Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kyoto Marathon 2017

It was raceday! The weather forecast for the day was 0-3 degree, with some light snowfall the night before. The starting point is located at Nishiyogoku Athletic Park (it's a stadium which is about an hour from where we were staying in Senbon Dori),  and the start point is different location from the finishing line.  Gun off was at 9.00 am.

On that morning the weather was clear, but very cold and we can feel some ice on the sidewalk outside the train station so yeah, it did snow a bit on the previous night, we presumed.

Most of the crowd on the same bus and train were the participating runners. And the anticipated number of runners that will show up is about 16,000.

We arrived about an hour and half early and the crowd just started to build up. It was cold and some part of the pavement was covered by ice.

I was hoping to bump into some Malaysian friends here, but did not manage to meet anyone. I think it was due to the huge crowd. After the ritual of pre-race Powerbar fueling (this is not an advertisement..hahaha), its a final toilet break and then time to strip!

God...do I have to do this? I think I looked like a monster from the Miyazaki anime.

I found my baggage truck without difficulty, and bib sequence numbers are displayed which looks like the one in the picture. After handed in my stuff in the bag provided by the organizers,  I am left only with an old T shirt and a poncho raincoat to keep me warm until the gun goes off.

"Dad, I think you better keep your crew-cut head warm with that neck buff thingy." And so I did, instead of using as the neck buff, i used it as a beanie. And, luckily I listen to my little girl's wisdom, because it kept my big ears and head warm, and I was ok with the neck during the run.  Then it's time to check in! Look at the crowd. I kissed my family and I made my way into the stadium.

According to the instruction, baggage hand in must be done before 8:15am  and runners must reach their respective start block by 8:44.  If you are later than this time, you would be place at the back of the line and if you miss the starting time, you will NOT be allow to run!

Inside the stadium, blocks are set up for each corral, and since I am lucky and got the first corral 'S', it was easily located from the entrant. So after a bit of warm up along the small narrow lane next to the main track, I went into my start block and hopefully it will be warmer if I am surrounded by crowd of anxious runners.

Can you spot me at the picture above?  I had to wave very hard to get my wife's attention and she managed to take this shot.  After all the usual ceremonial stuff were done,  the gun went off at 9.00 am sharp and everyone in my corral sped off  as if it's a 10k race! Dayem! My wife told me it took about 15 minutes for all runners to cross the starting line.

From the starting exit to the main street, there wasn't much to look at the first few km, out from the stadium, the city streets.  You will see the usual mistakes to those who stand in front does over and over again, racing very hard then fall backward after a few kms.

And then the view became very beautiful when we reached the riverside and around Arashiyama area.  The scene was really breathtaking.  Crowds were everywhere cheering and at the aid station, drinks are systematically placed with food on certain spots.  I didn't take any but somebody told me there are mochi, chocolates and fruits.

The view continue to be very scenic around the Arashiyama area and most of the runners looked so cheerful even though they were running at a very fast pace, this is perhaps due to the atmosphere or perhaps it is still early part of the race.

We run pass through a number of UNESCO Heritage sites and also lots of tourist visit spots like this Ninnaji temple where the monks would come out and cheer for us. The drums and cheering noise will go on and on.

The route in Kyoto Marathon is quite hilly with plenty of sharp bending corners like this one.  Expect to be slowed down a fair bit every time you come across them.

The route also took us into a long straight stretch of road where you can see runners from the opposite direction, before we were led into the Kyoto Botanical garden at km 25.

And then out of the Botanical Garden, runners are diverted into the banks of Kamo River.
We ran about about 3 kms on semi off road on the sandy river bank of the Kamo River.  Although it was a pleasant experience, it was also a bit of a challenge and because the sole of my old shoes were quite worn off and so it was a bit slippery for me especially with the wet sand on the concrete pavement. And this path is quite narrow, maybe can house 2-3 runners for overtaking.  So some slowing down here and there but then, there are endless volunteers and spectators cheering for you everywhere!

On exit of the Kamo River,  it’s the Imperial Palace area, which is a straight and flat zone, you can go fast if you have the energy, and then only to find more U-turn to slow down at the end. Oh yeah, there are plenty of narrow U-turns in Kyoto Marathon.

Upon reaching the Kyoto City Hall, there is the big noise that came from Taiko drums and crowd cheering from the Hall building compound.  A big aid station was located at the front yard of the City Hall building. The atmosphere really motivate you keep going.

The final 5-6 km is a mix of agony and joy for many.  There is this long stretch uphill  that runs for about 2-3 kms and when it is at km 37, it really does seems endless.  And then just when you thought you have been worked out mentally, the last U-turn appears, and the earlier uphill now becomes a downhill to help you speed off to the finishing line. My Garmin starts to beep, giving a low battery sign, just like Ultraman, time is running out...hahaha. And I also realized then, after seeing my watch, I am close but most likely miss the sub 3 timing.  So now I have only one thing left to do, to run hard to the finishing line to be exactly at the border of 3.00 (also before the watch goes out of battery and I lose my run record, hahaha)

The finishing line is located next to the Miyako Messe / Heian Jingu Shrine. (where the REPC), and by the time I am closed to the finishing line, the road was quite empty and it seems almost like you are running alone.

Run as fast as I can I manage to overtake a few more runners but this is not a race against anyone but against time and myself.

It was a hardest minute, and I reach the finishing line 3:00:59! That means my gun time missed the sub-3 by exactly 1 minute, but on the other hand I have only 1 second to spare before I fall into 3:01:00....hahaha now that is really some fence I was sitting on.

Sub-3 no sub-3 it was a good fighto! to the end, and I was quite happy with the result.  In fact, I wasn't expecting a sub-3 because I have never run below sub 3:10:00 before, so I my expectation was really about 3:06 or something, so it was a bonus.

I thinks Kyoto Marathon is truly a great experience. This is the second marathon event I ran in Japan, the first being the 'serious' and hardcore Mainichi Beppu-Oita Marathon (or Betsudai).

Best: Its located in a beautiful Kansai and in centre Kyoto. There is so much to see and do in Kyoto and the surrounding region.  Besides, isn't it awesome that you can combine your run with a family holiday and they can cheer for you?.  The atmosphere is fantastic, friendly to the average runners, and not so serious with doable cutoff time of 6 hours but at stages.  Lottery is not as tough compared to Tokyo. For Malaysian, Air Asia fly directs to Kansai, and with the JR Pass, Airbnb, travelling is can be so much cheaper if you plan it right.

Challenge: It is possible to do a PB (mostly due to the cold) but it is not always true.  The cold weather does helps, but sometimes can get very cold and turn into an obstacle. The hills, the many U-turns and sharp corners (can you count how many corners and U-turns at the map above?) plus sand banks at Kamo River maybe a challenge for some.

So I personally think if your target for a race is to hit sub-something desperately, and you need a route that helps you focus on that, it is a better bet in other races that has flatter, straighter route, but if you want a good race location that comes  with a beautiful route, and you can combine with a great holiday, Kyoto Marathon is for you.


  1. Thank you for this - wonderful pictures and detailed write up! I will be joining Kyoto 2018 as a first timer, so this is so helpful.

    1. Hi Kyoto marathon has a beautiful route, enjoy your run and holiday

  2. Yeah, same. My first Kyoto in a few weeks. This was a great read and some lessons learned already. Thanks a lot!

  3. is it difficult to get to start line. I am staying on oike dori. kind of nervous about getting to start line on train.
    thank you.

    1. Kyoto has a comprehensive public transport. Start you journey earlier to the starting point so that you have more time to prepare. All the best.


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