Growing up on the countryside in Germany with a preference for sport biking rather than motor scooter like most other young people I also did jogging and some swimming, also I wouldn't call myself a real sportsperson. In Tokyo it was mostly to hot to run when I had the time, the pools are expensive, crowded, and only open for two months, July and August. But I did quite a lot of riding my bike, a sports bike with double suspension made by Louis Garneau, or so I thought until I found out that in Japan it's just the name, all the design and manufacturing is done by a Japanese company.
Up here in Karuizawa with an altitude of 950 m (3100 feet) the air is thin as I found out after starting jogging again after some time. My legs felt great which is no surprise with all that biking in Tokyo and my work means being on my feet most of the time. But my lungs didn't like it and quit after a few hundred meters. So I had to "re-invent" my running, keeping myself to a slow pace and getting back into the rhythm and than slowly building up speed and distance. Like before it was an on-again, off-again kind of story, long winter with snow until April gave me excuses not run as much as summer months filled with work from early morning till night that didn't leave any energy. Than last year in September my wife's workplace took part in a big charity fitness event of most of the international financial companies in Tokyo and I chose to run the 10km event. It was a 2.5 km street course, to be run 4 rounds, starting in a stadium. I didn't have much of preparation, but at least the advantage of running in low altitude, when I was used to high altitude gave my body a good boost and much less aching than I had thought. There where well above a thousand people attending the race and it was a very special atmosphere, completely different from just running on my own. I concentrated on the race, analyzing my running and the course, deciding when to up the pace in the end and run an all-out for the last hundred meters. I wasn't really fast, about 52 minutes, but I was satisfied with my performance, exhausted enough to know I gave a good fight - and I was hooked. This would be something to have as a goal, to run a marathon! Because just running around the neighborhood and measuring your time and grade of exhaustness just wouldn't do it for me.
And so, after some searching on a running-portal I came across a nice half-marathon not too far away from Karuizawa, about one hour by car, and applied for it. I still didn't do serious training for it, so, up to the last weeks. Nevertheless, I was willing to give it my best. On Saturday I had a long 10hour working-day, not the best thing to do the day before a race. I packed a few clothes, changing etc in a sports bag because I wasn't sure about the weather and early Sunday morning made my way to the location, only to be stuck in a jam for 35 min before I made it into the parking area, much farther away than written on the pamphlet (note to myself: get there early; expect long jams around the event place). The obvious reason was that the half-marathon race was attended by "only" about 1200 runners, but besides that there were shorter distances and fun-runs, making it an event with many families attending as well.
Check-in was smooth, every runner received a chip to lace to the shoe, there was a baggage-handling counter inside the building, and the whole place itself was overflowing with people, young students and kids up to retirement-age long-distance runners. Also the spring-like weather was very different from home were 20 cm of snow refused to go away, it was only a few degrees in the plus and I had chosen my long-sleeve running shirt with my 3/4 long bottoms and of course gloves, which turned out just right as we were running long time in cold-shadowed forest. After doing some light running to warm up and stretching among all the other runners, the start came and off we went, accompanied by the deep sounds of a local Taiko drum group. Local folks where lining the back roads and cheering the runners, water stations where plenty, so much that I actually over-hydrated because the temperature was rather low and I was lucky to have a toilet just when I needed to, running with a full bladder is not good for your concentration! But shortly after the start the scenery changed when we took a turn and started to climb up a steep road; I had seen the road map with the climbing and descending, I even remember telling my wife that the last 3 km would be downhill, easy to finish...but I was proven very wrong, for when the first steep down hill came, my legs told me they were unprepared for this! And also Karuizawa makes a nice training place, it lacks on thing: steep roads! The course went up again what must have been around 10% incline. And after a few kilometers up in the cold shadows and around the turning-point it was down that same road again. It was around 15 km into the race and at this hill I was overtaken by quite a few people for my legs were on fire and there was no way I could speed down like the others were with seemingly great ease. The last downhill was a similar story, usually I would increase my speed getting closer to the goal, but it was just not possible on this course - After I passed the goal I just sat down, my legs an undefined mass and it took me some time to get enough strength to walk again. My finishing time was 2:02:24, slower than the goal of 2 hours I had set myself. Still, it was a very good experience and this race will hold a special place in my memory. So, where to go from here? There is a half-marathon in Karuizawa end of May, which I thought about attending, but my delaying caught me when I realized that it was already filled by the time I decided to apply. On the other hand I really want to race below 2 hours and so am looking around but nothing yet. As for full marathon, sure that will come with time, also I am not sure whether this year or next. Nevertheless I decided I will apply for the next year's Tokyo Marathon, even so that race was not such a high priority for me. One reason is, there are 10 times more applications than free spots, meaning it might take a few years until I get lucky. The other reason is, even so I have some negative feelings towards my time in Tokyo, the race itself is a different story, and it meanwhile is looked upon very fondly by runners worldwide. That application is due in August, so in September I might know a bit more about next year's running schedule, there is a full marathon in Nagano in April as well which surely will be the choice if I can't get into Tokyo this time.
The race: Haruna Ume Marathon
Distance: Half-Marathon 21.097 km (13.11 miles)
Lowest point: 175 m (575 feet)
Highest point: 337 m (1100 feet)
Weather: mostly cloudy, 5-10 degrees C
Time: 2hours, 02 min, 24 sec
After nearly 20 years in big Tokyo I was feeling burned out in my not-so-successful "career" in the service industry, knocking on several ceilings....so after a chance discovery of cheap old farmhouses we set out towards the countryside - but still close enough for my wife to further pursue her working live, commuting by Shinkansen while I would take care of the house and kids and build my own little cafe at home...
Our first bump came when we realized that the bank wasn't willing to give a loan for an old rundown house on some worthless property in the "Hinterland". So, we changed plans and will be building a new house. We already bought the plot last year, with about 400 square meters size, and I have started the vegetable garden beforehand, next project will be the garden house.