The temperature really climbed between the time I left my hotel 6:30am and the time of the race 8:30am、from 3 degrees to 14 degrees. Milling around the start area I was struck by the light atmosphere, people were going about their preparations often commenting on what a lovely morning it was. For warm up I jogged 5 laps of a 1K dirt covered track that was lined with cherry blossoms in full bloom. As you turned the first corner of this track you caught sight of a massive mountain range covered top 20% with snow. This contrasted against the deep blue sky and the pink of the cherry trees and was really a sight to see. Everyone was smiling and anticipating a great race.
The first 10 Kilometers: 1st 5km split 23:21 the 2nd 22:42
The first kilometer was totally straight and flat, followed by 2- 90 degree turns which resulted in you running in the opposite direction on a neighboring road. At the 2.6 kilometer point you make a sharp turn-around which then set you on your way to the main part of the course. This is run though the city proper and there were people lined three deep in places cheering us runners on.
Most of the way, you run on soft asphalt, however there were patches of hard cement between the 3-8 kilometer points. We ran under a train line just after the 4 kilometer point which is a steep downhill followed by uphill where the road was kind of rough. Still nothing that would slow anyone down at this point.
The course opened up even more at the 5 Km point as you entered the heart of the city. The roads were wider and the pack thinned out a great deal. There was a 300 m long incline leading up to the 6 Km mark. Just in front of the famous Zenkoji temple you turned left where the pace really picked up due to a 500m downhill stretch. Everyone was seemly cruising as we hadn’t even reached the 7km point yet. We then ran past Central Square (site of the medal ceremonies for the Olympics) and ran through central Nagano. Then it was another 2 kilometers to “Big Hat” (site of the Olympic hockey finals) and the 10 Km point. It was around this point that I struck up a conversation with “Adam”. A thirty something Englishman, a strapping fellow that looked to be doing it easy and around my pace. Turned out that Adam is a triathlete doing his first marathon and a friend of Stephen Lacey belonging to the same running club in Tokyo. Adam also had on a new Garmin that was beeping like mad. It sounded like some crazed cicada but it was rather reassuring as I knew we were on pace for a 3:15 finish.
10 Km to 25 Km: 3rd 5km split 23:13, the 4th 23:05, 5th 22:39
The stretch from Big Hat to the next Olympic Venue, “M-Wave” had nice new and flat roads. Between 10 Km and 15 Km, there were not the crowds of the first 10. The temperature was climbing but still comfortable I almost wanted to stop and take a break to glance at the different views. Adam and I took advantage of this stretch to talk and relax a bit.
However, the heart of the race was yet to come, and as you passed the 15 Km mark, we again enter a prime “cheering zone” and M- Wave came into view. On this stretch up to the 17 Km point you were able to see all the runners that were ahead of you coming back on the opposite side of the road. This helped to keep us on pace.
From M-Wave to the 19 Km point it was a flat stretch. Very easy to run however there was a little head wind here that only got worse as we ran over the 2 km long Gorin Bridge. It wasn’t too bad though and we didn’t lose any pace.
The 25 Km point brought us to the next point of interest on the course, “White Ring” (the venue for the figure skating at the Olympics). It was here that I thought I might be starting to feel the race in my legs as they were getting heavier and I ran a little faster to compensate, don’t know if this was a good idea.
25 Km to Finish: 6th 5km split 23:58, the 7th 24:22, 8th 25:24
There was no reason to hold back any longer but it was from the 30th K that I really started to think this isn’t going to be easy to finish off. The stretch to Km 33 was straight on nice winding bicycle path asphalt trails, and the only difference after that is that from Km 33 to 39 we were going in the opposite direction on the other side of the river! The wind played a factor in this part of the race and it seemed to last forever. I lost Adam at a drink station and I was by myself with my thoughts and tiring body. The finish point, the Olympic stadium came into view from kilometer 33 on the left, and reaching it was all I was thinking about from that point on! This part of the course ran alongside the Chikuma river, the longest running river in Japan. There are fruit orchards (apple, pear and peach) whose flowers were in full bloom at this time of year making for attractive scenery.
At km 39 we went over the last of 3 bridges coming up a slight rise on to this last bridge I had a strange feeling like I was running the wrong way on one of those moving airport walkways. I knew I was really in trouble from that point. Then we headed into the final 3 km home stretch. This section was tough for me I thought of my fellow bloggers/runners and dug deep as it was all I could do to not stop.
Finishing in an Olympic stadium was exhilarating but it was a bit of a blur, I must have looked in trouble cause several Japanese spectators took the time to scream at me in their best English, stuff like “good luck” and “Go fight!” The Olympic track was covered with some really soft spongy substance that almost buckled my legs after coming off the hard concrete through the tunnel into the stadium. It felt like I was running on a bloody waterbed.
Everyone was cheering us on and after making a small sprint to the line I was interviewed/filmed and asked to make an appeal to my fellow countrymen to “Come to Nagano” for next year’s 10th anniversary of this marathon. This I did with as much effort as I could still muster.
Later at restaurant with my new found mate Adam, drinking beer eating pizza like it was our last meal, we reflected on how great this sport is. And coming back on the train to Osaka I promised myself that I would PB in my next race as well.
I have played high level rugby and surfed waves the size of apartment blocks but nothing has given such thrills, satisfaction and feelings of anticipation that running does. I think I have found my sport. It's really a terrific sport isn't it? I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted when I say that.
Total time 3:19:42