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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Kyoto Marathon 2016: Days 4 & 5

Day 4 - Arashiyama

The fourth day of our stay in Kyoto saw Choon Yuen checking out and heading off on his own. That left me and my wife to explore the place alone. Initially I was a little worried about navigating cos Choon Yuen was my living GPS unit and now I had to do it all on my own.

The 'Shaggy Shrine' as my wife labeled it was just by the side lane of our apartment.

Nevertheless, my wife had done quite a bit of research on the place and I'd let her take over the navigation duties and I'll just keep on acting like the awe struck tourist. Our plans for the day was to visit Arashiyama. The day was still as cold as the previous day but with slightly less wind. This time I bundled up properly to ward off the cold and wasn't freezing my butt off.

Since Arashiyama was a ways off, we needed to get to Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama line. The trick was how to get there. We initially thought of taking subway to the station but decided to try taking a bus instead. We were totally lost about taking buses but decided that we need to learn how to take one anyway. So we made our way to the nearest bus stop and started looking at the details on the board, which were all in Japanese. The locals must have found us really amusing trying to decipher the boards!

The Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama tram

Damn, that was going to be a problem. Good thing, the names of the bus stops were in English and we managed to make some headway on which bus to take. What I like about the bus stops here was that they had this gadget that actually told you how far away the buses were from you. It showed an icon and some Japanese words when the buses were two stops away from you and told you when the bus was arriving. Nice. I wouldn't have to be guessing when they would arrive.

And these bus gadget thingy was spot on. When it turned to bus arriving status, the bus was actually arriving! I was totally impressed. Trust me, I don't even know how to take buses back home and I probably wouldn't even bother.
The bus approaching 'gadget' that had me mesmerized!

Anyways, we got on the correct bus and got to the Shijo-Omiya station heading to the Keifuku Dentetsu-Arashiyama station. It was a one coach tram that was bound for Arashiyama every 10 minutes. The ride alone took about 20 minutes or so, I can't really recall and passed by some scenic neighbourhoods and temples along the way. We finally reached the Arashiyama train station and I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I knew we were going to Arashiyama but I had no idea what was in Arashiyama. I just followed my wife's lead. She did the research and knew where she was going.

The shops just outside the Arashiyama station

I was impressed with the station itself. This was beginning to look good. Lots of tourists were also visiting the place. We were both pretty hungry and walked the row of shops outside the train station looking for some warm food. We managed to get some stuff from the convenience store and also some of the delicacies at one of the food shops to fill our tummies for the moment. We took a walk along the road and came to the beautiful Togetsukyo bridge over a river (which I later learned was called the Katsura river) surrounded by a scenic mountain view. If only it was in Fall or Spring, I'm pretty sure the view would have been a million times more stunning.

Two cheery tourists being taken for a ride on these two wheelers.
The guy pulling them along look fit enough to run ultras!

This was when it hit me that I've seen this place before. This was exactly where I DNF'ed the Kyoto Marathon! I never realised the route would take us to Arashiyama. I was thrilled cos when I saw it during the marathon, I was so in awe of the mountains and the river. I thought I would never see it again. Now here I was again to take in its magnificent beauty.

We took a stroll across the bridge cos my wife said there was a story about the bridge she read somewhere. Apparently we're supposed to cross the bridge and not look behind but heck, I peeked behind anyway ... LOL! We stopped at the centre of the bridge to admire the mountains and the river for a bit, took some pictures and headed back towards the bamboo forest section.

The Togetsukyo bridge that I was not supposed to look back but did anyway 

We walked by the banks of the Katsura river and I was so taken in by the serenity of the place that I was so afraid to even raise my voice for fear of spoiling the moment. We passed by a park that had some cherry blossoms that were in early bloom stages. My wife was pretty excited to see them and we stopped for some pictures. The weather was turning out to be beautiful for a nice outdoorsy walk.

You can't expect me not to do something as silly as this, right?

I couldn't believe how lovely the place was and was running around here and there looking for opportunities to take pictures, meniscus pain be damned. I was going to enjoy myself. There wasn't many tourist here so it was nice and quiet, just the way I loved it. My wife's navigation was spot on cos we soon came to the bamboo forest area.

The bamboo forest, with its tall groves shooting up to the sky was absolutely amazing, the place was a little overly crowded with tourists for my liking. Too many people looking for the best spots for a picture that made me wanna quickly head out of there. A few quick pictures of the two of us, we made our way to the next destination on her list, Gio-ji Temple and Otagi Nenbutsu-ji.

This is my best memory of the bamboo forest cos the rest was so full of tourist, I didn't really enjoy it!

Again I was relying on her to get us there, I'm the awe struck tourist, remember? We passed a few more temples and took a quick look-see before continuing our walk. Once past the temples, we came to a beautiful small street that housed rows upon rows of cosy Machiya, traditional Japanese town houses with shingled/tiled roofs that were amazing. The name of the street, according to my wife was called the Saga-Toriimoto street. Some of these houses were converted into souvenir shops and the houses were so beautiful I truly wanted to stay here.

The beautiful dwelling along the Saga-Toriimoto street

We hardly saw many people along the street here, save for a few elderly couples and one or two tourists heading to see an attraction or two. We took our time through the streets as we made our way to Gio-Ji Temple. It was a nice 30 minutes leisurely walk before we finally found the temple on our first try.

The temple required ¥300 entrance fee per person. We didn't hesitate cos after all, we were here to see stuff and I wasn't about to skimp on spending. Now, I thought this would just be another temple but I was mistaken. This one was known for its maple trees and moss forest. Once I stepped in, I was spell bounded by moss forest in the temple! I never thought I could even be fascinated by moss! I've never seen such well maintained moss surrounding the grounds and I had to stop and just take everything in.

The Gio-Ji temple with its amazing moss and maple tree forest

We spent quite a while here being mesmerized by the moss forest. I was wondering just how in heavens name do they upkeep it to look so beautiful. There was even a small cemetery there and I took some picture of it cos it was so beautiful. Of course my wife warned me about disturbing the place but I was very respectful of things. I do know when to behave.

Finally, after nearly 45 minutes, we headed out to find those thousands of statues at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple. It was a another 30 minutes or so of walking past pretty and cosy Japanese dwellings that really, really made me wish I could just hideaway here and not go home. I had to stop and take as many photos as I could cos they would be my only memory of the place.

We finally reached Otagi Nenbutsu-ji and after paying another ¥300 per person entrance fee, I was finally in the realm of those 1,200 Rakan sculptures that until now, I only saw in pictures. I ran off ahead of my wife to find the statues. I was like a kid in a playground when I saw them. Here they were, right in front of my eyes and I just couldn't help posing with them. 

It's not always I get to be surrounded by people ... errr, I mean statues! The amazing Rakan sculptures!

Aside from another elderly gentleman, we were the only other people there and I was thrilled to have the place all to myself. My wife was already checking out each individual statue looking for those that she wanted to find and take some pictures with. Once again the place was so calm and serene that even though I was hopping here and there, I kept the noise to a respectful level.

The statues were all that I imagined them to be and lots more. There were clumps of them gathered together and I took my time checking out each and everyone of them. It was really worth the walk all the way up here. There were three levels that these statues were located along with a small dwelling and a temple of sorts. 

I took my time taking in the beauty of the place and after nearly an hour here, we finally exited the place albeit reluctantly cos we needed to catch the last tram out at 5.00pm. It was still a long walk back to the tram station and I didn't want to miss the last ride out. Still on high from what we experienced, we made our way slowly down the street.

Did I nail the pose?

Somewhere down the road, we took a wrong fork and ended up on the main road instead of the previous Saga-Toriimoto street that we came from. We just kept going cos we knew that we were still in the right direction and sure enough, we reached the tram station with about an hour to spare before the last tram left. Phew!

Hungry from the walk, we got ourselves some hot solid food and rested for a while before buying the return tickets back. This was where I took the opportunity to grab a nice yummy green tea ice cream and it was absolutely heavenly even in the biting cold weather. The train was right on time and the ride back was uneventful.

My yummy green tea ice-cream. Aren't you all green with envy!

I gathered we had walked close to 10km but somehow I wasn't that tired, probably cos we took our time exploring the place. Once we got back to the Gion area, my wife wanted to find Pontocho Alley. I had no idea where or what that was and even though the weather was freezing, I gamely went along. She had this uncanny sense of direction and found it on her first try. Damn, I was amazed!

The Kimono Forest motifs at the Arashiyama station that are only lighted in the evenings

The Pontocho Alley, which runs parallel along the west bank of the Kamo river between Sanjo and Shijo is deemed by many, residents and visitors alike to be the most beautiful street in the city. Lined on both sides with traditional shops and restaurants, no cars, modern buildings or gaudy signages are allowed. With the sun setting, the place was lighted up and was simply beautiful an experience. This was also where I saw my very first authentic Geisha speeding along. Too late to whip out my camera for a pic though.

Not the real deal but close enough!

Once we got through the alley, we decided to walk back along the banks of the Kamo river. A nice place for a romantic walk under the stars. The river bank was teeming with life, runners out for their evening or recovery run, couples walking together, street performers strutting their talents and as a bonus, my wife and me managed to catch a glimpse of a real Geisha dancing through one of the restaurant windows. We could see the entire performance and were awe struck watching her perform. We stood there for close to 5 minutes watching the show but felt like trespassers spying on something illegal and decided to move on from there.  

Walking along the banks of the Kamo river

The entire day was replaying in my mind over and over again and I don't think the memory would wear off anytime soon. After a packed dinner from Lawson, we were both out the moment our heads hit the pillows.

The beautiful Kamo river against the lighted backdrop of the city

Day 5 - The Long Trek

On Our last day in Kyoto, we planned to take in as many attractions as we could. After a full day yesterday, we were surprisingly not as tired as we thought we'd be. My wife had three to four places planned on the menu for the day and we decided to do it all by walking to all the locations which in hindsight may have been a little short sighted on our part.

We walked from the apartment to our first location on the list, which was the Keage Incline. Along the way, we met a nice elderly Japanese lady on a bicycle who asked us if we both were a couple and also where we were from. She had some grasp of English and we chatted away for quite a while. She was living just nearby and was on her way out doing her regular daily stuff. When I asked for a photo with her, she shied away saying she didn't have her make up on. She wished us luck and we were off on our way again.

The abandoned tracks of the Keage Incline

We stopped at Lawson (I just love the place) and grabbed a quick breakfast before moving on again. We walked past the gargantuan Torii gate near Heian shrine again, a place that brought bittersweet memories for me. We finally reached the Keage Incline, nearly 45 minutes later. The Keage Incline is situated on the Kyoto side of the Lake Biwako Canal and was once used as a rail line to connect the channels. Sadly, the cherry blossoms weren't in bloom yet cos it would have been a spectacular sight to behold.

With no cherry blossoms in sight, I might as well just let a train run over me!

Nevertheless, it was still an amazing sight to behold. The abandoned track provided me loads of opportunities for pictures and I didn't shy away. Met another elderly gentleman here and even though neither could speak the language, both my wife and me somehow still managed a decent 'conversation' with him. At least he obliged when I asked for a picture with him.

Another 'friend' I made in Kyoto

The 'coach' used to transport the boats across the canal

Our next stop for the day was finding the Nanzenji Temple and the Aqueduct. Even though we knew the way to the Aqueduct, we spotted a nice scenic uphill path and decided to divert from our original route and explore the path and see if it'll lead us to Nanzenji. The route took us through a mountainous path that Yan Leng and Piew would revel upon. Again it was just the two of us and there were times when we wondered if the path would lead us anywhere.

The scenic but steep route up to the Himukai Daijingu Shrine

We finally came upon a shrine at the top of the hill called the Himukai Daijingu Shrine. Tradition has it that the shrine was founded during the era of the 23rd emperor Kenzou, who was said to have been on throne a few years during the latter half of the 5th century. During the Onin civil war (1467-1477), all of its historical records as well as building were burned down. The shrine lays on a beaten path which sees not many visitors these days.

We looked around the empty shrine and found a sign that indicated we could reach the aqueduct through a trail path. We were a little apprehensive but decided to keep going. Who knows what we might find and worse comes to worse, we could just double back. We were happy that we pushed on cos we came up a beautiful trail path that housed the Ama No Iwato shrine in a cave along the path.

Making an offering for a speedy recovery in the Ama No Iwato cavern shrine

We explored the cavern shrine and I said a small prayer to help with my injury recovery and we continued along. The trail path was magnificent and I was regretting not having on a pair of trail shoes but instead had on my Kinvara 7. I was slipping and sliding every which way down the path. We made our way slowly down and bumped into three young Japanese guys who wanted to know what was up ahead. I told them there was a shrine and they happily thanked us and went ahead. Next we met a couple looking for a waterfall and I remember the map said there was one up ahead so I told him so but cautioned that I wasn't 100% sure but he gamely went on while his other half said she'll meet him later and went the opposite way.

The lovely trail path that we stumbled upon

The trail was longer than we anticipated but eventually we arrived at the aqueduct from behind. I was awe stricken once again (the millionth time I've been in such a state) at the sight of the aqueduct. It was breathtaking to see something like this close up in modern times. The aqueduct still had water flowing through it. Surprisingly the place was pretty deserted with only  a handful of tourists. Not that I was complaining. Now I could get some magnificent shots of the entire aqueduct with no one else in the pictures.

Admiring the still flowing water in the aqueduct
I can't help gawking at the beauty of the aqueduct

Once we were done with the aqueduct, we headed to the jaw dropping shrines a few steps away from the aqueduct. Truly magnificent works of architecture. The gardens were so well tended that I was afraid of even looking at them for fear that I might jinx it. I'm glad we made the trek here cos I would have been thoroughly disappointed if we didn't.

Truly magnificent architecture

Next on our agenda was the Philosopher's Path. Based on the map, it wasn't too far away. So we started off again towards it, stopping only at vending machines to grab some hot coffee cos the weather was getting a lot colder now. What impressed me again was how clean the streets were and how friendly the residents were.

I'm pretty sure we're on the right path!

We reached the start of Philosopher's Path about 15 minutes later. I had heard so much about it but unfortunately we were there during winter and the trees were barren. Nevertheless it still was beautiful and I could imagine how much more beautiful it would be with the trees in full bloom. I will definitely come back again one day to see this.

I'm sure this would have looked even more awesome with the trees in full bloom!

As we walked along the path, we came across this elderly lady and her bunch of cats. The cats were lounging around the place, not at all scared of the visitors. It was like they were putting on a show. If you sat by the bench on your own, one or two cats would come over and sit next to you for some pampering. My wife was totally delighted to be surrounded by fluffy fat Japanese cats!

The fluffy fat cats!

Trying to be as still as possible to entice the fat fellow next to me

The path was long and housed some beautiful Japanese dwellings along the way. Loads of souvenir and food shops also lined the path. Halfway through we begin to see more people along the path, Somewhere towards the end, I was beginning to start feeling under the weather. My joints were starting to ache and a cough was brewing. The cold was getting to me. I was starting to shiver at certain points. This didn't look good.

Couldn't find a Geisha to accompany me, this teddy bear will just have to do!

We finally came to the end of Philosopher's Path (or the beginning, depends on where you started). There were a lot more tourists here simply because the Ginkaku-Ji Temple attraction was just around the corner. This was also on my wife's list so we made a beeline for the place but not before grabbing some hot food along the way. We were famished!

We paid the entrance fee (I forgot how much) and toured the place. The place had a well maintained garden with ponds and trees all around. The main attraction was the Silver Pavilion that was anything but silver. The place was packed making the experience a little unnerving especially with me feeling worse by the minute.

The beautiful sculptured sand gardens

The Silver Pavilion, nothing really silver about it though!

We made a quick tour of the place stopping only to throw some coins into one of the ponds and wishing for a speedy injury recovery. On the way out, we stopped at the souvenir shops cos my wife wanted to get some stuff back. By this time I really needed to get back to the apartment, I was really out of it and was shivering even more.

By my count we'd probably walked around 15km so far and I was totally out of it. After another round of a hot meal and drink, we walked to the bus stop just down the road. Didn't have to wait long for the bus. As much as I wanted to see more places, I just had no more energy to do it. Even my wife was feeling the fatigue by now.

The well maintained gardens and ponds in the Ginkaku-ji Temple grounds.

We reached our destination, got off, headed to Lawson (where else) and got some packed food for dinner. Even though I was almost ready to drop from tiredness, I was going to miss the place considerably. Once we reached the apartment, we couldn't rest just yet cos we had lots of stuff to pack since we had to leave really early the next morning. I was already fighting with fever and cough and knew it was going to be a rough trip home.

The view of the city from the top of the temple

The reality that my trip was coming to an end finally hit me. I'm not done yet. I don't want to go home just yet. I wanted to stay longer... heck, I wanted to stay in Japan! But I guess, I have to get back to reality. I need to work to earn more money to afford more trips like this. Sigh!

The Return

We woke up round 4am cos we had an 11.00am flight to catch and needed to be at the Kansai airport early, just to be sure since it was our first experience. Initially we wanted to take the subway to Kyoto station but that would have been a long walk, nearly 20 plus minutes but maybe even longer in my sickly condition. We decided then that we'd just take a taxi to the Kyoto station and thankfully there was one just outside the apartment at 5.00am in the morning. I thanked whatever gods that was looking out for me.

Got to the station early, had a 30 minute wait for the first Haruka Limited express train out of Kyoto to Kansai. The train was on time and I spent the 75 minutes journey to catch some shut-eye before we reached Kansai Airport. It was an uneventful trip and we had no issues checking in and getting through customs. The flight was also uneventful though it was delayed for close to an hour as there were so many planes queuing for take off.

I wish I could just stay here!

Practically slept on the trip back and whatever time I was awake I spent thinking of how much I loved the place and made a vow that I would come back to Japan again next year and not just to race. I'm captivated by the beauty of the place and the culture that it exudes. How could I not have gone to Japan sooner??!

Recaps of Days 1 can be found here and Days 2 & 3 here.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Kyoto Marathon 2016: Days 2 & 3

Day 2 - Race Kit Collection

Day 2 in Kyoto started out as a very wet and cold morning. Both of us woke up to the sound of raindrops outside the balcony and knew it was going to be a very cold day. We got dressed and met Choon Yuen downstairs. The menu for the day was to collect our race kit and check out the race expo. Our initial plan was to run a shakedown run from the apartment to Miyako Messe exhibition hall where the race kit collection was.

Nishiki Market

I had already plotted a scenic 5-6k route months in advance but with my meniscus tear, the shakedown had to be abandoned. I felt bad as I really wanted to run the shakedown but Choon Yuen said not to worry too much about it and gamely decided not to do the shakedown either.

Before heading to Miyako Messe, we decided to head to Nishiki Market to check the place out and also have breakfast there. So off we went in the rain, bundled in our shakedown run gear. We arrived at the market a little too early cos most shops were not open or either in the midst of setting up. Nevertheless, we continued and stopped at a few of the already opened shops to sample some of the local delicacies on offer.

For a wet market, the place was so clean!

We opted for more of the freshly cooked stuff cos it was just ideal breakfast food to warm the stomach for the cold wet morning. Memory is fading and I can't really recall what we ate but I know it was some form of fancy scrambled eggs and some freshly grilled squid. All I can remember is that it was thoroughly yummy!

As usual, I wanted to take pictures but I remember Jamie telling me during one of our runs together that I needed to ask permission to take pictures first and good thing I did ask cos some of them didn't allow for picture taking. The market was pretty interesting and I'm sure it would have been all the more interesting if all shops were open. After about an hour or so there, we decided it was time to head for the race kit collection.

The initial plan was to walk there but since it was raining pretty heavily by that time, we opted to take the subway which had a stop near the centre. So, off we went in the pouring cold rain, freezing my butt off towards the nearest subway.

The ride in itself was pretty fast as the centre was only two stops away. It was easy finding the Miyako Messe exhibition hall as all we had to do was follow the string of runners heading in that direction. A short 5 minute walk and we were at the location but not before gawking like an idiot at the gargantuan Torii Gate sprawled across the road. I finally get to see it with my own eyes and it was just as spectacular as it was in pictures!

The gargantuan Torii Gate!

The warmth of the exhibition centre was a much welcomed relief. Shrugged out of our wet rain jackets and followed the directions of the volunteers towards the collection centre. I was worried that with the language barrier it was going to be a bit difficult with the kit collection but there were English speaking volunteers on hand and after verifying my details, I was led to the proper line and was done within 5 minutes in all! Wow, I was impressed. Very professional. Even the girls manning the bib distribution were friendly and were all English speaking.

The friendly and efficient volunteers!
After putting aside the kit in my backpack, I met up with Choon Yuen who was at a different row and we made our way to find my wife and start our trek through the expo. First up was the CWX booth, queued and got our pictures taken by the official photographer and checked out the gear on offer from CWX. Nothing caught my eye and we moved on.

Some performances were going on which I took in for a while and continued along towards the Toyota booth. Grabbed a shot with the Mirai on display just to show some support for Richi, our very own Toyota big timer in Malaysia and filled up a small note with a message that would be displayed along the route at specific distances.

We were surprised to see them dishing out free Asahi by the cans at the Asahi booth and not one to pass up a good beer, we each grabbed a can, took some pictures and happily made our way to the next booth with our can of Asahi in hand. We would offer a toast to the guys back home later :D

We finally reached the section where running gear, shoes and apparels were on display. Most were going at extremely attractive discounts. Of course, being a shoe geek, I headed straight to the shoes as I had a shoe or two that I wanted and was hoping they were on sale. Sadly, they weren't so after a couple more minutes there, I headed out of the booth to collect my pre-ordered Kyoto event tee.

Obviously this Toyota girl knew Richi-San ...

I had pre-ordered the event tee as a memento about a month earlier. While I loved the design on the tee, I was a little disappointed with the quality of the material. It was not at all what I was expecting. It wasn't cheap either, at around RM110.00, they could have done a little better. Anyways, at least I had a little remembrance of the race.

The huge amount of items on sale at discounted prices

By this time we were hungry again. Breakfast at Nishiki Market earlier wasn't nearly enough. Now here is where we were in luck cos the expo had loads and loads and loads of local delicacies on offer! I was overwhelmed at the variety of it all. I've never been to a race expo this big and especially one that had so much food on offer.

We found a space to dump our stuff which was really just benches along the centre of the hall. Lots of runners were already resting and savouring the dishes on offer. We each made our way to grab what caught our eye and greedily chomped away. Man, I have to admit, the food was simply delicious and I was sure we'd leave the centre a lot heavier than when we came in!

Some of the yummy food for sale at the expo

While munching on my late breakfast/lunch, I was observing the people around me. While everyone was eating away, kids included, none of them had even dropped or thrown a single piece of rubbish of food on the floor. They cleaned up after themselves, cleaned the place they sat at and threw the rubbish at the respective bins allocated all around. Even the bins were speedily cleared by the volunteers the moment it got full. The floor around the place was spotless! I was impressed, extremely impressed. If this was back home, you'd see over-flowing bins and rubbish all over the place.

After a couple of hours at the expo, we finally made our way out of the expo. The rain hadn't let up and was still pouring. I was reluctant to step out into the cold, wet weather again cos it felt like I was walking into one huge freezer! We got ourselves some hot drinks from the vending machines along the way and made our way back on foot towards the apartment which really wasn't too far away.

The commemorative Kyoto Marathon cookies 

It would have been a nice walk if it wasn't for the rain. We decided we needed some hot coffee before we got to the apartment so we stopped along the way looking for a nice coffee joint. We had to bypass two of them cos they were smoking joints and we weren't interested in inhaling smoke so in the end we decided to head to Starbucks.

After the much needed warmth from the coffee and some cakes, we finally made our way home, to get out of the wet clothes and get some rest before meeting up for an early dinner and calling it a night since Choon Yuen needed the rest for his race the next day. Dinner was supposed to be something Teriyaki like but unfortunately we couldn't find one nearby and settled for some hot Ramen meal. After dinner, it was a short pit-stop at Lawson's to get some stuff for breakfast tomorrow and we finally called it a day. I was out like a light bulb the moment my head hit the pillows.

Day 3 - Race Day

The main agenda of the trip, the marathon finally arrived. Even though I knew I wasn't going to run this marathon to the finish, I still suited up as if I was ready to take it on. In a private way, I was. My gear consisted of an Under Armour compression tights with a Nike shorts over it. My top was an Under Armour thermal compression top and my Team Malaysia tee over it. Finally a Columbia rain jacket to stop the cold and wind with a Under Armour beanie for my head. My shoe of choice was the awesome Saucony Kinvara 7.

Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium

Choon Yuen and me met up in the lobby of the apartment around 7.30am since race start was only at 9.00am. The weather was a little better this morning but still cold. Hopefully the sun would show itself a little later in the day. We took an easy walk toward the subway station nearest to us to head for the Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium which was the race start location. As usual we followed the trail of runners going the same way.

My wife was on her own today. She opted out of following us for race start cos she wanted to use the time to explore the place. She would later meet up with us at the finish. I wasn't too worried about her cos I knew she knew her way around and the place was really very, very safe. And besides, my wife knows how to take care of herself. She had a list planned and was adamant to meet every item on her list.

Runners getting ready

The train stop was just a 5-10 minute walk from the stadium. The skies were bright but the weather was still very chilly. I was already freezing and was doing everything I could to keep warm. When we reached the stadium, I was very nervous. Though I knew I wasn't going to be running the race, I was intimidated by all the runners all round me. They all looked fast (and they were) and I felt like a little pretender among the sea of runners.

After depositing our bags at the respective lorry which would ferry our bags to the finish line at the Heian Shrine and a toilet break, we made our way into the Nishikyogoku Stadium to our respective corrals. I was in the C corral but really felt out of place knowing that I would not be able to justify the corral placement. I had already decided to give the marathon a shot but by trying to walk it as far as I could before being swept up the sweeper bus which I reckon would be at the 5km mark by my calculations.

This was a sight to behold

The entire track on the stadium was packed with runners waiting for race start. I was in awe just observing the entire thing. Soon enough, the clock hit 9.00am and it was gun off. Everyone started moving and in the excitement and euphoria of things, I got into an easy jog. I knew it wouldn't last long but I was determined to run along with everyone, at least until I was outside the stadium. Adrenaline must have come into play cos I was actually able to run along without much pain. At precisely this time I was regretting my decision not to take the cortisone shot!

Ultraman was also present :D

As I ran out the stadium, I was just emotional at the support of the crowd cheering as the runners made their way out along the course. I did the best I could to run, albeit extremely slow. I managed to keep to a decent 7:00 pace till the first kilometer and then had to stop to walk. The pain was getting to be too painful. Even though I knew it was going to happen, I was still disappointed. I moved myself to the edge of the road as possible so as to not hinder any of the fast running Japanese behind me.

Cheer leaders along the way!

I whipped out my camera and started snapping away. A run/walk strategy. Soon enough, nearly everyone overtook me and I was left all alone. There I was, alone in a sea of supporters both on the left and right sides of the street cheering me on. Even though I was walking, they were still cheering me on wildly. I felt so emotional again and held back tears at the support thrown my way. I can't really remember but I think I bowed a million times that day!

The very cheery volunteers along the way

Eventually though, my leg was in so much pain that it was purely walking. I stopped to take pictures with as many volunteers as I could. They were all very obliging. Finally I reach the 5km mark and right on the dot, the official car came by and instructed the runners off the road. I had three runners for company who were also down with an injury. I moved to the side of the road and carried on walking for another 2km until an official approached me and told me that the sweeper bus is across the road and to board it.

This is a feeling I cannot describe. I was crushed, really I was. Even though I knew this was inevitable, it was still hard to take. All those months of waking up at the crack of dawn, putting in mile after mile, day after day and to lead to this can be pretty heartbreaking. I hung my head down and was led by another official to the sweeper bus which already had a load of runners on it. I'm sure they all DNF'ed cos of some injury too cos they all looked so darned fit otherwise.

Volunteers as far as the eye can see!

The bus ride back to the finish area had me doing lots of soul searching. This was the second time I got brought down by an injury just before the race. What am I doing wrong? Am I chasing a dream that's totally unreachable and just setting myself up for injuries and disappointment at the end of the day? Am I trying too hard to be someone I cannot be? Lots of questions but no answers were forthcoming at present. I'd have to re-look at my objectives when I get back. After all I love running and getting injured all the time takes the love out of running and I don't want that to happen.

A nearly 40 minute bus ride and we were back at the finish location. Hobbled over to get my bag and headed to the changing room to get changed and freshen up. Lots of dejected runners were there too, all looking as sullen as I was. I can relate to how they're feeling.

Achieved my 'goal'

While I was changing, this Japanese guy came hobbling over to the side of me, all the while scolding (I'm assuming) himself in Japanese. It was harsh words, even I could tell. He kept on talking to himself that I was afraid he was going to commit hara-kiri right there and then! I quickly gathered my things and headed out of there as fast as I could.

The weather by then was just unpredictable. Hot one moment and cloudy with freezing winds the next. I was in contact with Jamie back home and he was feeding me Choon Yuen's status. He was on fire. An even consistent pace throughout. As long as his pace discipline held, he was on course for a superb PR. Every time the weather turned, I was worried for him but I knew he'd do it. He was totally on his game even before arriving in Kyoto.

That is a sleeping dog he's playing too ...

Finally got word from Jamie that he aced to a new PR. I was very happy for him. After he gathered his things, we met up at the 7-11 down the road, a pre-planned meet point. My wife was already back from her exploring and had happiness written all over her face. She managed to get almost everything on her list of places to see. She managed to get to Kiyomizu-Dera temple and passed lots of other places of interest on her list (Yasaka pagoda - Houkanji, Ninen-zaka stairs and Sannen-zaka stairs, Ryozen Kannon). I'm quite amazed that she managed to get to all these places on her own since she only used Google street view prior to coming to Japan.

The cherry blossoms already in bloom near Sannenzaka stairs.

A quick mention here about the organizing of the Kyoto marathon and its volunteers. It was simply superbly organized and the sheer number of volunteers on hand was simply out of this world. There was practically one volunteer every 200 metres along the race route and each and everyone one of them was full of life! And once I reached the finish area, they was so many volunteers that it would be impossible to get lost or take a wrong turn! Kudos to each and every one of them on a job well done!

Sannenzaka stairs.

Since the apartment was not too far and Choon Yuen said he was feeling fine, we walked back but this time we took the scenic route. It was actually the reverse of our planned shakedown route. It led us through amazing and breath-taking architecture such as the Chion-in shrine that had my jaw hit the floor again. We couldn't resist, tired or not, we had to go explore it and take our customary silly pictures.

The short walk back took us way longer than expected cos we stopped every few metres to admire something or other. It was too hard to resist, especially when you had beauty surround you every which way you looked! If this is how the place looks in winter, I can't wait to see how much more beautiful it would look in fall or spring. I must come back.

One of the smaller temples enroute to Kiyomizu-dera temple.

Once done, we headed back to the apartment to rest,freshen up and head out for dinner. I wanted to head to Kyoto station to see the lights on the stairs and also get my bearings right for when we returned in two days time. Choon Yuen said he'd join us and treat us to some Japanese beef a his PR treat. Who am I to argue with a free meal? LOL!

We walked along the back lanes of Gion before we got to the station, admiring the architecture along the way. Since our aim was to get at least a picture with some Geishas and seeing as how it was virtually impossible to find the real thing, we settled for two tourist dressed in Kimonos who were obliging enough to accommodate us.

Not the real thing but we were happy to get our Kimono clad women shot ... LOL!

It was a long, slow walk to the station though. The evening air was downright freezing again! After a short 5 minute train ride we were at Kyoto Station. The wind by then was practically freezing! I've never experienced cold that extreme. I managed to see the lights on the stairs which was simply amazing, cold or not, I had to take pictures of it. After a quick stop at the top of the station to take in the surroundings of Kyoto, we headed for dinner.

I was so glad to be inside a nice, hot building and just didn't want to come out! Choon Yuen found a place for us to treat us to a beef dinner. According to him, it wasn't the best but I was hungry and wolfed it down in no time! I even walloped half of my wife's meal. After dinner, we walked around a little before heading back to our apartment.

The majestic Kiyomizu-dera temple.

After taking the train back, it was still a little too early to call it a night and besides Choon Yuen wanted to check something out for Jamie at the Teramachi Street, an enclosed shopping street with lots of little stores selling all kinds of stuff. I was game cos it would take us out of the cold bitter air for a while. Besides there were lots of stuff to see here. We spent quite a bit of time here browsing stuff, ok to be honest browsing running shoes.

After nearly an hour plus or thereabouts, we headed back but since we had a long way to walk, we decided to stop for a hot coffee break along the way. Can't help it, we're coffee addicts and hot coffee is a lifesaver in cold, frozen weather. After some chit chat and gossiping, we were on our way.

The light show on the stairs of Kyoto Station

We walked closed to 20 minute in the bitter cold before realizing we were going the opposite way! I wanted to breakdown, throw a tantrum and cry like a baby! We now had to double back in the freezing cold and still had a ways to go. Why it didn't occur to us to take the bus was beyond me. So off we went again, shuffling along in the cold. We were all dead tired by then but gamely kept moving.

Choon Yuen's PR treat. Warmed the cold tummy!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity we were back to our apartment area. Bought some tidbits from Lawson before finally calling an end to day 3! Day 4 and 5 coming up soon ...

Day 1 recap can be found here.