Ise Half Marathon:

Vintage Streets and Highway Dreams

Ise Half Marathon race venue
Samurai Sports race packet collection desk at the back
Brazilian runners at race in Japan
Team Brazil visiting from Nagoya

welcome back

Round two! For the second time this year, Samurai Sports Communications Manager, Faith (that’s me) returned to Mie Prefecture to be a part of the Ise Half Marathon – formally known as the Oise-san Marathon. Following a spectacular day in July at the Ise Shima Triathlon, the Ise Half Marathon delivered a perfect day for a long run! After a disappointing turn of events in which I was too sick to run the half marathon last year, I was finally able to set foot on the course! Besides my work duties (primarily showing up early, distributing race packets at the Samurai Sports race packet collection desk, and briefing the English-speaking runners), I more or less traveled to Ise, raced in Ise, and returned from Ise like the average participant. Yes, it’s lengthy but if you’re considering the Ise Half Marathon, you’ll definitely want to read this race report!

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.

Actual footage from various parts of the 2016 half marathon course. Commentary is only in Japanese.

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

Mie

  • Capital city is Tsu, about 2.5 hours from Tokyo
  • Known for its seafood, Mikimoto pearls, akafuku snacks, and Matsusaka beef
  • 35% of the total area of the prefecture has been designated as national parks
  • Population: about 1.8 million

Ise

  • Home to one of Japan’s most revered Shinto shrines, Ise Jingu
  • Famous for ise ebi, the Japanese spiny lobster
  • Also home to the Ise Shima Satoumi Triathlon
  • Was host city of the G7 Summit in May 2016
  • Population: about 130,000

ise half

  • Formally known as the Noguchi Mizuki Cup Oise-san Marathon
  • Half marathon course is certified by the JAAF (Japan Association of Athletics Federations)
  • Half marathon typically hosts 5,500 runners; 5KM about 2,300 runners

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.

Runners at the Oise-san Marathon
It can feel lonely being a female runner
Ise Half Marathon & 5KM participants
The 5KM start
Ise Half Marathon elevation profile
Elevation plot provided by race organizers

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.

Ise Half Marathon elevation profile Strava
Elevation plot based on Strava analysis

not today

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. 

travel

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.

accommodation

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

itinerary

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
2230 Sleep

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

Ise-shi station at night
Ise-shi Station
Uji Yamada station
Uji Yamada station
Isuzugawa station in Mie Prefecture
Isuzugawa station

things i loved

the size

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.

the organization

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.

the samples

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.

Ise Half Marathon samples and goodies
Example of samples
Ise Geku Sandou at night
Ise Geku Sandou (not actually this dark)

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. 

Kobe wagyu beef served on plate
Wagyu teppanyaki dinner course

Learn more about the Ise Half Marathon