Sunday, 6 December 2009

Fukuoka marathon - Japanese seriousness

Gloves - every race should give you a funky free pair.

Ohori Park, where the B race starts.

Statue by the start line.

Land of the karate kid required some Daniel-san action.

Ran the Fukuoka marathon in Japan today and it's a great experience. But the first thing I found out this morning is that I have a place in the Western States 100 next year, so that occupied my mind until I got to the race start. My first 100 miler will be at Rocky Raccoon in February in Texas and it's a flat trail race. WS100 will take a whole different type of training, but hopefully the marathon speed will help a bit. The ultras should, although I've got nothing lined up nearly as hilly as WS100. But that's something to think about later, as today's focus was a good, old road race.

Just being here's a privilege as it's a male only race with a qualification time of 2h45m. Great concept and this race has some serious history to it - this is the 63rd year and recent winners have included Gebrselassie and Wanjiru. Olympic and World Championships bronze medallist, Tsegeye Kebede, won for the second year in a row with a course record of 2h05m18s (photo of me with him and 4th place Dereje Tesfaye below).

Was a bit worried about the cut-offs every 5k as these were 19m30s for each section and the combination of Seattle last weekend and being in the middle of my hardest training phase for racing the Phoneix marathon next month meant I wasn't as fresh as normal. But there was nothing to worry about and I really enjoyed the experience of being in a fast field.

It starts in Ohori Park for the B stream (2h27m-2h45m marathoners), a beautiful park in the cirty centre with a 2k loop round it. The faster guys start in the stadium where everyone finishes and do just under four laps before heading to the road then meeting up with the rest of the field. I'll definitely have to return for the experience of being in the A stream starters one day.

Although there aren't really any sights and it's just a road course through pretty average streets, the crowds are huge and loud for the 600-odd runners and it's a big TV event. The Japanese take their running very seriously and plenty of supporters had printed lists of the race numbers and names so I had my name called out a couple of times with weird pronounciations.

Being caught up in the vast numbers of fast guys (more sub 2h30m finishers than any other road marathon I can think of) meant I barely thought about the lack of scenery and I just enjoyed the atmosphere. My fiancée had suggested that since I do so many races in costumes, maybe running as Godzilla from the back of the pack would be fun. It would have made for a great photo caption, but I don't think the organisers would have let me start. An example of the over-the-top organisation is the race numbers which are in order of qualification times and we had to line up in rows of about eight people, exactly in number order for the start. I liked this quirkiness, but it's not really needed in a small field.

Finished the day with 2h39m19s after a bit of a slow down towards the end. Had aimed for 2h40m as it's a great training pace to help me improve, but it felt like a real effort for the last 10k (mind you, the first 32k was very comfy and enjoyable, much more so than normal). Oh, and there was no medal, but a small towel in the goody bag beforehand and a big one at the finish. The best gear they gave out was the funky Michael Jackson gloves, which I'll wear with pride through the winter.

That's the last race of the year, so I can look back at a successful year with improvements all round and 10 minutes off my marathon PB. Most importantly I've got so many memories to look back on and enjoyed almost every minute of every race. If I can keep doing that, then there's nothing more I could ask for.


  1. Another solid race, Ian. I love the towel instead of a medal, much more functional. And the gloves will definitely help in Bend this winter.

    Looks like you'll be spending some time in the Smith Rock / Grey Butte area next spring!

  2. I'd rather have both, Sean :) Medals only to the top 3, which reinforces the sense that it's a proper championship-style race.

    I'll definitely be getting more trail work in and will be asking you lots of questions about Squaw Valley. I think I may be doing stupid amounts of Pilot Butte repeats as well...