18th Nagano Marathon 2016

I can’t believe it’s over. Done! 42.195km around Nagano, Japan. What an experience it was, and an eventful weekend…

Travelling to and from Nagano

My plane was delayed, due to wind. I could see our plane hadn’t arrived and I eventually found out that it had made it to Sapporo, but then had turned around and gone back to Tokyo. I won’t ever know all the details, but we were delayed by 5hrs. With hindsight, I could have booked the later flight as we ended up watching the 16h15 flight leave before us.

No one spoke much English and I showed a lady, also sat waiting, my boarding pass to see if she was on the same flight as me. After trying to get her attention for five minutes thinking ‘am I saying sumimasen (excuse me) wrongly? Is this woman deaf?’ she nodded and tried to use Google Translate to explain what was going on. She managed to simply turn Japanese characters into our alphabet. I eventually managed to get some fairly incomprehensible translation in English. Five minutes later I saw her sign to her friend. Yes, I had chosen to talk to a deaf Japanese lady.

I ended up flying in at night and was stunned by the beautiful lights of Tokyo and how vast the city is; absolutely huge! Upon arrival at Haneda airport I received a text from Eri saying call me as soon as you land. I had an hour to get across Tokyo and onto the last bullet train to Ueda, where we were staying at a very kind friend of Eri’s house, about an hours drive from Nagano. I literally ran through stations and thrust my phone, with Eri on the other end, to information staff. They were brilliant in guiding me, buying my tickets and pointing me in the right direction. I made it with about 3 minutes to spare. No sweat.

The return journey was much more pleasant. The public transport system is so efficient, with civilised queuing to get on and off trains, a lot of leg room (I thought they were a short nation!) and everyone was so polite and helpful; thankfully, because I was not running ANYWHERE and would not have coped with any pushing or shoving.

The Main Event

On Saturday morning, after a shorter night’s sleep than I had planned, we drove to Nagano, over the mountains and through some ski resorts, so I could register for the marathon.

We had a carbohydrate load at a soba noodle restaurant where you could watch them making the noodles, rolling out the pasta dough and finely slicing it into noodle shape – a real art. Slightly tired with a full belly,a nap was on the agenda, some blossom viewing, and an early night.

I was surprised to sleep right through to my alarm and woke feeling very excited rather than too nervous. Unlike a triathlon, there was no worrying that my bike could break or I could crash! I just had my body and mind on which to rely. Oh, and the weather.

We got a shuttle bus from the car park to the start. The guy next to me fell asleep and started to snore; the Japanese really can fall asleep anywhere, and under any conditions!

The wind was picking up, it had yet to start to rain, and it was warming up, fast. I kitted myself up and queued for the loo before handing my bag in to be transported to the finish and find my spot in group ‘H’.

Eri explained to me some of what was being said, for example the warm-up, whilst we waited at the start. When everyone started waving their arms about and suddenly cheering, it was all a bit of a surprise and entertaining. We also prayed for those affected by the earthquakes in Kyushu. At 08h30, we were off – well, after a four minute walk to the start.

There were so many people, which I had been expecting, and so I tried to settle into a pace and relax until they dispersed a little. Around 10km I started to feel quite tired and sick and hot. It suddenly dawned on me I was desperate for water and was dehydrated, already. Oops!

The wind was a nightmare and it was hot and muggy. Having trained in anything from -5ºC to +5ºC, suddenly running in 20-30ºC heat was a massive shock to my body. Nagano is a mountainous place and although I thought it might be warmer than Niseko, I wasn’t expecting an April heat wave – always expect the unexpected! I ended up needing to stop at every water station. The rain was happily welcomed at the half way mark and cooled me down. Walking on Sunshine started to play as the rain pummelled my face, which made me giggle. From the 25km mark I couldn’t face taking on any fuel and from 32km, my mind wanted to pick up the pace and try and finish strong but every time I tried to, I thought I was going to throw up. I felt awful. Sub 4hrs was out of the question but there was no way I was giving up. The last 2km took me 15 minutes! The tunes came out and it was very soothing to just listen to everyone’s feet plodding forward. There were some girls with a sign saying “Goal” and a pint of beer underneath – that was the last thing I wanted. Coming into the stadium was a blur and seeing Eri just made me blub! I’d done it.

Oblivious to what was being said around me, I kept telling Eri I never thought it would be that hard and how hot I was and that I just wanted water. She then revealed there had been a weather warning for high winds and had the warning been a level higher, the event would have been cancelled. She explained that everyone around us was saying how challenging the conditions had been. She’d listened to the elites interview once they finished. They said it was one of the toughest they’d done. One runner who had done all 18 editions ran his second slowest time.

The course started in the city and took us out through the countryside. The views of the mountains were stunning and the crowds, when trying not to be blown away themselves, were fantastic. The volunteers at water stations and at the end were so friendly, helpful and encouraging. I wish I could have communicated more with those around me to boost my morale. When I did try and cheer a man running next to me, after he let out a moan of pain, he picked up his pace and left me behind. I ran a few steps faster and then decided being sick was not an option, so slowed again.

But, I finished! And, in 4hr12 minutes – I am thrilled! Sunburn, chafe, blisters, painful joints, DOMS, sickness and it took me about 2hrs after finishing to realise I hadn’t had a pee; I felt a mess!

I know a few people who are running marathons this spring and I wish you all the very best – hang on in there!


Nothing like a burger to refuel!


I was lucky to have Eri as my tour guide and support crew over the weekend, and the little star found some Japanese blossom.

It was a very memorable weekend and I am so pleased I completed the marathon after a season of dedicating skiing, socialising and partying hours to running, training and resting – a tick off the bucket list! I am so grateful for all the donations to the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation and I know the foundation is also thrilled. If you’d still like to make a donation, please click here, posting ‘R Hallewell Marathon’ in the comment box. A record of all donations is pinned to my Facebook page here. Thank you.