Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sapporo Marathon

Exactly one week ago, I was just starting in the Sapporo Marathon. Ah, natsukashii. I ran the 10K race in the Sapporo Marathon. It was tons of fun, and I had a wonderful time. It was my final race of 2012.

The night before, I stayed in a hostel with my friend. It was actually the same hostel I stayed in the night before my first race, so I started and ended my 2012 racing season in the same place. Of course, the only problem with staying in a hostel is that someone is always rustling. As a side note, that was one nice thing about the capsule hotel...luggage was banned from the sleeping area. But one inmate did smuggle her bag in. She the proceeded to rustle the night away.

So anyway, I got up Sunday morning and took the subway to Makomanai, the end of the green line. Many of my fellow passengers were in various forms of athletic gear, so I had an inkling that we'd be heading the same way eventually.

We all piled off the subway when we pulled into Makomanai. As we exited in our herd, a man was giving directions about the race. He said something about the shuttle bus being at stop number 10. I didn't immediately see stop 10, so I decided to just continue following the colorful crowd.

After a few minutes of walking, I started to think that this was the most distant bus stop known to mankind. Then, I realized that I had inadvertently joined the horde that was walking to the race site. Oh, well.

It was a pretty fur piece to the race site, and to get to registration, we had to walk along a part of the actual race course. We passed one of the km markers for the 10K, and I realized that in just a few hours, I would be thundering along past this very point (har har).

Eventually, we arrived at the race site, and it was crazy town! There were people everywhere and many booths and tents. In the center, a huge TV monitor (the kind that has a built-in truck) was parked behind a platform, where an array of events took place. I registered, and then just wandered around to look at everything. Registration was from 7-9, but the 10K didn't start until 11:30. So I had pleeeeenty of time.

The official warm-up was led by some very cool looking fitness professionals. It was still a zillion hours before my race,so I sort of joined in. It was fun, but the best part was when they'd film kids, who would then see themselves on the big screen and forget what they were doing.

After a while, the races began. There were a lot of races that started before the 10K. I watched some of them start off, and then as they finished, I watched some of the awards ceremonies. Wow, the Sapporo Marathon has some formal awards ceremonies! the presenters were really dressed up, and the music would not have been out of place in the Olympics. I think the fact that the ceremonies were also being played on the big screen made them seem even more formal.

It started to get close to line up time, so I started following around ladies in pink numbers to try to find the 10K line up location. It was in a different place from the earlier races, and I wasn't 100% sure where it was. But sometimes the pink numbers went in opposite directions, and I got a little confused. But I eventually started seeing race staff holding up numbers for the race bays.

Pardon me while I take a minute for explanation. If you've read my prior blogs, you probably know that I like to start in the back of the pack. This was a tip I learned while studying up on racing manners. If you are slow, it's a good idea to start in the back. Number 1, you aren't blocking the rabbits, and Number 2, you can slowly advance through the ranks and feel very powerful.

When I signed up for this race, the form asked for an expected finishing time. In a fit of inspiration, I decided that my goal would be to run the 10K in under an hour. My training time at that time was about 1:06-1:10 for a 10K, so I thought that with several months of training ahead, I could probably knock off some of those minutes.

One month after registering, I injured my knee. That put a small dent in my training plans, to say the least. I wasn't 100% sure I'd be able to run my back-to-back races, let alone finish in one hour. So I was a teensy bit concerned about the race start. OK, explanation over.

Sure enough, they assigned our numbers and had us line up in specific areas. I could possibly have staged an escape, but the race staff would probably have put me back in my place. :-)

The line up was really interesting. I found the section for my race number, which was on the far right. There were two narrow roads that ran parallel to each other. The left road was all men, and the right road was men on the inside half and ladies on the outside half. The lowest race numbers were in the front, and the highest were in the back. I think I was in the second group.

Once in our specific area, the race staff lined us up in rows of four. As everyone began to get sorted out, I began to feel a bit of an odd sensation. After a second, I realized what it was. When Dave Barry came to Japan, one of his common jokes was "Hey, I'm the tallest one here!" Well, suddenly, with all the men sorted out and everyone in neat rows, I realized that I had a most excellent view. "Hey," I thought, "I'm the tallest one here!" At least, it certainly felt that way. About 10 minutes out from race time, we started slowly moving. Hmm, where are we going? Starbucks? But the race staff was just moving us into starting formation.

Now, here's where having a smartphone really comes in handy. A few minutes before start, I went to a video chat with home (on Google+). It was fun to stand in the start line and chat with home and show where I was. I  had to take a second to raise my hand when they asked who was a first time runner in this race. There was so much energy in that starting lineup.

Finally, the gun sounded, and Mom, Dad, my bro and I took off. Everyone, including my family (!) waved at the cameras overhead. We hung up soon after (hahaha, that just sounds funny), and it was time for all of us to get down to the business of running, and for me to get down to the business of not getting trampled by the thundering herd behind.

Before the race, I gave myself a little pep talk. "OK, team," I said, striding around my brain, "This is it. The final race of the season. You don't have to save any juice, so give this one everything you've got. You ran a half marathon last week, and this isn't even half as long. So do your in-race warmup, and then just let it go. You've got all winter to recover."

So as I ran, I warmed up, and then just kind of let the crowd sweep me along. We ran along shaded city streets, then down a wide, sunny road. The weather was just beautiful and perfect for running. It was a cool day, the kind that's perfect when you get all warmed up. There were lovely mountains in the distance that provided a wonderful backdrop for the day. We turned, and ran across a big bridge. Then we made another turn onto a jogging trail, and things got a touch scary. The woman two people in front of me suddenly darted to the side, and the woman in front of me ran into a barrier that was meant to stop cars from driving onto the trail. Then I halfway ran into her. Yikes. We were still in a tight herd at this point, so I'm glad no one went down.

The huge pack swept along the trail. As we curved, I could see tons of people up ahead. Then, I could see tons of people behind. Wow, it was kind of weird to see so many people behind. I continued to keep pace with the crowd, sometmes passing, and sometimes being passed.

Then, a very short (but powerful) lady in green passed around to my left. She probably came about halfway between my shoulder and my elbow. Her pace looked good (challenging for me, but also sustainable), so I decided to adopt her as my pacer. I just ran behind her, passing when she passed and slowing when she slowed. I'm not sure where the race photographers were, but we probably made somewhat of a goofy pair running down the road - probably the shortest lady in the race being followed by the tallest.

The happy horde kept charging along the trail, but suddenly we all dramatically slowed down. I didn't know what was going until I looked ahead and saw that we were all trying to get through a narrow tunnel. Eventually, we made it through and were free again.

The jogging trail went back into the shaded park, and we had some small hills. I started having some excess energy buildup in my legs, so I left my pacer and sailed down the hill. But then I had to slow down, and we were running at the same pace again.

With only a few kilometers left, I started to feel the energy surge again. So I decided to let it fly, and left my pacer for the final time. I ran into the race starting area, and started the final loop around the outside of the stadium. And there was one more hill (who ut it there?). I started chanting to myself in Japanese, "Mou chotto, mou chotto" (people cheer runners on with it as they get close to the end).

I ran into the stadium with my horde of finishers. As I ran into the stadium, I gave myself one more little pep talk. "OK,  this is it! It's you versus the clock. It might say something good, but now is the time to bring the fire and finish strong!" We had to make half a loop inside the stadium and then run down the middle to finish, and I just gave it everything I had and sprinted around the stadium and straight down the middle. I passed some people, but all I could think about was that almighty clock. 

Finally, I was across the finish line and into the crush of finishers. We made our way through the different stations (getting our drink, giving back our chips, etc.) I finished with quite a big group of people. I think we were close to an hour, but I still don't know our official time. I felt really great, though. I felt like I was in control of this race, rather than it beating me over the head, like Shibetsu. But I've learned a lot through this racing season about lots of different things, especially the importance of positive mental talk. I know it sounds a little hokey, but mental talk like, "You got this!" is much better than "What the heck are you doing?" I need to apply my racing lessons to the rest of life, apparently.

Eventually, I left the race and started to make my way back to the station with the help of my GPS. Thankfully,I found myself in another horde that seemed to be going my way. A little part of me was still in race mode, as I passed some people and thought "Yeah!"

P.S. My train just rolled into Shibetsu station. Hey, I raced here! Well, not at the station. Heh.