Race report: Osaka Yodogawa Marathon 2016

I had too many doubts about this marathon, too many fears. The timing was very wrong because we were moving house and there were circumstances that forced me to slow down. But there was one thing I was sure about, that I will finish. After all, there’s a cut-off time of 7.5 hours. Long enough to walk to the finish line.

When the runner’s high of the Torshavn Marathon slowly faded away, Robin and I were looking for another challenge. We were planning an autumn holiday in Japan so we decided to run a marathon at the same. By July, we were already booked for the Osaka Yodo-River Citizen Marathon, a smaller race in Osaka, right after the big city marathon. One week of pigging out in Kansai and one marathon. We had four months to train. We thought we had enough time.

But August brought many surprises. One day we were ogling at houses in Funda, the next week our small apartment was sold barely two weeks after putting it up for sale and the day after that we made a bid for a new house. We certainly did not take our time for this huge decision but life is short. And we were ready.

Life between processing our mortgage and getting the key in October became very busy so we completely relaxed our training plan. We were only running 3x a week, which included two steady runs during the week that did not exceed 10 kilometers and a long distance/endurance run on weekends.

Even with such an easy schedule, we did not manage to stay faithful to it, skipping one or two training days because of our workload. It did not even felt like training for a marathon but we were able to run the last endurance training on the 2nd week of September – 30 painful kilometers. We did another week of training and ran a half marathon the week after.

By the end of September, moving house took hold of our lives. We stopped training.

On the 3rd week of October, we resumed training but delicate circumstances forced us to cut back on mileage even more. We were training twice a week, including a long distance run on weekdays, which did not go further than 12 kilometers. It was not a great way to build self confidence.

“We have 7 hours and 30 minutes to finish, we should be able to make it,” Robin assures me every time I tell him my doubts. Yes we should be ok. What could be more challenging and painful that the mountains of Faroe Islands, right?

Day before race
“Let’s take it easy and not walk too much,” Robin said on the morning of November 5, day before the race.

So we did not plan any sightseeing trip and tried to sleep in. But my jet lag was too strong and I found our hotel room very hot so I was not getting enough sleep. I could barely keep a 7-hour sleep, waking up several times in the evening soaking wet in perspiration.

Several stalls selling Japanese food. Can you see how I was looking forward to post-race meal?
Several stalls selling Japanese food. Can you see how I was looking forward to post-race meal?

While we managed to sleep in and did not go out until lunch time, we weren’t able to get back to our hotel until half past 10 in the evening, after picking up our bib numbers, catching the last rays of the sun at Osaka Castle and eating a hearty meal of “ramb” katsu.

What we amusedly called "ramb" katsu. The waitress of course pronounced it with an accent. This is actually lamb meat with a dipping sauce of mustard. Felt like a proper cargo-loading meal.
What we bemusedly called “ramb” katsu. The waitress of course pronounced it with an accent. This is actually lamb meat with a dipping sauce of mustard. Felt like a proper carbo-loading meal.

Race day
I couldn’t get a proper shut eye till close to midnight and woke up at 5:30AM. By 7:30AM, we already showered, dressed and enjoying our expensive breakfast (I find €25 for breakfast expensive) at the hotel’s Hakatarou restaurant. It was a good breakfast however, two bowls of rice, karaage (deep-fried chicken), two slices of bacon and coffee. I think it fueled me really well for the marathon.

At 8:15AM, we were on the Tanimachi subway line heading to Moriguchi. We had to walk for another 10 minutes to the marathon area. We were already afraid of the way back, because STAIRS!

I was so impressed by the organization of the Osaka Yodogawa Marathon. Everything was thought of, including the plastic bags and bib stickers for depositing our belongings in the drop off area, which was the big grass field of Yodogawa River Park. I already did my last toilet run at the subway station to avoid the long lines at the portable. It was a very wise decision because the start gun went off at exactly 9:40AM.

All smiles before the starting gun.
All smiles before the starting gun.

The route was very flat and that’s coming from someone living in the Netherlands. It was even flatter than the par course of the Rotterdam Marathon, at least that has bridges. The Osaka Yodo-River Marathon is just a long route that goes back and forth the same area, twice. You could say that it was a very boring.

But by the turning point at 10.5 kilometers, I was already running out of breath and had ran to the bushes several times to pee. There was only one drinking station so I gulped down water like there’s no tomorrow and stuffed myself with oranges dipped in salt.

11-21 kilometers
It was about 15 degrees and cloudy, cool enough for us who are used to running in the cold. Many participants were running in long sleeves and pants but that would have been too warm for us. At the marathon expo, we even bought caps in case it gets sunny, learning from the experience at the Faroe Islands where we got sunburned.

We passed by the same drink station on the way to the half marathon but after that there were no other drink stations anymore. It was about 1:30PM and I was getting very hungry. My water reserve was running out fast as well. The 21,5km mark was about 1km away from the start/finish line and I could only think about food at that point. I was so thirsty. I gulped down more than five cups of water, refilled my bottles and gobbled down all the pieces bananas I could shove in my mouth. There were some candies too, which I took and kept in my belt bag for some sugar boost later on. I know I would be needing it.

What I noticed differently is that they don’t serve energy drinks, just water. Energy drinks upset my stomach. There were sufficient bananas, oranges and even yam bread to re-fuel you from kilometer 25. There were even salted cucumbers. Salted cucumbers are heaven-sent after running a half marathon, I tell you.

25-33 kilometers
After passing the half marathon point, it was all about survival for me. I was running by kilometer, celebrating each counting post. Robin was also starting to feel the mileage on his knees. At about kilometer 28-29, we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river.

It started raining and that chilly temperature gave me a little boost. It reminded me of training on the Zeelandbrug and Oostscheldekering. But that feeling only lasted for two kilometers. When we came down from the bridge, my knees started bothering me. God that hurt! From that point on, I alternated my runs with walking. This lasted until the finish line.

33-40 kilometers
The booklet that we got from the organizer was in Japanese, so was the marathon’s website. I wish they had given more effort to have an English page but for only 90 foreign participants, I guess that was too much to ask. Besides there’s always Google translate.

So I only discovered about the cut-off times when I pored over the booklet. The cut-off was 3hrs:20mins for the half marathon, 5hrs:20mins for the 31,5 kilometers and 6hrs:20 for 37,5 kilometers. We were running a pace of about an hour ahead of the cut off time so I was kind of hoping for a 5-hour finish.

But it proved to be too difficult. Robin’s calves started to hurt too as well that one point, I had to massage them. And I think I had about a thousand bathroom stops.

Do you know what’s the worst part of peeing during a marathon in Japan? Traditional Japanese toilets. YOU HAVE TO SQUAT!

I think marathon runners can all relate to how punishing a squat is when your legs are burning in pain. And I had to do that a thousand times throughout the whole race. (Ok I am exaggerating but I am sure I did about 25 toilet stops while I didn’t do a single one during Rotterdam and Torshavn).

After my last water refill at around kilometer 35, I was determined to go through the race without any more food refueling. Those candies I grabbed at the half marathon table saved my life. I was crushing the candies in my teeth when we crossed the bridge again, getting more frustrated about the run/walk style that I was doing. We walked half of the bridge until we reached the 37,5km post where I started running again because there’s a damn cameraman and I don’t want a photo of myself walking.

It was hell coming down that bridge again. I had given up hope of finishing in five hours. I only wanted to finish, at least under the six hours (which will still get you a medal in most marathons).

Then there’s that damn photographer again at kilometer 39 and then at kilometer 40. Why would you want to photograph runners during their sufferings moments? So of course, I run despite the pain and waved and smile. I have Filipino blood running in my veins after all. (I really couldn’t wait for the official photos).

Six long hours. It felt like we were running the whole day but crossing the finish line was a super proud moment.
Six long hours. It felt like we were running the whole day but crossing the finish line was a super proud moment.

I wanted a dramatic finish photo. I am that proud of this marathon. But this guest lady marathoner, who was also the event’s host, suddenly started running in front of us with a group of other runners. I think she has a sort of celebrity status because everybody was cheering with her.

“Damn, she ruined my dramatic shot,” I said sulking to Robin.

Oh it was a relief to laugh at that trying moment when your legs just wanted to give up. We took the last two kilometers real slow, so at least we would still get our finish photo taken (you have to allow the photographer to see that you are an interesting shot, right?).

I am not sure if he were able to do that (still waiting for the photos) but just like the first two, we crossed the finish line hand in hand. The clock said 6hrs:02mins but that was the gross time. Our net time was 5hours:57mins, still three minutes under the medal cut off.

“I am so proud of you schatje, you are so strong,”

Robin said after we got our finisher shawl. We shared an emotional hug, a smooch and headed straight to…. where else? The food stalls! Food (and the Osaka Yodogawa Marathon), that’s what we came to Japan for.

Noodle soup and fried chicken.
Noodle soup and fried chicken.
A fitting reward for finishing a marathon at this stage, ramen salad.
A fitting reward for finishing a marathon at this stage, ramen salad.

It was oh so painful to lower yourself on the grass to savour a post-race bowl of noodles and karaage. But it was certainly a most delicious meal. And for dinner, we rewarded ourselves with a spread of Japanese food, good for four people, at Hakatarou restaurant.

My finisher certificate.
My finisher certificate.

About 14,000 runners(according to the info desk) joined the Osaka Yodo-River Marathon this year. We were expecting a chaos like that in Rotterdam but it turned our really well. I was amazed about how relaxed and disciplined Japanese runners are. They were so polite, no shoving whenever someone is overtaking, they are quiet and they stay on the proper lanes. No one was throwing candy wrappers or empty gel sachets on the course. There were also no loud bands or annoying drummers alongside. Even the supporters and cheering groups were too polite to shout but there were encouraging nonetheless. And cute to look at. It did not feel like there were 14,000 people running that day.

What’s even more admirable was the number of really old people running. Some are too old and could even barely walk properly. Some are so hunchback that you’d think they’d fall if you push them with a finger. But I think they all finished.

Such is the strength of the human body and the human mind. I think it all boils down to determination. When one sets his/her mind to a goal and commit to it, nothing is impossible.