Friday, 6 April 2012

Harry Rosen Spring Run Off

Tomorrow morning will be the Harry Rosen Spring Run Off, a 5 or 8 km run that goes through High Park, and what I believe to be the start of racing season. There will be about 2400 runners doing the 8km and 2000 runners doing the 5km. Being sponsored by Harry Rosen, there will be a few runners at the park dressed in clothes not conducive for running, like dressed in suits.

The purpose of this run is to raise awareness and funding to find a cure for prostate cancer, a cause that is important to me. About 4 years ago my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which has since spread throughout his body. When he told me that he had cancer I was struck with fear. However, his attitude has been a source of inspiration. He continues to fight his disease and keep a positive outlook. His diagnosis was also a reality check. At the time I wasn't care of myself physically, but soon learnt that I was also likely to develop the disease. Shortly after I started taking better care of myself with diet and exercise.

I remember 2 years ago, when I ran this race for the first time, Jack Layton was present, wishing those running good luck. Sadly Jack Layton passed away last year, but he brought so much awareness to the cause. Now, because of events like this run and Movember, awareness of prostate cancer continues to grow as does the money for research. I look forward to kicking off the running season with over 4000 other runners, some of whom may be fighting cancer, have survived cancer or who know somebody to has fought cancer or fighting cancer. Good luck to all those participating tomorrow!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Tokyo Marathon - The run itself

Ok, so where was I...I was at the start line of the Tokyo Marathon, had to pee but couldn't and saw many runners in humorous costumes. So, 9:10, the official race start time is quickly approaching. Around me, I hear the constant beeping of GPS watches being activated.  The weather was fairly cool that morning and we are all cramped like sardines. It's difficult to stretch and stay warm. I look around me and am I awe of the skyscrapers in Shinjuku. Ever since I participated at the Chicago Marathon in October, I have been fascinated by the shape and design of these enormous buildings. Although we have plenty of tall buildings in Toronto, it seems that a lot of them lack the character and style that I see in Tokyo, such as the Metropolitan Government Building. Despite a large, powerful speaker being about 10 feet from me, there is little music being played prior to the race as most races usually do. That's no problem because I have my trusty iPod with me. I want this marathon to be my best time ever so I have created an playlist that will motivate and push me, something with a steady beat and awesome guitar solos. I reach into my pocket and put my headphones into my ears. I press play. My iPod (it's a shuffle, so there is no display screen) tells me to load music into the player. WTF?!? There must be a mistake, so I turn it off an put it back into the "on" position. Again, my iPod tells me to load music. This is bullshit. I clearly remember last night that I created a playlist for this run. It was going to end with Born to Run being played while I crossed the finish line, it was going to be epic. I remember deleting the songs I had previously loaded from my iPod and loading...f-uhhhhhhhhhhh-ck. I must have forgotten to load my playlist prior to disconnecting the iPod. Great, it’s going to be 3+ hours of running without music.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building: Start Line

9:05 comes and the gun goes off for the wheelchair racers. Once the wheelchair marathoners leave, an announcement comes through the speakers and we hear about all the elite racers who are participating in this marathon. The Tokyo Marathon also serves as the qualifying race to determine which runners would be representing Japan at the London Olympics. Each time a Japanese runner was announced, there was considerable clapping. It's pretty exciting to be in an event with such elite athletes I think to myself. If you told me five years ago that I would be running in the Tokyo Marathon, one of the biggest runs in the world, I would have laughed. I think about how fortunate I am to be competing in such an event. The Tokyo Marathon is a lottery based system by the way, where entry is not guaranteed by registration, and you do have to be randomly selected to participate.

Shoes, Timing Chip and Bib

9:10 finally comes and the starting gun goes off. When I say gun, it was more like several cannons, blasting thousands of pieces of white pieces of confetti into the air shaped as hearts. It looked really cool. Being in starting corral B, we slowly approach the starting line as the runners ahead of us start to move. The runners behind us start pushing their way forward, and the amount of space between us is much less than before. After two minutes we finally pass the starting line, and a familiar bleeping sound is going off, this time because our timing chips attached to our shoes are being activated. Although I have passed the starting line, I am not yet running, nor are those around me because of the amount of people. It takes a good 15 seconds for me to even get a jog going. Hopefully in a couple of minutes the running lanes will widen and the group will spread out.

Me prior to the run
The spectator crowds are large here. Without any music to listen to, I can focus and hear the excitement and encouragement of the thousands of spectators that I pass. There are no dead spots what so ever, just thousands of people cheering. However, I still can't seem to get a decent pace going. I know I can run faster than this, but some of the people wearing large costumes are holding up the runner behind them because they are difficult to get around. Also, some runners are already slowing down significantly. As a sidenote, when you register for this marathon you were asked what time you expect to finish. I am thinking a lot of the runners ahead of me were overzealous with the times they provided, because there are quite a few runners in Corral A who I can clearly see will not finish a marathon in 4 hours, and they are creating a lot of traffic. It can create a dangerous environment whererunners who have to weave in and out of traffic can get injured or injure the runners around them.

I get to the 3 km point, and I can’t hold it any longer, I have to use the washroom. However, because of the large crowds I passed the sign directing me to the first set of toilets. Also, because of the large crowds, I can’t just relieve myself on the side of the road either. It takes about another km for me to reach the next washroom, but there is a line of about 8 runners ahead of me, so I have to wait. This adds a couple of minutes to my time. My first 5km takes me 26 minutes to finish, about 5 minutes more than I would like, so now I have to play catch up. At the 8km mark we start passing the Imperial Palace, the home of the Emperor of Japan. Since it was the home of the emperor almost 150 years ago, it is surrounded by a moat, stone walls and giant gates.

At around the 9 km mark, I notice that the road splits, and that the Marathoners are to go left and the 10km runners are to go right. I didn’t realize that the 10km runners started the race at the same time as the marathoners. This causes a problem as there are about 35,000 marathoners and only about 3,000 ten km runners. This causes bottleneck for the marathoners, and again, it becomes difficult to pass runners.

At around the 12 km mark we pass the Tokyo Tower, not my favourite part of Tokyo, but at this time I also see Haile Gebrselassie, former world record holder going the opposite direction, neck and neck with eventual winner Michael Kipyego. It was good to see Haile competing for a first place finish. Just a few months ago he was mulling retirement, and had a few DNFs in his past races due to knee issues. He would eventually finish 4th. I also saw some faces that I saw on TV the day before on a press conference, such Arata Fujiwara, who finished in second by 11 seconds and Japanese favourite Yuki Kawauchi, who appeared to be labouring and was behind the pack of elite runners. He would not end up finishing amongst the top 3 Japanese runners, and I assume failed to qualify for the Olympic team. While I do not enjoy runs that are back and forths because you see the same sites twice, it was really cool to see such great runners in person with so much on the line.

Tokyo Tower

By now the heard is starting to thin out and it’s pretty easy to keep a solid pace going. I’m passing the occasional runner. Through km 20-25 I feel really good and strong. I pass a few bakeries and the smells coming from them are so good (During this trip I rediscovered my love for Japanese pastries and sweets that I had as a child and had since outgrown). At around the 22 to 23 km mark I see the elite women passing in the other direction. I know that at the 28 km mark, there is a hairpin turn that has to be made in Asakusa, where the Senso-ji Temple and the Kaminarimon Gate are located, but the course from km 25 to 28 seems so dead. There are spectators still, but there is not much to see except for a cheerleading squad. It seems like an eternity to reach the turn, but I finally reach get there, knowing that the lack of interest from 25-28 is going to be revisited immediately.

Kaminarimon Gate: the 28 km landmark. Behind this gate are the tastiest  snacks money can buy
Up until the 31km mark I had been continuously running, taking no walking breaks but my body finally gives out. I need to take a walking break. I look at the other side of the road and I see the runners who are at the 25km mark. Recall how I said in my previous post how much it would suck to be placed at the back of the pack if you missed the cut-off time for entering your corral? Well from km 31 to 34 all I saw on the other side of the road was basically a conga line of marathoners, except not as fun as a conga line. I could not imagine being able to pass anyone amongst that throng of people. I did see the guy who was dressed as a whiskey bottle again. He was 10 feet behind me at the start of the run, now he was labouring, realizing the difficulty of running in such a costume.

With my legs refusing to co-operate, my split times were getting progressively worse. I had been running my 5km splits in about 22-23 minutes from kms 5-25. Kms 25-30 took about 24 minutes, but km 30-35 took 26 minutes and 35-40 took nearly 30 minutes. Never had I felt such pain in a run. I thought I was going to pass out at certain points. I was able to push through the last 2 kms and finished with a time of 3:28:01, not one of my best times, but I found that in these Gold level races, it is pretty difficult to get a great time because of the amount of participants.

At the finish line they had provided us with our medal, a towel and some food. I was disappointed that there was not much festivities after the run, and additional food/drinks for purchase.

Front of medal

Back of medal
For the next 10 minutes or so I was trying to walk off the pain in my legs and not barf. I had never thrown up after a race and am proud to say that is still the case, but this one was definitely close. While it was disappointing that I did not achieve the time I wanted, I was still very happy about participating in this run. The costumes, spectators and the friendliness of the volunteers was absolutely amazing. While there were some definite flaws with the organization, the course was flat and fun. The popularity of the marathon is very high in Japan, and can be seen in the spectators and media coverage. This was also a major event as it was the first Tokyo Marathon since the deadly earthquake and tsunami last year. There were many runners doing this run for friends and family who were affected by the disaster. Unity and friendships were major themes at this marathon, and I believe the spirit of the Japanese runners greatly displayed these values. I can’t wait to do another marathon in Japan sometime. Next time I may even bring a camera to take pictures during the race.

Resting my legs post-race
Me with a mascot for an AED manufacturing company

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Tokyo Marathon - A review

As mentioned in previous posts, today I participated in the Tokyo Marathon, my 1st marathon in Asia and 8th overall. The atmosphere for today's run was unlike that I had ever experienced in any of my previous runs. The experience at yesterday's expo did not prepare my for what I was going to see today.

The day started off with me waking up at 5 to get an early breakfast at my hotel. There was only one other person in the cafe at the time by the name of Brian. He was also running the marathon that morning and we exchanged stories of different races we had run. He was from Taiwan and let me know about a couple of races to check out. After a brief chat, we went our separate ways to prepare for the run which was now about 3 hours away. I got into my gear and was out the door by 7:20. On my way to train that was going to take me to Shinjuku Station, where the starting line was, I passed a young fellow sitting in an alley barfing his guts out. Rough night I suppose, but since the trains stop running at around midnight here, I guess you have little option but to keep partying all night.

Once I got to Ikebukuro station, the station closest to my hotel I met another runner from Poland by the name of Boygan. We both noticed that there were very few runners on the subway that morning, as it is customary for public transportation to be full of runners on race morning. Once we got to Shinjuku station and got off the subway, we then realized that there were several lines that led to Shinjuku and human traffic greatly increased.  Walking to the starting line was absolute pandemonium as not only were we weaving through all the runners, but also through they're family members.

An idea of what we had to go through. The picture doesn't do it justice.
After dropping off my bag of clothes at my baggage truck, nature came calling. It was now about 8:25 and there were warnings on the PA system stating that if we weren't at our starting corral by 8:45, we would be denied entrance to our corral and would have to start the race from the very back of the crowd. Starting the race from the back of the crowd sucks so hard because that's where all the slower runners are, and when you have to pass some 20,000 runners that are slower than you, well, that's an uphill battle your never going to win. It was also at this time that nature came calling, so I decide to head to one of the port-o-johns. When I got there though the lines were absolutely insane, like 50 people deep. Fearing that I would miss the 8:45 cut off, I decided to hold it.

Once I got to my corral I noticed that this run would be unlike any run I had experienced before. There were so many runners in costumes that you could easily have thrown a halloween party after the run. In my corral alone, there was a guy wearing a 20 pound plastic box dressed as a bottle of whiskey, a guy dressed as the Tokyo tower, two Hello Kitty Ninjas, and characters from the cartoon Anpanman. Along the way I also saw some pokemon, Peter Pan, Super Saiyan Goku from Dragon Ball Z, Snow White, Santa Claus and a dude who I guess was late for work because he was in a full suit and carrying a briefcase. I also passed a guy at the 4km mark who was juggling. I wish I was carrying a camera with me to capture all the insanity.

A 40 year old man dressed like this.
As I type this, I realize it's getting late and I won't be able to complete my thoughts on the marathon at this time. In my next post I will write about how the run itself went.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Tokyo Marathon - 12 hours away

As I sit in my hotel room digesting my pasta dinner and typing this blog entry, I look at my last post and believe that it has been almost a month since I wrote something. My training and preparation for the Tokyo Marathon has consumed a large amount of my time in the last month, but I'm here now and that's all that matters. In 12 hours, I will be at the start line with approximately 35,000 other runners to run 42 kms. Weather conditions say its going to be fairly cold (below 10 C) and cloudy. 

The day before a marathon is when I usually attend the Expo to pick up my bib for the race. At the Expo, there are numerous vendors selling products and offering free samples. The Miami Marathon in 2011 was probably my favorite Expo. There were many products available at great prices, good crowd control and I walked out with tons of free shit. Today's Expo in two words can be described as fucking crazy. The Expo was held at the Tokyo Big Sight, an enormous convention center. You could definitely feel and hear the excitement upon entering. I estimate that there was at least 4000 people at the convention center when I was there. While I'm no expert at these matters, it was insanely crowded.

The Big Sight

Entering the Big Sight

Nike, New Balance, Adidas and Asics all had their own booths to start with, each having a podium with guest speakers. When you have a guest speaker, there comes a crowd and with that crowd comes cameras. This is Japan after all (I can say this as I am part Japanese). Figuring that I did not want to add the the already ridiculous crowd control issues, I limited the number of pictures I took. Below are some of the pics that I did take. I would like to elaborate more on the Expo experience, but I have to get to sleep.

The Asics Stage 
That's one way to sell shoes. I think this was taken from one of Al Bundy's daydreams.

This is not practical.

Nike still makes the coolest stuff around. This the the Japan Exclusive LunarGlide 3.

Left: Official Tokyo Marathon Entrant Shirt
Right: Nike Run TYO shirt

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Reflecting on the Miami Marathon

As I type this post, the 10th ING Miami Marathon and Half-Marathon is taking place. This was a race I participated in last year and it was my 5th marathon I had ran, the first one in the United States. Today the conditions for the race are not very good. It was about 20C and raining for the 6:15 am start. The start time is so early, but I guess it has to be. If you are going to run a marathon in 5 or 6 hours, it will be pretty hot when you cross the finish line.

I remember it being much cooler as I left my hostel last year at around 4:30 am, walking to the shuttle bus that was going to take me to the start line at the American Airlines Arena. It was probably around 13C at the time and the bars were clearing out. During the walk, I was offered cocaine a couple of times, for a good price apparently. I guess that's to be expected in South Beach, as that was a common offer throughout the weekend.

As I got off the bus and headed towards the start line, there was a sense of of excitement and energy not normally associated with 5:30 in the morning. 21,000 people ready to run together, some seeing the other runners as their opponents, but most racing against themselves looking to accomplish a personal best time or complete their first marathon or half-marathon. I was in Start Corral C. When I registered for the race I told the organizers I planned to finish the race within 3 hours and 30 minutes, so this placed me pretty close to the start line. There were so many corrals for this run. The largest start corral letter I saw on a participant's bib was O, so organizers must have really wanted participants who have similar speeds to stay together and not get in the way of faster runners. At about 6, Deborah Cox sang the Spar Spangled Banner. That was kind of cool.

At 6:15 the sun had not yet risen but the the race had begun. Like all races, the start was crazy as runners were zig-zagging between each other trying to get some space. After 1 1/2 miles you reach the MacArthur Causeway, where the the cruise company Carnival which are docks their ships. Since it is still dark outside, the ships are all lit up and this makes for quite a scene early in the race.

At the 3 1/2 mile mark, you reach Miami Beach and after another mile you are going north on Ocean Drive, the best part of the race if you're fast enough as this is where you get a picturesque view of the sun rising on the beach. Unfortunately, today's runners won't get to enjoy such an experience. After about an hour of running, Miami Beach was behind me and I was heading back to Miami, a two and a half mile run that requires you to cross bridges and pass smaller islands like Biscayne Island. Passing the residences on these islands were pretty cool, as the homes are quite beautiful, and docked in some homeowners backyards are some pretty awesome boats.

After 10 1/2 miles, you are back on the mainland of Miami, and there is a large group of spectators cheeing you on (an official cheering zone is set up there after all). As you approach the 13 mile mark, again there is a large group of spectators cheering as the half marathoners are finishing their run. That space that you wanted when the race started, well now you have it as a majority of the runners are now off the course. At about the 14 or 15 mile mark, you again enter the residential areas, and the crowds are quite sparse, but what do expect for 8am on a Sunday.

At mile 22 you reach the Rickenbacker Causeway and get some great views of the city in the distance, which is great because it is usually at this point of the marathon that I begin to tire and slow down significantly. I remember the last couple of miles being particularly brutal physically because a portion is run on solid concrete. Mentally, there is this complete mindfuck near the end of the race where you see a massive arching bridge in the distance and are under the belief that you will have to climb it in order to finish. Luckily you don't.

You end up finishing the race at Bayfront park where your name is announced as you cross the finish line. I ended up running it in 3:24:01, a personal best at the time. The medal that you get for completing the run was pretty cool, a double spinner, the only race that gives out a medal of that kind apparently. You then head towards the post race party, which may have been the best one I have been to. There was so much food to eat, from fruit cups, cookies, bagels, fresh fruit rice and beans and protein shakes. The best part was the free beer though. Brooklyn Brewery was a sponsor and had a tent set up where you could have all the beer you could drink. I think I threw back three of four beers before I decided to head back to my hostel and get some much needed rest. When I got back to my hostel, I ran into another runner who had finished in 14th place with an incredible time of 2:41.

The Miami Marathon was a great experience and I hope to do it again some day. Defintely a great getaway for the end of January for us Canadians. Below is a picture of me after the race and also a video of the course.

Friday, 27 January 2012

No Pain No Gain

When I looked out the window from work today, it looked as if my run would not be enjoyable due to the weather. The walk to work from the subway itself was not pleasant this morning. Freezing rain left the ground somewhat slippery and at 11:30 it appeared that we would be in for some sort of snow storm. I also had tweaked my lower back yesterday while working out and putting on a pair of socks and shoes was quite the painful struggle.

By 12:30 the "snow storm" had stopped and the conditions appeared to become tolerable. As I got dressed for my run, the same pain I had experienced in the morning while putting on my socks and shoes reappeared. My back and brain were telling me to pack it in while my legs and will were telling me to tough it out. 

I stepped outside and took a deep breath. The weather was supposedly 2C and minus 3C with the windchill, but I felt quite comfortable in a pair of shorts and long sleeve dri-fit shirt. I took of running north on Mt. Pleasant from Bloor street. I quite enjoy taking this route, as there is a long steep hill to get things started that goes from Rosedale to St.Clair. By the time I reached the top of the hill, the sun started to break through the clouds, and feeling the sun on the back of my neck felt great. No more was I worried about my wonky back and I started putting one leg in front of the other as quickly as I could trying to get as far as I could during my approximately one hour lunch break.

Normally, when a traffic light is about to turn red, I stop at the intersection to give myself a little break and avoid getting hit by cars, but today there was no traffic on the roads and I was determined to make as few stops as possible. Going up and down the rolling hills of Mt. Pleasant felt great. Pretty soon I had reached Lawrence realized it was time to get back to work, so off I went, retracing the route I had just taken. The great thing about starting your route with a steep hill is that when it's time to turn around, you will finish your run on a steep hill.

In the end I had run approximately 8 miles in an hour. "Not too bad" I thought to myself. Taking off my shoes, a familiar pain in my lower back returned. Ahh shit.

Below is the route I had taken. Try it out and let me know what you think.

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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My First Blog Post - You will not be any better off for reading this

On Sunday I went out for my first 20 mile run since the Chicago Marathon. This was in preparation for the Tokyo Marathon which is now less than 5 weeks away. During the run I realized that I hadn't been doing much in the last five years, creatively speaking. Realizing that I needed to do something productive with my time, I decided to create a blog about my running experiences. Since graduating from University, most of my writing experience has been limited to work emails, facebook updates and text messages, so the quality of my writing may be a bit, well, shitty. Hopefully my musings will be of help and entertaining to you...or perhaps this interest will fade and I'll forget about this blog in the next couple of weeks, a more likely scenario.

Embedded below is the route I ran on Sunday. I could write about the temperature and how I felt during the run, but Sunday was three days ago, so the details are a bit hazy. I remember it was cold when I left, but warmed up near the end. The run did take about 3 hours. I'm kinda uninspired to reflect on the experiences of this day. In my defense, I was very motivated and attempted to start this blog on Sunday, but had a hell of a time mapping my route on and and then embedding it in my post while the AFC and NFC Championship Games were going on. Still haven't figured out how to do it, so I guess I'll have to settle for google maps for the time being. It's easier to use g-map pedomter or MapMyRun to chart your routes, but Google Maps is easier to embed on a website. I'll figure it out eventually, or even better, someone who reads this will tell me how to do it.
Until next time

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