What wasn't fun was getting up at 4.45 in the AM to be in Harajuku for 6.00, that was hard but I managed it. Surprisingly large number of people getting the train at 5.30 on a Saturday morning, no idea why but smattering of school kids off to, I guess, cram school or sports fixtures, construction workers and others. They were probably looking at me thinking 'where's that weird gaijin in the running gear off to at this hour...?'.
So the idea is that in teams of three or four you visit every station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo and take a photo of your team at each. It's not a race, as such, as there are no prizes for position, but of course there is a bit of kudos for finishing first and as BST had three teams joining in there was always going to be a bit of friendly competition. Of our team there was me (regular runner and half-marathoner), Ava (regular runner), Charlotte (regular runner, winter sports instructor and zumba enthusiast (whatever that is)) and Alice (Tokyo marathoner, triathlete, crazily fit person). In other teams there were also marathon runners, sports enthusiasts, PE teachers and the like - so while the Yamathon is ostensibly a walk there was definitely going to be a bit of running going with a bit of needle attached.
The groups were let off in blocks depending on when they had registered, the other 2 school teams were in the first group who set off at 7.00 whilst our team, the British Staggering Team, were in the last group at 7.25 - gave us the incentive to catch the others.
The British Staggering Team at the start, 7.26AM - Ava, Alice, me & Charlotte
We figured we would run for the first bit as we would be fresh, the stations are quite close together so you can get through a few quite quickly (that said the longest stretch of track is only 2.2km between stations (between Shinagawa and Tamachi, should you be interested) so there was always a station just around the corner). Navigation was good and we whizzed past Yoyogi and Shinjuku barely breaking stride. Unfortunately we then, due to too much talking and not enough concentrating, whizzed right past Shin-Okubo and were half-way to Takadanobaba before someone said 'this seems to be a long stretch...' so we had to go about 750m back to the station to take our photo, an unnecessary round trip of 1.5km - not sensible! When we were running back we passed a group of three walking guys who for the next 15 stations always seemed to appear in front of us even though we ran past them, like they had some kind of temporal field generator to slip ahead of us when we weren't looking. The same thing happened to us with another team between Ikebukuro and Otsuka - maybe our navigating wasn't that good after all...
lost in Shin-Okubo
We ran pretty much all the way from Harajuku at the start to Ueno, notwithstanding a short toilet and banana break at Mejiro. As you had to have all team members in the photo of the station, as well as the station name, it meant you had to ask random members of the public to take photos of you - generally speaking this wasn't a problem as stations tend to have a lot of people in and around them, the problem was choosing the right person. At Nishi-Nippori the only person was a middle-aged guy who initially looked suitably nonplussed at being accosted by several gaijin waving a phone at him. When he twigged what we wanted he threw away his half finished cigarette and took my phone - one can only suspect he had never seen a smartphone before (or maybe he was just an Apple guy through and through) as my HTC phone seemed to confuse him completely. I even showed him how to shoot and what we wanted (4 people and a train sign - one of Hugh Grant's lesser known films) but he just couldn't get it. Eventually a younger woman, watching this from the side, decided enough was enough and basically snatched the phone, elbowed him out the way and got the shot. From that moment on the rule was 'young people only!'
Just before Ueno, at Uguisudani, we met the first team going the other way (we were going clockwise) and they looked suitably in a hurry. At Ueno we figured it was about half-way around so stopped for a proper food break and a sit down. We did the first half in 3 hours and at that stage were thinking of a 6 hour finish, a revised estimate after our initial sub-10 hour aim. The problem was that Ava had felt a tendon twinge at the top of her thigh and the sit down probably didn't do it any good.
It was only a short distance from Ueno to the next stop Okachimachi and very crowded along Ameoko-dori so we walked to get back in the swing and let our onigiri go down. As the crowds thinned out we started running again but it was aorund here that the twinge in Ava's left turned into a strain - she gamely tried to run-walk from Akihabara to Tokyo but by then it was clear that she couldn't really run any more. From that point on it was walking all the way, though we did so at a brisk pace. Though 6 hours was out we hoped we might do it 7.
strange bloke behind Charlotte's head
After Shinagawa we took a short cut through the back streets to cut off a loop of track and found the first of the other BST teams. They had run a bit but had tired of that so decided to start drinking instead. We found them outside a convenience store, Chu-hi's in hand and having a great time. We set off together but as there was another BST team in front of us and we really wanted to catch them we ended up moving ahead of out colleagues.
By Gotanda Ava was really starting to struggle, but as by then we only had 3 more stations to visit she kept on it. The last bit was hard for her and by now the rest of us were feeling it, it was a long way, about 50km according to friend in another team who kept his gps runkeeper thing going for the whole route.
Ava struggling in Gotanda
We hit Shibuya, our final station, at about 2.40pm. By then we had had a text and photo from the first BST team, safely in a bar with a big beer in front of them - they were 4th home in 5 hours 46 minutes, a really great achievement having run all the way. For the last leg, from Shibuya to the finish line, we had a celebratory chu-hi was well which started to damp-down the leg ache.
We finally crossed the finish line in 7 hours 35 minutes, good enough for 15th place out of 100+ teams. Then it was to TGI Fridays for beer and food, the first team had already gome home by this point but the last team did make it for beers with us later.
The finish line at 3.01PM
All in all a really good day. I reckon we could have done it in 6 hours if Ava hadn't got injured, but there you go, it's not like it was her fault. If we do it next year, and I think we will as we all said we're up for it, then I think anti-clockwise might be best, get the longer sections out of the way first, and probably a bit more training prior to if we want to run the whole way.And now we have a BST target to beat...