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Where to ride in Tokyo. Arakawa River.

Tokyo hasn’t been the best for me when it comes to cycling. I had been out to explore around the city looking for a decent long ride but was met with constant stop starting in congested traffic and a little frustrated by the behaviour of ‘commuting’ cyclists weaving between road and footpath haphazardly and even cycling in the wrong direction on the road; generally ignoring all road rules. It’s fair to say that my experience had been less than enjoyable.

And unlike the running culture in Tokyo, where you spot runners on the street and in parks everywhere at all times of the day, I seldomly would spot a serious cyclist on the roads of Tokyo. I was beginning to think that the cycling culture in Japan was only about commuting (which it is massively popular form of transport) and there was not much to offer for serious cycling enthusiasts, that is until I found Arakawa River route this weekend.

It was an absolutely stunning Autumn day and a real delight to get out and enjoy the wide open spaces that this mixed running and cycling path provides.

The track along the river has a few ‘slow down’ gates, it’s not perfectly maintained and also as it was the weekend there were a number of little league baseball games with kids dotted here and there along the way. All this meant  I couldn’t really open up at full speed for the entire route, but nonetheless it was by far the best cycling area I have found so far.  The images following are from the ride along way, I look forwards to exploring the track upriver on my next trip out.

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My arctic experience at -180° with Cryotherapy

 

Stripped down to my boxers, given thin cotton gloves and booties to wear; the single person chamber I was standing in had reached -160° celsius, blood was rushing away my extremities and I felt a deep chill like nothing I have ever felt. Only a minute more and this would be over!

It doesn’t sound like the start of a story that a sane person would volunteer themselves for. While my sanity certainly is debatable, I have been interested in Cryotherapy ever since learning about it from ultra motivator and life coach to the masses Tony Robbins describing his daily routine.  As it is with cognitive biases, I had then consequently kept hearing more about it including that a number of top athletic sports people turning to this therapy as treatment for fatigue, anti inflammatory properties and faster recovery muscle and joint soreness and other maladies.

So when earlier this year, while attending the Tokyo Health and Sports Technology conference SportTec  I chanced upon a Japanese company named Saraya demonstrating their Cryotherapy machines, I took note and contacted them to arrange to try it out for myself. They generously invited me to their office to discuss and try it out and the following photo’s are from my experience.

 

 

The Experience

While I already have a daily routine which involves me finishing my morning shower by turning the temperature to ice cold, I don’t know anyone who had done this and I confess, I was still a little nervous. I took confidence that lot’s of other people had done this before and there was no reason for me to be a chicken about it!

Stepping into the chamber you notice quickly the ice cold temperature dropping rapidly and it was around 1 minute and around -140° that I felt arctic, my elbows were the most noticeably cold feature perhaps because my knees were covered with a thin cotton cover or that my elbows were a bit close to the edges of the unit I’m not sure. Shortly after my legs were starting to chill deeply and then, my whole body started to somewhat pleasantly ‘numb’. Then, it’s around minute two and you know you are in a deep freeze and your brain is telling you something isn’t normal! You are told you can ‘turn’ yourself in the unit if it’s bothering you a lot and I did move around a little but even though I was starting to freeze, I didn’t feel panic and it wasn’t as ‘shocking’ as I had expected. But I’m a guy that does ice plunge after sauna and goes from hot shower to cold shower, so perhaps I’m conditioned for it.

In the third minute of the session I was counting down until I stepped out and the chamber had reached its lowest temperature of just under -180°, but honestly -160° or -180°, at these temperatures it’s all feels just bloody freezing!

As soon as I stepped out into room temperature the sensation of blood returning to my extremities was palpable and would continue to give me a tingling sensation for the following 10 minutes or so but that wasn’t the highlight. The “WOW” experience was how good I felt mentally! I felt refreshed, more alert and clear in my thoughts, these being the exact same reasons I cold shower in the mornings, but this was on another level! For this point alone I will be doing future treatments when I have the chance.

In terms of muscle recovery or joint pain improvements I can’t provide an strong opinion as this was a one off treatment and I don’t have any injury I’m focused on recovering from.  But for the sensation of alertness and freshness alone I would certainly consider to get one of these units installed my apartment, but that’s going to need to wait until I have something a little bigger than my shoebox in Shibuya.

 

Saraya Story

Saraya have only recently started develop of the Cryotherapy units and are the only Japanese business currently manufacturing the devices. They initially intended to bring in imported models from Europe, but given Japan’s engineering and technology excellence it was not at all surprisingly found they could create a superior product with more features at a lower cost for the domestic market. The features they developed were those such as a safety switch emergency stop button, self drying operation and exhaust features to prevent the machine from suffering from moisture buildup.

If you would like to speak to Saraya about acquiring a unit or trying the product for yourself, please contact the very helpful (and English speaking) Deputy General Manager of Saraya, Marlon Amado V. Mamaril

 

 

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The Osaka Marathon

 

I write this post while bound for Tokyo sitting aboard the effortlessly swift ‘Nozomi Super Express’ Shinkansen at 320 kilometers per hour; I’m returning home from a magnificent weekend in Osaka after participating in the Osaka Marathon.

Fortunately for me I gained a lottery placement into the event which took place this weekend on Sunday Oct 25th, 2015, this year celebrating it’s 5th event.  With 30,000 slots this and with over 130,000 hopefuls these numbers are yet another indication of the depth of running culture in Japan. Not as oversubscribed as the Tokyo Marathon, but still a particularly strong interest for a Marathon ran in Japan’s second largest city.

Precisely organised, polite / well-prepared participants, fantastic crowd support and abundantly equipped aid stations. I have observed these elements to be a true hallmark for Japanese events. Osaka Marathon was by no means an exception. Of course I should also mention the entertainment. Japanese cheer squads, native drummers, Hawaiian dancers and quirky costumes both in the race and the crowd that provide a uniquely Japanese edge to the day.

The theme for the year was ‘making a rainbow together’ with a variety of colors you could select at registration, each of which has a unique charity donation (part of registration fee) associated with it. You also had the option to purchase a t-shirt or hat to run the event in and represent your color. As you can see from the photo’s they certainly achieved that goal as the field of runners were bright and vibrant!

The Osaka Marathon course provides runners with an excellent perspective of Osaka city. Starting at Osaka Castle in the cool morning sun, the course coils its way through the heart of Osaka city and in the last 10km or so the route unwinds into wider spaces out into the harbor area of Osaka to the Inpex convention center for the finishing line.

I wasn’t out to make a personal record so I really just focused on relaxing and enjoy the race, which Osaka certainly made easy for me! The bonus with not my pushing hard in the run is it allowed me to snap a number of photos along the way which I share with you here.

Okonomiyaki!Osaka Marathon Route

For post marathon entertainment Osaka has plenty to offer with Karaoke, fine dining or Izakaya, bars and café’s, but as there was an Octoberfest event happening it seemed only natural I’d go to enjoy a beer and bratwurst followed by dinner with a locally famous dish of Okonomiyaki!

I stayed at the Mitsui Garden Premier Osaka  which I highly recommend. While not right in the center of Osaka downtown, the hotel offers a Onsen bathing on the top floor which is exactly why I booked the hotel. A hot Onsen post race does wonders for muscle recovery.

 

Next year the Osaka Marathon is schedule for the 30th of October 2016, why not try your luck to get a spot in the lottery yourself? Ganbatte!

 

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Pictures from a run in beautiful Hakone.

A short post of pictures from my weekend running in beautiful Hakone.

SekishoHakone TownTori Gate, Hakone. Views of lake AshiViews of lake AshiCyclist Enjoying the Path. Winding green trailsBamboo pathwayView of Lake AshiLake AshiHakone OnsenHalf Marathon in Hakone.

With a last minute decision made to join a friend for a weekend in Hakone, I was happy to have discovered a very pleasant half marathon distance run half way around Lake Ashi . The run includes a reasonably steep climb at the halfway point and takes you to a peak of the Hakone Skyline which rewards you with magnificent views of the lake and surrounding mountains. I also rediscovered the sheer bliss of a soothing hot spring Onsen for post run recovery and relaxation!

If you are looking for an energizing weekend away from the buzz of Tokyo city, then I highly recommend Hakone as a destination for you to run free among the trails of the mountainside, to enjoy the cool country air, the relaxation of the hot spring Onsen baths and the to take in the spectacular countryside views.


Tips on Hakone

  • Hakone is a short 1hr trip on the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station or around 2hrs by regular rail on the Odakyu line
  • Consider staying in a Ryokan as I have done previously, many of which have their own private Onsen and not to mention the warm local hospitality provided
  • Stay a night or two and improve your chances to catch views of Mt.Fuji. Sadly this trip I did not as it was covered by clouds the whole time.

Tips for Onsen

  • When taking Onsen be sure to scrub yourself silly using the soap and showers provided before hopping into the hot tubs, it’s an important part of the culture to be pristinely clean
  • While they are separated male and female, be prepared for full nudity as swimming wear is not generally acceptable in the Onsen and the little towel provided doesn’t offer you much to cover up with!
  • You may be asked to cover up tattoos if using a public Onsen
  • Enjoy! Nothing beat’s hot Onsen for recovery after a long cool run in the mountains.

Tips for running in Hakone

  • I will be researching and returning to Hakone for more running, so this will become a separate post sometime in the future
  • Take a running backpack with hydration capacity for longer runs as you might want to head off the beaten path and need your own supply of hydration & food
  • Ensure you check the weather forecast and take warm gear as the mountains can get cold and change quickly despite the sun being out
  • It gets dark quickly, plan your timing and ensure you are safely done before night falls

 

Hakone, in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park west of Tokyo, is a mountainous region known for hot springs resorts and Mt. Fuji views. It also encompasses Hakone Jinja, a Shinto shrine with a red “torii” gate; Lake Ashi, which can be toured by boat; and the boiling sulphur springs of Owakudani valley, seen from the Hakone Ropeway cable car.

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Runners Station, Kojimachi.

Front EntranceVariety of clothing and supplements Common AreaGarmin Watches for hire / sale.Shower CapsuleMens Locker Room #1Mens Locker Room #2

Situated 500 meters from the Imperial Palace running track, you quickly get a sense the owners of Runners Station Kojimachi have thoughtfully crafted this environment with a genuine knowledge of what a runner’s needs are and that they share a passion for running as much as you do.

Runners Station Kojimachi offer a variety of services, with the core facility being the use of a locker and a clean shower + towel rental. This is priced at only ¥700.

Other services include the option to store running shoes (via monthly membership) to rent a garmin watch or running shoes and you can also purchase from a variety of running clothing and supplements they have available.

Coffee and Tea facilities are available in the communal area for ¥100 and there is free wifi available too!

They are located directly above Kojimachi Station on the Yurakucho line and easiest to access if you take Exit 4 and follow the stairs to the top.

Although I have yet to encounter an English speaking staff member this really is not a barrier. They have even created a handy PDF map and explanation in English to help us non Japanese enjoy the service and the route.

Runners station is a warm, welcoming and friendly environment that is dedicated to the service of runners wanting to enjoy the ever popular Imperial Palace running track and I recommend you try them out for yourself.


 

Hours of Service
Weekdays (Tue-Fri) 10:00 to 22:30 (21:00 last admission)
※ Monday Closed

Saturday 8:00 to 20:00 (18:30 last admission)
Sunday and holidays 8:00 to 18:00 (16:30 last admission)

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Where to run in Tokyo. Yoyogi Park.

 

Located in central Tokyo, Yoyogi Park (代々木公園, Yoyogi Kōen) is a staple destination for runners of Tokyo.

Given it’s central location it is easily accessible by public transport, with train stations ‘Harajuku‘ (Yamanote Line) , Meiji-jingumae and ‘Yoyogi Kōen‘ (Chiyoda Line) all taking you to the parks doorstep.

Yoyogi Park hosts all the facilities you need for an enjoyable run as there are plenty of toilets, water fountains, vending machines throughout the park. The paths are superbly maintained and if you are looking to go for an afternoon or evening trot, the inner loop paths are well lit.

 

One less common known points about running in Yoyogi Park is that it offers not only one, but two running routes; an inner loop and an outer loop.

Yoyogi Park – Inner Loop

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This one is as simple as following the footpath around the park from any of the main entrances. It is possible to weave around a little as there are a number of foot paths to choose from that are all connected, just stick in one direction (for some reason, counter clockwise is the standard in Japan) and you can easily explore the options. The example pictured below is the very inner loop.

Length: Approx 1.3 km long
Track: 100% Pavement
Good for: Interval training, short jog under 10k, people watching while you jog.

 

 

Yoyogi Park – Outer Loop

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This is also pretty easy to find as long as you know it’s there! Locate one of the main entrances and look for a worn path that follows the outside of the park. You can traverse the park and see a different perspective of Yoyogi and enjoy a trail run like feeling.  Depending on the weather you might want your trail shoes for this path as it can be muddy in parts if it has been raining. This loop is slightly longer and offers a trail run feel despite being in the center of Tokyo city.

Length: Approx 2.6km long
Track: 20% Pavement / 80% Dirt Trail
Good for: Trail run feeling, longer runs (longer distance means fewer loops)

Tips for running in Yoyogi Park

  • It can get very busy and a congested during weekends and public holidays when the weather is good. If that is the case when you plan to go, head out early to avoid the crowds
  • There are a number of large crows living in the park. Generally they are a bit of a nuisance as they sometimes do like to swoop low as you run past but I haven’t heard of them ever causing any harm
  • Careful to avoid cyclists as there is a cycling route in the park that’s used mostly for parents with young children to enjoy so keep an eye out especially when you are crossing the cycling path
  • Don’t run in the Meiji Shrine area of the park (the right side entrance to the park after exiting Harajuku station) it’s forbidden to do so and there are too many tourists to make it a comfortable location to jog anyway. Stick to the routes above.
  • Take a break from your run by the dog fenced area (you will pass it on the inner loop) and enjoy watching the dogs at play
  • If you would like a locker, a place to shower and change after your run the check out Nohara by Mizuno. This service is especially for runners and as shown in this google map and as you can see it is conveniently located in Harajuku. The service is available to the public for a small fee.

 

 

  • Inner Loop Track

 

 

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Where to run in Tokyo. The Imperial Palace.

Where to run in Tokyo. The Imperial Palace.

If you are visiting Japan for the first time and looking for a place to run that’s central in Tokyo then look no further than the Imperial Palace. The track at the Imperial Palace is the quintessential Tokyo City running destination and it might well be the most popular of all running locations in Tokyo for Gaijin and local Japanese alike.

Why is Running at Imperial Palace so Popular?

  • Central access from a number of stations in the area makes getting there by train easy. There are nine train stations (Hanzomon, Sakuradamon, Hibya, Yurakucho, Nijubashimae, Tokyo, Otemachi, Takebashi, Kundanshita) that all either take you right to the route or close enough for a short walk/jog or jog to the track
  • There are no traffic lights or other reasons to stop/start along the way
  • It’s an even 5km loop start to finish, so it’s simple to measure your 5km 10km 15km etc etc distance if you don’t have a sports watch
  • Access to numerous clean public restrooms along the route
  • Water Fountains access for a quick sip or replenishing your water bottle. Especially handy if you are doing multiple loops in the summer time.
  • Community spirit of runners is alive. Rain, hail or shine and regardless of time of day, there seems to be always at least a handful of runners out enjoying the course with you
  • Well lit and safe while Tokyo itself already has an exceptionally low crime rate the Imperial Palace is well lit and guarded by numerous police who are stationed around the palace
Gardens at Imperial Palace
Gardens at Imperial Palace

Helpful Tips

  • Most (maybe all) of the train stations have lockers if you need to store goods while you jog
  • Check out the running services in the nearby area such as Runners Station where you can shower, use a locker, grab supplies – you can even rent running gear from them if you need it. They even have an english text imperial palace running map illustrating the water stations/bathrooms.
  • Run only counter clockwise around the course, it’s simply an etiquette that’s followed by all to keep congestion to a minimum.
  • Much like most of Tokyo, there are no trash cans on the loop so be mindful of this and hold onto any litter until you are home.
  • In contrast to the last point and somewhat out of place for Japan there are no vending machines along the route, if you seek a drink other than water you can simply cross one of the roads at the traffic lights and run for a while. You are bound to come across a vending machine in no time.
  • The route can get congested as some areas of the path narrow and the runners numbers do get high during peak times. The Japanese runners of course are generally highly courteous people, locals will nearly always clear the way when they can ‘sense’ you are wanting to pass. If you are stuck and the person is unaware, simply call out Sumimasen (pronounced soo-mii-mah-sen), which simply means Excuse me!

 

Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace
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Where to workout in Japan – Golds Gym.

Travelling is no excuse not to keep up with your workout schedule, in this article I explain the procedure for using Golds Gym as a tourist or short term traveller to Japan. 
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While the bodybuilding culture isn’t particularly strong in Japan and consequently many gyms and fitness centers are pretty disappointing when it comes to the free weights they offer. They tend to cater more specifically to ‘cardio’ / core type work so finding a gym that can cater for the serious lifter can be a challenge. Please don’t get me started about the pathetic ‘fitness centers’ found advertised for the hotels across Japan. 

If you want to get a serious workout session in while in Japan your first answer is with Golds. As you would expect with the brand name, Golds gym in Japan cater for the serious lifters.

While pretty close to what you would expect from a standard gym anywhere in the world there are of course some customs specific to Japan that can get you by surprise, so below is intended to help you get to the gym and enjoy a good workout with as little hassle as possible.

What you need

  1. Shoes! A 2nd set of clean indoor only gym shoes – Outdoor shoes are never to be worn indoors. It’s ingrained in the culture but if you don’t have a spare set of shoes they may have some you can rent from them for a small fee, but if you are a larger size like me you might struggle to find a pair that fit so really don’t rely on this.
  2. Your Passport! – Yeah, so they need a copy of your passport before they can let you workout. Don’t forget it, they won’t let you access the Gym without it. 
  3. Money – ¥3,100 (Around $30 USD) for 5 hour session. ¥180,00 (Around $180 USD) for a month long membership. Visa credit card is accepted. 
  4. Your own towels – Bring your own towels for shower and use on the equipment. Both can be rented for a small fee.

2015-07-22 17.37.28-1Observe The Rules

  • No Exposed Tattoos, they must be covered. Be prepared to be denied access or asked to cover up if you fail to observe the rules.
  • No supersets. Well you can but only one set of equipment to be “occupied” at all times. This includes barbells in the free weights area.
  • Re-rack your Gear to the right space when you are done. No, I shouldn’t need to tell you this but some of the gyms I have been too around the world you would think a tribe of dyslexic monkeys had been working out. In Japan it’s expected.
  • Wipe Down Your Equipment after use. Towels are provided on small hooks against nearly all the machines. Again, I shouldn’t need to tell you this and again in Japan it’s expected
  • No talking on the phone, not even briefly
  • Oh, and avoid the reserved pink women’s only area if you don’t identify as a woman. Duh.

What’s Good About Golds in Japan?

  • Super clean / organised
  • Respectful gym goers resulting in no loud grunting, phone blabbing, alpha chest beating and with equipment always re-racked correctly
  • Protein bar for fresh protein shake post workout
  • Tanning Machines
  • Super attentive staff  from the front counter to the workout area. In the workout area there is always one or two gym trainers overseeing the gym members activities like body guards. They wear earpieces to communicate with other staff, I’m not kidding.
  • Onsen hot bath (be sure to observe the rules and wash yourself before using!)

What’s Bad About Golds in Japan?

  • Not reading this blog and turning up without your passport and having to return to hotel to get it. Why the hell do they need to copy my passport for a workout!
  • Sometimes a lack of English speaking staff or English translation text for products services
  • Rather expensive fees
  • Not being able to show your biceps because you have to cover your tattoos with a long sleeve t-shirt.
  • My calves, skinny as heck (Oh, wait that’s not Golds Gym fault!)

I hope this post has been helpful to you finding your way around the Golds Gym’s in Japan!  

Protein Shake Time! Ganbatte!

2015-04-30 14.03.44

 

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Tokyo Marathon. Registration Opens!

Tokyo Marathon. Registration Opens!

The buzz in the city surrounding the Tokyo marathon epitomises to me the the depth of the running culture of Japan. The marathon is televised live and nationwide on Japan’s national public TV network (NHK) and as you explore the city ahead of your race participation you will be hard pressed to find a resident of Tokyo who isn’t aware and excited about the event.

Spectators turn out in the thousands and are frequently numbers deep as they energetically cheer you along.

 

I personally have completed the Tokyo marathon for the past 4 years in a row and plan to do so for at least the next 6 years. In coming posts I will be writing more about the Marathon and why it’s the the one marathon I plan to return to for a decade.

If you are going to run the Tokyo Marathon, or visiting Japan and need help to find your way around the health and fitness scene, don’t hesitate to Contact Me with any questions.

Don’t delay register for for a space in the 2016 Tokyo Marathon lottery now! Ganbatte!

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Held annually in Tokyo, the Tokyo marathon has been officially titled as one of the ‘Marathon Majors’, positioning itself among the ranks of Berlin, Boston, Chicago, New York and London marathons.

From today Saturday, August 1, 2015, 10:00 a.m. (JST) until Monday, August 31, 2015, 5:00 p.m. (JST) it is open for registrations.

Competitors have a 6 hour 40 minute window to complete the 42.2 km marathon course which routes through the heart of Tokyo starting in Shinjuku and finishing in Ariake Bay providing participants a unique marathon experience throughout the vibrant Tokyo city streets.
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