Before I even boarded the plane, the trip took a turn of awesomeness with my travelling buddy and fellow Blue Mountains representative Marcus getting us into the One World lounge. A breakfast buffet, fancy champagne, barista made coffee... This was so new to me and I was in heaven!
The flight was all I had dreamed it would be. Quiet, (other than the melodic hum of the engines below) no one pulling on my clothes, stealing my blanket, eating the best bits of my meal or demanding I escort them to the bathroom. Bliss! We were upgraded to business class for the domestic flight from Tokyo to Osaka, I giggled, bounced and kicked my legs wildly to demonstrate my leg room euphoria.
I arrived to my host family's home at 10.30pm. I was greeted by a welcoming and kind family of 5 who were celebrating there youngest child's 8th birthday. I popped my bags down and sat at the table, ate chocolate cake and got to know my new family. Couldn't wipe the smile off my face.
My host family 'The Jones' (true story) were made up of Evan, an American who had been living in Japan for over 20 years, his Japanese wife Kaori and their 3 children Sora (13), Riku (11), and Kai (8). They soon learned my passion for Japan and my desire to learn as much of the language as possible and taught me so much. We visited a Buddhist temple, a pottery region, grocery markets, onsens, shrines, shops, sushi restaurants and museums! They cooked amazing Japanese food for me and let me be a part of the process so I would learn. Kaori and the kids were keen to learn yoga and Evan was a keen home brewer too, so I was drinking 3-4 boutique beers every night...talk about living the DREAM!
After an official welcome ceremony we were taken to the start line. One of the most interesting things I noticed in Japan was a complete respect and devotion to punctuality. Everything moved with a calm fluidity that ensured every scheduled event happened right on time. The race was no exception. I stood shivering and hugging Marcus for warmth on the front row of the start line in what I'm sure was zero degree weather until right on time the Mayor of the city started the race!
With smile from ear to ear and completely numb feet I took off. I was running with Marcus but we weren't saying much, both acutely aware of the 5000+ field of runners right behind us. At 4-5km I felt a niggle in my knee. I had only done 1 run in the 2 weeks prior to the race as I had been nursing a sore knee, which I now know is patellar tendonosis. I backed off a little and watched Marcus float off into the distance. I had no watch (as always) so had no idea how fast I was going but just got into a rhythm that felt like my knee was happy and my breathing was less stressed out than the japanese dude next to me.
From 10km onwards the course became hilly, which I loved, but my knee...not so much. At the 18km mark as I was moving swiftly down a 2km descent when my niggling knee spoke up. Within 1 km it became so sore I was losing flexion. I smiled. I was so thrilled to get to 19km before it did this. I knew if I had to I could walk it in from here. (without having to board the 'bus of shame' as fellow runners had named it.) I ran swinging my leg out to the side a bit and bending it as little as little as possible. I had definitely slowed but I was surprising swift at my new gumby gait.
As I finished I saw on the clock I was coming in at 85:56. I was shocked! My half marathon PB previously was 99:30. It was at the Blackmores Sydney half marathon 3 years ago and I was pushing so hard that day that I threw up on the finish line. I hadn't run a road race half marathon since then and had no idea how I would go.
With all the calm efficiency that one finds in Japan, I was escorted through the finishing chute and within 3 minutes had my chip removed, a bottle of water in my hand and a finishers certificate with my name, time and age category place. I was then escorted back to the dressing room across the road for a shower and snack before presentation.
I love Japan.
After a quick rinse we braved the cold again to attend the presentation ceremony. The kindness of the Japanese was overwhelming and Marcus and I were both awarded for our places in our age groups. It was then that I found out that I came second overall. Ridiculous.
That evening we had a celebratory dinner with the Sanda City Hall dignitaries and our host families. There were flutes, food, speeches and gifts. These were well humoured, kind, generous, clean and feverishly punctual people. I found Japan to be a breathtaking example of splendid humanity. I was feeling treasured and blessed, and if it wasn't for missing my family like thirsting for water in a desert, I'm quite sure I could have stayed in this country for quite some time.
I have so much gratitude to all who allowed me the opportunity to embark on this adventure. To the City of the Blue Mountains who selected me to go and funded my trip, Thank you! To Barefoot Inc and Inov-8 Australia, I felt so honoured to be running as part of your team. I raced in the awesome f-lite 215's, and loved them. There is so much great about these shoes but I think the best thing I can say is I didn't think about my shoes or my feet throughout the whole race. Light, comfortable and pretty. Perfect. A very big thank you to the City of Sanda and my spectacular host family the Jones! Oh, and I can't forget to thank Marcus....for getting me into the One World lounge ;-)
To my amazing family, who this year have willingly and excitedly allowed me to turn our world upside down, thank you. I love you more than rice paper rolls, and I really like rice paper rolls. x