Saturday, February 23, 2008


OK I've been a slacker with the blog. But, I wrote three more entries about my Japan trip and am resolved to finish up the rest by next week. I've been busy with the usual... and a heavy dose of running.

I returned from the trip determined to pick up and emphasize my running. It was so exciting to travel there and also meet a bunch of other people sharing an interest. Plus, I would like to do a marathon later in the year, and finish in a decent time, so I signed up for Marathonfest, a local training program. The program includes Tuesday track workouts, Thursday tempo runs, and Saturday morning runs.

I'll attend as many Tuesday track sessions as I can, but probably skip the Thursday tempo run in favor of staying local in Lake Mary and running with the Y group. The Saturday morning long run is the cornerstone of the program, and something I haven't been doing on my own. Or done for quite a while.

What is tough is how early that long run is - meet at 5:45 AM (or earlier!) and leave at 6:00 AM. Harsh but necessary.

So it was tough getting up at 4:45 AM for the first long run I could make. I was still groggy pulling into the park, but was happy to see about 40-50 other people also up at this crazy hour. Others tell me this spring session is half the size of the fall session! The group has critical mass, whereby you could search around a bit and find other people wanting to run your pace and desired distance. Or you could just run the day's workout with your own pace group. I wound up running with 3 or 4 others, an out-and-back in Winter Park for 7.9 miles in 1:06, for an 8:25 pace.

The next workout was short for me - I signed up for a 5K, so I just ran a warmup of 3.9 miles, out-and-back to the first water stop. Following this I did the House of Hope 5K in about 22:40, which I am very happy with since I haven't been doing much speed work.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Japan Trip

I'm back from a fantastic trip, and still sorting pictures and thinking of what to write. So I'll be filling this in during the upcoming days. In the meantime, my trip outline:

Also, the Urayasu Runners Club kept a blog of "Orlando Week 2008".

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Kyoto Walking Tour

I found a nice walking tour of Kyoto and followed it.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Temple of the Silver Pavillion.

Ginkakuji View
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Kyoto view from the Ginkakuji grounds.

Heian Shrine
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Heian Shrine

Torii Gate
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Torii Gate near the Heian Shrine, in Kyoto.

Ryozen Kannon
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Ryozen Kannon

Nijō Castle
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Nijō Castle.

This castle is famous for the "nightingale" floors... squeaky wooden floors that alerted the occupants if anybody was attempting to sneak up on them.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Kinkakuji, Temple of the Golden Pavillion.

This is Kyoto's most famous tourist attraction, a spectacular building. It was busy even in February, I imagine at the height of the tourist season it is difficult to get a clear view of the building!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bullet Train to Kyoto

After touring Urayasu in the morning, I met up with the group to say bye. They were all flying back, but I took an extra 5 days off work to see more of Japan! I arranged a side trip for myself to Kyoto, and got there by taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo. Shige helped me buy the tickets and waited outside until the train left.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus
Standing in front of the Nozomi Shinkansen.


In the morning, Shige drove me around the old part of Urayasu. Most of the city is new, built on land reclaimed from the sea. Shige took me to the "old" town, where the streets were very narrow, and there was more evidence of the original industry of the area: fishing.

Urayasu is at sea level, and has a canal and watergate system used to control flooding. The gate opens and closes during high tide and low tide.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Urayasu has three shrines, and we visited one of them. This sculpted hill is on the side of the main building.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Shige said the proper way to pay respects is to clap your hands twice (with a large sweeping motion), pray, clap once more, and then toss some coins into the collection box. ;) Sometimes there is a bell to ring (attached to a rope). He demonstrated and then I did it.

Urayasu Shrine
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

While in Urayasu, we noticed these mats all over the place. What were they, and what was their purpose? They followed streets, forked at intersections, and switched patterns at obstacles like stairways. We took a few guesses but wound up asking our hosts.

Mysterious Mats
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

They told us these mats were for blind people - the grooves helped guide their walking sticks. Very interesting!

After seeing the shrine, we drove over to the city museum, which had a nice display on the history and culture of Urayasu. It was also a popular spot for school kids as there were at least 3 or 4 classes of elementary school students in there as well! The museum had vintage pictures of the early industries (fishing and nori farming), some replica equipment such as boats and clamming gear, and a small model of what an original section of the city looked like.

For lunch, Shige took me to a nearby restaurant where we had some very delicious unagi.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Several URC members took us to Kamakura, southeast of Tokyo right off a subway stop.

We headed towards the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, at the end of a path that began with a torii. It looks like the path vanishes in the distance, but that is partly an optical illusion as it is built that way - the path narrows as it approaches the shrine.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

After lunch we walked back along a street lined with shops, and eventually caught a bus to see Daibutsu, the famous large statue of Buddha.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

After that we visited Kenchō-ji, a large Zen temple nearby.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Peach Blossom
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

This peach blossom is a sign of spring. We told the Japanese our equivalent spring tradition is Groundhog Day, which they thought was amusing.

Cave Offering
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Kenchō-ji had a small cave accessible by tunnels. The tunnels were lined with various carvings. The cave had more carvings, and was a place people came to leave small statues and flowers as offerings.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


The usual schedule for the exchange trip is to check out of our hotel after the race, and then have a homestay with a Japanese family until departure. My homestay was with the Yanagida family: Shigeyuki and Emiko. Shige and Emiko visited Orlando in December 2007 for the OUC half marathon, so I had met them before.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Like many densely populated urban areas, most people live in condos. Shige and Emiko's home was in a building near the subway stop (very convenient!) on the 17th floor. The building had an open-air central corridor with a trash room and elevator access, with 6 or 7 units on each floor.

Their home was immaculate, I think they both cleaned extensively prior to my arrival. The front door opened onto a small atrium with a closet, where visitors leave their shoes and swap for slippers. The kitchen, dining room, and living room were behind a door, the sink and bathroom were behind another door, and the hallway led to three bedrooms and a small room with the toilet. I had heard all sorts of stories about tiny living spaces in Tokyo - this home was larger than I expected, and on par with condos I've seen in other metropolitan areas.

View of Urayasu
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Their view was amazing! It is a hazy day, but along the right edge of the picture, at the horizon, is Mt. Fuji.

The next morning, Emiko fixed me a traditional Japanese breakfast.

Japanese Breakfast
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

(Check out the image on flickr - I used the "add note" feature annotate items). Breakfast consisted of small portions of several foods: natto (fermented soy beans), fish, salad, spinach and eggs, carrots and noodles. The presentation made it look like artwork!

I can't post about a trip to Japan without mentioning the Japanese bath. The bathroom, even in the hotel, had a combined shower/tub room, except instead of the shower being in the tub, it was by the side. Also, the entire room was for bathing, so no shower curtain. By the shower head, which had a few fixed positions (low, medium, high), was a pail and stool to sit on. The idea was to soap and shower, sitting on the stool, rinse off, and then get in the bathtub for a relaxing post-shower soak. The tub had a lid over it, and was kept filled with hot (42 degrees Celsius) water. It is a nice way to wind down at the end of the day!

Race Day

On the morning of the race day, we got up to a few inches of snow on the ground, and more falling. All of us realized the half-marathon had just become a major adventure!

Snowy Day
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

URC members picked us up and drove us to the sports complex where the race starts and ends. Once there, we were led to a private room where we could spread out our stuff, stretch, and rest. We joked about how tough the race would be - none of us had done an event in the snow before. Heck, we were all Florida residents!! Even those of us that had lived elsewhere in the US hadn't done an event in weather like this. So we just took it easy.

Pre-Race Photo
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

The room didn't have any windows, so we couldn't see outside to tell if the weather was getting better or worse. We heard an announcement over the loudspeaker, and after a few minutes Kaki-san came in and told us the race had been canceled due to bad weather. We thought he was joking but he said he wasn't...

It actually wasn't that much of a surprise. We stepped out and saw that since our arrival, it had kept snowing and it just wasn't smart to hold the event: footing would be treacherous, volunteers would be miserable out in a snowstorm manning aid stations, etc.

Tokyo Bay Half Marathon Group
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

So our goal shifted - we put on our coats and plastic bags, and decided to do a short snow run to the Tokyo Disney subway stop (Marihama) instead, and head back to the hotel.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Imperial Palace

After the morning club run, we went to see the Imperial Palace and walk around downtown Tokyo.

Palace Grounds
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
The view from the original palace grounds, which burned down. What remains is a raised section of large stones.

Guard Building
Originally uploaded by klbarrus
This is no longer used, but it was originally a garrison where Samurai would check visitors before they entered.

Double Bridge
Originally uploaded by klbarrus

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

While wandering around near Tokyo Station, I ran into Godzilla!

Originally uploaded by klbarrus

URC Meeting

The Urayasu Runners Club isn't that big, strictly speaking, compared to other running clubs I've been in. It is just that the URC has about 80% attendance at their events - making their active membership enormous, compared to other running clubs I've been in!

In the morning, a group met us at the hotel and walked with us to the park where they hold their club run. It was packed!

We started off with 2 or 3 laps around the park, for about a 1.5 or 2 mile warmup. Then the coach led us through at least 20 minutes of stretching. After that, we ran their training route (about 5K) to another park, where the cooldown workout was a relay event - teams taking turns running back and forth across a field. Then we walked back to the first park, for cooldown stretching and a group massage (so to speak) - everybody lined up in a big circle and we took turns pounding on each other's shoulders. It was pretty fun and felt good!

Club Photo
Originally uploaded by klbarrus