Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fukuchiyama Madness

So... I've been a little slow about writing this, given that it actually happened two weeks ago. Wednesday I had the day off work for Labor Thanksgiving Day, and we celebrated by heading up to lovely Fukuchiyama so that I could run in the annual Fukuchiyama Marathon.

Fukuchiyama is a small town and we didn't think we'd manage to find a place to stay there (we did see some tents set up in the part with the starting/finish area, so I guess that's an option), so we got up early (4:30am) in order to catch the first train out of Kobe. We'd picked up various delicious baked things at a bakery the night before for an on-the-road breakfast, so we set right out. (Incidentally, eating on trains is very uncouth, so I try to do it only when I'm really hungry.) The first couple of trains were OK, then at Takarazuka we transferred to the train that would take us the rest of the way to Fukuchiyama. This was our first taste of what was to come -- the train was absolutely packed full of runners who'd gotten up too early to shower, with a special claustrophobic feeling added by the fact that all the windows were fogged up. It was a happy ride. I should add that when (eventually) a seat freed up near us, Quinn insisted that I sit down, since I was going to be running in a few hours. Someone else would have taken it if I'd stood there arguing with her, so I left chivalry by the wayside and sat down.

When we arrived, we stood in line for what seemed like a very long time to catch the shuttle bus from the train station to the park where the race would start. Things were apparently running late, and we boarded the bus well after I was supposed to have signed in. Once we got there, I signed in in a rush, stood in line for half an hour to use a (squatter-style) portable restroom in a rush, changed my clothes in a rush, and headed down to the starting line. Meanwhile, we were treated to loudspeakers all around the park treating us to the (loud, shrill) contributions of a woman who was running some kind of raffle or something. It was quite a relief once I actually started running and I could finally relax a little. Quinn, meanwhile, stayed behind with warm clothes, Atlas Shrugged, and the loudspeaker woman.

There were a lot of people running. These pictures Quinn took are downright panic-attack-inducing, if you don't like big crowds. Fortunately it was a big crowd that was all moving in one direction, and once we'd sorted out so that everyone around me was going more or less the same speed it was OK. For the first half hour or so, I never could really just relax and take my mind off of crowd navigation, because whenever I did that it was only a few seconds before I'd nearly collide with a very slow runner who managed to place themselves right in front of me. The weather was good; cloudy and a little on the cold side, but no one had to worry about heat stroke. No rain until we were on the train home.

The first 10km or so of the race made a loop through the town, and it seemed like the whole town had turned out to watch the race. There were groups of people playing taiko drums (one had scary monster masks to add to the fun), people of all ages yelling "Ganbare! Ganbare!" (go! go!), and a few high school bands from the area. One was playing "We wish you a merry Christmas" when I passed them. There was one guy in a samurai costume giving everyone high-fives. Once we'd looped through the town, we turned and headed along the Yura river until we reached about the 25km mark; after that we headed back to the park.

The Fukuchiyama marathon is specifically set up to be a blind-friendly marathon and I saw quite a few blind runners. Blind runners get a guide (with a special guide number) and they both run while holding on to a little strap that keeps them together and synchronized. If you're blind and you're in better shape than all your friends and loved ones, then you can have multiple guides who take you like a relay; I often saw groups of guides standing around waiting for their running partner to show up.

It didn't take long to realize that I was running much faster than my goal pace, so I figured I'd just go with it and see if I could keep it up. My final time was 3:17:04 -- 13 minutes faster than the goal I'd set for myself and 18 minutes faster than my previous time. Crossing the finish line was sort of interesting; there was a big area where everyone just sort of stopped, and you saw a bunch of people standing around just looking stunned. I felt fine as long as I was running, but as soon as I stopped all the lights got too bright and I felt sort of odd for a while. Fortunately, there were volunteers keeping us supplied with sports drink and hot soup to help us get to feeling human again. Quinn and I went to a ramen place for lunch and then began the long trek back home again.

I'd like to do another one in the spring and I found a (rather extensive) list of marathons in Asia online: ... who knows?

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