Monday, December 03, 2018

Osaka Marathon 2018- Race Day (25th November 2018)

On race day, I got up at 5.15am to get myself ready as I didnt pack or prepare my race stuff the night before. The timing was not too bad as we wake up way earlier for races in Singapore. I bought my breakfast from Family Mart near the hotel the night before, so there's plenty of food for me even though I do not have much appetite for it. I prepared the cup noodles and it tasted so good with really rich broth that I eventually bought another one to bring back to SG, I was really full after that so I put the banana in my bag to eat before the race and left the rest of the food in the fridge (Godiva ice cream was already gone the night before).

Daily routine to get snacks from convenience stores

I put on my race gear and was ready to go before 6.30am. I was happy that my timing was on track and I saw other runners also heading to the metro station when I left the hotel. There are many ways getting to Osaka Castle, but I decided to take the Midosuji metro line and change to Chuo line. I saw other runners on the train and we all alighted at the same station to get onto the green Chuo line, so I assumed that was the right way to go. On the Chuo line platforms, runners were queueing up to get on the train. Luckily when the train came and it was not crowded at all, all of us managed to board and we filled up the cabins. It only got more crowded at the next few stations.

Lines of marathoners waiting for the Chuo train
It was easy to know which station to alight, just follow the crowd! The train emptied after the stop at Osaka castle, and hoards of runners made our way out of the station. I was pleasantly surprised that the Morinomiya metro station is right smack inside the park, so unlike last year when I had to walk a long way from one end of the park to the other end, I saw the line of trucks for baggage deposit shortly after I got out of the station. It was only 7am, and there was a short queue at the park toilet so I decided to go to the toilet sooner rather than later, while the queue is short.

The queues for the toilet
A group of runners cosplay as minions
It was still early so the lorries were still empty
I started walking towards the rows of trucks waiting to load the bags of runners. Everything was so meticulously arranged as like other Japanese races and it was clearly indicated on my bib and the baggage deposit slip that I had to deposit my bag on lorry 27, so I kept walking on. There were announcements made in Japanese, English and Chinese reminding runners to deposit their bags and make their way to the start line before 8.45am. I listened intently to the English and Chinese messages when I noticed some signages in front of each lorry stating that runners had to show their bibs and the security bands to get into the runners area. I had my bib with me but I removed my security band the night before when I wanted to wash up. Oh no!

I caught sight of this signage in front of every lorry

Information counter with a queue for band replacement, phew!

Honestly, I happily removed it the night before as I did not remember any significant usage for this band in my previous Osaka Marathon last year. I remembered it was really hard to remove, something like a cable tie thing and I took a long time wriggling my hand out of it last year. While we were queueing to collect our race pack yesterday, one of the staff came to each of us and after checking the charity we are supporting, he helped us put on the relevant coloured wrist band. I could not remember if I took out the band before or after the race last year, but I definitely did not notice any importance for putting it on. Last night, I still thought I was quite clever to use my handy nail clipper to get it off.

(P/S: After the race, I realised this was actually stated in the participation guide, but having done this race last year, I did not really read it.)

I wanted to just wait and see if I would be stopped at some point if I did not have the band on but I looked around and every other runner around me seemed to have it on their wrists. I continued walking down the rows of lorries and came to an open field with lots of people. I realised that's the race village/ dressing area, so I decided to go and get some help from the information counter since it was still early. It's better to resolve this issue while I still have time on hand. Fortunately, there was indeed a queue for replacing the security band at the information counter. I thought that there seems to be not much point for the security since I can just get another band after showing my bib without verifying my identity, but I'm still glad that problem was solved!
I was lucky to get this replaced easily!

Spotted a large group of medical personnel who will be running
With the security band problem settled, I continued making my way along the long long rows of trucks, looking out for number 27. After I spotted it, I went across the road where there were many people sitting or gathering around the side of the road, preparing themselves for the baggage deposit before making their way to the start line. I've decided not to bring my phone along for this race as I realised I didnt really stop to take photographs along the way in most of my races, and I get pretty annoyed or frustrated with the additional weight when the going gets tough. I packed two packets of gel and my attire for the race is pretty much the same as my previous CSC HM, I only added a pair of shorts outside my 2XU tights as this is what people commonly do in Japan for modesty sake. I've decided to run in just a short sleeved tee as the weather forecast seems to indicate that it will get to mid 10+ degrees later on with a lot of sun. I really hate hot weather for running so I was a bit worried that it might really get too warm later on and decided to just go with short sleeves. The weather in the morning was a bit cold but bearable as there was no wind. I brought along arm sleeves which I could afford to throw away (cheap ones from race packs of previous race) but after taking off my down jacket, I felt quite okay without the additional layer, so I just put on the long poncho which will protect me from the cold before flag off. I took a few bites of the banana but did not finish it as it was too ripe for my liking. From previous Japan race experience, I will be standing in the starting corral for an hour and the first water point is usually 5km after the start, so it became a habit for me to bring along some hydration to keep myself from being thirsty while waiting. I also placed my lip balm and a small tab of pain killer/ muscle relaxant (Anarex) in my pouch and I was ready to deposit my bag.

I read up somewhere that it will be handy to bring some pain-killer along so it became habitual when I'm running a marathon, although I had not use it before. On retrospect, I did experience a lot of pain this time but I forgot that I had the medicine with me during the race. The only thing I've forgotten to put in my pouch this time was some small bills, in case I needed to buy stuff in desperate situation (experience from Naha and SCMS) but luckily that did not pose an issue for this race.

I was quite early so no bags yet, and I took my time preparing

The baggage label that indicated my lorry number.

I was in the corral L this year, one block down from corral K the previous year. I didnt really mind as I knew my pace should probably be more or less like the runners in the last few pens, I am definitely not chasing for a PB this time and there were still 4 blocks behind me (M-P). I just did not want to start too late and worry about the cut off time, so I always indicate an estimated finishing time that was well ahead of what I expected to achieve during registration. My previous Nagoya and Osaka marathon experiences told me that I should be capable of finishing ahead of the cut off time, so this time round I didnt really worry about the delayed start of 15-20min being in the corrals far behind. I used to take a screenshot of all the cut off timings at the various points and put it as the wallpaper of my phone, but I no longer do that, and I didnt even bring the phone with me this time. I just took note of the timing of the first cut off point at 5km and decided to keep my eyes opened and kept a look out from there, I knew there will be big signs indicating the next cut off points from thereon.

I was an hour early getting into the start pen and it was not even that far away from the baggage deposit lorry, once I walked further up, I saw huge signage pointing towards the direction of my block. I walked in and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to stand right at the front of my block. There was still one hour before the start of the race so I guess there's still a lot of time to spare. There were of course already some others standing around at the block but we were not really packed together, rather standing sparsely until it was almost time to set off and the volunteers pushed us forward. To allow my feet to get some rest ahead of the hours of running and walking, I sat down at the side of the road while I stone away, waiting for time to pass.

There were volunteers standing around ever ready to collect thrash from runners inside their respective corrals. There were many runners like me who had our ponchos on to keep us warm, our corral is nicely positioned with Osaka castle on my left and there's sufficient morning sunlight warming us up. I normally do not like the heat but in this situation the sun rays were just enough to keep me comfortable and not shivering and I actually felt much better as compared to last year.

I was having flu last year when I arrived at Osaka and my toes totally freezed up while waiting at the start line, I felt that I was so breathless and my feet were totally numbed for the first 5km or so before it finally thawed, it was so bad that I thought I would DNF eventually, but I went on to run a rather good race to my surprise. I think the surprise outcome of that race led me to become over confident and I did not prepare myself sufficiently for this subsequent marathon, so I eventually suffered a lot during the race, but I'll get to that later on. I was wearing the Osaka special edition Tabio socks last year, I bought those from the race expo and I felt that those were too thin and I really needed thicker socks for my Japan colder races. I managed to get a pair of '1000 miles' socks at a local race expo this year with the recommendation from some runner-salesperson and my feet really felt much better this year. The socks felt thicker and slightly padded a little so I did not get the usual frozen numbness after standing around for an hour at this 10+ degree weather.

Very massive marathon starting grounds

While I was waiting, I kept seeing hoards of people coming from the castle direction and there was really a lot of people coming this way non-stop. I guess they were going towards their starting block after baggage deposit as most of them had G-K bibs on. I was at right in front of L block facing the 3-way junction so I observed most of them were oblivious to the timing even though time was ticking by and soon it was approaching 8.40am, just 5 min before the starting block will close off! All of a sudden, the stream of people started to quicken their pace promptly and some started running, looking quite lost. Soon, there was an announcement that the wheelchair marathon was about to begin, and the time was already 8.45am. There were still lots of people dashing around and the officials started to block them off, some of them wanted to make a run for it and a few lucky ones were not caught but majority of them were blocked from going to their assigned block. According to race regulations, they have to start from the last block although I heard the Chinese speaking official assured them not to worry and that wont happen. Japanese are very efficient, nice and helpful people but they keep strictly by the books in such cases.

Soon we moved forward and slowly merged with the K bib people and bit by bit, we edged towards the Start Line after hearing the horn went off at 9am sharp. It took us about 20min before we finally reached there and I only threw off my poncho shortly before that, making sure there were volunteers collecting those when I did so. There were much fanfare, loud music and deafening motivational speech going on in Japanese as usual, but I didnt understand those and was trying hard to find the right pace. This time round, I felt much better, feet still a bit numb but not as frozen as usual. For the first 10km, everyone around me seemed to be running faster than the pace they are supposed to, many overtook me and I tried to remind myself not to go out too fast, but can't help trying to keep up, especially when I saw that those with P bibs had caught up with me.

I was following behind people whose pace felt right for me and I got even more motivated when I saw aged or old people running along. I thought I was doing quite well for the first 10km, running at 7min+ pace which was definitely not my marathon pace and I knew that I would slow down eventually. The first water station came after 5km and once again I was impressed by the 100m stretch of tables and many many volunteers, it was not really chaotic even though it was the first water station and many runners would be rather dehydrated by then. From experience, I knew there were more tables behind, so I moved to a more vacant area to get my hands on the isotonic drink aquarius.

At the 6km point, we turned into a out and back route when I saw the fastest runners coming back from the opposite direction, I kind of like or hate such U turn points in many ways. I hated it as the stretch before reaching the U-turn point is usually rather mentally challenging, especially for this case I glanced over when I spotted a distance marker in that direction, and saw that they already finished 16km! That's a whole 10km ahead of us slower/slowest runners, and that also meant that the U-turn point was still far, far, far ahead. True enough, I kept wondering when I would finally see that gigantic U-turn corn but it did not turn up until much later. I always like looking at the runners behind me after turning so that I can gauge how much I am ahead of the last few runners, this also ensure that I'm not too near to the last runners and in danger of getting swept up by the buses.

The U-turn point finally came at about 11km or so, I was glad that I was roughly an hour ahead of cut off time and there were 3km or so when I still see runners at the other side. The last few runners were really struggling and walking even though the race had just begun. There were a group of pacers running with square golden balloons and I supposed they were supposed to run at the exact pace to be the last at the finishing line just before 4pm. There was an official car just right behind them and two or three sweeper buses, although nobody was on the bus at that point of time yet.

After the first 10km or so, I started to take walking breaks and at this point of time, I noticed that my legs were rather painful at the knee area, and that was specially the case for my left knee. Uh oh! I tried to ignore the pain but it just did not get better and I had the bad feeling that an 'old friend' had come back to visit me at a very wrong time. While I was walking, I reflected and realised that I had ran and struggled to keep at a much faster pace than I can cope with and there was an inflammation at my IT band. This had posed a major issue for me years ago when I tried to do my first few marathons but I managed to stay injury free after that. I always pride myself for completing all my marathons without cramp and pain and I was always able to walk like any other tourist the very next day. However, I guess that I was really too careless and over confident this time, my walking breaks became longer and it became more painful to move with every step I took.

In all my previous marathons, I walk-run for at least two-thirds of the journey, but it had never become so difficult for me to try to jog or run again in all my previous experiences. I always still have some reserved energy and I could keep up to some running after a bit of walking till the very last few km. Last year I kept thinking of the mantra 'if you can run, don't walk' and it had kept me running as much as I could up till the very steep slope at 38km and I only stopped to fully walk after that. But this year, I totally gave up running very early into the race due to the nagging pain and I kept myself busy by counting down the distance I had left to go. It was very mentally challenging to be in pain for more than half the race and I kept looking out for the distance marker, it became 400m-500m apart from the distance on my Garmin watch very soon after the race started. I thought that emptying my bladder might be more comforting so I looked out for the more empty lines at the toilets after the first 10km. There was once I stopped and ran towards the toilets, but realised that I didnt have any urge to pee at all after I stopped my feet completely, so I ran back towards the main crowd again. There were also clear signage at the toilets indicating the next cut off point and next cut off time so that runners who wanted to take a leak can take note of the time and decide to stop or not.

I passed my hotel at the 17km point and I had a very keen desire to go in and soak my legs in iced water to sooth my poor knees. It was another U-turn point after a few more km and I passed the hotel again at 22km. We passed through Namba area 3 times in total before we headed towards Intex Osaka and there were no more U-turn point after that 22km or so. I saw an aid station with food after the half-way mark but as what happened at Nagoya marathon, the food had already ran out for slower runners like me. I saw the volunteers cutting up the last few bananas in front of me but it was all gone within seconds. Many people had lauded the Osaka marathon for being a food paradise, especially for the maido aid station at 32.5km, but I was already mentally prepared that there would be none left for us. It will always be a myth for me unless I can finally do a sub 6. I only managed to get some sweets and dried fruits as that was all that were left at the maido aid station. I was weaning off gels so I only took one after the first 10km and had no urge to consume the next one after that.

I took this photo last year shortly after maido aid station and I saw them again this year
In terms of food, Nagoya marathon is slightly better as there'll still be bread, bananas, salt candies and fruits left for me from the second food aid station onwards. But at Osaka I dont remember eating anything (maybe only bananas and bread?) last year when I was focussing on running hard, I was 20min faster and yet there was already no food left for me, not to mention this year. I really needed some motivation this time round but only managed to get bananas at the next two food stations and finally a red bean bun, strangely I did not see any salt candies or even the wrappers at all. There were coke and orange juice at some point by the marathon sponsors but I was not in the mood to drink coke so I only had orange juice, which left a very sweet taste in my throat. There were some supporters who set up their own private mini aid station along the way, and many of those even had cute kids giving out sweets and chocolates. I was craving for chocolates and so I really stopped and eagerly took whatever the public had to offer, I was glad to receive chocolate at one or two points and even a very delicious tasting saltish bread. There was a point many of us dashed across the road when we saw a crowd gathering but the food had ran out by the time we got there. Being part of the slower runners, we were that desperate and many of us were walking hungrily and dejectedly for the last 15km or so. I also shamelessly stopped when I saw some supporters at the side armed with the muscle relief spray. But after stopping a few times of and asking for the spray service, I knew it was not going to be of much help to me.

As for the cheer station, Osaka marathon had no lack of very awesome supporters and cheerleaders. Some of these are organised by schools or community, and at the last 10km or so, there were designated area for the different colour charities to give runners a morale boost. I was really impressed that the kids and students stayed around to cheer us up for hours, there was even a point I got a little emotional listening to a motivational song even though I did not understand the lyrics. After the terrible slope at 38km, the path turned into the port and container area of some sort for the last 5km or so and it got very boring after that. I remember this part being quite mentally challenging last year and it was all the more so this year. The end point was really nowhere in sight and I've already been on my feet for more than 5hours.

Picture taken off Osaka marathon official FB site
I remember seeing this guy when I had just 1-2km to go last year and he was there again this year. Seriously? It's that hard to ballot for a spot in this huge marathon with 32K runners? Many people left messages and encouraged him to keep on trying on the FB page. Weather was colder last year as it started raining the last 8km or so but this year the weather was just right. I was worried about the sun giving us too much warmth but most of the route was shady and I hardly use my shades at all. I felt perspiration at the back of my neck after we started running but for the rest of the journey, I did not feel sweaty or warm anymore. My HR was also not too high at this point since I've been walking for so long.

I kept looking at the watch and knew that I was about to do my personal worst for a overseas marathon. But still, I was glad that I kept going despite this being a very challenging race for me. Finally, we came to the part where it was the last 1km to go and there were lots of supporters lining up along the route again. I could not get my feet to move no matter how little we had left to go, so I maintained my walking pace as i trudged painfully towards the finish line. I was very close to the cut off time, about 15min to spare at the last cut off point at 41km, but I turned back and there were still lots and lots of people in their colourful attire behind me. I was 20min slower than my previous marathon attempt at Osaka but there was really a great sense of happiness and relief when I finally made it.

Took this photo last year, sports drink right after finishing line
Rows of medals waiting for runners (2017)
Putting the towels around the finishers (2017)
A nice touch to provide a bag for all the stuff (2017)
There were also red bean buns for us this year (2017 photo)

The 2018 medal (photo from offical fb page)
As I did not have my phone with me this time, I'm posting some photos I took last year. The finisher area layout seemed a bit different this year but it was generally the same before the baggage pickup area. We turned into a building after the finishing line and collected a bottle of sports drink and a banana. Thereafter was the medal and towel area, and the volunteers helped to put the medal around our neck and the towel around our shoulders. I thought this was really a nice gesture and the warm towel felt really good as we made our way to another building to collect the bags.

This year it felt like a long walk to the baggage pickup area, perhaps it was because of my aching legs. To my dismay, the big signage 27 was all the way at the other end of the hall. As like other Japan marathons, the bags were placed neatly on the ground and before I even limped my way to the area, someone had called out my bib number and the bag was already at my feet by the time I reached. I knew it was very unglam to wear flip flops in Japan but I really did not want to put on my shoes again after I finally got my stuff packed and ready to go back to my hotel.

Unlike last year, there was no mention about the date but a new course is coming up! 

It was a very painful and slow walk as I slowly limped my way out to the metro station, there were some gentle upslopes and it got me cursing and swearing in my head. I had to walk like a sloth all the way to the station and it was still a long long journey before I can get back to the hotel. As a consolation, other runners leaving the place and getting back to the station were all in the same state as me and it was really easy to spot someone who had just finished the marathon. Moving down the metro stairsway was the hardest as it really hurt if I try to step down my left leg, so I could only move one step at a time like some injured or crippled person. Top of my wishlist is that the course will end at the city area so that there is an option of taking the cab back to hotel. I quickly filled the bathtub with cold water and soaked my very aching legs once I got back to the hotel. It was a very welcome sensation to finally do that and I was glad to get my very hot shower after that.

Race T-shirt 2018

Race T-shirt 2017
Medal 2017
Medal 2018

I prefer the design of the race t-shirt and medal for 2017, the medal is less colourful this year although the signature rainbow lanyard was still awesome. The saving grace is the race towel in black in this year, I really loved it. Will I do this race again? Definitely I'll consider heading back for a hat trick as there's only so few races I can take part in during the hols. My only worries were there was no mention of the race date for next year so it might shift back to October again, that's not very ideal in terms of timing and weather for me.

The queue for sushi
I gobbled down the onigiri in my hotel fridge after the hot shower, it still tasted good although it was not too fresh. I was craving for sushi and decided to head out for dinner soon so that I can rest early. I had seen long queues at this conveyor belt sushi shop and I had noticed its unique 3D flashy signboard above the shop, the reviews were also pretty good so I decided to stand in queue and try this sushi. I cant remember the name of the shop but you cant miss it with the unique signboard. While getting there, I had trouble crossing the few main roads getting to Dontobori as there was no way I could run when the traffic lights were flashing, I could pick up my pace if I really try with all my might but most of the time I was trying to move slowly and trying hard not to hurt my legs too much.
Very fresh sushi and the belt was always packed

Look at the super cheap price on the menu
I did not have to wait long as I was a 'single rider' so I was able to skip a big group in front of me when they only had two seats available. I think it only took me 15min of standing in line, the queue was shorter than the genki sushi one near my place at Junction 8. Unlike the conveyor belt sushi I've tried in Tokyo, this menu was more foreigner friendly, and the price was jaw dropping cheap! There were mainly two different colored plates and the ones I ate were all the orange coloured ones which was just $1++ SGD, and these include sushi with very fresh sashimi. Unfortunately, with my very small stomach, I only managed to finish 6 plates so the bill came up to less than 1000Y. I will definitely visit this shop again when I'm in Osaka.

P/S: I've decided to buy my Osaka marathon photos from allsports since I've actually managed to finish this marathon review. I will update this post with photos once they are ready.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Osaka Marathon 2018- Travelling to Osaka and REPC (23rd & 24th November)

This is the second consecutive year I'm doing the Osaka Marathon and this is the only marathon I'm doing for the whole year. I managed to get a slot through balloting this time round, so unlike last year when I bought a race package, I was able to source for a better and more centralised hotel once I submitted my registration to go through balloting.

Xmas trees are up in Changi Airport!
This is the year which I did the least number of races, other than the gourmet (half) marathon I did in June, I only took part in one fun run (Star Wars Run) , one longer distance race (Straits Time Run) and one half marathon (CSC Run By the Bay). I'm undertrained as usual so I guess my only target is to meet the cut off time. Last year I only managed to blog about pre-trip segment before I flew off to Osaka, so I hope I'll finish the blog this time round.

A search on Skyscanner a month ago showed that Vietnam Airlines is no longer the cheapest full service airlines to fly to Japan, so I'm flying on Garuda this time. This is my first flight on Garuda and transiting in Jakarta, it cost about $730 when I booked just a month ago, so the price was not too bad and was the cheapest.
Different Changi Wifi router (bigger and more powerful)
The flight was at 8.20pm, I had a lot of time on hand as its already holidays but I procrastinated in packing and only started packing around 5pm. I got a little stressed but I could only blame it on myself for the last minute dashing around. We managed to step out of the house by 6.20pm, hopped on Grab and arrived at the airport in good time. I collected the wifi router from Changi Recommends and said my goodbyes to P.

I was feeling quite tired as I didnt get the chance to have a good nap earlier (went for a short seminar, met the girls for lunch before I headed home) so I spent a good part of the flight sleeping. I downloaded some movies on Netflix and there were also in-flight entertainment but I didnt finish any single movie or even the shorter TV shows. The flight to Jakarta was not as comfortable but I was glad it was just a short trip of 1.5hour, there was a delay on the turnaround flight so we only flew off at 9.20pm, one full hour later. The transit time at Jakarta was very short due to this delay and it was time to board the plane for Osaka by the time I arrived at the transit terminal. The food and seat on this leg to Osaka was much better (I was seated next to a Japanese guy instead of between two Indonesian guys like the previous leg, I blamed myself for not checking in early and I also forgot to ask for aisle seats when I checked in at the counter) and I slept most of the journey there.

It was 8am (Japan time) when I arrived. Honestly, I preferred Nagoya to Osaka after my previous trip here last year. The transport system here is too complicating even though I'm used to taking trains around Japan, there are many subways and metro lines inter-weaving with the JR so I took some time to figure out how to get to my hotel in Namba. There were quite a few choices available which made things more complicating for me. I ended up on Nankai Airport Line and I was glad that I could use the Suica apps on my phone to pay for my transport around here (discovered during my Tokyo trip this year). I thought I had to get as close to the hotel as possible before I push my luggage all the way there, so I wanted to change to a JR train (the JR station in Namba being nearer to my hotel), but I could not find the JR line after alighting at the stop indicated on Google maps. So after one big round and feeling rather tired, I hopped back onto a train heading to Namba. It was already close to 11am, the trip on Nankai Rail took 1 hour and I spent half an hour just looking for the JR while dragging my luggage up and down, I was getting flustered as I was already at the expo collecting my racepack by this time last year.

I took awhile to get out of the station at Namba as it is really huge and finally found myself navigating my way to my hotel (Hotel Kanade) which I will be spending two nights. It is always the most difficult navigating to the hotel the first time, but I was glad things got better from there. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the hotel and the lady at the counter told me that my room is ready for check in. This had never happened before when I'm in Japan as the Japanese are rather strict about check in time, I was just expecting to drop my luggage at the concierge and head to the race expo but now being able to rest in the room for a short while was really a bonus. I'll post the review of the hotel at the end of this post so that we can stay focus about the journey to REPC...

Posters at Namba station

After checking in, I allowed myself less than an hour of rest and I headed out to collect my race pack at the race expo when it was noon. By this time, my stomach was already growling as my previous meal was 4am in the morning on the plane. I walked around the Namba train station and saw all my favourite Japanese cuisine! I decided to just give myself a break and have lunch before heading over to the Intex Osaka. From my previous experience, the place is rather far and there's no food or snacks to buy along the way. There is a food fest kind of thing at the race expo, but that will be after all the race related booth and race pack collection. When I went to collect race pack at 11am last year, there was a really long queue and time was spent waiting.

I liked what I saw on display outside

Tempura set at this shop caught my eye
Yummy tempura with rice and udon
It was already lunch time and customers were filling up the shops, so after walking one round I stopped at this shop. I guess their specialty was soba but I was already smacking my lips when I saw the tempura set on display outside. They did not have an English menu so the wait staff told me to take a picture of what I'll like from the display window and I showed it to her. The tempura did not disappoint, it was really good and I did not expect that there will be rice beneath the tempura (I forgot that in Japan it can be normal to have two different kinds of carbs in a set) but the rice tasted really good with the tempura sauce. Mmm.. I almost forgot how good authentic Japanese food is. I was happy with the meal as it only cost 880Y and that's just slightly over $10SGD.

The large banner at its usual position, many took pics in front of this
Almost the same last year
I cant really remember how I went to Intex Osaka last year, but I guess with the very complicating yet efficient subway and metro lines, I went to Cosmo Square under the recommendation of the race package coordinator and it was a long walk from there. This time round, I checked out my trusty Google map and took the new tram to Nakafuto Station which is nearer. Since I took all the pics last year and didnt blog about it, I'll post some of the 2017 pictures here just for fun and for comparison.

The same rainbow pathway that greeted us

I didnt have the mood or energy to queue up for this so...

The very big race pack collection area divided according to charity

Long queue for foreign runners
The huge crowd last year so I guess things had improved?
It seemed like there were really a lot of foreigners taking part in this race, so the queues for locals were very short but there was a long queue for us. I remember vividly that the queue started outside this building last year so either things had improved or coming at a later time is a better idea.

A plastic bag was provided and tables were there for us to pack
Roughly two weeks before the race, we received an email providing the participants guide and online declaration etc. There was a voucher to print after the declaration was done so that we can collect our race pack at the race expo. I was lucky to be in a queue moving faster than the next and I think approximately 20min later, the English/ Chinese speaking personnel verified my passport with the voucher and I received my bib. This was the only area queueing was needed and the next line was the race tee. I packed my stuff and then moved out to the sponsors area to look at the merchandise.

Limited edition merchandise 

Different Mizuno limited edition tshirts

I guess all those who could not run a sub 4 are all beginners 
The Mizuno merchandise area was the most crowded and honestly I thought the shoe and Tshirt designs were not too bad although I still prefer Nike stuff. I thought of looking or buying some stuff but my very tired mind and body just wanted to get out from there as fast as I could, on top of that there were also long queues at the payment counters.

The metro design is cute
After the main sponsors area, we moved out of the hall to another hall where the other random vendors have their booths. I felt the fatigue set in from the red eye flight so I wanted to move out from this hall as fast as I could. Right in front of the entrance was this tori gate thing where runners could queue and go through some ceremony for good luck and blessings for the race. There was even a (for real?) priest reading out names and blessing the runners. I thought the concept was interesting and since I've done it last year, I thought I'll like to do it again for good luck.

The makeshift shrine for runners

Priest doing his rituals

This year even the omikuji was introduced

All of us could pick our fortune and carry the charm with us on race day

I guess everyone will get a positive blessing fortune
I'm not sure if anyone picked a bad fortune paper from the tray but I was glad to see mine as 大吉, I think I really needed that for the race. The guy behind me was sniggering and I peeped at his paper and he had gotten 大大吉 so I guess there were really some variations among the pile. They even provided a small cute clear plastic cover for us to put the charm. After the priest blessed us by reading out our names and some stuff (I could tell he was reading my name but not sure what came after that), we could write our wishes on these wooden wishing boards like what they have in shrines. I thought it was so interesting to bring in this Japanese culture into the race so I went through with it even though I was so tired. It just took a short while anyway.

My ema wishes for 2018
I took this picture in 2017, which explained the ema tablets. Now reading it closely, the "add comma" part is so funny...

Coincidentally I wrote the same thing last year
I moved on quickly to the charity booths where they had sorted runners according to the charity they pledged for. For both years, I pledged for the preservation of natural resources as this is the closest to my heart so I'm in the aqua team. I found my name on the board and took a picture.

Found my name! 
Picture taken in 2017, the official race merchandise
Huge gourmet market which I didnt have the energy to visit at all (2017 picture)

After this part, there were many many more booths selling race related products and merchandise but I really couldn't wait to go back to my room and get some rest, so I moved through the area really quickly. The whole hall was quite crowded and I think there were a few rows of booths which we had to walk through before we can finally get out of the the place. Last year I still went to the gourmet market to get some food but this time round I just headed straight for the door. I was dozing off in totally unglam pose on the new tram and metro during my journey back to the hotel but I was so glad that I managed to nap for an hour or two before I was recharged and I headed out for dinner at 6pm.

Our favourite restaurant in Hokkaido

Can remember what exactly this shop sell, I think this is where people get their souvenirs

Gyoza is a specialty of Osaka

There were lots of shop selling takoyaki, another Osaka specialty

More takoyaki shops
This part of the city area is the Dontobori and its super crowded and popular, there were many tourists walking on this stretch looking for a dinner place. I'm super happy to be staying so near to this area so that dinner is easily accessible. One interesting feature of the shops and businesses are the big colourful and 3D signboards, I think its pretty iconic of this area. I already took pictures last year, but can't help doing it all over again.

My favourite Ichiran ramen
Behind those rows of shops is a stretch of river canal running parallel to Dontobori street and there are restaurants lined up along that stretch too, its pretty much like Singapore River as there are also river cruise for the tourists. My pre-marathon meal is the same as what I had last year, this time round I'm really craving for Ichiran and felt that the carbo loading from the ramen will be really satisfying. The queue tonight was not that bad as compared to last year, so I decided to just stand in line since I was kind of well-rested after the nap. I was able to join the queue in front of the shop quite fast and after 20min or less, I was already at the booth.

I had Ichiran at another shop last year. There was a long line in front of this riverside outlet and there was also a long line along the river then, it was pretty crazy so I walked away, I was pleasantly surprised to find another outlet in the main building just 50m away and there was no queue there. It was strange that one outlet had long queues while the other one had no queue, the noodles tasted the same to me though.

There are always long queues at the two takoyaki shops nearer to the bridge

I was able to move upstairs and get to the vending machine soon

Area behind the booth for us to hang our jacket and put the bags

The individual booth concept is great for solo traveler like me

My set meal ramen (with added nori and blended tea)
I'm not a foodie and my tastebud is not that discerning, but I must say the tonkatsu broth of ramen in Japan is way better than those I've tried in SG, its so rich and so tasty (there were only exceptionally few occasions when I didnt have really good ones), the texture of the noodles are really great too. Somehow I'll crave for Ichiran or ramen when I'm in Japan, especially in cold weather. For a rather 'fast food' kind of concept, the cost of this meal came up quite high and it was my most expensive meal in Japan for this trip. I selected the ramen with 5 toppings without thinking much about it and I added a tea and my favorite nori to it, so the total cost was about $20+ SGD. It was not that costly but I'm just rather prudent when it come to meal since I dont really live to eat. I was kind of amused when the tea came as it was just a bottled blended tea, I also noticed that the partitions of the booth could be folded in someway if there are groups of customers sitting together.

Glico running man outside one souvenir shop
The actual running man, the icon of Osaka

After the meal, I was fulling really full so I walked around the bridge area for a while to get the food down. This Glico running man is somehow the icon of Osaka so many tourists stopped to take a picture and there were even people striking the same pose (or try to). During the marathon, part of the route went under the bridge and we ran underneath this signboard with the 'running man'.

This being my 6th overseas marathon, I got lazy and just went to bed around 10pm without really packing for the race. I didnt even bother to do the flat lay photo nowadays lolx. I just felt quite tired and wanted to sleep early so that I'm full of energy for the race, although lack of sleep had never affected my race performance before. I decided to wake up at 5-5.15am and just get myself ready from then.

Hotel Kanade Osaka Namba

I took awhile to get out of the station at Namba as it is really huge and finally found myself navigating my way to my hotel (Hotel Kanade) which I will be spending two nights. It is always the most difficult navigating to the hotel the first time, but I was glad things got better from there. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the hotel and the lady at the counter told me that my room is ready for check in. This had never happened before when I'm in Japan as the Japanese are rather strict about check in time, I was just expecting to drop my luggage at the concierge and head to the race expo but now being able to rest in the room for a short while was really a bonus.

Small double room of 11m square but still spacious for me
Pros: Location, Location, Location

After staying here for a few days, I honestly feel that the location is really good, especially compared to my hotel last year. It was just a 10min walk away from the busy Namba area when I had to go out for my meals and the subway/metro entrances are right at the doorstep. It was also much more convenient taking the metro to Osaka castle as compared to walking there last year. I stayed near castle last year as it was part of the race package, I could walk to start point on race day but personally I would not choose to stay there if i book the hotel on my own. It was terrible when every single day I had to walk 30min or take the train to Namba area. On race day last year, the tour bus dropped me off at Namba, I dragged my tired body back to the hotel and then I had to head back to Namba after a good shower for dinner. And of course, I went back the same way for the second time after dinner.

The area next to the bed, window could not open

Washing and bathing area, many complained that it is too small
Many people commented about the good location, but they were also affected by the small size of the bathroom and the room itself. As I was staying alone in a room with a double bed, this was a non-issue for me. i was able to leave my luggage opened on the floor at the foot of the bed. The bathroom seemed a bit small to me, it was okay for me as I am quite short but I guess someone bigger will have problems turning around.

Some reviews also mentioned about the windows, there was a small window in my room on the second floor but the window as almost non-existent so I did not try opening it. I guess the size of the room and window with no view is quite common in land scarce Japan, so I'm not too bothered by it.

When I was checking into the room, the staff informed me to paste the magnetic "Clean Up Room" sign on the door if I want the room to be cleaned. Therefore, this service is not automatic and i'm not sure if its part of their green efforts or something, but from the reviews some guests missed out on this information and didnt have their rooms cleaned for days.

Outside the hotel

Outside the hotel 
Cons: The onsen and security issues

I always make sure that I look for a hotel with onsen whenever I'm doing a marathon, it helps with recovery in a way and of course I'm also a big big fan of onsen. However, I was surprised when nothing was mentioned about the onsen when I checked in. I browsed through all the pieces of paper about the hotel in the room and nothing was mentioned. This was certainly odd. I logged onto the Agoda site to check again and there were people who mentioned about the onsen on the 6th floor and its a pay per use service (500Y). I dont mind paying for the bath if it means there will be exclusivity. However, due to the lack of information, I decided to find out more by taking the lift up to the 6th floor. In the lift, it was indicated that the onsen is on the 6th floor of the building I was staying, but the whole floor was not it up when I went up and there was nobody at the counter. After collecting the race pack, I went up again before going back to my room but it was still dark and there was still nobody around. I called the front desk to check the timing and she mentioned that onsen is only opened at 5pm. After dinner, I decided to head up for a soak. To my surprise, there were lights along the corridor but the counter was still empty. There was a signage saying that I have to head down to the front desk to make payment and reservation before I can use the open air bath. I explored further and there were lockers and some doors leading to the bathing area but there was absolutely nobody, so I was not sure if anyone would notice if I just slipped in. Anyway, the whole place being so empty was also a bit spooky so I decided to give up on the idea of soaking. I was not staying at the main building, so in order to make payment I have to put on layer of clothes and make my way down to the next building before I can finally bathe. And I wonder why this information was not provided by the lady at the front desk when I asked.

I guess I was also affected by the reviews as some reviewers mentioned about the lack of security in the new building I was staying. There was nobody manning the front desk, it was clearly stated at the entrance of the hotel and I guess anyone can just slip in, head up to the room and the onsen area. I'm not sure if I'll notice it if I didnt read the reviews, but I still feel generally safe as the hotel is facing the main road and everywhere looked bright and chirpy. In conclusion, the hotel was not too bad and I was really happy about the location but honestly there is no lack of hotels at Namba area so I'm not sure if I'll stay at the same hotel if I'm back at Osaka again.