Unpopular opinions and things I’m loving lately

Well this is really a random post! It’s a mix of things I’m loving at the moment and some unpopular opinions.

The unpopular opinions idea came from a post from Hungry Runner Girl and I thought it would be a fun post to do as well. I’ll throw my hands up and say it’s mainly food related but that should hardly surprise you 😉

  • I really don’t get Nutella. Yep starting with a big one. I mean, I like chocolate and I like hazelnuts. But together? As a weird thick paste you put on bread and crepes? Nope. Doesn’t do anything for me.
  • I also don’t get the craze for peanut butter (or any nut butters really). It could be because I don’t often have bread or toast. But I don’t see the appeal even on it’s own. It’s alright but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find any or eat it. I quite like a peanut butter chocolate flavour combo with cookies and ice cream but as a fun change rather than something I’d crave.
  • Toppings on porridge. In fact, I could say a whole lot about porridge and what people do to it. Cold overnight oats? Nope, no, nooo. The most exciting I do is putting protein powder in it.

  • Not one for the veggies… I really like eating my chicken with the skin on, and in general I’m a big fan of meat on the bone. I think it’s because I’m a mini T-Rex.

  • And one non-food related one. I’d rather get up at 5am to workout in the gym than do it in the evening. I can be motivated to run whenever, but going to the gym? Nope.

And onto things I’m loving lately…

This is fairly random but it made me laugh. Have you ever wondered what animal you’d be if you were to be one? On my two holidays I was called two different animals. The first was a hyena. This goes back to the eating meat from the bone (see above).I’m pretty good at getting as much meat as I can off it. It’s a well-honed skill. I like to think that back in the day (you know, a few million years ago) I’d have survived for a good amount of time as a neanderthal with that kind of ability.

In Tokyo I then got called a squirrel. This is because I have a fear of food running out and so to combat this I constantly carry snacks round with me. On the flight I had three different packets of crisps, two apples, a mini bag of pretzels and some turkey jerky. I didn’t eat them all but I felt happier knowing they were there.

This doughnut. Now I’m not a huge doughnut fan. I’m more of a cake-lover. However when I was in Southampton West Quay shopping centre I saw a “make your own doughnut” stand. Basically you could choose your own toppings…as many as you liked! For £1.50! I walked over to have a look – just a LOOK – and found myself with my purse in my hands perusing the menu before I knew what I was doing.I got a white chocolate covered doughnut with caramel sauce and caramel shrapnel.Caramel shrapnel? What a wonderful way to describe little droplets of sugary heaven. I won’t lie. I got it all over me in the middle of the busy shopping centre and I did not care.

Odd but tasty gels. My lovely friend, Mat (AKA triathlon legend) sent me some gels a while ago and I was FINALLY able to try them out during the marathon. Well, one of them anyway! Maple Bacon flavoured GU. Yes really.I have quite a strong stomach and have never had an issue with gels before so I was confident to just try it for the first time during the race (I live life on the edge…). It was really good. I love the flavour of maple bacon anyway (Kettlebites I’m looking at you) so this wasn’t too weird for me. Sweet and salty yumminess! (FYI: I believe he bought them from Amazon).

Tokyo goodies: When I finished the Tokyo Marathon (I’ll stop talking about this one day), we were first given a towel as we walked from the finish line. I was like “oh cool…but we still get a medal, right??” Thankfully we did, but getting a towel as well was pretty cool.I’ve only ever received a mini gym towel (and that was in place of a medal) but this is pretty damn good. Get me to a swimming pool/beach/plumbing disaster immediately!

I also got a technical t-shirt which (hallelujah!) actually fits.As I’m a fairly micro person I always opt for extra-small if it’s available as an option and this fits like a glove. I suppose it helps that Japanese women in general are quite small.

ASICS running gear from Millet Sports: Millet Sports kindly sent me a pair of ASICS leggings and ASICS running jacket to review.Firstly, apologies for the most ridiculously cheesy pose in this picture. Catalogue pose eat your heart out.

The jacket is brilliant. It’s quite thick, so perfect for when it’s really cold outside (like those ridiculously cold mornings or evenings we’ve been having). It has the fabulous thumb holes as well as a couple of nice pockets. It’s waterproof, breathable and has reflective dots over it so great for visibility when running in the dark. I just love the colour as well.It matches my new trainers!

The leggings are full length made from a breatheable stretch material, with a short zip at the ankles to give a bit of ventilation (I personally wouldn’t when running as it would flap, but I imagine after a run it’s lovely to have a bit of air). There’s a drawstring around the waist so there’s no worries about them slipping down mid-run as well. Though they’re not baggy they are less tight than other leggings I have, like ones from Fabletics or Lululemon which literally suck you all in. This makes running in them a lot more comfortable.

There’s also a back pocket slightly to the side which I like as sometimes a back pocket can annoy me with the zip, whereas slightly to one side is a bit more comfortable.

A great winter running outfit. Check out Millet Sports for more running gear!

What would be your ideal doughnut topping?

What animal would you be and why?

What’s your unpopular opinion?

**Full Disclaimer: I was sent the leggings and jacket for free in return for a review. All opinions are my own honest ones.**

Tokyo Recap – part 2

So to carry on with my Tokyo recap… (read part one HERE and the marathon recap HERE).

Warning: this is rather long post sorry!

The day before the marathon was really jam-packed. Because Chris (my new friend from the tour group) and I were thinking of running the marathon together we thought we’d better test out actually running together before fully committing. Basically to ensure neither of us were “Phoebe runners“. We met up in the hotel lobby in the morning and literally bumped into Wilson Kipsang and a bunch of other elite runners. I had a total fan girl moment by going up to him and asking for a photo.I did feel bad though as I didn’t recognise any of the other elites… so it was just Kipsang I had the photo or spoke with (he was lovely, more than happy to have his photo taken). They were then all herded off to a van with a guy who I assume was their coach/organiser where they were going for their own run.

Our run wasn’t quite as glamorous but still good. I was glad to have Chris with me as, let’s be honest, I could easily have gotten lost on my own or would have ended up doing a really boring out-and-back (with some cheeky undulations). Chris has a good sense of direction so I left the route to him! We were well matched in our pace and kept it nice and comfortable and chatted as we ran. We survived the run and decided we’d run together the next day – with the proviso that either us could ditch the other if the situation arose.

After the run and breakfast we headed out for the day. We started with going up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s a super tall high-rise and has a tourist observatory floor (202m high!) that you can go up for free. There are two towers so you can choose either North or South. I actually can’t remember the one we chose but it had a longer queue (as we got there just before it opened) so we figured we’d go with the most popular one.

Photos from Chris’ camera as it was better quality!

The views were amazing. You were behind glass so it wasn’t like the New York Empire State building but it was pretty good regardless. Each window had an explanation of what you could see which was cool. And on a more clear day you could apparently see Mount Fuji (actually on the last day I saw it from my own hotel room).

Then we headed out to walk to Yoyogi Park which is one of Tokyo’s largest parks. It was a really lovely walk and it’s where you can find Meiji Shrine, which we wanted to see.It was really beautiful. I think there was a wedding happening (though to be honest I have no idea I’m that culturally inept). Basically there were people all dressed fancily and there was a woman having her photo taken in a white dress. Though not a typical Western dress…but it was white. Who knows.Then from there we walked to the Shibuya area. I got swindled by a fake Buddhist Monk who gave me a bracelet and then demanded money from me. I gave him some change and then a Japanese woman ran up to us and basically explained that we were being swindled by a fake. It was nice of her to intervene. I got a bracelet out of it and lost some petty change so wasn’t too bad – the bracelet now reminds me to not be so stupid (probably need more than a bracelet tho…).

On the tour the day before we’d heard about cat cafes in Japan. Actually I’d heard about these before from Lily’s blog (always a good read for travel tips and London adventures). So I really wanted to find one. As we came out of the park we saw one straight away. Well we just had to go.It wasn’t really a cafe per se. You could get a drink but it wasn’t the main thing. You pay for the time you’ll spend in there (we paid for 30 minutes) and then you’re given a bit of cat food to entice the cats over and you sit and play with them. Rather odd… but fun! The cats were beautifully groomed and basically queens of their kingdom. They really were living the life.
You got some slippers and cat ears to wear while you were there. Very fun! Though we met a super intelligent American scientist working on the Juno project and I sat there chatting looking like a twat in a pair of fluffy cat ears.

After the cat cafe we were nicely placed to walk around Shibuya, where there were lots of shops. There were Japanese brands but also Western brands like Next, Laura Ashley, Body Shop, Nike, etc. It was great. After doing some shopping we found the nicest Starbucks I’ve ever been to.It was right at the top of one of the smaller high-rise department store and it opened out onto this beautiful roof-top terrace overlooking the city. Beautiful!I also enjoyed their blossom cup, which is apparently unique to Japan during the blossom season, though I found it amusing that I had to pay extra for milk!

We then found the very busy Shibuya crossing (next to the Shibuya Station) and watched the madness of one of the busiest crossings in the world happen over and over. Apparently it’s even more busy at night.Then it was time to hunt out some food. As I mentioned in a previous post we found a very small and cheap pizza/pasta place in the area and got our carbs sorted for the next day. The pizza was cooked just behind the counter in a proper pizza oven and it was delicious.

After more walking around we passed through Harajuku where we found two very brightly dressed girls…Then we meandered back to our hotel. As it was about 5 o’clock it was too early for dinner and we were fed up of walking so we decided to head to a bar in our hotel that we’d heard about. It was on the 45th floor and though rather expensive a lovely place to grab a green tea (mine was infused with apple!) and watch the sunset.Bliss! After 36,000 steps this was definitely a nice way to chill. We’d booked for dinner in the hotel restaurant for that evening so that was nice and easy too.

Then the marathon happened…go check out the recap!

After the marathon it was time to fully relax and enjoy ourselves. Chris and I headed out to find some food and had a meal in a tiny little restaurant in Shinjuku. The only problem was we had no idea really what we were ordering…

There was a salad bar buffet with unlimited miso soup which was nice (below photo). But I ordered chicken and it came raw. The waiter then turned on the grill in the centre of the table (we were wondering what that was…) and with comical sign language directed us to cook the food on there.Though the meal was very tasty (we also had rice with a raw egg on top that the waiter quickly mixed into the rice in front of us to cook it), it didn’t quite hit the spot. Bare in mind we’d only had breakfast, run a marathon and it was now about 5pm (and I have a bottomless pit of a stomach). So we went on the hunt for some more crepes.

Instead of crepes we found a fabulous little pudding cafe in Shinjuku (seemingly the only one in Tokyo, they really don’t go for their sweet stuff!). We saw two girls sharing this epic looking bread-pudding thing and immediately knew that was for us. We ordered a chocolate banana one to share and I had a Royal Milk Tea. The tea was basically super milky tea but it was delicious! I’m going to try and recreate at home…so comforting.The pudding looked AMAZING. I mean it was massive. Basically very slightly sweet bread (kind of like iced bun bread? In fact I’m not entirely sure it was sweet…) filled with chunks of toasted bread, a scoop of ice cream, a bit of custard sauce, cream and banana slices.If I’m honest, it looked a lot better than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong, it was tasty and we enjoyed pulling it apart but it wasn’t that sweet – one scoop of vanilla ice cream, a tiny bit of custard and cream… it was more bread than anything. We left most of the sides because it was just bread at that point as we’d eaten the more tasty elements. It was nice to try it but it didn’t satisfy my sweet tooth or the marathon runger within.

[Also, random note, but I love that they give you a warm cloth before meals so you can clean your hands!]

Then we headed back to meet up with others on the tour group to go to an Irish bar for a few drinks. It was nice being on the tour because you instantly had a connection with the other people: everyone loved running, had similar goals of completing the Majors and basically were just nice people. It was nice because you could all chat about how the marathon went. Normally at this point I’d be home and my family would be fed up of talking about it. But everyone wanted to talk about it!

I enjoyed quite a few Coroners and had a really good evening. We stayed until closing and as we walked back, Chris, another guy and me decided to needed a bit more sustenance. McDonald’s it was!

Now I haven’t had a McDonald’s since I was about 14. They’re not really my thing, but honestly it was absolutely necessary. And it absolutely hit the spot.I ordered a chicken burger and fries with a Diet Coke (DIET COKE! I missed this!) and after seeing the other guy (for the life of me I can’t remember his name) eating a Chocolate Triangle Pie I ordered one of those too (“premium cocoa and almond in the crust with a chocolate cream filling” Source). Flaky, warm, deliciousness.

The next morning I woke up at 4am not being able to sleep (I actually sent in my Marathon Talk submission for their Listener Podium, which was probably unwise after hearing my jumbled submission on the show last week…. Though I happily came second on the podium – the first lady was the lady I shared a cabin with at the Run Camp, by the way she’s over 60!).

My roomie also couldn’t sleep so we sat chatting for a bit. I idly checked the BA app to see if I could check in to the flight (we were flying that morning) and spotted that it said the flight was delayed. BY A DAY! What?? Panic and a mad FaceTime conversation with my dad ensued (dad’s always know what to do, Anna’s never do).

After a song and dance we had breakfast, headed to the airport as normal and had BA tell us we were delayed by a day. We were given food vouchers for lunch at the airport, a room at a nearby hotel (with free bus shuttles) and dinner and breakfast taken care of. Not too shabby!

A group of us, led by a very savvy and chirpy American, quickly organised a trip to Tokyo Disney which was about an hour away. About seven us made a mad dash to grab the next bus to the hotel to drop our bags off, to then come back to the airport to grab the Disney shuttle.Whew! We got to Disney just before midday.We were like little kids when we got into the park (we went to Disney Sea as it had more rides and attractions for adults).All the females in the group bought Disney ears and we giggled our way round the place.Tokyo Disney is good fun. It was fairly busy – literally full of kids in school uniform everywhere. Most of the rides had an hour plus to queue for them. But we mastered this by doing the Single Rider queues and managed to get on a fair number of rides. The one ride was couldn’t single riders for was queuing inside which I didn’t mind at all because it was VERY cold outside. It was actually quite fun to be amongst so many Japanese kids – so many cultural differences! So fascinating. And we’d only have been waiting around at the airport anyway so really it didn’t matter to me.However as the day got later and the sun started to disappear, I just got too cold to stay for much longer. Chris kindly said he’d leave with me so we headed back to the hotel together. I fell asleep on the bus back – it had been a long day!

The meals (both dinner and breakfast) were amaaaazing. So much food to choose from. I honestly had about three plates each time. At dinner the pudding was pretty cool – the pink fountain was kind of like strawberry sauce?? There were waffles, pancakes, mousses and cakes as well as Japanese sweets such as Daifukus (I had to google…”a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweet filling, most commonly anko, sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans” [Source] – oooh er.).

And another interesting thing in my hotel room (I now had my very own room, thank you British Airways) were a pair of pyjamas left on my bed, apparently complimentary for me to use. How very strange!

The only thing to add is that on the plane back most of us had done the marathon and everyone recognised or knew each other. A super friendly flight 🙂

After that VERY lengthy recap (apologies), I have to say I enjoyed Tokyo far more than I thought I would. I saw far more than I thought I would! I thoroughly enjoyed both the marathon and the trip.

Have you ever been to Tokyo?

What cultural differences have surprised you in different countries? If I thought people in America went Disney-mad it was NOTHING compared to the Japanese. Everyone, literally everyone, was wearing something Disney.

Has your flight ever got delayed? This was my first ever delay. It’s nice to know I should get just over £500 in compensation from BA for it.

Two cities, two runs, and two tasty meals

Well I have definitely had a bit of a whirlwind start to the year. Going to Orlando, then going to the Marathon Talk Run Camp and then going to Tokyo… And the fact that last weekend (the first weekend after Tokyo) I went to Bristol and then Swindon. So I’m really looking forward to a weekend of doing nothing!

To be fair though the weekend was really good. I drove up to Bristol and spent Friday night with my friends, Kate and Jamie (the ones I went to Orlando with). We had a nice home-cooked meal (with chocolate cake, love my friends) and then a gentle evening of TV watching. Exactly what I needed!

In the morning we didn’t have time for parkrun before picking up another friend from the train station so I got out early-ish to do a quick 3 miles on my own. Well, it was supposed to be a 3 miles until I got lost and ended up doing over 3.6 miles. Not too bad by my usual standards. I just couldn’t seem to work out what road I’d come down. It was OK though as I found a pretty pond and water feature to take a selfie with when I got my phone out to check where I was 😉The weather was just lovely and the scenery very pretty so it had to be done though I kind of wish I hadn’t got the bin quite so prominently in the photo!

The run felt good. It was the second run I’d done since the marathon. On Thursday night I’d run with my friend, Mike. Stupidly we’d gone almost 8 miles… I really shouldn’t have post marathon because, well, I’m so fragile and injury prone but we had a lot to catch up on. We call these runs “therapy runs”. Mike’s a good friend and we always have good chats about life and the universe on these runs. My legs definitely felt heavy and it was a slog but it was a good run regardless.

Anyway Saturday’s run felt better. Then I got back and got ready to head out for a day of fun with my friends. We were celebrating Kate’s birthday and were heading to one of those “locked in” room games, called Puzzlair. We’ve done one previously and it was brilliant. This one was very similar but equally as stressful.The people that ran it was so friendly and helpful. The whole reception area was covered with people leaving feedback all over the walls, it was quite impressive. The idea behind the game is that you get locked in a room that’s full of clues. You have one hour to get out of the room. There are things to open using codes and keys that you have to find everywhere. It’s such good fun but you really do have to think hard and clearly. If you get really stuck there’s a TV that gives you clues (the organisers watch you and so can help you when you need it). But even those tips are still cryptic. We got out with 2:35 mins to spare!From there we headed to a really tasty Lebanese place that I’ve been to before and loved. We ridiculously over-ordered. I mean, we would have been OK had there been four Annas not one Anna and three normal people…It was so tasty; lots of lamb koftas, lamb cutlets, chicken wings, prawns, shawarmas, couscous, flat bread, rice…and lots more. It overcame us (yes, even me. I was clearly having an off-day). We got it wrapped up to take back though. I was staying with Kate again for Saturday night so dinner was sorted!

The next morning I headed off early to meet my new friend from Tokyo, Chris, in Swindon for a run. He’s an off-roading pro and offered to give me a fun running experience just outside of Swindon. He warned me it would be hilly and muddy so I came prepared with my trail shoes. I rarely do any off-road running and I’m keen to get more into it as I need to change things up from all the road running. I’m hoping that’ll help keep me more injury free as well!

He’d picked a fantastic route, just a small section of the Ridgeway (apparently the oldest road in Europe! And part of the iconic Race to the Stones ultra race). We parked up and ran a 4.5 mile route out and back. It was muddy straight away but then we headed across grasslands which was a lot easier underfoot. The wind was behind us which was great…but as we were doing an out-and-back not so great for later.

The views going up the hills was really beautiful. I twas a fantastic run where the miles just ticked off because there was a lot to see and the terrain so varied, going across grass, up hills, along stones… it was a lovely run.As we turned around at 4.5miles (after a rather punishing steady incline) the wind was right against us. Then the rain began. It got very tough. Honestly, the last two miles of the run with that icy wind blowing strongly against us (I felt like I wasn’t even moving, or worse getting blown away at times!) I truly believe that the last two miles of the marathon the other week were easier! It was funny because though Chris might have struggled a little on the marathon he seemed absolutely fine against the elements and off the road. I really had to dig deep and have a word with myself. It’s amazing how you can be OK at running one type of terrain but completely out of your comfort zone in another. I was glad that Chris had seen me running at the marathon otherwise he might have thought I was pants at running (and a moaner…).

We couldn’t even talk much (and not just because I was slowly dying), the wind was so strong I couldn’t hear a thing! By the end of the run I was shattered but felt really accomplished. I survived!Embarrassingly when I uploaded the run to Strava I wrote “ridiculously easy” run as the title, meaning “ridiculously windy” – no idea how “easy” came up! It was only when a friend commented that I realised. No it was 100% NOT easy!!As I hadn’t had any breakfast or a coffee that morning and we were both very cold (even though I wore gloves my hands were freezing – I don’t know how Chris managed without any on), we headed straight to Starbucks. We were covered in mud and looking a state (well, my hair was definitely something to behold!) but I just needed a hot drink. Then we got showered and sorted and headed out for a lovely pub lunch. Exactly what you need after a windy, cold and hilly run!

We went to the The Harrow Inn in Swindon and it was lovely, a very cosy country pub. I had a butternut squash soup to start (so thick and tasty) and roast pork shoulder for a main.There was veg as well but I was too hungry to snap a proper photo. It was really tasty and filling. We both spotted something on the pudding menu that took our fancy (brownie for me, no surprises there) but sadly they didn’t have the sticky toffee pudding for Chris so we decided to give it a miss. We were quite full anyway (who even am I right??) so it wasn’t too bad.

Then it was time to head off home and finally be reunited with my furry little friend, Alfie, who I hadn’t properly seen since before Tokyo. A lovely weekend with lovely people 🙂

Have you ever done a locked in room?

Are you good with solving puzzles and clues?

What’s your favourite roast dinner?

Tokyo Recap (with the Tokyo Marathon Expo) – part 1

I literally don’t even  where to start with my recap of the Tokyo trip. It definitely exceeding my expectations!

I‘ve decided to write this up in two portions: the first one a few days before the marathon, and then the second the day before the marathon and the after math. Sorry if I’ve waffled too much!

Yes I was looking forward to the trip – it’s Japan after all and I’ve never been to that side of the world. But I was concerned about the marathon and how that would go (no change there then…) and it was only a very short trip with a ridiculous 12 hour plane journey and nine hour time difference.

The plane wasn’t actually too bad. I’d had a nice big meal at Giraffe and had a plan to watch one film, then take a couple of melatonin tablets and then attempt to sleep.Yes it would be late afternoon UK time but I was keen to get into the time zone as soon as possible (it would be very late evening Tokyo time). Well it didn’t quite work out that way and I only managed three hours of disjointed sleep (the tablets did help tho to get me off to sleep gently). It was just too noisy and I was too uncomfortable to sleep long periods.

The plane, by the way, was completely full, which surprised me actually. And I’d say 80-90% we’re going purely for the marathon. Either to run it or to support someone else running it. Honestly you couldn’t move for people discussing their PBs, last races and marathon game plans. There were a lot of skinny people on that flight I can tell you!

It quickly became apparent that most people were doing exactly what I was doing: getting through the Marathon Majors (Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Berlin and Tokyo). I mean I guess it makes sense, it’s a long way to randomly run a marathon. I felt woefully inadequate with “only” having run two of them.

After the long journey, we arrived at Narita airport. I enjoyed my first Japanese toilet experience… I wasn’t brave enough to try the different buttons (yet!) but I did enjoy the heated seat 😉Our tour group met up (by the way, Sports Tours International was absolutely fantastic. I can’t recommend them enough for making everything easy and simple!) and I found I was standing amongst lots of people who had either made friends on the plane or were there with their support person… I had sat with a lady from another tour group on the plane so felt a bit alone. I started chatting to a guy who looked around my age and was also alone. It became apparent that neither of us were psychos and that we got on well so we stuck together. His name is Chris and we spent most of our time together on the trip, which was nice because I had visions of me wandering aimlessly around Tokyo on my own!

The tour company took us via coach straight to the Expo. This was actually perfect as the Expo is quite a way from the centre of Tokyo where we were staying and though the company provided transfers to the Expo on any of the days leading up to the marathon, it was nice to get it done straight away before the rush.I have to say as expos go, this wasn’t the best. It was fairly small and quite a sensory overload. I’m sure this is just a cultural difference but it was a lot Japanese being shouted at you while being handed leaflets you couldn’t read. Everyone was super polite but it was a bit crazy after my lack of sleep.There were a few samples of strange Japanese products (sweets, strange dried food, a nonalcoholic beer, etc.). And a stand of tomatoes…a big thing for aid stations apparently!The clothing section was just ASICS (the sponsor) and asides from the official jacket it wasn’t great. I was a bit disappointed as I remembered Boston and Berlin being amazing with so much to waste/spend your money on. I bought a jacket and that was it.Then Chris and I headed for some food in a food hall as it was lunch time.So my first experience of Japanese food wasn’t exactly the most authentic but it filled a hole and was quite tasty. I had a chicken steak and a burger steak with rice and vegetables. And it quickly became apparent Diet Coke isn’t a thing in Tokyo sadly!

After getting back and having a MUCH needed shower, we headed out to do some exploring. Our hotel (which was lovely! And also where the elites were staying) was really central in Shinjuku.

So we walked to the madness of the main area of Shinjuku which was just a craziness of colours, sounds and busyness. Honestly it was quite overwhelming on such little sleep! But it was fantastic. I didn’t know where to look. There were just so many tiny little restaurants everywhere and arcades screaming multi-colours and sounds. Eventually after walking around just soaking it all in, we found a tiny little restaurant for dinner. I say restaurant but really it was more of a cafe.And the meal was delicious. I found I was quite adept with my chopstick skills but that towards the end of the meal my hand would get tired! It was pork stir-fry with white rice, miso soup and dumplings. Very nice!Thankfully I managed to get a good night sleep that evening – which was good because I’d randomly signed up last minute to the Mount Fuji trip that Sports Tours International had offered and we were off fairly early. After a delicious buffet breakfast (there was a lot to choose from, from more Western options like scrambled egg and bacon, to ratatouille and fish – I went for a mixed bag)…We then headed to the beautiful Lake Ashi to see the mountain in the distance. Unfortunately the clearest views we got were from the coach as we drove alongside it…But the lake was gorgeous and you could still see Fuji in the distance, though with more cloud coverage. I tried my first ever matcha latte which was quite tasty though quite sweet.And then we headed off to a little town where we could do a bit of shopping (lots of little Japanese shops selling traditional Japanese craft work and food). There was also this shop that sold lots of Japanese treats and the best part was that you could try them all as there were tester boxes everywhere!! I was in my element.We then got lunch, which was another buffet – which I love as it means you can try everything!From there we headed to a rather odd but fun pirate boat which took us across a lake so we could see the views from there and then take a cable car to a volcanic valley (called Jigokudani: the Valley of Hell) in Owakudani, Hakone, where there was a huge crater and lots of sulphuric smoke rising up everywhere.The area of the crater was famous for its black chicken eggs, which are basically just normal chicken eggs but boiled for an hour in water containing sulphur and iron. Obviously I had to try it!Yeah they just tasted like regular boiled eggs and they looked exactly like normal eggs inside. But worth a try!

The day was fantastic! I’m so pleased I signed up to it. I found out a lot about Japanese culture as well as on the coach the tour guide was a lovely Japanese lady and she explained so much about life in Tokyo and how things were.

We got back about 7pm and so headed out to find some dinner. I was ravenous at this point and unfortunately quickly found out that Friday night in central Tokyo is a busy busy place and despite there being hundreds of restaurants everywhere, to get a seat anywhere was proving to be virtually impossible. Eventually we found a little restaurant. It felt like quite a hipster place (if that exists in Japan!). There were young Japanese guys looking rather fashionable and smoking. It’s so odd (and unpleasant) that people can smoke in restaurants!Unfortunately the waiter spoke limited English and after lots of pointing, hand gestures and facial expressions we were able to order. It was kind of like Tapas… you ordered a bunch of small things, like deep fried sweet potato, pork, a single chicken wing (yep, had to be done), tofu in broth and squid dumplings (in the photo). It was very tasty but it wasn’t quite enough for me. 

Luckily I’d already clocked a pudding spot on our journeys…We enjoyed a very tasty fruit, cream and chocolate sauce crepe. It made me laugh when the server asked if I wanted a spoon… like how would I eat this otherwise?? Then it was off to bed. The next day Chris and I planned to have a shake-out run to test the waters to see how running together would be (we were thinking of running the marathon together as we seemed well matched in pace and goals). Then we had a jam-packed day planned to hit several different tourist sites we wanted to see…

Have you ever been to Tokyo before?

What’s your favourite crepe topping?

Do you like Japanese food?

Tokyo Marathon 2017

The Tokyo marathon is my third Marathon Major (I’ve done Berlin & Boston previously) and my eighth marathon. My training wasn’t great having suffered from an annoying shin/calf niggle which stopped me doing any non-stop long runs longer than 16 miles. Towards the end though I’d gotten in enough miles to feel relatively confident at surviving it and the goal was to have fun, take some photos and come in around 3:45-4 hours uninjured.

I’ll do a recap of Tokyo itself but this post is just focusing on the race itself as I know that’s probably what people are most interested about!

I’d used Sports Tours International in order to get my place for the marathon as FYI it’s ridiculously hard to get in through the ballot (similar to London). This way I was guaranteed a bib and the organisation of everything was out of my hands, which, let’s be honest, is always required for me as I’m a certified idiot. Yes it’s an expensive way of doing it but it covered the flights, transfer to/from the airport, got me to the Expo, had us in central Tokyo is a perfectly located hotel (Keio-Plaza, which I fully recommend. The elites stayed there too – if it’s good enough for Kipsang, eh!) and provided us with lots of info and tips. I’ll most likely be using them when I do the New York marathon.

Just to put things into context, I’d met a guy called Chris from the tour group on my first day and we pretty much hung round together the entire time. He’s a lovely guy and it was nice to have someone to share the trip with! Our pre-marathon meal was a bit of an odd one. The problem we had was the centre of Tokyo where the restaurants were would be stupidly busy being Saturday night and also having thousands of people there for the marathon. So to avoid the stress of trying to find somewhere, we decided to book a table in one of the hotel’s restaurants. At lunch we’d found a very cheap but very nice pizza and pasta place (right off of the Shibuya crossing).We wanted to make sure we got a significant carby meal while we could without stressing at dinner not finding anything appropriate. So dinner was a bit more relaxed, but ironically a lot more expensive and a lot more posh. It was a seven course a la carte affair. But it was DELICIOUS. And it was nice to see two other tables full of the wheelchair elites and some less famous but still elite marathoners around us.The night before I really struggled to get to sleep. We’d done A LOT during the day – walked over 36,000 steps seeing lots of Tokyo. But I still couldn’t sleep. At midnight I eventually took a melatonin tablet to help and read my book. Just before 1am I fell asleep.My alarm went off at 6am and I got myself together. I was sharing a room with a lovely lady called Nathalie and we were both nervous. It was nice to have her there though to chat to in the morning as we got ready. (Initially I’d been nervous about sharing a room with someone I didn’t know but Nathalie was a dream to share with. We had zero issues and it never felt awkward or weird. She was lovely).I met Chris for breakfast at 6.25am in the hotel and it was teeming with other runners grabbing breakfast. It was fascinating seeing what other people were eating and being amongst other runners – it was such a buzz! I’d brought my own porridge with me and used some hot milk and hot water from the coffee area to make it up (so handy) and also had a slice of toast with butter and jam, alongside a black coffee.Chris and I had decided to run together as we both had similar goals (neither had a specific time goal) and similar paces. We’d run the previous day together as a tester and we were well-suited. We wanted to enjoy the race not push any sort of time goal. Though we were in the same wave we were given different gate numbers to use to get there. I assume this is to reduce traffic. From the breakfast room I could actually see my gate we were that well located!

Just after 7am we decided to head out to our gates. The race would start at 9.10am and we had bags to drop (we had an exact bag drop location too per bib – it was super organised). You can only take the see-through plastic bag with you that was given at the Expo and there’s a security area you walk through in order to get into the race area.Chris and I agreed to meet up in our pens after the bag drop and handily I was able to still use the hotel WIFI as we were so close so I could WhatsApp him if needed. The portable toilets were all over the place and were either Japanese style (a kind of hole in the ground affair…) or said “Western Style” on the door. There weren’t a huge number of Western Style ones (my preference) but they had the shorter queues which was handy! This might be because the majority of the runners were Japanese – by a long way.There were a few aid stations about the place offering snacks and this Pocari Sweat (yep, its actual name) electrolyte stuff. I thought it would be like water but it was gloopy gel stuff. Nice but not what I expected! Then it was a case of waiting in our pen for things to start. It was a cold morning and I was so thankful that my mum had given me an old jumper she no longer needed.It kept me VERY warm. We also had a nice spot on the curb to sit so it was all very relaxed.

Then we heard them announcing the elites. Eventually it was our turn. As the race began a huge explosion of paper petals erupted into the sky and showered down on the starting runners. It was one of the best starts I’ve ever seen! It was fantastic! We were pen C and they were still falling around us as we headed over the start.We settled into a nice comfortable pace and felt the delights of a downhill start. We had to keep our pace in check though as it was so easy to be running a lot faster due to feeling fresh and the course profile – the first mile was 7.33min/mile which was dangerous. We then tried to keep around 8 minute miles and avoided anything below that.Annoyingly as we got into the first mile I realised I needed the loo. I mentioned it to Chris and he said he’d happily stop for a loo break too. By mile two we were actively looking for toilets. At mile three we found a sign point round the corner and we made the decision to stop there. Annoyingly as we turned the corner we saw a crowd of people waiting. There was even barriers to create a queuing system! Oh well, the decision had been made. I realised that I’d have no choice on the type of toilet either and got to use my first ever Japanese style toilet… needs must!

It took about three minutes in total (not that I was clock watching or anything…!!) and it was a surreal experience to stand waiting in a queue while a marathon is steaming ahead down the road. I was grateful to have the stop though as I truly did need to pee. It wasn’t a mental thing, it was an actual need-to-pee situation.

I was a bit worried as I knew my dad was going to track some of the race using the app and I knew he’d see this 10.40ish mile and wonder what was going on. (When I spoke to him afterwards he said it did concern him until I then carried on running consistent miles afterwards).

And then we got back to the marathon and got back into the rhythm. The miles ticked off really quickly. We chatted as we were going along. Chris has run more marathons and more Majors than me so I was able to ask him lots about different marathons and get some tips for Chicago and New York. We also chatted about races that we’d coincidentally run the same year as each other (like Berlin 2014 and Bristol Half 2013). My mind was so off the actual running that I missed the mile I normally take my first gel (mile 8). I decided to just skip it and wait until my next milestone which was half-way.

At around mile 7 we hit our first out and back. I think (though I’m not entirely certain) at some point during the coming miles is when we saw the elites running back the other way. Well, I just had to get my phone out of my Flipbelt to grab a photo! I managed to this while not looking at my camera and just blinding snapping as I wanted to see them rather than see them through my phone. They were absolutely steaming it, as you can imagine.The out and backs were fairly interesting at first as we could watch the ridiculous fast runners coming along and it was a nice way to take your mind off of the running. But eventually the out and backs got tedious as you’d be running down the same road for so long and still know you’d have to come back down the other way. It was mentally tough and I flagged a bit mentally during the 10-14 miles.

What made things worse was how far our watches were out. There were no mile markers to be certain so we’d have to do maths in our head to work out from the kilometres but as we saw half-way on the other side of a road and looked at our watches to find we were well over half-way at that point it was frustrating. We still had to go down a section of road and then come back. By that point we were .3 miles out.

The Tokyo Tower

I took my first gel – an SIS with caffeine – at this point. Again the miles continued to tick by. The course wasn’t entirely flat. There were a few short inclines and then declines. Not as flat as Berlin but relatively flat. No nasty hills to climb.At this point the sun was beating down quite strongly. I was hot and it was very sunny. At every water station we got water. It was nice to have Chris with me as he reminded me to get water each time. There was the Japanese sports drink, Sweat, but I avoided that and went for plain water. They came in paper cups which I didn’t mind. The only annoying thing was that the water stations were only on one side of the road which made getting in and out very tricky.

There were also food stations which contained bananas, orange slices, dried prunes, tomatoes, and even stranger, bread rolls! Apparently the rolls contained chocolate sauce inside. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to eat a bread roll during a marathon! But the Japanese were mad for them.I did try the tomatoes though. They were cold and crisp and a positive delight! The only downside is that the skin does get stuck in your teeth a bit.Another interesting observation was just how many men there were in comparison to women. There were barely any women! Also, wearing just a vest was a real rarity for the Japanese men unless they were super speedy at the front.There was lots of support all round the course which was nice. The Japanese people came out in force with signs, banners and cuddly toys. They cheered and seemed to be having a whale of a time.The out and backs started to get more and more tedious after a while. Seeing the same long city road for mile after mile was getting tough mentally. But our pace was still looking good and at one point we realised we were running 7.30 again and slowed down a bit. I’d never felt so comfortable in a marathon before. Everything felt good physically. It was just keeping ourselves entertained that was tough. The sites were few and far between for what we recognised and we were fed up of tall buildings and uninteresting streets.At around mile 18 I wanted to take another gel but it was a thicker GU one that needed water. Chris is 6ft 2 so could see over the tops of the shorter Japanese runners so I got him on water station watch for me so I could plan my gel eating moment perfectly. Very handy to have him with me! The gel was a Maple Bacon flavoured one which was AMAZING. So tasty.

As we got to mile 20 I couldn’t believe how the miles had just flown by. It was clear that running with company had made things a lot more interesting and bearable. I still felt comfortable and ready to put the hammer down a bit. 10k to go!

We ran down another out and back, this time I really long one, as we saw the “5k to go sign” on the other side.It was dispiriting to see that I have to say…but we knew as soon as we got to the turnaround point we’d be on the home straight. But that bloody road went on forever I tell you. There had been different entertainment bits around the course. There were children doing dance routines, cheerleaders, Japanese traditional dancers, drummers, formal bands, rock bands. There was a lot going on! But during the later stages of a marathon on a hot day it can be tough to keep the demons away no matter what’s going on.

As we hit 22 miles, Chris started to struggle a bit. He was losing his mental battle and I could see him fading. I started nattering away to him about fluff and nonsense to hopefully take his mind off of things. I’m sure I was annoying him but he reassured me that it was OK. I also found that if I waved to the crowds they’d erupt into cheering. So I kept doing that and it helped lift us both.

As we FINALLY got to the “5k to go sign” I said to Chris “just a parkrun to go”. Then he pulled up short grabbing his hamstring. Ahh no!!! He moved to the side and started stretching. I jogged on the spot and didn’t know what to do. We’d already told each other we’d run to the bitter end with the other – I wasn’t bothered about my time as I’d already said and it was nice to run with someone – so I wasn’t going to leave him. But I wasn’t sure what to do to help his hamstring. If he’d pulled it it could mean game over. I started to worry a bit. Luckily the stretching helped and we carried on.

He continued to struggle a bit and, what he later told me, had just gone into himself to sort his demons out. He stopped during the water stations and I didn’t realise and so had to run back to him – which was a bizarre experience, running the wrong way in a marathon against the tide!

The last two miles were tough. I was feeling really quite good but I could see Chris wasn’t quite on board with how I was feeling so I had to be careful I didn’t leave him behind. I carried on waving and cheering to the crowd and this helped I think. If I’m honest, I was having a whale of time. I felt very guilty for enjoying myself as much as I was but I felt really comfortable and was loving the crowds cheering us on.

I mean, I was tired and my legs were aching but I was feeling on top of the world. Though the final push to the finish went on and on. Our watches beeped past 26 miles and the finish line was nowhere near us. We had a long road to run down which was full of supporters so great to wave to, but it just seemed to go on forever. Then FINALLY we turned a corner to see the finish ahead. Well, it was a bit of a disappointing finish as it really wasn’t that obvious!

As we crossed the line we hugged. We’d made it! My official time was 3:41:02. My Garmin told me I’d run 26.9 miles!!Actually, everyone I spoke to later had reported similarly. I almost wish I’d gotten to 27 miles 😉Then it was time for the longest post-race walk I’ve ever done. We were given a towel, the Sweat water, a banana, a bag, a foil wrapper, free samples…and then FINALLY our medals.Honestly all I wanted was my flipping medal! We didn’t need the foil blankets either as it was bloody hot. I could feel my face was already beetroot. Oh dear.I looked at my steps on my watch and we’d done about 45,000 steps. By the time we got to our shuttle bus to take us back to the hotel we’d walked over 50,000 steps. I kid you not. We wanted to sit down but we knew that would be game over. So we kept walking, filling our bag up with freebies, getting our photos taken, snapping selfies and then eventually sitting down in the bus. Whew.I can honestly say this marathon was the “easiest” marathon I’ve ever run. The course wasn’t great I have to say – it was boring. There were sights to see, like the Skytree and the Tokyo Tower, but it was mainly just out and backs along the same long wide city roads with tall buildings either side. The crowds however full made up for that with their cheering and support. They were super. There was also a lot of fancy dress to keep us amuse (lots of people wearing funny hats and costumes). I think that the company definitely helped though. It was nice to have someone to chat to around the course and help lift me in dark moments, and then keep me focused on helping lift him in his dark moments. I also felt well within myself running and felt comfortable the majority of the time.One of the best parts was all the volunteers. They were fantastic. At the end I must have had “congratulations” said to me about 1,000 times. They high-fived us and smiled and just basically told us we were amazing as we walked down collecting our different bits and bobs. And then at the bag drop there was just lines of them clapping and cheering us. I honestly felt like a celebrity! It was lovely. (Though volunteer did say “commiserations” to me which I found amusing. Yes “commiserations” indeed to my legs!).

Basically, I’m over the moon with this marathon. It was fantastic. I loved it. It went far better than I could have imagined. Chris was happy with his time too which was good. It was definitely a team effort!I felt pretty damn good after the marathon. It has made me think about what I want to do next…

Have you ever been to Japan?

Have you ever run a marathon with another person?