So I rose at 4:30AM and looked out the window to see a light drizzle. The weather report called for the rain stopping and then starting again in the afternoon, pretty accurate here. I showered and put on my gear, changing to a less warm top than I had planned. I went outside to feel the temperature and feel the rain and I was not sure if I wanted to take my cap and gloves as it seemed somewhat warm. Good thing I took them, as it was cold at the starting line.
I had a monster sized banana, some Japanese blueberry yogurt and some coffee and then proceeded to apply Body Glide where it counts. I did a good job except from one area…and you really don’t want to know where that is…too much info! I carefully packed into my running man-purse the appropriate amount of flavored gels, some cash, and my cell phone. I put on my rain jacket and my trusty running shoes that combined have been on at least six continents. I was ready to go on the 6:45 bus for delivery to Shinjuku where the race begins.
After a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the Keio Hotel where we met up with the rest of the Travelling Fit Group. A few group shots, some “What are you going to run this in?” exchanges, and off we went to Cell Block E. You had to be in Cell Block E by 8:30 or you would lose yard-time for the day. The warden is very strict here! Imagine a sea of people, 36,000 of them, directed by the police and volunteers through six Gates and into 10 holding areas. But first, through security, because after Boston they are very strict and I also think that they are practicing for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. No water over 100ML allowed in, they search your every crevice and you go through metal detectors. Once you are in, you need to act tough, because the other inmates want to size you up…but I was ok. We got to our cell block by 8:30 with time to spare and then had to wait till 9:15or so. It was cold, so everyone kept on their jackets, plastic bags or blankets. Some discarded then early and they ended up on the floor. The good ones we re-used by those who did not bring enough warm clothing, the others were collected for donation I believe. When it was time to go, people started tossing stuff right and left to discard the heavy clothing. It was hilarious, kind of like watching the Mets mascot shoot T-shirts into the crowd with the air-gun. Anyway, with cannon blasts and confetti the race started a few minutes late. It took us about 2 minutes to finally waddle through the starting line, and away we were.
The rain had stopped by now but it was still somewhat cold. There were spectators everywhere throughout most of the race, and I imagine that due to the weather the numbers were smaller than normal. I started off running well in a large crowd. I had intended to follow a runner holding a sign for 4 hours but I am not sure where he went. Then, for a while, I followed a banana. Well that is to say a person dressed up as a banana. The banana slipped away from me as well. I remember what one of the Travelling Fit organizers suggested, which was to take it all in, and that is what I intended to do. So with that, I set into a relaxed pace for the first 10k. In my mind I had split the race into four 10k’s and I intended to do each in a minimum on one hour. That would then leave me 2k to finish somewhere at the 4:15 mark. At least, that was the plan.
I was surprised when I reached the first 10k and I was at 56 minutes and change. That meant that I had cut 3 minutes and change from the last 2k and if I kept that pace up for the subsequent 3 x 10k’s I would have 12 to 15 minutes to possibly break 4 hours altogether. Well, that was what I was thinking, but my main goal at 20k was to feel good so I could go on. Somewhere at 17k I passed Mary or she passed me…not sure which one it was but we ended up with a similar time at the end but never really saw each other. I don’t recall seeing her, I was in a trance…and 35,000 other folks were as well.
I passed the Imperial Palace twice, the Imperial Hotel twice and the Palace Hotel twice and finally arrived to the 20k mark. I had gained another 2 minutes so I was slowing a bit but felt good and was making progress at eating into the last 2k of the race. At the half-way mark, 21k, I registered 2 hours and 1 minute. “Doable” I said to myself. I was going easy, not blowing myself out early and I felt good.
Then came the third 10k, I was taking gels every 45 minutes and the flavors were very good. On the sidelines, they offered peeled and sliced bananas, small tomatoes, candy, and bread that I never saw. So I think in terms of nutrition and hydration I was doing it just about right.
I did my usual body check at 21k. Toes – good (check), feet – good (check), calves – good (check), knees -good (check), quads and thighs – good (check), future hernia or appendicitis ok (yes…check), breathing and heart seemed right as well. So I kept on going.
But I was slowing down. I noticed more people were passing me but not a big deal because there were plenty of people ways behind me. They say at 30k you hit a wall. My plan was to get to 30 and feel ok and then think of the remaining race in 5k increments. A 5k is for babies after all, so that would be easy. I had trained to 32k, so in my mind I thought I would be ok.
At the 30k mark I looked at my time and it was 2:57. That means that I had given back 4 minutes and I did this last 10k at 1:04. However, I never hit that wall. Instead, I started to get lightheaded. I checked my heart and my breathing and that was all good. I touched my face and I noticed that it was dry. I needed more liquids. I took them in, but for the next 5k from 30 to 35, I struggled. It was almost like going in and out of consciousness but not that severe. At least I didn’t wake up on the ground with a bloody face. I told myself to focus and get to the last 5k and then it is home free with a 2k sprint.
Tough! I had slowed down more! Much more! But I was determined not to walk as the lactic acid builds up quickly and then you cramp. Got to 35k, and I said to myself, one more 5k….it’s for babies!
That was the hardest and longest 5k I have ever run. I was slow but took in one last gel and for a little while that boosted me, but not for long. At 37k the countdown began….5k to finish, then 4k then 3k…but it took a long, long time! I hit 40k with 4:07 so I had really slowed. Now for the 2k sprint in!
Nope, those were the longest 2 kilometers of my life! I kept on looking for the finish line, like a desert wanderer looks for the oasis but it would just not show up! Finally, over the hill and bending to the right is what must be the finish so I kicked in the turbo and went for it. I was surprised that I still had some energy as I started to pass others. My theory is that people see you at the finish line not at 34k when you are delirious, so you need to keep some in the tank. But wait! That was not the finish line – wishful thinking! That was the 42k gate!!! You still have 195 meters to go, because a marathon is 42.195k….damn! So, I was pissed off and now turned on the Nitro, and surprise, surprise it worked as I passed more and more people. I probably gained about 50 people in my sprint but lost 2,000 in my second half of the race. Every little bit counts.
Several times I was close to cramping and I simply thought to run through the cramps. That worked until the finish. After making it thought the finish line and accepting my medal, a great Japanese Hisamitsu Salonpas Air-Jet pain-relief spray, my lucky-lucky finishers towel, water, a banana, an orange and two tomatoes (yes after-all tomato is a fruit), I needed to keep on moving at risk of collapsing into cramps. Cramps all over, the bottom, the side…you name it. Thankfully this event is so well organized that you spend literally the next 30 minutes walking like cattle through pre-designated stalls until you are out of the slaughterhouse. Some massages and food were available to the runners, but the lines were so long and I just wanted to get back to the hotel into a warm bath. I did pick up an Asahi beer for my troubles, only to find out that it contained zero alcohol – rats!
So after 30 minutes, and at risk of collapsing into a cramp-induced comma at any time, I got there. Feeling a little better now but I am not sure that I can stand up! We will see in a minute.
So…would I do a marathon again? I need a couple of days to think about it. All I can say is this one is superbly organized and all of Tokyo seemed to be involved. I am very, very impressed. I would recommend it to all you marathon maniacs, and suggest that you use Travelling Fit in Sydney, Australia to get you in as a group. They do excellent work and I am considering signing up for another event with them.
Oh, by the way, my time…4:23. Not bad for this oversized, 50 year-old first time marathoner.
Keep on moving!
Adrian D. – Hong Kong