IBIGAWA HALF MARATHON
What a great experience! I was talking with Scott after the race was over and I mentioned to him how my expectations and desire to run well just kept increasing each day as the race got closer. Going into the trip, I wasn't really worried about how well I'd run in Japan. I knew it was still pretty close to STG and I knew my legs weren't fully back and my fitness was down. Plus with the jet lag and difficulty of the course, it wasn't reasonable to expect a fast time. Then we arrived and as the days went by my desire to run well kept increasing. The day before the race Rosy, the STG women's winner, told me that the winner got basically enough rice, potatoes, onions, etc to last a year. That was a prize I wanted to win for my host family. They were incredibly gracious hosts and their hospitality was off the charts. So, I really wanted to win that for them. So, come race day I wanted that W!
My plan was to go out conservative and keep the leaders within reach and then slowly work my way into pace/effort and close hard. Well once the race started, my expectations to run well increased yet again. The first few miles felt really easy and I was running up the hills at a very good pace. Now I got greedy and wanted the win and a fast time. I ended up paying the price for this greed on the second half of the course as I just didn't quite have the legs.
Backing up a bit to the morning. We left the house at 6:40, even though the race didn't start until 10:40. We had to get there early and they had all of the STG runners speak to the crowd. We had a the second floor of the library right by the start line designated for us. They had all kinds of food sitting out for us to eat. But of course we weren't going to eat before the race. All I ate the whole morning pre-race was a UCan bar, a Honeystinger waffle, and two servings of Ucan.
They told us we needed to be done with warmups and bathrooms by 10:10 at which point they'd take us to the front of the starting line. Scott and I were given bibs 1 & 2. So, the Japanese runners were then given bibs 3+ based on times. At the start line the guy with bib 4 came and spoke to us. He was very friendly and spoke a little English.
The race got started and there were probably 10+ runners in front of me for the first kilometer. I didn't take any splits on my watch, but I will lists the splits that Strava shows (even though Strava had it long at 13.25, so the splits will show a little faster than they most likely were). Around 2k in I worked up to the leaders and just after 2k I took the lead and injected a little pace. By the time we entered the canyon at 2.5 miles it was me and bib 3 right on my heels. Going up the hills I felt really good, really strong and the pace was encouraging. This is where I got greedy and pushed hard up the hills and started shooting for a 1:06-1:07, thinking I could go sub-5:00 easily on these hills coming back down.
At 5.2 miles in the marathon splits from the half and then there's a really good steep hill. I pushed up this hill and finally got a gap on Bib #3. You then have a good downhill stretch to 10k and then another steep uphill to the turn around at 6.6 miles. You now proceed to run back down the same section you came up. I had about a 14-second lead at this point on Bib 3 guy. Splits 1-7: 513, 514, 504, 515, 516, 513, 515.
Mile 8 is one of the harder miles on the course and then it's get substantially easier coming down the hills. I was breathing pretty hard, but that was to be expected working up the hills. I figured I'd be able to regain my breathing and really roll on the downhill. But, that never happened. I just couldn't get my legs to turn over as fast as I wanted them to. In fact, I ran basically just as fast up hill as I did downhill. They had the first mile or so after the turnaround coned off to where I had the far 3-feet of the road to run on. But then the cones ended and right around this time I hit the major bottleneck of runners coming up the canyon. The road was only as wide as one lane here in the States. The race has 4,000+ runners. So you can imagine the next two miles were not easy to navigate at all! I was constantly yelling, waving, weaving, stopping/going, etc. to try and get through this mass of runners. While I was using all this energy clearing a path, bib #3 guy behind me was getting all the benefits of a clear path. By the time the masses cleared and we got out of the canyon I heard footsteps right on my heels and he was right back in the race. Miles 8-10 530, 510, 510.
I was feeling terrible now and I had second place bearing down on me now. The crowds, while I couldn't understand what they were saying, clearly seemed to be cheering for him and giving him a lot of energy. He tried to make an initial pass when he caught up and I sped up, not letting him by. He ran on my heels, clipping them every 400 meters or so, all the way to 13 miles. He made 1-2 minor attempts during that period to pass and I answered each time, staying in front and not letting him even get to my side. The weather at this point was very hot, 70 degrees with 70% humidity (thank goodness I wasn't running the full). At this point, I figured if he could've moved by, he would've. He's likely holding on the same as me. I knew the closer we got to the finish with me still leading and him on my heels the better shot I had at winning. I knew I had a strong kick in me. My watch hit 13 miles and I knew we had to be close, but I couldn't see the finish. As soon as I saw the finish I kicked hard. I think he responded a bit late to my kick and I got a good gap. With 30 meters to go and a quick look over the shoulder it was clear I had it. I waved to the crowd and crossed the line, beating him by 2 seconds. Splits 11-13 were 520 523 512 and 435 pace for last 0.24.
I congratulated him at the finish, but he seemed quite angry and looked away without speaking to me, but did shake my hand. I then got interviewed by the local tv station with an interpreter of course. I watched Scott come in 3rd place with a very strong 1:10.30 effort! Great race for him.
At the awards ceremony I was given a trophy, two certificates written in Japanese, two medals, and the food I mentioned earlier. They gave me the barrel of rice to hold up for the crowd to see. They also had each of us speak to the crowd from the stage.
It was an awesome experience that I'm really grateful for. Thanks to STG Marathon for this awesome trip and to the Koishi Family for hosting Denver and me.