Photos: Picking up the Tokyo Marathon race kit

The venue of the expo is the Tokyo Big Sight, where the runners go to pick up their race kits. This is also the area where the finish line is.

I took a JR train (Rinkai line) from Shinjuku station to Kokusai-Tenjijo. This is what I saw as I exited the train platform. There’s no mistaking it – this is the area of the Marathon expo!

Even if you are a foreigner with no knowlege of Japanese characters, there are plenty of signs and people who are willing to help.

Before entering the area to pick-up your race kit, there are people outside who will check if you had properly filled-up the application form.
Getting the race kit was super easy! The first station (station A) is responsible for checking your ID (I brought my passport). They will stamp your application form and direct you to the next station.
Station B where you fetch your race kit and the various desks are separated by your race number.
There’s even a set of desks dedicated to foreigners. I guess this is they can man these stations properly with Japanese who can speak English. They explained what’s in the race kit – which is basically your race number, the timing chip, safety pins to attach the number to your jersey, twister strips to attach the chip to your shoe, a free one-day Tokyo Metro pass, a variety of advertising materials, the official race booklet (no different from the PDF version which was sent by email), and a transparent bag. Because of security reasons you can’t just bring any bag. You can only bring the bag which the organizers provided.
Then you go to another desk takes care of validating if the timing chip works and if it displays your name correctly.
Then it’s off to get the T-shirt….

Everyone was smiling and genuinely helpful. Everyone was saying “Gambatte,” which means “Good luck” in Japanese.

These pics were taken on a Friday. As you can see, it’s pretty empty. They say that Saturday will be very crowded.

 

Tested my cold-weather outfit

The weather registered 4 Celsius, or about 39 F, providing me a perfect opportunity to test my cold-weather outfit, which consists of the following:

  • Compression tights
  • Another polyester shirt for outer layer
  • Arm warmers
  • Workman gloves (none of that expensive “winter-wear” high-tech gloves)
  • Beanie to keep my head warm

I like the suggestion to use arm warmers. If it does get warm, all I have to do is roll down the warmers.

I ran a short 3k in the outfit. I could still feel the cold but it was still comfortable. My worry has always been that i would over-dress and feel warm throughout the run. Coming from Philippines, I have no idea what running in cold weather feels like and what to do to keep me nice and comfy. And based on my short run, it looks good to go!

One more short run tomorrow to make sure….

48 days to go: I ran the Hashtag Run 21K

I ran a 21K in the Hashtag Run event, organized by a team named Runtarantantan. This was a “training run” so finish time is not so important. The original training schedule was a 25-kilometer run, supposedly 7K slow, 10K fast, 8K slow. I changed it to 7K slow, 7K fast, and 7K slow. This was supposed to mimic the fatigue in a marathon where runners struggle in the last few kilometers. Did I struggle in the last 7K? Not really. Yes there was shortness of breath and some fatigue in my legs, but I finished relatively strong and fresh. I felt no cramps. My legs weren’t wobbly. I had no muscle pain.

I arrived at the run venue around 3:45 am (run was scheduled to start at 4 am) and the Runtarantantan organizer was giving a pep talk. For once, I paid attention to the speaker on the stage. I normally zone out waiting for the starting gun. He stressed the following points:

Don’t give any attention to people bragging about their run times. This I wholeheartedly agree on. Running is a personal journey. Your time is your time. That’s why it’s called a personal record. So when you run faster (or longer) than a previous run, then you are, in your own way, a winner. And those who run can understand that feeling of beating a personal record.

– Hence, no cutoff times. This I don’t exactly agree on. There should be cutoff times, not so much for the logistics (i.e., roads have to be opened up at some point), but also because people should avoid tackling a distance if they aren’t prepared. Cutoff times can be generous – 3 hours should be more than enough for a 21K, maybe 2 hours for a 10K – and that should serve as a motivation for people to train before tackling a specific distance.

– And because everyone is a “winner,” everyone deserves a medal. I used to wonder why people give so much emphasis, so much emotion, and so much importance on the medal, but then I realized that I had also cherished my first marathon meddal and that I would also soon treasure my Tokyo Marathon medal since that would be a milestone in my running life. So while local races are no longer that significant to me, it is still a significant milestone to others and I should not belittle that achievement.

– He also answered many criticisms about whether or not the route is accurate in terms of distance. He corrected the misconception that GPS signals were accurate. It bugs me when people refer to their app or their watch to contest a route’s distance. “According to my GPS, the route is wrong,” they would say. “It was actually 21.2 kilometers!” GPS is not an accurate measure of distance! Trees and buildings can block the satellite signal. GPS will also encounter problems in routes that have twists and turns! I wish people would stop contesting the race distance using GPS as their basis.

– He also mentioned why the Roxas Boulevard route is better that the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) route. I also agree that Roxas is better than BGC, the latter having more turns than the former. Moreover, he did mention that Roxas is “fully closed” as in all intersections are closed (not that there are many to begin with) unlike that of BGC where you have to stop at intersections to let the traffic flow.

Yes I do prefer the Roxas Boulevard route than BGC. It’s easier to tune out since all you have to do is run the length of Roxas Boulevard, between Luneta and the end of Cavitex, unlike that of BGC where you have to pay attention to marshalls and wondering if you took a wrong turn and ended up with runners tackling a shorter distance.

But the run was not without it’s problems. I had no problems with how the run was organized – there were plenty of hydration stations and there was no “traffic jam” in those stations. My problem was with how I used my running app. I fumbled with my running app buttons, screwing up the lap times. The full workout was still recorded, but the “middle” lap (the fast 7K portion) registered as the “last lap.” So while I have the full run recorded, I don’t have the averages for the final 7K. No big issue, but it is a lesson learned on how to operate the running app.

The other “lesson learned” was that the app begins recording after I press PAUSE if I begin moving again. The app recorded a time of 2:44 but it included the walk I took from the finish line to the finisher booth. Fortunately, I took this picture shortly after I crossed the finish line. While the time isn’t in the picture, the is time-stamped at 6:41, which means that I finished at around 2:41. I did mention that time isn’t the priority – this was not a “race” and I wasn’t aiming for any time goals nor for any personal records – but it’s also nice to have an idea of how long I took to run the 21K.

The good news was that I was able to maintain an easy “zone 2” heart rate in the first 7K, maintained close to the prescribed pace (6:20/kilometer) for the middle 7K, and was able to bring down my heart rate to below 150 for the last part.

Now I have to figure out why Spotify stops in the middle of the run. I wonder if it has something to do with the intervals. It stopped twice during the run, both close to the beginning of a new interval. My guess is that when I enter a new interval, Spotify waits for the end of the current song and then stops. I should take note of this in my next run.

And my next long run will be a challenge – 32K Resolution Run. I have always struggled at that distance. Now am excited to see how my training has prepared me for that distance.

 

51 days to go: a 5K run to test my cold weather outfit

The Tokyo Marathon will be held on February 22. February is the coldest month in Tokyo. And according to the 2015 Tokyo Marathon brochure, the average temperature is 6.5 degrees Celsius (that's 43.7 degress for Farenheit folk). The coldest for Metro Manila in 2014 was 15.8 degrees Celsius. The coldest ever for Baguio is 6.3 degrees Celsius, and that happened way back in 1961!

So I had purchased these compression leggings and its matching compression shirt courtesy of Amazon and it was delivered to Manila by a friend of mine. The reviews claim that they are suitable for cold weather insulation and yesterday I gave it a try.

I ran an easy 5K while wearing the compression leggings. I figured that wearing the matching compression shirt would make me look like Superman so I settled for a simple singlet. The weather was relatively cool – my iSmoothRun would register it as 27 degrees Celsius – despite the fact that I ran at about noon. And yes the compression leggings kept my legs warm. I had originally planned to wear it for Sunday's long run but changed my mind and opted for trying it out in a shorter run. Good thing I did that because I don't know if I could have lasted. I also can't say if compression clothing actually improve performance. They feel nice and snug and my muscles don't feel like they're jiggling all over the place, but the jury is still out on whether or not it will make me faster or make me last longer.

Run stats: 5k in 38:35, average HR was 133, maximum HR was 145. The whole run felt more like a warm-up than an actual training run.

Today is a rest day, which is fortunate as I was still awake at 3:00 am, celebrating New Year. Here's hoping 2015 will be a fantastic year!

 

The problem with a Pebble + iSmoothRun tandem

I touted the advantages of a Pebble + iSmoothRun tandem. After several months, however, I discovered one major issue, and it is making me reconsider a Garmin watch.

A bit of history here. My Garmin Forerunner 610 conked out – the display was out of whack – and I was not in the mood to purchase a replacement. At that time I already owned a Pebble watch and I knew that there are plenty of running iOS apps that could connect to the Pebble. So I did the research and came across the iSmoothRun app, which integrates nicely with the Pebble.

With the iSmoothRun you can build all sorts of workouts, create blocks of workouts – like a 5-minute run at 6:00/km pace followed by a 1-minute recovery run – then repeat that block as interval sets which can be bookended by a warmup and a cooldown. The app can link with Bluetooth heart rate monitors and tracks your cadence, stride length, even the mileage of your running shoes. As a stand-alone app it’s functionalities don’t differ much from the more recognied apps like Nike+ or Runkeeper, but where it stands apart from these is how iSmoothRun integrates with Pebble.

I was in love with how the tandem of Pebble watch and iSmoothRun app works. You control the app through Pebble. You can pause the app, start the app, indicate lap intervals. With iSmoothRun you can customize what info is displayed on your Pebble. You can display distance, time, pace, heart rate, cadence, speed, GPS signal, iPhone battery level, steps, average pace, average heart rate, and many many more. In addition you can scroll through different screens holding different information. Think of your Pebblie watchface as one page, a page holding three types of info, and you can scroll through these pages using one of the watch buttons.

Sadly though there’s one catch. Battery life.

There’s something with the battery life of an iPhone that worsens as the iPhone ages. And somehow even the battery life of my Pebble has deteriorated. A two-hour run would leave my Pebble with around 30% battery life. My iPhone would be at 50%. Given that I probably would run a marathon in 5 hours (maybe even more), then chances are my devices would run out of juice before I finish. For training runs it could still work.

So now I am in a quandary. The most obvious choice for a running watch is the Garmin Forerunner 620 which has all the basic features plus a few advanced ones that would please the inner geek in me (like VO2Max and vertical oscillation, though I wonder how useful this info would be). One thing, however, that I loved with the Pebble was the capability to see my iPhone messages (without having to take out my phone. With that feature I could choose what messages – and even what phone calls – to respond to and what to ignore. While it’s true that I can’t reply using the Pebble watch, at least I can decide whether or not to pull out the phone. The recently released Garmin Forerunner 920XT has that feature and all the other geeky features of the 620 but the 920XT is more expensive and is a triathlon watch so basically I am paying for some features that I probably won’t need.

So what will it be for Christmas – the 620 or the 920?

 

Audiobook instead of music

 

A few days ago, I ran a 7-kilomter run and, for a change, decided to listen to an audiobook instead of the usual lively music tunes. Loaded in my iPhone was The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith’s follow-up take to The Cuckoo’s Calling, a book that took me time to complete but was still a satisfying and highly recommended book. For those who don’t follow news on novels and authors, Robert Galbraith is actually J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, who, in the author’s “other” website, decided to take a pseudonym to “to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback.” I wasn’t a fan of the Harry Potter books, but after reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, I am impressed with Rowling’s style and writing prowess. I am looking forward to more crime stories from Galbraith!

I have been listening to audiobooks for many years now, predominantly during the times that I would drive to work. I have always been an avid reader – I started reading novels as early as Grade 6 – but priorities at work kept me away from reading. Thus I turned to audiobooks. Because it would take me about an hour to drive to work and another hour to drive home from work, listening to audiobooks in the car would be the best way for me to “read.”

Just like this runner, my music playlist was becoming stale. I already had a running playlist but I found that I was playing the same songs over and over again. I needed a change so I thought of giving audio books a try.

I thought that it would be difficult listening to an audiobook while running. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to follow the story. Surprisingly it wasn’t that hard as long as I kept running at an easy (i.e., zone 2) pace. In fact, listening to audiobooks could aid me in keeping my runs easy because if I had to dial down the pace so I could continue to follow the story. I definitly coiuldn’t listen to an audiobook during fast tempo or interval runs, let alone running a race. My mind would be focused on trying to sustain a fast pace.

The problem I have with audiobooks is that my programmed audio cues would break the story at odd and sometimes critical junctures. To ensure that I maintained a zone 2 HR, I had programmed my running app (iSmoothRun) to provide me audio cues of my heart rate and pace. So sometimes, in the middle of the story, possibly at a critical plot point or dialogue, iSmoothRun would tell me to run faster or slower. To lessen the times that it would break the story momentum, I programmed the app to provide the cues every kilometer and I lessened the information to just the pace and heart rate, lessening the time for listening to running cues instead of the audiobook. In hindsight, the pace info is superfluous since all I needed to track was heart rate!

The other problem with audiobooks is that it could be difficult when there is distracting ambient noise around me. Airplanes fly overhead and it would drown out the words coming out of my headphones. Traffic with the droning sound of car engines and the cacophony of honking horns would also overwhelm the audiobook. I don’t want to increase the audiobook volume as my ears would pay for it and it is cumbersome to stop and press a button to replay the last 30 seconds.

 

 

Dependent on gadgets

I admit I am a gadget-geek, and it shows in my running. Those who think that running is a “cheap” sport should look at the plethora of gadgetry out there. We have running watches that track time and distance, heart rate monitors that connect to your watch or your smartphone, fitness devices that measure number of steps, and so on and so forth.

I have my own slew of devices. I went through a number of Garmin watches before settling in on a combination of a Pebble watch and an iPhone running the iSmoothRun app (which pairs nicely with the Pebble watch). I use my iPhone to measure my sleep patterns, track the number of steps I take, measure my HR in the morning.

But I have to also learn to disassociate myself from these gadgets. Early this week my HR monitor died on me so I ran Tuesday's run just going by “feel.” Then the other my Pebble watch lost connection with my iPhone, causing me to run with no feedback on pace, heart rate, time, distance. It was discomforting.

Gadgets are supposed to help me run and I shouldn't be dependent on it. The plan called for a 30-minute run and I roughly know what route to take and what pace to run to complete a 30-minute run. Even if I'm off by a few minutes, at least I got to run. Fortunately my phone could give audible alerts on time so I was able to finish the training run.

There was a time when all I had was a stop watch and I got to run. I remember when we knew what was an easy run and what was a punishing run based on how hard I was breathing and how hard my heart was pounding. I should remind myself that running is less about the gadgetry and more about what one feels and senses.

Nike Lunarglide 6

I bought myself a new pair of running shoes – Nike Lunarglide 6.

Since I'm entering a new “training cycle,” I figured what better way to start than with a new pair of running shoes! I used these in yesterday's 10K run and they were pretty comfortable. I chose this pair because I happened to roam around a nearby mall and found myself inside a Nike store. They were offering a pair at a huge discount. I have no idea why they had marked down the price – maybe it's because the color was too painful to the eyes? Nonetheless, no regrets in buying the Lunarglide 6. I would readily recommend it for those who want plenty of cushioning. For those who want more expert reviews, read this and this.

 

Cold weather running

February is the coldest month in Tokyo. And coming from a temperate country, I have no experience running a race – let alone a marathon – in single-digit temperatures. I have lived in Tokyo so I know how cold it can get. I know I have to wear some thermal attire, but I can't wear them in Manila when I train. Tokyo Marathon shouldn't be the venue where I first try it out!

Since cold-weather thermal attire isn't available in the Philippines, I have to resort to Amazon to do the shopping and maybe use Johnny Air Cargo (or maybe ask a friend a favor) to deliver the clothing here. These compression leggings and its matching compression shirt look interesting, and the reviews claim that they are suitable for cold weather insulation. Once I get these I will have to schedule a trip to Baguio, possibly in December where it can be freezing cold, to give it a try.