Monday, September 29, 2008

Yoichi Mikaku Half Marathon

We went to the Yoichi Mikaku Half Marathon on 9/28 in Yoichi-cho on the North South Coast of Hokkaido. Yoichi is famous for fruit and fish and you get a good dose of both during the race. The first few kilometers take you past some fishy smells and then right after that you are surrounded by fields of grapes, apples, pears, plums and whatnot. The grapes are especially fragrant and you can smell them during the race.

Before the race at reception, many runners were happy to leave with boxes full of fruit and vegetables. There was a drawing held, before the race by the officials, and runners who had their bib number drawn, got a tag attached to their bib and were notified that they had won that way. We didn't get anything in the drawing but everyone did get a plate full of fruit to eat at reception. I saved mine for the kids.

The course is an out and back course towards the Yoichi Dam. Yoichi is on the coast so you run inland and uphill for the first 10k past fields of fruits and other crops until the last few km before the turnaround which are run in the forest. After the turn around it is all down hill from there.

For this race I had a lot going on in my head before the start. I haven't been training much recently, only 2 or 3 times a week, so I didn't have much hope of doing well. But my mother in law, who I race with, had been encouraging me to run hard and try to win something since the prizes at Yoichi are boxes of fruit! I had also recent read an article in Runner's World Magazine that encouraged me to run harder. Well, not to run harder but to keep running hard. The article said that our brain takes signals from our body and determines, very quickly, the pace that you can maintain for the duration of your race. It also takes signals from your body and tells you "I'm tired" when you may actually be able to keep up the pace for longer than you think. After reading this I thought, it's just a matter of mind over brain. That and just gutting it out till the end. I was also thinking of how my wife keeps giving me a hard time for running each half in 1:36. She said you could set a clock by me because my times were always about the same and I never got faster. I wanted to run faster. I wanted to run under 1:30. I didn't have any hope of doing that on this day however.

The race started and I fell into a pretty good rhythm. One that I have been running pretty close to during my training runs. I have been concentrating on running hard since I'm running so little. No reason for easy runs with so many days off, I thought. At the 5k check point I looked at my watch for the first time. It read 23 minutes. Not bad, but about average for my first 5k of a half. After that the incline got steeper. I started telling myself "we can do this, we can do this". Then I started having inner dialogue. "Why are you saying 'we'? It's 'I' isn't it? I can do this. I am the hill master! Ok, that sounded a little corny." But I kept up positive thoughts like this. Hills are nothing. I run hills like this for breakfast. No problem. You can do this. I didn't look at my watch until the 10k check point. 46 minutes. Hmm, that's about average too, BUT, I had just run uphill for 10k! Hmm, this is pretty good I told myself. Then of course my usual negative thoughts kicked in. I'll probably slow down a lot during the next 10k. But then I caught myself thinking those negative thoughts and countered them. NO! I've just run up a 10k hill and run in the same speed I always run 10k in races. And it's all down hill from here! From that point on I concentrated on positive thoughts and on keeping my head up. Chin up, thoughts up. No more hills to run up, just one long down hill run. Now my thoughts were "keep up the pace, don't slow down, keep up the pace, you can do it, keep up the pace". And I kept it up, too. I actually ran the next 5k 3 minutes faster than the first 5k. I didn't look at my watch again until I entered the track and the last 200m and my watch said 1:28:50! Whoa! If I hurry I can get a PR! I ran across the goal in 1:29:45, a new personal best! I was so happy. I placed 31st out of about 130 in my age group. I won nothing but I got a PR and I learned that I can run faster, if only I try. It's kind of like a little engine that could story.

Keep positive!

Limited information is included in the calendar entries. For more information, leave a comment. I try to post the deadlines for the races. The place where the race is held is also included. You can see where it is by clicking on the map link.