Nagano Marathon 2018

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.

 

 

 

 

 

My actual birthday took place on Friday the 9th March and when I got home from work my wife had put on a great vegetarian spread and decorated the house. 

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.

The good life

Drinks by the pool

Snorkeling

Sunset

Nightime

Happy Birthday to me

Snorkeling

My morning run

Sunset


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Harry Porter at Univeral Studios Japan

Kyomizudera in Kyoto

Kinkakuji in Kyoto

Running with Antoin and Kevin

Antoin feeds the deers while Sean looks on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Marcus and myself on the Shinkansen to Nagano

Getting ready to leave the comfort of my hotel.

With Goto san and Kiran at the start!

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.

 

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Knights In White Lycra 55km Charity Run

Net Time 5:54:56

In the beginning of August 2017 I got a message from my long time friend and fellow Everton supporter Ben asking if I would be interested in running a 55km run with the Knights In White Lycra (KIWL) in December. I guessed that he had seen my report from the Nikko 100km ultra I had run in July and reckoned that I would be up for the job. I jumped at the opportunity and asked him to send me the details. It was only later as I read through the literature that it finally dawned on me that this was a charity run and that I would have to raise 30,000 yen for the Mirai No Mori charity which I knew nothing about. If I am honest my first reaction was – Crap, how do I get out of this. My only experience of being sponsored for an event since I left elementary school was when I ran the 2012 Tokyo Marathon in support of the Dublin hospice that had taken care of my parents in their final weeks. That did not go so well. I had the flu in the preceding week and had to drop out at 23km. I then had to spend the next 2 days trying to find a replacement race which ended up being along the Arakawa in June in 30 degrees heat.

Anyway, I did not give up immediately and with gentle probing from Ben I committed myself and completed all the documentation. I then mailed some of my friends in my running club, Namban Rengo, who like running long distances and have a social conscience. To my surprise they all said yes. There was no backing out now.

In early October we had our first meeting near Tokyo station with the KIWL who were organizing the event. This was the first time that I met the people behind the event – Rob who was the driving force to get people to sign up, Kozue san from Mirai no Mori who was so passionate about the children and what can be done to help them, Roger a soon to be fellow Nambanner and the man who was to go out and map the 55km route and Manfred from International Volunteer Group who was to play such a major role organizing everything and on the day itself. It was also great to catch up with Andy from Namban and Ben who had initially roped me in. Kozue san gave a very clear and impressive presentation about Mirai no Mori and explained the challenges that the children who live in these homes face and what we can do to help them. It was very moving and I came away filled with passion and conviction and more than a little trepidation.

My first challenge was how to raise 30,000 yen. Worst case I could always pay the money myself but I knew that if I did that, word about the good work that Mirai no Mori do or the challenges faced by children who live in homes in Japan would not be known. I decided to set a goal of reaching many people directly via e-mail and asking each of them to contribute 1,000 yen. I contacted about 60 people reasoning that if half of them responded to my request, I would clear my target. So one Friday night I sat down and composed my mail while thinking of myself as the Bernie Sanders of charities, looking for lots of small donations. I sent it out twice. One mail to the people at my company, Colt Data Center Services, who I had supported in the past or who I thought might want to support me, and one to my family and friends.

I went to bed feeling good about myself as I had drunk several craft beers while writing the mail but woke in the middle of the night wondering what had I done. I need not have worried. I woke Saturday morning to lots of messages from colleagues and friends saying that they would support me. I knew that I was on track to meet my target.

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Getting our running shirts and a 36 page presentation before we started 

The run was scheduled for 9th December and we had one final meeting on the 5th when we received our super cool running shirts and got detailed instructions from Roger and Manfred. And when I say detailed, I mean detailed. There was a 36 page presentation with tons of photos which 4 days later I wished I had paid more attention to as I ran through Kawagoe.

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The gazebo

As the meeting time on the day was 6:30am near the Arakawa River in Tokyo and I live on the opposite side of the city near the Tamagawa River, I woke up at 4:30 and was on the road just after 5am. Fortunately I met Ben at the train station and we made our way over to Ojima Komatsugawa Park together. We found the meeting point at the gazebo without much trouble thanks to Ben’s excellent sense of direction. The mood was good as we mingled with the other runners and the weather was fair. We were blessed all day with good weather which is always a good sign for an event like this.

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At the start in my Colt shirt

Just before we headed off at 7am, our friend Michael Rayner showed up and he was to run the first 5km with us. It was a beautiful morning and as we headed up the Arakawa River and all seemed good with the world. After Michael turned off for home we were then joined by another Nambanner, Rika Honma, who ran with us for another 5km. It was great to get so much support from the start and before we knew it we were arriving at the first Check Point (CP1) at 17km moving at a smooth 6 min/km. That is all of us except Austin who quickly disappeared off the front into the distance at a space none of the rest of us could match. Just before CP1 we met another Nambanner, Derek Leong, who appeared on his bicycle bearing drinks.

I kept going through CP1. My plan was to make it to CP2 at 27km without stopping and then I would be in the second half of the run. I am the type of person who likes to get things done quickly and then look back. The second section of the run from CP1 to CP2 was tough. Although Austin had gone ahead there were many runners together including Alan, Andrew and Mark from Namban Rengo as well as Paul and Ben. We were all trading places at the front as people took bathroom breaks but we regrouped at CP2 where we found Roger waiting for us. Roger had left at 4:40 that morning to ensure that he finished with us and was looking in good condition when we met him. As were the volunteers who managed each check point. Their support was very encouraging and the CPs were a real oasis of recovery during the run.

I arrived at CP2 right behind Paul and left right after him and I was glad that I did. I was able to focus on keeping up him and I did not have to worry too much about the route. Later on it got a bit confusing but we muddled through it together with the help of the great bicycle support from IVG and made it to CP3 at 41km and lots more friendly faces.

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At CP3 Austin and Mark were out in front and Alan, Andrew, Paul and myself regrouped for the last leg to the children’s home at 55km. It was clear from the start that Alan and Andrew were in the best shape and gradually pulled away from Paul and myself. As we were running through the town we were following pink ribbons which were tied to lamp posts and railings. These were real lifesavers but I wished that I had paid more attention to Roger’s and Manfred’s presentation the previous Monday. Eventually Paul dropped me as we made our way through Kawagoe but I did not get lost. At times I felt unsure I was on the right path but I managed to stay on track and make the correct turn to the final leg of the run.

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The last 5km along the Iruma River after leaving Kawagoe town were wonderful. I knew that I was on the right track and I knew that there was not much left to run. My only challenge was to complete the run under 6 hours and it soon became clear that was within my reach. As I got closer to the finish there were several people from Mirai no Mori out taking photos and there was a great welcome crossing the line with soup and sports drinks.

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But the best was yet to come. After a quick bath and some soba at the local onsen we headed back to the start to meet all the kids from the local home who had gathered to welcome us back. They were all in great form and were genuinely delighted to see so many runners. We gradually made our way back to their home with them where we were greeted with a party and an awards ceremony. Each of us the runners got an individual certification that the children had made. It was a very moving event.

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Then we all did the motions to the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” which is no mean feat considering must of us had just run 55km. But the enthusiasm of the children was infectious and we all joined in with as much energy as we had left.

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All in all, the event met its target of raising 1 million yen for Mirai no Mori. That may sound like just a number but what it means is that 10 children from the home will be able to attend next year’s summer camp where they will learn skills and have experiences that will help them throughout their lives. I was very honored to be involved  in the event and hope that I can contribute more in the future to Knights In White Lycra and Mirai no Mori and all they do to help disadvantaged children.

1st Matsumoto Marathon Race Report

3:42:58

This year a new marathon was added to the race calendar of the already over-reached and undertrained runners in Japan. Matsumoto is a city I have always wanted to visited, but when your in-laws have a house in Ueda, on the other side of Nagano, you do not get much of a chance. Hence, I was quite surprised when I strolled up to the JR ticket booth on Friday afternoon to find that it is not served by a Shinkansen. I was under the impression that everywhere of note in Japan was by now connected to the Bullet Train SuperHighway. Instead I had to go to Tachikawa and get a Limited Express. It was not all bad, as there is now good food and drink to be found in Tachikawa station to make the 2 and a half hour journey to Matsumoto less challenging.

The Limited Express that I assume stopped more times than an Actual Express which left Tachikawa just after 12:30 and arrived in Matsumoto at 3pm. It was a very pleasant journey winding up through the fields with the autumn sun beating through the window and again I wondered why I had never done this before.

I booked the race and travel in March after a friendly tip off from Chika san but it was already too late to get any of the cheap rooms for the marathon weekend. I ended up spending 20,000 yen on a lovely double room in Hotel Dormy Inn when I really only expected to pay half that. Still, it did have its advantages. The Dormy Inn is really nice, the room was fairly big and the onsen was great.  I checked in at 3:15 and by 3:20 I was out on the street again, heading for Matsumoto Castle.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the main reasons that people visit Matsumoto and painted against a clear blue sky it looked absolutely stunning. I tried to go and get a tour but there was a 50 min wait, and since this is not Tokyo Disneyland, I declined and went for a walk around the grounds. There were many tourists about but it was not packed and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. As I was leaving I came across a poster announcing that there would be a moon viewing from the castle and music that evening, so I headed off for some omori pasta and came back in time to hear Michelle by the Beatles performed by a flute quintet. It was really fantastic.


I was up before 5am the next morning and off to get a shuttle bus to the starting point at 6:15. It was all so smooth that I got the 6:22 bus from Matsumoto station, arrived at the start at 6:32 and I was done checking-in at 6:35. I then had to wait around for the 8:30 start. Next year I will know better and leave the hotel around 7am to get the bus. The last shuttle will leave at 7:10.

I was in A block as I had put a rather optimistic finishing time on my application last March. Still, I did not feel too bad as I hung around in the morning sunshine with some serious looking runners. The temperature was allegedly 8 degrees when I left Matsumoto Station and 13 degrees when the race started but it felt much warmer in the sun and I felt just right in my Namban singlet. The speeches started around 8:10 but they were short and good humored. The highlight for me was seeing Kenji Kimihara who ran the marathon in 3 olympics and came second in Mexico in 1968. He is now 76 (same age as Bob Dylan) and was running the Matsumoto Marathon. I checked the results just now and he did not even come in the top 6 for the over 70s.

The race started at 8:30 exactly. The man doing the count down hit the man with starter’s pistol on the back, he fired and we were off. I love this ceremony. My plan was to run at 5 minutes per km but I had not studied the start of the race very well. It was all downhill and before I knew it I was running at 4:35/km and feeling great. I knew that it would not last and I tried to put the brakes on but to no avail. It took me until the 9th km before I could slow down to a 5 minute pace and it was too late by then.

 

 

At 4km the 3:30 pace maker went by me running at 4:40, a time that would see her finish in 3:16 if she kept it up. At 5km Chika san flew past at about the same pace. I had met her at Motozo’s birthday party on Friday night and she had told me that she had planned to run under 3:30.  She was already looking much better than that. As the course went up and down I managed to fall into a nice rhythm. The countryside was beautiful as we ran along small streams and through lush rice fields with distance mountains looming over us. The organization was great with aid stations every few km, which was just as well as the temperature gradually increased. It might have gone to 25 degrees by the end of the race, but who can be certain.

At the 14km mark, just before a switchback, I saw Chika san again and calculated that she was about 2:30 ahead of me. I then saw Nick and Yuri and calculated that they were about 4:30 behind me. I was surprised at the gap but then realized that they started in C block and I would need to pull up my socks again to stay ahead of them.

I went through half-way in 1:44:33 which is right on a 5 minute pace but I knew I was in for a struggle as my previous kilometer was 5:09 and I had a long way to go. This was the first marathon that I had run drug free. It was a pure accident as I forgot to bring up my Ibuprofen from Tokyo and I decided to give it a try while having a Yona Yona beer on the train up on the Saturday. Normally I take 200 ~ 300 mg with breakfast and then another tablet around the 27km mark, but this time I decided that I would feel the pain. David Layden, I hope you are happy.

And feel the pain I did. There were quite a few aid stations with cold spray and at 27km I stopped and liberally covered my legs. I then had my first gel as I headed further into the War of Attrition. After a while I started taking extra cups of water and pouring them on my knees and my hips. I ran on feeling more sore with every step and consuming more sports drinks. I even walked through several of the aid stations so I could get more drink into me.

The road went on and on and while my pace gradually decreased, it only went into the 6 minute are a few times at 36km, 41km and 42km. At 32km I saw Chika san again and she was 13 minutes ahead of me. Shortly after that I saw Nick and he had reduced the gap between us to 2:30. He was looking strong. I could tell because when I saw him he was not stopping to get a drink at the aid station he was passing. I, on the other hand, was leaving no aid station go untouched. At the 35km mark I stopped again and gave myself another liberal dose of Cold Spray. At the  38km mark I saw Nick again and he was just 40 seconds behind me. He did not see me but I yelled at him anyway. Soon after that he passed me and kept going to deliver another amazing PB.

I struggled on. It got harder and harder but I was determined not to stop and walk. At the end the organizers make you run all the way around the outside of the Shinshu Sky Park Athletic Stadium before you go inside and do 3/4 of a lap. It goes on forever and I had to sprint at the end to get in just under 3:43.

Afterwards I relaxed in the sun with Nick and Chika san, drinking beer and waiting for other runners to finish. It was very peaceful and enjoyable. I then took the shuttle bus back to Matsumoto and Dormy Inn where I enjoyed the onsen again.

A wonderful race and one that I would like to do again, and again, and again.

Tokyo Marathon 2017 – Race Report

Net Time: 3:34:10

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Gaining entry to the Tokyo Marathon is like winning the lottery. Actually, it is winning the lottery. Around 330,000 people apply for 27,000 places and then there are an additional 3,000 places which can be purchased with 100,000 yen donation to charity. This year I was in 2 lotteries. My company, Colt, had agreed to sponsor 4 runners in the marathon and I joined the mass lottery as well. As luck would have it, I failed to get selected in the Colt Lottery which had a ratio of 2:1 but I did get selected in the mass lottery with a ratio of 12:1. What are the odds?  Well 12 to 1. I learned of my good fortune while lounging in bed with jet lag and a hangover in the Tallbot Hotel in Stillorgan last September. I was back in the old country to help Daughter #1 get set up in college when the news came through. I had been out the previous night meeting up with my brother, my oldest friend Niall and a certain Arthur Guinness in the hotel bar. My brother, who had also applied and not been selected, could not understand how fate could be so cruel.

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At the time I was training with Harrisson for the Ohtawara Marathon in November and everything was going well. Even though I had to travel a bit, I completed all of my quality workouts and finished Ohtawara in 3:24:48, my third best marathon. However, somewhere along the way I felt a strain at the top of hamstring, or the bottom of my glut (I am never quite sure), but instead of taking a few weeks off after Ohtawara, I kept training and started going out to the track again, with my club Namban Rengo. I also managed to complete 320km in Jan by running everyday over the year end holidays. However, on the 18th January I finally accepted that something was wrong when I did the Namban track workout in Yoyogi Park.  Initially, everything was was going great. I was running fast and kept all 4 of my 1000ms at 3:50 or less, something I had not been able to do for a long time. However, during the final 2 x 500m I felt a lot of pain in my left hamstring and struggled to complete them.

The following Sunday, 22nd January, I had the Chiba Marine Half Marathon with a great bunch of Nambanners. I could only manage 1:35:37 in near perfect conditions and not the 1:32:00 I was aiming for. My leg was sore the whole time and I could not push the pace even though my breathing was fine. It was time for drastic measures. When I arrived in work on the 1st February I saw a message from my friend Steve Flynn in Manchester. He had just finished January without a drink for charity, and was asking people to join him for February. I signed up hoping that it would help me lose weight, but also help my leg recover. I had been getting sports massages and while they provided relief, were not really fixing the problem as I continued to train. 3 Weeks on from the Chiba Marine, on the 12th February and after 6 days of rest, I ran the Inzai Half Marathon in 1:36:17. I had been hoping to improve and but it was not to be. I pushed my pace early on but died greatly in the second half.

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My colleagues from work were all training well and we headed to the Expo together on the Thursday before the race. Three of us had done marathons before, and three of us were doing one for the first time. I had arranged the Colt running shirts through my friend Tim Williams in Namban Rengo and even if I say so myself, they looked pretty good.

The day of the race itself was gorgeous. Sunny, moderate temperature and virtually no wind. I opted to run in just the running singlet with no T-shirt underneath. I also bought a cheap hat and pair of gloves that I planned to dispose of a long the way. However, it was so warm standing in Block B that I need not have bothered. Based on my two half marathon results, I knew that 4:30 pace was well out of the question but thought that I might have a chance at 4:40 pace and slip in under 3:20 for only the second time.  As we headed out on the new course from Shinjuku, the atmosphere was great. Thousands of people lined the streets as always and the runners were all in good form. I was feeling good myself as I took my first drink at the 5km mark. Normally I do not drink so early in a race but as the temperature was set to rise to 13 degrees and the sun was out, I knew that I would need it later. At Idabashi, I heard the first shouts from the Namban horde. Throughout the course, they were popping up everywhere, behind bus shelters, on bridges but always roaring out encouragement.

At 10km the race changed from its original course. For the past 10 years it would turn right and run down to Shinagawa but this year the new course turned left and headed up to Asakusa. Shortly after that I saw Derek running in the opposite direction. He is easy to spot in his green tinted sunglasses. We yelled at each other and kept going. My pace had now settled around the 4:50 mark but I felt I was in control and did not need to worry. Near Asakusa I was awakened from my trans-like state by a shout of “Gambare Mako-gan”. Matsushita san from Colt had come out to support us and was holding a teal Colt T-Shirt. On and on and the craic was good as Van Morrison might say and we turned around at Asakusa Temple and headed back towards Ginza, but before we got there we took a sharp left at the 16km point and headed to Monzen-Nakacho and back, an area I know well. Right after I turned the corner I saw Michael Hegarty  from Namban flying down the road. I wanted to shout at him, but I failed to recall his first name in time and all that came out was “Go Go”. Later at the post marathon party, he told me he knew who it was. Then as I passed the 17km point I saw Harrisson and he was just passing the 24km point. I yelled “Go Harrisson” but he totally ignored me. I guess he was in the zone. All the way up to Mozen and back I kept looking out for other Nambanners and maybe a Colt runner, but I missed them all.

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At the end of the road we turned left and rejoined the course towards Ginza. My family said that they would be at the 29km point just outside Takashimaya department store. For that 5km I thought that it would be great seeing them and I imagined that one of them would have a steaming hot cup of coffee for me. It practically kept me going. Of course they had no such thing, so after exchanging some pleasantries I headed off again to see the Colt people who promised to be at the 34km point. Up until 24km I had managed to keep my pace under 5 min per km but I could not hold out any longer as the war of attrition set in. The stretch from 29km to 34km was very tough as we ran down from Hibiya to Tamachi. My pace slowed to 5:30 over this stretch but fortunately it did not reduce much more after that. At Tamachi station the Colt folks were out in force and had brought the cold spray that I had given them. I used it liberally and headed on to the final turn around in Shinagawa at around the 35.5km point.

As I passed through Tamachi the second time, I looked out for the Colt supporters but I missed them as they had crossed the road. It was around here that the local Autobacs store was handing out Coca Cola. I have rarely tasted anything as good in all my life.  It was well past noon now and the day was warm but it was not an oppressive heat. I took my last gel at around the 37km mark with my second Nurofen to ward off the pain and put my head down for home. I know the road from Tamachi up to Otemachi very well. It is wide and open but there was not much wind so I was able to keep an even pace. Just before Hibiya Park, there was a big crowd of Nambanners cheering and taking photos as we went by. It was very encouraging to hear them all in the final stages of the race.

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Finally, I made it to the paved streets of Otemachi and as I turned the second last corner I saw the sign that declared 1km to go. I was holding on to by 5:30 pace as best I could when I saw my family lining the road, holding out a cup of coffee for me. I was hardly going to take it with 500m to go but I appreciated the gesture, however late in the game. A middled aged American woman kept sprinting past me, stopping and walking, letting me pass her and then doing the same again. I thought that I had her beat but in the final run in, she found some extra strength and pipped me at the post right in front of Tokyo station.

I was very happy to finish and while I was a little disappointed that I could not maintain my early pace, I knew that my training had not been sufficient I was lucky to be able to complete this great new course on such a beautiful day with my family, friends and colleagues along the route.

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After the finish there is a 1km walk back to the bags where hundreds of volunteers line the route and cheer and clap and give High 5s. Had it not been such great weather, it would have been a bit tedious, but under the circumstances, it was also a lot of fun.  That evening, the Namban crew were back in FooTNiK in Osaki for the by now traditional post marathon party. There was a great turn out of runners and supporters. Here’s hoping that we get to do it all again next year.

Ohtawara Marathon 2016 Race Report

Net Time 3:24:48

My fifth consecutive time to run the Ohtawara Marathon was really great. I had great support from my coach Harrisson for the 5 months leading up to it. There was a great gang of Nambanners up from Tokyo (and Saitama). Although it was very windy, it didn’t rain and the temperature stayed above freezing. And afterwards we went to a great onsen with our complimentary tickets on the complimentary bus to recover before heading back to Tokyo and the Aldgate Pub in Shibuya for a swift half. All in all a great day. I think you get the picture. Although the stated aim of this blog is to run a marathon in 3:10, and I have been training specifically for that, I think that we can let numbers get in the way of enjoying ourselves and the company of others. One of my Namban friends put it very well in a Facebook post last Sunday that resonated with a lot of runners.

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Gareth’s Wisdom

Unlike the previous 2 years, I had to work on the day before the Ohtawara marathon this year so I was late getting up to Nishi Nasuno. I had bought my Shinkansen reserved seat ticket on Monday morning with the intention of traveling up on the 18:36 train on Tuesday evening. However, when I got to the gate I discovered to my horror that I had actually bought the ticket to go up on Wednesday night, 8 hours after the start of the race. I raced to the JR counter to change it for the right day. Fortunately, this is Japan and it is very easy to do this, but there were no reserved seats available so I had to settle for a free seat. I was worried that the train would be crowded as Tuesday was the day before a National Holiday and I would have to stand all the way to Nasushiobara, so I joined the queue 40 minutes before the departure time to ensure I got a seat. I need not have worried. The train was far from full but I did have a nice conversation with the couple ahead of me in the queue.

Tokyo station was packed. There are lots of places to buy obento but not so many that are vegetarian. After struggling through the packed aisles for 15 minutes I spotted a onigiri specialist shop. Even if there are few vegetable only obento, you can always get lots of seaweed onigiri. Readers of this blog will know that each of the previous 4 years have seen me in Big Boy restaurant in Nishi Nasuno for a pasta and curry rice meal. This year with my vegetarian diet and arriving later in the evening I wanted to eat on the train so I was considering eating 5 ongiri as my pre-marathon meal. However, lady luck was shining on me and the woman in the onigiri shop pointed me next door where they did have vegetarian bentos. The train had not long left Tokyo when I tucked in.

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Vegetarian Bento

It was sad to see my ritual broken but at least I was staying at the same hotel, The Route Inn, and I feel that they recognized me as I checked in and got the  key for my room on the 10th floor. I eventually got to bed around 10:30pm and fell straight to sleep. However, 30 minutes later an earthquake hit Fukushima which woke me up rather abruptly as my 10th floor room started swaying back and forth. There had been a big earthquake followed by a small tsunami that morning in Fukushima that made everybody remember the terrible events of 2011 and this was an aftershock, albeit a weaker one. I texted my wife but she did not feel anything in Tokyo. After that I tried to go back to sleep but never quite managed it. I was nodding off for the next 4 hours and eventually got some decent sleep from 3am.

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In the hotel room, trying to decide what to wear

I woke up with the alarm at 6am and wished that I could sleep some more. In previous years there has always been a line to breakfast room 20 mins before it was due to open. I reckoned that it would be the same this year so I ended up waiting by myself in the lobby of the hotel at 6:15 although I had been told breakfast was from 6:45. Fortunately there was free coffee in the lobby and they actually opened the dining room 15 minutes early. Not eating meat was not a problem as they had lots of vegetables, bananas, bread, rice and okaiyu (a watery form of rice). I loaded up and stepped outside to check the weather.

The days preceding any race, but especially any race that will last longer that 30 minutes, are filled with speculation about the weather. As I am Irish, I find warm weather very difficult to run in but I am also not thrilled about freezing weather either. And while a light drizzle does not bother me at all, a strong wind will have a big impact. The forecast was for a bright day with 5 m/s winds from the north west and as I stood outside the Route Inn looking up at the morning sky, I felt that they had got it right.

Obviously, the great thing about staying a 10 minute drive from the start of a race is how much time you save in the morning of a race. After breakfast I took my first 400mg Nurofen and then went back to bed for an hour before getting up and getting my taxi over to the gymnasium at 8:45. The other Nambanners were already there and had marked a good spot out in one of the corridors by the weight room. We chatted and discussed the route until  little by little people started to head off to the bathroom and the start of the course. I had discussed what to wear with Harrisson and as the temperature was going to be 7 ~ 9 degrees celsius he suggested that a singlet with no long sleeves should be just fine. Just fine for running that is but not for standing around in the wind at the start, so I was almost the final person to leave the gymnasium. And that is the great thing about the Ohtawara marathon. You can leave the warm gymnasium at 9:45 and be in your block at 9:50 for a 10am start.

As I arrived in block B, I saw Bernard and then Gildas and Derek and we chatted for a bit before Derek headed off to block A. Standing in the wind it was cold. I tried to crouch down but as I was on the outside of the block there was nowhere to hide as the wind ripped through the event flags that lined the course. I took one of the 4 gels that I had in my pocket, mainly to reduce the weight. It was a water based Hi 5 gel so I could take it without a drink. I normally don’t take gels at the start of a race but this time it felt like the right thing to do. The race started and we were off. I got to the start line in only 20 seconds and had no difficulty exiting the stadium ahead of the traffic jam that Ohtawara is famous for.

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Ohtawara Marathon Race Course

The Ohtawara Marathon course is one big loop. It starts off by going down hill for 23.7km and then goes back up to the finish. This year we had the wind with us for most of the first half of the race. Of course that means that we had it against us for the second half as we were running uphill. I found the first half of the race OK. Well, I was running downhill with the wind at my back. Harrisson had advised me not to let my heart rate get over 170 so I never really stuck to my goal of running at a 4:30 pace  but I was close enough. I knew that the race would be won and lost in the second half so there was no need to be pushing early on and not being able being able to close out the race.

The countryside around Ohtawara is really beautiful with wide open fields divided by the Houki river and lined by evergreens in places. The first 13km were uneventful as I concentrated on my form and pressing the lap button on my Garmin at each km marker. I have long since given up on the automatic 1km lapping of the GPS watch as it quickly goes out of sync with the actual race markings. I was worried that pressing the lap button every 1km would have a bad effect on me mentally, but it was not the case. I found that the km passed smoothly and later on it helped me concentrate on the remainder of the race.

At 14km there is a sharp downhill that you have to mange carefully or you will end up going too fast before the road rises again and turns off to the left. This is the point when you know that you are in a race. Although the course continues to go downhill for a further 8km, your heart rate has spiked and you have started to look out for the next drinks stand where before you were not bothered about taking a cup or not.

The only switchback in the race comes at about 17.7km. I always love these switch backs as I look out for my Namban friends and shout encouragement to them. I saw Derek about 700m from the turn around and he was looking strong but Gildas and Khalfan had already gone and I missed them. As I got to the turn-around cone, I saw Bernard just ahead of me. He was also looking strong and powerful with his arms swinging. 300m after the turn, as I reached the 18km point, I heard Chika call to me and shortly after that Terri. The two of them are always my rivals in races and have beaten me many times. There are both very good in the second half of a marathon when I start to fade and I was shocked to see them so close to me at this early stage. It made me refocus my efforts. During this stretch, I missed Nick, Gareth, Mika, Rui, Yasuo and Yukiko but I heard later that they were running in a group and really enjoying the race.

Shortly after the 18km point there is a left turn and a 5km straight stretch down to the 23.7km point. I caught Bernard just after the turn and eased past him and headed down the road concentrating on my pace and heart rate. It was still downhill and I just needed to avoid overdoing it. I went through half way in 1:37:51 which is 2 minutes faster than I ran the Sendai Half Marathon in May this year and a minute slower than I ran the first half last year. I tried to drop out of this race at the 22km point 3 years ago after having had anemia so this has always been a key point for me. Since then I always tell myself that if I can get through here I will be fine. Mind games I know, but they work. It was around here that I remembered that I had a second 400mg of Nurofen in my pocket and I took it before the pain in my legs got too much.

At 23.7km the road takes a sharp turn to the left and if you did not know you were running a marathon up until then, you found out quickly. The road quickly starts to rise and this year we wear running into the wind. There is a very hard stretch from this corner to the next one at 30km. It is all uphill and  a lot of it is exposed to the wind. Last year I found a runner to run behind and I maintained my pace and this year I desperately searched around to do the same. I found a few people but nobody who could take me all the way and I found myself surging from group to group to get shelter.

I tried to take a gel at 24km, but as I ripped the top off with my teeth it fell out of my hand. I decided to leave it and grabbed another gel from my pocket. I had no more Hi 5 gels left and my other 2 gels needed water so I had to be a bit more clever where to take them. I was now taking sports drinks at each drinks station and pouring the water over my legs as my muscles started to burn. Harrisson had told me that the intensity training on a long run would pay off in the second half of the marathon as my legs would know what to expect. He was right. Although my pace slowed and I struggled against the wind, I never wanted to give up and I never wanted to walk.

The turn at 30km is a welcome relief. Not a lot changes in terms of terrain or weather but by breaking through the 30km barrier you feel that you are on the home straight. You are on major road and there are more shops and people cheering and you feel your spirits lift. I put the head down and counted off the kms. At 35km I took my last gel. I was feeling the pain in my legs but not in chest. My heart rate remained in the low 170s except when I was cresting the hills. The wind had not abated but there was no rain and it was getting warmer. Wearing a singlet was the right decision.

Just before the 40km mark I came up on Derek out of nowhere. Normally a sub-3 man he was clearly struggling that day. I yelled at him at the top of my voice and although I briefly passed him, he got back to me in 30 seconds. It was great running along with him as I don’t get the run with my friends in a race that often. At 41km we saw Taeko from Namban on the pavement. She had already run the 10km race that morning. She took the photo of Derek and myself at the top of post and it turned out really well. We kept going, getting closer and closer to the finish. With 1km to go I looked at my watch and saw my time at 3:19:51 and said to Derek that if we maintain this pace we would finish with 3:25:20. Derek told me to just concentrate on finishing throwing both arms forward over his head. I took his advice and upped my pace and ran as fast as could to the end. On the stadium track I kept going and passed a bunch of guys who looked my age to finish in 3:24:48. I was 334 in my age group and 686 overall.

It was a great race. Although it was not a PB, I did thoroughly enjoy it and the company of my running club mates.

Afterwards, my collage friend Peter in Nice went through the race link that I sent him and put this graph together. I think that it is a very good depiction of the race and the struggle in the second. It just needs to capture the joy and the fun of running through the countryside with your friends and having a great time. I think that Peter can work on that for next year.

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Peter’s Graphs

After I got back I looked up my old race records. Unfortunately, I could not find the one from 2012 but here are the last 4 races and how I did.

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Finally, I would like to close this blog post by saying a big thank you to Harrisson. He stuck with me for 5 months and gave me the best advice to stay healthy while getting fit and preparing for a marathon. I am sorry that I could not follow all his advice and shed the kgs needed but such is life in the modern world. I learned a lot from him and believe that the work he made me do really helped me get through the tough conditions and come out the other side.

Week 18 Training Ohtawara Marathon 2016

And so ends my 6 months of training for the Otawara Marathon. It starts in 2 and a half days and I would like to think that I am as ready as I ever will be. Of course that is not true. The amateur runner with a job and children and other commitments will never be as ready as he ever will be but he can be as ready as as he could hope to be. There have been many real life events that have interrupted my training over the last few months. Some I could not have avoided, some I chose not to avoid. At the end of he day, the overall choice was my mine and I will live with it. I have trained as hard as I wanted to and not as hard as I could have and I when I out my toe on the line on Wednesday I will know that this is my race.

Now all I need to do is to get three good nights sleep and eat well. There is no more running to be done until 10am on Wednesday.

Week Total

  • Number of runs: 5
  • Distance: 40.3km km
  • Time: 3 hour 35 min

It was good to complete five runs and 40km in the week before the marathon even if three of the runs were 5km. Last year I completed 3 runs and 28km but I don’t think that you can compare one single week. However, I have always been lax the week leading up to a race and I feel that this has been a problem. We will soon find out if the extra runs will have had any benefit.

Monday 14th November

  • RHR: 45
  • HRV: 67
  • Weight: 83.6kg

Although Monday is generally a rest day, I had hoped to run as I was getting over a cold and had not run over the weekend. However, when I got back from work on Monday night it was raining. I generally don’t care if it is raining or not, but this time it was too close to my race and I was afraid that my cold would start up again. So I took some extra rest and hoped that I would get better.

Tuesday 15th November

  • RHR: 43
  • HRV: 72
  • Weight: 83.4kg

Tuesday I had a real life event after work so I could not run. My cold continued to improve.

Wednesday 16th November

  • RHR: 53
  • HRV: 61
  • Weight: 83.7kg
  • Run: Easy
  • Distance: 5.3km
  • Time: 29 minutes
  • Avg HR: 146
  • Avg Cadence: 175
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Autumn in Chiba

On Wednesday I woke up feeling terrible. Life had eventually caught up with me and I was miserable. Unfortunately after waking at 5:45 I could not go back to sleep so I went out and did an easy 5km. This was my first run in 7 days. Totally unplanned and unpexpected I made it out the door just after 6am and broke the spell.

Thursday 17th November

  • RHR: 47
  • HRV: 72
  • Weight: 84kg
  • Run: Easy with 8km at goal HR
  • Distance: 14km
  • Time: 1 hour 13 minutes
  • Avg HR: 154
  • Avg Cadence: 173

On Thursday I was feeling a lot better so Harrison gave me this workout to see how I was fixed for the race.

  • 3km easy warm up with 3 x 15 sec strides
  • 8 km @ 165 ~ 175 heart rate which was the same as Ohtawara 2015
  • 3km easy cool down

 

This was my first hard run in over 10 days and it went well. I was able to run the 8km portion in 36:31 which is at a 4:34 pace and with an average HR of 169. The first half was  better than the second half as I was wearing too much clothes and I started to heat up when I was running into the wind on the way back. However, my right foot was sore right after I had finished the 8km part and I had to take my shoe and sock off to massage it. I then ran home very gently.

Friday 18th November

  • RHR: 47
  • HRV: 72
  • Weight: 83.4kg
  • Run: Easy
  • Distance: 5.4km
  • Time:  30 minutes
  • Avg HR: 133
  • Avg Cadence: 171

Friday was another easy day with 5km around the neighborhood. I was finally winding down.

Saturday 19th November

  • RHR: 50
  • HRV: 72
  • Weight: 83.3kg
  • Run: Easy with strides
  • Distance: 5.3km
  • Time:  29 minutes
  • Avg HR: 140
  • Avg Cadence: 172
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Juicing

Saturday was an easy 5km run with 30 seconds of strides at the end of each 1km. It went well and I was finished before lunch. I made myself a whooping big juice with beets, curly kale, apple, turmeric and wheatgrass to celebrate before heading out to see the art exhibition by my friend George and meet my other friend Alan who was over from London.

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George’s Art

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Alan in Japan

Sunday 20th November

  • RHR:
  • HRV:
  • Weight: 83.7kg
  • Run: Easy with pace work
  • Distance: 10.3km
  • Time:  53 minutes
  • Avg HR: 150
  • Avg Cadence: 177

On Sunday morning I got up at 5am to bring my son to the train station for his rugby game. I got up as soon as I woke up so I had no chance to take my heart rate or HRV. After dropping him off I went back to bed for 3 hours before heading out for my last training run just before lunch.  Harrison hag given me the following:

  • 3k easy, 500m @ 4:05, 1000m @ 4:15, 3k @ 4:25 ~ 4:30, WD

and it went  to plan. I ran it at

  • 500m in 2:00
  • 1km in 4:09
  • 3km in 13:01

with no serious impact. I then went home and spent the rest of the day getting my car tested. I finally succeeded sometime after 6pm.

 

Week 17 Training Ohtawara Marathon 2016

So Week 17 was not a very good one for me. It started off fine and I was expecting to do two hard runs to cap off my training but I felt sick on Wednesday, got worse on Friday and hopefully am making a recovery on Sunday. Anyway, this is how it went. 10 days to race day.

Week Total

  • Number of runs: 2
  • Distance: 10.8 km
  • Time: 1 hour 12 mins

Monday 7th November

  • RHR: 47
  • HRV: 73
  • Weight: 83.4kg

Again a rest day and I was feeling fine just chillin’ at home. Nothing to see here.

Tuesday 8th November

  • RHR: 46
  • HRV: 76
  • Weight: 83.4kg
  • Run: Easy run with Michael
  • Distance: 5.3km
  • Time: 37 mins
  • Avg HR: 115
  • Avg Cadence: 164

Harrisson had put Tuesday down as an extra rest day but as my boy was going for a run about the time I got home from work, I decided to go with him as it would be nice and easy. It was an easy run and I finished it feeling great although the boy refused to get into any photos with me.

Wednesday 9th November

  • RHR: 42
  • HRV: 75
  • Weight: 82.9kg
  • Run: Easy run as it happens
  • Distance: 5.5km
  • Time: 34 mins
  • Avg HR: 130
  • Avg Cadence: 162

I am not saying that it had anything to do with my run and condition, but all day Wednesday we spent every available minute checking in on the US Presidential results. It really captured everybody’s imagination in Japan. Even my wife was texting me as it became more clear that Trump would win. It was quite a shock.

I got home at a reasonable time and headed out the door to do my run. At the beginning I was feeling great as I bounded down the road and made the second corner in extra quick time. It was shortly after that that things started to go wrong. I started feeling dizzy and lightheaded. The plan was to run 5km at 4:15 ~ 4:20 pace but when I got to the river I knew that I was not up to  it and just turned back for home, stopping at a Convenience Store to get an energy bar. I don’t know what had gone wrong, but I really felt out of sorts.

Thursday 10th November

  • RHR: 49
  • HRV: 65
  • Weight: 82.7kg

On Thursday morning my HRV had dropped 10 points to 65 and turned yellow. I did not feel too bad and still had hopes of doing the hard run that evening when I headed out for work. Even as I was walking home from the station, I was trying to talk myself back into it. However, when I reached home I was admitted to myself that I was just too tired and needed to rest more.

Friday 11th November

  • RHR: 46
  • HRV: 68
  • Weight: 82.9kg

My HRV had recovered a little my Friday morning but I was feeling cold with a runny nose and sneezing as I headed out the door. I felt OK during the morning but after lunch my sneezing and runny nose just got worse and worse and by 3:30pm I had to accept defeat and head home to bed. My wife collected me at the station and 10 minutes later I had drunk a Hot Lemon drink and was in bed shivering.

Saturday 12th November

  • RHR: 44
  • HRV: 73
  • Weight: 83kg

Saturday my HRV was back to normal but I was still feeling weak and I spent most of the day in bed.

Sunday 13th November

  • RHR: 44
  • HRV: 72
  • Weight: 82.9kg

Sunday and you are probably glad that this blog post has to end. Hopefully I will be  fully recovered in the next couple of days able to get in a few more runs before my race on 23rd November.