Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Kyoto Road Race (Half Marathon) - Kyoto, Kansai, Japan


Without any doubt competing in the Kyoto Road Race was a highlight of my running career. With the exception of the Manx Mountain Marathon the Kyoto race was the only time I have run overseas. I am eternally gratefully to my friends Mako and Richie for entering me into the race and 'escorting' me to registration, given the language and cultural barrier it wouldn't have happened without them.
Richie & Mako - thanks for a great trip!

The day before the race we had been visiting Kinkajuji Temple, a gold-leaf covered temple and one of the most famous and beautiful sights in Kyoto. After leaving the temple and walking along the philosopher's path we were surprised to see some runners heading towards us and it seemed like they were raising money. Two days before we left the UK Japan had suffered a massive earthquake and subsequent Tsunami which left the area around Fukushima devastated. Nuclear power reactors had become damaged and the resulting radiation fears had meant that many residents of Tokyo had moved South temporarily.

The runners we met on the Philosopher's Path had evacuated Tokyo and decided to move to Kyoto for a short time. I now know those runners as Jurgen and Christina residents of Tokyo that had decided to use their time in Kyoto positively to literally run around the city raising money for the Tsunami victims. Jurgen was an energetic and inspirational character who seemed enthused by his efforts to help those in the North of the Country. Jurgen runs a website called 'Run Tokyo' http://runningintokyo.com/ look him up if you are in those parts.

As runner's do we talked about...running and Jurgen was surprised to be reminded that the Kyoto Half Marathon was taking place the next day. Jurgen suggested he would come along too and continue his fund raising efforts among like minded runners. I was disappointed that I couldn't take up Jurgen's offer of a run the following Monday but was glad we would meet again the next day at the Kyoto Road Race.

The journey from Osaka to Kyoto took approximately 40 mins on the efficient Hankyu Line. Japan's a well ordered country and in contrast to the throng of people trying to board a London tube the Japanese have a system of lining up at points on the platform which indicate where the doors are going to stop. Consequently I arrived at the start relaxed and excited about running on Asian soil. The route was to be out then back to the start then out in the opposite direction, then back to the start, then a repeat twice or three times I can't remember. race registration worked much the same as in the UK and I was grateful to receive a t-shirt, a bunch of bananas and a bottle of water to assist with pre race fuel and hydration.

In addition to the half marathon there was a preceding 5k race. Christina and Jurgen showed up and couldn't resist the temptation to 'woo' the race organiser by suggesting that their fund raising efforts would be enhanced if they could gain late entries. They were successful, Christina ran the 5K and at the last minute Jurgen got a late half marathon entry on the condition that he started at the very back of the field. Amazingly Jurgen started at the back and picked his way through to finish the race in the top twenty in a time of 1hr 27 mins, a fine achievement! More importantly the Run4Tohoku charity was well supported. You can read about Jurgen's day here http://runningintokyo.com/profiles/blogs/eric-wainaina-meets-run4tohoku-1

I lined up for the half marathon alongside some of Richie's friends to form a Gaijin or 'foreign' team. The team included Vince, Indiana USA?, Mark, Manchester, England and Craig Colorado USA. 

Pre race confidence and nerves

Pre race fags!

The start was fairly confusing. A man seemed to be wandering the start line ticking people off. I couldn't understand what he was saying and couldn't understand the tannoy announcements, I just stood around trying to do what everyone else was doing, only everyone seemed to be facing opposite directions! Just before the start of the race the half marathon crowd cheered the last finisher of a previous race. I briefly saw the eighty something year old man stagger past towards the finish line. I learnt later that he had collapsed shortly before the finish but when people went to his aid he stood up and staggered on, it was quite humbling to see such an elderly man competing and it inspired me to run well over the 13 miles that were about to begin. 

I had a steady start and at the first turn noticed Mark was not too far behind me. Mark quickly caught up and told me that if I needed a pace guide he was running at 1 hour 30 pace. Mark was certainly going well and i was able to keep with him over the next few miles before deciding i had to let him go. I knew Mark was a fairly inexperienced racer and I wondered if he might have overcooked it during the first part of the race. I decided to just keep him in sight and if I had anything left at 9 miles I try and challenge him for the later bragging rights. It turned out Mark was good to his word as he sneaked home just under 1hour 30 minutes. I'd struggled to keep him in sight and rather than get closer after 9 miles the gap extended to me running home in 1 hour 31minutes. Craig broke the 2 hour barrier and Vinnie came in shortly after that.

20th place in 1 hour 31 minutes
I enjoyed the race immensely, it was completely different to run so far from home. There was a lot of support for the Western face in the Eastern crowd and another highlight was meeting Olympic silver medalist Eric Wainaina at the finish. Eric was talking to my partner, Tracy about competing at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. It seemed strange to be so far from home talking to a Japanese based professional athlete about our home town but Eric certainly loved Manchester and the Manchester people!

We love Manchester us, Peace!
The organisers had let me buy an extra half marathon t-shirt. I intended to keep one as a memento and use the other to show off at the gym. Eric signed the second t-shirt wishing me good luck for the London marathon. Incidentally Eric won the half marathon despite as Richie noticed, he spent the whole race high fiving all his fans along the route - what a guy!

I was pleased to finish 20th if my time was a little disappointing. I remember it felt humid on the day and the travel across time zones may add to excuses. Performance of the day was Mark's coming home in 17th place in his first half marathon. Good luck at the Osaka Marathon later in the year.  

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