They call it the Land of the Rising Sun and I should have paid attention…knowing how the local time is established in relation to the sun can be quite important for us athletes on selecting the timing of our long training events.
During a recent business trip, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Tokyo including a weekend which gave me the change to indulge in Sushi meals that were out of this world and meet my training goals in what turns out to be a community well equipped for sports enthusiasts and triathletes.
I stayed in Shinjuku west of Tokyo and close to the business district so that I could be close to my client during the week. The weekend however would be focused on some serious training. Running is generally easy but swimming can be a bit more difficult as it requires logistics (usually a pool). After some research and a recommendation from the hotel concierge, the 50 meter pool at the Tokyo Taikukan (Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium Indoor Pool) came in highly recommended. The next step would be to figure out how to get there. Though the easiest way would surely be to take a taxi, as I’ve covered before I tend to believe in taking the long way to experience the city I’m in and I ventured into the subway system.
The experience was a bit unnerving as first considering most signs are in a language which not only do I not understand but I don’t even recognize. I couldn’t recognize any of the 47 characters in either Hiragana or Katakana, let alone the 10,000+ characters in main Japanese. The fact that my co-worker, a native Japanese speaker told me he got lost in the subway the first time he tried it wasn’t exactly comforting either. Nevertheless, armed with a metro map provided by the hotel I ventured into the maze that is Tokyo’s subway. Each line seems to be marked by a Letter (i.e. E) and each station by a number (25). In my case I was lucky enough to stay on the same line and go from E28 to E25 where the gymnasium is located at. It seems that most machines have an “English” button including the machine that gives you tickets so despite my initial fears. I managed to get to and from the pool by metro without any issues by getting to the Kokuritsu-Kyogijo metro station. The return trip in fact was particularly enjoyable as I saw many Japanese women dressed in their colorful robes to celebrate some fireworks that evening. It was a beautiful sight in the metro and one that shows that wonderful culture the Japanese have and easily display.
The Tokyo Taikukan is very nice, and to my surprise contains much more than a pool. It has a weight room, an aerobic room and even a track for running which – although I have no tried – I will certainly try next time if I need to do some speed work.From the entrance, the personnel – although they don’t speak much English – are extremely helpful and welcoming. I found the men’s room without much trouble and figured out how to put my card in the locker in order to use with the help of a quite helpful English person.
I had already figured out that the pool would require a swimming cap and I usually travel with one as most pools around the world will require one. What I didn’t know is that the pool doesn’t allow accessories. After changing, showering and approaching the pool, one of the lifeguards approached me panicked pointing to my watch telling me I couldn’t bring it. So I turned back, removed it, placed it in my locker, took another shower and headed back to the pool. This time, another lifeguard stared at me with wide eyes pointing to my necklace and asking me to take it off. Once again, I headed back to my locker, removed my necklace, and even removed my wedding ring for good measure, showered again, then headed back to the pool.
The lanes are very well marked and apparently respected. 2 slow lanes, 2 medium and 2 fast. From the looks of it, I jumped into the fast lane which seemed appropriate and had a superb swim. The people are very respectful and there was not much crowding. After 2500 meters, I headed to the medium speed lane to cool down and then back to the showers. The pool is very clean and well managed. For those with a family, you can also bring kids to the 25 meter pool down below and make an afternoon out of it.
My swim done, I headed back to the hotel for a nice session of 2.5 hour on the stationary bike. I haven’t researched yet if bike rentals would be appropriate but I find that with enough discipline, stationary bikes can actually give you an excellent workout. I planned my run for the next morning, enjoyed more delicious sushi that evening and got some rest.
From the looks of it, I was about 4.5 miles from the imperial palace and I needed to get a 10 mile run the next morning. The math being simple, I decided to head there the next morning. The run from Shinjuku to the Imperial Palace is quite easy. Once you find the Shinjuku Dori you can follow it all the way to the main gardens surrounding the palace and you’ll start seeing lots runners and bikers. It turns out that this is the location where all the athletes go on weekends to get their runs and rides in just as in Central Park for New York.
All runners seem to be moving counter-clockwise around the park and groups of amateurs enjoy the scenery alongside what appear to be very serious runners. The setting provides some elevation changes which makes it an ideal place for training. I was also surprised to see many triathletes amongst the cyclists. In fact, I saw mostly top of the line bikes like the Specialized Shiv, Cervelo P4s, Trek SpeedConcept, Felt DAs…you get the idea
As beautiful as these gardens are, it is also where I got in a bit of trouble. My first morning in Japan, I had forgotten to close off my hotel window shade completely and noticed that the sun was fully up at 4:30 / 5:00 AM or before. Unlike western countries like the US or France where the sun might be up around 6 or 7, the time in Japan seem to be established much earlier in relation to the sun. This however can have a big impact on our performance as athletes..
In western countries, the hottest time of the day tends to be between 12 and 2PM depending on the location. As such, from 9-11, although the heat is rising, it is not the warmest temperatures of the day. In Japan however, the sun seems to be at its peak around 11AM and as such, the warmest time of the day is between 10-12. I had not planned on this that day and it’s where I got in trouble. By the time I had reached the gardens it was around 10:30 and on a particularly hot day, I found myself out of water.
Luckily the park has several water stations and I had to use them to cool down several times. Nevertheless, the experience was still very enjoyable. Low on fuel as well at one point I stopped by a bakery and bought a delicious pastry with cream in it (I always try to run with enough cash to buy something if needed). I’m not sure if I found it delicious because it was or because I needed the fuel so badly but I certainly keep a fond memory of it.
In any case, I made my way back to the hotel after having experience a plethora of architecture and sights. From the super modern to the ancient and traditional, this long run allowed me to experience the beauty that is Tokyo (and the harshness of its summer heat) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.