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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eco Inba Slow Marathon - 13 April, 2014 - 21K

After that grueling 10k race in Sussex last month, I decided to take it a bit easy on my poor feet and calves, and that's how I came to run the decidedly different marathon I chose for April.

The clue was right there in its name: The Eco-Inba Slow Marathon. Touted proudly as the "world's greenest, most slow-runner friendly, and socio-responsible sports event for peace," this Japanese marathon is where racers are encouraged to do "gently smiling running," take lots of photos, wander off the path, have a picnic, pick up litter (trash bags are helpfully provided,) admire the blooming sakura, and partake in fresh strawberries and rice crackers along the way. All of it sounded super ideal for an amateur marathoner like me.

Plus, you gotta love a race where the motto is Be Green, Go Slow and Be Happy, and where racers are disqualified for coming in under a certain time.

Don't get me wrong - this was no hippy-dippy skip-along-aimlessly-and-hug-a-tree kind of event.  The whole thing was very organized - there were bib numbers, well-marked courses for the 10K, half and full marathons, a slew of pre- and post-race activities (a strawberry picking excursion, kimono dressing course, and mochi-pounding exercise,) finishing medals - the largest I've ever seen, super nice volunteers, and as the cherry on top, a worthy cause to support - the Japan earthquake orphans.  Oh, and racers aren't called racers in this special marathon....they're termed heroes instead...a bit effusive, but oookay.  Also, there is no prize money to the "winners" and, unlike other marathons that see tens of thousands of registrants, this particular one fields about 300 runners/walkers spread over the six start times.  And for some remarkable reason, Singaporeans make up almost half of the participants, followed by the Japanese and Americans in that order, although there are about 14 nationalities represented overall.

The route - I'd signed up for the 21k - started at Princess Matsumushi Park at Inba-Nihonidai (a couple of train stops from Narita International Airport.)  The cool building on the above left photo sits on top of the train station.  Middle photo shows a temporary route marker, and well wishes can be seen on signs along the way (top right photo.)


It was great to hear the Japanese drums revving us up before the race, but what made it special was when some of the young drummers decide to run along with the marathoners for the first couple of kilometers (below, photo) through a very modern suburban residential neighbourhood.  Oh, and racers were encouraged to Cosplay and dress up, although sadly, not many did so.  By the way, what you see the racers carrying are the garbage bags that we were handed to pick up trash along the way.

After leaving the subdivision, we came across some lovely farmland.  It was an amazing day, weather-wise, with the temperature hovering around 16 degrees Celsius.  Had to say that the toughest part was to walk on the gravel path (below, photo) for about a kilometer that cut through some fields.  That was a bit rough on the tender soles, I must admit.  Especially when we had to double back later on the way to the Finish line.

And just around the 4k mark, we came across a farmer's beautiful garden with blooming cherry blossoms and tulips. 

For about five kilometers (well, 10 if you count the return trip,) we walked on the path lining Lake Inba-Numa, watching fishermen and cormorants go about their daily lives.

Would've loved to have gone into this museum set in the middle of the countryside, but there were limits to our wandering off the beaten path.  Plus, we had a flight to catch a couple hours after the race was over.  Next time......

At the 9k mark, we left the open fields and lakefront to head uphill into a bamboo forest which was a nice cool respite from the direct sun (and of course, I didn't bring any sunscreen on this race - an oversight I paid for a day later in the form of rather unfortunate facial skin peels.)

THIS is definitely the highlight of the marathon.  This giant 300-year old cherry blossom tree of Yoshitaka was the turnaround point of the half-marathon and a pilgrimage of sorts for the locals.  Because of the tree's popularity and its serene surroundings, there were quite a number of makeshift stalls nearby selling vegetables, fruit and pickles.  And in the true spirit of the Eco-Inba Marathon, we took a breather to take loads of photos and browse the wares.

On the route back, I stopped at a couple of the refreshment stands to load up on the sweetest and best-tasting Japanese Ichigo strawberries I've ever tasted.  And yes, to take photos with Doraemon and CJ Bear.

The fruit of my leisurely labour through the Japanese countryside.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

48 Hours in Sussex, Brighton and Bishopstoke

I've been to the UK about a dozen times, but never once had I ventured any farther south than Devon (and that was when I was 12 and super jet-lagged so it didn't really count.)  But last month I ran the grueling Sussex Coastal Marathon in near freezing temperatures, and I really got to see that magnificent coastline hugging the English Channel as well as some of that famed countryside scenery.  I had documented my run here, but this is more of what we did, saw, eat and drank during our brief 48 madcap hours starting first in Sussex, then Brighton and Hove, and finally in Bishopstoke.

Getting in gear: A throwback to my surfing days in Hawaii when I had to change out of my trunk in the middle of a car park.  But this time, it's to rummage for more pieces of clothing (layers! more layers!) to stave off the chill, the damp and that relentless wind.
30 seconds after the official start of the 10K race.
The serene meadows of Eastbourne

Running through farmland

This was one of the many, many hills to climb throughout the race.

Heading to the lighthouse....around the 7K mark.

Can't get any more English than to have a blessed pot of Earl Grey tea about two hours after crossing the finish line.  This is also right after Betty, Weng and I wolfed down some pretty greasy fish and chips in the eatery a couple of stores down.  Walked past this lovely little six-seater cafe called Sugardough that is owned by baker Kane McDowell and were immediately seduced by the amazing display of pies, quiches, tarts and breads by the window.

Our selections - cappuccino and carrot cake

Sugardough - 12 Victoria Terrace, Kingsway, Hove, East Sussex - 01273 727 227. Open daily except Mondays.
After loading up on sweet and savoury pastries, we said goodbye to Betty and headed onwards to Bishopstoke to meet with another friend Jill who had very generously opened her lovely home to us for a night.  Formerly a hunting lodge for the King (who resided in Winchester, the former capital of England that is a 10-minute drive away) and his entourage, her Grade II-certified heritage home sits on acres of woodland on top of a hill.  It features five bedrooms, an adjoining garage with a studio apartment above, fruit and cherry blossom trees, a ghost of a little boy (yes, you read that right) and a most impressive cast iron stove that Jill uses for everything (baking, frying, grilling, toasting, heating the home....everything.)
Stoke Lodge, Bishopstoke

Inside Stoke Lodge

What a treat - Jill making breakfast for us on her remarkable stove in her favourite room - the bright sunlit kitchen with huge bay windows.

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