Kyoto Marathon

A beautiful day for a marathon today in Kyoto: blue sky, light dusting of snow on the mountains, and 16000 people to share it. So I’m trying to put aside my disappointment with my time. Running marathons in Japan is about so much more than the running; it’s the food, the spectators, the never ending ganbatte, fight-o and the little challenges that make you realise you aren’t at home.

I had difficulty finding the correct subway line at Kyoto Station, for one thing, so that I could get to the race start, and getting to the start involved a change of subway lines (meaning I had to stop part way to buy a second ticket); I wasted a lot of time both at Kyoto Station and when I had to change lines and I couldn’t understand the ticket machine, but this meant I had less time for standing around in the cold on the start line. It was freezing in the stadium where we  had to stand through one of those long race introductions that the Japanese love. It’s ok for the officials because they’re all wearing thick coats. At least here I could see exactly what was happening: a band, speeches, athlete introductions.

I had decided to try to run a bit faster at the beginning today and then take walking breaks later on. I felt I ran faster early on than last weekend but I’m not sure if I actually did. We ran through some streets and then out to the edge of Kyoto, towards the mountains it seemed, following a river. There were shrines and memorial stones everywhere, but this is Kyoto. One time we ran under a torii and close to a big temple. The race marshals held a sign where we passed something significant.

The sun was out almost all the way but the air was cold. I couldn’t decide whether to keep my gloves on. Almost nobody was in shorts except for the elites at the front. I came across a group of TV people who were running in formation around someone who was clearly famous: he was a comedian apparently, and he did not look comfortable. The crowds were as enthusiastic as usual, with their yelling and high-fiving. I came into the race with sore legs but surprisingly the pains did not get any worse as I ran. I didn’t want to make any twisting moves, though. Going in a straight line seemed to be fine.

The food came into its own at 15 km. The first offerings were croissant-like buns and bananas. The cherry tomatoes and mandarins came next. Then I grabbed what I thought was a plain bun but turned out to have sweet red bean paste inside; it was surprisingly ok. There were also something called 'tablets' in the race material, which might have been a glucose pill and tasted nice. Each runner was given 2 strawberries. I think I might have been overeating.

After half way we did a lot of running along the river, first on the road and later on an unsealed footpath through parkland. We had several out and backs with a chance to see that I was not at the back of the field. It was very nice running by the river and about the first time I have seen somewhere in Japan where you could actually train properly.

One of the nicest parts was a stretch through the botanic gardens; the gardens were not very exciting but there was a performance of traditional Japanese singing. At other times we passed bands, dancers and groups of cheer leaders. The cutest was a group of little kids with bright orange pompoms.

When it came to it I didn’t do much walking at all. The kilometres were seeming longer and longer but I got into a rhythm and tried to keep running. I walked the aid stations, mostly through necessity because they got very congested. The second half was flatter than the first half, which had several long gradual climbs, until the final 4 kilometres when we began climbing again. 

Around 39 km I suddenly realised I was right behind the 5 hour pace group. This was a shock as I had not noticed them before. I had imagined they were well behind me. They must have gone by when I went to the toilet at 33 km. (There were so many toilets on the course and yet all of them had long queues so I waited ages before I found one without a queue.) I needed to put on a spurt, and I did so but with difficulty because the road was so congested and runners were weaving all over the place. I had to go into the oncoming runners' lane a few times, and since those folk were on their home stretch this was fraught with danger. I expected to get yelled at for this transgression but nothing happened and I managed to get clear of that group. However I was forewarned that my result was not going to be all that good.

I kept up a good pace to the finish despite several awkward turns. Near the finish I ran past the comedian - he was pretty much collapsed on the ground. The finish was right by the bright red torii of the Heian Shrine. Then we had to walk along slowly being given things like a towel, medal, drink and a very small snack of a rice cracker. For the cost of the race they could have given us more food, surely. 

I didn’t know my time until I got my certificate, and I wasn’t overwhelmingly happy when I saw it. Only 3 minutes faster than Himeji. But I had had a nice run and I had survived despite all my aches and strained muscles. I only have myself to blame if I do too much (like a long hike just before the race...)

It was easy enough to leave the race precinct, something I really appreciated, and I got a bus back to my hotel. This was much simpler than getting to the start. As soon as I reached the bus stop and boarded the bus the marathon seemed a million miles away; Kyoto is so busy that even 16000 runners get swallowed up without a trace.


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