Last Wednesday morning I left Boulder excited about an opportunity to experience another culture and race internationally. As I type this I’m somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in who knows what time zone and day, quite sore and tired, but amazed at all I’ve learned in the past four days. This trip to the Iwaki City Sunshine Marathon in Iwaki City Japan was an incredible experience, topped off with the 2nd marathon win of my career. The travel to Iwaki, Japan from Boulder, Colorado went like this…
6-7AM: Drive to DIA
8:30-10:00: Fly to LAX (gain one hour time change)
11:30AM: Fly from LAX to Tokyo Narita Airport. 12 hour flight, arrive at Tokyo Narita at 4:30PM on Thursday ( Time change is +17hours, crossed international dateline). Watched 5 movies and 4 TV shows.
5:00PM: Go through customs, picked up my Suzuki-san at airport.
5-8PM: Drive from Tokyo Narita Airport to Spa Resort Hawaiians, drop off bags, drive to dinner.
8:30-9:30PM: Have dinner with several wonderful hosts.
10PM: Get to hotel room after not sleeping for almost 24 hours, except for a 15 minute nap on the flight to Tokyo.
On Friday morning after a sloppy eight hours of sleep I ran five miles easy around exploring the local area at sunrise. After a delicious breakfast in the Spa Resort Hawaiians hotel I went back to bed for two hours, before getting out the door on a short three mile shakeout. After traveling that long, each run helped my legs feel looser. In the hotel there were communal showers from the hot springs. First, you shower and then you get in large hot baths and sit and relax. Whether or not in physiologically relaxed the muscles, it was absolutely relaxing to the mind and body. After the shakeout we headed to the mayor’s office for a conference call where I sat next to the mayor and had conversation through an interpreter named Shu with half a dozen reporters in the room. It was a very awesome experience to say the least and a huge honor to be greeted by the revered mayor of Iwaki. After lunch at an Italian restaurant, Suzuki-san drove myself and two Kauai residents, Michiru and Chuckie-Boy, who were there to help build the relationship between Iwaki City and Kauai on a course tour. What I learned about the course was that there were five massive hills of that were 1-2km long each. One section was particularly daunting – from 30km-31km straight uphill followed by 31-33km straight downhill where you make a U-turn around a cone and go back up and down to the 36km mark where the course is then flat until the finish. I thought that the break for the race would be made on the hills.
The next day I woke up to a coating of snow that had melted and refroze on the roads. I was surprised by the cold and the icy conditions that reduced me to walking a few times, but felt surprisingly great on a short four mile run and strides. The rest of the day was filled with relaxing, napping, and enjoying the hot springs until the opening ceremonies.
The opening ceremonies started with a fantastic orchestra performance by an elementary school band. The next part of the opening ceremonies had a slideshow of before and after photos from the tsunami while a man planned an electric guitar. It was unreal to see the difference between before the tsunami and after along the same road more than half of marathon course was scheduled to run on. In ten months, the strong will of the Iwaki City residents was shown in how well they recovered and rebuilt from the disaster. After those performances there was an introduction of a couple dozen board members and the mayor who gave a passionate speech, which the only words I understood were tsunami and sunshine marathon. After a few more formal speeches, we moved into a reception room where there was food and drinks. Two “guest runners,” one of whom was “made famous by running a great leg on an Ekiden relay televised on their national TV a month ago,” and then Japan’s 1984 Los Angeles female Olympian in the marathon were brought on stage and gave speeches under practically a paparazzi of camera flashes. If there was any doubt that Japan didn’t love their marathoners it was erased right then. I was brought on stage as well as two Australians who won (if I recall correctly) the Queensland marathon. Once again, seemingly hundreds of camera flashes from the audience. After some more food, presentations, and a hula dance we were given 45 minutes free time until we headed to the waterpark stage for a Polypenesian dance ceremony. I wanted a little more food, so I bought some macademia nut ice cream. For a “large” and 380 yen I received equivalent an American’s “child” size and finished it in about four spoonfuls. One thing I will not miss is the tiny portion sizes in Japan, although all of the food was delicious and delivered with an incredible amount of care and presentation.
The next morning Mr. Wakamatsu drove us to the start line where I was fortunate enough to use a swimming pool locker room to stay warm. Looking out at the trees blowing strongly in the wind and the pool frozen (the car read -2.5C on the way over) I knew the weather and the hills were going to make it a tough run out there. After the usual rigamarol of a mile light jogging, drills, and strides, there were more elaborate opening ceremonies and we were sent off. Immediately a man with a polar bear beanie cap ran to the lead for the first mile for some fun and attention.
After 10 minutes, it became clear it was going to be a three man race. I stayed relaxed and patient, noting the first 5k split of 17:22. Shortly after 5k one of the Japanese runners threw in a hard surge uphill. Knowing there was still over 22 miles to go at that point I let him get nearly 200 meters ahead with the other Japanese guy 100 meters ahead. The next 10k I slowly worked my way up, running a 17:14 second 5k and 16:50 third 5k.
The race only had a few water stops/aid stations. They had water at all of the aid stations, and then “amino-value” at some of them. Amino-value (from what I could read on a bottle the day before the race) had 18 kcal, but a lot of branch chain amino acids! I’m not sure why you would want a low calorie protein artificially flavored drink during a race, but that’s what they had. They also had banana’s, hard candy, and I believe at one aid station there was sushi and hard boiled eggs. I thought it would be best to stay with the water and carry four gels with me, putting two in my arm sleeves and two tucked in the sides of my shorts. I took the first one at 30 minutes, but then I dropped the second one before I could take it at an hour, so I delayed taking the 2nd one until 20k and the last one at 30k. Having three gels, or 300 calories for an entire marathon isn’t the best gameplan, so I became increasingly nervous as the pace picked up and the wind was howling. The first 10k was run from west to east until you reached the ocean, where you turned north for 6k and then back around following the coast until around 33k where you turned back to the finish.
As a meteorology major, I cannot explain how it was physically possible to have a headwind the entire way, but I swear we did. The wind was so strong at times we’d have to put our heads down and feel like we were barely moving forward. I can only guess at how many extra calories I was burning fighting the wind. Unlike the previous weekend in Pensacola there was no working together in this race. The three of us were throwing in surges off of the now slow pace because nobody wanted to be the sacrificial runner who bared the blunt of the wind the whole time. After crossing half-way in 1:12:32, the wind really slowed the pace down. At about 30k I could tell the other two guys were hurting and neither of them wanted to take the lead so at the start of a 1 kilometer long hill I made a hard push. The course then went uphill for 1km, downhill for 2km and then a U-turn back up and down. I had assumed this would be where the course was won or lost the day before, and I felt I had the race in control and won…but I was also losing energy and having a slight fear of bonking without any liquid calories left. To my amazement, at 36k with a couple of snowflakes I (believe I) saw, one of the runners made a huge push on the downhill to catch back up! Now I wasn’t going to be the one leading the charge, so I sat behind and told myself to make no more until 1k to go. That’s how we stayed the next 5k with him trying to run away from me much like I had tried to do to him in the previous 6k. The pace felt slow, and was slow, but the energy from fighting the wind had us both pretty zapped. I saw the sign with 2k to go and was feeling pretty good but didn’t know what he had left. I kept looking for the 1k to go sign but couldn’t find it. I looked down at my watch and saw it was over 4 minutes from the 1k to go sign, so I must have missed it. I could see the finish line banner in the distance so I gave it everything I had. I broke away relatively easily as he had given a courageous effort in the last 8k and was spent. Coming down the finishing straight I started giving the shucka, or “hang loose” sign since I was representing the Kauai Marathon. I crossed the finish line with the shucka sign in the air and stop right in front of about two dozen camera guys from the press. I turned around to clap for the second place guy. A few steps after he crossed, simultaneous we both bowed and shook hands with each other smiling. It was a surreal experience to celebrate each other’s cultures (bowing is similar to shaking hands in America, so the Japanese often do both to respect both cultures) moments after running two hours and twenty seven minutes together only to be separated by 9 seconds at the finish. Then, it was like paparazzi again and I immediately had a microphone in my face with my interpreter Shu there. The most awesome part of this special moment is that my parents, nearly 10,000 miles away in Moore Township, Pennsylvania , were at the computer watching the live feed – saw the finish, and were able to hear my interview! After about ten minutes of interviewing, I put on more clothes, grabbed some water and some food that my friends from Kauai had generously brought for me, and walked to an heated indoor facility until the awards ceremony. The awards ceremony is a big deal in Japan, with the mayor presenting the awards. I was brought up on stage in front of hundreds of picture-happy Japanese to receive my awards. There was no prize money for the winners, but I did receive a Japanese Alpine car navigation system, hotel coupon certificates, a giant stuffed Aflak duck, hello kitty towels, a glass trophy (which the head of Japanese tourism presented me on stage after kissing it and then kissing me on the neck as I tried to avoid it…which must have been a funny sight!), a gold medal, and gift basket of Kauai marathon goodies. (Note: the Alpine company was extremely nice and is going to ship me an American version of the navigation system. I sent them an e-mail as they requested with my address and received a reply within an hour that say, “Mr. Tyler, it made me very happy to shake hands with the winner of the race”…once again showing both how generous the Japanese are as well as how much they love the sport of long distance running).
I had won this trip to Japan by winning the Kauai Marathon in September. The Kauai City Government paid for the trip as a way of trying to build a relationship between the two cities in order to help tourism to the opposite cities. I was honored to represent the Kauai Marathon and the lack of prize money was not going to stop me from having the experience of a lifetime. However, the winner of the race ALSO received a trip paid to go to the Kauai Marathon in the following year. I have already committed to going back to Kauai and I felt it was best that the paid trip to Kauai be given to someone from Japan to further improve the sister city relationship. The mayor bowed to me when he learned I wanted someone from Japan to have this opportunity and he proceeded to announce it to the crowd and brought up the women’s winner and 2nd place men’s finisher who earned trips to the Kauai Marathon and another sister city marathon (Queensland?) respectively. It was an incredible afternoon of signing autographs and speaking to people through the interpreter or when someone knew enough English.
There’s way too many people to thank for this incredible opportunity and I will never remember everyone, but I have to thank Michiru and Chuckie who represented Kauai and answered a ton of questions about the Japanese culture. Thank you to Shu for being an incredibly nice interpreter and always helping me understand what was going on. Thanks so much to the Spa Resort Hawaiians, which is an incredible hotel that had a grand re-opening one day before I arrived after most of the hotel was demolished by the earthquake. Wakamatsu-San was especially kind treating us to meals and driving me to the start and after the finish. He was also nice enough to take off his long jacket immediately after the race so I’d stay warm. Suzuki-San was gracious enough to pick me up at the airport and drive me three hours to Iwaki as well as driving me on a course tour. These people who I had never met before this trip will remain great friends of mine for the rest of my life from their generosity and kindness. I’ll never forget all of them coming to see us take the bus to the airport and waving until we were completely out of sight…they could all still be waving for all I know…
Of course, I couldn’t end this without thanking the Kauai Marathon and the city of Kauai again. I’ll continue to be an ambassador for Kauai and the Kauai marathon (which is the first weekend in September this year!). The “aloha spirit” will never leave me and I hope it shines through it this blog post. Lastly, let me thank all of my family, friends, coach, and sponsor who support me. I’m itching to get off of this flight and get back to training. A monster thank you to Mizuno, including the headquarters in Japan, who sent the killer new racing singlet to the hotel for me to wear in the race! When things are going well I feel “full of the run” where training runs seem to end too quickly and training is absolutely a pleasure. Thanks for invigorating my spirit Iwaki and Kauai, time to get off this plane!