Kumamoto Castle Marathon – A Chilly Run With The Warmest Support
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
When I registered for Kumamoto Castle Marathon’s ballot back in September last year, I had hoped that I will have enough time to train for my 17th Full Marathon. This is despite the fact that I hadn’t been logging much training mileage or even entered that many races since Nagoya Women’s Marathon back in March 2019.
My intention was to start training for the marathon after getting my slot in early October. One thing leads to the other and things didn’t go as planned. My monthly mileage for October, November and December were 71km, 70km and 106km respectively.
Late in December, with less than two months left for the marathon, I felt that it was more prudent for me to DNS the race. This is especially so after poring the 8 checkpoints (CP) cut-off-times (COT).
But I still had a few races slotted in January and I wanted to see whether I could survive those races and finish them in a respectable timing despite my lack of training mileage (and any training in general).
First up was a 10K at KL New Year Run on January 1st. I did better than expected and the race made me hopeful that maybe I could still be fast enough to finish the Kumamoto Castle Marathon.
Next up was the Skyhawk Nature Run in Melaka, a 22K. It was my first 22K run since like forever, as the last long run that I did was during SCORE Run in July. I didn’t get the timing that I had hoped for, so doubt started to set in again.
I didn’t count the mileage done at TMMT in August or Putrajaya EcoTrail in October as Hubby and I basically just hiked in a leisurely pace for both races.
Twincity Marathon came next, and again, I didn’t get the timing that I had hoped for.
After Twincity Marathon, I had only 4 weeks left before Kumamoto Castle Marathon. Despite the earlier intention of DNSing the race, I figured I might as well just run and see how far I can go. If I had to DNF, it will be a DNF. At least I try first. And I braced for the HELL that might come due to my lack of training mileage.
So for the next three weeks, I tried to put in 21K runs during the weekend. I could only managed to do one weekday night run during those three weeks, which made my total weekly run to a whopping total of 2 runs! But if time permit, I slotted in a 30-min stairs session. And on the last Sunday before the race, I did some hills repeats up to the water tank in my housing area.
With me severely lacking in training, the next step to do was to strategize and see what else I could do to improve my performance.
Just like Nagoya Women’s Marathon last year, I did a 6-day Beet-It-Sports loading for Kumamoto Castle Marathon. What it meant was, for 5-days prior to the run and also on race morning, I took a shot of Beet-It-Sports. For me, I hope it would assist me having longer endurance and not so much on speed.
Poring over the route elevation and the 8 CP’s COT, I strategize on how slow I’m allowed to run from one CP to the next.
Kumamoto Castle Marathon, just like any other marathons in Japan is based on GUN TIME. I was placed in PEN G for the race, and that was the last PEN. I had to also take into account of how long it would take for PEN G runners to cross the start line.
At this point, I figured that the best bet would be to ensure I do a sub3 nett time at the Half Marathon mark and pass the 25K CP in sub3:50 GUN TIME.
Looking for more “outside” assistance, I brought along the Phiten gel that I got during KLSCM 2019. I applied the gel on my legs on race morning in the hope that it’d bring some spring in my run.
The power of the mind. The mind can be a strong push for the body to do what’s necessary, you know.
The race weekend finally arrived and we went to Kumamoto on Saturday.
Signs of Kumamoto Castle Marathon were everywhere in the city and there were regular broadcasts on TV about the marathon.
REPC was a breeze. There were precautions against the COVID-19 virus, and we need to disinfect our hands before entering the Expo areas.
The expo was a blast and held in two areas. The ones held in the shotengai (shopping arcade) was where the sponsor’s booths were located.
We wanted to buy some official merchandise as souvenirs but most items were already sold out by the time we arrived.
But there were many freebies, health tests, photos to take and even hot soup to drink! Manyak syiok.
We also received a pair of gloves and disposable raincoat for the run.
Our hotel was located just a few hundred metres from the race venue so I could afford to take my time on race morning.
As I was getting ready, I watched the TV and there was a live broadcast on the marathon from 8.00am to 11.30am. How nice.
The broadcaster remarked that it was the first time Kumamoto Castle Marathon being held in the rain. Lucky me, yeah? I had a hat-trick of running in rain for my marathons already! Hahaha
I felt too nervous to eat anything for breakfast at first, but seeing there was natto served at the breakfast buffet made me perked up. I love natto!
After breakfast, I downed my last bottle of Beet-It-Sports and hurried out. The entry to race PEN was closed at 8:40am and I was still in my room at 8:20am!
Luckily I managed to get into my PEN before 8:40am. 7 minutes to go before flag-off, I had the urge to pee again (my 5th time that morning). The crew had started taping off (or closing) the mobile toilets located just outside our PEN but I saw some runners still darting out to go to the toilet. I finally found a space where I could slip out and head to the toilet. It was already been taped-off but the volunteers allowed me to use it. Thank goodness because all the toilets along the route had long queues afterwards!
Flag off was at 9.02am and it took me 13 minutes to reach the Start Line and 500 meters from where I was standing.
Fortunately I was running in the correct side and saw Hubby who was taking video of the flag-off. Waved to him and off I went.
Despite the rain and a very chilly morning, there were plenty of supporters cheering for us right from the start. Kids and adults alike gave us so much cheer and support through the run.
Because I was worried about not completing the run, I had neglected to study where the water stations were located and where the food stations were too. I also didn’t pay much attention to what kind of food Kumamoto Castle Marathon provides prior to the run.
I brought along a packet of Hutan Ration in case I got hungry and two N8 energy gels. I ended up not taking much of them.
The First CP – 6.1km
The first water station (WS) was located at KM4.8. My plan was to stop at every WS for a drink and a short walk break.
I caught up with the 6-hours pacers at around KM5 and was quite surprised by it and somehow managed to latch to them for quite a bit. There were times I ‘accidentally’ got ahead of them, but they would get in front when I did my walk breaks when I got to any WS.
I got to the first CP at KM6.1 with ample time to spare. I had a target of running an average of pace 8 and I was still running below pace 7:30 at this point.
Despite the rain and freezing weather, the road was lined up with locals giving us their full support. Even on the bridge that we crossed, and where the wind was particularly strong.
Roads were fully closed-off and trams stopped operating from 9am to 4pm that day. The city seemed to turn to a standstill for the marathon and locals turned-up and head-out to give us all their support, clad in raincoats, rain boots and with umbrellas in hand.
The Second CP – KM14.5
The plan to reach the second CP was to do nothing slower than a 8 min pace until 10K mark then nothing slower than an 8:30 pace for the next 5K.
At around KM10, we entered some agriculture area and I saw a cameraman running with his huge camera. There was another guy holding what looked like a DJI Osmo mobile too. They were running and filming a super-duper lady who had both her legs amputated and running with a pair of prosthetic legs. How awesome!
At one section, there were some scarecrows in the field. They were not your average scarecrows as they were clad in colourful garb and even in sports teams uniform!
I had yet taken my gel although I had planned to do it when I approached KM10. As we were approaching KM12 WS, I tried to twist open my N8 gel but to no avail. My hands were so cold, they refused to bend. I tried using my teeth but couldn’t get it open too. I finally asked one of the volunteers at the WS to help. It was one of the many times I asked volunteers to open stuff for me, and I wasn’t the only one who asked for help.
We were all frozen, runners, volunteers and supporters alike.
We approached another town area at around KM13, and saw more locals lining up by the road (or in front of their houses) cheering for us.
There was a children’s choir singing for us at around KM14 and a drummer. The sound of the drum made my eyes welled up, and feeling encouraged, I surged on.
Then, a café provided tea for and kept telling us to drink it as the weather was cold. I took a cup and continued my run.
Thankfully, despite the many stops I made, I managed to do a sub2 hours for my 15K and passed the second CP with a comfortable buffer for the next CP at KM21, the half point mark.
The Third CP –KM21
Just as we were entering the town area and with more people cheering along the road, I heard my name being called. Hubby was taking video!
I stopped and turned back for a photo then waved him goodbye, feeling pretty happy to see him.
The first food station was located at KM15.6 and we were served some cookies and candies. One cookie tasted rather salty and I love it! I had belatedly put on my gloves and although my hands were still cold, I could bend it and open the cookies wrappers myself. Volunteers were available to assist runners though.
I had seen quite a number of runners seeking medic help due to the cold at this point and taken off the course.
As we were running, I saw priests and priestess in front of their temples (or shrines) giving support, local ladies in kimonos dancing, elderly man banging on bamboo instruments, kids holding out sweets for runners and many more. Such selfless support from the locals. There were buskers too. Cool!
There was a small girl holding a cardboard sign “Tap for Power Up” and I ran towards her for a tap. Hehehe
I occasionally glanced at my watch to see the time of the day so that I know how long I had left to get to the next CP and was quite surprised to see I reached KM21 in 2:49 nett time.
And the 6-hour pacers were still somewhere near to me. Woot!
The Fourth CP – KM24.8
The next food station was located at KM22. I didn’t study the WS map (which I usually did for all my Japan marathons) so I didn’t really know what to expect.
Turned out there were so much food there!
There were plain onigiris, tomatoes, cookies, buns, jellies, and orange juices apart from mineral water and sports drinks. I took one onigiri and tried to clumsily open the wrapper with my frozen hands. Finally I asked a volunteer to help me open the wrapper for me. Then I took some cookies and swoop up some jellies, quite oblivious of a team of camera crew filming right in front of my face. Sure I look ugly one la, so busy makan!
The rain showed no sign of stopping and at that time, truthfully, I cannot differentiate whether it was rain water, saliva, hingus or sweat that was pouring down my face. Hahaha
From the 7:30min – 8:30min per km, I spent 11 min doing the 1K at KM22. Because all the makan!
I reached the fourth CP with still a good buffer so I was quite pleased with that.
KM26 – KM28 was through an open field with a long uphill and it started to feel hard for me and I started to resort to run-walk method.
I saw flags on both sides of the road, not only Japan’s flag, but a few other countries too – Korea, USA, Brazil, Canada. I started searching for our Jalur Gemilang but alas, no Jalur Gemilang flying along the race route that morning.
My pace had slowed down to a 9 min pace by now.
I saw the sweeper buses at the other side of the road and it was filled with runners. Scary. Fortunately, they were a few kilometres away from me!
The Fifth CP – KM29.8
The next CP was located at KM29.8 and I needed to reach it before 1:45pm. And I pass the CP with almost 30 minutes to spare! Yeay!
There were still plenty of locals cheering for us along the route and offering food and drinks. I’d occasionally stopped and took some.
From KM30 onwards, the road which was quite flat earlier started to see some uphill sections. Yup, the uphill sections were mostly located towards the end of the course and the killer one was at KM41 mark right to the finish line.
Someone offered coke, and despite the cold weather, I took it. Sedap.
I think along this route was where we had strawberries and oranges at the WS. Syiok wor. Despite being not so laju, there were many food still available for runners. One thing that I didn’t manage to try was the cinnamon buns at around KM25.2.
The Sixth CP – KM33.3
Although my pace had slowed down to 9 min+ pace, I was still happy that I didn’t slow down to anything above 9 minutes.
And still had an ample buffer to get to the next CP at KM37.9.
The Seventh CP – KM37.9
We were already running back in the town area, along tiny streets and riverside. I was still maintaining the run-walk method, and I slowly plodded through in a 9min+ pace.
The Eight and Last CP – KM40.6
Isn’t it cruel that the last CP was located just before you made the final climb towards the castle area and with just 1 mile to go? And you needed to arrive at this CP in less than 6:28?
I got to this CP well before the 6-hours marks, thankfully.
And right after the CP, there was another food station. They served strawberries and cookies. Despite being so near to target, I couldn’t resist stopping and enjoying some strawberries and taking a few cookies. A friend who was following my progress live asked why I was slowing down at the last 2km. He was worried I bonked.
This was why lah. Cannot resist free food and fruits.
It was a continuous climb from this point onwards, and I was still feeling OK to just jog a bit. I saw more photographers here (there were many, many camera crews and photographers along the route and some runners even sportingly stopped mid-run for an interview) and posed happily.
I finally crossed the finish line, and was happy that I managed to complete it 29 minutes faster than my target. And wayyyy before the 7-hour COT!
I was given my finisher towel first, then a plastic bag for the post-race goodies. The volunteers draped my medal over my neck and then I was given a bottle salty apple drink and collected some cookies. Then off I went to the next tent where my certificate was printed out. Finally, before I exited the finishers’ area, we were given hot seaweed soup to enjoy.
Shivering, I went to look for Hubby. He had arrived much earlier but as non-runners weren’t allowed to be near the Finish Line or finishers’ area, he had to make a detour and enter the field area from elsewhere.
|Credit: Kumamoto Castle Marathon Facebook page|
A few photos taken (but my favourite is the one by the official photographer, of us with Kumamoto Castle in the background) and then off we went to a nearby sento.
I was shivering and very cold, so spending an hour at the sento was indeed heavenly.
All in all, Kumamoto Castle Marathon is a great marathon for anyone to join. You really get the feel of Kumamoto’s warm welcome and support all throughout the 42.2KM you run.
And the locals did it cheerfully and enthusiastically, despite the rain, the strong wind, the bad weather, the chill.
Thank you Kumamoto for an unforgettable experience and a wonderful omotenashi.
Thank you Kumamoto Castle Marathon for being my 17th Full Marathon and my 7th in Japan.