This past week, I travelled halfway across the world – to run a marathon. The Tokyo Marathon specifically. I prefaced the 2 weeks before the marathon with traveling all over Japan to get over the jetlag (the one time that my stomach messed up my race was at the London Marathon and I blame that on jetlag). I made sure to come back to Tokyo on the Thursday before the race so I could get the expo out of the way as early as possible.
The perfect opening words would’ve been “race day dawned bright and clear.” Only this day dawned overcast with the potential to rain anytime.
All runners got an all day Tokyo Metro rail pass included with their packet. Given that Tokyo has quite a few different rail systems, it was a lucky coincidence that my hotel was on the Metro rail line which made it an easy 20min ride to get to the start. I had taken time to study the maps in the runners handbook and knew that the walk to my Gate 3 was a bit of walk from the station exit (Shinjuku, where the start area is, is a vast and very confusing station.). It took me a good 30 minute walk in the rain (just mild rain, not too heavy) to find my gate – luckily there were volunteers holding signs to gates everywhere.
Getting to the Corrals
On my walk to the gates, I saw runners everywhere – standing, changing, chatting, on their phone, hiding from the rain, etc. I did not have a single reason to wait around and immediately went through security. They scanned my band to let me in – and verified that it was me checking my bib and my photo that popped up on their scanner.
They checked my bag that I was going to check-in and made sure that I was adhering to the rule of no bottles (plastic included). The bag then got a “Security Approved” sticker on it. I noticed that some runners’ waist belts were inspected, mine was not even when I lifted up all the layers I was wearing. With the no bottle rule, and me needing something to mix the Tailwind in, I had taken in a small collapsable flask and showed it to the security. They waved me in – HUGE sigh of relief! I am so very used to drinking water while running and I’d now have something to carry the water in.
There were a ton of volunteers and a lot of them were wearing a red strip saying “English” to help if needed. Finding the truck to drop my bag off was very easy. I then headed straight to the corrals – my plan was to . A lot of people were sheltering under trees and bridges to stay dry, but with my plan to line up as far ahead as possible in my corral (K – the last but one corral), I headed straight to the corrals.
Then began the 1.5 hour wait in the rain and cold. I was very thankful for my “jacket” made of garbage bags and the shower cap that kept my hair dry and warm.
Beat the checkpoints – 10k
The race started at 9:10 and all corrals moved up one by one. I had positioned myself on one edge of the corral and as people kept walking to the start, I was able to inch myself up from the sides a little more. I crossed the line at 9:30:59 – 20 minutes and 59 seconds after the gun. This was a HUGE boost for me. I was hoping for the 20min difference in the best case scenario, but was expecting more of a 25-30min realistically (anything over 30min would’ve given me cause to worry).
After the first mile of trying to find some moving space, I started falling into a rhythm and settled into a pace. I NEVER try to run by the number on the watch and instead more by feel. In a race, I ask myself – “Does this pace feel like I can run it for X miles/time more?”. However, in this race I had to make a decision on what my race strategy was going to be.
Was I going to try for a PR which would be start slower and hold strong/run faster or start faster, beat checkpoints and then decide on how I feel?
Coming all the way to Japan, spending all those $$$$$ on travel for a family of 4, absolutely needing to complete the race to count towards the Abott’s World Marathon Majors, I decided that my A goal was to beat the checkpoints comfortably and not having to stress about them at every checkpoint marker. So I based my pace accordingly and ran ~12:45 min/mile for the first 10-15km. If I had been running for a PR, I would’ve started off only at a 13:15 min/mile pace. I knew that going out too fast in the first 10km would come back to bite me in the last 10km, but I’d be “safe” and I’d deal with it when I got to it.
I had gone to the loo at 6:35am, just before leaving my hotel, and the standing around in the rain and cold was taking its toll on me. I started looking around for a port-a-potty. I’ve seen from experience that the ones early on in races usually have long lines. But the ones in Tokyo – the lines were to be seen to be believed. Super super long!!! With the checkpoints looming at me, there was NO WAY I was going to wait for anything more than 2-3 people deep.
My family caught me just before the 10km checkpoint and gave me lots of cheers and shooed me away without hugs & kisses – even the minions knew about the checkpoints and my race to beat them!
I crossed checkpoint 9.9k at 10:50am, and the 14.6km checkpoint at 11:30am, both 10 minutes ahead of the cutoff times. Whew!
The course has plenty of out and backs and in the very first one, when I was on the ‘back’, I saw the balloon people or “Finish Support Runners” as they are officially called. They do not run an even pace, but instead run the minimum pace needed to perfectly meet checkpoints. So their pace between the 5.6km checkpoint and 9.9km checkpoint might be 10:xx min/miles, but their pace between the 34.2km and 39.8km checkpoint would be 14:xx min/miles.
Even though I was 10 minutes ahead of them at that point, I was shaken on seeing them and the flood of runners still behind them. I could not imagine, and did not want to imagine how those runners might be feeling or how they would feel when they would be pulled off.
I tried to look for a port-a-potty again. At this point all I could see was volunteers holding a sign showing toilets and an arrow, no sign of the toilets themselves! I saw people run off course, presumably following the arrow to toilets somewhere nearby and many more jump the barriers to rush into 7-11s that were plenty on the course. I did need to go, but again, I was NOT going to leave the course and fall behind anything more than 2-3 minutes out of the 10minutes buffer I had. Other runners say that they were able to find portapotty’s with short to zero lines after the half way point on the course, but everytime I would see one, there would be long lines.
When you gotta go, you gotta go. Let’s just say that I’m glad I have been a triathlete. And thank God it was raining.
I crossed the dreaded 30km checkpoint a whole 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff time and finally relaxed. There were 8-10 buses lined up at that checkpoint to transport the runners who would not make it. I could not help saying a silent prayer and offering to the Shrines and Temples along the course for helping me along to push to the checkpoint – inspite of a midrace trip a few km before and the discomfort of running in cold rain.
Mentally, I had told myself that my race was only until the 30km/19 miles checkpoint. My goal was to run that distance in an avr pace of 13:10 or less and I had run the distance in an avr pace of ~12:50 min/mile, pretty much holding steady from the 12:45 pace I had started the race at (I was doing a LOT of math while running – I trained to do math while running!). And on crossing the 30km marked, I was faced with another 12.2 km to go!
Unsurprisingly, the distance between 25-35km was some of the hardest miles of the race. But while I had held on until the 30km mark, I slowed down for the remaining distance. It was hard to go on at the same intensity once I had told myself that all I had to do was hold on to the pace for just 30km. (Also, I suspect that my training and the last 3 weeks trying to heal from tendonosis, and starting out a tad faster in the first 10km did not have me quite at that fitness needed to carry that pace for 10km more)
I slowed down quite a bit after that and gained about 8-10 minutes in the last 8 miles of the race from the pace I was holding earlier. Also as expected, Garmin was uber off in the distance and I finished with 43.7km/27.13 miles in 6hrs 2min for an average pace of 13:20.
Finishing up and having the song “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman playing pumped me up to get me my BEST race photo till day. This was either a roar or yelling “THIS IS ME” echoing the song.
After the finish, it was a very swift let down on finding no medal or the much needed space blanket. We were directed according to our bib color and given the long walk in the cold, it was surprising that there were not more cases of hypothermia that day! By the time I got my medal, I did not really care for anything except the need to warm up.
After bag pick up (my bag of course at the farthest most station). We were directed to changing stations inside buildings, and even though I had a meetup at my charity’s lounge, I decided to head home. The BEST part through the shivering walk was all the volunteers who clapped and cheered all the way through and kept my euphoria up.
Having already spent 2 weeks in Japan prior to the marathon (best decision ever!), I flew back the Monday after the race with huge thanks to Miss. FauxRunner, who officially turned Ms. FauxTeenager during the trip, for carrying our 3 suitcases up and down the million station stairs since I could not walk and carry at the same time.
I wish I could’ve gotten more photos of the course or talked to people on the course like I usually do. But I was soooooo focused on beating the cutoffs that I did not care for anything but the time on the clock. I had trained in so much nervousness for this, and it was a huge relief to have made the checkpoints – thanks to training (great coach and plan), starting the race only 21 minutes after the gun (thanks to early lining up and inching to the front of the corral), and being resilient to not need the portapotty to go (thanks to a previous life as a triathlete).
Tokyo Marathon, 4th star – DONE!
These are some of the weekly linkups hosted by great bloggers. Check out some of the posts in the linkups.
Meatless Monday – Confessions of a Mother Runner and A Whisk and Two Wands
Tuesday Topics Linkup – KookyRunner and Zenaida
Running Coaches Corner – Coach Debbie Runs, Train with Marc, and Crazy Running Girl
Fridays with Fairytales and Fitness
Weekly Run Down Link Up – Confessions of a Mother Runner and Kim Runs On The Fly.