I Ran the Tokyo Marathon!

Well actually I walked a bit during the last few miles, so I suppose a more accurate title would be “I Finished the Tokyo Marathon!” but it is my blog so I will name it whatever I want.

One thing that has always helped me adjust to living in a new place is running. Running kind of forces you to get to know your new neighborhood and town and I truly believe that it makes you feel a little more like you belong there. It immediately makes you just a local going out for a morning run.

Last summer, I randomly saw a Facebook post about entering the lottery for the Tokyo Marathon. On a whim, I decided to enter. Now, I did not really expect to actually get into this marathon. It is one of the six world marathon majors (the others being London, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Berlin) and it is extremely popular, and the odds of getting in are quite slim. This year 319,777 people entered the general entry lottery with 26,370 people getting in. So, imagine my surprise when about seven weeks after entering I received this email.

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Oh boy, what have I done?!

I had done a few half marathons but never a full and was not entirely sure where to start. But, after doing a bit of research on the internet I put together my own training plan and got started. I wasn’t starting from nothing since I already had been running about 20-25 miles a week, but I knew doing the longer runs would still be a major adjustment.

Training during the fall and winter was usually pretty nice. Yokosuka has fairly mild winters so I did not have to deal with snow or icy streets. Although, it does get very windy here, so I tried to work my long runs around days that were not forecasted to be super windy. The race was the last weekend of February and the only time my training got somewhat off was during January when we were out of town for a few days. Other than that I stuck to a plan of doing runs during the week of anywhere from 3-7 miles and then longer runs every Sunday morning.

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A couple miles from the Navy base is a great running path right along the water. 
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I was usually rewarded with pretty sunrises for early morning runs. 
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Another one of my favorite spots to run was through a beautiful park with a historic battleship. 
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My favorite run was during a weekend in Kyoto when I ran to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine at sunrise and got to explore it with very few people around. 

Before I knew it, the week of the race was upon me, whether I was ready or not. Two days before the marathon I went to the expo at the Tokyo Big Sight, which is a massive convention center on the outskirts of the city.

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Kind of looks like a space ship from the outside! My parents joined me since they had flown out to watch the race and do some sightseeing.
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Got my bib, a tracker for my shoes, a security bracelet, and the race t shirt.

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There were lots of interesting vendors at the expo, many with cute and adorable mascots!
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In addition to the race shirt I picked up some other fun running shirts. You never know if you’ll run the Tokyo Marathon again, might as well have fun with it when you can!

I didn’t spend the night before the race in Tokyo since we only live a little over an hour from the start line and the start time wasn’t until 9:00 am. The weather was my ideal weather for a long run (hooray!) with the sky forecasted to be overcast all day and temperatures in the mid 40s with very little wind. I was excited and nervous, and ready to get running!

 

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I had to leave family behind from here and go find my starting area. All the runners were scanned in using a picture they took of you when you picked up your packet, to ensure that the right people were running the race. 

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The starting area wasn’t hard to find at all, but I wasn’t really sure how far back I was or where the actual start line was. I just followed the crowd and eventually crossed over it. 
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All smiles at the start of the race in Shinjuku! 

James and my parents were easy to spot along the route since they had made a very large cute, pink sign with my name on it. They were tracking me and would send me a quick text that would vibrate my smart watch to let me know to look out for them. Very convenient!

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The easy to spot sign my parents made, so cute!

Tokyo is such a fun city, and we visit it very often. Being able to run through the streets was a lot of fun, and for most of the race I really enjoyed taking in the scenery as I ran.

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Colorful buildings in Shibuya. Sorry the picture is a bit blurry, but I was running!
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Skytree!
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Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate) in front of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa! This is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo so I stopped and asked a person standing on the side to take a picture of me. And yes, the person behind me was dressed as a dinosaur wearing a cowboy hat with caution tape wrapped around him. I ran with him for quite a while… so that probably says a lot about my running speed 🙂

One of the things the Tokyo Marathon is known for are the crazy costumes people wear. I do not know how people do this. I just wanted to be as comfortable as possible and some people were wearing really elaborate things. Out on the course I saw people dressed as ninjas, geishas, lots of Disney costumes, quite a few Mt. Fujis, lots and lots of Waldos (Where’s Waldo, these seemed to be a spectator favorite also) and mostly just things that you were not entirely sure what they were supposed to be. For a while I was with a guy wearing a rainbow outfit with some sort of large propellor hat and he was live blogging the whole thing! Some people were even wearing jeans and sandals! But, they all looked like they were having a great time and they always made everyone around them smile, so more power to them.

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I felt pretty good for most of the race and just enjoyed being there. I tried to not pay too much attention to how much I had left and just kept up a steady pace. The race organizers did a nice job of having lots of water stations (Pocari Sweat, a Japanese energy drink, was also readily available) and food stations with bread, tomatoes, and oranges. I made sure to use all of the water stations so I would not get too dehydrated, but I only ate a couple of oranges. James and my parents also were able to see me six times (!) during the race and it was super fun to see them and always gave me a little boost of energy. Well except around mile 21 when I really just wanted to get on the train with them and leave!

I had read that the Tokyo Marathon has lots and lots of spectators but I wasn’t prepared for just how many there would be! All 26 miles of the course were lined with lots of people cheering the runners on and the atmosphere was really upbeat and exciting. There were quite a few entertainment sections set up, which I didn’t get pictures of unfortunately, with drummers, dancers, and singers. There was even a talent competition going on at one point in the race. If I don’t get in with the lottery again I think I would just go and be a spectator and enjoy the great environment.

A little over halfway my feet began to hurt but I was able to push it out of my mind. However, by about mile 20 they were really hurting and I was starting to slow down quite a bit. Every time I would stop for water or to grab an orange getting back to running became harder and harder. I did walk on and off a bit, but I think I probably walked only about a mile total for the whole race. I am not sure why my feet hurt so much, my legs were feeling tight but basically fine and I think I could have run the whole thing if it hadn’t been for the pain my feet were causing me. Perhaps it was my shoes, since they were also the shoes I had trained in during the fall and winter? Oh well, lesson learned if I ever get the crazy notion to randomly enter a marathon again.

When I had a couple of miles left I was walking (limping) off to the side when a nice lady named Keiko ran by me and asked if I spoke English, and off I went with her to finish the race. She kept me going the last couple of miles, and I hope I helped her keep going as well. I had spent months thinking about this race and during it, especially miles 20-24, it seemed like it would never end, but all of a sudden I was about to cross the finish line!

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About to cross the finish line at Tokyo Station!

The finish area was somewhat confusing and I had a bit of trouble meeting up with James and my parents, especially since all of our phones were at about 10%. It seemed like runners had to walk really far to the family meet up area, and I know we just ran 26.2 miles but walking half a mile after that was just too much. Finally they found me sitting on the stairs in a train station and it was time to go home.

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Yay!
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Hobbling home
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If you have ever been on the trains in Tokyo you know that getting a seat is not always guaranteed. I was sooooo happy to have one this time!

 

Overall running the Tokyo Marathon was so awesome and I really can’t believe my luck at getting in. Am I ready to do another marathon? Maybe not any time soon, but if I happen to have the luck to get in through the lottery again then I would for sure do this race again!

 

Searching for Treasures in a Tokyo Flea Market

Something I have been wanting to check out since we moved to Japan are the numerous markets that are put on almost every weekend at various spots around the Tokyo area. However, summer in Japan is unbearably hot and humid, and I decided that spending hours just idly walking around a large outdoor market was best left for cooler weather. Well, all of a sudden it’s October and when I saw an article pop up on my Facebook feed about the best markets to visit over the weekend I decided it was a great time to go check one out.

The market I chose to go visit was the Oedo Antique Market that is held at the Tokyo International Forum once or twice every month. I am almost finished unpacking our house and am starting to decorate, so I was hoping to find something to put in our new place that would add a little local character to our basic, plain home.

The Tokyo International Forum was an easy train ride from Yokosuka, just about an hour, and you can actually see it from the train platform, which makes the likelihood of getting lost less, thank goodness for small mercies. But after exiting the train station another sight caught my eye that made my heart flutter just a bit and my eyes fill with tears… a real American hamburger chain!

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OMG. How did I not know there was a Shake Shack in Japan?! I swear I heard angels singing when I saw this. 

Obviously Japan has so much delicious food. Every street is filled with restaurants selling sushi, tempura, ramen, yakitori, curry, and the list goes on and on. But, a good American hamburger is not something that is easy to come by here, and, honestly, it is one of the foods from the US that I miss a lot (honorable mention also goes out to Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, restaurants with a good Sunday brunch, and basically anything from Trader Joes). Unfortunately, the line for getting a hamburger, and shake I suppose, was pretty long and I decided I would come back one day when there was not a huge market going on. Farewell for now, burgers.

Ahem, anyway. After I resigned myself to the fact that I did not need a hamburger I walked around the market to see what goods were being offered. One of the most common items I saw was pottery, specifically small plates and bowls (my kryptonite).

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Must have self control… Do not need more bowls!
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Oh so tempting… I mean I need plates to eat, right? RIGHT?

As much as I love pottery and all things dining related. I passed on these. My kitchen is pretty small and I need to downsize my current collection of small bowls and plates before I add to it. But just like the hamburgers, I will be back to buy some pretty little plates to serve sushi on!

Another very popular item being sold were kimonos and the fabric sash (obi) that is tied around it. Stalls had piles and piles of them and people were just going through them looking for one that caught their eye.

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Various obi sashes and other miscellaneous pieces of fabric. Be prepared to dig!
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There were some expensive kimono, but many were under $10. A great bargain!

Something I was looking for was a picture to hang up, and I was hopeful that there would be some cheap(ish) pieces of artwork for sale.

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This poster caught my eye. However, it was about $160, which is more than I cared to spend on a movie poster… especially a movie that I don’t really like (too long, too racist…). 
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This stall has some gorgeous prints, some of which had dates from the early 1800s on them. However, they were also a wee bit more than I wanted to spend. Bummer.
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Besides prints, many of the shops had lots of vintage postcards and other little trinkets with images on them. 

So I kind of struck out with finding a cool print. However, there is another place I plan to go check out maybe later this week to see if they have anything. I did enjoy the people watching here, and there were lots of very interesting finds.

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This jacket looks very warm, and elaborate! I am not sure PETA would approve of the goods being sold at this booth though. 
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There was lots of fabric at this market, so beautiful!
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Need a tea kettle? I know where you can find an old one 🙂

Even though the market didn’t have exactly what I had been imagining for our house, I didn’t leave totally empty handed. I spotted a basket of fabric pieces on my second walk around that all had the same color pattern.

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My big purchase for the day!

The fabric reminded me of an idea I had seen here, on Pinterest, and I think it will look pretty cool on one of our many blank walls (townhouse problems…). Who knows, it may end up being a #pinterestfail, but I’ll give it a try!

One thing I was disappointed with about the flea market was the lack of food vendors. I assumed there would be people selling food as well, since street food is so popular here, but the Shake Shack was the only option around! Boo. While browsing I saw a sign pointing to Tokyo Station (not the same train station I had gone through to get there) and remembered a long ago thing I read about an underground ramen street there. This sounded intriguing enough to check out so off I went. I got pretty lost trying to find it, but once there it lived up to it’s name. There was a whole underground network of ramen shops.

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Yay for ramen, and signs in English!
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My chosen ramen shop, mostly because the line wasn’t crazy long. 
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Success! Nom nom nom.

All in all, not such a bad outing. I will for sure check out some of the other markets around town, and definitely go back and eat at Shake Shack!

Slurp All the Ramen!

I had a friend growing up whose grandmother would make ramen for us whenever we went over to her house, which, during the summer, was almost everyday. This was, of course, just your average ramen that you can buy for ten cents in US supermarkets. However, I still loved it. The noodles, the salty broth, the MSG.. it was all so delicious and I have fond memories of her grandmother serving us ramen which we happily slurped down on her back deck before hopping back in the pool for an afternoon of swimming.

My love for ramen did not fade as I grew up but it was never really a staple of my diet, not even in college. I enjoy cooking and I always considered ramen to be a quickly made food that you could not have much variety with. However, my views of it began to change as our move to Japan got closer. First, when we lived in Newport, Rhode Island, there was a small ramen shop called Boru. I actually tried it when we went up to Newport to go house hunting and I was blown away! There was egg in the ramen, and bamboo shoots, and big slices of pork! I was intrigued by this ramen but also suspicious because the people who ran the place looked very hipster and I was not sure whether these ingredients were things found in actual Japanese ramen.

Once we got orders for Japan I started watching every YouTube video I could find on Japanese culture and cuisine so I would have an idea of what to expect. As you can imagine there were tons of videos on ramen, a staple of the Japanese culinary scene. I was so excited to try real Japanese ramen in a real ramen shop that it was the first meal we ate when we got here. That first bowl was everything I imagined it would be… a big bowl of delicious salty broth with thick, chewy noodles and a large slice of roasted pork on top. It was just what I needed after a long international flight.

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Delicious ramen in Yokosuka.

Now that we have been here a few weeks, we have had a chance to try quite a few restaurants and lots of different types of food. But we have specifically sought out some of the better ramen around and it is becoming one of our favorite things to eat here. So, when we found out there was a ramen museum close by we made haste to go check it out!

The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum actually calls itself more of a theme park than a museum, and I can see why as there weren’t any large displays going over the long history of ramen in Japan. Instead, the inside was decorated to look like 1950s Tokyo and filled with famous ramen shops from all over Japan.

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The inside of the ramen museum, so cute!
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They even built little alleyways to mimic Tokyo streets.

Each ramen shop had a traditional vending machine out in front where you ordered your ramen from. Once inside and seated, you gave your ticket to the cook and they prepared your ramen for you. The really great thing about this place is that they had smaller sample sizes so you could try more than one type of ramen while there.

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Each restaurant had a vending machine out in front to place your order.
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The machines had little keys next to them for people who speak English.
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Enjoying my first bowl, this was a sample size!
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A pork based ramen with thinner noodles.
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A seafood based ramen with thicker noodles and extra spice added!

We both agreed that the Ramen Museum had the best ramen we had enjoyed up to that point in Japan. However, we knew that there must be better places out there that were not in a theme park. So after hearing about a Michelin rated ramen shop in Tokyo, we decided it was worth making the trip to go check it out.

Tokyo actually has more Michelin rated restaurants than anywhere in the world, well over 200 of them. Most are very expensive fine dining establishments. There are a few, however, that the average person can actually afford to eat at. Tsuta is a nine seat restaurant down a sleepy alley in Tokyo and has the distinction of being the first ramen shop in the world to get a Michelin star, and for under ten dollars you can eat there.

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The outside of Tsuta, a sign out front gives directions on how to eat there.

Since James had the 4th of July off, we decided to spend the day in Tokyo and eat here for lunch. While we were on the train we researched the restaurant more and read many articles written by people who had gotten there first thing in the morning to get a ticket in order to come back later in the day… we were a little bummed since we had not even boarded the train until 8:00. Would we even be able to eat once we got there?

Well, we decided that the worst that could happen was we would not get a ticket and then we would just find another delicious spot to eat. Tokyo obviously has no shortage of delicious dining establishments. We spent a few hours at Tsukiji Fish Market before heading over to Tsuta about 11:45. Oddly, there was no one out in front so we knocked on the door and went in. Once inside we were politely informed that the line was around the corner… bummer.

We walked to the back of the line and asked the couple in front of us about getting a ticket. They said that they had also just showed up without a ticket from the morning and were hopeful of getting inside. About 15 minutes later someone from the restaurant came by and upon seeing that we were ticketless told us to wait, so we did.

After about an hour we were ushered inside, ordered our ramen from the vending machine, and waited for our meal.

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Finally inside!

We got different types of ramen so we could compare the two different flavors. James got a salt based broth with white truffle oil and I got the soy sauce based broth with black truffle oil. A few minutes later, our ramen was delivered to us, it looked so good!

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Shio soba ramen with wonton.
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Shoyu soba ramen with a soft boiled egg.

The ramen really was so delicious. The broth of each type was full of flavor which the noodles absorbed wonderfully. The best part may have been the pork, which had clearly been slow roasted with delicious seasoning and was so tender you could simply pull it apart with your chop stick. The restaurant was incredibly quiet, but I think it was just everyone enjoying their long awaited for bowl of delicious ramen. Oishii!

After eating each bowl to the last drop we both agreed it was the best ramen we had ever had. I was happy and content after such a delicious meal, and just like I used to do when I was little, I got up and went off to enjoy the rest of my summer afternoon.