Monday, February 19, 2018

Race Report: Ohme 30 K Road Race 2018

On Feb. 18, Sunday I ran Ohme 30 K Road Race 2018 held in Ohme City in the western part of Tokyo. I finished in 2:29:45 (2:27:10). I slashed my PR for this distance by a minute and forty-eight seconds (gross).  I'm happy with the improved result. Also, I ran in aqua shoes with little cushioning this time. I withstood the shock of landing for 30 kilometers on my two soles and with a thin layer of rubber. I'm happy to prove to myself that I can grow stronger without the aid of advanced athletic technology such as bouncy cushioning, and a carbon plate such as the one that is embedded in the sole of the latest product by an American sports brand. However, the biggest feat in this event for me is my first barefoot finish in the Ohme race. I did this to commemorate a runner I respect--Abebe Bikila ( and also being inspired by Sirai Gena who shed his shoes 500 meters from the finish in Rome Marathon 2010. ( My attempt in the race made me respect the legendary Rome Olympics gold medalist even more, because I only ran barefoot in the last two kilometers, but yet a rough surface of the cobbled street frequently pained my soles. Bikila ran all 26.2 miles in bare feet, and beat all other shoe-clad competitors.

For the benefit of those interested in long-distance running and running this race in the future, I would like to give a report of how I ran the race below.

The gun went off at 11:30 am. It took a little less than 3 minutes to reach the official start line from my corral. Once I passed it, everyone started picking up the race. But congestion remained in the first 5 K, but the crowd slowly spread out after that, making it easier for me to overtake runners before me.

I kept my pace in check, trying to save my energy in the latter half. At 10 K I saw my friend Taeko san, who is a member of JAAF. She was there as a judge. I called her name and waved at her. She called my name, and said "Ganbatte" which means "Come on!" or "Give it all you've got." It lifted my spirit.

Shortly after I left Taeko san behind, I saw first Elite runners coming back from the u-turn. I shouted, "Sento runner kakko iizo!" which literally means, "Elite runners, you guys are so cool." I hope my voice reached them, and probably it did, because my voice was so loud.

Between 13 and 14 K the road got narrower, and more runners came running down from the u-turn. I saw Mr. F, a student at my language school, and a far faster runner than myself, hammering down the hill with his face sweaty and red. I was astonished how far ahead he was, and how fast he was going to be that much ahead of me at that stage of the race. I said, "Nice run!" and he raised his right hand for me and disappeared.

Mr. F's committed run ignited a fire inside me. The uphill got steeper as I approached the u-turn, but I pressed on. When I finally reached the turning point, the official timer said 1:17:##, not so faster than the previously year, and a lot slower than originally planned, because my estimated arrival time at the 15 K mark was 1:17:00, and the turning point was some hundred meters before the 15 K mark. I was a little anxious. But I saw it positively, saying to myself that I must have more energy left than the previous year. I changed the gear and ran down the hill like a fire ball.

As I suddenly increased the pace, so did the pressure on my legs. My left hip joint started to hurt a little. It's a common condition caused by sustained hard effort. It wouldn't go away probably until the race was finished, so I had to live with it. The 20 K mark was near. I looked for Taeko san, who was probably still standing the same spot. I found her when she was looking in the other direction. I called her name, and she turned around. But my voice was not as loud as when I called her name at 10 K. I was getting tired, and my breathing was a lot harder.

I crossed the 20 K mark in no time, but even when I heard the beep of the sensor, I didn't see my watch. I had decided not to see it much because I wanted to control my pace based on my gut feeling, rather than on info. given by a digital gadget.

Once past 20 K, there was a brief downhill, and then came one of the two biggest challenges of the second half--a long hill before JR Futamatao Station. My strategy there was not to push too hard. Save the energy even at the sacrifice of time. Some gung-ho runners overtook me, but I didn't care. I know the price of going too fast on an uphill so well. Little by little the sound of the Japanese drums got louder, which was a sign of the approaching end of the hill. In no time I found myself going by the side of a group of men and women clad in Japanese festive kimono who beat giant Japanese drums to cheer runners on.

Now I was running the best part of the entire race. It's a long stretch of straight downhill. When the weather is good, and the sky is blue, I always look up, and hammer down it, feeling as if I were a bird. And yesterday, the weather WAS good, and the sky WAS blue. I changed the gear again and went down the hill flat out, overtaking one runner after another, crossing the center line on the road if necessary although official judges constantly discourage you from doing it. I just felt so good that I didn't care even if I got a few warnings.

Once I hit the bottom of the hill, the course remained flat for a while, and slowly started going up again. Soon the second biggest challenge was coming--another relatively long hill before JR Miyanohira Station. Compared with the one leading to Futamatao, this one is shorter, so it doesn't present as much challenge. Plus, I controlled my pace a little after finishing the downhill after Futamatao, so I had enough energy stored up to beat this hill. Soon I reached the top, and in no time I crossed the 25 K mark.

From that point on there is no uphill. It's either going down or flat. The first one kilometer was all downhill. This is probably the last opportunity for me to dramatically slash time. I changed the gear once again and surged. The leg muscles were more fatigued than before, so they wouldn't turn as smoothly as they would in the earlier stages of the race. The pain in the left hip joint was still there, making me less aggressive with taking wider strides, but I thought I would regret if I didn't kick at this point, so I pressed on and overtook a few more runners who looked content with their steady pace.

The 3 K mark sign was in sight. I was wondering where to take off my aqua shoes. When I ran the first half, I carefully checked the road condition, and decided that only the last 2 kilometers were good for the barefoot run. The condition between 2 and 3 K was particularly bad, the surface of the pavement being rather rough. So I went on in shoes until I finally saw the 2 K mark sign. Now is the moment. At some point I must stop and take off my shoes. But where? There was a police office ahead off me guiding coming runners to the finish. I slowed down and came to a halt right beside him. He looked puzzled. Then as he saw me take off my shoes, grab them in the hands, and take off, he knew what was going on.

The memory of the last two kilometers from Tateyama Wakashio Marathon 2018 on Jan. 28th flashed back. There I took off my shoes 2 K to the finish, too. I surged like a mad man, remembering the  and overtook one runner after another than. I wanted to run like that. But I was more out of breath, and there was pain in the liver also, which made breathing even harder. I gasped for air, but I never felt like I was getting enough oxygen to keep on going. I closed my eyes and ran a few tens of meters. Then I opened them just to make sure I was going straight, and then closed them again and went on. Every now and then I heard cheerers say, "Look! He's barefoot." or "Go, barefoot!" I was tremendously encouraged by these "targeted" yells. I needed them so badly because my willpower was waning at the prospect of the approaching finish. It's funny because ordinarily runners will collect remaining energy to give it one last jolt near the finish. I usually do too. But in a long and hard race like this the feeling that the race is almost over can make you act like the race is over. I fought the tempting whisper of that side of me which wanted to relax immediately. Cheerers' yells jolted my spirit, and ignited a fire inside me again. Soon the last turn was insight. Once you took a right, the finish was less than two hundred meters away. I looked for my bilingual companion, who was supposed to take a train from JR Mitake Station, where she cheered me on twice, once when I was going up to the u-turn and again when I was coming down from it. As the corner came nearer and nearer, I looked across a wall of cheerers on the left side of the street. There she was, shouting my name as she held her smartphone up to shoot photos of me kicking to my first barefoot finish in Ohme.

Soon I was on the final stretch leading to the finish. I swung my arms like a mad man and turned my legs like a locomotive. More people noticed I had no shoes on as more spectators were along either side of the final stretch. I heard multiple young cheerers shouting, "Look! He's barefoot. F**kin' cool!" I laughed inside though my face probably was in a grimace. Several seconds later I crossed the finish line. I pressed the stop button on my wrist watch, and saw the time. It said 2:29:42. It's not the official time. But probably it's not so far from it. I did it. I achieved the three personal goals I set for myself:
1) Running in aqua shoes with little cushioning
2) Finishing under 2:30:00 gross
3) Finishing in bare feet

I gave it everything I had. I got better than myself in the previously year in more ways than one. I am happy.

My next race is Sakura Asahi Kenko Marathon 2018 in March. I still have more than a month to work on my speed, stamina, and spirit. I will do the best I can to become a stronger version of myself in order to finish my race season 2017-2018 with a good feeling about myself.

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