The KIWL Go-Go run is a charity event organised by Knights in White Lycra in aid of the NPO YouMeWe which helps children in care homes around Japan. I entered the 55 (go-go) kilometre run which would be my first experience of an ultra-marathon. I was attracted to the idea of doing an informal run without the usual stress of competition, while finding out what it felt like to run 55 km. More important, I could make a tiny contribution to such a worthwhile charity.
The organisation of the run is everything that a race usually isn’t. The start time was flexible, a rough finish time was suggested, and in between you simply ran along the left bank of the Arakawa River. The were also some great touches. We were given a Kuroneko depot address just under a kilometre from the end of the race where I could send a bag full of warm clothes and post-run food. We were also given the contact details of other runners doing the 55k route. And we were given organisers’ email addresses so we could send a message that we were about to start the run. On top of this, we received a PDF full of excellent ultra advice.
Two fellow 55k-ers, David and Marina, arranged to meet at Kanegafuchi at 7:30 a.m. and run at a pace to arrive at the finish at 2 p.m. It sounded like a good plan for my first ultra, so I arrived at the station in time to meet them both. We then took a picture, set our Garmins, and ran down to the Arakawa River. It was a perfect morning. There was not a breath of wind, nor a wisp of cloud, and the sun was already starting to warm the air gently.
David had a plan to run at around 6 min/km pace until his heart rate went above 130, and then walk for a few moments until it had lowered, before running again. This meant about 2 km running followed by 50 metres of walking. Our pace was somewhat slower than 6 mins – about 6:15 – but we continued like this for 25 km as it was so comfortable. The main break from the rhythm of running was to look for drinkable water. Many of the drinking taps and fountains had been damaged by the typhoon, and the others produced tainted water. In the end we found one that tasted strongly of chlorine and filled up on that.
As this was my first ultra, I was a little unsure about what to carry with me and what to eat along the way. The evening before, I had made my usual date-nut-oat energy bars, and for the first time I tried to make rice cakes. These have now become the staple for pro-cycle teams, so I started with a recipe from Nigel Mitchell’s book “Fuelling the Cycling Revolution”, and then modified it with the help of some YouTuber videos. I will post my recipe on my next blog. To these foods I added whole-dried chewy bananas, some gels, and half a bagel sandwich. I knew it would be too much, but I wanted to try everything. In the end, I ate 7 small rice cakes, about 3/4 of what I had made, one gel, two of the bananas, and that was about all I needed. The rice cakes were excellent. Familiar, digestible, tasty, and easy to eat – all the reasons they have become so popular. As for the energy bars, I had no desire to even try one. I don’t think nuts work for me during exercise.
Apart from the uneaten food, I also carried unworn clothing. I had a very light running jacket which I had at least worn on the train, but I also carried an unnecessary insulated vest – 250 grams of surplus baggage. Although I didn’t use any of them, I was happy to carry the following: a little strapping tape, Protect J1 skin cream, voltaren anti-inflammatory liquid, plasters, needle and alcohol (for blisters), lip salve, and toilet paper. I also had a spare battery for my phone. My bag was full, but it didn’t bother me at all, and it was good to carry what I would need on a longer run.
Around 25 km, Marina started to get some knee pain and eased off a little. David and I continued at just over 6 min pace but dropped the walk sections. We were in the zone. We chatted the whole way, talking about all the things that runners talk about, and soaked up the sun and the gradually improving scenery. It is an extraordinary thing to set off from beneath Tokyo Skytree in the heart of the world’s biggest city, and simply run your way out into the countryside. Along the way we saw the damage left by the flooding of a few weeks ago: mud-covered golf courses, upturned goal posts, destroyed shelters, uprooted trees. At first there were many cyclists on the path, but gradually we found ourselves alone apart from the occasional dog walker or runner. At 36 km we came to Checkpoint 1 where a group of students cheered our arrival and presented us with water, onigiri and salt tablets. It was good to stop for a few minutes, but my legs were very stiff when we started off again.
Refuelling at Checkpoint 1
Before long, we passed the 43 km point and I had a small celebration at running further than I had ever done. We met Roger, who was doing the 23 km run, and his enthusiasm spurred us on. We now had just 12 km to go, but it seemed a long way on heavy legs. I started to contemplate what it would feel like to run 100 km in Yakushima next January. I also spent a lot of time thinking about my ankle problem which had almost made me choose the 23 km course. The ankle did become decidedly uncomfortable at times, but never quite reached the point of pain. Meanwhile, other pains appeared and then eased off in different parts of my body. My left thigh tightened and then my right, but everything was put in context by David who cheerfully talked of how he treats the various pains of long-distance running as old friends. Another thing which took my mind off the discomfort was the fact that David was just starting out on 7 days 7 marathons in aid of the YouMeWe charity. He would be running all the way from Tokyo to Fukushima. As I write this, he is recovering from his second day of running. I am full of admiration.
At 50 kilometres, we reached Checkpoint 2 where we were received with equal warmth and enthusiasm. Two kilometres later, we were met by cyclist volunteers who guided us across a bridge and all the way to the finish in Aina Water Park. We started spotting runners doing the other distances and even summoned the energy to increase our pace till the finish.
David and I at the finish
In keeping with the rest of the event, the finish was fun and relaxed. We lounged around in the sun and then cheered Roger and Marina and others as they finished. We had an informal finish ceremony and then headed off to the nearby children’s home that was being supported by the race. There we received a wonderful welcome and learnt about the work that YouMeWe is doing. The home was presented with four notebook computers as part of a programme to help the children develop computer literacy. The runners were in turn presented with framed certificates and thank you cards. It was very moving. At the end, a ten-year-old boy made a speech in English. It was a charming way to finish a splendid event.