned in around 10:30pm. The following morning I was glad to see that my HRV had recovered to 71. It had been down in the 60s recently but the good night’s sleep had rested me.
Breakfast in the Route Inn in Nishi Nasuno generally is from 6:45 but on race day they bring it forward to 6:20 and the reason quickly becomes apparent. Even before the place opened there was a line of about 30 people, I was 4 from the front. The breakfast itself was great. Lots of variety and lots of food. While I was eating I got a message from Khalfan from my running club that he was just getting the train from Tokyo. I replied that I having breakfast and then would go back to bed for an hour and a half. The hotel costs just under 7,000 yen for the night, including breakfast, and I think that it is the only way to go when you have a race this far out from Tokyo. Having said that, I did book it on June 9 and called up on Thursday to make sure that they still had the room for me.
The taxi that I booked for 9am when I arrived, was at the hotel at 8:55 and dropped me off at the race start 10 minutes later. This is always the most pleasant ride to the start of a race. The last 2 years there has always been a good crowd of people from Namban Rengo running this race but recently Tsuba and other races nearer to Tokyo are getting more popular so there was only 3 of us doing the full marathon and 2 doing the 10km. I got there before everybody else but as the race was from 10am there was not too much time to wait. Finally I met Khaflan and we headed off to the track. He was in good shape and was thinking about running 3:20 so I made a mental note not to go with him when the race thins out.
The race itself starts in the local stadium and you complete about 300m on the track before heading out on to the street. The exit from the track is very narrow so you have to slow down and the first 1km takes about 6min. It was then that Khalfan started to increase his pace and I let him go. I had been thinking to run at 4:45 pace but even during the first slow 1km, my heart rate went to 173 bpm. I don’t know if it was nerves or lack of fitness, but I decided to try to keep a 5 min pace for as long as possible. It was going well and I was not in any discomfort. I was not even thinking of the pain in my chest as I was concentrating on trying to keep my heart rate under 172. Finally I just gave up and tried to run with the folks around me at a regular pace.
There was a strong cross wind for the first 18km. At one point we passed one of the race staff and the balloon that she was carrying was at 90 degrees to her head. It was at that point that I realised that as this is a circuit, we would at some stage be running directly into the wind. From 16km onwards I started to feel my knees hurt. I have known this feeling before and it generally comes from lack of fitness. Just before the 18km mark there is a switch back and I saw Khalfan again. He was a good 5 or 6 mins ahead of me and looking strong. He went on to run 3:23. After the 18km mark there was a sharp turn to the left and the wind was at our backs. The Ohtawara race is a V course. You run down hill almost constantly for 23km and then run uphill for the rest. It is not particularly steep but it is something to be wary of if you go out too fast. With the wind at my back and still going down hill, things were looking good. I was keeping my pace around the 5 min mark but my HR had moved up to 179. The key point for me was always going to be the 23km point where the wheels came off last year. I told myself that I would get through that and then aim for the 27km point, the 30km point etc. In the end it was not too difficult to keep going. I got through half way in about 1:46 and kept my 5 min pace going.
Just before the 24km point there is a sharp left and suddenly we were running into the wind. My pace dropped to 5:20 for the same effort and I took my first sports drink at the 25km aid station. Up until that point I had just been taking water and feeling fine but I knew I would have to take on some carbohydrates if I was to keep going. My knees were still sore but I was focusing on finding people to run behind for shelter from the wind so I did not think about them. I kept my head down and plodded along. At 27km I took my first gel. I used to bring 6 gels with me in previous races and take one every 7km but recently I have been deliberately cutting down on sugar.
At 30km and 32km there were more left turns but each one seemed to bring us directly into the wind again. At 34km I took my second and final gel and at 35km I walked through the aid station to make sure I got a proper drink and to pour some cold water over my knees. I felt a bit refreshed and was able to keep going. There are three long hills on the main road over the last 8km of the course and I was glad to run all of them. My pace was now 5:40 to 5:50 and my heart rate was in the high 170s low 180s. At 36km there is another left turn and thankfully the wind was behind us at last. With about 2km to go I saw Taeko from our club cheering and tried to put on a brave face as she took a photo. It was around this time I realised that if I pushed it a little I could still get under 3:44. I did my best my dragged myself in at 3:43:59 net (3:44:59 gross).
In the end I was very satisfied with the result. After being injured and not being able to train for 3 weeks I was not sure if I would even be able to finish. After the race I took the free bus back to Nasu Shiobara. I arrived around 3pm but the take train was not until 4:02pm, and there was no reserved seats left! I bought a free seat ticket and headed up to the platform 30 mins before the train departure time to queue to get on. The platform was already crowded with runners. It seems like everybody had the same idea.