Ise Half Marathon:
Vintage Streets and Highway Dreams
hustle and shuffle
After wrapping up the race packet collection desk, I rushed out for my long run. The 5KM runners had already started at 0900 and the half marathoners were scheduled for 0910. With just one “corral”, runners were to situate themselves in groups according to estimated time of completion.
I planned to take photos throughout the race so early on, I had determined that this would be a training day, rather than a race. With that in mind, I squeezed into the 1:50 group.
After the gun, it took about two minutes to reach the timing mats, at which point we then continued to shuffle uphill. The first half mile was a bit painful and recorded 5:39/KM. With that unexpected warm-up out of the way, I began to hit the asphalt a little faster and found a sustainable rhythm.
From the gently rolling curves of the highway to the 800-meter run through Oharai-machi, I was successfully able to capture some of the best parts of the course without completely interrupting my cadence. As a triathlete, I never run with my phone (or music!) so it was an experience finagling my Samsung Galaxy S8+ in and out of my Flip Belt.
Okay, I admittedly ran right past several locations that may have been deserving of a Kodak moment (does saying this age me?) but here we are. I like to think that it ultimately worked out as the overcast weather and lack of autumn foliage during this year’s mild winter meant that most of the photos required some filtering magic.
runners, drummers, and volunteers
As far as I can remember, the course was completely closed to traffic. In fact, I could be wrong but there was no traffic on either side of the roads or highways. Some sections were considerably narrower (such as at Oharaimachi) but after the start line shuffle, I did not encounter bottlenecks.
From memory (and the course map), there were four aid stations with water and Aquarius (Coca Cola Japan’s well-known sports drink). For reasons unknown, the volunteers did not arrange the tables with multiple rows of ready-filled cups. At most, there were only five to eight cups at each of the four to five tables. On a positive note, the cups were easy to grab because they were gigantic – almost the size of a venti Starbucks cup!
Off the highway, there were at least three or four small taiko drummer groups providing runners a steady beat. Throughout the course, running clubs waved flags, families held handmade posters, and the curious clapped encouragingly.
It’s challenging to express my sincere gratitude while running but I truly appreciated the shouts of “Gambatte-kudasai!”, the outstretched hands eager for high-fives, and the volunteers who spent their morning corralling, guiding, and helping all of us crazy running people.
just the facts
up / down
I couldn’t find an elevation plot for the Ise Half in the athlete guide nor website but based on the course map, I gathered that it would involve a handful of highway ramps. I knew it wouldn’t be perfectly flat but I had definitely not anticipated the burden on my legs that I did the days following the run.
Based on Strava, the elevation gain was about 110 meters or 360 feet. Honestly, I was a bit miffed when I saw that – it had felt like a lot more climbing! In hindsight however, my legs were not in peak form following a tempo run two days earlier.
As I’d speculated, there were about three or four gradual ascents/descents from the loose slopes of the highway entrances/exits. Additionally, the majority of the highway roads were at slight, rolling gradients not perceptible on the elevation plots.
It doesn’t SOUND bad but when you’re running on the highway and see the way the asphalt dips and peaks far into the distance, you can’t help but feel demoralized.
At the 17KM mark, a short but sharp hill leads runners to Dime Stadium and onto the Mizuki Noguchi Gold Medal Road. What goes up must come down but with just 4KM left, a rapid descent seemed a great recipe for cramps if you weren’t careful.
After not seeing another female runner for some time, I caught up to a loose pack of five ladies. We were well within the last mile and we were all beginning to pick up the pace. Yet, I progressively pulled forward and chugged past the ladies, one by one. Admittedly, youth was (probably) on my side.
Behind me, I could hear the rhythmic footsteps of one determined woman. As we neared a considerable downhill portion to exit the highway, I saw her pulling to my left out of the corner of my eyes. This was meant to be a training day but I wasn’t about to let that happen. Not today.
With nothing left to lose, I peeled off. For a split second, I locked eyes with former Olympian Mizuki Noguchi, who was standing in the middle of the final stretch giving out high-fives. Gun time and net time be damned, I was not about to be beat to the finish line by anyone I had pulled forward from. Not today.
Immediately after crossing the timing mats, I jogged over to the side with a sense of purpose and promptly threw up.
Ahh, I love the half marathon distance.
It was very easy to navigate from the Tokyo area to Iseshi station via Nagoya. As I was traveling solo on a ‘normal’ weekend, I had no problem purchasing shinkansen tickets on the day of.
However, the shinkansen from Nagoya to Shinagawa was packed. After browsing three Nozomi trains departing at different times, I finally gave up my search for a window or aisle seat and purchased a middle seat ticket ☹
Sun Arena is not usually easily accessible by public transport but an impressive number of shuttle buses were arranged that day to ensure seamless transfers to and from train stations, parking lots, and onsen facilities.
The Ise Pearl Pier Hotel was a short walk (about 600m) from both Iseshi station and Uji Yamada station. Rooms were clean (possibly recently small-scale renovated), efficient, and compact (though slightly bigger than your standard Japanese business hotel).
With an onsen on the second floor, grocery store across the street, and meal options surrounding the train stations, the Pearl Pier Hotel was a winner.
A one-night stay, including breakfast was about ¥9,000.
Check it out here.
Also nearby: Comfort Hotel, Ise City Hotel
saturday (dec 1)
1337 Depart Shinagawa station to Nagoya station
1537 Depart Nagoya station to Iseshi station
1711 Arrive Iseshi station
1730 Check-in at Ise Pearl Pier Hotel
1930 Dinner at Tessen
2100 Onsen at hotel
sunday (dec 2)
0600 Wake up
0632 Train from Ujiyamada station to Isuzugawa station
0640 Free shuttle bus from Isuzugawa station to Sun Arena
0700 Arrive Sun Arena
0910 Half marathon starts
1240 Free shuttle bus from Sun Arena to Isuzugawa station
1310 Depart Isuzugawa station to Nagoya station
1512 Depart Nagoya station to Shinagawa station
1646 Arrive Shinagawa station
things i loved
If large-scale races (say, more than 5,000) stress you out, the Ise Half is right at the edge. I generally run smaller races and triathlons where there are usually no more than 2,500 athletes. Sometimes, I find myself running alone or with very few people around me and it can feel discomforting (“Did I stray off course!?”).
During the Ise Half, there were at least a dozen people nearby at all times and I was almost always hot on someone’s heels. It felt like just the right amount of people for a competitive course and without frustrating congestion.
From the shuttle buses to the natural flow of events upon crossing the finish line, I was impressed with the efficiency and superb organization of the Ise Half Marathon.
Upon completion, you walked a short distance to be wrapped in a generously sized commemorative towel before entering the arena to retrieve your personal items from bag check, collect the certificate of completion, and gather finisher entitlements before being led to the race festival area.
All finishers received several coupons to exchange for a wide range of sponsor samples, including Dole bananas, energy drinks, protein drinks, instant noodles, and various snacks.
It’s a unique take on the sample freebies often included as a part of race packets. I love that I can select the samples I want, rather than receive freebies I don’t care for.
eat here: tessen
Serving lunch, mid-day coffee, and dinner, Tessen is located in the Ise Geku Sandou directly across Iseshi station. In the evenings, Tessen serves a very satisfying and reasonably-priced teppanyaki dinner course. Game meats, fresh seafood, and premium wagyu beef options are available.