Net Time 3:52:26
Preparing for a marathon is always tricky. But basically, you want to have your best month in the last 6 weeks before the race. This was not the case for me and my first Nagano Marathon. However, before I get into the details, I should point out that I was delighted to actually be able to toe the line at all. This was the 4th Nagano marathon for which I had applied and the first that I actually made the start. In 2o11 we had the horrific North East Japan earthquake and tsunami on the 11th March which caused the cancelation of the marathon in April. In 2012 I was fortunate to be invited to the wedding of a good friend in Ireland. And in 2014, I had to work. I cannot complain about any of these, but I was really happy to make the start on the 4th attempt.
So I turned 50 in March. I know, hard to believe. How could someone born in 1968 ever turn 50? Well apparently it happens, so you have to get used to it. I had such a wonderful 50th birthday! It lasted several weeks and really filled me with gratitude for all that I have in this world.
The first event was when my running club, Namban Rengo, sprung a surprise birthday party for me in Tullamore Irish Pub in Yoyogi Koen 2 days before the day itself. It was the first time that I had the honor of a surprise party and I was thrilled that all my friends from Namban Rengo were there. My Irish friend Paddy had suggested that we go for a couple of pints with a couple of people after the Wednesday night workout and when I showed up, they had taken over the whole bar and filled with all my friends. It is a very special occasion when a lot of people show up for your birthday and I truly appreciated it. I just wished I could have expressed myself better, and remembered to take off my coat for the photos.
The next day the two of us dumped the remaining kids on the in-laws and Akiko took me off to the Maldives for 1 week. Going to the Maldives from Japan is not easy. First, you have to fly to Singapore and then hang around a bit. Then, you fly to Male and hand around a bit more. Finally, you get a fixed-wing plane down south to the islands where you hang around for the last time before taking a speedboat to the island where you will spend the next 5 nights. However, once you get there it is amazing. The island has a circumference of 1.6km and there are no shops. Well, there is one shop, but it does not sell much. All you can do is eat, relax, drink, swim, snorkel and maybe run 6km in the morning before it gets too hot. It was a wonderful vacation for both of us and a great start to the next 50 years.
And the celebrations did not stop there. A week after we arrived back from the Maldives, my brother and my 2 nephews arrived from Ireland. We had a full schedule planned in Kamakura, Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. It was a wonderful trip. It is always great showing Japan to your family and we did a lot together. Perhaps the highlight was feeding the deer in Nara. Such a simple thing, but it brought such great joy to everyone. It was also great to get my kids together with the cousins who do they do not see a lot as they live 10,000 miles apart.
So there I was on the 1st April, 2 weeks out from the Nagano Marathon, and only 173km to show for March. I had run double that in February but I was not worried. I just had one of my best months and my best birthday. I knew that it was going to be a slog, but I was prepared for it and knew that I could just do my best.
Nagano Marathon is one of those early start marathons. And by early, I mean 8:30am. That means you cannot get to the city the day of the race and you need to come up the day before and hang out. I went up on the shinkansen with Marcus and we met Kiran in Nagano station shortly after arriving. The three of us then headed off to the Expo which was rather disappointing. And by disappointing, I mean that there was not a lot to eat. I really enjoy stuffing my face the day before a race, but this time there just was not a lot of options. The only good thing was that we ran into Brad as we were leaving the Expo and realized that we were all staying at the JAL City Hotel. It is always hard knowing where to eat the day before a race but Marcus and I found a nice Italian restaurant not too far from Nagano station and Kiran came and joined us. Kiran was a little surprised when he arrived and saw us drinking wine, but we assured him that it was too late us to affect the outcome of the race so we might as well enjoy it.
With the early start to the race, it meant an even earlier breakfast. The hotel had advertised a 6am breakfast, but I had been fooled by that before and headed up to the dining area at 5:50am which was already in full swing. After eating well at the breakfast buffet, we checked out just before 7am and head back to Nagano station to get the train to the start. I had chosen not to bring any bag with me and to leave all my stuff at the hotel. At the start, I met Kiran and Goto san. Both were in good form and looking forward to the race. A light rain was falling and I wore a plastic raincoat that I was soon to discard. I knew that I had not trained enough but hoped that I could hang on to a 5 minute/km pace for the first half of the race and then dig deep later on.
The truth was something different. Once the race started, I knew that I was in trouble and that a 5 min/km pace would be too much for me. The Nagano Marathon, despite being set in the center of the Nagano Mountains, is not a hilly race. There are a few inclines at the start but they soon give way to a fairly flat course. However, I still was not able to maintain my desired pace. I struggled early on and was soon paced by the 3:30 pace makers and later on by the 3:45 pace makers. At 17km, Hayakawa san tapped me on the shoulder with a grin and then flew past me. I saw him later after a switch back and then he was gone and I never saw him again.
I knew then that I was fighting myself and fighting Kiran. Myself, because I had run 3:52 in my last marathon in Ohtawara in November and I wanted to do the same again. Kiran, because we work together and I did not want to lose bragging rights. He had been training well and looking good on Strava and had run 3:56 in Kyoto in February. I knew that if I slowed down more, or walked, he would easily catch me. So I pushed on. Down along the Chikumagawa River that I know so well from my time in Ueda and back up the other side. I stopped a couple of times to make use of the free Cold Spray which was readily available but did not walk or stop to eat.
It was a tough finish around the stadium but I kept going and kept ahead of Kiran … barely. He had a really good run and came in right behind me as did Marcus. Goto san ran the same time as he did last year and was very happy. As soon as I was done, I got my medal and towel and headed for the bus back to Nagano station and the Onsen and soba that awaited me. It was a great weekend and a very enjoyable race. I am glad that I finally made it.