interview by Brett Larner
race photos by Mika Tokairin
mattress photo by Brendan Martin
Hansons team member Brendan Martin ran the Ome 30 km on Feb. 17 off his 4th American placing at last year's Boston Marathon as part of a longstanding relationship between Ome and the BAA. Having been on the U.S. team at October's Izumo Ekiden where he ran the alternates' 5000 m on the track, Ome was Martin's second race in Japan. Starting conservatively and steadily moving up through the field, he finished 8th in 1:36:07. A day later JRN caught up with him at Cafe Barney in Shibuya to talk about his experience.
This was your second time racing over here. What were your impressions this time?
I was honored to compete with some of the best runners in Japan. I stuck out like a sore thumb. The course was very, very challenging, very tough. It has a lot of unique character and I feel like there was a big component of running the course correctly. It's not like going to Chicago and blasting a fast marathon. You actually have to have a plan instead of just going at a pace.
I knew it was going to be mostly uphill on the way out and mostly downhill on the way back but I didn't realize to what extent. I was careful not to go out over my head because I knew that it would be a death march on the way back if I wasn't careful early on. I kept thinking, "Am I going out too slow?" And then shortly after the turnaround I was thinking, "I didn't go out too slow, that was perfect," because of the uphills followed right by the steep downhills. I think my splits were 32:30, 32:00 and 31:30, so I kind of picked it up a little. On the downhill my legs started to feel like jello. My breathing was fine, it was just that my legs were hamburger meat. They are destroyed today, as sore as after I ran Boston last spring.
At 1 km you were leading the second pack with a big lead group ahead of you, and by the finish you were up to 8th. It looked like you ran a pretty smart race in that respect. How did that play out? Were you running guys down constantly or reeling them in later in the race?
I think I played it out as well as I was hoping to. Keith [Hanson] said I went from 18th to 14th to 8th for each 10 km, so I'm happy with how I executed that. I don't think I could have done much different that would have made me run better. There was one guy early on who I was running behind. I felt a little guilty about drafting off of him as much as I did, but he seemed pretty intent on leading that pack so that helped me zone out on the way out. I kept waiting and waiting.
I thought they were going to fall back sooner and I started to get worried because people weren't falling back as quick as I thought they were, but then in the last 5 or 10 km I picked up a lot of spots because guys were coming back fast. I was working very hard the last 10 km. On the way back there was one guy in particular I battled for a really long time. He actually broke me on one of the flatter stretches with somewhere around 5 km to go. He opened up a gap on me, caught a guy ahead of him and was battling with that guy and I thought, "Oh well, they're gone." Then with maybe 3 km to go I started pressing really hard and actually caught both of them. I knew that I had to go around them right away or else I probably wasn't going to beat them.
It was cool enough at the start that I wore gloves and arm warmers, but right around halfway I chucked them. I don't why I did this, but I threw them into the parking lot of the noodle place we went while we were doing the course tour, as if I was going to go back there and get them. I was thinking about making a tweet like, "Trying to help Brooks Running infiltrate the Japanese market by donating $60 worth of merchandise along the course." Let them know how nice it is. I've seen as much Brooks stuff as I've seen Americans cars while I was here. Seeing an American-made car is like a unicorn here.
It goes without saying that Ome, a 15,000-runner mass-participation race plus a 10 km, was a different kind of event from Izumo. How did you feel about it as an event in terms of the organization?
Organizationally they did a great job. No detail was left unattended to. There were officials lining the entire course. Everything was so airtight. Nothing was going to go wrong. I was pretty impressed in that sense. My hosts were absolutely incredible, almost too generous. They made you feel so, so welcome. They were treating me like I was a star and that was very, very nice. The event as a whole was awesome and I definitely want to come back.
There were people cheering along the entire course. I didn't expect people to be on the course the whole way up into the mountains, but there were people cheering for me the entire way. That was pretty cool. A positive surprise.
The only thing that was any sort of detriment was when we were coming back and passing the biggest part of the bell curve of the race, people were overflowing into our half of the street. At certain points I'd be running head-on with a guy running up the hill towards me and I was thinking, "Oh boy....." The officials were trying to get them over but there were so many.
All the posts were wrapped in mattresses. I got a kick out of that. All of them. It was crazy. I know that for maybe the Tour de France they do that, but those people are on bikes!
This was a 30 km PB?
Yeah, I've never run a 30 km before. From my coaches' perspective they were very happy with how I ran, and I'm happy with how I ran, so to me it was a successful race. I've had two races that myself and my coaches were very happy with, both times I went to Japan. The first time in Izumo I was training for a long road race, just stepped onto the track not really aiming for a track race and then ending up setting a 5 km PR. I feel like going and doing that helped me a lot for this one because I knew what to expect. I was more in tune with what was going to happen with the sleep and that kind of stuff. "I'm going to be jet-lagged, I'm going to feel bad most of the time walking around during the day, but I'm going to run OK, it's going to be OK." Even if for nothing else than confidence it was good to already have that experience.
Japanese really like 30 km as a distance. There are quite a few 30 km races around, but they're unusual in North America. I think it was Tom Derderian who said that he thought things would be a lot better off if people were less focused on doing marathons and were doing more 30 km races as their bread and butter, peaking for the odd marathon. Mika Tokairin said from a marathoner's standpoint the great thing about a 30 km is that it's long enough to really be satisfying but ends right before it gets really hard. How would you compare the two distances?
I'd agree except that 30 km is shorter so you're running a little faster. That makes it challenging in the sense that it's longer than a half marathon but you're running pretty close to half marathon pace for a long time. A marathon feels a little bit more relaxed, like you don't have quite as much urgency as in a 30 km where you're relaxing, relaxing, relaxing and then all of a sudden it's, "Wait, I've only got 6 km to go? I'd better start moving." In a marathon you can keep being patient and people are going to blow up so bad that you don't even have to go hunt them down. I could feel both sides, half marathon and marathon, the mix of the two different elements.
I think 30 km is a good distance to be a bread-and-butter long race. While the Ome course certainly beats it out of you, a flatter 30 km would be a much quicker recovery than a full marathon because you're not going glycogen depleted and running through a wall or anything like that, so you could do more of them. It's kind of its own monster because you don't have the fueling issues that you do with a marathon. A lot of the nutrition stuff comes into play right at 20 miles for most people, and in a 30 km you approach that and then "Oh, done," and that's it.
Did you do any specific training this time or was it off what you were already doing?
We talked about doing a little bit of specific training because of the unique nature of the course, but it's been snowing so much in Michigan that the very hilly dirt roads we normally use for our Boston prep would have been dangerous to work out on so I did a lot of my workouts on a rolling, snow-covered bike path loop at this place called Stony Creek Metropark, a 6-mile loop with tasteful hills. Nothing outrageous, just rolling the whole way. We talked about doing downhill repeats, uphill repeats, stuff like that, but it never really happened because it seemed like it was snowing every single night.
It was hard to gauge what kind of shape I was in, just running through muck with lots of clothes on in a freezing cold snowy winter. All of a sudden I get out here and I'm wearing shorts for the first time in months and I actually felt a lot better than I thought I would. I was a little nervous because I had nothing to gauge my fitness off, so I was pretty pleased with how my fitness came around despite all of that.
When I was going into Boston I was really hoping I would do well enough that I could come to this race. I was very proud to get picked for it. In my mind that was an achievement in itself, an honor. I think I was the 4th American in Boston, so that put me close enough to the top Americans. Someone like Jason Hartmann who can get a lot of money to run a different marathon is going to turn it down, so it came to me and I was pretty excited.
I had lunch with Kota Shinozaki the day before Ome and it was cool to hear he was so excited about the race because he was hoping to get to go to Boston. To see it the other way around was really cool, like seeing myself on the other side.
Everybody here knows about Boston, but I wonder how many of the Americans running Boston know anything about Ome. You knew about it prior to Boston, that you had the possibility of getting to go?
I had heard that you get to do a really cool race in Japan if you do well, but I didn't know any details. I found out more right before Boston. Here I think Ome advertises that you get to go to Boston if you run well. I can't read the poster but I remember seeing "something something something Boston something something." I made it my Facebook profile picture.
It's not usually a situation where the top Japanese guys would go from Ome to Boston, but this year the upper contingent was pretty solid with three guys from the New Year Ekiden champion team and the university star Ryuji Kashiwabara in the top four. I'm not sure how that will play out with the Boston invite.
Shinozaki actually went to Boston last year. This year he finished 15th, so that says something to me about how good the competition was this year, the fact that last year he placed high enough here to get to go and this year I'm pretty sure 15th is not going to get him there.
How would you compare the two courses? Did you feel that there was some affinity between them?
It beats the hell out of you in a similar way, but the one difference is that Boston is mostly downhill the first half, mostly uphill the second half and then finishes with a gradual downhill, whereas here it's mostly uphill then mostly downhill with one sneaky climb somewhere around 23 km or 24 km. In the same way that you have to prepare your quads to take a beating for Boston you've got to do the same thing for this race. I definitely think there's a parallel. If you're well-prepared for one you're probably well-prepared for the other.
Toshihiko Seko ran the 1:29:32 course record in 1981 as a training run for Boston and then went and won there two months later.
He was obviously monster-fit to run 1:29 at Ome, but it's got to be a pretty tough turnaround to then jump back into marathon prep. It's impressive that he could just get right back on the horse. I think I'm going to take some days off, like maybe 7 to 14 days off with no running. It's kind of a rest period now after the race, my coach said.
When did you join the Hansons?
Late August, 2011, so a year and a half on the team, roughly. It's been great running with them. I feel like they've helped me a lot, like we're really building a foundation and then taking the steps to slowly and systematically become a good marathoner.
Looking at it from the outside over the years it seemed like it was the first modern American group to be on some level doing things with a Japanese model in terms of one company sponsoring a group of guys all working together. It seems like there is some similarity there.
I think it's definitely been instrumental in developing U.S. depth, just like how Japan has so much depth. We didn't have quite as much and now it's quickly on the rise because more teams like ours are springing up. As early as my freshman year of college Hansons was the one I always wanted to be on because it was the original in my mind. It was a pretty big honor to get to be on the team. When I was a freshman in college that would be my wildest running dream. It's not always the case in the life that you actually get to do what you considered your ultimate goal. I feel very lucky to be doing that.
What's in the near future for you?
We do just one block at a time so we're probably going to wait a bit before we figure it out for sure, but I definitely want to run a marathon this year. I'm trying to plant the seed early in my coach's head of Fukuoka so that I can weasel my way into doing that. "Come on, coach, I ran PRs in both my Japan races. You should send me to Fukuoka for a marathon." That's a pretty big undertaking to get them to let me do that, so I could very much see myself doing Chicago or Twin Cities or New York City or something like that. But if I could do whatever I want I'd probably do that marathon in December. It would be so much fun. If I could run the actual ekiden I wouldn't be opposed to doing Izumo again. I was pretty jealous that I didn't get to run it. The only thing is that it conflicts a little bit with the marathon because that's the Chicago Marathon weekend, so I have to figure out what they're thinking.
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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race photos (c) 2013 Mika Tokairin / mattress photo (c) 2013 Brendan Martin
all rights reserved