Osaka Marathon 2011

The landmark: Osaka Castle

Osaka held her first ever inaugural marathon event on 30th Oct 2011.

My initial suspicion was that the organizer was the same people that brought you the fantastically well organized Tokyo Marathon. I found out later that it was an entirely different group of folks from the likes of Osaka Prefectural Government, City of Osaka, Osaka Association of All Athletics. I could have sworn that the way everything was run from Pre-Race collection of race package to Race day resembled so much like Tokyo Marathon that they were a generic copy of Tokyo Marathon. But kudos to the organizers, they have done an equally fantastic job!

We touched down in Osaka at about 6 am on 29th Oct 2011. After a few transits, and almost 18 hours of travel time later, we were exhausted. This time, my wife and I decided, (with much pain, hesitation and deliberation) that we will not bring along the kids. It’s supposed to be an ultra short “in and out” trip. It turned out to be a wise decision. 

The sun was already up. The air was crisp & cool at 16 degrees Celsius. Later in the morning, the temperature went up to about 24 degrees. Rather hot for autumn in Osaka. Immediately, I had the premonition that all of my full length compression top and pants will not be necessary in this kind of weather. I would be cooked in it. Good thing I brought along shorts and Tees.

We left our baggage at the hotel and took the subway to Intex Osaka to collect my race package. Osaka, in many aspects is like Tokyo, but a smaller and more “placid” twin sister. People are polite and helpful. You have the urban look of Tokyo, yet the feel of a more suburban ambiance.

When we arrived, there was already a looooonnnng queue at the entrance of the EXPO. The total number of participants was a staggering 28,000 strong. This is FULL marathon alone. There is also a challenge run (~10km I think) which was less popular with only 2000 participants. But once the door opened sharp at 11am, the flow of the event was seamless. Fluid and efficient, I was out in less than 10 minutes with all my race stuff. The rest of the time was spent at the EXPO which was very happening! Lots of freebies and loads of A to Z running related merchandise and gadgets to make you drool! If not for the strong Yen, I would have lost all restraint and exsanguinate my already anemic financial status! 

The rest of the day was mainly rest. Though the spirit was willing, we were too physically exhausted to venture out to explore Osaka.

Having rested well enough on a single smallish double bed in a cubicle like hotel room, we awoke to a cloudy day on Race day at 7 am. The temperature was 18 degrees Celsius. No sun beam in sight. That could only mean that we were heading for a near perfect day for running. Well, at least, for me it was. The later part of the day was drizzly for the back packers. Nothing pleasant about that.

A close up before the battle
The Start of the Race was at 9am sharp. Pretty low key compared to Tokyo. I was assigned to the ‘B’ pen just behind the elite runners and ‘A’ group (presumably sub 3 runners). But even so, at gun off, it took a good one and a half minute to get to the start line because of the sheer number of runners.

My pace at the start was at best 5:00/km because there were just too many runners. I just had to keep going, cutting in and out to get ahead. The waves of runners were just torrential. The congestion eased up a bit when we came into the second km. I picked up pace and very soon, found myself settling down. It felt comfortable but the registered pace on my GPS was 4:00/km! After that 2nd km, I knew I had to ease up a bit otherwise I would crash out at 10km. From then on, I maintained as close as possible to aim for a sub 4:30/km pace.

Some experience runners would probably guess at this stage that the ‘feel good’ is sometimes deceptively misleading. And dangerous too! When a runner has that adrenaline rush, coupled with the ‘pacing’ set by other fast runners, there is that tendency to go faster, and faster. I found that I was running more like 4:15/km pace. And it was no surprise that when I reached 21km, I had run my fastest half marathon to date. 1 hour 30 minutes. I thought, “Wow! This is great!” And I felt good! (Deceived again!) So I kept going. Thinking that if I could sustain this kind of pace, there is a possibility of a PB!

But, as you have guessed how this was going to turn out, the same pace was not sustainable. Beyond 30km, I was struggling. I completed 27.6km at the second hour. But beyond that, the pace just slowed. Like a toy car running out of battery. I took some gels along the way but it was clearly not enough.

Spectators and supporters were lined up along the whole stretch of the 42km. Much like Tokyo. Although the crowd was not as “loud” as in Tokyo, you know and you sense that they are all cheering for you. I took comfort in that though physically I was stretched to my limit. Mentally, there is a barrier that I was trying to break through. Elusive and impenetrable. The focus was waning…..

“I think I blew it. I should have resisted the temptation. I should have waited. I should have kept a sustainable pace of 4:30/km.”

These thoughts assaulted my mind. I grew bitter with myself. No thanks to you! The PB is out of the question now.

My only thought was that: Could this be redeemed? Could I possibly press on with what is left in the tank?

I remembered a friend sharing the verse in the Good Book in Joshua 1:9 just a few days ago. “Be strong and be courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!” I muttered a prayer: God! Stay with me on this one!

Fear was not ‘creeping in like a thief in the night’. It was more like an attack by dozens of commandos on an assault mission. I had to fight on as I inched towards to 35th km. Behold! In front of me was the dreaded 20m elevation bridge. At this stage of the race, even a molehill is enough to make me stop and walk. But, I remember the verse again. And I press on, trying desperately to not think of the words “Stop! Walk!” 

Funny how when stretched to our limit, these moments always seem totally “unglamorous”? You just put one foot in front of the other. Nothing glamorous about that! I wish I could make it sound like the movie Chariots of Fire. But I have to be honest. It really felt like the pits!

After the elevation, it was 6 more long km to go. No matter how seasoned you think you are, “Respect the distance!” Yes, no matter how they sugar coat it, it is not the best part of the race. No exceptions. No matter how tough you are.

I ran on. In what seemed like a race that lasted an eternity. The last few km was a constant assault on the physique, mind and spirit. The body can break, but never let the spirit break. Guard it with all your life. If that ever broke my spirit, I think I would never run a marathon ever again.

I saw many overtook me. The Japanese runners are really tough! I know it because I saw the ‘kamikaze’ spirit in their eyes. It was no joke. And there must have been a few thousands of them ahead of me. They are not your average running-for-fun kind of runners. They are dead serious. Sub 3 or sub 3:30 is very ‘normal and average’ kind of time for them. Alongside, there are also some seriously fast Hong Kong runners too. Many came as it’s only a 3 hours flight away.

It's a humbling process. Always has been....It’s a big world out there.

I struggled and plodded on with a 5:00-5:15/km pace. 39km. 40km. 41km. And finally with 1km to go, squeeze out whatever was left of me and push forward. I took a glimpse of my watch again. To my surprise, it was not all gloom. I could actually make it.

I didn’t have time to think too much about any impending cramps. Not even of the fatigue. Just pushed with whatever I have. And finally crossed the finish line with a time of 3:15:48.

Almost there.....
It is a PB even if it was by just 2 minutes margin. My Beijing PB was a year ago in Oct 2010 @ 3:17+. So, though it is not a great one to shout about, it is nonetheless a PB.

But, after resting for a couple of days and going through the event in my mind, the conclusion is that I should have kept a constant pace of 4:30/km. I would have had a better chance of a faster finish if I have resisted the temptation to go fast in the first half.

Well, marathon changes your life. I am sure many would have told you that. But for me, each race is a unique opportunity to either make me or break me. Even when I have totally messed up my target time, I still go away tougher and stronger because at some point in the most trying moments, I had the opportunity to endure and overcome. And having done that, I did not let it break my spirit. That is the most valuable thing that I could ever learn from marathon races. It always brings out the best in you.
  

Comments

  1. Well done Francis. Congratulations for another PB!

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  2. Thanks! Fortunate enough to do it in a nice place like Osaka. U shd consider it for next year! Registration starts 15 Feb 2012.

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  3. Wonderful personal best Francis! Look at the faces of the 2 other runners in the last photo - smiling some more grrrr!

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  4. Yeah Jamie!
    But guess who had the last laugh? I overtook them at the final 50 meter.
    Haha! But it was a tough race, I was relieved to just finish...

    Thanks Neoh!

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  5. Congratulation on another wonderful PB!
    A very inspiring post... the "kamikaze spirit", the "sub-3 and sub-3.5 is normal/average", "squeeze out whatever was left of me and push forward"... am speechless!

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  6. Thanks YS! Am just so inspired by these Japanese runners. The experience opened my eyes to a whole new perspective about running.

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