Tag Archives: Japan
“Shinagawa is one of Tokyo’s 23 wards, and Shinagawa Station is one of the city’s busiest stations. Its convenience as a transportation hub has attracted many hotels, offices, restaurants and shops to the area. Shinagawa has been catering to travelers since the Edo Period (1603-1867), when it was the first stop on the main road linking Tokyo with Kyoto.” Excerpt from japan-guide.com
This is my 4th visit to Japan and yet I’ve experienced but a tiny bit of what the country has to offer. Due to work and family commitments, I can only afford a short solo trip this time around. Everything, from my itinerary and budget (RM3,300 all in excluding shopping which I don’t plan to do), is carefully planned allowing just a little breathing room to maneuver. The cost would’ve been a lot cheaper if not for the return Shinkansen rides between Tokyo and Nagano. I guess I’ll know over the next few days how well my plan pans out!
My visit is to run the 16th Nagano Olympic Commemorative Marathon or simply Nagano Marathon. The event is run annually to celebrate the history of the 1998 Winter Olympics and the route takes the 10,000 runners through the many Olympic venues before finishing in the Olympic Stadium. The field is small – less than a third of Tokyo’s – relative to the other big city marathons and from the course elevation chart, flat. More on the event in the race report.
Like the travelers of yore, I made Shinagawa my first stop too, just for the night before heading off to Nagano the next morning. Getting to Shinagawa from Haneda – my first experience with the airport – was supposed to be straight forward: ride the Keihin-Kyuko (Keikyu) Airport Express (¥410) to Shinagawa. Total commute time was to only take 19 minutes. However, I ignorantly hopped on the wrong train (same network, different platform) which was headed to Kawasaki! By that time I realized my folly, the train was already 18 stations in the wrong direction. I exited the next stop and after gathering my composure (I had to beat the last train at midnight), found my way to the correct platform and just managed to sneak in it before the doors closed. 30 minutes later I was safe where I needed to be.
Shinagawa Station is a major hub with several train lines running through it but nothing in complexity as Shinjuku, Tokyo or even Ikebukuro Stations. I exited via the Takanawa side and walked southwards towards my friend’s apartment. Being on a budget means no checked-in luggage and everything was shoved into my small cabin bag. I was, therefore, pretty mobile. I need to be so since there will be plenty of moving around for me in the days to come.
I quickly showered and freshened up as quickly as I could before heading out to grab a very late supper. The famous Shinatatsu Ramen, a strip of ramen shops, just below the train lines was already closed. Luckily there was another small outlet a couple of minutes from the apartment that was still open. Nothing like a bowl of comforting noodles on a mild Spring night. There was no need for a jacket tonight but with showers predicted later today, temps should dip.
It’s now way past bedtime, and I’m back at the apartment. So it’s goodnight, or rather, good morning from me from the Land of The Rising Sun. I’ve got to grab myself some quality sleep. Heading off to Nagano tomorrow morning!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
I wish I could get my frustrations off my chest like the fella in the video. Injury-free, training well, lead-up races executed nicely. Blighted 2 weeks before the race. I think I fall into the category of runners with ultra slow improvements and I’m not even dreaming about representing the country!
Sometimes, not understanding a language isn’t going to prevent you from appreciating what you see or hear. Some languages are universal, like love. The wife and I were waiting to board the return flight to KL at Kansai International Airport and we happen to observe this mother (I’m assuming she’s the mother) and son play. Quickest was to grab my iPhone and shoot the following sequence of shots.Have a great weekend of bonding!
These 2 words came to mind when I observed, as I’d love to, the goings on of the daily lives of the Japanese people. Not those in the big cities, but folks in the smaller towns. Our 2nd day in Kyoto brought us to one such place which was along our way to Arashiyama. We had been treated to the spectacle of Kinkakuji and have got off a 205 bus en route to hopping on board the Randen train. Having had no breakfast we decided to pop into a corner supermarket to grab some grub – I settled for a sushi in a box set while the wife got an okonomiyaki. While enjoying the meal on the bench by the supermarket entrance, what better than to watch the folks go about their daily lives.
Firstly, in Japan, one hardly sees a person lounging around doing nothing. Whether the person is a groundskeeper, housewife, old folk, the Japanese people are always engaged. In doing something. No “Jom minum” mentality we see in Malaysia. In the small suburbs, even home owners turn a small section of their frontage into a business, selling snacks or handicraft and souvenirs.
The photos you see below are those showing the elderly doing their grocery shopping at the said supermarket. It seems that it’s the usual practice to bag your own shopping, once the shopping are paid. The checkout staff will tally up your items and transfer them to another basket. The shopper then will carry this basket to a separate table to bag the stuff or stash them into their shopping cart. All done quietly, with no rush nor the pressure of speed. Age didn’t seem to be a factor as well as both the wife and I were astonished to see a few folks bent double yet were out doing their “chores”.
One of my colleagues asked me what captivated me the most about Kyoto, now that I’ve visited the place twice. It’s not the glitz of the metropolis, because I certainly don’t miss Tokyo’s packed trains even at 11pm. Of course, we know about their famed punctuality, precision (bordering on bureaucracy and steadfastness on clinging to the old ways), food and cleanliness. But what opened my eyes were the peoples’ enthusiasm, appreciation for their natural heritage, sense of order, honesty and pride. Insecurity that we increasingly experience and see here in Malaysia – think security sensors in shops, chained products, non-placement of goods by the store entrance – are not a factor there. In Tokyo I gaped at the electronic gadgets left unattended at store fronts. In Kyoto, I passed a handful of shops without a visible clerk, probably on toilet break.
The other thing is the seeming simplicity of their the Kyotolites’ lives. We already know that their homes are compact. There are, of course, mansions and villas but they’re exceptions. The size of a typical Japanese home would not warrant a 60″ 3D LED TV or a 3+3+2 living room furnishing. Neither would they have space for voluminous bookcases and walk-in wardrobes. Everything will have to be purposeful, equally compact, efficiently organized and laid out. Other than a Porsche Panamera, a Golf GTI and a Mini, I didn’t see another turbocharged car in Kyoto. Tokyo’s Ginza, however, are the opposite with all the flash. All material things that we seem to be chasing and shaping our lives around. A 20×60 home isn’t large enough? Well, move to a 22×75 then! It’s never enough and there’s no end to that pursuit of a “better life”. Instead of pursuing bigger and faster material things to accommodate increasing and seemingly must-have possessions, I’ll be always reminded by what I saw to instead strive to shed and scale back.
And the most important observation? To never equate progressing age to the diminishing ability to stay active and productive. I guess Red’s words in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying” certainly rings loud and true.
Folks, I plan to have a short 5K run around the Osaka Castle perimeter on the morning of the race eve (Nov 24th, Day 2 in Osaka). I’m taking it as a gear check and you’re most welcome to join me. Besides, I think it’s a good idea to stretch out the legs and to check out the race site. More importantly, locating the starting area a day before the race would be helpful to avoid any last minute rushing around (cue nightmare in Tokyo earlier this year). A good thing is that my hotel is located close by. So if you’re putting up near the Castle and game for a jog around, we’ll meet at exit of the Tanimachi 4 chome Station (Chuo Subway Line) facing the castle at 6:20am and we’ll start our run sharp at 6:30am. The map below is how we’ll be running and I think there’s an underpass we’ve to take at the 1.9K mark.
As I’ve drawn up the route using MapMyRun [link to the route created], the actual course taken may not be the same. Some paths to the Osaka Castle Park could be closed or gated. Either way we will run in a clockwise direction and should we hit a route blockage, we will just return to the start or run along the pavement of the main roads.
1 week to race day!
I was a little amused when I read some FB updates following a recently organized long run where the runners said they should ramp up their training in preparation for the Penang Bridge Marathon happening on November 18th. I don’t think marathon training works that way. All the training would and should have happened in the preceding months. Pushing for a “better or more training” with 2-3 weeks to race day is akin to cramming for the exams. Which basically means it won’t work. Which is also why getting in a good marathon training is so darn difficult it’s a mix of consistency, patience, staying healthy and injury-free and a little luck. If the ingredients are not there for a performance-based race, then it’s always better to plan for a great outing with fellow runners and enjoying the experience, which is a perfectly awesome reason to be running. Shoot for a PR goal when the training has fallen into place. Bottomline: If it gets this late to be realizing you need to ramp up your training, then it really is too late.
Due to the fatigue of being on my feet nearly the entire Saturday (Oct 27th), I had to cut short the next day’s 20-miler down to a 13. I made the conscious decision despite the knowledge that I could’ve missed my last chance of running another 20-miler in the lead-up due to the Powerman Duathlon and an upcoming working Sunday. Nevertheless, I feel that I’ve made the right decision, what with rest being what I needed the most. I’ve done a decent number of over-25Ks and 4 32Ks in the weeks before, stayed healthy and injury-free through a mix of re-worked diet and a different training program. I thought at the very least, I’ve that in the bank. But still, runners being that which they are, I can’t help feeling a bit anxious at missing that piece of 20-miler .
Since I’m not going to replace the missed run, the plan was for a modified Hansons-Brooks Simulator [What is The Simulator]. There’s no need for me to dig up old news except to say that the plan only worked 50%! Sidenote: I’d like to urge you to read up what Becki of The Middle Miles blog has to say about the long run. It’ll give you a nice alternative take on what most newbies assume what long runs need to be.
Come race day, however good one’s training has been, there’s always a chance or two that cock-ups can happen on race day [something along this line in my past post]. All we can do is to prepare the best way we can given the circumstances and stay loose on race day. In looking back, I had my best races when I don’t really think of the race, even when I’m lined up. When I did one of my earlier marathons in KL, I remembered just having lots of fun at the back of the starting line. In NYC, I was so enamored about the whole race spectacle, I wasn’t even thinking about my race execution. Of course, in terms of volume, I probably underwent my highest mileage at that time (though 95% of them were just plain running without any specifics. Call it aimless miles, miles without goals, etc…). My training for Tokyo and Gold Coast this year weren’t that good, disrupted by illness and work. My speed was on the up but with inconsistencies and reduced mileage, I was still thinking too much at the race start and during the race. In the end, I ended up disappointed. For Osaka, I’m totally not going to over-analyze things. I already know what pace I needed to run. The last thing I’d watch would be running videos. Instead I’m going to take my mind off running by catching up on reading and movies. That doesn’t mean I’m sedentary as there are still shorter intense workouts to fulfill during the taper period.
Whatever happens on race day, I’ll leave it to luck of the day or whatever you choose to believe in to take care of things. Isn’t that one of the reasons why we keep returning to the marathon ?
Note: Check out the post on managing tapering by fellow traveler to Osaka, Francis Yeng. Awesome read.