Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kyoto Marathon 2016 Race Report + + +

Boy this is along overdue post and I still have 2 more to catch up with.

I have to admit, this wasn't "the race" I was looking for in Japan, I was hoping for Tokyo Marathon which is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year but instead I raced in Kyoto. Nope I didn't get it wrong, I know.. Kyoto is Tokyo read backwards :) but believe me this 2 places are a total opposite just like the name sake. Long story short, Nick and I throw in our ballot for both Kyoto and Tokyo race back in Sept 2015, while Nick was hoping to strike the lottery on Kyoto due to the scenic and historic run, I was secretly hoping to strike for a Tokyo slot. Well things doesn't always works out the way you want it to, so Nick won and I lost, saying that both of us got the Kyoto ballot. Nick sign it up almost immediately, but it took me quite sometime to mourn my lost on Tokyo ballot and decided to sign up for Kyoto only days before the ballot entry expire.  With everything signed and sealed, I capitalized on the fitness carried over from the Vietnam Mountain Marathon (race report here) and starts ramping-up my weekly mileage as early as Oct last year. I was averaging 70-80 km weekly since Oct to late Dec, was I tired running close to 80 km accumulative week after week? Yes I was, but I was determine too, I want to run a big personal best and not just a mere 2 mins improvements (which was what happened for my previous 3 races).

Fast forwarding to 2016, came January, Nick experienced a knee injury but not knowing what it was really, he decided to take it easy on the training and scaled back drastically on his mileage. The big upset came in Feb 2016 just weeks before the race, Nick tore his meniscus while walking down the stairs :(. Nevertheless, I met up with Nick and Nessa at the earlier agreed spot and I would hitch a ride from them to the airport since Nick wanted to drive and park his car there instead of taking a cab. We arrived early at the airport, the baggage check in was smooth and decided to take our dinner before boarding the flight so we can sleep or at least try to sleep all the way over a night flight.

Rise and shine, we reached Kansai Airport at Osaka early in the morning the way we liked it so that we have a whole day to our dispose. Anyway it was too early so we head to look for breakfast around the airport before we decide on which one to patron. It was officially Nick and Nessa's first Japanese meal in Japan, they loved it; I told them that it would be their least tasty meal in Japan and I was dead right.. why? Read THIS, THIS AND THIS by happiefeet. Back home, me and Jamie have  been telling Nick how nice is the country and how much we loved Japan and he was already in awe with the country with just the first meal!
Kansai Airport
After getting our stomach warmed, we head out to Rinkutown for some shopping or windows shopping since we had all day and our accommodation in Kyoto check-in time was 4pm.. yeah really late, but no complaints. The sales at Rinkutown this time around wasn't that great compare to December, but we took the opportunity to fool around with some silly pictures, get impressed by the various and colorful vending machines and visiting their equally impressive convenient store "The Family Mart".

No idea what we were doing.. apart from being silly

After spending a few hours there, is time to for us to head to Kyoto on their Haruka Train (Limited Express). Train arrived on the dot, not a minute earlier not a minute late, my dear friend was again impressed. I fell asleep almost immediately after finding myself a comfortable seat, put up my MP3 and Zzzzzz away since is going to be a 75 mins train ride.  Then, the unexpected happen, damn!! The Haruka train service was interrupted just merely a stop away from our destination Argghhh.. And off we go taking our luggage, wading through floors of train platform and wondering what's next??? As I have said to Nick and Nessa countless time "how not to love Japan?" and you think this would spoil the whole awesome Japan experience? hell no.. we were all upgraded to Shinkansen (Japan famous bullet train) FOC !!! Untungla as we would say it back home means value for money in this context haha!! Not my first time on a Shinkansen, but let me tell ya.. it is better than taking a flight, far better than a lot of air lines especially our local budget air which kept rescheduling their flight recently :P. Though it was a short ride (200km+/hr), it was a welcome "disruption" for all of us.

Hello there
Reaching Kyoto, I just put all my trust on Nessa's research and in no time we've reached our Airbnb like apartment. Whipped out our phone, scanned the QR code that was send to us along with the "survival" guide and we are in. Although small as expected, it was clean, equipped  with a kitchen, private bathroom and washing machine. It was well worth the price that we were paying and it is located in one of the best part of Kyoto - Gion. After dinner at an unique Ramen place and a short look around, we decided to call it a day.
At Kyoto Station waiting for a bus ride. 

The next morning, we have decided to put on our shake down running gear and head out to Nishiki Market (walking distance from where we stayed) for breakfast before heading to race pack collection. We were there a little early, as most of the shops/stalls are not open for business yet, nevertheless we managed to find a few stalls and munched away 1-2 hours satisfying our taste bud. Although we were in our running gear, but we knew very well before reaching Japan that our planned shake down run to the race pack collection, would be called off due to Nick's injury and it was coincidentally raining on that day. We then decided to take the train to the nearby Heian Shrine, once we got off the train we could see a bee line of people walking towards the same direction and we just followed.. is a no brainer thing to do.
No joke we were in our running gear checking out food at Nishiki Market.
After a short walk, we reached the Miyakomesse for our race pack. The collection was very well organized, with English speaking greeter all ready to guide the overseas' runners like us. They even have a big sticker over the volunteers' jacket that says they are English and/or Mandarin speaking volunteer, talking about putting in effort for customer's experience!! Two thumbs up! We were guided to a overseas' runners queue, Nick in the elite queue and I was of course in "the rest of " queue. Collection was smooth and fast, took a few picture and of we go heading to the expo
Photo courtesy by Mrs Philips

At the expo entrance, official photographers were all ready to take the runners' photo; they even welcomed family and friends to be in the frame which you can opt to purchase as part of your race event photo. That was to me a nice touch, I mean how many official race photo that your family or friends were in the same frame? Honestly, I don't think many can say they have one.

CW-X was the first stop, the event tee was nicely done, but would be too expensive for me to stomach in and decided to give it a pass (which I regretted dearly after). Toyota was there to promote their green technology, we decided to visit the booth to show our support for Richi. They also gave out small sticker where runners could write any inspiration/motivation phrases that would be displayed on different section along the race route. We took a few shots with the Toyota's staffs before moving on.

Next stop Asahi hehe, yes Asahi was there to give out beers to visitors and mind you the promoters are very pretty too better than the beer itself haha. Whipped out our camera shamelessly again asking for a photo or two with them.

Soon enough we reached a section of the expo where the history of Kyoto Marathon was narrated with the route,  the past years winner and how the race was setup to help raise funds to relief the great eastern earthquake since the 1st edition of Kyoto Marathon

We then reached the sports good retail section, unfortunately the place was too crowded proving navigating around is a pain. We didn't spend much time there and decided to move on. By then, it was past noon time and coincidentally we land ourselves at the food section hooraayy.. more food. Too promote Kyoto tourism further, the organizer had invited some of the famous local eatery to set up stalls and many more. Like a kid walking into a toy store, I was very excited and concluded that this was the best part of the expo. We found ourselves a bench sharing with other visitors, put our staffs there and start roaming around for food. Grill fresh scallop, BBQ squid, Japanese beef bento, Okonomiyaki and green tea ice-cream are among the local delicacies available at the expo.

Photo courtesy by Mrs Philips
After concluding that we could not stomach in anymore food, we decided to take a walk heading home. It was still drizzling, but that didn't stop us to take a long stroll on what was supposed to be the shakedown run route, it was truly a nice route Nessa has mapped out for us. We took an early dinner that night and call it a day preparing for racing the next day.

The Race Day
The race starts at 9am, that gives me a couple of hours of sleeping time compare to the early race we have in Malaysia love it!! love it!!.

Nick and I met up around 7am and started walking our way to the train station which is about 10 mins away from where we stayed. We were glad there were no rain in sight that morning albeit chilly and we layered enough to keep ourselves warm. Since the race start at Nishikyogoku Stadium (different location from the race pack collection/finishing line Heian Shrine), hence we were not 100% on the direction to the race site. Luckily there were runners going the same direction, we just followed, hopped on the train and reached the race site after a short walk from the train station.

Pacer group

Found our designated baggage truck, layered down and checking in the baggage was just simply smooth and hassle free. Although we have layered down, we were still among those who "Overdressed". Some runners were just going with skimpy shorts and racing vest and just like you would in a hot weather race. Is mind blowing how they can fight off the cold temperature with so little, while me and Nick were shivering at a corner waiting for the race start. 30mins or so later, we went for a not so quick toilet break (queue), Nick wishes me good luck and we proceed to our respective race pen. Nick nursing an injury meant he would not run the whole race but will try to beat the sweeper bus to checkpoint 1. Although not an ideal outcome but with him tolling the start line with me meant a lot to me and it goes to shows how big a fighter he is by starting the race.

Skimpy shorts
Race started on time but it took me close to 10mins to cross the starting line, once out from the stadium there were already tonnes of supporter from all walks of life cheering for their loves one and strangers. Atmosphere was really great and is race on for me!! The streets are narrow and I'm fighting every inches of available tarmac with other runners to keep my target pace. Zig-zaging all the times passing the slower runners and at times I have to ran on the street divider and drainage cover to keep going at my target pace. It wasn't all bad, I learnt alot from them as a matter of fact, the runners respect each other very much and gave every one enough space regardless what pace you were running. Runners also took a quick look behind before they come out and pass other runners, that's how it should be done!!

Photo from Kyoto Marathon Official Facebook
Keeping pace was not an easy task with human traffic, and judging from past Japan run experience, the challenge is here to stays. After about 4-5 KM into the race, the body is nicely warmed up this time and starting to get into my own rhythm running along the scenic Katsura River and the famous Togetsukyo bridge can been seen from afar.

KM5 - KM10 the steep climb.
This is where the elevation starts. We were running along a parallel road to Tenryuji, heading towards Arashiyama Koka Bridge abeit a short climb but it got my heart pumping. After a short downhill run after the bridge, the next 3 KM towards KM10 was an elevation fest, the road doesn't seems to end especially with a hard climb. Nevertheless the crowd of supporter were amazing and the shout of "Gambate" has turned into a chant-like music to all the runners fighting against the hills. Took my first gel at KM10, to my surprise the temperature wasn't that cold anymore compere to the race start. Nevertheless, to be cautious I only have one glove off to see if is a good idea to run with gloves
Arashiyama Koka Bridge

KM10 - KM15 - the breather.  I can finally catch a breather from the hill. The roads are more gentle to the heart on this part for the race course. At this point, the runners crowd are still pretty much the same but fortunately most of the runners are now running at a very similar pace without impeding each other. One unique sight that I remembered along that stretch was running pass Ninna-Ji temple, the resident monk came out in the cold giving their support for all the runners with a banner which I could not make out what it means, but something along the line of "Rebuild". I waved my hand to say thanks to all who came out to support, amazed with the beautiful structure of the temple and I quickly move on.

As you can see, one of my hands without glove
KM15 - KM20 -  the narrow roads. This part of the race see us navigating through some of the narrow roads, however the runner's crowd starts to disperse a little giving ample space for all the runner who are still keeping the same pace. Along this stretch there are rolling hills, saying that it wasn't a big issue as the gradient were mostly kind to the tiring legs by now.  We ran passed a few temple along this stretch namely Daitokuji-Temple and Imamiya Jinja Shrine. Then we were back to the open road running along Kamo-Gawa river make our first (out of seven) u-turn across the small bridge heading towards KM20. By now both my gloves are off, yes it was warm enough to run without gloves.

Imamiya Jinja Shrine can be seen at the background

KM20 - KM 25 - the slight dip. The biggest thing around this stretch was how did I fair half way point of the race. Well to be honest, I have had a sub2 in mind to give it a shot at a sub4 overall race time. Unfortunately, the disruptive run from the start meant that I'm not able to keep to my goal pace and the dream for an official sub2 21KM was long gone at the early part of the race. Nevertheless, a time of 2:03 at the half way point wasn't all that bad. There wasn't much to see between the distance here, we were running along the Kamo-Gawa river then crossing a small bridge into a flat fast section with 2 u-turns ahead. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to capitalize on the flat course and my performance started to drop slightly going into KM25. One interesting thing that I spotted here was the digital sign-board that gave out information to runners on the portable toilet whether the toilets were vacant or occupied. Such are the effort that the organizer put in giving detail information to runners helping them to manage their race/goal time. I applaud the effort.. kudos to the race organizer

Kamo-gawa river at the background. Notice the runners' crowd at about KM20
KM25 - KM30 - the painful drop. After a short straight and the 4th u-turn on the same straight back, we then ran into the Kyoto Botanical Garden. Believed it or not, there were some tress with flower blossoming in the month of February and it does seems like Sakura flowers. I don't care, I'm just gonna take it as Sakura. Took my first long walk here not because of the beautiful garden mind you.. it was because my calves nearly froze up and decided to walk it off. By then all my hope doing a sub 4:15 timing was slowly diminishing. Since I'm walking, I took the opportunity to really look at the beautiful surrounding of the garden instead of running pass with a fast glance of the many attractions at the earlier part of the race. There were also a few Geisha (presumably arranged by the organizer) playing traditional musical instruments entertaining the runners as well as the supporters and tourist alike, Out from the botanical garden, we are back at the Kamo-gawa river again (yes a long river) heading towards KM30

Photo from Kyoto Marathon Official Facebook
KM30 - KM 35 - the struggle continues. KM30 marks the point for most runner hitting the wall, really? look at some of the runners around me, doesn't seems like they are; but my struggle continues. KM30 was also the entry to the riverbank, the terrain was soft and sandy. The path was narrow, damp and slippery due to the overnight rain. Puddles of water can be found along the path especially where there were water/aid stations. This was the part of the race I didn't enjoy, but don't get me wrong is just a personal preference to run on dry and solid ground. It was a 2 KM of riverbank path, there was a slight pain developed on the calves, again took another walk hoping that it will be fine after that. Back to the road after 2 KM of riverbank and we are next to the Kyoto Imperial Palace... Sweet.

Entry to the riverbank. Do you see the contrast between me comparing to the lady behind me? This is KM30

Then the nature decided to throw in another challenge to me, the wind started to pick up and so was the rain. The temperatures dropped and I had to put back my gloves to keep whatever little warm I have left with me. Although the rain was not heavy, but the headwind was, it was cold and started to get wet. I had to hide my tired body behind a bigger runner to stay away from taking it head on against the wind. It worked for a short bit until the runner in front of me started to drop back, then I had no choice but to take the wind all by myself. KM35 was the sixth and coincidentally it was at the Kyoto City Hall. This section would be my slowest 5KM interval for the race
Kyoto City Hall

Sixth U-Turn with Kyoto City Hall at the background

KM35 - KM42 - the second wind. After the final U-turn, I picked myself up again and knew I had to keep my strong for the remaining 7KM. I was running right at that stage and started to pick up my pace again; told myself to keep going, running by feel instead of looking at the watch. I did however took a few peep at the watch and to my surprise at some part I was running faster than my goal pace. The headwind hasn't slow down, however I found my second wind of my run and kept pushing through with a pace to me was a strong one. KM38, KM 39, by then I was very comfortable with the pace that I'm doing at the late stage , although tired, I'm pretty confidence I can keep running at the pace that I was doing for the remaining distance.

Came the seventh U-turn, the last we would see for the race, make the turn and head towards gradual climb again.. oh god. Crossing the 40KM mark feels like eternity, fortunately there were many locals who are out cheering for us. Then came the Kyoto University, which was a landmark that signified the finishing line is within sight. It was about a kilometer or so from the finishing line, soaking with all the positive vibes around, I pushed on along with a few local runners pacing and pushing each other to the final stretch of the race. At the final turn towards the finishing line at Heian Shrine, the atmosphere was simply unbelievable with everyone cheering on. Some runners slow down to wave to the crowd  while some sprint on hoping to achieve their respective personal best. For the first time, I actually slowed down to wave and express my gratitude to the locals as well as the volunteers making this a fantastic race. Crossing the line with a new personal best, shaving off 20 mins from my previous best was ecstatic and beyond words.

Picked-up the finishing medal and towel, I moved on quickly to the drink station for some sports drink, I was literally drained from the race. After 2 pack of drinks, l walked towards a temporary tent that was setup to give out the completion certification to finisher. Pick up the cert, and my baggage I proceed to the changing area and quickly change to some dry cloths and put on my jacket to stay warm. At the same time I didn't want Nick and Nessa to be waiting too long out in the cold for me.

Nick gave me a hug and congratulated me on the run upon seeing me walking towards the agreed meeting place which is outside of a 7-Eleven. Wanted to get a hot coffee, but the queue was simply too long and didn't want to wait. So we decided to quickly move on and walking back and along the way we manage to get our hot coffee from some vending machine... machine is everywhere. We walked back using the shakedown route but we took a little detour and venture a little and found ourselves at the back of the Yasaka-jinja Shrine. It was a beautiful shrine to start with, and as usual lots of photo opportunity with some silly pose.

All photo above are courtesy by Nick and Mrs Phlips

The race was very well organized to say the least, aid/water stations was plenty and space out nicely with volunteers are also doubling up as supporter for everyone who run past their station. Pedestrian traffic control was an eye opener for me, with a few volunteers holding on to a rope shifting from left to right and vice versa directing runners to the left or the right lane of the running course while pedestrians were crossing the road, it was very well orchestrate without slowing down any runners and at the same time impeding the public from crossing the road. Runners also plays a big part  in keeping the area clean, emptying the drinking cup and made sure it was thrown into the designated bin. Amount for effort put in by the organizer to help runner achieve their goal time was second to none, for example digital board informing number of vacant toilet and number of tables at each of the aid/water stations so that runners doesn't clog up at the first slowing down the rest were some of the examples that our local race organizer can learn from. I have to say... I love racing in Japan!!!


  1. What a beautiful recap, man. Made me miss the place all over again! I really had a great time, injury notwithstanding. I shall go back again to avenge this minor set back, that's a promise. Make sure you join me, along with Jamie!

  2. Yeap..would love to run in kyoto again

  3. Hello. Great recap and congrats. I got into Kyoto for 2018. Was it really cold? I'm from Hawaii. Kind of worried about the cold and the hills. thank you

    1. Hello Hawaii. Thanks for leaving a comment and Congratulations on the successful ballot. The start of the race is always cold and can be as cold as 0-3 °C. The weather was changeable in 2016 and was raining towards the 4th hour of the race but in general it will be under 10°C. The route is mostly flat apart from one moderate climb on the ramp between 5th -10th km if I memory served me right. Good luck on your race


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