Takaoka Marathon

When I came to Japan to work, I had 3 goals for the year. One of which was to run in a half marathon over here, and today I finally accomplished that goal. Some of the teachers I work with at an elementary school in town signed up to run in the Takaoka marathon. Takaoka is a suburb of Toyama city about an hour and a half north of Takayama by highway. Toyama has a population of about 425,000 people, so it's a bit bigger than Takayama. Also, Toyama is right on the Sea of Japan, and not in the mountains, so it's about 10 degrees more warm.

The start time for the Half Marathon was 9am. We left Takayama around 6:30am, just to make sure we'd get there with enough time. We arrived around 8am, and didn't really have a whole lot to do for an hour. Packet PIck-up was only available the morning of, so we collected our T-Shirts, bibs, race booklet, and what not. This event was hosted by the University of Takaoka, so there weren't any merchandise tents, or similar things.

It was a very academic and non-commercial event. And many of the runners that showed up, seemed like professional athletes. Way different than the marathons I've run before. In the US, the marathons are an excuse for people to get into shape, and do their best. It gives people a reason to exercise, and see if they can actually accomplish the feat of covering 13 miles by only using your legs.

The Takaoka marathon seemed like it was more of a contest for athletes. There were several elderly people there, who weren't viewing this as a race, but many of the other runners were pretty serious. Out of the 672 Half marathon participants, it didn't seem like many were just there for exercise and for fun.

I put on my headphones, and began listening to Underworld as the starting horn fired. The first 1 or 2 kilometers of this race were terrible. At the start of any marathon, the route is completed congested, so you need to give a wide area for everyone to move around each other. Let the fast glide through the crowd, so they don't ruin their pace.

The start of the race went around the race track, down the hill, and then around another race track so the entire course could fit the 21.1 kilometers of a half marathon. Ugh? They should really add the course stretching segments towards the middle of the race.

After getting away from the beginning, the whole course was really rather nice. The course took us up to the beach of the Sea of Japan, then back through the country-side a little bit.

Before running the race, I knew their was a time limit. You had to finish under 2 hours and 30 minutes. I was running around the 15 kilometer when I started actually thinking about this and doing the math in my head. "Let's see.. 150 divided by 20 is 7.5. 7 times 21 is 147.. " I was running at about 7 minutes per km, so I figured I was in good shape to finish. But, I really had no idea what would happen if I didn't make the 2:30.

Well, at 17.4km, I came face-to-face with what happens. You're forced to retire. At the 17.4 km mark, there was a 2 hour checkpoint, which I arrived at 2 hours 1 minute and 49 seconds. I guess 7 minutes per km wasn't fast enough. I arrived, and the dude said, it's finished. A few more people behind me caught up, and were also stopped. Bahh..

A few minutes later, the bus of shame showed up and we all got inside. Something I didn't realize at the time was I had already passed the 1 hour 30 minute checkout a few kilometers back at 12.7km. I mean, I saw the clock and everything, but I didn't realize that was a "do or die" checkpoint. I made it there around 1:27 or 1:28.

The bus of shame had about 20 people. The bus drove us back to the start on the rest of the course. We easily caught up to the last 2 people who made it through the 2 hour check mark, and they were just walking the whole way back. Pfftt, what kind of bullshit is that. I was going at a faster pace than these guys were. I could have easily made the 2:30 finish line. Bahh..

I had to turn in my bib, rather than be able to keep it. Whatever.

I suppose this is why there were so many athletes present, rather than casual marathon runners. But, at least I now know what I'm getting into for these marathons in Japan. It seems that they all have a time limit, and they do clearly mark all the checkpoints on the website, and in the information packet.

So, while I completed my goal of running in a marathon in Japan, it feels rather disappointing since I didn't finish. Well, for 2014, I definitely plan on running again, and actually completing one!


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