Aizu Wakamatsu: The half marathon and the city (Part 1)

Selfie Aizu wakamatsu 2014

This is a much delayed report on my most recent half marathon. I was happily sidetracked by the Diabetes Blog Week and not so happily by work (work’s always there, isn’t it). Last week presented more work and much needed break from blogging. Although I’ve listed most of my initial thoughts before, after and especially during the race on my May 12 post, I thought this race deserved its own report. In fact, I may just start reporting on some of the races I’ll be joining.

Why did I run this race? 

Several people asked me this question. The thing is, if Aizu Wakamatsu were not in Fukushima prefecture, nobody would even have asked. I mean, nobody bothered to ask me why I ran the Tokyo marathon, or the Tanzawako 10 K run, or the Medoc Marathon. Suddenly, people started asking me why this race. When I asked back “Why not?” they were quiet, although I can guess what they were thinking. Well, quiet, apart from some foreigners who uttered “It’s in Fukushima” without so much as an explanation as to why that was an issue, as if it’s a given that the whole of Fukushima is glowing in unhealthy radiation, which is not the case.

So, why did I run this race?

First, this race met my objectives of running a half marathon in spring somewhere in Japan that I haven’t visited. I was intrigued by how many Japanese persons  told me how Aizu Wakamatsu’s such a beautiful city.

Second, as I’ve indicated earlier, Aizu Wakamatsu has been shunned and getting negative publicity, mostly due to many people’s illogical, baseless and ignorant fear of radiation, even if the levels are so much better than most cities inside or outside Japan. I wanted to show my support for the locals and my personal contribution, however small, to overcoming all forms of illogical, baseless and ignorant fear that ruin innocent lives.

This city is about 100 kilometers away, across mountains, from the Fukushima nuclear power plants. The radiation level is much better than Singapore.

If you are the type who freaks out upon hearing the name Fukushima, like this Kiwi I met in Dunedin, then I recognize that nothing I say or do will change your mind. In this case, please read no further.

The Race

The race was the 6th Aizu Wakamatsu Higashiyama Onsen Eco Marathon (that’s my rough translation of the Japanese race name). It was held in the onsen town of Higashiyama Onsen, about 15 minutes by cab, or a bit longer by bus, from Aizu Wakamatsu station. The race was divided into a marathon, half marathon, 10-K, and 7-person team marathon-distance relay. The oldest entrant was a 90-year old half marathon male runner. Ninety years old and still running. Amazing!

90-year old runner

The half marathon can be divided into three parts. Part 1 entailed running more than 3 km of a mostly uphill route. Part 2 was running three times around a lake (actually a dam) for a total of 16.5 km. Part 3 was the last 1.4 km or so of a mostly downhill road back to the starting line for the finish.

I first thought that going three rounds on the same short route at a race would be boring.  But Higashiyama is a beautiful place, and the half-marathon route was surrounded by nature. Spring was at its best, with different shades of green carpeting the mountain side and bright pink yamazakura (wild cherry trees) showing up at various points along the route. Going around three times also gave me additional opportunities to take photos that I may have missed the first or second time around.

Dam-lakeYamasakuraDam-lake2View from the dam







Pros and Cons

It’s a relatively new and certainly a small race. They do not have time chips. I and a number of fellow runners were surprised when we couldn’t find a time chip in our race packages. But we just shrugged our shoulders and considered it a fun race. Considering that this was my first half marathon in ages, I decided to just have fun.

But, if you are the type who worries about your time to the last second, especially if you run the full marathon, don’t do this race. I saw a couple of runners who contested the time indicated on their finisher’s certificates because it did not match the time recorded by their expensive running watches. The difference was just a few seconds. They weren’t even contesting the top spots!

If you are the type who loves race T-shirts, then you’d have to settle for a towel.  And you don’t get any medal.

A good part of the run was on a major road which was not closed to traffic. But there were not that many cars so at least I was not inhaling exhaust fumes and not in danger of being run over. That said, I found the final 1.4 km dangerous because we ran with the traffic flow, meaning the cars come from behind us, and ran through a dark tunnel. Even though the traffic is minimal, runners must be extra careful during the final stretch.

There was an obvious lack of cheering townsfolk. To be fair, Higashiyama Onsen is not a big town. It’s basically a cluster of onsen ryokan so it probably doesn’t have that many residents who can line up along the side of the road to cheer the runners. The few ones who were there, though, tried their best to boost us up. I am especially thankful to the lone cheer leader who was probably 500 meters from the finish line. Seeing this woman standing alone by the side of the road, cheering as best she could with a voice that was close to being hoarse, boosted my spirits. I regret not knowing her name.

The volunteers who made up the staff at the registration desk and at the finish line were so jolly and helpful.  When I had problems pinning my race bib, one lady rushed to my aid. There were not that many volunteers but the few ones who were there were so supportive.

The lack of cheering crowd justified my racing with music. I typically do not race with my iPod but this time I did. I was not fully prepared for this race, as I practically stopped my training in March due to a bad cold or flu. To get me through the race, I decided to listen to music. I owe a great deal of gratitude to Devo (fast run), The Kinks (slower run) and Era (brisk walking) whose music accompanied me and got me to the finish line.

[Next – Part 2: Aizu Wakamatsu, the city]



5 thoughts on “Aizu Wakamatsu: The half marathon and the city (Part 1)

    1. runningwithoutsugar Post author

      I’d love to visit Lake Como. I’ve seen photos of Lake Como and the lake is so much more prettier. Thanks for introducing a new place for me to add to my list of tourist destinations.

  1. nldiabetic

    Thank you for taking the time to snap those photos! I so rarely stop to take in the scenery I am running by, and your post reminds me that I need to do that more often. Beautiful photos and race report.


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