Nagano Marathon Race Report

A short a trip to Japan but what a trip it was as I caught the Sakura season and there was a marathon too! Read about the race here.

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Osaka Marathon

Note: After giving it some thought, a short report is still appropriate. So here goes.

The days leading up to the race were littered with tell-tale signs that it just wasn’t going to be the race. I’ve ranted on and on about the untimely fever (not that there ever was a timely illness but this takes the cake) I came down with, C2′s rush to the hospital after vomiting for 3 days, the ill-fated but necessary trip to Penang where AirAsia lost our baggage and the return bus ride back to KL turned into a hellish experience of break down and 10-hour journey. It was as if something was pulling all stops to ensure that this wasn’t to be a smooth outing. I’m not a superstitious person but things were so bad that I was starting to believe in the illogical. But I remained defiant and was determined to make sure that whatever bad omens were befalling me and the family, I wasn’t going to abort my race plans. Or I’d be living with the thought of what might have been.

AirAsia X sponsored running vests for Malaysian participants and this group photo was taken at the Expo on Friday. AAX CEO Azran went on to run a fantastic 3:40. That’s the Asahi Zero in my hand – non alcoholic. Photo credit: Vivien Tay.

Breakfast on the WC.

The choice of Weekly Mansion Otemae as the hotel of choice was excellent. Just a short walk to the start and along the Chuo rail line, this would be the same place I’d be holing up the next time I run Osaka. Race morning started at 5:50am and breakfast was half a serving of cup noodles, a Clif bar and coffee. The room was really small and so that I don’t wake my wife up, I ate my breakfast on the WC. It turned out to be unnecessary as she was woken up by my rustling around anyway.

The group gathered at the lobby at 6:45am and we headed out to the race site soon after. The air was crisp but not as cold as Tokyo or New York, but I regaled at the fall colors on the way there – it certainly brought back memories of New York, that which was my only other fall marathon back in 2008. Despite being thousands of miles away from home, it’s marvelous to still be able to run into familiar faces – I bumped into a blog reader (I’ve ashamedly forgotten his name but I remembered he wore the Brooks Half Marathon vest), Abu Power, Rich and Uncle Yee Choi on the way to the baggage truck. I suppose everyone was headed to the same truck. Mine was # 18 which was positioned just about in between the entry to the athletes’ village and the corrals. My minimally packed bag consisted of only a jacket, some cash for the ride back and coffee, iPhone, dry top, an energy bar and wet towelettes and it was promptly checked-in by the cheery volunteers with customary efficiency. Next was some quick toilet business at the door-less porta-johns last seen at the Tokyo Marathon. On the walk in, I spotted a short photo queue and decided to play along. As you can see, I went with compression shorts, arm warmers, long socks, vest over a Nike Pro top and thin gloves. Shoes were the Kinvara ViziPro.

It would be chilly and I found myself shivering in the sparsely occupied E corral – in hindsight I entered the pen a little too early. E corral was unfortunately positioned in the shade and therefore deprived of the warm sunshine enjoyed by those in D up ahead. I cast an envious eyes at those D runners. In any case, I prefer to be leaning towards being colder than warmer as I knew that I’d warm up to a comfortable level once I got going.

45 minutes of shivering later we were let off. The start was a pretty muted affair – an introduction of the elites and some patriotic music. From where I stood, I couldn’t even hear the gun go off. But was I ever so glad to get the race going. Until after passing the start gantry, there was plenty of shuffling but once I hit the first left turn, the road opened up and I was able to move up to my planned pace. It was all effort based at that time and it was so easy – almost like a training run. I felt great and moving effortlessly. First K was 5:49 but by the second K, I was already on secondary goal pace, very easy given that my tempos and intervals were all done way faster than my MP. By the 5th K, I was logging tertiary goal pace. My plan has always been negative splitting, so there’s no hurry to click off a 1:52 first half. As long as I kept loose and relaxed, I knew I could run a strong 12K to close off the race. The GPS reading was accurate up till 10K but the reading on the Polar started deviating from the visual markers from then on. I’m not sure what’s happening as it was the same in Gold Coast as well. I chucked my drink bottle off at the 12K mark.

I made a decision to veer off for a pee at the 19K point (a neat feature of the race was the volunteers flash cards on how far the next pee stop was going to be). As luck would have it, the one I chose to stop would have the most stalls and least runners! 19K split was 7:08 but I knew the benefit of emptying the bladder would outweigh the time wasted at the potty stop. True enough, feeling much lighter, I easily made up the lost time by the next K. Halfway mark was achieved in 1:58 near the Kyocera Dome and I was still aerobic and looking forward to the 30K mark to start some racing. Reminded myself to stay patient and keep things in check. I was so into the zone that I didn’t realize my knee length socks had dropped down to my ankles!

The supporters were plentiful but that’s not what warmed up the race. The sun too were making its presence felt. It was downright warm in the sunshine but at least the course had plenty of shady spots to get some relief. I’d rolled down my arm warmers down to my wrists as my forearms were sweating.

Typical of Japanese marathons, there were a number of switchbacks along the Osaka Marathon route, so there was never a dull moment. I tend not to think too much about when the turning would be as it could be a demoralizing and sapping exercise. Better to focus on the few steps ahead. I hit 30K a little off at 2:57, 7 minutes off my secondary goal. I didn’t think too much of the situation as I knew all the hard running will come after that – I was not too worried about having to chip away at the deficit as my finishing in the recent build-up races have been strong. Alas, it was not happening as I felt a sharp pain shooting up from the inner thighs up to the groin area as I started to open up my stride. That knocked me off my rhythm and there was nothing I could’ve done but to slow down to a jog. Shook my head and started to pick it up again but back came the pain. The sequence of 3 photos below at the 30K mark showed me checking my watch, just about to embark on the final 12K. My leg problems would start just after these photos were taken.

When the pain kicked in the second time, I was strangely calm. I remembered weighing my options and thought what the problems would be. I’d never had such issues before. Perhaps it was for lack of stretching at the start, I wasn’t any wiser. It was bad enough that the only thing I could do was to walk. I tried to jog again but it came back. The walk had sucked away whatever minutes I could’ve salvaged. There was no point in pushing for time now, I thought. Just finish. Walk all the way if I had to. The thought of DNF never crossed my mind. I didn’t come all the way to DNF. It wasn’t like I was only 20 minutes from the cutoff time.

But there’s the buffet line to take care of first. I took whatever the volunteers offered, from zucchini, pickles, candies, gummies, rice balls, bananas, I grabbed and ate them all! At the 35K mark, I even sat down by the road divider. The walk up the ramp at the 37K was tough but I hobbled down the other side. I wasn’t even tired, my energy systems were fine but the legs…

The finishing eventually came and there was to be no glory, no fist pumping in the air. Just an “over and done with” feeling. 4:40 was 45 minutes off my goal. My Polar recorded a distance of 43.4K which was probably messed by certain sections where we ran under flyovers. The consolation was that my baggage section was the 2nd closest to the collection point, allowing me to quickly grab, change into dry shirt and get out of the area. I’m not analyzing anything about the race for now and would just want to rest for the remainder of the year. I’ve no more races for the year and that’s fine as I step back from thinking too much about running. Chilling out is what I need.

The rainbow colored medal is one of the most beautiful I’ve earned. Each color represents a compulsory charity. I selected green – no guesses to what it represents.

Pros:

  • Good size, probably brought about by the clash of events in neighboring Kobe and the Fujisan Marathon
  • A near replica of Tokyo Marathon
  • Scenic athlete’s village
  • Quicker exit from the post-race venue
  • Cold at the start but manageable. Mild temps with the mercury climbing along the way
  • Cheaper than Tokyo
  • Even though the Runner’s Guide didn’t encourage costumed runners, folks still came out garbed in bizarre outfits.
  • Other than the killer climb at the 37K, the route is flat. Any flatter, you’ll have to go to Gold Coast.
  • Fall foliage along Mido-Suji
  • Beautiful medal but smaller finisher’s towel.

Cons:

  • Poorer expo, although the Food Bazaar in Hall 3 were fantastic
  • Got a little hot 10K into the race, though not as warm as 2012 Gold Coast.
  • Polar recorded 43.4K??

Event verdict: Must do and I’d probably return in the near future.

Learnings: Good choice of hotel, good decision on bringing less in the checked-in baggage. Need not enter the corral too early so that proper warming up can be done.

 

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