Sunday, 29 July 2018

History of the Kanto 10 Mile Road Race

After completing the Kanto 10 Mile Road Race in December last year, I asked the race organizers to share with me information about the history of this race. I had heard that it was the oldest 10-mile road race in the world, though there are few details available about the race and its history, particularly in the English language. Below, I have summarized the history of the race posted photographs of the letter I received from the race organizers.

The Kanto 10 Mile Road Race was first held on 28th March 1937. The race was held twice a year, in March and December until the 103rd convention in 1989, since which time it has been held once a year in late December. The race was not held from 1942 to 1945 due to the second world war, before resuming on 8th December 1946. Keizo Yamada, winner of the Boston Marathon in 1953 is a former participant in the race, as is Yuko Arimori, who won silver and bronze medals at the Olympics for the marathon in 1992 and 1996 respectively. A 10KM race was added to the event schedule in 1961.

The current records for the 10-mile race are 47:20 (male) and 54:05 (female).



Saturday, 30 December 2017

131st Kanto 10 Mile Road Race

The Kanto 10 Mile Road Race is the oldest 10-mile road race in the world, having begun in March 1937. The race currently starts and finishes next to a temple, about 10 minutes’ walk from Sogosando Station in Chiba Prefecture, close to Narita. Arriving at the race HQ in the temple grounds on the cold and windy morning of December 17th, there were runners standing around huddled in groups or laying on the ground relaxing.

From the little information that I had managed to obtain prior to the race, I knew that the last 1km of the race was all uphill. I searched for the start line on the road by the side of the temple, and set off to walk the last stretch of the course. Having confirmed that there was indeed a fairly steep hill from the 15km to 16km point, I stripped down and jogged the first 2km part of the course, which runs in the opposite direction along the road. I managed to get back to the start point just in time to watch the 10KM race start, which had a field of about 300 runners and was won this year in a time of 32:30.

Start of the 10 mile race

Surprisingly, the field for the 10-miler that gathered on the start line a few minutes later was much smaller, with just over 150 runners. I could see that there was a large contingent of runners from Juntendo University and Chuo University. Perhaps they were using the race as a final tune-up before the Hakone Ekiden at the beginning of January, the highlight of the university and running calendar in Japan. When the race started, the university teams began at a sprint, quickly rounding a bend in the road and passing the main entrance of the temple, before heading out of the town along a main road.

For the first 1km I ran with the front pack of the second group, with the large leading pack of university runners having already sprinted away. However, the second group slowed to 6 minute mile pace, so I decided to push on by myself, running the the rest of the race alone. After 1.5 miles, there was a steep downhill section, before quickly levelling out again for another KM. There was a queue of cars at a traffic light on this section of road. I had not anticipated cars on the course, and I was forced to cross into the middle of the road to get around them.

At about 3km, the course turned off the main road, and from there followed a long out and back section on a narrow road through rice fields. As I was running alone, I had to work hard to try and keep pushing myself with no one to chase. I could see a small group of 3-4 runners that had come detached from the leading pack about 300 metres ahead of me in the distance, but they did not seem to be getting any closer. The wind was strong, and the number pinned onto my vest strained against the safety pins, in danger of being torn off.

Just after the 7km point, some relief came as the large leading pack came hurtling past me on the opposite side of the road. Soon afterwards, I too turned back around at a cone next to a house on the edge of a rice field. Somehow, I felt strong and managed to push along at a decent pace back along the narrow road. Rounding a bend in the road at the 15km point, a small group of spectators had assembled at the bottom of the last climb, and one woman shouted at me, “last kiro”. At this I took an extra deep breath to gather myself and then hit the hill as hard as I could, thinking that I still had a chance to get a small PB if I didn’t lose too much time on the hill. I remember that last km hurt, but the time seemed to pass quicker than I expected. The road levels again at the top of the climb and there is a short flat stretch before you turn to the left off the road and the finish line is set back about 30 meters from the road in front of an entrance to a school.

The winning time for the 10-mile race was 49:41. This is a good road race, attracting a strong field of university runners, with 21 men finishing in under 52 minutes. I finished in 44th place in 58:40, which is a modest PB and a 15 second improvement on my previous best. It was a nice way to end 2017, having started it with a half-marathon PB in January. 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Tomisato Suika 10K Road Race 2017

Suika means Watermelon in Japanese, and they are in season currently and are grown in huge volumes in Chiba Prefecture. Temperatures are hitting the 30 degrees centigrade now, and coupled with very humid conditions, running fast times over middle and long distances is a gruelling task. As an antidote, Tomisato, a rural town in Chiba close to Narita Airport, hosts an annual 10K road race to celebrate the sweet watermelons produced around the town.

Unlimited slices of watermelon on offer
to race finishers!
Getting to Tomisato for the start of the race from Tokyo requires a 5am wake up to catch an early train to Narita Airport. The thought of tasting the legendary sweet melons of Chiba drove me out of bed and I felt euphoric as I jumped onto a train packed with other melon running enthusiasts. This race is so popular that entry is decided by a lottery draw for about 7000 places. Perhaps the enthusiasm can partly be explained by the fact that on the race course, alongside the usual water stations, they have ‘melon stations’ too. Once you finish the race, you can also eat unlimited amounts of melon. And the top 20 finishers in each age category are given, yes you’ve probably guessed, their very own full sized Tomisato melon to take home!

The leading pack of the under-40 10K race
There was a huge line at the nearest train station to the race, with successful lottery winners waiting for the shuttle bus to take us the 20 minutes ride into deepest Chiba to the race HQ. As I limbered up and jogged to the race start line, I saw many runners had donned melon themed costumes for the run, and I couldn’t help but smile as I saw a family of 4 all dressed as watermelons. The 10K is split into two races, with the under 40’s race literally being ran first and the over 40’s section starting about an hour later. It had been raining all morning, but that hadn’t kept the crowds away. 

The rain didn't deter these
melon running enthusiasts
The first kilometre was along a flat road section, and perhaps over enthusiastically I covered that in 3:20. Soon afterwards it started raining again and I slowed down after hitting some uphill sections. It was warm and very humid, though I had heard that several runners were taken to hospital the year before with heat stroke, so a bit of drizzle was preferable. The course is basically a big undulating loop. I was inside the top 20 for the early part of the race, but started to slip back after the half way point, and once I knew I had lost any chance of winning a watermelon, my motivation waned a little and I eased off. I kept looking out for the watermelon station, which turned out to be at the 8.5km mark, though I decided to skip it – partly because I could see an uphill climb immediately afterwards which I just wanted to get out of the way. 

Tasty: this is what it was all about
I finished the race in about 37:21, around what I had expected beforehand due to lack of training since Tokyo Marathon. However, I did get the chance to eat several slices of watermelon afterwards, and I can confirm that it was especially delicious after running 10K. I will certainly apply for this race next year: I want to get inside the top 20 to win my very own Tomisato Suika.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Fuji Susono Half Marathon 2017

My running club Namban Rengo organise an annual trip to Gotemba to participate in the Fuji Susono Half Marathon and 10K, which is around mid-May. As my birthday is also around this time, I thought it would be good to go away on this overnighter to an onsen resort next to a brewery. Saturday saw a group of nearly 30 Nambaners travel from Tokyo to Gotemba in Shizuoka Prefecture. We took in a quick dip in the onsen waters before giving in to the temptations of some deliciously brewed beer at the resort brewery restaurant. It was clear that the group focus was more on the onsen, food and beer combo rather than athletic excellence, which suited my birthday mood.

The half marathon has a couple of thousand participants. The race began with 300 metres on a running track, before the course left the stadium with a 100 metres flat section to a main road. Then there was a right turn onto an uphill section up to the 5K point. That’s right, 4.4km of uphill running. I took it very easy for the first flat 400 metres of the race, and gradually moved through the field before reaching the 5km point. The course then turned left onto an undulating loop for the next 5km, then re-joined the earlier main road for another 3km of uphill running and then again taking in the same 5km of undulating roads.

The last couple of KM’s was downhill along the main road back to the stadium. I was really struggling with dehydration by this point and was expecting a fair few runners to come hurtling by as I was barely able to pick up my speed, but was surprised that only one runner did. As I entered the stadium and crossed the 300 metres to go line, I realised I could scrape under 1 hours 27 minutes if I ran the last part of the race in under a minute, so I managed to find some reserves from somewhere to inject a little increase in speed to finish in 1 hour 26 minutes 56 secs. This is 10 minutes slower than the half marathon PB I ran in January, but Fuji Susono does involve an awful lot of uphill running.

After I finished, I watched the half and 10K finishers coming in, unwisely getting sunburnt in the process. The 10K race is a straight 5K up hill and 5K downhill affair, on the same course as the half. Returning as a group to the onsen resort after the race, we could ease our aching muscles with a good soak in an open air onsen before reminiscing about the day’s events, aided by the excellent beer of the brewery. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Tokyo Marathon 2017

Things were not going well with my running by the summer of 2016. I had really lost my way in life, being forced out of my job, was going through a divorce, facing financial ruin, and worst of all I was only running 4 miles once or twice a week.  I did, however, apply for Tokyo Marathon entry, thinking that I probably would not get selected in the ballot but that it might help increase my chances for a future ballot. In September 2016, I got accepted into Tokyo Marathon. It was what I needed. Nothing short of getting a place in Tokyo Marathon could have forced me to turn my life around and start training consistently again.

Finishing straight at Toda Half Marathon in Nov 2016

In September and October, I struggled to get used to running 5-6 days a week again. The first target was to run over 40 miles a week, and it took me a few weeks to do that. I started doing long runs again on a Sunday, going to the Tamagawa River and running along there. The first 2 hour run almost killed me. I did a 10km time trial in November and a half marathon in Toda, Saitama the following week. Somehow, I managed to run 1 hours 19 minutes 54 secs at that half, so that really encouraged me to believe that perhaps I could aim for a good marathon time. I really ran above my fitness that day, drawing on years of previous racing experience to get the pace spot on – and starting the race 100% fresh.

Ekiden action in Yoyogi Park, Jan 2017

By December last year I started running twice a day a couple of times a week, and was averaging 70 miles plus throughout December and January. I could feel during my training runs that my fitness was rapidly improving. The highlight of the Tokyo Marathon training was running a new PB of 1 hour 16 minutes, my first PB since 2011, in the Shinjuku Half Marathon at the end of January. This made me start thinking that I had a realistic chance of running sub-2 hours 45 mins for the marathon.

On the way to a half marathon PB in Shinjuku, Jan 2017

Tokyo Marathon 2017 was my second marathon. I finished in 2 hours 52 minutes. I got to half way in 1 hours 22 minutes and 30km in 1 hour 57 mins. By 35km though I knew I was in big trouble as I turned around at a giant cone to head to the finish line, and I jogged the last 2 km at a painful crawl. So, I missed my target, but I had achieved a bigger goal of falling back in love with running and getting reasonably fit again. And more helpfully, if you finish Tokyo Marathon in under 2 hours 55 minutes, and are a non-permanent resident in Japan, you can avoid the ballot and apply for Semi-elite entry into the next years Tokyo Marathon.

Tokyo Marathon 2017 splits

It took me over 1-hour to hobble the 2km from the Tokyo Marathon finish line in front of Tokyo Station to the bag collection area. My legs almost gave way and I had to grip a wall a couple of times to remain upright during that walk, as my legs were totally spent. Even in the throes of pain, I was already thinking about how I can return and run Tokyo Marathon in 2018 and break that 2 hours 45 minutes barrier. From now and until I achieve that aim, all my running and training is going to be about smashing down that barrier.

Tokyo Marathon 2017
Namban Rengo post-Tokyo Marathon party

Friday, 1 January 2016

New Year: New Running Club

I have joined the Tokyo based Namban Rengo International Running Club. I have really missed being in a running club. Namban Rengo’s main training night is Wednesday. They currently meet in Yoyogi Park at 7:30pm for an immediate start, warm-up not included. Since I moved to Tokyo in October, I have not been able to go along as I usually work until about 8pm on weekdays. However, December 23rd is a National Holiday in Japan, thanks to the Emperor’s birthday falling on that day. I could finally get a chance to try out the club!

About 10 runners showed up, down from the usual attendance of 50+ so I was told, due to the holiday. The session was 5x1000m around a loop inside Yoyogi Park, with about 2 minutes interval between repetitions. Then the following week, on Wednesday 30th, I could go to the club meet again as my office was closed for the week. I won’t be able to go along to the main club night again for a few months. For the last Wednesday club session of each month, there is a 5km time trial, again inside Yoyogi Park. About 15 runners showed up, and the course was two 2km loops followed by a 1km smaller loop. I enjoyed setting off and running in a pack again, but soon had to drop off the leading pace. My finishing time was a new Personal Worst for the distance. So I went into 2016 knowing that I really have to up my game.

This morning's Saturday hill training group
Luckily enough for me, a few of the club members meet every Saturday morning at Akasaka Palace for a hill repetition session. I went along to that this morning. We did 8 repeats in total. A good session and it certainly got the heart rate up and legs turning over, and running with others certainly helps you to push yourself harder than you would do alone. Some club members also organise long Sunday runs. I will definitely be going back for more training sessions with the club this year.

Sunday, 20 December 2015


It took me two weeks to recover from the 24-hour relay race I did back in late July. At that point, I got an unexpected opportunity to change my life. I have been waiting and looking for a chance to do that for a very long time. Indeed, it was why I came to Japan. I had to then put running very much onto the back-burner so that I could first get a new job, wind up my life in Kyoto, relocate to Tokyo and start a new career.

Since moving to Shinjuku, Tokyo - for the first 10 weeks I barely ran at all. This last week was the first time I have managed to run 6 times in one week, getting in three sessions and a long run. This morning I ran 5km to the Imperial Palace, ran two laps of its 5km outer moat path and back to my new home. I had always hoped to see the Imperial Palace in Tokyo at some point during my time in Japan, but never got around to it until my recent life change. It is famous as a place for running, with a fully pedestrianised circuit path in the heart of Tokyo. Today was the first long run I have done for about 5 months, and it felt good, until the last mile at least!

I have lost a lot of fitness. I do not have anyone giving me guidance or training schedules anymore. Due to working late evenings during the week I cannot join in sessions with a running club. I cannot find a track near where I live where I can train. Being based in Shinjuku is not a good starting point for long runs. Though I feel, strangely, optimistic about getting back into training and racing. I will have to go back to old school ways of road training only, by myself, for a while. I have entered two races early next year and this has given me the motivation to get out on the cold dark nights this last week and hopefully continue to do so in the weeks ahead.