Here it is! The big one (until the next big one). The culmination of 5 months of difficult and sporadic training across Asia!
Did I train hard enough? Did I do enough long runs? Would all the beers and delicious foods I’ve been stuffing my face with count against me? Would I be able to sneak under 3 hours, or perhaps post a better time? What did i have for breakfast in the morning of the race? How many toilet visits did I make? Will anyone read this?
All these important questions will be answered in the next few minutes so keep reading! Or don’t. Your choice of course. I don’t want to force you to read it obviously.
Anyhow, where was I? Yes, we arrived in Japan and more specifically Tokyo and had a week’s count down before the big day itself, so we travelled around the country with Cat’s sister Rachel and her husband Phil for some solid tourism (however that will be covered in the Japan blog post so keep your eyes peeled for it).
Let’s get back to race matters, and firstly as always the pre race expo!
Having not arrived back in Tokyo until the Friday, it meant we had to leave our expo visit until the Saturday, which as all you ardent marathoners know is a big mistake if you are wanting to avoid the crowds. However with Cat and Phil in check (Rachel was laid up ill in bed with woman flu and bro et al were out looking at the imperial palace) we set off to the Tokyo dock lands area where the expo was being held in a conference centre called Tokyo Big Sight (which looks a little bit like a James Bond evil villain’s lair). Similar to London and the Excel centre it takes a while and a few subway lines to reach the place, but was actually quite a useful journey, as this is where the marathon ends and the last few miles of the route approach.
As well as picking up my race number, timing chip, t-shirt and general freebies I also needed to grab some gels for the race and also some arm sleeves which I thought may be useful if the day was a bit chilly. However navigating through the throng of incredibly enthusiastic runners was a bit of a chore, but I ploughed through and managed to secure myself 4 power bar gels of varying flavours, and some dashing white arm sleeves. Success.
The pre race carb loading session was in a Japanese canteen down the road from the hotel in Nihombashi, which for Tokyo standards was incredibly good value. Ramen (noodle soup) and beef (my non red meat diet has suffered terribly in Asia) strips with a couple of dumplings was the order of the day and it deffo filled a hole. I therefore headed to bed early and packed up my race bag ready for an early 6am wake up call.
So, up with the partridge, and down to breakfast it was. Cat had kindly gotten up with me and come for breakfast as well, so we stuffed our faces with pan au raisins, hot dogs and cups of tea (never coffee before a race for obvious reasons). However, she wasn’t coming to the start line with me but instead meeting my auntie Estella from her pod capsule hotel (yep, Japan has lots of these places where you rent a capsule type bed for the night) and both heading to km 8 (no mile markers in Japan, just km markers, but I’m an imperial man so will continue with miles) to see the race come through there. So I said saionara and hopped on to the metro for Shinjuku and the start race village.
For once I had made good time (Japanese subway and trains are incredibly efficient – perhaps the UK should outsource Network Rail and the train operating franchises to Japan!) and arrived in the village ready to grab a banana, visit the toilet, warm up and get a good spot in the corral.
However, I had not bargained for the mother of all toilet queues! I shit you not (pun intended) that the queue for about 15 cubicles must have had over 1000 people waiting. After an hours wait I got to the front and made the moment count. Textbook stuff despite it being a squatter style!
A quick clothing change and dropping stuff off in the bag drop and off to pen A with 20 minutes to spare. Interestingly looking around the pen I spotted a few faces which looked familiar and on closer inspection their vests revealed runners from Serpentine, Kent and other places in the UK. I began to focus and listened to the guy on the tannoy announce the wheelchair starters before they headed off, and then the elite men (including last years winner Dickson Chumba, Olympic champion Stephen kiprotich and Ethiopians Feyisa Lelisa) and women. Strong fields in all events which is good. I guess as Tokyo is the first major of the year and there is enough recovery time before London or Boston a couple of months later the big boys and girls can double up?
All too soon, the gun was being fired and 36,000 of us trotted forward picking up speed until we were over the start line. Then it was the usual mad five minutes of weaving and jostling in to position and trying to find a rhythm. This is even more difficult in Tokyo, as the course starts with a few miles of downhill (similar to London in that respect). Not majorly so, but enough to post a couple of sub 6 minute miles for miles 2 and 3. Not a huge problem, but I don’t wanna be overcooking it now, as it may cost me later.
By mile 4 I had settled in to a decent rhythm and was ticking along at about 6 minute miles. Again, probably a bit too quick but it felt fine so I thought I would go with it for a while and see what happens.
By mile 5 you are entering Central Tokyo and I began to look out for Cat and Estella on the side of the road. They had positioned themselves at a good spot to be able to see the leaders come through and get some good pictures and also allow me to see them well. After a quick shout of hello and a wave it was back to my own thoughts and the long road ahead.
The stretch from 5 to 10 miles is very straight as it heads past the imperial palace gardens and south on a straight road before hair pinning back up the same way. Along the way you pass Tokyo Tower which used to be the tallest building in Tokyo (at 333m) but has since been surpassed by the Skytree (634m). It felt like there was a bit of a tailwind during this section (although it was difficult to tell when the wind whips round the buildings) so I continued feeling ok up to the 10 mile point with the pace still in the low 6 min/miles.
However, after the hairpin turn things felt a little more difficult so I tried as often as possible to tuck in behind a fellow runner and hitch a lift. I managed to be dragged along to the midway point still in reasonable shape. I think my split for halfway was 1:22, which for my current fitness levels was certainly a couple of minutes too quick, but too late to worry about that now!
I passed the family again around mile 14 and this time Cat and Estella were joined by my brother Kean, his girlfriend Tetsi, their daughter Ella and Tetsi’s mum Julietta. They had taken up an excellent position on a cross road junction so had a pretty good view of the race coming by, a bit like this…
Another few hundred metres up the road more friendly faces in the form of Phil and Rachel popped up! Obviously they had taken a bit of a lie in and decided to place themselves at the nearest point from the hotel that the route takes. A sensible strategy! A quick wave and shout and it was back to the dark solitary thoughts of my own mind, which unfortunately were beginning to whisper discouraging things particularly as we passed my hotel where a nice sit down seemed quite appealing.
The next few miles take you to an area of Tokyo called Asakusa, which is along the riverside. It’s a nice stretch, as you see a few of the city’s nice sights like the Asakusa shrine, the Tokyo skytree and also the Asahi brewery building which kind of looks like a golden turd or sperm. Sort of.
The route here again doubles back on itself until about mile 21 or 22 where it veers off towards the docks. At this point, I had just seen the family for the last time (during the race, not ever) and the boost of adrenaline was starting to subside and the legs feeling very stiff and heavy. Not too bad I thought, I just need to make sure that the next 4 miles aren’t slower than 7 minute mile pace and that’s a sub 2:50 in the bag.
If only it were that easy. The legs really started to suffer at mile 24 and it was clear that the three twenty mile long runs I completed in training were not enough prep, and that some proper extended training at marathon pace would definitely have helped. By this point my hammy’s were twitching and I wasn’t really taking in my surroundings and every bridge seemed like a mountain. People were now coming past me more than I was them. Not a good sign. But I was still hanging on. Just.
And then disaster! Left hamstring cramp! F*#k me that’s a horrible pain. I had to stop. I couldn’t even hobble. The only thing you can do with cramp is stretch it out, but that costs time. I spent the next two minutes stretching out my leg and rubbing my hammy. Finally after what seemed an age i was able to jog again, but that was it. Half a mile from the finish line took me about five minutes to finally cross the finish line in 2:51. Not a sub 2:50 but the main goal of getting a sub 3 was achieved 😎
For all you stat lovers here are my splits and pace.
I have never been so pleased to finish a race in all my life, and I’m sure I say that after every marathon, but his one was deffo tough. I walked through the finish area amd chatted to a few other finishers, picked up my medal, and goodie bag and wandered to what looked like the bag pick up.
However the finish area seems to go in forever! I must have walked ten minutes before finally getting to a large hangar where the bags and changing area were, but the volunteers I have to say were all incredibly friendly, polite and welcoming. They seemed to clap and bow to every single runner coming through. A lovely people for sure.
One of these love people took the following snap of me once I had learned how to smile again…
I left the expo and started to head back in to town where my only criticism of the race came to bear. The race organisers give you a free Tokyo metro card to use on the day, so I had taken this in my bag when getting the metro out to the start. As I thought I could just use it on the way home I didn’t take any money with me. You can imagine my alarm therefore that when trying to use this card at the nearest station, to get back to the city centre and my hotel, it didn’t work and was not valid for that line. The nearest station you can use it was three miles back the way I came! Not exactly what I needed with a dodgy hamstring, but at least it meant I did get to cheer on some of my fellow runners completing their last few miles…
Still, I made it back in to town and met up with the family for a Japanese feast. The restaurant we chose did not disappoint, as we found an authentic place with tatami mats and low tables in town. A table of tempura, noodles, rice, sushi etc was ordered as well as several pints of Asahi. I left feeling more like a sumo wrestler than a runner.
To top it all off, dinner was followed by a visit to the local karaoke bar, where I’d like to tell you that classic renditions of such famous running songs as Eye of the tiger and Walk 500 miles were belted out. But I can’t. Instead dodgy duets of Stan by Eminem and Spice up your life by the spice girls ensued.
I don’t know what’s more painful. Running a Marathon? Or listening to my own Mel B impersonation.