Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Brad 50 mile Ultra/ Maine (7/50)

Beep. Beep. Beep. …Beep. Beep. Beep.…Beep. Beep. Beep.

4:30am. Time to get up. I didn’t sleep much to begin with. We had a dinner party with some friends and family the previous night and didn’t go to bed until a little after 11pm. Then Leiana woke up at least a couple of times and I myself psyched myself out that I would sleep in so I woke up another 2-3 times for good measure. On top of that, 4:30am Eastern Time. That meant, back home it was only 3:30am. I was contemplating blowing off the 50 mile (80km) race and sign in at 9am for the 50K (31mi) race instead just so I could sleep more. Despite the alluring warmth of the bed, I jumped out and stopped the alarm.

Half an hour to get dressed and get going. Christina took care of Leiana and her aunt was going to watch her until the race started and Christina would come back to take her again.

It’s 5am and we are sitting in the car. I had used up all the bananas the night before for dinner and had to improvise for breakfast. Therefore I ate some fried potatoes, cold mind you, from the dinner plate while Christina was navigating the hilly roads in Eastern Maine.

We arrived at the Pownal Elementary School, where the race would start, and signed in. I could see coffee offered everywhere, but no food that could’ve silenced my grumbling stomach.

A local reporter was filming a documentary and asked me a couple of questions, which occupied me and not get too excited about the impending race begin.

Outside of the gym was pitch black darkness. I had come out at 5am the previous morning to preview the race conditions at the start and to try out my new headlamp. Only it was so foggy that the lamp made it virtually impossible to see beyond 3 yards in front of me. I went off course within 2 minutes of setting off.

That would be a great indicator for my race day. At least during the race there would be people to follow if I couldn’t see the trail.

I had travelled the furthest distance to get to Pownal, as the majority of the other runners were from Maine or just across the border from Canada.

After my 2nd place in the Badlands Ultra 10 weeks prior, I chose to switch up my hydration strategy and used a backpack with a water bladder, so that I couldn’t run out of water and didn’t need to stop at every aid station, which is only 2-3 minutes each, but easily adds up throughout the day. With the projected elevation change in excess of 16,000ft (~5km) and an extremely technical trail, which was littered with rocks, roots and wet leaves as it had rained the night before, I targeted a finishing time of about 11 hours.

The runners at the start line were very relaxed and the race began very unceremoniously. We went about 50 feet before it went straight up to the first ascent of Bradbury mountain. I tripped within the first few minutes and skimmed my knee, which resulted in me slowing down a bit and losing contact to the leading group of 4. I let a couple of runners pass me so that they could lead the way in the darkness. I could feel the adrenaline warming my arms and legs and I quickly started to sweat through my shirt, despite the very
cold 48F (~9C). I was glad that most of the day would be spend in this forested area, as wind would make this indefinitely harder (and colder!).

Descending in these conditions was an extreme adrenaline rush and I had a runners high only 3 miles into the race. Knowing the length of the day’s task, I chose to slow down abruptly as I would’ve otherwise trashed my legs too early. We returned to the school after a 3.5 mile (5.6km) loop and set out to the first of three 15.5mile (25km) loops. Back up Bradbury mountain. This time around the sun was about the break across the horizon, but I could not stop at this point to enjoy the view as I tried to stick with a couple of runners in order to not get lost.

We ended up talking for a while in order to have some time go by. This part of the trail was a 4.7 single track portion that was very flat and runnable. I found out that one was training for a 100 mile race and the other guy runs a marathon in sub 3 hours. I had the sense that I shouldn’t be running at their speed. We entered the hillier portion of the course leapfrogged each other as I powerhiked the uphills, which they ran, but I sprinted by them, leaping from rock to root and back on the steep downhills. What an exhilarating feeling! I stretched my arms out like they were wings and let gravity do all the work. I called it controlled falling.

After we had crested Tryon Mountain and exited the Bradbury Mountain State Park, we had a 2-3 mile stretch of road to cover before re-entering the state park. This was the fastest 2-3 mile stretch of the day as I ran it at 8min/mile pace, which felt so slow, because I didn’t have trees and boulder whizzing close by. I let the two fast guys go here and lost contact to them, which turned out to be a crucial error in regards to navigating. Just one mile after re-entering the park I must’ve taken a wrong turn. I had no idea, as I was still running on a marked trail and the I didn’t know what the trail should look like.
I ran towards a group of runners and thought that I must be doing quite good, because I knew they were behind me and must be on an out-and-back section of the course. More and more runners came towards me and I asked one how long ago another runner had gone by going my direction. He told me that there hasn’t been one as he was convinced that I was going the wrong way! I was turned around and almost back to the last aid station. Turns out, I climbed and descending Tryon Mountain an extra time before realizing my mistake.

At a stage like this your emotions are pretty raw as your heart rate is high and I was already 2-3 hours into the race. I was so angry at the trail marking and at myself for not studying the course better. I should known when to turn or when there should be a hill or not.

Lesson Learned: Study the course!

I had gone from 5-6th place to 22nd. Trying to make up a few spots, I used the angry feeling and powered up the next few hills and sprinted down at an even faster pace. Here it happened that I twisted my ankle as I lifted my eyes from the ground for a brief second to check out the upcoming turns. Big mistake. That hurt like a ^%#^$#!
It seemed very tender and I was reduced to a walk up the next incline. I took a couple of ibuprofen and tried stretching it in all directions. It seemed fine and I began trotting some before falling into a slow comfortable jog. I finished the first loop after a little over 4 hours.

Here I learned that none of the aid stations would carry gels. This is the primary source of calories for me during these long runs, as they don’t upset my stomach as they are pretty much pre-digested. In order to not bonk later in the race I stuffed my pockets with chocolate chip cookies and tried to drink some ginger ale and coca cola. Now my stomach would have to do real work. After an hour or so, and eating some hummus tortilla wraps and turkey wraps I was very nauseated and forced to walk a good portion of the next 10 miles. This ended in a few unwanted stops at the side of the trail throughout the rest of the day. 4 stops to be exact. I told Christina after the first stop that I had "lost my gloves" and she understood after a couple of seconds what I meant. Luckily it "warmed" up to mid 40s and I didn’t need them anymore.

Lesson learned: bring your own supplies and don’t rely on aid stations.

I was about half way through the race when I met Christina, Her aunt and Leiana and was able to change shirts, as mine never dried from the first miles of the day. I had gotten way too cold and it could’ve seriously put my race into jeopardy had I gotten too cold. It is funny how small trivial things can make or break you during a day like that. The cold could’ve finished me off, but the gesture of Christina bringing me a change of clothes and the new found warmth gave me another energy spurt and I was able to catch a couple of runners. Christina had also driven about an hour and half roundtrip to get me some gels, which truly helped me settle my stomach and allowed me to continue moving in a speed that resembled running at least a little.
Course Marking example
The turn where I got lost earlier in the race was now littered with trail markings, which is a good sign of the organizers that they reacted quickly and tried to prevent more people getting lost. Throughout the the race I had heard of more people getting turned around. It is part of Ultrarunning, but unfortunately it does not allow you to measure you running ability with others 1:1 if you can’t rely on the markings at the local runners have the advantage knowing the course in and out. In the spirit of the matter, I promptly missed another turn and ended up running along a boulder line that I knew was too far off course.  After a half mile or so, I ran into a couple of hikers who showed me their map and pointed the way for me. Only that after another 6-8 minutes I was sure that something was still wrong. I turned around and ran into them again, only this time asked to see their map for myself. Then I asked what time it was: 12:56pm (7hours 56min on my feet at this point). Therefore I knew the sun currently indicate south and I could navigate my way through the forest back to a trail that was familiar. There another runner for the 50K distance told me the right direction and we climbed Bradbury mountain again. This was also wrong. At least I knew from here how to get to the aid station. That same runner never made it to the aid station and got lost again. I met him when I left that station a few minutes later.

Lesson learned: bring a race map

The pivotal point of the day came at the aid station as I told Christina that I was thinking of dropping down to the 35 mile race distance and calling it a day. The extra miles and the emotional rollercoaster had taken their toll. My leg had began cramping and I still had 15.5miles to go. My ankle was throbbing and I had no desire to walk the rest of the way. She told me she wasn’t interested in hearing me whine later as she knew I would regret this decision. I had told her before the race that I never want to drop down during a race as I consider it failing the race I signed up for and I do want to set an example for Leiana to follow through what you set out to do. No easy way out.

The race directors asked if I was done and I told him I’d see him in 4 hours. I kissed Christina and Leiana good bye and stormed back up Bradbury mountain. I went fast enough that I actually beat Christina to the next aid station. I ended up passing the same runner for a 3rd time today, even though I never so him pass me. That’s because he started ahead of me at the race beginning and must’ve passed me every time I went off trail. He was part of the running group that put on the race and we talked for a couple of minutes, before I decided to go for broke and run as hard as I could until I couldn’t run anymore.
I made the last aid station before the cut off where they require you to wear a head lamp again as the sun had begun to go down again and the forest made the visibility worse. I may have been better off taken that head lamp, but I ran right through the aid station. No mishaps at all on the last loop as I now knew the trail by heart and even though I could barely jog on the flats and had to hike the uphills, I could still fly down the descents. This got a little sketchy, because after my 8th and final ascent of Bradbury mountain I could see that the sun had gone down and I needed to still finish another 10 minutes or so of downhill running in the impending dark. I got another runner’s high and was elated when I popped out of the forest and sprinted across the finish line to see Leiana smiling at me and Christina giving me a well deserved kiss.

Anxiously I awaited my medal, like a puppy waiting for a treat, but ended up getting a much cooler token. A sweatshirt for every finisher. That means that only people that finished this 50 miler could wear this shirt. You couldn’t buy it. And it wouldn’t get lost in a box somewhere like other medals. Pretty sweet idea by the race organization. My day ended after 12 hours 1 minute and 14 seconds on my feet. A new PR for consecutive racing and it makes me feel positive for my plans for longer races yet. I got 15th overall and 2nd in my age group. I feel that I need to come back and give this race my best shot. Better preparation, my own fueling, a map and I should be able to break 10 hours. Time will tell.

A couple of days later we flew home and I was happy that Leiana slept through the majority of both flights as my legs had been extremely stiff and I needed the rest. My ankle has started thr throb again, which is weird, considering it was fine for the 3 days after the race, but maybe my sore muscles numbed that specific pain and as my soreness recedes that pain can stand out. Either way, I haven’t run since and only gone on the treadmill for a couple of miles of uphill walking to flush out the legs. I’m already eyeing the next race and plan on running a couple of more marathons this year to add to my state total.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mississippi Marathon (6/50)

Chewalla Lake in the Holly Springs National Forest

Once or twice a year, I get to go to Memphis, TN for work. Since I have decided to run a marathon in all 50 states, I haven’t gone down into the south yet (even though Texas is down south, I don’t feel it’s part of the “South”).

I could’ve run right in Tennessee, as that would make the most sense, since my business was there. However, since I was travelling alone on this trip, I planned ahead. I figure next time down here I will have my colleagues join me so that I won’t be able to drive 30min south into Mississippi.  Next time, I will be stuck in Tennessee, and then I might as well run there.

Holly Spring National Forest looked promising and it is a very large area, but I picked a fairly close laying Chewalla Lake region to run in. I had read online about the trails around there and the ATV dirt roads, so I figured I could spend a few hours playing in the area.

Since only roughly 3 weeks had passed since my 50 mile race, I planned on taking it very easy on this marathon and not attempt a 3-4 hour run, but really take my time to ensure optimum recovery overall, since I am planning my next 50 miler in October and don’t want any neuromuscular injury in the time leading up to that race.

The first thing I had noticed getting of the plane just 60 minutes prior was the insane humidity and heat (95F). In South Dakota, we somewhat skipped that sort of summer this year. Usually we get several days above 100F, but this year has been extremely mild. Therefore I had to stop numerous times just to catch my breath, even though I was going slower than at my recent 50 mile race (80Km).

After running outside of the picnic/swimming park area I came across the Chewalla Dam (reminds me of this one: “Two fish swim into a wall, says the one to the other :Dam(n)!) J) from which I could enjoy a very nice view of the area before going deep into the Holly Spring National Forest. I stumbled around the swampy area and truly felt like I was in a movie (at least from what I’ve seen of the south in movies). A huge moth attacked me, but I think I scared it off by my high pitch scream that I learned from my daughter Leiana. Truly a life saver.

Speaking (more like writing) of my beautiful daughter, I got to FaceTime with her and my wife during this early stage of my run. I decided to walk for about a 1.5 mile with them on my screen. I am truly grateful for the technology nowadays. I can see them live face-to-face while running in a National Forest in Mississippi while they are changing diapers in South Dakota. Leiana even spoke to me and told me about her day. My fault for not knowing baby language at this point, but I vow to try to learn more in the coming weeks. My wife Christina was my rock during this time, as this was my first night away from home since Leiana was born and she insisted that she had everything under control.  She actually urged me to get off the phone, finish my run and call her later.

The Trail started to become a road less travelled. Literally. It was an ATV road, but it hadn’t been mowed all year and didn’t show any sign of usage. It was beautiful . Crickets chirping left and right and deer ever so often getting startled by my stomping.  Once I even hurdled one of the many local non-venomous snakes that crittered around the trail. I think it was dead , but I wouldn't know who was more afraid of whom.

The dirt ATV road gave me a nice trail rash as I continuously got brushed by the foliage along the trail for the ensuing miles. My mind at this point was thinking very stereotypical for the south (mostly based on movies). I was expecting to see a moonshine distillery around every corner with some guy in overalls yelling at me to get away.

I explored the surrounding trails a bit and even scrambled around the ever rolling hills of the surrounding area that were without trails. I felt comfortable knowing where the lake was and based on the sun could orientate myself very well. As it started turning dark, I called my wife once more and talked with her and listened to Leiana telling me about her day. Again I’m sorry for not understanding anything beyond that I am the best dad in the world.

The sun had gone down and I dropped my backpack and switched to a single water bottle, as I planned to sprint the route I had just taking once more. Since I was comfortable knowing how far it was and how to get back to my rental car, even as the daylight diminished, I went on my way and guided my route by flashlight. This will also help me in my long-term goal to race throughout the nighttime.  The temperature had relented and the humidity had gone down so that I could easily crank out a 9 mile run in 1:12h, which was my hardest effort of the day. The area was going to close by 10pm and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was starting to seriously feel low on energy as the 19.2 miles took their toll on me and I had only lived on a handful of gels at this time. Therefore I decided I’d take a small break and drive back to the hotel (30min), get a subway sandwich and finish on the hotel treadmill. It felt more like a dreadmill. Even though I ran slower than earlier before, I hated it as I only had myself to stare at after being spoiled by the beautiful Mississippi forest and swamp. I listened to a podcast and the remaining 7 miles went by uneventfully. Not my most favorite way to finish an effort, but probably the most reasonable/safe way.

 Anyways, Mississippi is done. 6 states down, only 44 to go J.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Badlands 50 miler / North Dakota (5/50)

Here I sit...Nervously watching the weather updates for Saturday to see if we had indeed Thunderstorms to make this race more epic/potentially cancelled. Really.. Anything you do, if you do it in the rain, it makes it 67% more epic. I researched it. Trust me.

Wednesday morning came with an epiphany. As Medora, ND is in the Mountain time zone, the race would start at 7:30am on my internal clock and not at 6:30am. 60 extra minutes, divided by 9, would give me roughly 6 more times I can hit "Snooze"! That night, I made my final "personal" preparations: cutting my toenails so that I would not end up losing any this time around. (post-race note: I have 4 bruised toenails that I will lose :( )

The alarm rang at 4:45am and I got up to stretch and loosen up. I drew the elevation profile of the race on my lower left arm, so that I could tell during the race when a big climb was coming up.

The storm ended up never happening, so I couldn't attach the "epic" label according to the weather. It did start out foggy which made the racing area look pretty monumental and I was exciting to get started. The fogginess would add to the overall humidity which made my shoes and socks extremely wet, which would later on spell some trouble in regards to major blisters on both heels. Christina was super supportive and I was excited to get started. The race director actually arrived late, but we had found our way anyway and the starting scene of this ultramarathon was as relaxing as it can be. He warned us of mountain lions and rattle snakes, but I only saw one dead rattler on the side of the road.

 The race director said "Go" and people actually began shuffling their feet. It did take me 300 feet to overtake everybody who was in the mood of taking pictures instead of running (12 minute/mile pace :)).

The beginning started with a crowd separated by a 300 foot incline in the first half mile of the race. Everyone was off casually and by the top I was in second place of all runners, with the only guy ahead of me being a college cross country runner in the 50 KM who would surely outpace me. As far as I was concerned, I was in 1st place for the 50 mile race and was looking at my heart and GPS monitor to monitor my progress. I started hiking hard and descending speedy to build a 3 minute lead by mile 8, which was the first turn around point. I told the attending aid station captain that I was going out too fast as my heart rate was in the 170s and that was not sustainable for 50 miles. As this was a turn around I could calculate my lead to be around 6 minutes a little after that first major turn around, by mile 9-10. It was fun sprinting 0.5 miles at sub 6 min/mile pace, but I knew this was going to haunt me later. But you never pass up a chance to feel running fast.

At the point I reached the half-marathon aid station, I had slowed as my wet shoes and socks were intimidating me. As it was foggy and very humid I was worried about my feet being drenched in moisture. I took off my singlet and heart rate monitor, as it was indicating to me that I was going too fast (I was!).  The second place 50 miler caught up to me at this aid station and as he was running with a backpack he didn't need to stop to refill his water, as he had plenty in his backpack. He easily gained 2-3 minutes on me here. As the race didn't offer any far reaching straight views I didn't see him when I left the aid station.

I reached the ridge from which you can see the start/finish area, but sadly the first place 50 miler had already passed me on his way out on the second loop. So I knew, I was at least a little over a mile behind him. That was an impressive move by him and it did intimidate me as he passed me by mile 13 and looked strong as in to extending his lead further.

I saw him when I reached mile 17 and he already took an impressive 1 mile (1 mile past the turn around) lead on me as he had already climbed the hill I was about to descend on. I knew I wasn't going to see him for awhile. It barely took me 20 seconds to turn around after I refueled on water on drank some coke. After completing the ascend, I saw the third place runner about 1.2 miles out and figured I had a comfortable 21 minutes lead over him. I tried to stay as afresh as I could but by the time of the turn around (mile 24) I had already a 34 minute gap to the leader.

My legs starting complaining to me for running the downhills and threatened me to quit at any given point. I had never run this much downhill before so aggressively and I was just about to embark on this second half of the course.

One of the race officials informed me that the 50km  (31mile) leader had finished in an incredible 4:44h, I had the choice to drop down and take 2nd place and be done for the day when I arrived at the Start/Finish area at mile 32. Some twisted thought in my head told me that I would be quitting early on my 50 mile plans that day I turned around once more at the 32mile mark and went uphill on this ridiculous incline to begin the course anew. 

I had finished the 50km in 6:03, which was well ahead of the eventual second place 50km runner, but I had signed up for the 50 miler and I was going to finish it no matter what. No excuses. No easy way out. Trust me, I was tempted. The blisters on both of my feet had grown astronomical and I felt them on every ascend as they rubbed against the back of my shoes. Christina had dry shoes and socks ready for me at the next aid station, but I was worried what would happen if I peeled of the layers and possibly break the skin on my feet. It wasn't "that far" to the finish (15 more miles) Next time, I will switch shoes/socks earlier.

The last of three loops was the most painful. By the time I had only 13 miles to cover (37 miles in), my uphill legs and straight-away legs had given out. I could run downhills fast still, but I was content keeping off 3rd place and finishing second in my second 50 miler.

I had reached a point where I met the 3rd place runner and he told me that mere 20 minutes earlier he had seen the leader walking and cramping. Oh happy day. I was so exhausted, that I wasn't sure whether to be excited about this or if I should be hating the fact that I should toe the line for running and cramping for another 2400 feet of elevation change. I bit my tongue and eventually reached the last aid station with 3.2 miles to go (mile 46). I was told I am behind about 10 minutes and I started going all out. At this point I had calculated a 62 minute lead over 3rd place that I felt comfortable that I could run fast until I cramped and still walk it in in 2nd place if  I had to.

I power hiked the uphills, sprinted the downhills and "ran" (fast shuffled) the straight aways. I had a new found sense of competition and time was flying by. I got to the point on top of the ridge line from which you can see the finish area and heard the crowd cheering.

 In my position, I wasn't sure if it was for me, or if possibly, they saw the leader turn somewhere close ahead of me. That meant for me that i needed to sprint. All out. Balls to the wall. I dumped my remaining water (less weight), tucked the bottles into my waist band behind me and plummeted down the ~350 foot descend of the last quarter mile. It was steep. I was going fast. At one point I thought my sore legs would buckle and I would miss the turn on the switchback and go "off-road", but I caught myself. I saw the leader by the finish area and knew I was going to be second. Finally the adrenaline rush hit me and I was enjoying a beautiful runner's high as I descended towards the trailhead. In a sportsmanlike gesture, the winner, Carlos, opened the trail gate for me, so that i didn't have to break my stride and I could finish in full sprint through the finish line. 10 hours and 3 minutes. The longest I have ever run. He had actually beat me by about 30 minutes, which only proves that you can never trust the aid station personnel on the times you are ahead/behind someone.

Running these distances are fun. Fun you wonder? How can this be fun? Ask anyone at Disneyland waiting for 90 minutes to get their crotch buckled tight by a pimply teenager to then go up and down a roller-coaster on a spine-altering and chiropractor-needing 3 minute ride. They say they have fun. Summa summarum, we are all a little nuts. It keeps our regular lives in balance.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Return to racing


272 days. That's the amount of days since I toed the starting line of a race. My last race was the SD Trail Running Championship (SDTRC) in November 2013. After that race I somewhat shut down to rehab my ever-annoying Achilles tendon. Following are the total mileages for the subsequent three months:
20 in Dec, 42 in Jan, 28 in Feb.

My impression was that my leg needed rest above all and thus used the cold weather and icy road conditions as a perfect excuse to stay inside. I worked on stretches, but didn't take the rehab further than that. After increasing my mileage again to 90+ miles in March, I immediately felt the Achilles acting up again and followed in April and May with ~60mi months.
I felt as if nothing was changing and finally decided to have a MRI on my leg. I was expecting to see some micro-tears that would result in some prescribed rehab training and prepared to shut down the racing season before entering the first race.
The result was negative. It showed a mild amount of muscle tightness and thus explained that the knots in my calf muscles strain the Achilles tendon and result in a popping sensation after strenuous (fast/long) runs.
So basically I am an idiot. Had I stretched, warmed up, cooled down properly, I could have avoided this whole scenario that has been bugging me for over 18 months now.
I tried my new routine of stretching, foam rolling and massaging the leg regularly while increasing my mileage again to 90+, but at much slower pace than what I did in 2013. It seemed to work.


9 days. That's the amount of days until my next race. Yesterday I signed up for the Badlands 50mile (80KM) Ultra-Marathon in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND. A month ago I had planned on signing up for this race already, but had many concerns about the shape I was in and the daunting task of 50 miles with 10,500' (3.2km) elevation change in the middle of the summer in the arid, windy and hot Badlands of North Dakota.
I knew that I can't sign up for a race like this without knowing whether I will enjoy doing it. I know I can finish it, as a glorified hike can get me in under the cut-off, but that's not the goal. As my wife and daughter are travelling with me, I want to make sure it will be worth mine and their time.

Confidence boosters for this race:
I just finished my second highest mileage month ever: 150miles
Comparing mileage of June/July of 2013 to 2014: 230 to 253. In addition I also biked for 60 miles and swam 1.5 miles as cross training to relieve stress from my legs.
Dropped 9 lbs since June 1 and begin to resemble racing weight.
Did heat specific runs in heat exceeding 90F (32C).
When I ran the SDTRC in November it had 13,800' (4.2km) elevation change over 10 miles, while the Badlands 50 "only" has 10,500' (3.2km) over 50 miles. At the SDTRC, I averaged my goal race pace for the 50 miler, but with much steeper climbing.
At this point I have been nerding out on the elevation profile of the race and am trying to plan when I will eat, drink, make a move if battling for position etc.

Studying the race profile

At the Lean Horse 50 miler last year, I came in at 9:04h. Had I not detoured on the course, it'd been under 9 and planning my hydration and cooling much better this time around, I hope to shave off one additional hour. The two unknown factors to me will be the impact of wind and running single track trail that could snake on the descents and not allow to make up time.  (at least I am already preparing possible excuses!)
I have a couple more training runs this week before I go into taper mode next week in preparation for the race.

I am excited. I am ready. Let's do this!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Japan Marathon (4/50)

Japan Marathon (March 30, 2014)

Chiba, outside of Tokyo.

After a week of work throughout China and 8 previous flights, I landed at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan for my 55 minute layover before taking off for Denver and then on to Sioux Falls.

Despite my plans, the aircraft I was supposed to take to the US had technical difficulties and the flight got eventually cancelled. I was booked into a hotel for the night and got rebooked on the next flight to Denver for the following day 3pm. My 55 minute layover became a 22 hour layover.

I had a quick dinner at the hotel (not sure what most of it was) and after a brief call with my wife passed out quickly in the tiny hotel room (I’ve heard that everything in Japan is micro-sized; but I had no clue!).

Fortunately I had access to my luggage and decided in the morning to lace up my shoes and go for a run along the coast to take in the scenery. As it was raining constantly, not many people were out and about. This, however, lead to having a very personal experience while running through Chiba, Japan. Little to no traffic helped me enjoy the city before I reached the coast line. I learned very quickly that people there drive on the wrong side of the road and constantly had to remind myself to go against my instincts when crossing the road.

I saw a little single track trail leading away from the road and towards the water and after slipping through a fence found myself at the beach. I would not go swimming here as the water seemed littered with trash everywhere. I did enjoy seeing several fishermen, though, as they were sharing their daily catch with the wild feline population of the harbor area. One even drove up in a scooter, took out cat food and sat down to feed and pet the friendly and tame cats. During this I was thinking ------------>

Running on the beach took a toll as I kept sinking into the sand and it was draining my energy quickly. I haven’t truly run much in the last 3-4 months and didn’t know how long I could keep up running during this day. I ran closer to the water where the sand was packed and solid and this way I could last a couple of miles before finding my way back onto grass and later onto a paved trail.

After daydreaming through the rain for the first 5 miles I noticed that I had come to the end of the trail and turned around. On the next chance I turned inland and enjoyed watching people going about their business. One thing I have noticed that is the same anywhere I go is that people stare me down as if I was some weirdo for running around their neighborhood. I only waved and got the occasional smile/nod mixture.

Now about 8 miles have gone by and I feel that shouldn't continue further inland as I may get lost and due to my upcoming shuttle departure to the airport in 3.5 hours, I should really stay along a course where I can find the hotel quickly.

Once more did I return to the end of the trail and ran into a stray cat only to find myself meowing at him and telling him he reminded me of my own, Louie. ….Yes, you are right, I got dehydrated by that point as I had run out of my two water bottles and now I was speaking to cats. They can’t understand me. They speak Japanese after all!

As I slowed and contemplated walking back to the hotel I stumbled across an oasis send from heaven: a public water fountain. I refilled my bottles and drank water until my stomach gave a satisfying sloshing sound and I decided to continue on. I had roughly 14 miles in at this point and thought that with about 2.5 hours until the shuttle left, I may be able to add a few more miles.

Close to the hotel was a convenience store where I knew I could score some Coca Cola and sweets to refuel some energy to keep going. I admit, I enjoyed the stares once again as I, drenched in sweat in a sleeves shirt and shorts approached the counter with an egg sandwich, a coke, a red bull, two kit kats and a cinnabon type pastry, while asking for some of the deliciously greasy looking fries in the window. Perhaps I shouldn’t have skipped breakfast after all. I left the store and the rain really starting pouring down now. I didn’t care and wolfed down the food while keeping an extra kit kat for later. I calculated that I should run 4 miles out and 4 miles back in to get to roughly 23-24 miles, as I thought I can walk a couple miles at the airport later in the afternoon to complete the marathon distance. The coke and the overall sugar overload gave me an extra boost and the 4 miles out went by fast. The wind had really picked up at this point and I needed to put on my sweatshirt as I got quite cold. As nasty as the wet shirt felt, it did help warm me up and as soon as I was in a wind sheltered area of the coast I could take it off again. I had to switch into a slow shuffle at a few times now as my legs were arguing that I shouldn’t be doing this any longer and perhaps should flag down a taxi to take me back.

Fortunately, I couldn’t see a taxi (or refused to look for one). I hit the 20 mile mark at about 1 hour 15 minutes before the shuttle left. I turned it up a notch, put my head down and started my return trip to the hotel. The rain came in sideways at this point and I thought that this was actually pretty cool. I mean, who else would be out here in this weather running? Only now I noticed that the number of people running on the track had significantly increased. Wow, Japanese runners don’t care about the weather. (Wonder what they would think about South Dakota at -20F J)

I had the hotel within sight as I was at 24.5 miles and 28 minutes before the shuttle left. I put in the next gear and ran up to the hotel. Luckily I had packed before I left and really only had to take my bag if it came down to it. At the hotel the mile marker was 25 and I circled the block 4 times to the reach the glorious 26.2 before sprinting into the hotel and into the elevator. An awkward 30 seconds among well-dressed Japanese business men and I was off down the hall way into my room. Now I thought I couldn’t stopped .2 miles early as I kept running in the hotel and should’ve counted that J!

I had 12 minutes before the shuttle left. Quickly showered so I wouldn’t offend the other passengers and grabbed my bag with dripping hair, threw my keys on the counter down stairs and hoped that would suffice as a check out ( It did, I think J) and got in line for the shuttle for which I had an ample 3 minutes left. I guess I could’ve taken it easier during my run!

All in all, it was a fun 4:14h run in Japan and I can officially cross off the country as a marathon (4 down, 46 to go!). I saw enough that I know I want to come back with my family to explore more of the sights.

Also, please note, I had the option to shower at the airport as I got there 2 hours before the flight and knew the lounge has a shower service available. I wouldn’t be the jerk sitting next to you on a plane, all sweaty, with 13 hours flight time ahead of you J.
I had a couple of beer in the lounge and don’t remember the airplane taking off as I passed out prior to that.