2017 Totsukawa Ekiden!

It’s the start of the new school semester!!

It felt like my winter break was too short… After I came back to work, I immediately felt the stresses of some upcoming events: the 63rd annual Totsukawa Ekiden, and a 10-minute speech that I was to prepare and present in Japanese in front of the entire school. I spent my entire first day back dedicating myself to typing up my speech in English and then translating the best I could to Japanese before passing it off to a very good friend who edited my crummy translations into a speech worthy of presenting. (Thank you so much again Eri!!) I then spent the rest of the week waiting for the inevitable… the Totsukawa Ekiden.

If you noticed on my bucket list, I put down “participating in the Totsukawa Ekiden” as one of the things I wanted to do while I was in Totsukawa. Last year, one of the gym teachers approached me asking if I wanted to participate on the girls team. Unfortunately, I was sick for the good portion of December and January, so I opted out then. This year, I was willing to try again. While I didn’t get sick, I still felt a little anxious about the marathon. I have never been a long distance runner, let alone done a marathon before; I had always hated running and doing the mile all throughout middle and high school. But it wasn’t until I moved to the village that I decided to take up jogging because 1)I wanted to start being healthy and start exercising, and 2) it’s was a pretty cheap hobby to start.

So a little bit about the Totsukawa Ekiden…
This marathon is a sort of team-relay marathon that totals 37km, starting from Shigesato down in the southern part of the village and stretches up towards the finishing line in Uenoji, where the famous Tanize Suspension Bridge resides. Teams are consisted of eight runners who run a portion of the trail that varies between 2k to 7k. My predecessor Jon and his wife Lexi took part in this marathon when they were here two years ago. You can read about it here where they also put together a team with some of the other JETs!

This year I participated on the girls team, which consisted of me and six students and a co-worker. I was assigned to run the second portion of the trail, 4.4km or a little under 3 miles. The trail I ran started at Hiratani, where Totsukawa Onsen is located and ended in Oritachi, where our nearest local bank and post office reside. Although the length initially intimidated me, I had a sort of relief knowing I would be running a part of the road that I was already used to running.

The day of the marathon started off early. My only means of transportation on that day would be by bus, and although I wouldn’t be starting to run until around 10:30AM, I had to take the only bus that would drop me off at my starting point, which was at 8:40AM. The bus was only a 5-10 min ride and the wait ended up being more than an hour long. I, along with some of the other runners who were to start at the second point, were huddled in the bus stop’s building, waiting until our turn to start.

The entire day of the marathon… it was raining. Cold, hard rain that wouldn’t cease stopping. I feel very lucky that Trevor and I drove up north to Sports Authority the previous day. I bought a water resistant windbreaker that pretty much saved me from getting a cold.

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The run itself was great. It was challenging, tough, and cold, but being cheered on by the locals somehow made it feel more easy to overcome. But I can’t say that I remember the entire run well. I sort of blocked a lot of it from my mind while I was running… There was one portion of the road I was so worried about, a hill with a pretty steep incline but somehow I didn’t notice that I had already passed it while I was running. My hands were ice cold from the rain and it wasn’t until I had about a km left to run that they finally started to warm up. The last stretch of the run was hard. It was going uphill and I was starting to feel the cold and exhaustion kick in even more. But to my surprise, I forgot about all of that when I was able to see Trevor at the finish line, cheering me on and taking pictures! ❤ He walked all the way through the rain to watch me finish. What a champ <333

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It may not look like it… but I was so pumped to be done! Even in drenching rain.

Afterwards, I had to take the runner’s bus to the final meeting point in Uenoji. After an hour ride on the bus and some more walking through the rain from the parking lot to the meeting point, we were treated with some zenzai (sweet red bean soup with mochi) that immediately warmed up my cold body. I felt like a noob on arrival. I had nothing with me but my phone- no backpack, umbrella or change of clothes. So when I got to the meeting point, some of the volunteer mothers and grandmothers immediately noticed my soaking team shirt that was making me shiver like crazy. They took me in, had me take the shirt off and applied a couple kairo packs to my back to warm me up. These ladies were so sweet, they only knew me as the ALT at the high school but they still went out of their way to make sure I wouldn’t catch a cold! The kindness I felt from these women…. I almost felt like a family member they were worried about. I couldn’t thank them enough for checking on my well-being!

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Delicious soup, warm rice and crunchy tsukemono (pickles)- This wasn’t meant to be the main lunch but it filled me up all the same (while warming me back up nicely too!). I think I actually preferred this to the complimentary bento!

Upon arriving at the gym, I was happy that I was able to get my run over with. I relaxed in the gym near the closest heater and ate some delicous tonjiru (pork and miso soup) and rice with pickles while waiting for the rest of the runners to arrive. Eventually, everyone was gathered in the gym where then there were some ceremonies and awards handed out. Everyone’s time scores were posted as well. I finished my run in about 25 minutes which is pretty damn slow… xD But personally, it was a pretty big achievement for me seeing as how I was recently doing 4km in 30 minutes. Super slow, but I’m working towards going even faster. One of my students from my team and the sweet lady who works in the office at my school were awarded medals for having some of the fastest times for a female runner! Congratulations to them! 🙂

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Some gifts for participating: a bag of various okashi (sweets and snacks), some wooden blocks(??) and a voucher for a free dip in one of Totsukawa’s famous hot springs ❤

For it being a super cold and frigid rainy day, I’d say the Totsukawa Ekiden was a very good experience! I’m very glad that I got to participate with the girls and challenge myself. Another thing to cross off the bucket list!

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