Turning Japanese

The Vapors –  “Turning Japanese”

Thursday and Friday (and Wednesday)

My trip to Japan started very late on Wednesday night. After our annual Secret Santa and Team Christmas Dinner at Bistro Roca (a big thanks to Chris for an awesome Streetlight Manifesto T-shirt), I headed down to spend the night at a hotel near the Charlotte Airport. I got to my room around 11:15 and went right to bed, but unfortunately my alarm was set for 3:15 the next morning. After my short sleep, I hit the streets for a short, early morning run. An hour later I was in my truck on the way to the airport.

At the airport I met up with one of my teammates, Christo Landry (Yeah the same guy that outkicked me at Peachtree). Getting through security was a breeze, as it usually is at 4:30 in the morning. So we had a bit of time before a comparatively short flight to Minneapolis. In Minneapolis Team Coach, Katie McGregor, joined our growing posse. Last summer, Katie spent a couple of months training at ZAP, so I was excited to hang out with her for the weekend.

From there we boarded the long 12 hour flight to Tokyo. With so much time to expend, I did a variety of activities. I read, played games, slept, and watched a couple of movies. I thought Boyhood was particularly good, while Divergent, I would recommend to wait until it comes to DVD. Around 9 hours into the flight, I was ready to land, but unfortunately there were still another few hours.

View from the Resort

View from the Resort

Once we landed in Japan, we went through customs and met up with the folks from the International Chiba Ekiden. They led us to a bus, which we boarded and began another hour more of travel until we reached our final destination, the Seimei No Mori Resort. The place we were based was once a training center for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but is now a retreat center. It is located in the mountains east of Tokyo. While we waited for Coach Katie to get us checked in and keys to our rooms, we walked around the main building. But we were all so tired. The nearly 20 hours of travel had taken it toll on us, and not to forget that our bodies thought it was well past midnight.

Eventually Christo and I made it to our room, only to head out for a run. By this time it was dark and we had no idea where to run, so we followed the main entrance road. The terrain was very hilly and gave us an idea of what the running would be like around the resort. After the run, we headed to dinner where most of the team had arrived. At this point I was utterly exhausted, but I knew that the later I could stay up, the easier I could adjust to the time difference. So it was around 8 o’clock before I was out.


I slept well despite waking up a couple of times during the night. After Christo and Jake, the other guy on the team, woke up, we went for our run. Since it was daytime, we were able to explore some of the surroundings are a bit more. We discovered that we were in a pretty rural and isolated area, only coming onto a few towns separated by tiered rice patties and farmland. But the land around the resort was very beautiful. It reminded me of the Appalachian Mountains, with the rolling hills and big valleys. We got back to the resort and I had a few more miles to run, which included 8 x 45 second pickups.

After the our run we headed to lunch then played table tennis and shot some hoops with the Australian team. We were all jet lagged so the rest of the day was spent recovering from the day(s) of travel before.


My artsy shot at Naritason Temple.

My artsy shot at Naritason Temple.

Jake, Christo, and I woke up early to get our run done, because the people organizing the Ekiden had planned a trip to Narita-san Shinshō-ji Temple. Naritasan is one of the largest Buddhist temple grounds in Japan. I was surprised to learn that Buddhism is the largest religion in Japan. Since the temple grounds were big and we only had around 45 minutes, I did not get to spend much time in one specific place. There was just too much to see! One thing that we did see was a traditional Buddhist wedding, which our guide said was very uncommon in Japan.

After we were corralled back to the buses, we were taken to a mall in Narita. There was nothing really special about this mall, it looked just like an American one, but was someplace for us to pick up some gifts and souvenirs for home.

Upon returning to the resort, we ate lunch, played some more table tennis and basketball (with the Aussies again), and relaxed. We had a big race to get ready for the next day!


I woke up early, as I had done all week due to the time change, and went for a short 15 minute shakeout at sunrise. I ate a good size breakfast since the race was not until 1, and spent the rest of the morning relaxing.

If there is one thing that can be said about the Japanese, it is that they are very organized and punctual. They very much abided by Coach Vandenbusche’s saying, “If you are early you are on-time, on-time you are late, and to be late is to never happen.” Our chaperone was always trying to make sure that we were on-time for everything. The organizers had a set schedule for departing to the race, so I, along with all of the first leg, loaded up at 10:30. During the ride, I began to get my focus tuned for the race. I knew that my training was not in ideal to run a super fast 5km, but that with a good honest pace, I could place well. I was hoping that some one would be willing to take it out honestly, if not I would do that duty.

Another thing that the Japanese love is distance running. They will routinely have hundreds of runners run fast in races. Compare that to the US, who will only have dozens. But in defense of the US, we have a much more lively track scene, where a good portion of our talent goes. For an example of how running is different in Japan is watching the race from one of their national heroes, Yuki Kawauchi. He is considered the “blue collar” runner of Japan, as he does not belong to any of the corporate teams (similar to Hansons-Brooks or ZAP). Watch this video of him passing another runner, but that is not what makes this broadcast so great. What I love is the INSTANT REPLAY (at 7:20) the broadcast does of him surging past. For me it is funny, and out of the ordinary is that they show an instant replay in a running race. But for the Japanese, this deserves a replay, as it is the most important part of the race. Also if you watch to the end, it is inspiring to see how far he was willing to push himself.

Since running is such a big sport in Japan, everything seems so much bigger and extravagant compared to races in the US. For the opening ceremonies, there were a dozen mascots, a military band, and a parade featuring each country. Coach Steve Slattery was the lone representative of the US. As the race drew nearer, the stands began to fill up, and the energy in the stadium grew.

Heading out of the stadium.

Heading out of the stadium.

The gun went off and I found myself in the middle of the pack. The race starts with 900m on the track before it heads towards the ocean. Our first 800m on the track was around 2:13-4, so the pace was not really fast, but a good way to start. From the stadium, most of the first half downhill, so my goal was to stay relaxed and sit behind the leaders. We headed out to the streets and hit our first big downhill. I stayed behind the leaders, who were four abreast, until around half way. Then the member of the Chiba Team made a big surge. I choose to follow him and continued pushing for the next mile.

With a kilometer to go, I was passed by the New Zealand, Australian, and Canadian teams, who began to pull away. From there I could feel that I was topped out and was not going to go any faster, but I did not think that I would slow down any. I feel that this has been the way many of my shorter races have gone the last year. With nothing that I could do, I just tried to stay as close as possible to the leaders. A few hundred meters later, a group went around me, and near the end, the German team passed me. I crossed the line in 13:42 and passed the sash (tasuki) off to Katie.

From there we were quickly herded on to the bus and back to the stadium. I cooled down and began watching the race unfold with the other Team USA members. This part was really cool as each team was invested into how their teammates were doing. When the Kenyan team passed the Russian and Japanese teams, the Kenyan’s were cheering and celebrating, and the same when the Japanese team caught back up to the Kenyans. In the end the Japanese lady on the anchor leg ran fantastic, and they won overall.

As a team, we were 6th overall. It was a good showing, and right around where many US teams had placed in previous years. For the guys on the team, including myself, the race came at a time in our training when we were not looking to running really fast. Both Christo and Jake had run the Chicago Marathon six weeks prior, and I only had one more week of training since Twin Cities. The performance of the day had to go to Liz who ran 16:17 to run the fastest on her leg.

Post race we loaded in to the bus, but not after being hounded by our adoring fans. Actually there were only about a dozen kids that wanted all of our autographs and a few selfies, but it was pretty cool to feel a little bit like a celebrity.

Even though the race was finished, the day was not done yet. The organizers had a dinner and awards ceremony planned for all of the teams. After that we got together with a few of the other teams and had

The team post race. With our sash.

The team post race. With our sash.

Overall, it was a great experience, as it always is to be on a USA Team. Getting to experience a different country and culture is always interesting, even though we were tucked away in the mountains. The Japanese people were extremely friendly and attentive to making our experience the best possible. With that said I would like to thank the folks at the International Chiba Ekiden. They put on a fantastic event. The race was extremely fun, the crowd support phenomenal, and we were treated like royalty.

I would also extend thanks to USATF for sending my teammates and me to Japan. They work hard to increase the popularity and support of track and field in the USA, and trips like these are a great way for them to help the up and coming American runners.

My last thanks goes to Katie, Steve, and Dan. They were a great support staff. They made sure that we did not have to worry about anything besides the race. They were also fun to get to know and make some new friends.

USA Results:
Tyler Pennel               13:42   5km
Katie Matthews          16:13   5km
Christo Landry           28:55   10km
Liz Costello                16:17   5km
Jake Riley                   29:51   10km
Rachel Ward                24:15   7.195km
Total – 6th Place           2:09:13

Alternate Race, a 5000m on the track
Sarah Pagano               16:21   4th

2014 International Chiba Ekiden Results
Japan Running New Recap
IAAF Recap

My Photos:

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Training Log 11/16-22

Week of Training November 16 – 22

Morning Afternoon Notes
Sunday 18 Surges, Long Run
Monday 8 6
Tuesday 12 6 Drive to Johnson City, TN
Wednesday 14 Workout
Thursday 6 Travel to Japan, Lost a day
Friday 8
Saturday 12 8 x 45 sec
Week Total 90

This wee was a short week, literally. During my travel to Japan on Thursday and Friday I lost about 12 hours (don’t worry, I get them back next week), and this coupled with the travel, the week was a tad lower than last week.

The lone workout for the week was a simple 1 to 5, 5 to 1 Fartlek. Just like every other Fartlek at ZAP, the on piece is followed by half time float. Since the weather was not ideal, it had snowed a few days prior so the Park was still very icy and not ideal to do a workout, this workout was on the treadmill. Every once in while, Pete will have us do a workout on a treadmill. Pere really likes treadmill workouts so that he can control exactly how fast and steep we run. Often on climbs we just end up running a steady pace for the last half, not the 1-1-1 minute cycles that are prescribed. This can happen for a variety of reasons, like pushing too hard at the beginning or due to the steepness of the hill. During a treadmill workout, we are forced to do the 1-1-1 minutes. Also during a treadmill workout, we tend to run faster near the end because the natural terrain does not bind us to certain inclines. I like doing a good treadmill workout every once in a while as it can help boost my confidence.

Since I was not replicating a climb, my workout was not as ridged as everyone else’s. I was going more off of feel. I started out running the first piece around 4:45 pace, and then slowed it down just a tick as I moved up the ladder. Once I finished my fist 5 minute piece I began to increase the incline and bring the pace down. Eventually I finished by running the last minute around 4:30 pace. Finishing the workout well and in control was a good boost to my confidence leading into my race next week!

Thursday and Friday I traveled to Japan. This took up pretty much both days, as I lost 12 hours, but I will have a much more in depth description of my entire trip to Japan in the next few days!

Training Log 11/9-15

Week of Training November 9 – 15

Morning Afternoon Notes
Sunday 17 Long Run, Surges
Monday 9 Core
Tuesday 13 Workout
Wednesday 10 7 Drills and Strides, Core
Thursday 12 6 Drills and Strides, Core
Friday 14 Progressive
Saturday 9
Week Total 97

Lately I have not had much to talk about. In all reality, the life of a professional runner is quite boring. If I am not running, much of the time is spent doing something, anything that is not physically demanding. This week was not much different. The only thing remotely interesting was that I increased my mileage to 97. Real exciting stuff let me tell you!

The ZAP Team!  Without Pezz, though. When your name is the same as a candy, I guess you don't have to show up for team picture day.

The ZAP Team! Without Pezz, though. When your name is the same as a candy, I guess you don’t have to show up for team picture day.

Since I do not have anything of note about me to write about, I will write about my teammates. This weekend was the kick off of the fall road racing season for most ZAP athletes. We had a crew of Griff, Joe, and Chris, head to the old Capital of the South to run the HVC Richmond 8km. The course there is blazing fast, I set my 8km PR there two years ago, and the boys didn’t disappoint. Both Griff and Joe ran blazing fast sub 23 minutes, placing second and fourth, respectively. Chris set a big PR of 23:38 for fifth. All three ran awesome races, which was a great way to start the weekend. I would also like to add that both Griff and I have skipped running an 8km in the 23 minute range; right from running 24:XX to 22:XX!

In the Queen City, Pezz was the lone girl from ZAP racing this weekend. She ran the Charlotte Thunder Road Half Marathon. She placed 5th overall, and won the women’s race by an impressive 9 minutes. Her comeback from tearing her plantar this spring looks to be complete. Now she is ready for some good racing this spring!

The poster for the International Chiba Ekiden.

The poster for the International Chiba Ekiden.

Making a trip up to the nation’s capital, Andrew looked primed and ready to see how he stacked up against the best in the US at the .US National 12km Championships. In his ZAP debut, against a loaded field, he stuck his nose out there and ran a gutsy race to place 7th in 34:24. Being a rookie on the road racing scene, he beat quite a few veterans in the process.

Since this is a blog following yours truly, I will finish with what is upcoming for my racing/training. On Thursday I get on a plane and head over to Japan for the Chiba Ekiden! I am super excited to be racing in the USA uniform for my second time, and to also be experiencing another country. Here is a list of all of the countries and athletes competing. From a cursory glance, there are some really good athletes. As usual the Kenyan team is stacked, led by a sub 13 minute 5000m and 27 minute 10000m runner. The Kiwi team is bolstered by the Robertson twins, both 13:1X 5000m runners, and Commonwealth Games Medalists. How could I not mention Japanese, who are always tough and will have the whole nation supporting them. From the looks of it, we will have some good competition.

Training Log 11/2-8

Week of Training November 2-8

Morning Afternoon Notes
Sunday 17
Monday 9
Tuesday 12 Drills and Strides
Wednesday 13 Workout
Thursday 12 Drills
Friday 8 6 Core
Saturday Off
Week Total 77

I started out the week off with a good long run down the mountain on Mulberry Road. Since it had snowed a good amount in Blowing Rock, Moses Cone Park was not suitable for a safe run. This made Mulberry the place to go. It is 20 minutes away from ZAP towards Lenoir. Felling good, I progressively pick up the pace through out the run, to where I was comfortably running under 6 min pace. I was my first good aerobic effort after my break.

Really the only other thing of note (running related) this week was that I also had my first workout. It was a simple ladder Fartlek, 1 to 4, 4 to 1, but I substituted the first 4 minute piece for a 5 minute piece. I also did it through a typical run of Manor-Maze. This is about a 15 minute climb up to the Cone Manor then through the Maze (Man, I really need to do a blog on all of our different run for your reference!). It ended up being a good workout, nothing really special, but a good first one back. It makes me excited to think how well I came off of Twin Cities, with some big goals coming up for the next two years.

Lots of Sushi! Also ignore the Natty Ice in the background, some of us actually drink good beer.

Lots of Sushi!
Also ignore the Natty Ice in the background, some of us actually drink good beer.

I usually do not talk much about life at ZAP, as it is quite boring. I typically do not do anything much of note. There is lots of reading, watching shows (currently The Office), and hanging out as a team. Most of those things are not something that would want to hear week after week, but this week Cole, Andrew, and I were on dinner duty. Actually it was Cole and Andrew, and I tagged along, but we made sushi! Cole is an avid sushi lover, so he organized the dinner and Andrew and I became his sous chefs. It was a nice change of pace from the typical meals that are served at ZAP.

Training Log 11/2-8

Week of Training November 2 – 8

Morning Afternoon Notes
Sunday 13
Monday Off Travel to NC
Tuesday 11
Wednesday 12 Core
Thursday 11 Core
Friday 13
Saturday 10 Core, treadmill
Week Total 70

I am well on my way back to running full miles. It was also a week used to get back in the rhythm of training. After nearly three weeks of waking up when I wanted and running when I felt like it, I am excited to be back to “normal” training. Being on a schedule is much easier lifestyle for me to live. Getting up, training at the same time, afternoon nap, and evenly spaced meals, lead to better performances. This is one of the reasons why ZAP has been successful, and why I have been successful here.

Over the next few weeks I will be building up my miles and getting ready for a run at the USA Cross Country Championships in Boulder. After a successful collegiate cross country career, but I have not had much success as a professional. I do not know exactly why this is, but I am hoping that my recent results indicate that I should have a more positive experience. Also at US Cross, there are six Team USA spots on the line for World Cross Country in China, so making another USA team is the goal for the race.

First snow of the year. It was gone by noon though.

First snow of the year. It was gone by noon though.

The end of the week brought the first snow of the year. I had mixed emotions about waking up to the white wonderland that became ZAP. Having grown up in Colorado and then lived in one of the coldest cities in the US, I like the snow. There is something comforting about it. Having trained often in the snow and cold of Gunnison, I know that there are benefits, but there are also downsides. It is not the best weather to train in. There is a higher chance of injury, both from slipping on the ice and from the cold itself. I know that to run the best, I need to be in a place where I can optimize my training. Since joining ZAP, we are lucky enough to head to Florida then South Carolina for the winter. It seems I have aged 40 years and become a snowbird, but the benefits of following the birds and heading south are enormous. I always look forward to the time we spend in Florida where I just fully focus on becoming a better athlete.