Lake Biwa Marathon 2014 Race Report

OTSU (JPN): The 69th lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon on March 2nd once again delivered on its promise as one of the best men’s elite marathon races in the world with a huge depth of international and Japanese runners. Here is my race report from my 2nd race ever in Japan – the Country of Marathon Running.The start list contains 314 elite runners that have met the entry standard of a sub 2:30 marathon or a sub 1:10 half marathon time. Japan is known for their tough marathon training mentality and high pain thresholds. No surprise they have so many fast marathon runners and this race is their selection trials for the Asia Games in South Korea this year. Half of the population from across the country will follow this race live on TV and internet. The top 2 favourites are:

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  • Vincent Kipruto, Kenya (PB 2:05:13) leads the international elite. 1st Lake Biwa 2013, 1st Frankfurt 2013, 2nd World Championships Daegu 2011, 1st Paris 2009
  • Yuki Kawauchi, Japan (PB 2:08:14) leads the Japanese charge, 1st Beppu-Oita 2013, 1st Gold Coast 2013, 2nd Melbourne 2013, 1st Hokkaido 2012, 1st Sydney 2012, 1st Chiba 2012

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The race includes runners from Australia and Europe trying to run the qualification standards for either the Commonwealth Games or European Athletics Championships this year. My goal is to improve on my personal best (2:22:55 set in Zurich last year), to break the 2:20 mark and secure a spot in the Swiss team for this year’s European Athletics Championships in Zurich in August. I have 3 race plans in mind that could each give me a good chance to make the team:

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  • Plan A 2:18: 1st half in 69:30 with group, then break away in 2nd half and run as fast as possible – negative split
  • Plan B sub 2:20: first half in 69:38, stay with group, 2nd half in 70:20 – about even splits
  • Plan C sub 2:21: first half in 70:00, minor issues in 2nd half but still run under 71:00 to finish under 2:21

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Video race start to first km

Here is how the race unfolded:

We start the race on the track. Japanese runners like to go out fast and the cut off times at every 5km mark are tight. First lap was run in 68 seconds by the leaders (2:50min/km pace). I am in lane 1 in the middle of the pack somewhere. (Watch video of start above)

The beginning of the race takes a lot of concentration as I try not to stumble over someone’s leg in that big pack and get the pacing right without running too hard too early. I get through 1km in 3:12, and first 5km in 16:34 right on target pace. I spot my first personal drink bottle at the 6km mark on table 8 with the Swiss flag attached, grab it and drink my 250ml of water with SiS Go Electrolyte and 20g of carbohydrates without any issues. Trying to settle in and relax is important for the first third of the race, but running in such a big pack of around 60 runners takes a lot of concentration.

The scenery along Lake Biwa is beautiful and the sunny weather is nice; we have reasonably good conditions of 12C and 74% humidity, almost a tiny bit too warm for fast times. We pass 10km in 33:08 and I am feeling very relaxed at this pace. My next bottle contains water and a SiS Go Plus Caffeine Gel to top up my glycogen storage and provide a small caffeine hit. After following a 6 week period with strategic caffeine fasts, I can feel how the caffeine tricks my brain and reduces perceived efforts – a legal drug that not many athletes optimise.

We now follow the river and the first hill at the 14km mark is easily conquered, as its only 300m long and 7m high. Our pack gets smaller and we run to the half way turning point in 69:56 (111. Position), right on time for a sub 2:20 (Plan B). Two world class duathletes are setting the pace for our group. I have met Yuya Fukaura through a Melbourne friend on Facebook and he happily agreed before the race to run together and pace each other. The other duathlete Takashi Nakata I have met through a friend in our Australian team has invited us for a traditional Japanese dinner on Friday night. It was the best Japanese food I have ever had and the nicest way of hospitality and friendship. I move next to Takashi but he tells me just to stay back and let be paced by him. How lucky I feel to have 2 awesome blokes pacing me evenly.

Back at the hill at 28km, not a big one at all, but this time my group starts searching up those 200m and down 300m, it is the second fasted km covered so far in 3:13 and my quads, hamstrings and gluteus muscle starting to get a bit achy and tired. Takashi drops off the group and I give him a thump up for the awesome job he has done. I try to relax and sit behind the 4 remaining Japanese runners in my group, but the pace drops to 3:25, too slow for my goal of a sub 2:20 end time. As every second counts, I take the lead at 32km to take the race into my own hands, ready to run the hardest 10km of my life (this is an understatement as it turns out very soon!)

There is just a slight headwind and my legs start cramping slowly, my pace drops to 3:30 and I try every physical and mental strategy I have practiced in training to keep pushing and holding the pace. I get a small gap on the group and keep overtaking lots of tired runners, but my pace gets a few seconds slower with every kilometre. My quads start cramping more and the pain starts taking its toll. I am now clearly following plan C also I am still hopeful to break through this wall soon and finish strong.

When I try to grab my bottle with much needed carbs at the 36km mark (20g of SiS Go Electrolyte mixed with 1 SiS Go Isotonic Gel), I touch it but drop it straight away and I know I am on my limit and getting into a delirious state with not much energy left for concentration. I try to relax, keep pushing the pace, although only at a moderate 3:40 pace now. Once settled, I get out my backup SiS Go Plus Caffeine Gel from my pocket to feed my glycogen depleted muscle and another kick of caffeine. My pace is back at 3:36 also I am now running into a big headwind and lots of runners ahead of me are dying from the fast pace they have set early in the race. I gain some confidence I can still run under 2:21, and achieve my minimum goal to make it into the top 6 Swiss runners from the last 15 month.

Last corner at the 40km mark and only 2.2km left, but the torturous pain in my legs is now taken over all control of my body and brain and I slowly give in and see vanish my dream in front of my eyes. Yuya and 2 other runners come past me, but I have nothing left to follow them. I cover the last bit at a slow 3:50 pace. The last 600m on the track are pure punishment and I finish the race in 69th position in a mediocre time of 2:23:47. Only 203 out of 314 runners finished the race and everyone struggled with the headwind and maybe a bit too warm conditions at the end. Only one runner got a negative split. The race was won by Worku Bazu of Ethiopia in 2:09:10, 3 minutes slower than expected.

I hobble across the track to my bag, collapse and start crying from all the pain in my body and the emotions of disappointment. For my 5th marathon in a row, I have fallen short not by my training or preparation, but by a tiny chemical reaction in my legs that causes severe cramping without any answer despite trying so many different things in training. Some people are more prone to cramping then others and researchers haven’t found an answer yet. I call Jamaica back home in Brisbane and it was good to hear her voice and settle down my emotions.

The after party is great with awesome Japanese food again. We share a few drinks and stories across the table. I struggle to sleep that night, due to the amount of caffeine taken, the emotional roller coaster and the pain, inflammation and stiffness in my body. I try to recover for 2 days in Kyoto with a visit to the beautiful ‘Kurama Onsen’ hot springs, regular ice baths, some sightseeing and shopping before jumping on the plane back to Australia.

1 Week has passed; I am slowly recovering from the race and starting jogging again. Although I have run the European Athletics Championships qualifier of 2:24 twice now, I am still ranked 8th in Switzerland since the Qualification period started in January 2013. The selection of the team of 6 Swiss runners will be announced at the end of April. It shows how tough it is to be selected for a major championship like this one. With a bit of luck, I might still be selected, so haven’t given up my hopes completely. If I can overcome my biggest enemy of cramps and severe leg pain, I might finally be able to run a fast marathon time and improve on my journey. I have already tried a lot to ease my this issue, but any suggestions or personal experiences would be welcomed.

As I am writing this, Jamaica is tackling her own biggest sporting event ever here in Falls Creek. She is riding one of the world’s top 10 one day cycling events, the 235km Scody 3 Peaks Challenge through the Victoria’s Alps. I am here to support her the way she always supports me. Thank you for reading and following our journey.

Big thanks go to:

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  • my main sponsors: Science in Sport and On Running
  • my supporters: BTV Athletics, ALV Athletics, Fitnance, Dare2Tri, Brisbane Sports & Spinal physiotherapy, Temomin by Kazu massage therapy and P.A.T.42.2 Running Athletes
  • Jamaica for her tremendous support every day
  • my coach and mentor Pat Clohessy
  • all my trainings mates in Brisbane
  • my marathon friends in Otsu: Ben, James, Harry, Chris, John, Joji
  • Yuya Fukaura and Takashi Nakata for their big help pacing our group through 32k in 1:46:38 (3:19 pace)
  • Last but not least: The Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon for a perfect organization and splendid hospitality

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My 5km split times:

5k 16:34
10k 16:34 (33:08)
15k 16:31 (49:39)
20k 16:39 (1:06:18)
21.1k (1:09:56 for half marathon, 111.place)
25k 16:39 (1:22:57)
30k 16:55 (1:39:52)
35k 17:19 (1:57:11)
40k 18:12 (2:15:23)
42.2k +8:24 (2:23:47)

69. Lake Biwa Marathon Results (JAP):

1. Worku Bazu ETH 2:09:10
2. Sasaki Satoru JAP 2:09:47
3. Kipruto Vincent KEN 2:09:54
4. Kawauchi Yuki JAP 2:10:38
5. Fukuyama Ryousuke JAP 2:11:18
51. Summers Harry AUS 2:21:23
66. Fukaura Yuya JAP 2:23:31
69. Nispel Patrick SUI 2:23:47
86. Dutton John AUS 2:25:35
111. O’Neill Chris IRL 2:27:44
113. Mori Joji AUS 2:28:13
156. Toomey Ben AUS 2:32:28
183. Nakata Takashi JAP 2:36:44
184. Attard James AUS 2:36:44
203 finishers
314 starters