I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, the Nagano Marathon is my favorite marathon in Japan. Just a superb job by the organizers in every way possible! It is an event that knows exactly what it wants to be, no more, no less. The field size is kept very manageable (maximum 10,000), no other races going on at the same time, no costumes, world-class facilities, 5-hour time limit, scenic course, plenty of toilets, fluid stations spaced out very well, elaborate farewell party, outstanding crowd support, and I could go on and on. Although this marathon may not be as hyped as some of the bigger city marathons in Tokyo and Osaka, if I were to recommend a marathon in Japan, hands-down it would be the Nagano Marathon.
I arrived at Nagano Station via “Bullet Train” from Tokyo on Saturday afternoon. It was a pretty nasty day, lots of rain and wind. Fortunately, it cleared up that evening. The station had a nice welcoming event for the marathoners as you can see in the picture to the right. After leaving the station, I walked to Comfort Hotel, which was about a 3 minutes away — a very convenient location. The hotel was nothing special, but it was cheap (about $60/night), included Wi-Fi, free coffee and juice, and a free breakfast buffet. The room was pretty small and the walls were really thin, but it suited me just fine. If you do run the Nagano Marathon in the future, I would highly recommend you stay at a hotel downtown. However, you’ll need to try and reserve a downtown hotel as soon as possible as they fill up pretty fast.
After getting checked in I went to pick-up my race packet at the “The Big Hat” arena. They had shuttle buses from Nagano Station taking people back and forth. The Big Hat is where they held the ice hockey games during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. The check-in process was flawless and quick. As soon as I entered the registration area, they had a booth specifically for foreigners. I literally had my packet within 1 minute after walking in the door. The expo was relatively small, took only 10 minutes to walk through it. A neat feature they had in the expo area was a very well done video of the course playing on two large jumbotrons on both sides of the arena.
After picking up my packet I went back to the hotel, ate dinner at Saizeriya, then prepared my running clothes. Then I hit the sack around 9 pm. If you are a foreigner and looking for a quick, cheap, easy to order pasta meal, I would recommend Saizeriya. It’s a family chain Italian restaurant located right across the street from Nagano Station. I had a simple salad, bowl of pasta and unlimited soft drinks for about $10.
I woke up around 5 am and promptly ate breakfast. I had two rice balls, an oatmeal Clif bar, water, and a cup of coffee. Then I left the hotel around 6:45 am to catch the train to Kita-Nagano Station. From there, it is about a 15 minute walk to the start area close to the Aqua Wing Arena. The start area is nicely laid out, plenty of toilets (never had to wait), and they have an Olympic size running track to warm up on. Around 7:45 am I checked in my bag and got into my designated corral.
The weather at the start was about as perfect as it could be – high-40s, no wind, partly cloudy, and no humidity. They introduced the elite runners and had some opening remarks. Naoko Takahashi, the women’s 2000 Olympic Gold marathon medalist and former world record holder, gave a spirited speech at the start to get everyone motivated. She was also located at various points on the course high-fiving the runners, which was really cool.
We were off at 8:30 am. I was relatively close to the start line and crossed it a minute later. Although a bit congested the first kilometer, things started to spread out a bit after that. After the second kilometer I was able to get into my targeted pace. The body was feeling pretty good and I just settled in clicking off the kilometers until around the 14 kilometer point where I took my first toilet break, losing about a minute. The first half of the course had some hilly areas, but nothing really substantial. I crossed the halfway point in 1:35, exactly where I wanted to be, and feeling great. At this point, it did seem to be getting sunnier and warmer – probably in the mid-50s – but still not bad. The scenery was inspiring, snow capped mountains in the distance, rice fields in the foreground, along with gently flowing rivers as we ran along the levees. The crowds were extremely supportive and were genuinely cheering all the runners almost the entire way. We passed all the major Olympic venues, Big Hat at 8km, M-Wave at 17 km and White Wing at 25 km. From the halfway point to the 33 km point I was in the zone and still feeling pretty fresh. I made a second restroom stop, losing another minute. At the 35 km point I decided that I would just try and maintain my pace. I took 4 GU Roctanes to this point, about every 40 minutes, and took in fluids about every two or three kilometers, so I thought that was enough. Things continued to progress okay until around the 38 km point, then suddenly, without much warning the race became a struggle. The last two kilometers were tough and I slowed very quickly from about a 7:15/mile pace at that point to around a 7:40/mile pace. Never know what to expect in a marathon and this was just one of those unexpected variables. Even with the Nagano Olympic Stadium in clear in site, it was hard to muster the will to run any faster. After entering the stadium and seeing the finish line, I was able to find a little pep in my step and finish relatively strong. My final unofficial net time was 3:12:07, a personal best. Although I fell a little short of my 3:10 goal, I’m very happy with my time. I’m not sure if there is anything I could have done differently, but I felt I ran a smart race.
Garmin GPS: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/168629352
After finishing you receive a wet washcloth, souvenir towel, rice ball and sports drink. They also had some festivities with food booths outside the stadium. Since the marathon is a point-to-point course, there was a free shuttle to take you to Nagano Station – about 30 minutes.
After returning to my hotel, I showered and walked to Zenkoji Temple and around downtown Nagano to do a little sightseeing. For foreign runners, they invite you to the marathon farewell party where they crack open a couple barrels of sake and have a fairly elaborate buffet dinner. The elite athletes were also at the farewell party, so you can meet and take pictures with them, which was pretty neat. Seeing elite marathoners up close is eye-opening, most are amazingly skinny and not that tall. The party was a nice way to cap off a great marathon experience. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to run this race again.
Sightseeing photos around Nagano.
Training recap leading up to the Nagano Marathon.