Special Feature: Kobe Marathon

I was sitting at home in late May, feeling a bit lazy and wanting to do something exciting with my life when my friend called me on the phone and mentioned signing up for the Kobe Marathon. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was the fact that the marathon was over 6 months away, but I signed up immediately. A few weeks later, I was informed that because there were so many applicants, I was not selected to run in the marathon. My friend suffered the same fate. A bit relieved, I began to think about the time 5 years ago when I decided to run the San Francisco Marathon without training, and the extreme pain and agony I endured. It was by far the most mentally and physically grueling experience of my life and a day I would never like to relive.

Then one day in late June, I got another email from the Kobe Marathon organizers notifying me that because a few people had dropped out, I could now participate in the marathon. My friend was still not accepted so it was up to me to train alone. I began with a 6-month plan that later turned into a 4-month plan because of a few vacations over the summer. I found a weekly plan that gradually got more intense leading up to the marathon. It was perfect for my schedule: long runs on the weekends and short runs during the week. I started training in early August when it was still hot and humid outside, and finished in November when it was pretty cold and dark at night, so I was used to both extremes. It is amazing the progress you see in yourself in just 4 months. I still remember my first long run of 4 miles (6.5 km) when I was dying and doubted my ability to run a marathon. By the end of the training, I was running around 20 miles (32 km) quiet easily.

The marathon started in front of the Kobe City Hall in the middle of Flower Road. Thousands of people packed together on the street waiting for their turn to start according to their group number. For the first ten minutes or so it was almost impossible to run because of how many people there were. As it cleared, and I began to start running at a normal pace, I had to pee. I decided to use the first toilet on the course but the line was too long, along with every toilet there after.  It wasn’t until the 13th mile (20 km) that I ran off the course to a nearby Lawson’s to quickly use the toilet because the pain to was too much. After this I felt relieved and my legs were still fresh while we made the turn near Maiko Park beneath the foot of the Akashi Bridge. We headed back towards Kobe City along the beautiful beach where hundreds of ships lined up to wave to us as we passed. I passed Home’s Stadium around the 20-mile (32 km) mark and I began to feel my legs deteriorating beneath me. My toes were also rubbing on the insides of my shoes and I could feel blisters forming. I could not stop running because I knew if I started walking, I would not be able to run again like so many people around me. There were limp bodies everywhere on the ground in pain, massaging cramps, taping body parts, and even a few people on stretchers with paramedics surrounding them.

The most difficult part was still to come and as I approached the 22-mile (35 km) mark I saw the evil Hamate Bypass and began to feel discouraged. The Hamate Bypass is the highway on-ramp made for cars that are approaching the Kobe Ohashi bridge. It is a massive incline that lasts a few kilometers. It is ugly, dark, and difficult.  I powered up the bypass and by the 23rd mile (37 km) my tank was on empty. So much pain everywhere, but I kept telling myself that it would all be over soon. I needed to keep running if I wanted to hit my goal of 4 hours 30 minutes.  More people around me began to walk and I could see the extreme pain on their faces as I passed them. When I saw the sign for the final kilometer I began to run faster than any moment during the race. The final stretch was lined with smiling faces, and huge signs of encouragement that were welcoming. For me it was the easiest part of the race because the adrenaline at that moment made my body feel numb and it was almost like I was floating through the finish line. The moment I finished, I got my medal, and my whole body shut down. The pain was acute but the satisfaction of finishing a marathon made it all go away. I looked up to see my time was 4 hours 24 minutes, narrowly hitting my goal time. With only 5 minutes to spare, I could only think, it was a good thing I didn’t wait in the line for the toilet.

Words – Jon Burroughs

Pictures – Veronica Chung

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