Urakawa HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #10
2015 Race #12
Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Up at 3:45am to watch the All Blacks play France in the quarters of the RWC, then off to Urakawa. Fortunately it’s only an hour twenty away. Kinda tired when I got there and my gut was a bit rough, but managed to get to the start line. Thought it would be sunny, but ended up being cloudy and cool. Good enough. 

Did the 10K here last year and vowed never to do the HM… Hah! I just had to try it. Basically the HM is two out and backs. The out being an uphill. Anyway, got started with just the slightest incline at the start. After about 2K you enter a private road, which is normally blocked off to the public (it’s a facility for breeding and/or training horses). At 2.5K or so was the first sports drink station followed up the road by the first water station. Drank a little of both there as from 3K you definitely start to climb more. 

Hard work to 5K (and the turnaround for the 10K), but got up there at a steady pace. Of course, being on the half you had to go a little further to the HM turnaround…except you had to go down to get to it. That kinda threw me. I just wanted to get to the top…and then turn around and go down. Instead, we climbed then dropped down a little bit to the turnaround, then climbed back up a little before we could finally go down. That kinda sucked! Anyway, hit the turnaround (at 5ish K) at 33 minutes. 

Was planning on hitting my first jelly drink up there, but really wanted to cruise down and drink it at the first proper water station. Of course, that wasn’t until just before 9K. Long time to wait, but it was worth it. 

Hit 10K at 1:00 and got back to the actual HM turnaround and then started on my second out and back. Heading out for the second time was rough though! Oh man, just had to do it all over again… Hard to get going even on the (very) gentle incline at the start. Eventually I just stopped and stretched, walked about ten meters and that seemed to do the trick. It was still tough when we really started to go uphill though! 

Hit my second jelly drink at the third set of stations and 15K at 1:32 (faster to that point than on the flat course at Tomakomai, but even on a downhill, the last 5K were pretty tough today). Hit 18K at 1:54 and then finally finished in 2:15:07. Seven HMs in seven weeks. DONE. Tenth HM for the year, too!

Tough course! Of course, people at the back end of a hard course are usually pretty friendly. As I was coming down the second time, I encouraged a bunch of people who were still going up. Pretty fun. (I wasn’t actually being a jerk here! FYI.) 

Anyway, another beautiful course in the countryside with lots of horses. Pork soup, a free ticket to the hot springs and some local(?) food to take home (salmon and wiener sausages) at the end. Won some more seaweed in the prize draw too. Won a big box of frozen fish here last year. When am I going to get something I actually want?! Ha ha… 

Anyway, as I was running this, I vowed never to do it again. But…I probably will. Ha ha. That being said, I did have to give up the Shikaoi Trail Run (with eight river crossings) to do it. Downer… Last year they were on different weekends… See what happens next year!


Tomakomai HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #9 
2015 Race #11 
Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Out to Tomakomai the night before and crashed at the local Road Station. Up the next morning and out to the goal at the sports grounds. Weather was cool and cloudy. Looked perfect, but it was set to deteriorate…around start time. Seriously! No registration needed as they had already sent my race number in the post. Just had to get on the bus and get out to the start at Komazawa University. 

The only other foreigner in the race sat down beside me on the bus. Turned out to be living in Niseko. Turned out we knew some of the same people. Small world! 

Got set up inside the university until I got an email from MHM about thunder, lightning and heavy rain at the start. Looked outside and saw that it was much the same here. Thunder and lightning too. On man. Not pumped on that, but got out the plastic raincoat I bought in Takikawa. Least I am getting my money’s worth on that purchase… 

So…started the race in the rain at 10:10. Batman, Catwoman and Jushin Liger seemed to be in the race too. However I guess I didn’t look at the course properly again. Being Tomakomai, I knew that it would be flat, but I thought there was a short loop at the start, then a straight 19K on the main drag, before another little loop to the end. It didn’t turn out to be quite that bad. Close, but not quite that bad… 

The first loop out to the campground and back was about 6K…in the rain! Didn’t really need to be worrying about cutoff points, but I did need to make 18K by 2:15. Anyway, made it to the water station at 5K in 32:00. No worries there. Had water and my first jelly drink. 

After that it was a left turn, past the university and a straight line for about 13K. Still wet, but just light rain now. Although it was a six lane road, it wasn’t that bad as it was tree-lined…with trees running down the middle too. Didn’t feel that crazy…except going through intersections. The road wasn’t completely closed off and, naturally, we had the right of way, but I always stressed that the policemen directing traffic wouldn’t see me coming. Only once did I see a runner have to swerve out of the way of a taxi. (A little slack that that even happened though…) 

Anyway, just cruised it along the main drag, trying to conserve as much energy as possible. Walking through the water stations, stretching a little too even. Water and my second jelly drink at the 10K in 1:02, 15K at 1:34 and then the 18K at 1:51. 

Started to pick up the pace in the last 3K and passed a bunch of people. Finally made a left turn at about 19K and headed back towards the sports grounds. Apart from the weather, it was a fairly uneventful race. Just flat and really straight. 

Entered the sports grounds and finished with one lap on the athletics track. Got rice balls, sports drink and a race towel at the finish.

Little slower than last week at 2:10:00, but six HMs in six weeks! Good to get it DONE.

Hiroo Santaland HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #8 
2015 Race #10 
Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Tenth (completed) race for the year! Well…yeah, not really “racing”…if I tried to “race” these, I would probably get injured pretty early on. Not exactly a low-impact sport…

In Sapporo for the day on Saturday, but out for the local half-marathon (first annual?) on Sunday. A little crazy, but had to get it done. Signed in at 8am…and then back again at 10:40am or so to get ready for the start. Weather was looking good. Warm even. Word down at the surf point was that it was good down there too. With the road by the ocean closed to traffic, the local surfers had gone in early to support the runners/score an uncrowded session. Nice. With ten days off since Bibai, my legs were feeling pretty good too. 

The race started at 11am and there were a lot of people lining the streets. A LOT. Got going, but totally felt I was running too hard at the start. Rush of blood, I guess.

Down the main road, again a lot of people, and then the first water station at the end of the main drag at 2.5K for the 5K turnaround. Was actually feeling really thirsty so stopped to drink. Then a small drop down before starting to run by the ocean out towards Oshirabetsu. That would be tough on the way back! Still felt I was running a little too fast, so just tried to cruise. Pretty weird running through the tunnels, or on that road in general, as it usually gets a lot of traffic. In fact, I would never normally run there. It would be freaking terrible! 

Got to the next water station at 4.6K. Drank my jelly drink, water and made it to the 5K mark at 28 minutes. Definitely a little faster than normal. This is about where the surf point is and with not much wave action, they were actually doing a pretty good job supporting the runners. Me, in particular. A long line of high fives pumped me up…right when I needed to slow down… Oh well… 

Another water station at 7.5K and then kept on to Oshirabetsu. Hit the 10K at 55 minutes and the halfway point at 58, really needed to chill out though… Wasn’t intentional, I just knew too many people in the race, supporting or acting as race officials… Didn’t want to look bad! They had bananas at the 10K water station right at the harbour, but I flagged that for my second jelly drink and more water. Did a couple of little loops in Oshirabetsu then back on the ocean road back to Hiroo. Feeling good, but still running a little too fast. Got to the 13.5K water station, which an old friend from the town office was working on, ran pretty hard and felt a little twinge in my calf… Didn’t want to cramp up so I definitely slowed down after that! 

Hit the 15K at 1:25, but I was definitely slowing down when there was no one around to save myself up for the run down the main street, not to mention passing the surfers again. Got another big boost there, but I slowed right down when I got out of sight of them!

The little rise going back up on to the main drag was tough, walked some of it, too. Got back on to the main street and cruised it back, past the bus station and onwards, turned right and up the slight rise by the pool and then down through the Santaland gates and into the finish at the local elementary school. 2:05:10. Good to get it done. Five HMs in five weeks! 

High fived the guest runner at the finish, high fived my old boss, but with MHM not there waiting for me, I had to go organize my stuff myself. Couldn’t exactly think straight, but got it done. A banana and water at the finish, then fish eggs on rice, pork soup and meat off a spit. The food was pretty impressive (I could only eat the banana and drink the soup though), but there was no race towel, t-shirt etc. 

And I won a Santaland tree in the prize draw. “Real tree style”…which actually means it’s a real tree. Sounds like it’s fake though! 

They also had a pretty good festival going on there (you even got a 500 yen coupon), but I didn’t even use it as I got talking to too many people. The random Hiroo guy who was at Bibai had entered too… and he kinda freaked out again. Using sign language way too close to my face to get his message across. Sigh… Friendly enough though. 

Great course, along as the weather is good. Seemed to be well organized too. Pretty good event, I must say.


Bibai HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #7 
2015 Race #9 
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Drove up the night before and crashed at the Road Station in Naie. On to Bibai the next morning under clear blue skies. Nice. Legs were feeling a little stiff, but not too bad. Have to be careful on this run. Just gotta finish. I had to wanted to enter the Asahikawa HM on Sunday the 27th, but missed the entry date by one day. (The entry date was two months in advance!) However I really wanted to try and run four half-marathons in one month and, if I took this one slow, I felt I had done enough training this year to handle it.

Signed in, got my race t-shirt (been a while since I got one of them) and started getting ready. Lots of stretching! MHM was doing the 10K as well. Nice little setup here with a big patch of grass, some stalls, beer on tap and yakitori. Fortunately we got a good park for the car too. 

Getting near race time and I tried to stand at the back of the HM runners, but in front of the 10K, 5K runners etc. (There was no one holding signs to separate everybody out. Not such a bad idea that…) Of course, when the gun sounds for the HM I started to bump into people who were standing in completely the wrong place. Can handle it if they are kids, but a lot of the time it was the parents standing with their kids, waiting for the last race to start in the middle of the people about to start the first race… Come on!

Anyway, the race was flat, warm, sunny and fairly uneventful. Just cruised it. Really conscious of not running too fast. Got out into the country quick, which didn’t take long, of course. They had a wheelchair race as well. Some were flying, some weren’t. That’s gotta be hard work on your arms. 

Hit the 5K water station and it was about this point when I started talking to elementary school teacher guy from Sapporo. One of the good things about running here is the random conversations you have with people. Of course, I’m only really up for two or three minutes…at most. It is a race, after all. For 21K! 

I just couldn’t shake this guy though. I would try to speed up (which I really didn’t want to do…) and he would match me. I would ease off the pace and he would do the same. Just hitting me with “by the way…” Over and over again. So many questions. He wasn’t running that fast, but just keeping in time with him was stressing me out. I just wanted to run my own pace. Eventually, I just stopped dead and pretended to stretch. Naturally, he thought I was injured and stopped to see if I was okay. I politely told him I was fine and for him just to continue. This worked…for a while…

Despite trying to run slow, I eventually caught up with him. He noticed me and hit me with “by the way…” for like the 47th time. I told him very politely that I just wanted to run at my own pace and that I couldn’t talk anymore. I probably apologized five times in the process. He apologized six and then we were good. 

So the race continued. My old workmate was in this race again. He turns up everywhere. He’s fast though. Like 1:20 fast. Anyway, hit the 10K, the turnaround and the water station just after that. From here on I definitely took more walk breaks. Basically, if I had any kind of weird feeling in my legs, I would stop and walk it out for ten seconds or so. Just gotta finish… 

Hit the 15K water station feeling good enough. They actually had another water station at 16K (due to the other races) so I made use of both. Pretty warm out. Kept moving on fairly steadily, walking from time to time if anything felt weird, but with 2K to go I came across my friend from before. I had conserved a lot of energy by this point, but I didn’t want to ease past him as he might start talking to me again! So I blew past him listening to him singing my praises about how tough and powerful etc I was. Kinda funny as we were all running at the wrong end of the race. Just trying to escape too much conversation… 

So I picked up the pace for the last 2K. I was sure I could hear him on my heels the whole way – always just my belt bag banging against me… Ha ha. Anyway, ended up finishing strongly…and in one piece. Nice. 

Pork soup after the race, but a local yakitori restaurant that MKev mentioned called Tatsumi had a stand as well. There was a big line, but MHM waited in it for me. Sweeeet! Grilled chicken and beer in plastic cups. Always good. Maybe they were just running out of chicken, but we got random pieces of meat. Totally expecting just thigh meat, but there was all sorts. Including the stuff I never order. Wasn’t so pumped on that. 

As I was lying on the grass stretching out my back with my eyes closed, someone tapped me on the shoulder. (Pretty much the worst way to approach someone, if you ask me!) I looked up and this guy is right in my face/personal space. Didn’t say a word, just pointed to my name and place of residence in the programme, then flicked through to his name and place of residence…and it turned out we both live in the same town – five hours away. At this point he actually started to talk to me, somewhat bizarrely though. Always nice to talk to people. Just wish they would approach me in a slightly more normal fashion. Or not talk for too long! 

Speaking of which, my other buddy came back to talk as well. Fortunately he kept it short! 

No free ticket to the hot springs, but you did get a hundred yen discount off it. From 650 to 550 yen. I don’t normally like to pay more than 500 yen, but had to go try it. Along with everyone else in the race and a local soccer school though! Very. Crowded. But…yeah, a nice hot spring! MKev had pumped it up, too…along with the soft cream. MHM ordered an orange soft cream, which turned out to be crazy sour. Like did we get grapefruit by accident? 

Ha ha. Too many complaints. Actually quite a good day…and four half-marathons in September. DONE. 


Mt. Shari HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #6 
2015 Race #8
Sunday, September 20th, 2015

The race was based in Kiyosato (not Shari itself) and we made it all the way out there in the pouring rain the night before. Signed in the next morning and the race started at 10am. No other foreigners and not a lot of people in this race…mainly because it’s far away and it looks tough! Three hour time limit and a bunch of hills! Fortunately the rain had cleared though. 

The race started and it was all good…for 2k. That’s when we had the first climb for about a kilometer. My goal in this race was just to finish so I did walk a bit of this first hill. Nothing crazy, but it was kinda long. The course flattened out for a bit and we hit the first water station at 5K. Hit my first jelly drink and water. Beautiful area around here. Guess I gotta go climb Shari-dake sometime. Starting to sun up pretty good too. Warm as well. 

Another climb after this until around 8K (well, a bunch of climbs really, some longer and some shorter) and a sponge table at 7.5K. Tended to run the shorter climbs, but walked parts of the longer ones. Just gotta finish. Crazy course! Was pleased to make it to the sponge table as it was a big downhill section for 5K after that. 

Made it to the 10K water station, which was near the start of the Shari-dake hiking course. Fortunately we didn’t have to run on that…although it kinda felt like we were! Drank my second jelly drink and more water. 

From there we headed to the 12.5K sponge table and things were about to go up again. This was pretty intense. A hill, a slight drop, then another hill…with the turnaround and the 15K water station on the steeps! Very conscious of the Bibai HM on Wednesday so definitely walked some of this. I did run around the turnaround though. Crazy doing it on a hill! The 15K water station just down from there. They had some fruit and chocolate etc and I totally hit that. Don’t normally eat solid food in races, but this was a tough one. Pretty warm out now, as well. 

From here it was a good downhill and basically a straight line for 6K back to the finish. There was a sponge table at 17.5K and another water station at 20K. Was pretty done by the end, but made it over the line. Just wanted to finish!

Won some vegetables in the prize draw, free fried potatoes, a race towel and a free onsen. Paid for and ate some black yakisoba, which was kinda weird though. 

Despite how gnarly this one was I would quite like to do it again. In fact, the hilly ones are far more interesting than the flat ones! 

The question is though, can I get up for Bibai with only two days rest?! 


Takikawa HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #5
2015 Race #7
Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Rolled into Takikawa around midnight the night before and woke up to pouring rain and wind gusts at 5am. Tail end of a typhoon… Surely it would ease! Didn’t really, but the race was on so I went to the convenience store and bought a plastic raincoat, just in case. 

Tried hard not to get wet leading up to the race, but once it was on it was ON. Bit weird running with the jacket. Not really sure if I needed it either… Anyway, first time to Takikawa, but…we left the city fairly quick. It’s not that big! Probably not that much to see though. The first water station was at 3.7K, which was a little ridiculous. The guy behind me who tipped the remainder of his drink over the backs of my legs was a little ridiculous too. Gotta assume it was unintentional though! 

Small hill just after 5K, but it was a fairly, flat course out in the country (lots of massive crates of onions) and beside the river. Apart from the rain, it was fairly uneventful. Just cruised the course. One race official was very enthusiastically supporting the runners though, unfortunately not by name like in Shinhidaka, but we did develop a relationship of sorts as he appeared at three points during the race! Then there was the underpass just after 19K. Most people were walking up it, but I forced myself to run all the way up that. Tough at the end of a race though! 

Again, it was hard not to pick up the pace in the last kilometre and I busted past a bunch of people, before running the last stretch hard. Probably shouldn’t have done that with my half-marathon plans this autumn…but I just couldn’t help it! 

Still raining at the end of the race, but it had eased somewhat. Pretty happy to hit the Matsuo Genghis Khan stall for lamb kebabs afterwards and some Takikawa gyoza at a local restaurant, before heading back to Asahikawa to grill under a bridge!


Shinhidaka HALF-MARATHON : 2015

2015 HM #4
2015 Race #6
Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Out in the new ride and out to Shinhidaka the night before. Decided to crash at the sports ground where the race starts and finishes…except all the toilets brought in for the race were locked. There were a couple of “older” permanent ones open though. Of course, it was pitch black down there. MHM decided to decline on using them! 

Anyway, up the next morning and the race started at 9:30am. Kinda cold first thing, but glad I just stuck with shorts and tank top. Weather was cloudy generally and about 20 degrees. Good running weather. The course here is generally flat with a few rollers and one hill. Starts off by the river, but then quickly goes into the country. Started at the back of the pack and just cruised. Got to the 10K mark and drank my second jelly drink (the first I drank at 5K). Really beautiful course in the country. Lots of horse stables. Really popular for cherry blossom viewing too. 

Got to the 15K marker, which was at the top of the one actual hill, and then back to the sports ground to the finish. Again, no cramps in my calves. Only stopped to walk through the water stations. Have done a lot of hilly walks lately, more than running actually. Has walking stairs made my running better?! Anyway, entered the sports ground and charged to the finish. Awesome. All of a sudden I am sprinting to the finish again… Negative splits, too! 

Not only is this a really nice course, but the race officials and supporters totally pump you up. On three occasions they were supporting me BY NAME. Might possibly be because I am a foreigner though. Ha ha. The second and third time were out of control. Fairly big groups of people lining the street on either side at random places (probably the checkpoints). Single fist pumps became double fist pumps. Totally lapped it up. 

Water and mini tomatoes at the finish to go with the race towel and some kind of “edible” seaweed. Had a soy joy bar and two Budweisers as well. 

The guest runner from Nosappu-misaki came back to win this race too. Instead of a Q and A session, he did a signing/photo session. Naturally he remembered me. Ha ha. Asked him what his training plans were for Monday. Work and an EZ 20K back in Shikoku. The day after running 1:05. Damn!