Joyous Japan Journey

OTTAWA– Athletics Canada officially named today the
athletes who will travel to Chiba, Japan for the 24th International
Chiba Ekiden Road Race Relay on November 23.  The unique event features
teams of men and women running six alternate legs to cover the marathon
distance of 42.195-kilometres.  
The Canadian team is led by 2012 Olympians Reid Coolsaet of Hamilton,
Ont., and Alex Genest of Lac-aux-Sables, Que.  Coolsaet finished 27th
in the men’s marathon competition at the London Games, while Genest
recorded a seasonal best in the men’s 3000-metres steeplechase.  The
team is also comprised of Krista DuChene of Brantford, Ont., and Lanni
Marchant of London, Ont.  Both women have run under the 2013 World
Championship marathon standard.
The race will unfold as follows:

1st leg – men’s 5km
2nd leg – women’s 5km
3rd leg – men’s 10km
4th leg – women’s 5km
5th leg – men’s 10km
6th leg – women’s 7.195km

2012 Chiba Ekiden Road Race Team 

Name Hometown Personal Coach
Reid Coolsaet Hamilton, ON Dave Scott-Thomas
Krista DuChene Brantford, ON Rick Mannen
Alex Genest Lac-aux Sables, QC Dave Scott-Thomas
Rachel Hannah Barrie, ON Rossario Ristuccia
Tarah Korir St. Clements, ON Peter Grinbergs
Lanni Marchant London, ON Dave Mills
Geoff Martinson Prince George, BC Wynn Gmitroski
Rob Watson Guelph, ON Dave Scott-Thomas (did not go due to injury)

Integrated Support Team

Jon Brown Victoria, BC Team Leader
Rick Mannen Brantford, ON Team Coach
Ron O’Hare Aurora, ON Physiotherapist

The first International Chiba Ekiden was held in 1988.  The event made the move to mixed gender teams in 2007.
I can’t remember all of the details of the trip so may have a few things wrong but here goes…

November 19-24, 2012


Rick and I met the Ontario gang at Pearson Airport
shortly before 10 am for our 13 hour 12 noon flight from Toronto to
Tokyo. Once we boarded, I changed my watch right away to 14 hours ahead
then didn’t pay much attention to time afterwards. I kept myself
occupied with napping, reading, and movie-watching in my fairly
comfortable window seat. With long flights and time changes, I have
found that one of the most difficult things is properly timing your
meals. You do not want to over-eat yet don’t really know when or what
you will eat next so you eat most of what they give you whether you want
to or not (did you get all that?). The food wasn’t terrible, I had some snacks (trail mix,
almonds, protein bars, fruit) in my carry-on, and had already eaten my
bagged lunch (salmon sandwich, vegetables) so was nutritionally set as
was fellow dietitian Rachel Hannah! We dietitians think alike!
We finally arrived, safe and sound, in Tokyo and had our first
experience of Japanese culture. I haven’t traveled the world but think
it is safe to say that the Japanese are some of the most hospitable,
friendly, highly-respected, professional and warming people in the
world. From roll calls, friendly reminders to be punctual, and a professionally executed race (like nothing I’ve ever seen!), to caring
for our luggage and ensuring we travel without difficulty, they had it covered. I knew they took excellent care of their
athletes but this was something else. Boy, do they pay great attention to detail!
Once we settled into our cedar cabins (Lanni and I shared a joining room with Rachel and Tarah McKay-Korir), we tossed on our running gear and
headed out for a short 4 km run. I had already run an easy 8 km Monday morning but since
it was now Tuesday and I had been sitting for so long, it was good to
move the legs. There was a wide variety of surfaces for running and throughout the trip we mixed it up between the track, road, and wood chip trail. We had our first meal then headed back for a shower and
I can’t remember what time I
went to bed each night but I usually slept from about 9 pm to 4 or 5 am. I woke up a few times each night but usually had no trouble getting
back to sleep. The beds and rooms were cozy and comfortable. About the only trouble I experienced with the time change was feeling sleepy around 5pm. Normally I would have napped at home for 20 min around 1pm but most felt it was best not to nap, just in case in turned into a long sleep!We did a short fartlek (total 9km) workout to freshen the legs up for the race. Let
me tell you, running around the rice fields in rural Japan was amazing.
Throughout the trip I wanted to very conscious of my surroundings and
what I was doing, and this was certainly something I took in. Having grown up on a farm and being able to do much of my running on
country roads outside of Brantford made for a great appreciation of what I was
doing. Getting my legs, lungs and heart going while viewing the fields
and gardens was peaceful yet exciting.
Later we met as a team to discuss logistics of the race
and finalize our individual leg assignments. And here’s how it would go:
Geoff 5 km, Tarah 5 km, Reid 10 km, Krista 5 km, Alex 10 km, and Lanni
7.2 km. With Rob Watson having to withdraw prior to the trip, Rachel was
left as our only alternate. She would have loved to run but easily
switched her game hat to team support for this race, knowing she’d put
on her game hat for the National Cross-Country race in Vancouver on
Saturday (note: and she pulled off a 9th place, just a few hours after arriving home!). 
Apparently there was a little earthquake last night (magnitude 4.2), which is common in Japan. Most of us slept through it but not Coach Rick. He heard thunder-like sounds and felt his bed shaking. Here’s the details (click here).
Shortly after breakfast and
checking email, most of the 15 teams boarded buses for a trip into the
city to see the temple and do some shopping. I think one of the best
things about this trip was the fact that the race was very competitive,
attracting many high caliber runners from all over the world – 2012
Olympic 10,000 m silver medalists Galen Rupp (USA) and Priscah Jeptoo
(Kenya) yet it was also very relaxed. I have not known of many (or any)
races where nearly all of the competing athletes go for a bus tour the
day before competing! We had a lovely tour guide who spoke excellent
english and gave us great insight to her culture and way of living. From
weather and religious rituals to customs, work, travel, and pleasure,
again the Japanese covered it all. You can see from the pictures that
the temples were quite the architectual design. The shopping at the mall
wasn’t all that different than North America with various stores and a
food court but again, I took it all in for its unique experience. My
sister-in-law, Aimee and friends, Matt and Clayton had told me quite a
bit about Japan and I was glad to experience it first-hand. One of the
most interesting things was the toilets. Aimee said there would be a
variety of buttons for various reasons. I had a lot of fun playing with
them – water for washing (bidet), warm air for drying, heat-seating for comfort,
and flushing sounds for distraction, while doing my business. I had to
contain my laughter once when I pressed the washing button for the first
time! What I didn’t expect was the squatting troughs in public places –
that was interesting! They even had seats to hold little children while
using the facility.
We made it back for a late lunch then went out for a short run and
shower before dinner back again at the Nihon Centre. I guess I could
write about the food now. It was excellent and there was a wide variety
of both Japanese and North American styles.  Again, I wanted to take it
all in, so dove right into the Japanese food. I thoroughly enjoyed small
amounts of a variety of foods. Typically for breakfast I would have
eggs, rice porridge, fruits (oranges, bananas) and vegetables (often
tomato, broccoli, cauliflower), yogurt and cereal, toast and sometimes
fish. For lunch and dinner, it was rice, miso soup, tofu, tempura,
various dishes with vegetables, fish (meat or chicken) and noodles, and
sushi. Lots of sushi. I think I had it nearly twice every day! 
After walking to the centre for
breakfast we took a shuttle back to the cabin. It was only about a 10
minute walk or 5 minute shuttle (between the cedar cabins and dining/meeting facility) so we switched it up a lot, depending on
how we felt or what we were doing. We relaxed a bit then each person
started getting their race gear on. Of the girls, Tara was the first to
head out for roll call then I was next, and lastly Lanni. Myself and the
other 14 leg 4 runners assembled into the room, sat in our respective
chairs and waited for roll call. With clipboards in hand, the race
officials checked off our names, inspected our uniforms and ensured we
had our proper labels (numbers on our bag and warm up gear as we would get our race
number later, once we arrived to our start area) before boarding the bus.
When walking out of the building they applauded and nodded with smiles
and wishes of success in our race. The bus ride to our start was the
quietest I’ve ever experienced. Really, you could hear a pin drop! Once
we arrived each of us was greeted with a helper whose job was to
basically take care of us and ensure we stayed within the boundaries
during our race prep. They carried our things, pinned on our numbers,
and instructed us throughout the wait for our turn in the race. After
stripping down to our race gear we jogged back and forth in a very small
pathway with our helpers’ extra jacket (our own gear had to be bagged
and tied at a certain time) to stay warm. Then the excitement
heightened. You could see the Japanese race officials scurry around and
talk even quicker when it was time to call the countries in order. We
knew the Kenyan, Japanese, and USA national teams would be strong. Sure
enough those girls were called ahead to get out on the road, ready to
receive their sash in the exchange zone because they were in the lead.
There was a very specific area where we were to receive the sash;
stepping outside of it would result in disqualification. So, I waited
for my “Canada” to be called. After the next three, Russia, Chiba Japan and New Zealand,
it was my turn. I stepped onto the exchange mat and looked for Reid.
After he handed me the sash and cheered me on with a, “Go, Go, GO!”, he
was done and I was off.   The New Zealand girl was up ahead and she was
my target. At this point it was pretty rainy and windy so I buckled down
and aimed to maintain a steady pace, fully intending to move Canada
from 7th to 6th. The Japanese were cheering, my sash was flapping, I was
wearing my first Team Canada racing uniform, and my heart was pounding. I
was going to take it all in and make my country proud. There was only a
2.5 km marking, which I missed, and a 1 km to go so knowing my pace was
difficult. I didn’t wear my Garmin so just paid attention to my effort
and breathing. A lot of the athletes were track runners so I knew that
if I was consistent, my strength could work to my advantage in the end.
Sure enough I could tell I was gaining and the Kiwi was fading. She was
mine. I passed her shortly after the 1 km to go and worked hard to give
us a bit of an extra lead. I looked ahead and got my sash off and into
hand before passing it off and cheering for an excited Alex. As a
steeple-chaser, it was his first 10 km road race. I was done and he was
off. I think it’s quite neat that I was the leg between two of Canada’s
2012 Olympic athletes.
As soon as we were finished, we were whisked into a tented area. We
received our bags and quickly changed into our dry clothing. I looked
for my new USA friend, Emma but apparently she and the two other girls
from the lead teams (still Kenya and Japan) were tossed into a cab to
make it back to the stadium for the finish. Once on the bus we chatted
with the other girls (much friendlier atmosphere after running!),
enjoyed our boxed lunch (Aimee had told me about this) and watched the
race on the bus’s tv. To go from being in the race to watching it, moments
later, was fascinating. Even more exciting was when we got out at the
road once we knew we would not make it back to the stadium in time, to
cheer for the final leg. So back to being in the race again!  The same
teams had the lead and like Kenya and the USA battling it out, Canada
and New Zealand was doing the same. I saw the Kiwi approach first, then
Lanni was right behind. We cheered for our country and others, then got
back on the bus to get to the stadium (about 1 km away). I let out a
few hollers for Lanni to catch her and sure enough once I looked back up
on the screen, there we were with our best Cdn place and time yet! We
were 6th overall with a time of 2:11:01.  Wow, we did it! We got off the
bus, were escorted into the stadium and looked for our teams. There were
lots of hugs and smiles, especially from Rachel and Ron, and our proud
coaches, Jon and Rick. Everyone ran a strong leg and we were very
consistent across the board, placing from 3rd to10th in our individual
legs. New Zealand’s Robertson twins (Zane and Jake) ran the fastest in
their legs but it was our depth that got us our best place ever! After
some got a bit of treatment from Ron while others cooled down, we got on
our Canada bus and enjoyed a fun ride back to the centre. We showered
and got dressed up and headed to the banquet. They had already given the
overall awards at the stadium so gave the awards for the fastest
individual legs, and even did some fun awards (from pictures they had
taken throughout the week, they gave best dressed, best smile, etc.).
Teams exchanged gear (uniform tights, jackets, singlets) and enjoyed the
evening together. Shortly before getting the shuttle back to the cabin,
I hopped on the computer in the wi-fi zone (a very popular site all
week for everyone!). My day was made even better when I watched a video
of my husband and kids, saying hi to their mommy in Japan. Again, I took
a moment to take it all in and reflect.
As per our tradition after racing
together, Lanni and I did not sleep. This time, not at all! So, at 5:30
am we decided to put on our gear and what else, go for a run. We
enjoyed an easy 10 km, again around the rice fields, farms and gardens.
We had to ask for directions a few times, and like every other
encounter with the Japanese people, we were assisted in a
very friendly and courteous manner. We packed our bags then headed down
for my much-anticipated onsen. Matt and Aimee had told me all about
their experience and it was finally going to be my turn. I had told the
other Canadians about it all week and was thrilled to discover that it
was available at the Nihon centre. But sadly, I wish I had known earlier
than the day before because when Lanni and I got there we were informed
that the onsen was not available until 11 am. Our bus was leaving for
the airport at 8:15 am sharp. So, back to the cabin we went. We got
ready and ate quickly then boarded the bus to go. After lots of bowing,
smiles, thank you’s, and waves, we said good bye. Reid stayed behind
since he has two more races in Asia in the following few weeks. After
coming up with a plan on the bus (not only can Jon coach, he knows
Japan, after living and training here previously in his career), we put
our luggage in lockers, bought our train ticket and headed to Tokyo! We
only had a few hours but the trip was well worth it. On the way, there was so much to see, this time more urban than the rural we were used to back near the Nihon Centre. We saw the Tokyo Skytree, the world’s highest tower. Then, we experienced the crowds of people (Clayton described rush hour at the station
like ants coming out of an ant hill), sites, sounds, and smells at
the market and on the streets. It was simply amazing. Matt had told me about
tiny little sectioned booths where you could get food. Saw it! We
purchased a few items then went to a little restaurant to enjoy an
authentic Japanese meal. While waiting outside for tables to clear, we
looked at the food on display in the window (another thing Aimee told me
about). Once we sat down, we pointed to our meals from the menu, and again took in the
atmosphere around us. We looked at how other people ate – eating with
your chopsticks and bowl in hand up near your mouth was acceptable. Once
our meal came it was devoured in no time. We were hungry and it was
delicious. Shortly after we raced to board the train with just a few
minutes to spare before heading back to the airport (even the airport staff outside stood and waved!) for our final
journey home. We were told this part of the leg would be the most
tiring. Basically, with the 14 hr time change and 13 hr flight, time
stands still. Our Japanese clock will have us ready for bed but our
Canadian clock will be mid-afternoon. There is only 2 hours left on the
flight! I was fortunate enough to have two empty seats beside me so have
already had a decent nap. I want to finish the book my mother in law
let borrow for the trip, maybe catch a quick nap, and watch the rest of
the movie I started on the way here. It’s about two young female runners
in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And they have another meal to serve! I guess a
13 hr flight isn’t too bad after all.
I look forward to debriefing with Rick about this race, and our
season. What an exciting year it has been for us. December will be easy
with lots of mental and physical recovery.
And of course, I
can’t wait to see Jonathan, Micah, Seth, and Leah. Other than Rotterdam,
I have never been gone from them for this long. They will be at the
airport once we land. And I will … take it all in.
Cozy and comfy bed.

The many toilet buttons. Fun and interesting.

Girl power for Team Canada.

This was as close to an onsen as I got, unfortunately. A few times I sat and lathered, just to say I did (Aimee, I was so bummed that I missed the onsen experience). Sigh (youtube of onsen)

Vegetable and noodle dishes with sushi – a common meal for me at the Nihon Centre.

Slippers – a must when indoors.

Event poster.

Japanese muppets?

Japanese kids’ tv show.

Wood chip trail.

Is this the ladies’ washroom? Yep.

Hmmm, what should I order?

Lanni and Krista – Saucony girls rooming together again in another country.

Enjoying a treat from the station before heading to Tokyo.

Geoff getting his ice cream bar.

The real deal, enjoying a delicious meal in Tokyo.

Handy for holding little ones while using the washroom.

Japanese headbands and chopsticks.

Leah’s Hello Kitty purse – it’s a pretty big thing in Japan!

Alex getting a coffee at the Nihon Centre where we had meals and the coaches had meetings.

Japanese pancakes (kinda small, don’t you think).

Vending machine with items on display.

Our cedar cabin.

Coach Rick with water, clipboard and Canadian gear.

Brantford to Japan.

Dietitians, Rachel and Krista (Alex is completing his course too!).


Sites from the bus.

Our tour guide.

Rice fields – everywhere!

Team Canada at the temple.

Kimono store.

Japanese fashion.

Trays are used when paying for things. Tarah is getting her change after getting a little something for McKayla.


Kenyans shopping.

More rice fields.

Krista on tv waiting for sash from Reid to start her 5 km leg of the relay race.

Additional Links

Japan Running News – race report
Reid Coolsaet – trip and race report

Wesley Korir and Tarah McKay-Korir – Kenya Kids Foundation
Nihon Aerobics Center – dining, meeting, and lodging

One comment

  1. Wow, thanks Krista for this detailed account of your incredible running trip to Japan!

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