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I boarded my flight to Tokyo with nervous anticipation.

This was my 4th year in a row competing in a


large global marathon but I knew this event was going to be very different. I was lucky enough to fly to
Japan on the new Air New Zealand Dreamliner. This, and the fact that I was flying during the day,
meant I was able to sit back, relax, and watch a movie marathon while continuing my carb-loading.
Later that evening, Osaka greeted me with cold, icy winds. I had expected this, but having spent the
summer training in Wellington, the sudden drop in temperature was a real shock. I was escorted to
my hotel by my always helpful guide Minoru from Sakai City. I spent the 40 minute taxi ride gazing out
at the bright lights of Osaka trying to picture the city that would reveal itself the following day. A quick
bite to eat at my hotel and I was grateful at being able to get a full 8 hours sleep.
Pre-race Day (Saturday)
I woke early and quickly dressed in all my warm running attire before heading out for a 30min jog.
Although the streets were incredibly quiet early on a Saturday, I was amused at how I was
immediately a focus of attention for anyone I came across. I suspect the sight of a 2 metre tall Kiwi
striding along the river bank is
not what a Sakai City resident
expects to see on their early
morning walk. Nevertheless, I
made a point of waving and
speaking to everyone I came
across.
After breakfast I enjoyed meeting
my sister city buddy, Tim
MacIssac and his wife Misty. Tim
is a fire chief in Berkeley,
California and we immediately hit
it off. The morning was spent
touring the entire marathon
route, which presented a wonderful opportunity to engage with our guides from Sakai City and try to
understand what lay in store for us over the coming week.
The tour was followed by the first of many beautiful lunches, then on to meet and exchange gifts with
the always enthusiastic, Mayor Takayama.
Later that evening, we attended the Welcome Banquet, where as guests of honour, we were
introduced to a room full of dignitaries. This was an event scheduled to begin at 5.30pm and end at
7pm, and like every event we attended, it started and finished on time, to the minute. I had been
warned by previous Wellington representatives that this event can be a challenge as there is no
seating. Huge amounts of food, beer and sake are placed on tables and we were moved from group
to group, introducing ourselves, exchanging business cards and having photos. When planning a

build-up to a marathon, this is not what a runner would typically schedule, however it was amusing to
see all the international runners having the same issue. In the end, it was best just to immerse oneself
in the event and enjoy it. I managed to avoid the beer but got sucked in by the sushi and a drop of
sake.
Marathon Day
I woke feeling average at best. I had started to feel unwell the previous afternoon, but put it down to
hotel air conditioning. Alas, I was wrong. However I was determined to put it out of my mind and focus
on the race. I knew my fitness was great and I was full of confidence having spent the summer
training at levels I had never got to before. It was incredibly exciting to be treated like an elite runner
with priority transport, a warm room out of the wind and a place at the front of the field on the start
line. Our guides from Sakai City were ever present and extremely excited for us. They had pre-made
signs, live tracking on their phones and were genuinely pleased to be doing everything they could to

help and support us. It was made quite clear to us that not only were we running for ourselves, but we
were representing both Wellington and Sakai Cities. As the gun went off, I was determined to run hard
and do my best for everyone I was representing.
The Senshu Marathon course is interesting in that, other than 4-5kms at either end, it is essentially
32kms in one direction. You can be lucky and strike a tail wind, or desperately unlucky and run most
of the race into the wind. Sadly for me it was the latter. After a comfortable first 5km, I turned and
immediately felt the strong wind on my face. The start line had been in a secluded park surrounded by
tall trees that had obviously provided a lot of shelter disguising the conditions on course. The
headwind was a lot stronger than anticipated and I knew I was in for a long, hard run. By 15km I knew
that I was not going to hit my target time and although I tried to draft behind as many other runners as

possible, it should come as no surprise that my large frame (by comparison) was the centre of
attention for any runner in my vicinity.
I battled through to the finish and in the end was reasonably happy with a personal best of 2.53.12.
This was well off what I had hoped for but given how I was feeling, and the conditions, in hindsight it
was a pretty good performance. My Sakai companions provided a much needed reality check as they
celebrated and cheered when I crossed the line. The fact that they were so excited and pleased with
my performance reminded me how lucky I am to be able to perform at this level and why I was really
there. I made a concerted effort to not show any disappointment and join in the celebrations as much
as I possibly could.
The afternoon was spent in the hotel spa. A long soak in some hot pools, with a fantastic view of the
city, complemented by a well-earned beer; there is not a better way to celebrate completing another
marathon. That evening our Sakai City friends took us out for a fantastic dinner. I was told my friend
Grant McLean had astounded everyone last year with how much he ate following the race. I was
determined that, although Grant had run a much faster time than me, I would certainly take the postrace eating title from him. I understand that I was successful in this endeavour.
Monday Day One Cultural Exchange
As is often the case, the day after the race saw ideal running conditions, calm and fine. I was excited
that the real cultural exchange part of the trip was about to start. Unfortunately, my cold was
persisting and coupled with my tired legs,
I needed a hearty Japanese style
breakfast to get me going. The day
started off with one of the highlights of
my trip, a visit to Mikunigaoka
Kindergarten where we meet a large
group of very enthusiastic children. It was
incredible to see how similar the kids
were to my own boys. Although
Japanese and Western adults can be so
different in their personalities, traits and
mannerisms, it really showed that all children behave in the same way no matter which country you
are in. A short play was followed by a hilarious question and answer session and following this I was
pleased to be able to distribute numerous small gifts to the delighted kids.
Later that day we attended the Sakai City Traditional Crafts Museum. We were lucky to have a oneon-one tutorial session with a master sweet maker where I was astounded at the craftsmanship and
attention to detail that went into the creation of these fantastic sweets. This was followed with a tour of
the knife museum where I made a number of purchases.

The day concluded with the Welcome party hosted by the Sakai and Berkeley Sister City
Associations. As guests of honour, it was fantastic to be able to engage and talk to so many people
and share stories and photos of Wellington and my family. I was also able to meet my host family
(Nagashige family) for the first time and shared a loud and boisterous rendition of Pokarekareana with
Mr Shiro Nagashige. This was the first of a few times that I would sing this song with Shiro over the
next few days.

I travelled back with Shiro to his home and was astounded to find that I had been provided with my
own self-contained unit at the rear of Shiros home. His house was beautiful, large by Japanese
standards, and very warm. I was immediately offered some beautiful and very salty, cherry blossom
tea by Shiros diminutive wife (who spoke no English whatsoever). We conversed for a while about
the differences and similarities in family life before the tiredness took over and I headed off to bed.
Tuesday Day Two Cultural Exchange
Our second and final day of cultural exchange began with a
guided tour of the amazing Nanshuji temple. An absolutely serene
environment, we dodged passing rain showers and heard tales of
the life of Sen-no-Rikyu, the key figure in the Japanese Way of
Tea. Another sensational lunch was followed by a visit to the
Sakai Museum and a walk alongside the gigantic Nintoku
Tumulus. By this stage the rain cleared and it was great to spend
the last few hours of the day walking alongside this beautiful and
historic location.
At 4.30pm Shiro met me at the Council building and we began a
train journey into central Osaka. I was very excited as it was my
first time venturing into the heart of a large Japanese city.
I was amazed at the scale and size of every piece of
infrastructure. Miles of covered atrium shopping malls intersected

by raised 6 lane motorway was a sight to behold. I have been to a number of major cities around the
world but had never seen anything quite like this.
We headed off for the first of what I soon found out was two meals for the night. The first a cramped
and slightly eccentric tempura bar where food was ordered on a tablet and delivered by motorised
train. A truly hilarious sight. We then spent an hour or so walking through a vast shopping area and I
was able to pick up a number of souvenirs for my boys back home. I was also able to play the
ultimate tourist and capture my first selfie. At 9pm it was time to venture home and although the
masses of people were incredible, the efficiency of Osakas public transport system, made the trip
seem effortless. The change between two trains and a bus was seamless and certainly far exceeded
any similar experience in New Zealand or anywhere else for that matter.
Host Family Time
My final full day in Osaka dawned cold and grey. A fluttering of snow was forecast so any plans for
outside adventures seemed to be curtailed. Our plans for a trip to Osaka Castle were changed to a
visit to the large Osaka Aquarium combined with a number of stops to sample more local cuisine. This
was an inspired decision as it was magnificent and one of the highlights of my trip. As predicted a
fluttering of sleety snow did start falling as
we exited the aquarium, although rather
than being a discomfort, it seemed to add
to the whole experience. We were back at
Shiros home by 4pm where I was able to
venture 100m down the road to the local
vending machine to purchase a couple of
cans of Japanese beer. I then settled in for
a sumptuous feast where every type of
Japanese food that I had previously
indicated I liked, was offered up. It was
beautiful and I was extremely grateful for the time and effort put into preparing me a meal that I will
never forget. Shiro and I spent the rest of the evening chatting and sipping sake. It was great to sit
back and reflect on my time in Sakai. The tiredness in my legs was still there, as was my cold, but the
Marathon itself seemed like a distant memory with all the activities and visits since. Our evening
concluded appropriately with some impromptu singing. Shiro took the lead on the ukelele and
although I am not much of a singer, I continued with my plan to immerse myself in every occasion and
just went with it.
Looking back
My final morning in Osaka came around too quickly. I was very sad to leave. Fortunately I had made
plans to visit my brother in law and his family in Tokyo so my time in Japan was not quite at an end. I
said my goodbyes to Shrio, and my ever present guides, Felix and Minoru, took Tim, Misty and I to

Osaka train station where we were extremely excited to board the Shinkansen. I was bound for Tokyo
and Tim and Misty to Nagano. We enjoyed our last morning together reflecting on our incredible
experience in Sakai, and the friendships we had made.
Many times before I left I was told its not about the Marathon. At the time I smiled and agreed but
the competitor in me said otherwise, as far as I was concerned, it was all about the Marathon. In
hindsight I was completely wrong. The Marathon is one of a multitude of different experiences and
interactions within a culture that is so different to our own. For someone who is so routine and
process driven it was at first difficult to hand myself over to the plans of my hosts. However I quickly
learned that the Japanese way of life can be very comparable to my own in many ways. The high
value the Japanese place on respect and humility resonates with me particularly now I have become
a father to three young boys. Similarly the timeliness and politeness demonstrated by everone I met
fits well with my own personal values. I made the decision before I left to never say no to any
opportunity, to immerse myself in every situation and to eat everything put in front of me without
question. This was a wise move as I left without one regret. I made many friends and look forward to
returning.
Cheers Japan

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