Monday, October 13, 2008

Izumo Ekiden (出雲駅伝)

Time: 70:00
Distance: 10 mi.

Goal: as a team, finish in the range of last year's performance (12th); individually, try to run a smart race aiming for around 3:07 pace (around 26:30) for my 8.5k leg and if possible gaining position
Race: 17th overall; 27:09 (3:11 pace, 25:33 8k pace), but I gained one spot

IVY League Team
Leg 1 (8k): Sage Canaday - 24:47, 19th fastest split, 19th place
Leg 2 (5.8k): Emery Mort - 17:26, 15th fastest split, 18th place
Leg 3 (8.5k): Owen Washburn - 27:09, 17th fastest split, 17th place
Leg 4 (6.5k): Ari Zamir - 19:47, 16th fastest split, 17th place
Leg 5 (5k): Jon-Paul Mandelburg - 15:43,16th fastest split, 17th place
Leg 6 (10.2k): Mark Olivier - 32:29, 16th fastest split, 17th place
Total (44k): 2:17:21, 17th place

This race itself was unlike any other running experience I've had. First, it was immediately apparent how serious everyone involved in this race takes it. The atmosphere around the athletes reminded me of NCAA cross country and in addition the whole town (and many visitors) seemed to come out for it. Throughout my leg there were locals lining the streets cheering in encouragement, usually shouting "gambate!" (apparently meaning "go for it" or "do your best"). I was dropped off at my exchange point (You Me Town grocery) a few hours before I was slated to get the race sash so I waited in a tent with my fellow third leg runners. When the race began we were able to watch the country-wide broadcast on Fuji TV on an HD TV, though many of the runners were tuning into it on their cell phones.

Waiting in the pre-race tent

Sage at the start of the race

From a running perspective it was also quite different. The race is fairly spread out even by the end of the second leg, so a good portion (or all) of a runner's leg might be run alone. Sage ran a tough leg that went out blazing fast (2:41 at the front, 2:44? for him) and passed off the sash in 19th. Emery picked up one place and I took off about a minute back from the closest runner. For the first 5-6k I could only see one runner ahead on the long straightaways and had no idea if I was making any progress. I was not running particularly fast, as despite going out the first 1k in 3:05 I hit the half way mark, which included two hills over bridges, in 13:40 (3:13/k average). With about 2k remaining in my leg I realized that the runner I was chasing seemed to be coming back. Chasing him down I ran a bit faster in my second half (13:29, 3:10/k average). He put up a little bit of a fight as I caught him in the last quarter mile, but I was able to outkick him and pass off to Ari ahead. It was hotter than I was expecting and my stomach was in pretty bad shape by the end.

Short clips of the beginning and end of the race (video by Andy Pitts and Sage Canaday)

We agreed at the end that we were happy enough with our race. While falling back to 17th was not what we had wanted, given the hot weather and our fitness, it was a reasonable result. As Emery said, "not bad for a bunch of 15:00 5k guys." There were some very impressive performances by other athletes, including a number of Kenyans. The fastest time on my leg was 24:37 (2:53/k, or 23:10 8k pace) and the anchor for the winning Nihon University ran 28:28 for 10.2k (27:54 10k pace). See the full results (translated by Google) for more, or if you really want to know the details of the race, check out this blog.

I will also try to post another recap of the trip with more photos as I get them.

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