Monday, February 20, 2017

Race Report: Ohme 30 K Road Race 2017

On February 19, Sunday Ohme 30 K Road Race 2017 took place in Ohme City in western Tokyo. I ran the race for the 6th time, and renewed my previous personal best from 2016. I would like to show you how I ran the race below.

The gun went off at 11:30 a.m. under a beautiful blue sky. It was a bit chilly with northern winds, but my arm warmers kept me warm. There was a tremendous congestion around the start line as always as runners slowed down to wave at official guests on the starter's stage. But once they passed it, they slowly picked up the pace. As you see on the course map below, the first 5 Ks are going up. It helps you warm up much earlier than when you run a flat course. I could feel the air warming from the body heat of the runners around me. The passage forward through other runners remained difficult still. But once I passed JR Miyanohira Station, the course started going down, and as some runners picked up the pace using the downward momentum, the crowd started spread apart, making easier than before my passage forward through other runners. 

The section between 5 and 10 K is rich in undulation. I kept a brisk pace of under 5:00/K, but I was also very careful not to increase the pace too much. Between 8 and 9 K there was a long downhill, and I was tempted to accelerate, but didn't, because in the following 5 K (between 10 and 15 K) the upward incline is the largest, so I wanted to save my legs for it.

Shortly past the 10 K mark, a friend of mine awaited me. She is a former runner, and now a member of Japan Association of Athletics Federations. She was there to guide runners as a volunteer. I called her name and waved to her. She yelled some words of encouragement to me. 

Between 10 and 15 K the road gets narrower. Also, runners have to stay on one lane because the other one is exclusively for the returning runners. It was somewhere around 11 or 12 K that I saw the leading group returning from the halfway point. Hakone Ekiden Hero Mr. Daichi Kamino was included. I shouted, "Kamino, kakko ii zo!" (Go, Kamino!) when he went past me like winds with two other runners. 

As more and more runners kept on coming down from halfway, I found myself getting excited with the prospect of reaching the turning point that is 85 M higher in altitude than the start line. I was still careful not to over-exhaust my legs while going up the most challenging phase of the first half. I ran in shorter strides and turned over my legs quicker. This takes a toll on my heart, but less tiring of the legs. 

Near the turning point, the crowds of cheerers suddenly got larger. Most of them came to JR Kawai Station by taking a train from Kabe near the start line. I looked for my cheer leader who had texted me earlier that she would be there to cheer me on. I couldn't see her when I went up, so I thought maybe she didn't reach there before my arrival.In no time a large road sign was in sight ahead high up above the road that said "The Turning Point of the Ohme 30 K Road Race", and there was a large cone right under it in the center of the road. It's the turning point.  The 15 K point is a little bit ahead of it, but it is a psychological turning point so to speak. The upward phase was over, and the rest is primarily downhill.

Soon after I turned around the halfway cone, I crossed the 15 K line. I quickly checked my watch. I was a little less than a minute earlier than last year. I was relieved. My first target was achieved. As I went down, I saw a whole bunch of runners on my right yet to reach the turning point. I saw many faces twisting in grimace... I turned to the right to see the cheering crowd, looking for my cheer leader. I saw one face after another, but they were all stranger. I almost decided that she was not there when I saw a familiar smile among a crowd of waving and clapping cheerers. There she was, smiling and waving to me. I smiled back at her. Though it was brief, it lifted my spirit and I was able to reset my motivation and down the hill I went in top gear. Shortly after I left the cheer leader behind, I grabbed some water at a water station for the first time in the race. I could feel my body was immediately refreshed.   

Although the 15-20 K section is one of the most refreshing parts of the race, because runners are finally freed from the burden of going uphill, and they are able use the momentum of downhill, you do not want to go too fast unless you are an extremely accomplished runner. This is because up ahead awaits a 700 M uphill past the 21.5 K point before JR Futamatao Station. You must save your legs in order to withstand this challenge. Also, by this stage of the race your legs have already significantly fatigued. Plus your cardio is significantly fatigued, so your ability to carry fuel and oxygen to the legs is not the same as in the earlier phases of the race. Fatigue can build and damage can manifest itself much more quickly than you expect. I kept a steady pace and remained focused. I was so focused and only looking right ahead that I didn't notice when I passed my friend who is a volunteer from the Athletics Federation. Luckily she found me and called my name, so I turned around and thanked her for cheering. 

Just before the 20 K mark Sydney Olympics Women's Marathon Gold Medalist Ms. Naoko Takahashi was walking backward to face the returning runners to give them a high five. I gave mine to her as I went past her. She was there last year too. I am always so impressed with her tremendously positive energy and capacity to motivate citizen runners. 

Soon after crossing the 20 K mark, a large bridge was in sight far ahead on the right. It's Ikusabata Ohashi Bridge. My stomach churned slightly at the prospect of the biggest challenge of the race--the 700 M uphill in Futamatao. When I finally reached the mouth of it, I could already see a number of runners walking, and some coming to a complete halt. Some were limping with a sudden cramp in their legs. People call them 'zombies'. I was one quite a lot in some of the previous races. I know the pain and misery of being one. Now I am both strong and skillful enough to avoid it. Again the basic technique is pull your chin down, take shorter strides, and keep your heart rates steady. You never ever want to push too much when you go up. When I finally reached the top of the hill, there was a momentary feeling of accomplishment. Using the momentum of downhill, I accelerated. The second biggest challenge was soon to come. I saw a sign that signaled the approaching of another water station. It was going to be my last hydration for the race. It's going to be a very important one, too, because from this point on there was no official water station. Failure to get enough water here could lead to damaging dehydration. I grabbed a cup and sipped to realize it was sports drink. I didn't like it, so I chucked it, and immediately grabbed another which was water. I had a gulp, and then kept some in the mouth, crashed the cup, and threw it into a trash box. Soon the last major uphill was in sight, not as long nor as steep as the previous one, but yet it presented a big challenge to many runners. Again I pulled my chin and ran in shorter strides, remembering the advice I got from a pace maker when I ran Tateyama Wakashio Marathon 2016. He said, "Don't worry about slowing down. But be sure to keep a steady rhythm." JR Miyanohira Station was in sight on the left that marks the end of the uphill. Finally I overcame the two biggest challenges of the race. What's left is 5 K. And it's all downhill. Ahead of me spread a infinitely wide and blue sky which was as cloudless as I was when the gun went off. Down I went a long straight stretch of road leading into downtown Ohme. As I went on, the rural landscape was gradually getting replaced with the lively atmosphere of the commercial district. Both sides of the road were packed with cheerers. The same people who sent me off earlier that day were still there to welcome me in. I was touched. Once I was in downtown Ohme the road became less of a downhill. There was less momentum I could rely on. I collected all of my willpower left in me to maintain the pace. Two more K to go. I pictured the 2.5 K circular course in my neighborhood that I was so used to running day and night, and made believe that I was running it in order to make me feel that it's something that I could manage easily. Soon I found myself passing the last 1 K mark. Stalls were in sight on the right, which clearly signaled that the finish line was near. Suddenly there was a wide open space ahead as runners sharply turn right into the home stretch leading to the finish arch. I kept left on the road to look for my cheer leader who was supposed to have come back from Kawai by train by then. She was there. I raised my right fist to show her how strong I still remained. She said, "MUTEKI, kakko iizo!" ("Go, MUTEKI!) because I was probably the only runner in the race that was running in the split-toe minimalist shoes" 

I raised my fist again to a professional photographer taking photos of all returning runners, and then took a right into the home stretch. It was shining white with a reflection of the sun. There was an even larger wall of cheerers on either side of the road. A large and colorful finish arch was gradually coming nearer and nearer as I put on a last spurt like Rio Olympics Men's Marathon Gold Medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya when he finished the race in Rio, swinging the arms frantically with open palms. A few seconds later I was on the other side of the finish line. I couldn't breathe for a moment, crouching with my hands resting on my knees. It took a while before I finally looked up and saw the cloudless sky above. The race is over. I remember seeing the gross time on the large official clock. It said 2:31:??. Did I do it? Did I renew my PB? Well, it doesn't matter. I completed the race, and I had a good run. I finished strongly. That's most important.

My legs were so tense from the final surge. I needed to give them a good massage for about twenty minutes or so. It was about half an hour later that I learned that the official time was available on the Web and that I had renewed my PB. I felt rewarded for all the hard work I put into the prep for the race. I was happy. 

My next race is Sakura Asahi Kenko Marathon 2017 that is held on March 26. It marks the end of my racing season 2016-2017. I will train hard so that I can finish strongly. 

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