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?