Yesterday I completed the 34th Kanagawa Half Marathon in a personal best time of 1:25:13 (unofficial time). Going into the race, my ‘A’ goal was to run a sub 1:27, so needless to say I was pleased with my time. For the most part I followed my race strategy of running relatively even splits early on, and kept it close to the 6:30 ~ 6:40 per mile range until around mile 10. I was feeling good so picked up the pace about to 6:15 ~ 6:20 per mile until the finish, ending with over a minute negative split (1st half in 43:11, 2nd half in 42:02). The negative split usually is a good indication someone has run the race wisely. So overall, I was happy with my effort and final results.
The organization of the race itself was okay. Let me first start off with some positives. The weather was perfect, mid-40s, cloud cover, and light breeze and getting to the race was very easy. I live one train stop from the starting line (Isogo Station), so all I had to do is walk to the closest train station from my house (Negishi Station, about 15 minutes) and catch a 3 minute train ride. I left my house around 9:30 am for a 11:30 am start. Once I arrived at the Isogo Station, just like everything in Japan, it was extremely crowded and took about 20 minutes to finally get to the registration desk. They had a large open baseball field with tents and it was organized chaos, but I eventually found the right check-in area and got my number, information packet, and a bottle of cooking oil (explanation: the sponsor of the event was a cooking oil manufacturer). Everything was written in Japanese, but I was able to figure out where I needed to go to get dressed (or undressed), use the port-a-potties, check-in my bag, and line up at the start. I hit the port-a-potty first and as is normally the case in Japan, the lines were extremely long (waited about 15 minutes for a urinal), but I was eventually able to take care of business. However, I knew this would be only opportunity to go to the bathroom, so I had to make it count – more on this later. I’m not sure what it is with Japanese races, but they seem to always have too few port-a-potties — I compare this to the New York Marathon I did last November with over 45,000 runners and I never had to wait more than a minute. But anyway, I went to check in my bag and ended up having to pay for the privilege. It was 200 yen (US$2.70), which isn’t much, but why didn’t they just include this in the entrance fee. I’ve never encountered having to pay to check-in a bag for a race before, seems more troublesome for both the organizers and runners.
Then I went to the start line 30 minutes before the start around 11:00 a.m. The corrals were organized pretty well. I lined up toward the front of the second corral with a 1:16 ~ 1:30 expected finishing time. The first corral was for runners expected to finish in 1:15 or faster. While waiting, I was thinking this is great, the people in front of us are speedsters or sub-elites, so there should be no crowding at the start. Boy, was I wrong. Apparently, I guess those corrals are just suggestions because there were a lot of people who clearly did not belong in the first corral, and as a result, led to a slow start. Now I’m not trying to be snobbish because I’m not fast by any means and highly encourage anyone of any ability to participate in these events, but all runners should have courtesy to line up correctly at the start – it not only impacts the other runners behind you, but also is dangerous because now people are dodging and weaving to avoid slower runners. Again, I will compare this to the New York Marathon where most people seemed to line up correctly and resulted in a pretty smooth start.
We were off promptly as advertised at 11:30 a.m. and the course was pretty narrow throughout. Imagine trying to squeeze 7,000 runners into one highway lane for a good portion of the run, not fun at the beginning and I was bumping into runners for the first 5K before I felt I got some breathing room. The course itself was really flat, no hills to speak of, but there were lots of sharp 90 and 180 degree turns (probably over 30). But otherwise, a pretty fast course, although though not very scenic since it runs along a highway in an industrial area.
This race did have some of Japanese best collegiate runners and they were fast! It was fun watching them along the course and the winner from Aoyama Gakuin University ran the course in a record time of 1:03:25 – hard to imagine humans being able to run that fast!
Since I was only able to use the port-a-potty once about 45 minutes before the start, I knew this may later be problematic. At the start my bladder was already half full and about 5K into the race I was carrying a full load. I normally don’t use the facilities during a half marathon, but was thinking I may have to make a pit stop for this race. Well, the race organizers pretty much ruined those plans since there was only one place along the course that had a grand total of three port-a-potties. Fortunately, I was able to will myself to hold it until the end, which may have actually helped me run a PR – however, I don’t advise anyone doing this. Needless to say, I didn’t take in any fluids or gels during the run (didn’t want to exacerbate the problem), although they had a few water stations along the way that seemed to be adequately stocked and manned.
There was a small vocal crowd cheering runners around the start and finish, which was nice. Probably mostly family members being dragged out by their spouses since we were not running in any residential areas.
After crossing the finish line we returned the digital chip on our shoes, collected a bottle of water and t-shirt, and that was pretty much it. I guess they had an award ceremony, but wasn’t sure when it was, so I got my stuff, changed into dry clothes and cheered some finishers before heading home. I’m not sure what the digital chip was all about because no real-time race results were available – I guess we’ll get something in the mail eventually.
Side note, before heading off to the race in the morning, as I was walking to the train station a strange thing happened. My left calf started cramping really bad, like one of those cramps you get after running 24 miles during a marathon. I’m not sure why the cramp started, but it almost derailed me from participating in the race. Fortunately, I was able to stretch it out enough to run and don’t believe it impacted my performance, but I was disturbed that it happened just before a race. I’m wondering if it may be a mental thing, because I haven’t done anything different physically or nutritionally leading up to the race. Just hope it doesn’t happen again.
Well, if you read this far, thank you. Overall, despite some very minor challenges, it was a good time and I’ll probably run it again next year.
GPS of Course: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/147209488