Finish line at Oise-san Marathon
Runner at Ise Half Marathon
Sprint to finish line at Ise Half Marathon & 5KM

Ise Half Marathon & 5KM:

3rd Time's a Charm

They say the third time’s a charm – and after my third trip to the Ise Half Marathon & 5KM, I reckon they’re right.

Three years ago, when I started working at Samurai Sports, I had no idea where Mie Prefecture was; nonetheless Ise, Shima or really anything south of the Miura Peninsula. Ever since, I’ve visited at least 6 times and I can say that I’ve learned a lot about Japan. And that’s saying a lot, because I’m Japanese – through and through.

Maybe its familiarity, but I’ve started to like Ise a lot. Combined with a race like the Ise Shima Satoumi Triathlon or the Ise Half Marathon, I’ve found the Ise-Shima-Toba area to be a nice weekend getaway. Ise Jingu is of course, the crown jewel but there’s no denying the unique vintage vibes at Oharaimachi or the scrumptious local cuisine and regional offerings. These days, I find myself recommending Ise to friends and international visitors – skip the over-subscribed tourist destinations like Kyoto or Hiroshima and find peak Japan in Ise. You’ll find a more restorative, tranquil experience here surrounded by nature.

Ise Half Marathon Course Map

Back to the race. I should have re-read my own 2018 race report to remind myself of the course because well, it’s a tough one. It took me two weeks to find my legs again.

Formally known as the Noguchi Mizuki Cup Oise-san Marathon, we’ve taken the liberty to rename it the Ise Half Marathon & 5KM. The half marathon course is certified by the JAAF (Japan Association of Athletics Federations) and typically sees 5,500 runners; the 5KM hosts about 2,300. Read on to learn more about one of Samurai Sport’s most popular road races!

Shuttle bus at Oise-san Marathon
Race packet collection at Ise Half Marathon
Race briefing at Oise-san Marathon

orginization

Hands down, this is a well-organized race. All day long, there’s a well-staffed information area with support in English, Japanese, and sign language. In the morning, several free shuttle buses herd athletes to the race venue from an accessible train station, as well as area parking lots. After the race, athletes are shepherded through a logical sequence of steps to collect finisher certificates, personal items from bag check, and a variety of finisher entitlements to wrap up their Ise Half Marathon race experience. When you’re ready to leave, free shuttle buses again take runners to area train stations, parking lots, or nearby onsen to clean up.  

supporters

Enthusiastic supporters of all ages line the (closed) roads. Curious tourists clap encouragingly along Oharaimachi. Taiko drummers beat rhythmically, local running clubs wave flags excitedly, and family members hold handmade posters. I’m not one for high-fiving random strangers but I’m grateful for the volunteers who make it possible for races to happen. Even along the highway stretches, people were making noise, dressed in costumes, or blasting music from the local roads running parallel above the course.

post race offerings

For Japanese race standards, the Ise Half Marathon offers generous entitlements. Finishers each receive a quality bath towel, a bottle of Aquarius, two Akafuku (popular local red bean mochi snacks often gifted by visitors to Ise as souvenirs), a finisher certificate (with your official gun time, net time, and placing), a meal coupon, and ‘sampling tickets’ to be exchanged for a wide variety of sponsor samples of your choice at the outdoor festival. Rather than receiving sponsor samples you don’t want, you get to select what you want (first come, first served) – it’s a splendid system. On-site, food vendors offer everything from regional specialities like Ise udon and tekone zushi to fresh seafood options ranging from steamed oysters and grilled awabi.

tough course

The course doesn’t seem so tough on paper (+110m / +360ft) but there’s something demoralizing about the way the course often stretches into the distant horizon. It was a mental challenge to ignore the peaks and valleys of the highway segment returning to Sun Arena. The sharp climb leading up to Dime Stadium will likely see your heart rate max out – but it’s manageable.

“...I knew it wouldn’t be perfectly flat but I had definitely not anticipated the burden on my legs that I did the days after the run.”

congested start

Honestly, the start kills me every time. I grouped myself with the 1:30 crowd but clocked a 5:52/KM in the first KM. Narrow roads, sharp turns, and misplaced runners contribute to bottlenecks that make the start a slow jog and shuffle before embarking on wider roads. Those competitive or gunning for PBs should not be shy in starting near the top.

travel

I’ve travelled to Ise by shinkansen twice in 6 months but this was my first time to take a gamble with non-reserved seats. With some luck, I was able to get a window seat on all trains (Shinagawa to Nagoya, Nagoya to Iseshi, Iseshi to Nagoya) – with the exception of an aisle seat from Nagoya to Shinagawa. This was better than the middle reserved seat I had to settle for last year.

On race day, it’s easy to take the train one stop to Isuzugawa station and board a shuttle bus to the race venue. While Sun Arena is not usually easily accessible by public transport, shuttle buses ensure seamless and comfortable  transfers to and from train stations, parking lots, and onsen facilities.

With non-reserved seats, you purchase a ticket valid for one day and seats are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Traveling alone, it wasn’t hard to find a seat but small groups would be unable to sit together. 

For reserved seats, you pay an upcharge to book a seat (obviously) on a specific train boarding at a specific time. You can change once for free but further changes require a fee. Usually, the majority of carriages comprising a shinkansen are reserved. However, not all shinkansen have non-reserved seating. It depends on the time of year, day, and time of day, but most people opt to pony up for a reserved seat.

accommodation

The Ise Pearl Pier Hotel was a short walk (about 600m) from both JR Iseshi station and Kintetsu Uji Yamada station. This was my second consecutive year staying here prior to the Ise Half Marathon and both times, I’ve been impressed with the size of the single room, which is spacious for Japanese standards. The Pearl Pier Hotel is nothing fancy but rooms are immaculate, brightly lit, and modern due to recent renovations. My room included a fridge, several electrical outlets, light dimmers, and English labels on controls for the lights, AC, and humidity.

Also nearby: Comfort Hotel, Ise City Hotel, Sanco Inn

itinerary

Saturday, Dec 7

1057 Depart Shinagawa station to Nagoya station on Nozomi shinkansen

1237 Depart Nagoya station to Iseshi station on JR Rapid Mie 9
1405 Arrive Iseshi station
1415 Check-in (early) at Ise Pearl Pier Hotel

Sunday, Dec 8

0520 Wake Up
0630
Arrive Sun Arena
0715 – 0830
Race packet collection
0910
Half Marathon starts
1130
Depart Sun Arena on shuttle bus to Mitasu no Yu onsen

1210 Arrive Mitasu no Yu onsen
1350
Depart Mitasu no Yu Onsen
1400
Arrive Iseshi station
1420
Depart Iseshi station to Nagoya station on JR Rapid Mie 16

1612 Depart Nagoya station to Shinagawa station on Nozomi Shinkansen
1746 Arrive Shinagawa station

after six trips to Mie Prefecture...

It's Not That Far

I’ve been to Ise once by car (with my coworker) and it was agony. Take the shink(ansen). I start at Shinagawa, swap to the JR Rapid Mie at Nagoya, and arrive at Ise shi station in less than 4 hours. If you start Saturday morning, you’ll arrive by lunch – or treat yourself to a bento – and have the afternoon. On Sunday, you have most of the day to oh, I don’t know, run a half marathon, then depart Ise in the late afternoon or early evening.

It's Peak Japan

Fortunately (or not), Ise doesn’t attract nearly as many tourists as Kyoto does. There may be no geisha or shiny golden temples but Ise is home to Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines and Oharaimachi, a rustic pathway reminiscent of a traditional Japanese townscape leading to the naiku entrance. Adjacent is the Okage Yokocho, a beautiful recreation of an Edo-period Japanese marketplace.

Go to Ise Jingu

Ise Jingu is really pretty and absolutely worth a visit. I’ve only visited the Ise Naiku once in the summer but it was peak Japan. Yes, tourists abound but I was able to sneak a few photos sans humans. I don’t know how else to describe it but peaceful and serene. It was very zen. If you find yourself in Ise, it would be silly not to visit the naiku (inner shrine) and time permitting, the geku (outer shrine). Home to the sun goddess, Amaterasu, the naiku is considered to be the most sacred shrine in Japan; Toyouke, the goddess of food and the harvest resides in the geku.

To Reserve Or Not To Reserve

This was the first time I traveled on non-reserved tickets. I managed to snag window seats on the way to Ise and back to Nagoya but wound up with an aisle seat next to a thuggish-looking suited man at the window (we had a middle seat between us). It’s a gamble but I would travel unreserved to Nagoya again. However, the Rapid Mie from Nagoya to Iseshi can get packed and the reserved tickets aren’t priced much differently. Next time, I’d consider non-reserved between Tokyo and Nagoya, but reserved between Nagoya and Iseshi.

Mitasu-no Yu Ise Mie onsen
Iseshi train station
Shuttle bus schedule for Oise-san Marathon

This year after the race, I successfully boarded the free shuttle bus to Mitasu no Yu onsen. It was fantastic. Multiple onsens, including the electric ones and rotenburo (outdoor onsen) with a large TV. It’s a highly ranked establishment among onsen fans and it’s absolutely worth the visit.

After cleaning up, I boarded a free shuttle bus to Kintetsu Uji Yamada station then walked to JR Ise shi station and returned to Tokyo. 

Race day morning Ise Half Marathon
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