Team USA Minnesota's Mandy Zemba made the most of her trip to Yokohama Japan for the Ekiden Marathon Relay. Here's what she has to say about the experience: "The Ekiden experience is an amazing one. It is great to go to a new country and see the different culture and how they do things competition wise. We made fools of ourselves many times when it comes to their culture, but we had shirts that said: 'I am a stupid American, please forgive me.'
"Japan is a great place, and the people are extremely nice and respectful. All of the athletes in the Ekiden were treated very well, and the Japanese runners are looked at as stars. The event is run very smooth, and it is one of the best run events I have been to. We had a great interpreter and whatever we needed, they made sure we got it. A lot of people get excited about the Ekiden and the whole race is even broadcast on the local television station as well as coverage before the event. It is crazy to see how excited they get about their runners because you don't really see that kind of enthusiasm about running in the US. You can definitely tell they take great pride in how they do in the Ekiden.
"This is my second international experience and it is great to get to interact with other runners from the other countries. It is a friendly competition and it is nice to get to connect with other runners from around the world.
"I was lucky enough to get the first leg of the race, which is a fast 5K. I was able to have people around me the whole time to push me. It was so much fun to be competitive and race hard while wearing the USA jersey. I was a little worried when I was warming up because the start is right by the water and it was an extremely windy day (over 30mph winds), but I tried to draft (though I was taller than most of my competition), and once we got in the city I didn't really notice the wind. A few of my teammates had quite a strong headwind pretty much for their whole leg. I was just focued on staying relaxed and being competitive, and my race was over before I knew it. I was hoping to run under 16:00, so I was happy when I got to the exchange zone in 15:40. That put me in eighth place which is crazy to think a time I was happy with put me in eighth, but I am learning there are a lot of fast runners around the world.
"Instead of using a baton like other relays, we had to pass a sash that we wore around our torso, to our next teammate. I was lucky enough to get to start with it so I only had to worry about taking it off and handing it off before I dropped it. We all had anxiety about the sash passing, but luckily we had one to practice with. It's not too convenient while you are trying to put your kick into gear to figure out how you are going to get the sash off your body. Then, when you are completely exhausted and the end of your leg, you have to hold the sash tight in front of you with both hands so you can hand it off to your teammate. They then have to try to set a good pace while trying to get the sash on their body.
"Another thing we found quite interesting was the 'presentation coats' they gave us. They were these huge, fluffy coats that came down past our knees that they wanted us to wear when we were waiting to run to keep us warm. To us, they look quite funny, but they are extremely warm and cozy. Luckily we get to keep them because they might come in handy in the Minnesota winter.
"As for Delilah, there were a couple of Japanese girls at the opening ceremony that wanted to get a picture with her, but we don't really know why. It could be they know the song story, but we're not sure. That was the only incident though, no one else made a big deal about it and we never heard the song while we were here. It was a great experience, and I would love to do it again if I get the opportunity. I got to meet some new friends in the running world as well as experience a new culture."
Photo by Victor Sailer http://www.photorun.net/.