One of the ways running has transformed my life is that wherever I go in the world, I’m able to tap into ready-made running communities, make new friends, and experience a local perspective. The global explosion in running, and in particular the Bridge the Gap movement, is akin to the acid-house cultural shift in the late ’80s. The drugs have been replaced with endorphins but the love is the same. This post is about my experiences running in Tokyo with Athletics Far East and En Route Running Club. I hope to write about the crews I’ve run with in Hong Kong and Thailand in future.
The crew run every Wednesday at 9pm prompt from Bunka Yokusen in Meguro, 3 minutes walk from Ikejiri-Ohashi station. They are a friendly bunch, and I was well looked after by RK, who speaks good English. Most of the crew have some English, but the majority of conversation is in Japanese. Lono, from Black Roses NYC, runs with the crew, but couldn’t make it when I was there.
I arrived ten minutes early and RK helped store my bag and valuables in the Bunka Yokusen, which is a traditional Japanese bath-house, or sento. I briefly chatted with the runners and then we got into a circle. Everyone introduced themselves and we warmed up with some stretching.
Then we set off to Shibuya Crossing in the centre of Tokyo. This is the busiest crossing in the world, made famous in the film Lost in Translation. We ran as one group at an easy pace, chatting as we went, and posed for a picture at Shibuya.
The run was a little hilly, but there and back was just about 5K. Afterwards we stretched and then the plan was to drink beer and snack under the cherry blossom at the nearby canal. However, some of the guys were going to the sento first, and I decided to take the opportunity to do so also.
Women and men are separated in the bath-house. On entering, take your shoes off and place them in a locker in return for a key. Pay the gate-keeper dude, and you are given a basket with a small towel, some shower gel and shampoo.
Through to the changing room, next step is to get naked and store your clothes in another locker. You can use the small towel to protect your modesty if you wish. Go through into the main bath-house and sit on a low stool to take a shower before entering the baths, using the shampoo and shower gel. I was grateful to be with the guys from AFE so I could easily follow the customs.
The baths themselves were amazing. Two very hot ones and one very cold one, similar to what you might find at a sauna. We stayed in for 15 minutes, then dried off and left. I felt great and I recommend this if you run with AFE, provided you’re comfortable with nudity. It really wasn’t an issue with the group and I’m glad I did it.
We finished the night with good conversation, soy sauce flavoured popcorn and beers by the canal under a canopy of cherry blossom. This was a very sociable run and one of my favourite experiences in Tokyo. Highly recommended.
En Route run from their store in Ginza, Tokyo, every Tuesday from 7:30pm, 1 minute from Ginza-itchome station. En Route is a cool store featuring a fashion range downstairs, and upstairs a running station stocking various brands, including plenty of sexy Gyakusou. There are free changing rooms, lockers and toilets, and showers which you can use for a small fee. Everyone was very friendly. I recognised some people from the AFE run, and I was well looked after by Toshihide Tanaka.
There was a Puma running shoes promotion going on where you could run in the latest pair for free. However, being a relative giant in Japanese sizes, I wasn’t able to take advantage of this. Every runner was given a motion activated light-up wrist-band, however, and that’ll be a welcome, safety-conscious addition to my night-time runs.
This was a larger group than AFE, and we started a little after the advertised time which allowed people a chance to try on the promotional Pumas and chat. Again, the session began with introductions. Normally, the route is an easy 6K run, but it was explained that this evening after a warm up we would be doing form drills and speed intervals in Hibya Park, opposite the Imperial Palace. We then went outside for a warm-up.
Hibya Park was lovely. I’m only sorry I didn’t bring my phone with me to take pictures. I’m a sucker for light and water features, and there’s a wonderful colour-changing fountain in the park that didn’t disappoint.
The form drills focused on lifting your hips when running, which was new to me, but I could feel the benefit. Some of drills involved pair work, which was a good way for me to get to know more people. There were a few who spoke English well, but mostly I had to work hard here to work out what to do.
The speed intervals were exhilarating and very fast. The session wasn’t too long, but long enough that the intervals hurt. Then we posed for a picture and made our way back to the store. When we finished, I loved the En Route version of the Run Dem human tunnel… the first person back turned around and high-fived the second runner, who ran behind them, then high-fived the next one, till we had a long line of runners and a round of applause. All in all we ran 4 miles.
We stretched outside again, and inside there were cups of water waiting for us. Toshi shared the group picture with me over the free wifi. Another excellent evening in Tokyo. If you’re in the city, you know what to do. #crewlove