Tokyo Yamathon 2011: I survived…barely.

I survived. Woo hoo. I live to tell the story. (And a long one it is, for your reading pleasure). I thought I was on Heaven’s doorstop last night and was worried about whether I would have full use of my limbs again or not. Much to my relief, I can walk. I can walk. Barely. I am a crazy person. Let that be a warning to you. What on earth possessed me to think a 50km walk would be fun. I need my head read. Let me sum up yesterday for you: 50km. 29 train stations. 12 hours and 35 minutes. One hell of a day. Otherwise known as the Ultimate Urban Adventure, or officially as the Tokyo Yamathon. It promised to be such a day of fun, endurance and adventure. What didn’t come with that was the promise of relentless torrential downpour for over 16 hours! I like to engage in a little hyperbole from time to time, but I’m not exaggerating when I say it was like a mini typhoon. Relentless rain all goddamn day topped off with some strong wind. On very little sleep (only 3.5 hours), I woke up early on the Saturday morning just before 5:30am. Got myself to Yoyogi Park at 6:30am for the start of the Tokyo Yamathon. The Tokyo Yamathon is an Urban Adventure Endurance Race. “Yamathon” is a portmanteau of the “Yamanote line” and “Marathon”. The Yamanote line is a train line (the green one) in Tokyo – one of the biggest and most central train lines to Tokyo life. It runs as a circular loop covering all the main stops in Tokyo. In a visit to Tokyo, you can get around to pretty much anywhere you need to go just by taking the Yamanote line alone. For a long time, it was the only train line I would catch. I would just follow the green train line. The Tokyo rail system is a bit of a dog’s breakfast and can be super daunting.

Tokyo Rail Network

The Tokyo Yamathon is a 50km-plus adventure whereby teams of 3-4 people are required to visit every single train station on the Yamanote line – of which there are 29 train stations – and the entire race is to be completed on foot. Sounds awesome, right. It is designed as a walking marathon, but teams can run it if they choose to (no use of trains, taxis, buses, bikes or any kind of wheels). On top of that, is the fact that it’s a navigational challenge – you need to figure out how to get from train station to train station. Totally Tokyo Marathon meets The Amazing Race, right! I swear to god, I would kick arse in The Amazing Race. Kick Arse, I tell you. Maps are provided as a guide, but you’re free to take as many shortcuts or routes as you like. The event is a charity event with proceeds going to Oxfam, so it’s also for a great cause. By following the train line for most of the course covers a distance of approx 52km. With a few shortcuts you can get around to 48-50km. I believe the fastest possible route is about 44km. At any rate, all further than any official marathon race. I tried to Google Map it, but I learnt the hard way after punching in a whole bunch of train stations, that Google Maps only lets you punch in up to 24 stops at a time. 5 short of what I needed! After 24 stations, it told me that it was a distance of just under 36km. Still another 5 stations to go. The aim set by the organizers is to complete it in 12 hours. Teams in the past have taken up to about 16 hours. I believe the fastest time was about 6 something hours (teams who ran the whole way). To ride a complete loop on the train takes approximately an hour. Walking it, considerably longer. There are no road closures, no traffic control, so you have to contend with traffic and the other 20million people that live in Tokyo as you take to the streets. It’s a little bit like a marathon scavenger hunt, except the only thing you’re searching for are all 29 Yamanote train stations. I forgot to mention, you also had to take a team photo at each and every station with the station name in the photo as proof that you visited every train station! The Yamanote line:

The Yamanote line (the green circular loop)

How much fun does that sound?! So imagine my sheer excitement when I was asked to join a team. I was super excited. More than I should have been for a 50km walk. It was only decided less than 7 days ago that I would enter in this race. One of my friends, Ange (Angela) from Hokkaido, wanted to enter, and was looking for a teammate – one that would be genki and reliable (i.e. not cancel on the day of). Hence, Aleisha to the rescue. Hell yeah, I love this kind of stuff! So on Sunday I committed myself to joining Ange’s team. Six days later (with absolutely no training at all), on a Saturday morning, I was at Yoyogi Park. Our team of four was: Ange, Hana (whom I had met once before), Marina (who I met for the first time) and myself (A). Our team name was the “Super HAAMstars”! (HAAM being the first initials of each of our names). Pre-race: We look pretty excited and genki.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Marina and I, coincidentally, had identical running shoes! (Mine, of course, are the dirtier pair.)

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Funnily enough, just to get the start point required riding the Yamanote line.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Over half a day later I would have walked to every one of these stations. As luck would have it, it poured friggin rain all friggin day.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Official departure time. 7:28am At 7:28am, our team officially set off. The Yamanote line being a circular loop – you can choose to do it clockwise or anticlockwise. As part of our strategy, we decided to do the race anti-clockwise. What follows is a photo essay of the Tokyo Yamathon. I’ve listed the approximate arrival time at each station that we reached (I had been taking a memo of the times) and our group photo pose. One of the things we did to occupy ourselves on the walk was to think of a group pose to do once we reached the station. Station 1: Start Point to Shibuya Station. Arrive 7:51am Headed to Shibuya station via a combini stop to pick up breakfast.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

First conbini stop was a Daily Yamazaki.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Because a marathon-plus distance race in the rain was not enough of a challenge, just for fun, we also decided that each combini stop we made would have to be at different chain combini store.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose:” Look at me/Yay, we made it the first station” Station 2: Ebisu. Arrive 8:14am. Pose: With the Yebisu (beer) statue. Take 1: Crap, the station name wasn’t quite in the photo!

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Take 2:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Before I go on, I have to say, that probably the most difficult part of the challenge was finding people at each train station who were willing and able to take a photo for us. We wasted a few minutes at each station trying to approach people to take photos of us, and then having to check the photo to make sure the train station name was included. Given the fact that it was raining, people were wrestling with umbrellas and didn’t have free hands to take a photo or weren’t prepared to stand in the rain to take a photo for us. It got worse throughout the day as the rain progressively got harder. Station 3: Meguro. 8:44am Pose: Normal (no pose).

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 4: Gotanda. 9am Pose: Hands up in the air.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

We were feeling good and doing well at this point. Station 5: Osaki. 9:12am

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: Headshot group photo taken one-handed (self group portrait). Fail.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Take 2: Try and get the station sign in it this time.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Started to pour rain again. We made another conbini stop for snacks, drinks, and toilets. Conbini No. 2 – A Family Mart.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Ange was dressed in a bright yellow rainsuit. No chance of losing her in a crowd. She looked like a human banana. Here is the human banana eating a banana:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 6: Shinagawa. 9:55am By this time we had walked for about 2.5 hours now. Took some nice scenic en-route photos.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Clearly, we were taking this race very seriously!

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: ABBA (or at least trying to).

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Check out the number of train lines at Shinagawa station! One of those is the Yamanote…we hope.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Time to soldier on. 6 down. Only another 23 to go!

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 7: Tamachi. 10:29am Pose: Charlie’s Angel/007.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Hana wanted a donut.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

And Marina takes a quick stretch:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 8: Hamamatsucho. 10:49am At some point around here we saw the Tokyo Tower. Another photo moment.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: Angelic

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 9: Shinbashi. 11:10am Pose: Wrestling/Boxing.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 10: Yurakucho. 11:30 We had now been walking for 4 hours. Spirits still high apart from the fact that we were all wet and soggy. Pose: Head Tower.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 11: Tokyo. Time unknown. Tokyo is a massive station. And a lot of it is under construction/renovation. We were hardpressed to find a sign that actually said “Tokyo” on it. Pose: Abbey Road a la The Beatles style.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 12: Kanda. 12:09. Lunch stop. Arrived at Kanda. Pose: YMCA.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Time for a lunch stop. We were wet and hungry. We wanted something cheap, hot and fast. We were not going to allow ourselves to get too comfy at a nice warm cafe or restaurant otherwise we’d never want to leave, so we settled for Yoshinoya where we sat a counter and had gyudon – a hot bowl of rice with meat and some miso soup, for a carb and protein fix. 30min max here and then we were outta there.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

We didn’t want our legs to get too stiff. We also didn’t want to get much colder sitting around in our wet clothes. I changed into a new pair of socks here (had packed a couple of pairs)…not that it did much good. They were soaked again in about 10 minutes. Our map was looking rather dismal and rainsoaked at this point.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

We were about halfway or so, having done Shibuya to Kanda (anticlockwise direction). Did another conbini stop for snacks on the go. We crossed Lawson off our list.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Left Kanda about 1pm and set off on the second half of our journey. From here on out, this so-called “walk” turned into a “swim” as we waded through puddles and heavy rain. Station 13: Akihabara. 1:17pm Pose: Otaku (a signature Japanese nerd/cheesy pose).

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 14: Okachimachi. Time unknown. Pose: “Let’s make use of the pedestrian stripes. It’s a shame we couldn’t use the Abbey Road pose here.”

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 15: Ueno. 1:47pm Pose: “Let’s lift up Hana” (Let’s add some weights to this cardio mix).

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

It was pouring rain and we struggled to get someone who was able to take a photo for us here. We were super wet despite all our rain gear. We had all wet squishy feet as well. Took a toilet break at some public toilets near Ueno Zoo and a mini kit kat break.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 16: Uguisudani. 2:11pm Uguisudani station is a station I’ve never been to before. It’s a tiny station and apparently is an area known for it’s love hotel, hence our pose: Pose: “Hearts” (but it turned out more like a ‘kiss/mouth’ and a ‘heart’)

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 17: Nippori. 2:37pm. Had to set the camera on timer here and we did our own group photo. Pose: Head upside.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 18: Nishi Nippori. 2:52pm Road block: train crossing.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: “Walk like an Egyptian…except nobody told me that we weren’t supposed to look at the camera!”

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 19: Tabata. 3:07pm Pose: A Chorus line – can can dance.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 20: Komagome. 3:44pm. I was starting to die at this point. I was probably starting to die a few stations back, but my legs were getting sore and we were less mentally genki. My patience was waning at this point. We had been walking in pouring rain for over 7 hours now! We got lost around here as we were getting tired and we slacked off on the navigating. Walking additional extra distances = unhappiness. Discomfort was setting in. This neighbourhood was also really boring and residential. Was not happy to be here/there at that point. Stupid neighbourhood. Stupid rain. Stupid walk. Tabata, Komagome and Sugamo were all kind of a blur…. we got a little lost as well as fatigue and confusion and generally not giving a rat’s arse kicked in, so I have probably messed up this recount a little. Was getting tired. We also stopped at a supermarket for a drink stop.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Feeling a bit deflated when we finally got to Komagome. Pose: Deflated grimace.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 21: Sugamo. 4:01pm. Sugamo is an area known as the “Old people’s Harajuku”. Pose: Old people. We didn’t have to act. I was hunched over and limping as it was. Aching back, aching legs. We had walk over 35km at this point, in the rain no less.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Between here and the next station, we needed another conbini stop for toilet etc. Crossed a Sunkus off the list.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Even though it was just on 4pm, it was also dark by now. Gets dark really early now that we’re going into winter.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 22: Otsuka. 4:29pm I was beyond death at this point. Legs were getting cold and stiff. We had been walking for 9 hours now in sopping wet clothes. It was dark, wet and cold. Pose: Bodybuilder. Yeah, we’re strong.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 23: Ikebukuro. 5:12pm. It was a long walk between the previous station and this one. Slowly but surely dying. Ikebukuro means ‘swamp bag”, which is exactly how I was feeling. Ikebukuro was so freaking crowded! We looked like drowned rats as we made our way through the mosh pit that is Ikebukuro. What were all these people doing out and about on a rainy Saturday night?! Go home! Death is ugly, folks.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

We finally got to Ikebukuro at long last! Pose: Ange wanted to do an 80’s lunge pose. WTF. My legs can barely hold me up, let alone do a lunge. I do a half-arsed lunge.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

At Ikebukuro I had officially hit The Wall:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

And that Wall ain’t pretty:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

I was wet through to the bone. Wet socks. Wet shoes. Wet hair. Wet face. Wet undies. Wet leggings. Wet shorts. I could have foregone toilets and just peed as I walked – I was that wet. Hell, peeing on myself would have at least made me feel a little warmer. My legs were sore. Feet were sore. I was in a world of pain. The neverending Wall:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Alas, we soldiered on in the dark and the rain and the wind. The rain and wind got so much by this stage that we forwent the umbrellas which were rendered useless in this crappy weather:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 24: Mejiro. 5:35pm. Only five more stations left after this one! Mejiro: Eye pose.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 25: Takadanobaba. 5:56pm By this point, I really don’t know what I was thinking. I just wanted this ordeal to be over. The faster we walked, the faster this would all be over. Trouble was, my legs could barely move. Body slowly breaking down. Nothing to do but one foot in front of the other. No matter how slowly. No matter how painful. Are these not the eyes of a crazy person?! Oh, and someone needs to invent windscreen wipers for glasses. Isn’t there an app for that? There should be.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: Astro Boy.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 26: Shin Okubo. 6:36pm. Every step was becoming even more and more painful. I was definitely limping. Another toilet and conbini stop along the way. At least we got to cross a 7-11 conbini stop off the list. I was also getting ravenous by this point. It had been about 6 hours since lunch, a hell of a lot of walking, and not enough eating. A quick snack of some chocolate and crackers.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

This would also be our last break stop for the day before reaching the finish. I caved and had to put a couple of bandaids on my blister that were covering my feet and toes. So much pain. As night was setting in, the streets got more crowded and we had to contend with more pedestrian traffic as people went about their social Saturday nights. I was looking forward to nothing more than a hot bath and bed.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: A kind of korean pose (according to two Japanese girls, there’s a particular korean stance so that’s what we did. Shin Okubo is Little Korea in Tokyo. Great place to eat korean food!)

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Station 27: Shinjuku. 7pm. People central. Shinjuku on a Saturday night. A sea of umbrellas.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: Backs turned. Don’t face the camera.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Only two more stations to go! Station 28: Yoyogi. 7:18pm. Waiting at another train crossing:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

And the Yamanote line train passes us by, as if to add insult to injury:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Pose: Crawling out of Yoyogi Station. No pretending there. I was practically crawling by this time.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Only ONE station to go. Point of no return! Station 29: Harajuku. 7:55pm Woo hoo. Harajuku station in sight!

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Last station checked off! Finale Pose: Too buggered to make a human pyramid so here is our STAR pose.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Yay the Super HAAMstars! We walked all 29 stations of the Yamanote line AND in pouring rain and wind. How goddamn happy do we look now that that ordeal was over.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

We still had a little ways to walk yet. We had to check back in to the start point and officially time out. Check in Point. 8:03pm. Official time 12 hours and 35 minutes. About 50 or so kilometres walked. All 29 Yamanote train stations completed. Hundreds of calories burned. As for our conbini checklist: Daily Yamazaki. Check. Family Mart. Check. Lawson. Check. Sunkus. Check. 7-11. Check. We then dragged ourselves to the bar where the afterparty was being held. Had me a well-deserved half pint of beer:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

And a hotdog (coz, let’s face it, the dogs were barking):

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

And then we passed out!

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Somehow I managed to get home sometime around 10pm. 50km later and I’ve aged about 50 years! Knees and legs are shattered. And in dire need of a wheelchair. Got home and peeled off all my wet clothes. WARNING: Some super gross photos coming up. Look away now. And I hope you’re not eating or about to eat. After over 12 hours walking around in wet socks, wet shoes (despite changing socks twice on the walk), my feet were all blistered and pruny. They were white, wrinkled and just plain disgusting. Blisters to boot. Check out my feet. I honestly don’t know how they made it to the finish line in that condition.

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Here’s the other foot:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

Sweet Jesus, Bless my soles for they were in need of some major heeling. (Couldn’t let ya go without a pun thrown in.) Had a nice long hot bath to soak and sooth my aching muscles. I tell you, it was a struggel climbing in and out of the bathtub. That was a feat in itself. There was no water hot enough in the world to soak my muscles. I could have fallen asleep in the bathtub. I very well nearly did, except for the fact that my feet were already sooo wrinkly and pruny. The soles of my feet, legs and in particular, the backs of my knees (strangely enough) were in extreme pain. Body had totally started to stiffen up and get tight. Also had aching and bruised shoulder after carrying a backpack all day in the rain. Powdered my feet and lathered my legs in Dencorub. Crawled into bed with a hot water bottle to soothe my feet and legs. I could not walk last night. Extreme pain. I had buggered up my knee as well. Woke up today after a 12-hour slumber. Legs and knees in particular are sore. Sore back as well, actually more my hips but the back of my hips are sore. Legs are still super tight but I can walk….albeit very slowly and painfully. Thought I would feel a lot worse today given that I was in so much pain last night. I was really scared that I would wake up paralysed this morning. I was in that much pain last night. Just lying down in bed hurt my legs. Mostly sore muscles today that should be fine in a week. Apart from that, no major injury. Nothing that a nice massage wouldn’t fix…if I could actually get myself to the front door to leave my aparto. I’ve actually starved most of today because I can’t get out of bed and walk myself to the kitchen. That would require use of my legs. Have to say it was a hell of a lot of fun though. Don’t let all that pain put you off. It was just a shame that it rained all frickin day. Would have been so much more pleasant and bearable were it not for the rain. I don’t mind being tired from all that walking, but being wet on top of that was just nasty. And of course, today was a perfectly dry and sunny day! It was a great way to explore Tokyo and all for a great cause. The Tokyo Yamathon is held twice a year – in April and November. Info here. They have prizes and stuff as well for fastest team, best costume etc. If you don’t have a team but still want to join, they can hook you up with other people and you can join a team. Teams of 3-4 people. Team entry is 6000yen, split between each member is very reasonable as well. Plus 1000yen insurance fee per team. Donations and sponsorship also welcome, as all proceeds go to Oxfam. It was a fun day out. Some teams did it in 6 hours. Other teams will take up to 16 hours. You pass a lot of teams along the way which is great. Exchange words of encouragement, and “we’ll take a photo of you guys if you take one for us” kind of thing. Quite a few teams did it in costume as well! Hard core. A lot of people did it in regular clothes – jeans, street shoes etc. A team of girls were even wearing ugg boots. Respect! Thanks to all the random people we met along the way who were nice to enough to take a photo of us at each station. So I may not have been accepted into the Tokyo Marathon, but this was the next best thing. I may not have ran a marathon, but I know I can walk a marathon, and then some, in rain and wind! Although I don’t know exactly how many kilometres we walked, I guesstimate it around 45-50km. The Yamanote train line by rail tracks is about 39km alone. Obviously we can’t follow the train tracks the whole route around as we are often diverted along buildings, no-through roads, paths, traffic and roads etc, factor in some wrong turns, and your own navigational skills, and it’s closer to 50km. The map given provides a basic route which is 54km, but we reckon we did it in a little less than that. iPhones are allowed so that came in handy too as we Google-mapped our way through most of it. Our team probably took in more pit stops than I would have liked, but still it’s a team effort and that was what got us to the end. We kept ourselves amused with conversation, taking in the sights of Tokyo, and sustained ourselves with encouragement to make the finish line. Our team did awesome! Super proud. The other girls were such troopers! I am sure I was the weakest link. Ange was talking about doing it again in the Spring! Is she crazy?! I might suddenly be otherwise occupied on that day. I’ve always wanted to visit every train station on the Yamanote line and now I have…on foot. I will never look at the Yamanote train line the same again. And how cool is this: I actually saw this on the walk. So apt. It was like it was a sign…literally:

From Tokyo Yamathon 2011
From Tokyo Yamathon 2011

 

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