Kobe Marathon next month! ー 来月、神戸マラソン

Yesterday, I finally got my postcard for Kobe Marathon. I’m in B block, which is the first wave. This is great news as it means I won’t have to wait so long at the start before crossing the line and actually beginning the race. 

After a very hot summer, and lots of missed training, my target is a very conservative 3:40:00 (about 13.5 minutes slower than my personal best). As long as I don’t give up running and start walking, I should manage it. 

昨日、やっと神戸マラソンからのハガキが届いた。幸い、Bブロック(第1ウェーブ)として、スタート地点で待ち時間は比較的に短い。

とても暑い夏で練習不足の後に、あまり期待されないタイムを目標とする。自己ベストより13.5分遅い3:40:00がターゲット。せめて歩かなければ、できるはず。

頑張りま〜す。

Shinagawa Kumin Park

While out walking with my family yesterday, we happened upon a great park that we never even knew was there! 

Tokyo and the surrounding area is home to about 37 million people, and so green space is quite hard to come by. 

A couple of hours after our discovery, I eagerly went out to run around it! It’s only a short distance from where we live and has now become my new favourite place to run!!! 

I haven’t yet paced it out properly. But Shinagawa Kumin Park (Shinagawa Kumin Kouen 品川区民公園) has a running / walking course of about 2 kilometres with all kinds of exercise bars, benches and beams all around. Shinagawa refers to the ward that the park is located in. And Kumin doesn’t refer to the spice associated with Indian food (sorry, my poor attempt at humour) but rather means “citizen of the ward”.

It has great playing facilities for the kids, an aquarium, restaurants and even a barbecue area.

Anyway, don’t recommend it to too many people, we should just keep this paradise to ourselves! 🙂
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Why I’m really looking forward to today (Part 2)

After writing Part 1 this morning, I went to wake my wife up and give her her anniversary present. As the 7th anniversary in the UK is wool, I decided to go with the American convention: copper and bought two tumblers for us both. Now that we are in April, I didn’t think my wife would appreciate a woolly jumper. 

  

My wife surprised me with a really nice brown leather bag, which my daughter helped her choose. I like brown leather and it will really go well with some of the other brown items I use or wear for work. 

  

After a fairly slow and leisurely morning, where I used rain as an excuse to not run, we went out at about 11:30.

We enjoyed a nice Japanese lunch at Aqua City in Odaiba and then took a look around a few of the shops.

By 2:30, we were ready for our main event and went to the fourth floor of Decks to get our picture drawn. 

  

As with every year, the artist was different again and so we looked forward to how it would come out.

I must be honest. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so thrilled. But that has happened many times – and after a while, I get used to it. Caricature is often like that and this time is no different. In fact, I’m already getting used to it. 

  

Our kids look sprightly with their rosy cheeks. They are both looking upwards in anticipation of something(?) while my wife and I look quite tired. 

I suppose it has been quite a demanding year, with lots of new things happening: a new job for me, and new schools for both kids. So it is probably a fair reflection. After all, an artist can only draw what they see, and a caricaturist’s job is to exaggerate what they see.

What I read from my kids’ expressions is that it is my job to help them learn and to navigate their new worlds. So it should be another exciting and probably stressful year ahead. I will continue to worry only about what I can control and not about what I cannot. 

The artist commented at one point that my hair looked green. Maybe I left some shampoo in my hair today. I had been more concerned about going grey. 

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this year’s picture? How does it compare to previous years? Which is your favourite?

Why I’m really looking forward to today!

Today is my wife’s and my seventh wedding anniversary. I am really looking forward to it. 

Every year, we have our own little tradition that started on our first anniversary when our daughter was just two months old. 

You know when you go to tourist sights, you often see a line of artists: some drawing buildings, some doing portraits and others doing caricature? Well, I had always been an old stick-in-the-mud and avoided these like the plague – forever haunted by a comment outside Notre Dame in Paris in 1995: “Hey, big nose!” 

But finally on April 11th 2009 at Venus Fort in Odaiba, Tokyo with our daughter in tow, my wife persuaded me to take the plunge. Here’s the result:


 

I seem to have a little scowl on my face. I wasn’t scowling, I was just nervous how it might turn out! 

In fact, I was quite pleased with the result, though I did come out with a big nose. Don’t you think I look a bit French? Perhaps it was some secret pact between the Japanese artist, Hiro and the guy near Notre Dame fourteen years earlier. My wife and daughter came out well, don’t you think? 

 Year Two (2010)

The next year, we again had another drawing. We used the same company, Caricature Japan (which I can highly recommend). We always use them. They have several branches mainly in shopping malls around the Tokyo area – as well as in Kyoto and Osaka. We have been to their dedicated shops in Asakusa and Shibuya, but also to Odaiba (where there are a couple of booths) and Yokohama

The artist was different from the first one, as it has been each year since. This is all part of the fun and anticipation as we wonder how it’s going to turn out. 

2010 is one of my favourites as we are all actually smiling, and my daughter’s personality really shines through.

Excuse my photo of the drawing. I have cut off the artist’s name Shio and got a light reflection on the picture.

 Year Three (2011)

Exactly a month after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, we went to the Aka Renga Soko in Yokohama for this drawing. At a time when everyone was in deep sadness and the nation was refusing to spend money in a mass act of self restraint, the red-brick shopping centre converted from an old port warehouse was almost deserted.

The artist (Shokoii) captures the hope that sakura cherry blossom (a sign of spring renewal) was bringing back to Japan. 

 Year Four (2012)

We also went to Aka Renga Soko in 2012 but to a different booth (they have two there). This was when our daughter still hadn’t lost her “puppy fat”. I didn’t like this picture so much at the time because it made me start to think that I wasn’t such a good parent for letting my daughter get too fat. 

Year Five (2013)

Our first Family of Four portrait. Our son was just three months old at the time – even at this very early age, you can see mischief waiting to break through! 🙂 This and the next one are another two of my personal favourites! 

 Year Six (2014)

This one was drawn last year. While some pictures take a while to grow on me, I loved this one as soon as I saw it!

And so today, we’re off to Odaiba again to have our picture drawn. I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

London: 8 Places to Visit on a Budget

As I will be heading there myself quite soon, reblogging this article on places to go in London.

MAYLINGsAdventures

Last Friday I did a day trip to London; I didnt spend much but saw so many places! My only expenses were my coach ticket to London Victoria, my all day travel card for the London Underground (£12 for an adult), and lunch! Here’s what I saw and what I recommend.

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Buckingham Palace
No trip to London is complete without going to see and get a selfie in front of the Queen’s house! With the thousands of other tourists we took loads of photos of the Palace, the guards, and the gold statue in front. Along with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace is the most visited tourist attraction in England.

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Camden Town Market
Camden Market is a personal favourite when it comes to visiting London; the stalls, the food and the culture make up a great atmosphere, and the Lock provides some beautiful views…

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3:45 in Osaka

On Sunday, when I line up about 500m back from the start line in the group of runners aiming for a 3-hour 45-minute finish in the Osaka Marathon, I will be thinking of a man named Sunao.

Sunao means gentle, straight or forthright in Japanese and my wife’s father really was a gentle man.

The day he passed away, he was wearing a t-shirt from the 2011 Osaka Marathon. His memory as well as many other thoughts will drive me over the finish line. Whether I can make it within 3:45:00 is another story.

My current commitment to running was born on a Saturday in June 2012 when I publicly declared that I was going to get in shape. The promise: to run every week day for 30 minutes or 5 kilometres, whichever was quicker. The very next day, I amazed myself when I packed running gear and shoes into my travel bag for a business trip to Taiwan and actually ran every day while I was there.

In the beginning, I was struggling to run more than 4.5K in 30 minutes. But over a few months, I was managing more than 6K in half an hour. The first day that I failed to run on a weekday was when my son was born in January this year.

2013 not only saw the birth of my second child. But it also witnessed a new goal and promise: to run 2000K by the end of the year. Somewhere in the middle of the year, after about the thirtieth time of being asked if I was going to run a marathon, I finally decided to enter Osaka, my wife’s hometown. Once I entered the race, I changed my running program to four days a week.

Before we look ahead to Sunday, I would like to take you back to my first stint with distance running.

More than 16 years ago, when I was more than a little tubby, I was challenged to join the Kesennuma Oshima 10K by the 49-year-old sister of a teacher colleague, who had invited me to his house for an overnight home stay. At university, the only exercise I got was pulling pints at the local pub where I worked, and lifting the ones that I bought for myself. So a little over three months later, I ran the 10K in about 53 minutes.

During my seven years in Iwate, I ran on and off and on again many times over – entering 10Ks and a few half marathons in places like Miyako and Ofunato; and three full marathons, all in inland Kitakami. Running races became a great way to see parts of Iwate and other prefectures in Tohoku. I often stayed with friends, colleagues or friends of friends. These places will also be in my thoughts as I beat the pavement on Sunday. Besides Kitakami, the four cities mentioned above are on the Tohoku coastline and were devastated by the tsunami of March 11th, 2011. Long after I had moved to Tokyo.

It’s not such a problem running 10 kilometres or even a half marathon without much training. But my willpower was never quite enough for the full. And I never managed to train well enough to claim a decent time over 42.195km. Anyone who has run a marathon knows the wall. I hit it hard in each of my races. The best I managed was 4 hours 45 minutes, including walking.

While I have lots of intrinsic motivation to run this race within my stated time of 3 hours 45 minutes, training through the summer really took its toll. In one of the hottest summers on record, every single one of my long runs (25-32 kilometres coincided with temperatures over 30 degrees C). I never managed to completely run any of them: giving up completely or walking part of the way. Sunday will be much cooler but I still have a nagging self-doubt about whether I will do it or not.

I should be helped along by the cheers from my family in places along the race.

To give me a little added extrinsic motivation, I decided to create a charity page. The charity “Project Yui” unites two things very important to me: Tohoku (devastated by the tsunami and earthquake; and my home for the first seven years in Japan) and education. I hope that with a little bit of help from you, my friends, we can raise more than 200,000 yen for this very worthy cause. Every donation will be appreciated however small or big. So if you would like to give me a little extra added encouragement, please donate here:

http://justgiving.jp/c/9286?locale=en&langchange=on

Thank you for your support.

Last but by no means least, my wife will be wearing Sunao’s t-shirt on Sunday as she, my mother-in-law, my daughter and my son cheer me over the finish line.