It’s been two weeks since I crossed the finish line of the 2015 Tokyo Marathon – my first international marathon, second World Marathon Major, and 14th running of the 26.2 distance…and before I go into the full recap, here are a few more fun facts to put this race into perspective…warning: SPOILER ALERTS!!
Of 14 marathons…
- This was my 5th best time (3:43:18, 3:43:41, 3:45, 3:49:1X, 3:49:41).
- This was the first time I ran without a watch.
- This was the first marathon that my parents were at!
- This was my first back to back marathon* (26.2 with DONNA was the weekend before).
- This was the first time I wore *almost* the exact same outfit for a marathon (changed socks and visor color).
- This was the first marathon that I ran WITHOUT mile markers (hello, every race outside of the United States, lol).
- This was the LATEST START for a marathon for me (9:05 AM)
- This race featured the best and yummiest on-course hydration (Pocari Sweat!)
With those vital points in mind, let’s proceed to recap what must be the most interesting race I have ever experienced (and likely will keep that position…at least until I run another international event) as concisely as possible (this *could* be a challenge – get settled in for this one, folks).
(PRE) PRE RACE
Let’s rewind a bit, shall we?
- I entered the Tokyo Marathon lottery on August 3, 2014 during the month-long entry period (Aug 1-3). The lottery entry was free.
- Names were drawn on September 25, there in which I had until October 9th to register via credit card to secure my spot in the race.
- Entry fee was (an incredibly reasonable) 12,800 yen (roughly U$106.00)
At the time, I was not 100 percent that I’d be able to go run the race (due to work, vacation, etc) but I wanted to have it secured in the slightest chance that I’d be able to go. Thankfully, both hubs and I were able to get the time off, and my parents were gracious enough to offer to let us stay + help me with securing hotel reservations in Downtown Tokyo for the two days before the race, so (pretty last minute) we booked our flights in early 2015 and were set to travel to Japan!!
Now…fast forward to February 2015!
We flew in on Wednesday, February 18th, set to arrive on Thursday, the 19th in mid-afternoon…but our flight situation had other plans for us! Due to a 7-hour delay (yes, SEVEN! Four hours stuck on the tarmac before we were told that a new crew had to be called, then three in the terminal) we didn’t arrive in Narita International until past 10 PM. Phew – good news was, we did finally make it, and that night, we drove to my parents’ house, slept in til like 8 AM, and I hit a shakeout run (about 3 miles) before we hopped into the car to drive downtown.
We did a little sightseeing (Harajuku and Shibuya) before meeting up with my aunt, uncle, cousin and her husband for dinner, where I did my traditional “two nights before) carb up with some really yummy lasagna and bread. It was great relaxing and hanging out, and then, a fairly early bedtime.
On Saturday, my mom, dad, hubs and I headed out to Tokyo Big Sight, where the expo was being held.
While I have read other race reports that this expo isn’t “that big” compared to other large races, I have to admit, it was a bit overwhelming, albeit incredibly organized. After arriving at Tokyo Big Sight, we ascended large escalators to what seemed like 3-4 stories up, where runners were to pick up their “race numbers” (not referred to as bibs).
In that first area, only runners could enter, so my parents and hubs waited outside of the gate, and I stopped over at Runner Relations since I had not received my waiver information in the mail (since we had moved since I got in the race). It was a very smooth process, and though I did understand the Japanese instructions, the volunteers also spoke English, which made it even easier.
After I had my paperwork, I stopped into my number pick up, and had my number (“85173”) and tee-shirt in no time (no size exchanges – but SOOO glad I got a size L because these things ran SMALL!!!)…but…this is where it got confusing! I was ushered forward, and directly into the expo! And since I didn’t have a cellphone with me, I couldn’t let the rest of my party know what was going on (in hindsight, I should have had them advance to the next entry gate, where I could have met up with them and proceeded into the expo together).
Nevertheless! I made it through the first floor of the expo (yes, “first!” – as in, there was a whole second floor of vendors!!) and down the escalator, then back up again, before we all headed in together.
One of the cool things about the expo was that the race-specific merchandise was in the first area (I bought a cool poster with all the participant names on it, teeny tiny) and then, with Asics as the sponsor, they had a neat pair of limited edition shoes, plus a variety of race shirts to choose from (see top pic in the expo collage). Additionally – international race = international race vendors! I was excited to meet the mascot for the Gold Coast Marathon and told him that I’d visit someday!
After cycling through the two levels, we decided to take a load off our feet and take a river cruise excursion to Asakusa, did more sightseeing, then finished the day off with dinner at a Korean BBQ place (and yes, if you were curious – meat, rice and veggies proved to be tasty and successful running fuel)!
With the relatively late race start time of 9:05, I set my alarm for 6 AM, and planned to head out at 7 AM with my mom to Shinjuku, where the start was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building complex (only about 25 minutes away from our hotel via train).
Although the forecast had indicated rain the day before, it was just overcast that morning, and in the high 40’s/low 50’s – perfect! I wore my DONNA singlet, Oiselle armwarmers, Sparkle Athletic skirt and Brooks Pure Flow 2, with a little long-sleeve layering for the trip over.
When we arrived at Shinjuku, my mom and I were totally impressed with the signage and ease of walking to the start area. Thousands of runners were streaming over to the multiple gates – I was in search of Gate 2, for my Corral D.
I lingered a bit before entering bag check (I actually didn’t check anything – threw a little cash in my shorts pocket plus my mom’s cell to call my dad after the race) and just hung out with my mom for a bit. The whole thing still felt unreal – here I was, getting ready for another 26.2 mile journey…in Japan! I was super excited, but also pretty calm – my only time goal that I had planned was finishing in under 4 hours, so it’d be easier to plan our post-race meeting area, and allow my family time to look for me on course, but also be at the finish.
About 45 minutes before race start, I hugged my mom, and headed through the lines into the start area. There were SOOOO many people!! Lots of portapotties (though I had already gone like 5 times before arriving, lol!), and very organized bag check areas. The way the start area was set up was pretty interesting, as the corrals were actually the next level up (second floor).
In the corrals, I waited until the very last minute to drop my outer layer, and chatted briefly with two other Americans nearby (hi Amy!) A men’s choir sang the national anthem (cool touch) and soon, we were OFF!
At the beginning of the race, I decided two things: I’d run easy and not stop (except when I took my GU). This was pretty easy to stick to, especially at the beginning, since the course was pretty crowded (yet not really congested – everyone was super polite – no throwing elbows, etc).
It was also at this time that I realized that (DUH) there would not be mile markers. And…being the American that I am, totally and completely blanked on how many kilometers were in a marathon. In fact, I tried my darndest to recall what Andrea had said about her per KM pace but it was a total fail.
So, I tried to add, multiply…subtract and divide…to figure out the allusive number. This is how my mind works…I knew 5K = 3.1 miles and 10K was 6.2 – then I knew it had to be less than 50K since that was 31 miles…so take that 3, carry the 5….cross the i’s…dot the t’s 😉 NOPE. It wasn’t happening.
So, I just went on my merry way, and soon enough I was crossing the timing pad for 5K – the clock was at around 31-sometime minutes by gun time. Good….wait…how long did it take for me to start? Seconds? Minutes? Hmmm…no idea.
After that, I realized there would not be many clocks on course (the next was at 10K, and I remember it being around an hour, and so forth) and I also attempted to plot out when I’d take GU. Since I had brought along 4, I thought…10K, 20K, 30K, 40K? Sure, why not?
At the 10K point, some runners veered off the course (race day featured the marathon, plus the 10K) and I began to kind of identify a group of runners nearby me, and decided to stick near them. I was on the tail of a girl in a orange tank until about the halfway point of the race…wait??! Halfway? What was that? 21K? Okay.
Around that point is also when I saw my family! It was super awesome…hubs didn’t think that they’d see me, or I’d see them, but my mom had a bright magenta coat so I saw them and waved! Yay! Definitely pick-me-up.
Then, for the first time in a good while, I began to feel better with each step! Stronger! Faster! I kept the pace steady, but usually at half-way, I sometimes start thinking, “Why did I fall in love with the marathon? Halves are so much easier!!” – but not today! I was flying and feeling great!
The course, in itself, was comprised of a few out and back sections…and I actually like out and backs, so this was nice. In that first section, we saw the leads coming back in, and as we looped into the second out and back, it is always a bit of a “pick me up” when you see happy and energized runners both in front of and behind you. And, though it was definitely an urban race, there were many sights we passed, including views of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, the Asakusa Gate (see pic above), Tokyo Sky Tree, down the streets of Ginza, past the World-famous Tsukiji Fish Market, and out toward Tokyo Bay!
When I knew we were on the way “home,” I felt like I could open up the pace a bit, and when people slowed to walk up the inclined highway ramps and bridges, I powered up, then let gravity push me down. In the final stretches, I couldn’t wipe a really cheesy grin off my face – not only was I completing another marathon, but I was doing so in another country – something I never imagined I would be doing!
(Oh! And it was about this point that I finally figured out a marathon was 42.19 kilometers, thanks to a guy that ran next to me with a shirt that said so on the back)
As the countdown ticked off (5K to go…4K…3K…) I focused on passing people – politely, of course 🙂 and then, it was a turn onto the road where we could clearly see Tokyo Big Sight, then a turn onto the finishing road, and then…BAM!
I had completed the Tokyo Marathon! And according to the clock, in more than 10 minutes under my sub-4 goal! Yahooooo!
Next, we were ushered through a super organized finishing chute the involved a beautiful finisher’s towel (see first pic), a handy carrying bag, several snack stops and then into the building, where bag check, changing areas, and reunion areas were staged.
After a quick call, I was able to catch up with my crew pretty quickly, and as I had requested, they brought me a nice, warm coffee! Though the temperature had proven PERFECT for the marathon, it was pretty chilly otherwise.
Later, checked out my splits, and was happy about the negative shift – I really don’t think I could have planned it better…there definitely is something to be said about “running by feel…”
5K – 28:27 (9:10 pace)
10K – 56:12 (9:03 pace)
15K – 1:23:38 (8:58 pace)
20K – 1:50:17 (8:53 pace)
25K – 2:17:18 (8:51 pace)
30K – 2:44:04 (8:49 pace)
35K – 3:11:09 (8:48 pace)
40K – 3:38:04 (8:47 pace)
Finish: 3:49:14 (8:45 pace)
After the race, we had originally planned to visit Tokyo Disney Sea, but since the rain had held off for the race, it seemed that it waited for that afternoon. So, we head back to the hotel (we were already checked out, but they had a gym/spa where I could shower) where we grabbed some food before heading back.
Since we’re already sitting at 2,500ish words, I’ll get to closing it out here in a minute – but if you took ANYTHING away from this recap, I hope it is this: take chances! Do something crazy! Your passions will always get you through challenges, and sharing the experience with those that you love – well, it doesn’t get better than that!
What big race is on YOUR bucket list?
ETA: More perspective on the race, from two awesome gals I “met” at the Tokyo Marathon!