Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008: Niigata Half-Marathon

I’ve been waiting for this day to come for months now!!  Even before coming to Japan, I was researching the Niigata Marathon Festival.  I knew that there was no way I could train for an entire marathon, so registered for the 21K, and ran around Murakami as much as I could.  I’m glad that I went into this race semi-in-shape because these Japanese runners are hardcore!!  Everyone’s got Hercules-legs, tight running pants, and speed!!  There’s even a very strict sag wagon that rides along at the 5-hour pace for the full marathon.  If that passes you, your race is over. 

We were all lucky that Sunday’s weather was perfect with clear sunny skies, and only a slight breeze.  The course was an out-and-back for all three races with different turning points depending on if you were running the 10K, 21K, or 42K.  It started out going through the city, over a river, through some woods, and then along the beach area.   Laura ran the 10K and Jon, my uncle (yasunori-ojisan, this is his 15th Niigata 10K, half, or full Niigata Marathon entry!!) and I ran the half.  Jon, ojisan, and I decided to run the first kilometer together, take it nice and easy, and see if we could see my grandma cheering.  The start was PACKED with thousands of Japanese people, and basically stayed that way throughout the race.  As one point we were bottlenecked from the entire width of the road to one lane.  I didn’t see a huge orange cone coming up until the very last millisecond, barely avoided it, but caused the person behind me to crash into it…whoops.  Since we started way back, I spent basically the entire race weaving through the masses, which required more concentration that I was expecting.  I found it kind of eerie at how quiet the race was.  Though there were roughly 6,000 runners, no one talked to each one another.  I’m used to making friends with complete strangers or listening in on other conversations while running ridiculously long distances, but not in this race!!  I guess everyone was in the zone and shooting for a PR.  Every now and again we’d hit a patch of cheering people ‘gambare, fuaitto!!’ or cheerleaders, taiko drummers, and even a brass band, which kept things going for a bit.  There didn’t seem to be very much support in the water stations and I ended up skipping a couple.  There weren’t very many people handing water out so instead the runners had to crowd around the tables pick up their own.  At one point I was trying to drink and run at the same time, but then bumped into a stopped runner ahead of me and jammed the paper cup into my nose!!  While I didn’t meet my first goal, I got my backup, which was to go faster than 1:45:00.  When I entered the track and field stadium to take the final lap, I looked at my watch and realized that I really had to book it, and ended up luckily finishing 1:44:46, phewf!!  This was Jon and Laura’s first race and they both did GREAT!!  Laura even ended up placing 10th overall in her age group division, winning flowers, a certificate, a mug cup, and rice!!

That night, back in Murakami was the Takedouro Matsuri, or hollowed-out-bamboo-lit-with-candle-matsuri. The people who I’m learning taiko from started the evening off with a spectacular taiko performance.  Old-style Japanese homes and shrines were open to shamisen, flute, classical guitar, and tea performances.  The gravel road and open areas were filled with beautiful hollowed out bamboos lit with candles.  

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