Running a race is fun but the post-race party is a big part of the race experience too. Many races I have done have post-race parties with music and lots of beer. The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon series is well known for having a concert after their races. It was a real treat to see the INXS concert on the beach following the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach one year. My husband enjoyed the Cheap Trick concert at the Rock ’n’ Roll race in Las Vegas when I ran that one. At the Yuengling Shamrock Half Marathon, I remember all runners getting 4 free beers at the finish. It was so cold the day I ran that race, a beer was the last thing on my mind. I wrapped up in the fleece blanket they handed out to all the finishers instead.
At the Tokyo Marathon there weren’t any bands in the finishers’ area and I didn’t see any beer. I was more focused on getting back to my hotel and taking a hot shower. Although I was very tired after the race, I did make it to the post-race party that Marathon Tours hosted at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo (famous for being the location where the movie “Lost in Translation” was filmed). They served wonderful hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine. I ate my first “meal” of the day at the party and then headed back to my hotel to sleep.
For me the appeal of a race is not just the event itself but the things you can do when you are in the area. Shortly after I decided to run the Tokyo Marathon, I saw a documentary about the snow monkeys. They became the real reason for traveling all the way to Japan to run a marathon. When I broke my arm, I became focused on one thing – getting back on my feet and able to run so I could go see the snow monkeys. My doctor knew how important that was to me and every time I saw him, he would bring up the snow monkeys.
My post-race party was the day after the race when we headed out of Tokyo on a bullet train to Nagano and the snow monkeys. Nagano is a big ski area (and location of the 1998 Winter Olympics) so many of the passengers were carrying skis with them. The bullet train ride was very smooth, no rocking back and forth. It was a good time to rest our race-weary legs.
Our first stop in Nagano was the famous Zenko-ji Temple, revered for over 1400 years as Japan’s primary center of Buddhist faith. Zenko-ji is also the home of the first Buddhist statue to come to Japan. Outside the temple is an immense incense burner. Pilgrims wave the smoke on their bodies for health and good fortune. I waved the smoke over my right arm; it needs all the help it can get. Just inside the temple is the statue of Binzuru, a faithful disciple of Buddha. Binzuru is famous for stories about his miraculous healing powers. Visitors have rubbed the statue smooth in hopes of curing their aches and pains. Our tour guide told us to rub the parts of the statue that corresponded to the part of our bodies that were painful and the pain would go away. I rubbed the statue’s legs; I needed help with my hamstrings that were still sore from the race. (Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the statue as photography was not permitted inside the temple.)
We stopped in a little Japanese restaurant for lunch that included soba noodles, fish, rice, and pickled vegetables. After several days of being in Japan, I had mastered the chop sticks but I still can’t slurp my noodles like a true Japanese diner. I enjoyed every meal that I had in Japan, including this one. After lunch, we boarded the bus for the approximately 40-minute trip to the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Park – home of the snow monkeys (or more formally, Japanese macaques).
It was a 1.8km walk from the bus parking lot to the snow monkey park. Walking nearly a mile on the packed snow and ice covered trail was the last thing I would have planned to do the day after a marathon. My hamstrings and quads were burning. I was very concerned that I would fall and re-injure my arm. But I had been thinking about this for months. Nothing was going to stop me now. Most of the runners in our group were wearing running shoes and rented Yaktrax at the gift shop at the bottom of the trail for added traction. I grabbed a ski pole that was stuck in the snow and used that to keep from falling as I hiked up to the snow monkey park. It took almost 30 minutes for me to hike up there.
The area where the snow monkeys hang out in the hot springs is similar to Yellowstone National Park – lots of bubbling, steaming sulfurous pools. According to our tour guide, the snow monkey park was started in 1964 to distract the monkeys from eating the area farmers’ crops. They put out food for the monkeys so they no longer disturb the crops. The snow monkeys did not naturally hang out in the hot springs. One monkey ended up in the water, possibly to clean their food before eating, and realized how comfortable it was in the cold weather. Soon the other monkeys were doing it as well. When they aren’t playing in the snow and throwing snowballs, the snow monkeys will hang out in the hot springs in the winter.
There are warning signs posted to not stare at the monkeys, talk to them, or feed them. This is not a zoo; the snow monkeys are really still wild animals. They can come and go as they please. What surprised me most of all was the number of people hanging around, taking pictures of them. The snow monkeys were completely unfazed by all the cameras and people except when someone tried to interact with one. Then the inner snow monkey came out – teeth bared and a nasty noise warning to stay away.
Football players may head to DisneyWorld when they win the Super Bowl but I think snow monkeys beats that any day. It was a long day to go there but worth every minute. It was the best post-race party I ever had and made the Tokyo Marathon trip more fun. They didn’t need to give me a medal at the end of the race. The trip to see the snow monkeys would have been enough. I am not sure how I will be able to top this adventure. It is going to be difficult.