Koga Hanamomo Marathon 2016
Net Time 3:28:32
I really enjoyed this race in 2015 and chose it again this year as a replacement for Tokyo Marathon for which I failed to get an entry. Yokohama Marathon was also on the same day, but the Koga race was half the price and, although quite a ways from Tokyo, is a nice run in the countryside with good supporting crowds. I had sent out the following race meeting time suggestion to my fellow Nambanners as the marathon was due to start at 10:00 and and the 10km at 10:45.
6:30 Yamanote line from Shibuya to Shinjuku Arrive 6:376:42 Saikyo line from Shinjuku to Akabane Arrive 6:567:09 Utsunomiya line from Akabane to Koga Arrive 8:01
However, I managed to leave my home a little bit earlier than expected and arrived in Akabane well ahead of schedule. There was already a line for the bathroom so it was just as well. As has had happened all too regularly recently, I bumped into Bob Poulson and we took the 7:09 together, lucky enough to get seats. As often happens on trains in the countryside in Japan, but rarely in Tokyo, the gentleman beside us started conversation, asking us where we were from and what we were doing. He got very excited when we told him we were going to run a race in Koga and he told us that he had been a runner when he was younger, running all over the world. But that he was far too old now. Then he told us his age and we happily pointed out that he was the same age as Bob and still had lots of chances to run. He was unconvinced.
At Koga station, everybody arrived within a few minutes and we headed off to the shuttle buses. It was then that we could feel the size of the race as the buses started from 4 different points at a cross roads and we had to guess which one would be faster for us. The bus ride to Koga Central park from where the race starts is only 10 minutes and soon we were lining up to get our numbers. From the previous year, I remembered that there was coin lockers available in the gymnasium and I hurried back to get one before they were all gone. I need not have bothered. There was 100s of lockers and plenty were available one hour before the start of the race. One good point to mention here is that Derek discovered a fairly unused bathroom upstairs in the gymnasium that did not require a lot of queuing. I have already made a mental note for next year as it was empty 15 mins before the start of the race.
The race starts very close to the gymnasium and you can run down at 9:50 and still have plenty of time to wait around before the start. When the race starts, you run down a series of streets in the town which feels a bit congested to begin with but after 3 or 4 kms it soon evens out. The most remarkable thing about the Koga Marathon is the number of switchbacks. There are 5. While this is a little disconcerting as you keep seeing people who you know, it does keep the race in and around the same small town and so ensures lots of support. The other country marathon that I run, The Ohtawara Marathon, has only one switchback and runs all over the countryside and sometimes there is no one around for miles.
I was a bit worried going into this race as my training had not been optimum. Real life events had gotten in the way and I had only run 135km in January and 202km in February. Still 3 weeks before the race I had run a good 35km in under 3 hours along the Tamagawa with Keren and Stan and I was hoping that that would be a good omen. Koga is a very flat course and one where anything could happen. I felt well at the start, but not well enough to maintain a 4:30 pace and I let it drift between 4:30 and 4:40. After 7km the inevitable happened and Chika san came past me. The problem with all the switchbacks soon became obvious as I had to wave at Chika san 4 more times and as herself and Kota got further and further away from me.
I still managed to maintain this pace until around the half way point when it dropped to 4:50 (ish). I always find 20km to 30km the hardest part of a marathon. The end is a long long way a way and it is hard to trick yourself into completing the course. Fortunately Koga provides the perfect antidote to this negative thinking with strawberries at the 23km mark. I knew this from last year and had been really looking forward to that aid station. In 2015 I only managed to get a couple, but this time I pushed my hand deep into the trough and pulled out 7 or 8 and I was happily chewing up on them for the next 2km and forgetting about my blues.
As I turned at the final switchback at 31km I felt another drop in pace and I knew that the War Of Attrition had begun. This is what I call those final kms in a marathon when you know that you are losing resources quicker than you can take them onboard and you are carefully measuring every km trying to judge what you have to do to finish within a certain time. This time I wanted to get in under 3:30. At the moment I feel that it should be achievable for me and I wanted to give everything that I had to make it. As my pace slipped to 5:20 and then 5:28 and finally 5:44 at the 38th km, I knew I was in for a battle.
At this point of a marathon there is very little blood left in your brain as it has all been diverted to your aching muscles, or your aching gut if you have eaten too much. With 4km to go my legs were screaming at me. Filled with lactic acid and not enough training miles to keep going, I relied on fooling myself. I will walk at the 39km mark. Wait, let’s make it to 39.2km because that is 3km to go. Might as well wait until 40km to walk to round things off. Conning myself like this I struggled on running knowing that once I started walking, I would not be able to get in under 3:30. My brain was all fuzzy. It took longer and longer to calculate the pace I would have to maintain to finish in under 3:30 so I just gave up. Fortunately Jay and Taeko had run the 10km and were on the course cheering us on just when I needed it.
At 33km I was passed by a man who lives in my building. At 41km I passed him back as he walked along the side of the road. I let a big roar at him to get it together. The end would never come. I kept looking for runners to catch on to but there none at the pace I needed. Finally we entered the Koga Central Park again and then headed into the stadium for a 3/4 lap where I saw the Derek, Kota and Chika san who had finished and were cheering. I tried to pick up the pace but only my ames were moving faster. My legs had had it but there had enough to hold off the man who tried to sprint past me in the last 50 meters.
It was a tough race due to my lack of training but I was glad I did it and very happy I finished. Chika san found us an onsen at a nearby station and as we entered we bumped into the most famous of Japanese marathon runners – Yuki Kawauchi. He had just run a half marathon in Saitama – while wearing a suit.