I’m back home from another whirlwind trip around the world! This trip was to Chiba, Japan, which is about an hour outside of Tokyo proper, and was travelling with Team Canada for the International Chiba Ekiden Relay.
An Ekiden, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, is a relay where a team of 6, in this case 3 men and 3 women, race a marathon distance while carrying a sash which is used as a baton and is passed between runners. This event is a ton of fun and so different from the track meets I typically compete in. As a distance runner I’m used to competing for myself and the only time I’ve competed for a team has been in cross country. However, because this was a relay it was nothing like cross country or anything else I had done before. What I found really strange was that on the day of the race, teammates barely see each other. Each runner begins their stage at a different location along the race route and so we are all taken on separate shuttles at different times to these different locations.
While I was waiting for my teammate, Leslie Sexton, to arrive with our sash I remember thinking “What happens if she doesn’t show up?” Although not likely, it is totally possible that through injury or some other unforeseen reason a teammate might not be able to complete their leg. I pictured myself just standing there waiting only to finally realize that I would not in fact run. I didn’t have to worry for long as shortly after Leslie came around the corner and the adrenaline surged!
The excitement of the race is fantastic. The crowds that lined my particular leg of the race were 5-7 deep in places and groups of fans holding Canadian flags (I’m sure they were not Canadian) would go absolutely bonkers when ran by. There was music and dancers and the event had a real festival feel to it. I loved every minute!
One could argue that I had the most challenging leg. It was 10km long and although it was quite flat to begin with, the last 2-3km has a number of steep hills which just crush the legs that late in the race. I struggled with a side stitch for most of my leg which, made breathing a challenge, but I managed to hold onto my position and run a respectable 30:14 for the 10km. Coming into the day I fully expected to run well under 30 mins, but the combination of the hills and the cramp made that not possible. As I approached my handoff to Lanni Marchant I was struggling to get a breath while at the same time muster up some sort of kick. I remember Lanni yelling at me and waving frantically for me to take the sash off so that I could make the hand off to her. To me that sounded like a lot of work and so I waited until the last possible moment, made the hand off, then nearly passed out while trying to catch my breath on the corner of a Japanese highway.
In the end Canada finished 8th place overall, what would be an average finish for our team. The best team finish in recent history was 6th so we talked away content but not jumping for joy.
The post race banquet that night was a blast with all of the countries coming together to share some beers and saki while playing some “games” and sharing more than a few laughs.
Hopefully Ill get to experience another one of these events in the future. They are such a great experience and the Japanese really know how to host an event.