Skiing Weekend in Nozawa Onsen (野沢温泉) near Nagano

I left work at a reasonable time one recent Friday night and caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano followed by a local train and a taxi to the final destination of Nozawa Onsen. It’s been a while since I’ve been away for the whole weekend and I felt quite excited.

My thoughts have turned a bit in recent days to my return to the UK in April and as part of that I’m seeing Japan in fresh eyes. On Friday night I realised that I will really miss the efficiency of Japanese trains. The Shinkansens are very comfortable, with lots of space and it’s nice to have time to study and read while travelling fast through the country! I enjoyed a packed tea – a kind of bento box.

I met a running friend in Nagano and we got the local train together to the nearest station to Nozawa Onsen. From there we share a short taxi ride to the hotel with 2 other people in the queue.

Arriving at the hotel I was sharing a room with 3 other women from the running club. This is quite common in Japan, we had futon on tatami mats with a shared toilet and small table to socialise around. I enjoyed some tea and snacks before we headed out to one of the 14 free public baths in the town (onsen). There is an abundance of natural hot water due to the volcanic geology in the area.

The town was lovely, there was deep snow but the roads were clear as people pumped the natural hot water over their drives and the road melting the snow. There was a slight smell of sulphur in the air from the volcanic activity but a real treat to have a hot bath in the snow!

I got up early the next morning for a short run before another quick Onsen and then a good Japanese breakfast, pescatarian version for me, which included fruit, salad, rice, green tea and fish.

Next was skiing. The resort was great and the snow very good. Like Hokkaido at Christmas there was a lot of fresh powder snow. Not quite to the level of Hokkaido but enough to make the skiing very friendly and pleasant. I spent the day with 2 Japanese women that I was sharing my room with. They were better on the slopes than me but we had a great day out stopping for lunch at a restaurant near the top of the mountain and meeting most of the others. In the day we managed to cover most of the resort hardly touching the green routes – an achievement for me!

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We got the last chair back to the village and after another Onsen had a great Japanese dinner in the hotel with the whole group. It was a kind of banquet with sashimi, rice, hot pot, pickles including traditional Nozawa Onsen pickle that was delicious! A kind of patchoi mildly pickled. They had it with every meal and was for sale in all of the ski resort lunch spots.

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After dinner we visited a real ale bar with a bit of a British twist

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Chiba San got out the Namban Banner and we took a ‘holiday’ picture!

The next day I enjoyed a Sunday morning without a run (the only one in my marathon training – 11 weeks so far) and after another good breakfast hit the slopes again. We started with the small chair lift to the ski station – you get an idea of the amount of snow from this!

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Okutama Ekiden

On Sunday I took part in the Okutama Ekiden – a very traditional Japanese running event.

For a great and comprehensive description of Ekidens and their history please see the following article on Running Japan News written by Bret a member if Namban running club.

http://japanrunningnews.blogspot.tw/2012/12/how-i-learned-to-love-ekiden-and-why.html

It was an early start to the day to travel to Okutama in the west of Tokyo Prefecture. There were 4 teams of 3 women and 3 teams if 5 men. The Ekiden is a relay race, traditionally (and in this case) run between eki (駅stations). This means after getting ready the first task is to take a train to your starting station. As I was on the final, 3rd leg, and the race finished near where we were based I didn’t have far to go. Also as we had a few teams and several supporters it wasn’t a lonely wait!

The team I was in came into the change over in the second half and the last of the 4 Namban teams. I took off quickly, probably a little too fast but I was spurred on by all the people who had already left, the long wait and my good performance last weekend! I managed to overtake 6 runners in total in the 3.9km run. It was hard – I normally run longer distances so the speed was a good test but my 8 months of training on the track I’m sure helped and I was pleased with my overall pace of 4:19 per km.

The aim of the run is to get the Sash from start to finish. The sash gains the sweat of all of the runners and gets more significance than the baton in a normal relay race. If a previous runner is too slow then the next runner must start without the sash replacing it with a white sash – this is a failure! Fortunately the women’s race was too short so there were no white sashes – I saw quite a few of the last men with them.

It’s very traditional and traditionally timed – no chips here! So we have to wait about 6 weeks for the results for them to be written down, typed up, printed out and posted to the team organisers!

I include some pictures below of the officials at my hand over point marking out the road and all in uniform.

The race attracts the best university and school runners – Japan’s young elite so it was an honour to take part and to see some impressive runners.

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Just over the finishing line – almost beaten at the line (I didn’t know there was another runner right behind – Jenene was shouting at me to go faster so fortunately I picked up the pace!) and I think I just made it!

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Turtle Half Marathon

New PB (official time to be confirmed but between 1h48 and 1h49 from my measurement) at the Turtle half marathon today on the Arakawa river in Adachi-ku to the east of Tokyo.

Thanks go to Juergen for the place. He writes the website Running in Tokyo and got a few places for international runners as a result:

http://runningintokyo.com

It was very crowded so difficult to run at the pace I wanted but this did help me not o go too fast at the start.

The route was lovely, out along the river and back and there were many blind runners and other disabled competitors which made for a great atmosphere.

I had a great stretch at the end curtesy of the massage tent.

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