Tokyo Day 5 (Japan 2017)

Tokyo Day 5 (Japan 2017)

I woke up on Day 5 and was a bit sick (related to the previous night’s visit to the New York Bar).  The sad part is that we had ordered the Girandole Japanese breakfast.  Girandole is one of the restaurants in the building and the Japanese breakfast is supposed to be one of those “must haves” while in Tokyo.  Unfortunately due to how I was feeling, I only had a small portion of it but it looked amazing.

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It was our last full day in Tokyo so I tried to get my sh*t together and we headed out before noon.  I wanted to see Tsukiji Fish Market and possibly get some fresh fish while there.  Since we were arriving so late, I knew we probably wouldn’t see as much as if we went super early like most people.  I learned that if you want to see the actual tuna auctions, you have to sign up because it was becoming too popular, that start super early like 4 am.  Next to the marker were some tourist-filled small alleyways that were lined with restaurants and other shops.  We ducked into a small sushi joint to get some lunch.  I will say that the fish was definitely fresh and overall good.  And for dessert, my wife had some taro ice cream.  yum!

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Taro ice cream

From Tsukiji Market, we walked over to Hamarikyu Gardens, which sits near the water.

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This is a good viewing area for cherry blossoms.  Like I had mentioned previously these first few days in Tokyo were not great for cherry blossom viewing because the weather had been cold and rainy, which is not conducive to blossoming.  There were still some trees that were blooming and people were definitely taking pictures.

To mix it up, the plan after the gardens was to check out the main Asics store in Tokyo because we were still on a shoe hunt.  Surprisingly the shoe store itself (supposedly the “main” store) was actually quite small.  There were some Europeans in the store trying on shoes.  Maybe it is cheaper in Japan than in the US.  I will say the shoes would be slightly cheaper to buy in the US so I didn’t seriously consider getting a pair (though I do like Asics as part of my running corral of shoes).

For dinner I wanted to try a Yakitori place.  We hopped on the subway and went to Ebisu.  It was a little early for dinner so we walked over to Yebisu Garden Place Tower.  Acclaimed chef Joel Robuchon actually built a Chateau in this shopping mall to house his Michelin-starred restaurant.  It was a bit out of place in the midst of Japan but was kinda funny to see as a juxtaposition.  The Japanese also have a bit of an obsession with the French as well, which is actually a good pairing because they both have great food and fashion.  We were going to try visiting the Yebisu beer museum but it wasn’t open.  Sad.  We did walk through some higher end store.

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It was a bit difficult locating a yakitori place because some restaurants are downstairs in a basement and some upstairs.  We eventually settled on going down some steps into a non-descript dark staircase ending at a door.  Luckily once we opened the door, there was a yakitori restaurant with a long bar (by long it was actually small and sat maybe 12 people).  Luckily one of the employees actually spoke some English (and his other chef/coworkers allowed him to do pretty much all the interaction with us).  I ordered a bunch of weird things (chicken heart, liver).  They served the chicken medium-rare, which is something you’d never see in the US but it actually was very tender and tasty.  Overall I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t a ton of food.

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Right next to the subway stop that we walked out of was a Shake Shack.  We never made it to Shake Shack when we were in NYC and since we still were a little hungry, I suggested we stop in and have a burger so my wife could experience it.  It was a little funny that we were halfway around the world to try a US based burger chain.  The wife said that it was a good burger.

On our way back to the hotel before turning in for the night we checked out one more sports store near our hotel looking for shoes.  I found it fascinating to walk through a sports store in Japan.  I took a picture of some socks because I thought it was funny.

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Sacramento is the Farm-to-Fork capital and the socks have a funny name.

And that was the end of Day 5.

-StewsCat

Carmel/Monterey (Big Sur Marathon)

Carmel/Monterey (Big Sur Marathon)

Since my marathon recap post was kind of long, I decided to separate out the actual weekend part of marathon weekend.  We decided to stay in Carmel because of the locations of the bus pickups to take us to the marathon start.  Right in the heart of downtown Carmel was one of the pickup spots.  Luckily there are a ton of small hotels, inns, and B&Bs in Carmel.  Rather than leaving the dog in a boarding place in Sac, I found a place that allows pets (Carmel is historically and well-known as an extremely dog friendly place).

We made a pit stop in Fairfield to get some lunch on our way down on Friday.  The wife found a sandwich spot called Joe’s Buffet .  They made a tasty sandwich – I had a combo of pastrami and corned beef.

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Pastrami/Corned Beef

Once we reached Monterey and stopped to do my packet pickup, we swung by PeterB’s brewpub (right behind the expo area at Portola Hotel).  I had the Belly Up Blonde since I wanted to keep it light.

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Prior to our trip, I had done some research on dog-friendly restaurants in Carmel.  A ton of places have outdoor sitting and allow dogs in their patio areas since so many people have dogs (either visiting or living there).  The Inn that we stayed at also provided us with a list of some of the nearby dog friendly restaurants.  Our living quarters for the weekend was the Svendsgaard’s Inn.  This place ended up being only about 4-5 blocks from the bus pickup.  The accomodations were nice and it was a small quaint little place.  They had a small grassy area in a courtyard with poop bags available.

That first night in Carmel (I still don’t understand how the official city name is Carmel-By-The-Sea…such a mouthful), we walked over to Bistro Beaujolais for dinner.

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Billed as a French restaurant, we ordered with this in mind.  I had the French Onion soup, escargots, and sand dabs.  My wife had a lemon chicken soup and the Steak Frites.  The last time I was in the Monterey area is when I learned about Sand Dabs.  I guess they’re a local fish that is wildly popular and served at pretty much every restaurant (doesn’t even matter if it is American, European, Mediterranean, etc).  I was surprised and pleased to see that they had a Michigan beer and ordered the Founders Porter.

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The meal overall was pretty good though the cut of steak my wife received wasn’t the best and had some tough and chewy bits.

We learned that the dog is actually good if you put her in her carrier while at a meal and so we continued this trend for the rest of our meals in Carmel.

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After dinner we planned to walk down to the beach to watch the sunset.  I made a quick stop at some of the temporary bathrooms outside the shopping mall area where our restaurant was located.  I was quite impressed with the temporary accommodations compared to normal port-a-potties.

We then made the downhill trek along Ocean Blvd to the Coastal Trail Carmel Beach.  This place is quite popular especially at sunset because you get to watch the sun go into the ocean.  Surrounded by many strangers we stood and watched as the sun slowly set.

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The following morning we made the drive into Big Sur.  I didn’t get any pictures while there.  I will say it is quite a big difference from the Monterey area in that you enter a forest with these magnificent coastal Redwoods that just tower over you.  We stopped at the Big Sur River Inn’s restaurant.  We had to order “to go” and could sit outside their restaurant since we had the dog.  We each had their chicken sandwich which wasn’t too bad.

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Carmel-By-The-Sea
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Sign in Carmel

For dinner, I went with my normal pre-race meal of pizza.  I found this pizza joint that was located near the marathon finish (about a 5 minute drive from our Inn) called the Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria.  They were great with the dog and even allowed us to eat inside with the dog.  We kept her in her carrier and she was surprisingly very good and quiet.

 

After the marathon, we walked from our Inn just a few blocks to the Hog’s Breath Inn for a late lunch.  I thought I was hungry after running for 5.5 hours but once the food came, I could only eat a small amount.  I had the fried calamari to start and then went with their pulled pork sandwich with a salad.  I also enjoyed a nice light beer as a celebratory drink.  I ended up leaving a good chunk of my salad and kind of de-constructed my sandwich.

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I took a nap after lunch and then we headed over to 17-mile drive.  This is a scenic drive that takes you through the ultra-exclusive community of Pebble Beach.  There are actually 3 (maybe more) golf courses within the community.  I had previously driven through on my last visit but my wife hadn’t been through so we made the drive and enjoyed some time on the beach (much less crowded since you have to pay to get into the community/drive) and driving right along the water.

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17-Mile Drive
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17-Mile Drive
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17-Mile Drive
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17-Mile Drive

We spent the sunset time at the beach again because why not?  So peaceful and pretty.

To cap off our time in Carmel, we walked (it was tough for me to make the trek considering how sore my legs were) over to The Forge in the Forest.  We of course were celebrating my finishing the marathon so had some cocktails to begin.  I also had a cup of clam chowder and then went with their steak.  This cut of meat was much better than that from the other restaurant.  It was very tender and cooked just right.  We topped it off with some yummy dessert (can’t remember exactly what it was).

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And finally, on our way out of the Monterey area, we stopped at Phil’s Fish Market and Eatery (on recommendations from co-workers) in Moss Landing.  It was definitely worth it.  I had to try their clam chowder and then went with their iconic Cioppino.  It was a LOT of food and I ended up taking a bunch of it home with me.  My wife had their fish tacos but in reality they were huge tortillas that were quite filled and were more like two big burritos.

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Cioppino
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Fish Tacos
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View from Phil’s

Overall a very good weekend of eating (along with the marathon).

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-StewsCat

Tokyo Day 3 & 4 (Japan 2017)

Tokyo Day 3 & 4 (Japan 2017)

After a restful sleep, we awoke and ordered some room service and then decided to head over to the Imperial Palace area along with Tokyo Station and the many things around that area.  The weather was still fairly overcast and rainy, my wife was very smart and brought an umbrella.

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Tokyo Station

We walked around the outer perimeter of the Imperial Palace but didn’t try to go inside.  We started to get hungry and went looking for a snack.

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Imperial Palace

Near Tokyo Station is the KITTE building, which houses a lot of stores as well as restaurants.

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KITTE Building

I had read about it on a web site and since we were right there, we stopped in.  It was still fairly early in the day so they weren’t letting people go up onto higher floors.  So we headed to the basement and walked around where they had little shops of various food items and small trinket type things.  We got some Chicken Karaage from the convenience store.  This is essentially their version of chicken nuggets.  I also had an Onigiri (which became a theme of the trip).  Onigiri are triangles of rice wrapped in seaweed and filled with various items (I ended up trying some that had tuna salad, smoked salmon, fish roe, egg, etc).

We were really looking to snack on some Taiyaki, which is a fish shaped pastry that is filled with red bean.  This took us on a hunt through Tokyo Station’s many hallways of stores as well as the Yaesu underground mall.  I was following the directions on the GPS and it kept taking me to a set of restaurants but no Taiyaki.  After a frustrating time searching, we saw on the map that there was another stall/store that sold Taiyaki and found that relatively quickly and we had one.

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Taiyaki

The Japanese have this protocol that you aren’t supposed to eat while walking or what not.  This is very different than in the US where we walk and eat all the time.  We actually huddled next to some stairs to eat this and I could feel people’s eyes on us judging us for eating in the hallway of the underground market area.  Oh well.

And then it was lunchtime.  Because of how busy many places get, it is recommended to arrive at or just before opening (usually 11 AM) to be able to get a seat.  I had found a Tempura place near Tokyo Station so we walked over that way.  However, we arrived too late (it was only like 11:15 AM) and they said that they had no more tables.  They didn’t even offer a wait so I guess it is a “one and done” type of place.  We walked over to the Ginza district. This is more of an upscale area with fancy stores.  The wife wanted to check out COMME des GARÇONS, which I figured would be a French company but really is Japanese (again the Japanese love the French culture).  They have a whole building (6 floors of merchandise) in the Ginza district called the Dover Street Market.

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We found a place to eat in the building next door (Kojun Building) to Comme des Garcons. The meal was pretty good.  It was a more traditional multi-course meal.  For some reason I wasn’t used to having so much food (even though it wasn’t a ton) and didn’t finish everything that was provided.  After lunch we perused the Comme des Garcons some more and also checked out Uniqlo (which had a building across the street and also took up 5-6 floors).

And then it was off to another tourist destination.  Our next stop took us to the Zōjō-ji temple, which is a Buddhist temple.

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The temple was relatively busy with tourists – a lot of them from Mainland China.  Something I noticed was that there were a lot of women dressed in the traditional Japanese clothes but they were speaking mandarin.  We later learned that you could pay about $30-40 US equivalent to get dressed up in the traditional Japanese clothes for the day and so we were seeing tourists dressed up and not actual Japanese people.  The cherry blossoms were starting to bloom more than when we first arrived in country.

From the temple, we walked to the nearby Tokyo Tower.  It’s a communications and observation tower.  We didn’t go up to the top though.

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Tokyo Tower

We had to get back to our hotel since we had reservations at the New York Grill on the top floor of our hotel.   On our way back, we passed by the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which has a suspension roof design.  There was some sort of concert type event going on and many people were flocking to one of the entrances.  On the outside, they had multiple football (soccer to us Americans) fields with people playing.

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Yoyogi National Gymnasium

We walked through Yoyogi Park to get back to our hotel and saw many people picnicking under the trees.  Again there weren’t a ton of trees blossoming, but people were still enjoying themselves by picnicking.  I guess it is a big tradition to picnic under the blooming cherry blossom trees.  They also don’t have open container laws so I saw many people drinking beer.

 

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Cherry blossoms
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Yoyogi Park
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Yoyogi Park

We had dinner at the New York Grill in our hotel.  We luckily had a seat by their floor-to-ceiling glass windows and had a lovely view of the city from 52 floors up.  We each had the Hokkaido Akaushi Sirloin steaks and had their Crispy Duck Fat Fries and Broccolini.  I learned that in Japan, they call the different levels of wagyu not on letter/number but based upon the location that the meat comes from.  Either way, the steak and sides were delicious.  Since we were at the New York Grill, we decided to share the New York Cheesecake, which was just all right.  Nothing to write home about.  Initially we considered moving over to the bar portion of the top floor but seeing as how busy it was, we elected to call it a night after a satisfying meal.

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Wagyu steak!
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New York Cheesecake

Day 4

The following morning we woke up and headed way east of us to the Asakusa district to see the oldest temple in Tokyo, Sensō-ji temple.  I remember visiting this temple back when I came to Japan with  my family in 2003.

There is a long walkway lined on each side by shops leading up to the temple.  I thought the temple from Day 3 was busy but this placed was packed.  It felt like being canned sardines as we made our way through the stall-lined walkway to the actual temple.  We each picked up a nori-wrapped rice cracker, which was delicious.  Deborah also purchased a bag of these pastries filled with red bean.  They had fun bird and temple shapes.

After walking around the temple area, we popped into a small mom and pop restaurant for lunch.  I had the tempura bowl, which was a mix of squid/onion over rice and my wife had Tonkatsu chicken over rice.  Both were good.

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Tempura squid and onion over rice
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Tonkatsu

We jumped back on the JR and went to Ueno.  Located here is Ueno Park, which is a huge park that has multiple various buildings.  The cherry blossoms at this location were definitely blooming and the picnicking people were out of control.  Add to that the many tourists and it was another very crowded place (sensing a theme?).

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Food trucks! Reminds me of Cali
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The Japanese have a weird obsession with 1950s U.S. culture

At the northern end of the park is the Tokyo National Musem.  While there are multiple buildings all with their own unique things to see, we stuck to the main building.  Sometimes we tend to speed through museums and we actually took a little bit more time and made our way through all the various rooms of the main building.  I enjoyed seeing the armory exhibits with the different body armor and more importantly the different katanas and other swords.

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National Museum
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Reminds me of Michael Jackson

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From the museum we tried to go get cocktails at a cocktail bar that I had read does flights of craft cocktails with local ingredients, Gen Yamamoto.  This bar is in the neighborhood Azabujuban, which I thought didn’t sound very Japanese.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, all the lights were off and the doors locked.  My phone said that they should have been open but they weren’t.  Disappointed, we ended up checking out Pizza Strada, which was nearby.  Since we love pizza, I had read about a new trend in Japan where they were putting their own twist on the traditional Neopolitan style pizzas.  Some Japanese chefs traveled to Italy and came back opening up pizza shops.  Over time they’ve adopted their own styles to the pizza.  I gotta say it was pretty good.  It was also a nice break from all the Japanese food we had been eating.  Normally at home we tend to vary our meals by eating various genres of food.

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To work off some of the food and beer we just had, we jumped back onto the subway and went over to the Harajuku, which is a district in the Shibuya district.  This area has tons of stores and shops.  We were on a semi-hunt for some good walking shoes for my wife.  She wanted to check out the Onitsuka Tiger store.  I actually have some Onitsukas that I’ve been wearing for the last few years.

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We ended the night back at our hotel at the New York Bar on the 52nd floor.  I did a flight of Japanese whiskeys.  Japanese whiskey takes after scotch.  The three that I tried were Yoichi, Yamazaki, Miyagikyo.  Some were peaty, some more smoky.  Overall they were all right but not my bailiwick.  Maybe when I’m older.

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I also had a few other cocktails including a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned.  It was nice because they had a live jazz singer.  Overall a great atmosphere and drink (we also had some appetizers – chili and their duck fat fries).

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Jazz Singer

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View from the bar

I may have indulged a little much as I paid for it in the morning.  Oops!

-StewsCat

Tokyo Day 1 & 2 (Japan 2017)

Tokyo Day 1 & 2 (Japan 2017)

It has taken me quite awhile to finally get these first two days published from our trip back at the end of March-early April.  Will hopefully get the rest up in a timely manner.

Day 1 was a short day due to travel.  We landed at Narita airport in the late afternoon around 4:30 pm.  However, there was a crazy wait at customs/immigration.  The line for Japanese citizens was crazy short and those of foreign passports had a long wait.  They even had two separate customs areas and it still took somewhere around 1-1.5 hours of wait time to get through.  And then we needed to exchange our vouchers for the Japan Rail Pass, which came in handy throughout the trip but it was another 1 hour wait to get this pass.  As you can imagine, after an almost 11 hour flight, we were quite tired.  Thankfully once we received our rail pass, they also booked us on the train that would take us into Tokyo (about a 90 minute train ride).

Initially on approach to Japan I thought we’d have time to get to our hotel, put our stuff away and then head out for some dinner.  I realized after all the aforementioned wait times, we’d be lucky to find anywhere open for food.  Add onto that we were just bone tired and I wasn’t sure what we were going to do about foodstuffs.

After arriving at Shinjuku station (the one closest to our hotel for the night), I looked on the map and decided that it wasn’t too far of a walk from the train station to the hotel.  The wife had mentioned there was a courtesy hotel shuttle from Shinjuku station though we couldn’t be exactly sure where the pickup point was.  So after about a 15 minute walk, we arrived at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Tokyo.  It has quite an impressive entrance with these very large low hanging chandeliers.  We  checked in and immediately headed upstairs to offload our stuff.  When we first arrived, I noticed that there appeared to be some restaurants and stores in the basement level (which becomes a theme in Japan).  We initially looked at some of the hotel restaurants (they have a handful of them situated in the hotel itself) but it looked like most places closed at 9 pm and we had arrived just after 9 pm.

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So it was off the convenience store in the basement for food. Luckily they actually stock some food that is edible and not extremely bad for you.  The wife and I both picked up a pre-made sandwich and I also got a hot dog and some snacks (chips).  After eating some food and cleaning up a little, it was off to bed for us.

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The hotel also had a package waiting for us, which was the pocket wi-fi I had ordered.  This is a definite must have when traveling around Tokyo.  The pocket wifi is exactly as it sounds: it acts as an internet router/hot spot so you can connect your devices to the internet (anywhere in the city, on trains, subways, buses, etc).  This becomes important because many Tokyo streets are not named and there are no housing/building numbers.  Oftentimes you just have to rely on your GPS to find a specific restaurant, building, etc.

Day 2

On the 2nd day we woke up and headed out in search of some breakfast.  We briefly toyed with eating in the hotel but I thought maybe we’d venture out and see what we could find.  On the walk from the train station to the hotel the previous night I had observed a building (Shinjuku Mitsui Building) near our hotel that seemed like it had some restaurants on the basement level.  We walked that way and found a Chinese restaurant, a Starbucks, and a small bakery serving French pastries.  The Japanese apparently have a love affair with all things French so there are a lot of French-related restaurants and shops.  We popped into the Saint Marc Cafe for some croissants.  After grabbing our jackets as it was a bit nippy, we walked across from our hotel to the Shinjuku Chuo Park.  Due to the colder weather that they had experienced recently, only a few small cherry blossoms had peaked out from a few trees scattered in the park.  This still didn’t stop what appeared to be a photo shoot for a married (or maybe engagement?) couple.  We walked around the park a little bit and then checked out the Kumano Shrine, which was tucked away in the corner of the park.

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I wanted to check out a shabu shabu place on the other side of Shinjuku train station and everything I read said that you should try to arrive before they open for lunch to get a seat (this is true of most every popular restaurant).  With our trusty GPS and pocket wi-fi I guided us there on foot but once we arrived I was kinda stumped.  We saw a sign of the restaurant, Kisoji Shinjuku.  It appeared to be on the 5th floor.  We started walking up the stairs but it stopped after the 2nd floor and you couldn’t walk any higher up.  So back down to the front of the building we walked.  Finally we figured out that we had to take the elevator to the 5th floor as that was the only way to enter.  We arrived around 10 minutes before they opened.  Luckily they were able to put us down for a table and we only waited about 15 minutes before we were sat.  We tried two different levels of Wagyu beef.  The most expensive meat looked like a thin layer of fat with a small amount of lean meat within it.  Both were quite tasty.

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Hot pot with dipping sauces
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Wagyu!!

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We then returned to the Hyatt Regency to check out (yay for late check out due to Discoverist status).  We made the trek about 4 blocks to the Park Hyatt in overcast weather, which would be our home for the remainder of our time in Tokyo.  Just prior to entering the building, we were met by some employees who immediately guessed our name and escorted us right up to our room to complete the check-in process.  Now this was some service.  I’ve never experienced something like that before, made us feel important.  We were staying in a standard room, but boy was it nice.  First you entered a long hallway that took you back into the room area.  There was a very spacious bedroom and sitting area.  A divider separated the closet/bathroom from the bedroom almost making it feel suite-like.  The bathroom had separate shower/bathtub and toilet area, with a nice sink and sitting area as well.  There was a decent sized closet and dresser as well.  Within the room, they had a large selection of hote room minibar items as well as a nespresso coffee maker and a hot water dispenser/teapot.  I was quite impressed.

After settling in and resting a little, we decided to venture out in the rainy weather.  Just south of the hotel is Yoyogi park .  Within the park is Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine.  Even with the rainy weather, there were a good amount of tourists checking out the shrine.

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After returning to the hotel we were looking for a close place for dinner.  Luckily the basement of the building that houses the Park Hyatt has multiple restaurants along with a convenience store (and a Subway of all western fast food joints).  We settled on Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai and each had a bowl.  It was good and cheap.

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That concluded our 2nd day in Tokyo.

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View from the hotel room

 

-StewsCat

2017 Big Sur International Marathon Race Recap

2017 Big Sur International Marathon Race Recap

I did it!  Successfully (mostly) completed my fourth full marathon.  I am currently recovering from a hard effort.  I’ll have a separate post about our time in Carmel that is unrelated to the actual marathon itself.

Let’s start with the race expo.  We drove down from Sac on Friday late morning and went straight to the Portola Hotel, where the race expo was being held.  We had the dog with us so I didn’t get to explore the expo too much on Friday but went back Saturday morning to get a better idea.  I had read on other blogs that the expo is typically fairly small for a major marathon and they were correct.  Packet pickup was very smooth.  The organizers were great in sending out emails prior to the weekend letting me know my bib number since that was what you needed to get your bib.  Because there is only one way to get to the race start, I also had to pick up a bus ticket (free) from my pickup location (which was in the heart of Carmel).  There were about 4-5 different areas of pickup for the full marathon.  After grabbing my bib and bus ticket, I got my shirt and gear check bag and the helpful volunteer put everything into the bag for me.  The following morning I walked through the expo.  There were a few of the usual booths for various races as well as a few gear booths selling everything from gels to water bottles to clothes.  The largest merchandise area belonged to Asics, who is one of the big sponsors.  Overall it was a nice little expo area but nothing to write home about.  I did find my name on the Big Sur poster that is comprised of every runner.

I had all intentions of a breakout run on Saturday morning but that fell threw just because I was doing enough walking around with the wife.  The day before the race, we did drive down Highway 1 to Big Sur because my wife had never been.  Essentially we drove the course backwards on our way down and then in the proper direction on our return trip back to Carmel.  The drive really showed me just how non-flat the course actually is.  When you look at the elevation chart of the race, you go “okay, there are a few major hills and few minor ones,” but when you’re actually driving the course you realize the entire thing is essentially either “up” or “down.”  There aren’t actually many flat spots to the course.

Elevation

The drive is when I really did start to worry about my race and my training.  I knew that my trip to Japan as well as my illness didn’t hep matters but I wasn’t that worried about it.  After driving the course, I started to wonder a bit.  I had an “A” and “B” goal for this race.  The “A” goal was to PR the race, which I know is a challenge given the above regarding elevation changes.  My “B” goal was to finish under the 6 hour course time limit, which given that I was overall physically okay I figured I should be able to do.  Honestly I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt but knew that I had signed up, gotten in the lottery, and trained for it so I might as well give it a shot.  Outwardly of course I didn’t reveal my concerns to my wife.

We had our pre-race meal of pizza and I tried to hit the sack early (7:30 pm).  Because you have to take a school bus to the race start, they start bussing people down at an ungodly hour.  My bus ticket said to arrive by 3:45 am (yes, 3:45 AM!!) and the latest was 4:15 am.

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Of course trying to go to bed at 7:30 pm when you’re used to going to bed around 11 pm is tough.  I tossed and turned and managed to get a few minutes here and there and then maybe 1-2 straight hours of sleep.  I had set my alarm for 1:30 am because I like to get up a few hours before I head out the door.  This is due to a chronic GI issue that I have that I try to just deal with.  Luckily the Inn that we were staying in had a refrigerator.  I had an unconventional breakfast of 2 slices of Margherita pizza and a banana.  I made a plain bagel with peanut butter and saved it for when I was actually waiting at the start line.  I left the Inn around 3:42 am and walked about 5 minutes to where the buses were waiting. Luckily I managed to get on the first bus and the 2nd seat and off into the night we went.  Since I was so close to the front, I actually watched as the bus wound its way in the darkness along the course.  It was a little eery going over the bridges when all that was lit was the road in front but I knew there was a large drop on both sides.  About 50 minutes later we were dropped off.  In years past, the buses dropped you off at the start (Big Sur Station).  Due to the large amounts of rain that has hit California this year, the bridge just south of the starting line failed and was demolished.  This required the buses to turn around earlier and so we were dropped off at Big Sur Lodge, about a 1/2 mile from the start.  Once off the bus, we made the trek uphill to the starting area.

I arrived and there were already people just sitting around waiting and drinking coffee.  The temperatures weren’t too bad and with me bringing a long sleeve shirt and some pants, I was quite comfortable.  I hit up the port-a-potty and then got in line to get some coffee.  It was around 5 am and the start of the race wasn’t until 6:45 am so I had some time.  I also ate the majority of my peanut butter bagel and had a small cup of coffee and some water.  And then it was a waiting game.  The Big Sur Ranger Station area isn’t exactly cut out to fit a few thousand people so anywhere you could sit, someone was probably sitting.  I ended up walking around for the majority of the waiting time, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea.

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On the majority of the port-a-potties they had funny signs.  I only captured one of them.

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There are 3 waves for the start and I situated myself in the 2nd wave, which was for people estimating a finish time of 3:46 to 4:45.  My plan was to stick with the 4:45 people for as long as possible and possibly finish before 5 hours (which would be my PR).  They had people starting to line up around 6:10 am and took the entire next 35 minutes getting people behind the starting line (remember there’s a bridge out behind the last wave of people and a sharp drop off – I didn’t actually walk back there to see what it looked like though).  At 6:45 am, the first wave of runners were off and about 5 minutes later so was I.  Since I had essentially done the course twice backwards and once forward in a car, I actually had a decent idea of what I was getting into.

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The first few miles were quite crowded but I still felt like I had decent room.  I actually am glad it was crowded because it kept me from blasting downhill.  The first 4 miles or so are mostly downhill.  However, there still are a few small uphill climbs in that first few miles that no one mentions.  You also start out in the Big Sur area, which means you’ve got these giant redwoods on both sides of you.  It was quite peaceful (I didn’t get any pictures of this part of the race).  Those first few miles I was just getting back into the rhythm of running and focusing on keeping it at a decent pace.  It had been a LONG time since I’d run any real meaningful distance.  Overall I felt pretty good in those first few miles.  We passed through the Big Sur Village, where my wife and I had lunch the previous day.  There were also some nice folks out cheering us on in that section.  I didn’t have a concrete race plan but I had been toying with the idea of doing a “run-walk” method.  I realized in the first few miles that walking with so many people and a narrow road probably would only create more problems for me.  So I elected to start my “run-walk” a little later into the race.  I also wasn’t sure what my intervals were going to be (probably something I should have worked out ahead of time).  I had done two half-marathons with run-walk and one I did with 4 minutes run-1 minute walk and another 5 minutes run-1 minute walk.  During my long training runs I did a 1 minute walk after each mile.  I elected to go with the 1 minute walk after each mile since I could easily figure this out with their fun mile markers on course.   Each of the mile markers had fun life-sized pictures of people.  Lots of people were stopping to either take selfies or just take pics with it.

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Around the 5 mile mark is when the course opens up some, the trees fade away and you start to get a glimpse of the ocean.  The day also was turning out to be a gorgeous one.  Blue skies and very little wind (until later portions of the course).  The beginning part of the course we were allowed to run on both sides of the road but starting at mile 2 they wanted us only on the ocean-side of the road.  This was because they needed half the road for cars, emergency personnel, etc.  This caused a bit of congestion and people were running on the wrong side for a good chunk of the first 6-8 miles.

The above mile marker was fitting since there were some actual cows right near this mile marker.

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Cheering us on!

Miles 5-9 were comprised of big flat land to the left with the ocean beyond it and on the right were treeless hills with lush green grass and small flowers on it.  It was quite beautiful and I did take a moment to just “take it all in.”  I was running the Big Sur Marathon on Hwy 1!!  I had come to the realization the day before that I have run on Highway 1 in a race in San Diego, Huntington Beach, and Santa Barbara.  4 very different and distinct locations.  I have to say that this stretch of Hwy 1 (the entire course) is the most beautiful.  In this same section there were some good-sized hills already and I chose to run when I felt I could and walk when I felt I couldn’t.  I really tried to just listen to my body.

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As we came upon mile 9 cresting one of the smaller hills, I could see the dreaded climb to Hurricane Point.

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Climb to Hurricane Point in the far off distance

I could also hear the Taiko drummers.  I hit the port-a-potties to pee at the water station just before getting to the Taiko drummers and the climb.  Luckily I only had to wait about 20-30 seconds before I got into a port-a-potty.  With my business finished, I managed to get video (and a few pictures) of the drummers and told myself that I could “do this!”

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So from mile 10-12, you basically just keep on going up.  You’re running up the side of a mountain and so you make some turns and each time you turn, you just see that you have to keep going up.  I knew that I had to make a few turns before reaching the high point of Hurricane Point so at least I didn’t get myself too disappointed when I would make the turn around a bend in the cliff and see that I still had to go up.  The wind also started to blow in this 10-12 mile stretch.  It wasn’t super super hard but it was enough to tell you that it was there.  I employed a walk-run method up the hill and started to use my Garmin 225 to help.  I had it set on my heart rate and so I would walk until my heartrate dropped to 168-169.  Then I’d start running again and immediately it would go over 180.  At one point I could feel my heart beating really hard and so I started walking and waited until that feeling subsided – luckily it never came back again for the rest of the race.

After what felt like a long time, I made it to Hurricane Point!  As said earlier, there was a little bit of wind but nothing too dramatic and definitely nothing that would cause me to be blown over (as I read nearly happened in last year’s race).  Coming around the bend of Hurricane Point, you get a great view of the Bixby Bridge.  I think this bridge is the most well-known for Big Sur/Carmel and is iconic.  I managed to get a few good pictures of it.  I actually jumped onto a raised area to the side of the road (yes it was tough to make that high step, probably about 2 feet).

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There were a handful of these houses just hanging out on the cliff all isolated. 
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Bixby Bridge
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Bixby Bridge – halfway through the race

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As you make the descent toward the Bixby Bridge, you can start to hear the piano sounds coming from the other side of the bridge.  Michael Martinez has been playing a piano during the race for a long time now.  I stopped on the bridge to get a shot because how often will you be able to walk onto the bridge to snap a view downward.

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And then snapped a quick pic of the piano man (I didn’t spend the time to hang out like a lot of people were doing).

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At this stage I kept telling myself to keep chugging along.  Surprisingly I was actually making decent time according to my Garmin 225.  I realized that I was actually on track to PR if I kept up with what I was doing.  I felt pretty good at the halfway mark and actually had some ideas of pushing for a PR.

The second half of the race is comprised of uphills and downhills (just not as long as the climb up to Hurricane Point).  I settled into a routine where I’d start my run up a hill and when I got tired, I’d start walking.  Then I’d wait until my heart rate came down to around 168 and then back to running.  Since I was potentially on track for a PR, I definitely took a lot less pictures in the second half.  I laughed when I saw the mile 18 marker because I definitely could have gone for a beer.

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I was on track to finish around 4:50-4:55 until I ran into mile 20.  Literally as I was coming up on the mile 20 mile maker (the dreaded “wall”), I felt my right quadriceps muscle cramp up and seize.  I had to start walking and started to try to massage out my right quad.  I realized at that stage that I hadn’t done enough hill training.  Actually I had done pretty much no hill training.  I also knew that I didn’t get enough of my long runs in towards the end so felt like maybe my legs were ready for the distance.

So once I realized I wasn’t going to PR, I just wanted to finish.  I knew that I’d be in well under the 6 hour mark. I  think that partially deflated me and I just didn’t push myself from then on.  I felt a little defeated and did a LOT of walking in the last 10K.  I definitely enjoyed the wonderful views though.

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And then finally I made it to the end!

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I loved the ceramic medal.  It felt great to receive.  The weather was in the low 70s at the end of the race so I didn’t need the space blanket.  I did like that they made a “box” that had a banana, pretzels, gummi bears so that you didn’t have to try to pick things up individually.  I also picked up some chocolate milk – my goto for after a hard workout.  I did some stretching and then checked out the merchandise booth since I had finished!  I picked up a license plate holder.  I thought about getting my free beer at the Sierra Nevada beer garden but it seemed crowded and I just wanted to get back to the Inn and get clean.  So I hopped on the shuttle (short bus) back to Carmel and made my way to the Inn.

My overall impression of the race was that it was very well-organized.  I thought the weather was good for a marathon (though I do prefer it to be a little colder – my ideal temperatures probably would have been in the high 40s and low 50s).  I felt like I ran a good race and I just need to work on that last 10K.  I had quad issues with my 2nd marathon (that one also had a lot of rolling hills) so I wonder if that is my issue.  I’d definitely recommend this race to any marathoner.  I probably won’t ever do it again because there are just so many marathons out there that I think I want to experience and my race schedule (self-imposed) is to do a full marathon every other year.  I think this will provide me with the right challenges but also not tear up my body too much.  The day after the race I actually was getting around okay and walking.  I drove us back to Sac.  Two days post-race I was at work and somewhere in the middle of the day my left ankle/Achilles area started to give me some pain.  I definitely limped the rest of the day.  Not sure if it is a delayed injury or just because my work I am getting up and down a lot.

This was my 4th full marathon.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it but I feel like I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the distance.  Even though I struggled at the end, I knew I was going to finish.  And then at the end of the race, I felt pretty good and not just plain exhausted/dead.  I’m never going to be fast and I’m okay with it.

Finish Time: 5:26:30

I like their long sleeve tech shirt that you get.

-StewsCat