Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Road running in Minamiaizu

A day off from worry

Hoshi-san about to make a break for glory, above Ouchijuku, Minamiaizu
It has taken me two years to find a group of runners to run with, in this sparsely populated area of a 'time poor' country, so I was really glad to be able to forget the stress of the last month and go and run with the informal Aizu Run For Fun group. They meet up a couple of times a year for a social run in addition to seeing each other at races.

Aizu Run For Fun group with Mt Ono in the background

We met at Yunokamionsen, which is lorded over by Mt Ono, and in the midst of other fine mountains, but the group like road running, so we weren't going up it, unfortunately for me. Instead we climbed up a long side valley past the famous old houses at Ouchijuku. It was about an hour of uphill road running, to a dam at the top. Then we turned round and ran back the same way! Ouch.

Endo-sensei and Iwabuchi-sensei, both primary school teachers, and Hoshi-san, very fast at 60.

The run up was at a steady social pace, and I stopped to take a photo of the others as they ran down a loop of road with mountains behind, assuming catching up would be no problem. Hoshi-san, the spry 60 year old, took the opportunity to leg it down the road sharpish, which shouldn't have been a huge surprise, as I had noticed how easily he was chatting on the way up. 

Runners on route 131, above Ouchi, Minamiaizu

I have noticed two things about Japanese sports clubs. One is that they like to play 'show the newcomer who is boss,' perhaps especially if they are a foreigner. And secondly, I am yet to go on a completely social run or ride, where people stay together all the way round. There is always someone batting off the front. Don't get me wrong, it is all done in a friendly spirit, and I love competition and hard training, but when I was in my prime in England we always said 'Don't leave your best runs in training - save it for races.' Perhaps they don't get to do as many races, so they have more of a competitive itch to scratch? It's just a different approach, and fine once you know to expect it.

Hoshi-san had a good time anyway, and it took an effort to catch him. He is obviously a classy runner for his age category, and without an ounce of fat on him at 45kg he has a great strength-to-weight ratio. On down the hill at a brisk pace, with my mountain runner's legs spitting hate at the pesky tarmac, he put in another burst and was off. 

Sharing grub after a relaxing onsen

The group who had gone a shorter route arrived back in pairs, their ages ranging from the 30s to the 70s! Fantastic. I love seeing people running and biking into their old age. I really hope I can do it. It won't be too long now. There is no better way to follow training than with an onsen, and the lunch banter got more raucous, the more alcohol the non-drivers consumed. Interesting characters!

It was a lovely day, and it was good spend it with nice people and to see a little more of an area that I don't know yet. Driving back on beautiful roads, I hoped that I would be able to come back and run a few of the mountains in Minamiaizu in less troubling times. There won't be much tarmac involved I can tell you...

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