Waking to a blaring alarm clock at 4:45am on a Sunday is not everyone’s idea of a pleasant morning. But for me, May 29th was my first ‘marathon’ – something I’d been quite nervous and excited about for a long time!
Despite having signed up months in advance, my training was little to none. I had great intentions but I also had great excuses! ‘It’s too cold’, ‘I can’t be bothered’, ‘I promise I’ll go tomorrow’… the list goes on.
Luckily, a ‘marathon’ in Japan isn’t the conventional 42.2 km that westerners are used to. ‘Marathon’ seems to cover any length of race in Japan. For me, it was 6 km. This may not seem much but, for someone who hasn’t run since high school, this was going to be a challenge!
By 5am, I was on my way to beautiful Kusatsu to register with Dave and Claire. We had no idea where exactly we were heading but arrived at the same time as hundreds of other people. It was impossible to get lost! Having left Annaka in the rain, you would think we would have prepared. But no, we were the ONLY ones without umbrellas and rain gear – good one, gaijins!
We made it through registration, warm-up (joining track and field club students from Tsumagoi), and finally mental preparation (convincing ourselves it’s OK to come last, as long as we finish), without getting too wet.
That changed as we were called out to the start line. In a matter of minutes our white t-shirts were completely see through. We were so pumped about the race we hardly noticed. Before we knew it, the gun went and we were off!
At first it was hard to work out where my place in the race was. It was like Shinjuku station at rush hour. People were bumping into me, cutting me off – I was trying to keep the rain out of my eyes and not slip on the road! Before the race, I hadn’t looked at the course in too much detail. All I knew was that the start and finish line were in the same place.
The hills took me by surprise! We seemed to keep going downhill, further and further. At some stage we were going have to get back to the finish line and I wasn’t looking forward to the amount of uphill it would involve.
Despite the weather, the locals were out to cheer us on. ‘Ganbatte!’ and the occasional ‘Fight On!’ were great motivation and kept us smiling. Being the only foreigners, we also saw shocked faces and heard echoes of ‘Ah! Gaijin-san!’. There was the odd high-five too!
To my surprise the race was over before I knew it. And we found out we didn’t come last… woohoo! Immediately, we had microphones thrust in front of us and were subject to an interview. ‘Wow, you are English Teachers… that is SOOOO amazing!’ followed by ‘But Maebashi… that’s SOOOO far.’
We got t-shirts and some manju as a token for finishing, and collected our race certificates before sampling some of the local specialties. We even met someone famous – we didn’t know who he was but he had quite the following. If anybody recognizes him in the photo (above), please let us know!
We finished the day off by making the most of our free onsen ticket and soaking our bodies for a good hour before making the trip back to Maebashi.
Even though I did my first ‘marathon’ in typhoon conditions, and at times it seemed more like a puddle jumping competition than a running race, I had an absolute blast and cannot wait to do another one! My legs still hurt from those damn hills but they’ll be back to normal before I know it! I recommend everyone to put down ‘marathon’ on their Japan Bucket List – it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget and you’ll have a great time!
One word of advice though… If it does happen to rain on the day, wear as little clothes as possible. This may sound crazy, but you don’t want to be running with kilos of wet clothes weighing you down… We found out the hard way!
For details of more running opportunities in Japan check out Runnet.jp