Each May the city of Sendai invites amateur runners from each of their sister cities to compete with top Japanese runners in the Sendai International Half Marathon. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Dallas' sister city relationship with Sendai, and I was lucky enough to be chosen to race against representatives from Riverside, Rennes, Acapulco, Minsk, Gwangju, Changchun, and Tainan.
Training had gone well, and I arrived feeling pretty sharp aside from some jet lag. The city gave us a king's reception, and on our first day we were invited to city hall to meet and exchange omiyagi (gifts) with the mayor and participate in a press conference with the local TV station. Afterwards, I took the opportunity to bond with some of the runners from other cities, but none of them spoke much English so we talked mostly in numbers. When I learned that the runner from Minsk's best marathon time was "two two five" I knew I had my work cut out for me. Japan's weather is notoriously unpredictable, and on race day it was a steamy 72 degrees, so I decided to abandon the paces Kara and I had talked about and instead pace based on feel. When we got to the start they announced our names and cities, followed by the elite runners, and I got to meet Yuki Kawauchi for the first time. He had the best English of any of the Japanese runners, and he was very kind. After the national anthem and a moment of silence for the recent earthquake victims, the gun fired and we were on our way.
At the start I was surprised to see how quickly everyone took off, and I lost sight of the other sister city runners immediately. I knew that 3 of them had faster PRs than me, but they were within reach and I had a lot of confidence in my fitness. At the two kilometer mark the pace seemed to settle as the heat caught up to everyone, and I settled into a pack of runners around 5:35 pace. I was in 6th place among the sister cities and about 100th overall. At this point I just tried to relax and concentrate on my breathing. The course started and ended with uphill segments, but the middle portion would be quick.
By the 5km mark my group had caught and passed the sister city reps from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and finally France. We were cruising at 5:30 pace, and I felt like I was having an easier time than the pack, but I was wary of the heat so I settled in and tried to save my energy. Around 10km we caught up with Acapulco, and we traded pacing duties for a while before I left the group and ran alone for the first time in the race. I had kept on top of my hydration and nutrition and the easier early pace was starting to pay off. I wasn't necessarily speeding up, but the runners in front of me were falling off one by one. At 15km we entered the toughest part of the course with two bridges and a lot of wind exposure. I caught up with the 2nd place overall woman. She was strong and steady, so we spent the last bit of the race pushing each other as the course took its toll on us.
As we crossed the final bridge with one mile to go my calf started to cramp up and I was in total oxygen debt, but the stadium was in sight, and I was on PR pace so slowing down wasn't an option. I finished in 1:12:36, a 16 second PR, with 2nd place in the sister city competition and 41st overall. I would have liked to run faster, but given the conditions on the day I was ecstatic to run a PR. This was a race that I'll never forget, and I was amazed by the depth of talent in Sendai.
For Brent's entire blog and more pictures from Sendai, check out his website, woodle.org