Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Running in Japan vs. Running the US

So here is a short list of differences and similarities between my experiences running the Yodogawa Osaka Marathon this past November and the Los Angeles Marathon 3 years ago. It's not comprehensive by any means. However, these are the observations that struck me the most.

The Differences:
1. Everything's in Japanese. 
You may say, "Well, obviously. You're in Japan." Seriously, though, if we couldn't speak/read Japanese, this marathon would have been extremely difficult to apply for and figure out the day of. Not that I was really expecting a lot of English since it wasn't an international marathon, but still... it's the little things you notice, like the directions to put on your bib, the route markers, and even the pre-race countdown, are all in Japanese.

2. Japanese love to party. A marathon is just as good as an excuse as any. 
I noticed it at the Himawari Relay in May when I did a fun run, and I remember doing the same during a 12-hour swim relay. I figured it's because they're both for fun, people bring out the grills, have lots of food, and drink up. In both of those cases, though, participants too joined in on the drinking and having fun. Along the marathon route, supporters were there... barbecuing and drinking for their own fun. Not that I have anything against that, but it is sorta disheartening run past a group of people partying and not being able to (read: shouldn't) join in the fun. Unlike other events I went to, it wasn't for the runners. It was for them.

3. Everyone seems to have spent a lot of money than me. 
I've seen it while surfing, snowboarding, and any other activity I've done in Japan. You can't say they skimp out on equipment, whether it's clothes or other products.
A specific example: when I went hiking in Yakushima, I noticed that everyone had nice hiking boots, Gortex rain jackets and rain pants, and backpacking backpacks. It made me wonder, though, how much of it is brand new? How many people know how to use them and how many people are using these items because "it's what you're supposed to do?" I even saw people wearing gators. Do you know what gators are for? They didn't. (Note: They're a sort of cover for your boots so rain or snow so water doesn't get in.) One last thing I want to mention about Yakushima... this was on a sunny day.

Here I am wearing 400 yen basketball shorts and the same shoes I wore for my first marathon 2 years ago...

I know there were people genuinely better prepared for the marathon than I was. There were lots of people who take running a lot more serious than I do. But when everyone is sporting the latest in "running technology," you have to wonder how many of these people bought special clothes, food, or drinks because "it's what you're supposed to do."

OK, enough of my ranting. On to the similarities.

The Similarities:
1. There is an immediate camaraderie between runners before, during, and after.
Everyone knows what everyone else is feeling. The anxiety before. The immense pain during. The exhaustion after. It's these shared experiences that makes it so easy to relate to each other. How can you not interact with others in the same situation as you, whether it's giving (or ignoring) other people's last minute tips or cheering for complete strangers.

And on that note,

2. It's still running.
Or maybe better put--there is a point when it stops being "running in Japan" or "running in the US." It's simply running. There are no more cultural differences at the 40km mark. There are no judgments or cynical observations when you "hit your wall." When your body shuts down, the fatigue becomes all-consuming, and you can't go anymore... all that's left is you. Your race. And when you push past that and cross the finish line, it all becomes worth it. The feeling of accomplishment: that's the same, no matter the continent.

Clearly a "before" picture... there's no way we looked this good after.

And perhaps most importantly,

3. Chicken McNuggets are the perfect post-race meal.
'Nuff said.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kokura Konbini Challenge (小倉コンビ二チャレンジ)

So here's a game for all you here in Japan. Bored and broke? Try the Kokura Konbini Challenge! As long as the weather's fair and you have 1000 yen, you can play this drinking game anywhere there are コンビ二. All it it requires a bit of skill and a bit of luck. Home-field advantage helps a lot too.

The Rules:
  1. In turn, each player takes turns acting as a guide to a konbini. After you lead the group to one konbini, it's the next player's turn to lead the group.
  2. You must buy a drink (12 oz./330mL) at each konbini you visit.
  3. You must finish your drink before the next konbini.
    • If the guide has finished his/her drink and no other player has finished their drink, and the group has arrived at the next konbini, the guide gets a free pass (i.e. doesn't have to drink the next round)
    • If the guide hasn't finished his/her drink and at least one other player has finished their drink, and the group has arrived at the next konbini, the guide must drink double (tall can 500mL)
  4. You must go into the next konbini you pass whether intentionally lead there or not. 
    • If the konbini is within eyesight and on the same side of the street, it counts as passing by it.
  5. No two same konbini types in a row. No same exact konbini in a night. (ex. You can't go into any 2 Lawsons in a row, but going to a Lawson, 7-11, and then a different Lawson is ok.)
    • If the guide breaks either rule, he/she must buy the next round for all players.
  6. Bonus rule: No buying the exact same drink in a night. (Same kind of drink is ok.)

Let me know how it goes. If you remember, that is...

Sounds easy? 
As a reference, there are 2 inside the station, 1 behind, and another two blocks in front... and that's just for Family Mart.

Oldest player starts first.
The game is over at the last train/bus. Or someone gets sick. Whichever comes first.
Drinks must be 5% or better, but while Tsingtao isn't 5% and neither is any light/calorie-off happoshu, that doesn't mean play this game with Strong Zero (8%)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011


I did it.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't by much. But I did it.

To be honest, I was unprepared. I did not train nearly as hard as I did last time.

Sure, I ran smarter. I knew to bring food with me and to drink water and sports drinks as often as I could. I paced myself better. I ran expecting to hit my "wall" at around the 21 mile mark like I did last time.

But I also didn't run nearly as much or as often in training. While I was running around 30 miles a week 2 years ago, I ran closer to 20 in preparation for this one. I ate less McDonalds, drank less frequently, and was in better health for the last one.

This time was different. It felt different. I felt different.

At the quarter and halfway point, I was well on pace to beat my old time of 3 hours, 49 minutes, and 16 seconds. But then at the 3/4 mark, my time noticeably slipped. I was going to cut it close.

And then I hit my wall. This time, much later in the run--closer to the 24th mile. It hit me harder. I really wanted to walk. Last time, I promised myself I wouldn't walk. It was a "bucket list" sort of thing. Run and complete a marathon. Time didn't matter as long as there was no walking.

This time? I was running to beat my old time. Except at this point of the race, I knew I was beat. I knew I wasn't going to make it. There was no way. I was too tired, too worn, and too... everything. I couldn't.

And yet, every time I took a few steps to walk, I couldn't bring myself to stop entirely. Nope, I thought. If I'm not going to make my time, there's nothing else I can do about it. I simply can't run any faster. I can't make up any more time.

I can't, however, give up. I can still run across the finish line. I did it once before. I can do it again. If I can't beat my time, I can at least say I gave it my all and ran until the end.

The last mile was the longest.

I turned the last corner to the finish line. I could see the time on the display. I couldn't believe it.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't by much.

3 hours, 48 minutes, and 14 seconds.

I did it.

Monster, Sam Adams, and Goldfish

Stepping into the New Sanno Hotel, I noticed it right away. After showing our ID (and my grandma showing her military dependent's ID), we drove into the parking lot. It was like stepping into another world. All the signs were in English: One Way, No Parking, and the octagonal Stop sign. Where was all the Japanese? This is Tokyo?

Little America in Tokyo

After a huge, mediocre (and yet oh so good) lunch of a Philly Cheesesteak and Buffalo Wings in the hotel restaurant, we made a quick stop by the casino. Again, not what I was expecting, but it was just like any other hotel in the US. And then...

There it was: the Navy Exchange Store. My Grandma used to go to the one at Moffett Field near San Jose, to buy groceries at a discounted price. She took me a few times as you needed an ID to get on the base. What I remember the most is being in awe at the discounted luxury goods and clothes--for instance, I bought a titanium Fossil watch for about $35.

The store in the New Sanno Hotel was a lot smaller for the obvious reason that it's inside of a hotel. But the designer goods were still there. This time, however, I wasn't attracted to all the flashy cases and American labels. As I've matured, my priorities have changed. So, unlike my more youthful self, I went straight for the candy and toiletries. Toothpaste and deodorant that actually work? Yes, please!

Sigh... if only I had more baggage space...

But wait, there's more! Just down the hall of the Navy Exchange was the General Store. What was in the General Store? In the US, it'd be nothing special... just like a 7-11 or a mom-and-pop liquor store. In Japan, though, it becomes a thing of beauty. I couldn't stop grinning as I ran up and down the displays (it was only 2 rooms, but still... I ran like a kid in a literal candy store).

I eventually settled on a Monster, Sam Adams, and Goldfish. Random, I know, but it's funny--you don't really know what you've been missing until it's right in front of you again.