Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Running in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan: follow the river...s

I like discovering cities by foot, I mean running. To share my experience for others to do the same. Nowadays though, there are so many runs already documented, I don't feel much of an explorer. Yet, I may contribute my ultra bias as a complement to the many shorter runs posted on the web. And it's super cool to receive from time to time an acknowledgement that such a 'Running in..." post helped a runner out there.

After an overnight layover in Seoul, long enough to tour the city but not practical to run, our first stop in Hokkaido, Japan, was in Sapporo, most known for the 1972 Winter Olympics and the beer of the same name.  As a grid pattern of North-South and East-West streets, the layout of the city is quite easy to figure out and you can easily find free maps at the airport (information booth) or in the hotel lobbies. However, the trouble comes if you need to figure out an address in Japanese, unless you read kanjis and kanas of course... Having visited Tokyo several times, this confirms that English isn't as pervasive in the rest of the country, starting with signage.

Between this challenge of not being able to read street names and the numerous intersections where locals patiently wait for the green sign to cross (no jay walking here!), I aimed at running along the river where I spotted a superb bike road on both sides. Besides, we were going to roam the city by foot with Agn├Ęs later, so better put some good running before breakfast! Not only are we 16 hours ahead of California here but sunrise is much earlier, 4:20 am at the end of July (with sunset before 8 pm), so better get up early.
By river in the title, I mean the Toyohira River which flows by the south east side of the city.

On Tuesday I went 8 mile to the south from the place we were staying at (Art Hotels, near the Nakajima Koen subway station), the tall 25-floor building on the right:

It was sunny and perfect for a great 19-mile run. On the opposite, Wednesday was pouring rain but I still went out and 10.5 miles to the north, to the confluent between the Toyohira River and a much larger one, the Ishikan River which ends a few miles farther in the Pacific.

There isn't much to say and share about the course; like I said in title, as you just follow the river. Although, when you get to the South and run on the right bank (that is on the left side of the river, going against the current), you'll get to a fork at the Makomanai Park (open air stadium) with the small... Makomanai River, which, like the previous river, has a nice bike path on its right bank.

To be honest, I didn't know which river I was then following but I had checked on Google Maps before leaving and couldn't see a trail continuing south of the Park along the Toyohira River so I was glad this bike path went for a few more miles, and turned back in Tokiwa after the bike path ended anyway.
Quite an impressive public library for such a small suburb (Tokiwa).
I found a few toilets and water fountains about 6.5 miles south of my starting point on Tuesday. Here is the one at the end of the Sapporo Minami trail system.

On Wednesday though, I did see a few porta-potties outside the city, but no drinking fountains so I was glad to have 2 water bottles with me for this 21-mile run. Also, after about 4 miles on the northern side of the city, you are pretty much on your own, in the country side, and I only saw 2 cyclists in 2 hours. Better not need anything while you are up there (I was running with my phone but, in the rain, didn't get out to check if there was cell coverage or not).


Overall, amazing bike paths to put some serious mileage, albeit some flat one (my Tuesday run shows 500-feet of cumulative elevation but I barely noticed the elevation gain). the bike path along the city section is so smooth and flat that it turned into many large puddles on Wednesday and I came back to the hotel quite soaked.

Here are my runs on Strava, respectively to the South on Tuesday and the North on Wednesday. In case you pass by Sapporo...

Early long runs, hot spring bath in the evening to sleep like a baby, some beer tasting at the Sapporo museum, yummy and super fresh/tender sushi and sashimi, I could get used to this life... ;-)
PS: as an alternative run, to visit downtown Sapporo, I found this 12-km one interesting.

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