I titled the post "Awesome and Awful," because the trip was truly an amazing experience. Huge shout out to the Bloomington Sister City Organization and its counterpart in Japan (the IIEA) for sponsoring the marathon runner exchange program. Three other Bloomington runners along with myself and our travel companions were given the royal treatment. Meeting new people, seeing the sights, doing some arts & crafts, learning about the Japanese culture, and trying the food...it was a trip I will never forget.
But this isn't a travel blog, let's get to the awful part of the trip, which unfortunately was my running performance. I took part in the 20th anniversary running of the Senshu International Marathon. It will be impossible to describe everything about this experience, but I'll give it my best shot.
Weather - 30-40 and mostly cloudy, couldn't have asked for better weather especially considering the days before and after the race it either rained pretty heavily or snowed!
Field of runners - 5,500 people for the special anniversary year of the race. Mostly Japanese runners, but a decent field of international competition including some quick Aussies.
Course - mostly flat and straight line until the last 10k where you start twisting and turning, and then do an out and back across two very steep-hilled bridges. (Note: turns out the course was probably long on distance. My Garmin, which usually ends up being short when I run the tangents, came in at 26.34 when I crossed the finish line.)
Fans - different from US races. There were a lot of people out for the anniversary race, but instead of cheering very loudly, they wave little flags and clap relatively reservedly. Although I must say, I was smiling and waving (I couldn't help myself, I was running in JAPAN!) and it seemed to earn me some extra cheers and delight from the spectators! :)
Special notes - I have never seen so many runners smoking cigarettes and/or pounding energy drinks before a race as I saw here. Crazy! The bathroom situation on course was...unique. They don't put portable toilets along course. Instead, they had signs on course indicating a bathroom is nearby, but you are supposed to raise your hand and be escorted by a race marshall to the facilities. Most were not within eyesight of the course; breakdown! AND only 6 drink stations on course. I felt thirsty! And anyone who knows me, knows I am a camel and rarely drink so this was a challenge.
My Race Plan - run in control, think of the race as training for Boston. Try to run even pace throughout and finish around 3:00.
What Actually Happened - well, I knew I would have a hard time running 7:00/mile at the beginning with the excitement and adrenaline flowing, but I was really trying to focus on not tearing myself up for Boston. I'm waaaay behind on training because of my flu/pneumonia episode, and the month following the Japan marathon is going to be critical for getting as ready as possible. So I went out at about 6:15/mile, and it felt easy. I gradually slowed but to a pace that still had me on target for a 2:50-2:55 finish. I felt the urge to use the facilities about 6k into the race, but due to toilets being so far from course, I just kept holding it. I also had a bit of a funny stomach. The race didn't start until 10:30am, and although I ate a larger breakfast than normal to accommodate for the late start, I think I was low on fuel from the gun from not eating much leading up to the race (due to the unique Japanese food I was experiencing). To make matters worse, due to my funny stomach, I only ate about 1/4 GU throughout the entire race. So...not unsurprisingly, I was the 4th female and on pace for 2:50-2:55 at 30k, but then the wheels fell off. I eventually had to stop to use the bathroom, a few women starting passing me by, and the hills on the bridge were killer. Fortunately I was smart enough to let go of my competitive nature, focus on Boston, and slow down and just enjoy the experience. Have I mentioned...I was running in Japan?! :) I finally limped home around 3:04. What was kind of funny was that although this was my slowest race in the last 3 years, 2nd slowest ever, I still placed well among the female field of competitors. 7th overall and 3rd for non-registered runners ("registered" runners are those enlisted with the Japanese running association). I won a sweet trophy and was recognized in a cool awards ceremony. So overall, an unforgettable experience and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Big props to the Bloomington Sister City Organization!
Final note - I wouldn't be myself if I wasn't extremely worried about Boston coming up. I'm in great shape for training. I wasn't sore at all after the race and have been able put in a couple of decent workouts since I returned, but I don't know if I have enough time. I missed the bulk of winter training. My speed seems to be there, but my endurance just isn't. One month might not be enough to build that up, but you can bet all of my energies will be focused laser-like on April 15.