Almost exactly one year ago, seven hardy souls headed off into a cool and drizzly morning to run the Yamanote-sen, the train line that circumscribes what is considered Tokyo proper. Keren, Colin, and I, finished.
Today was the second running of the Yamanote Mawari, or as Gareth has re-badged it, the Tour de Yamanote. This time we had what was almost a cast of thousands. . Let's see if I can remember them all: Boys: me, Gareth, Aleksey, Phil, Keren, Paddy, Marc, Adam B, Adam Y, Motozo, Anthony... Girls: Mary, Jaynie, Satohi, Ma, Anna, Yuka,... So, if I haven't forgotten anybody, that is 17 starters!
The weather was fine and cool with a light cloud cover keeping the burny rays at bay. Couldn't get a better day if you could dial it up on the Weather-O-Matic.
What was most impressive was that we got going only five minutes after our scheduled start of 7:00, even allowing for the obligatory photos. Keeping a large group like this together was a challenge with all the road crossings. But the early progress through Shibuya, Ebisu and Meguro was pretty steady (a funny thing was that a drunk guy holding a beer mug started running with us at Shibuya and actually held on all the way to Meguro! About 3.5-4 km! Mad as a cut snake he was). After Meguro we started to spread out a little through Gotanda and Osaki and then realized we would need to take care to not drop our slower members off the back.
The haul from Shinagawa through the next few stations was a bit of a boring grind, but everybody was still fresh. With Gareth leading through his neck of the woods we wound our way around and about the streets hugging the Yamanote tracks. Anna had planned to run to Yurakucho, but pressed on to Tokyo, then to Kanda, and finally she finished up at Akihabara.
We had been joined at Yurakucho by Yukari on her motorbike (well, scooter) with a reporter/photographer from the Japan Times aboard. They tailed/buzzed/badgered/pestered us for the next few stations, but it was fun giving the "V" for the camera time and again. We also picked up Simon at this point. So then we made our way past Akihabara "electric town", taking care not to step in the otaku, and through "Ameyoko" shopping street--with the pungeant smell of dried squid boring deep into our craniums--to Ueno, whereupon we collected Bob and promptly had a five (or was it ten?) minute drink and toilet break. I think Adam Y jumped off our little train at Ueno, or somewhere thereabouts, and maybe Anthony too. (Sorry Anthony, I missed your departure.) (Edit: According to Gareth it was Kanda for both Anthony and Adam.)
One of the guys, Marc, had never run further than 21 km before. So by now we were up into unchartered territory for him. Several other runners had also not run this far in a long, long time, if at all (Yuka certainly hadn't, and Phil had been preparing on a diet of 25 km a week spread over five runs). We pressed on and were promptly met by the mysterious Thumping Great Ueno Cemetary -- whatever it is called, it is a bugger to get around. After several false paths and twists and turns and one leap down a seven foot retaining wall to get out of the cemetary, our weary group was soon through that maze and picking our way past Uguisuidani, Nippori, Tabata and so on up to Otsuka. Keren got off our choo-choo in this section. We were at about 30 km by this time and Marc was flagging. Yuka and Mary were also weary and a few others looking very grim faced. Aleksey, on his first ever run with Namban (will he ever come back?) was starting to falter. But still we held our group together and pressed on.
Next Ikebukuro was ticked off as we threaded our way through the now heavy Sunday morning crowds, receiving more than the occasional gawp as we sweated along. Aleksey went past Ikebukuro, and then promptly declared, no, that was it. He would have to bail at that point. A few confusing turns after Ikebukuro probably added several hundred meters to our journey, but with the superb navigational skills of fearless leader Gareth, we regained the Yamanote line at Mejiro (for my Australian readers, mejiro means "white eye" and is named after that little drab olive-green bird with the white ring around its eye, and which we call a silvereye. It migrates the 11,000 km between Japan and Australia! Some of us probably thought we were migrating 11,000 km too!)
Next it was through the university precinct of Takadanababa, and finally the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, beyond which lay our goal, were in our sights. But it was a real struggle to hold the group together now. Marc was definitely fading fast and Yuka was moving foward by sheer willpower. Mary was simply willing it all to end. The heavy pedestrian traffic and road crossings gave opportunities to re-group. Somehow, though, we lost Phil. I feel terrible about this, because we were really determined to get everybody in together. Whether he bailed of his own volition or was a casualty of the cracking pace that Yuka and Marc were setting for us, I don't know. Anyway, sorry Phil that you didn't make those last 5 km or so.
So we elbowed our way through the madding crowds of Shinjuku Station (whose idea was it to go on the north side?!) and then it was psychologically, if not actually, all downhill from there. Flash, we went past Yoyogi at a crawl, and then zoom, we trundled up the hill to Harajuku. Only 200 m from our goal we had a short break in front of Harajuku Station as several delerious members tried to run back the other way, and as we allowed Yukari's photographer to get into position on the overhead footbridge for some aerial shots. And then, finally, like a shot out of a gun, we shuffled the final leg into the park raising our Vs for the photographer for the penultimate time. Gareth and Satohi took off for a final dash to the finish. I took up the challenge, but they had a fair jump on me and I could only just get to them as we hit the finish line running hard. A nice way to finish.
And so, the final finishers out of those who started were: Boys: me, Gareth, Paddy, Marc, Adam B, Motozo... Girls: Mary, Jaynie, Satohi, Ma, Yuka. (And there were also Simon and Bob, who ran solid portions of the course, but sorry guys, no Golden Banana)
An interesting statistic is that the dropout rate among the men was 45% (5/11) and 17% (1/6) among the ladies. What does that mean? Some might argue that the guys who dropped out simply had more common sense than the rest of us, but that would be unfair. It has to be said though, that Satohi, Jaynie, and Ma were an inspiration, running strongly all day and looking as fresh when we finished as when we started. (Edit: Gareth points out that everyone who dropped out intended to from the outset, in much the same way as we joined part way by Simon and Bob, so I suppose the statistics are meaningless and the real story is that everyone who intended to go the whole way did, and some that didn't know if they could make it, also did -- yay team!)
And now, just for a moment, I must put modesty aside and mention that with Colin's injury and Keren's pathetic, nay pansy, typical Queenslander effort, I am now the only one to have completed the full loop of both runnings of this now great Namban tradition. I suppose that is fitting giving I was the one to suggest and kick it off last year. But it sort of puts the pressure on for next year huh! (Edit: Keren disputes that he was being a pansy, but preserving himself for a race next week. See previous edit. It's OK mate, when the Cane Toads win State of Origin and the Broncos win the grand final, you can't blame me for lashing out every now and then)
All up, I'm calling it 40 km (the footpod said 41, but I think it was overmeasuring a little). It took exactly 4 hours running time and 5 hours on the clock. It gives me 120 km for the week. -- oh yeah, and my knee was HEAPS better this morning after a couple of doses of Ibuprofen yesterday. So, now, just not to upset it again.