Monday, July 7, 2014

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Tokyo Marathon Race report (東京マラソン)

The Tokyo Marathon (東京マラソン) - fast, efficient, well organised, and cold but a fantastic experience.  Here is my race report from the 2014 Tokyo Marathon (run on 23 February 2014). 

I have still not worked out why, but the Tokyo Marathon started at 9:10am. I quite liked the late start, because February in Tokyo is freezing but also because most other marathons I have done involved getting up at the crack of sparrow's fart after a sleepless night caused by a persistent anxiety as to whether I have missed the alarm. 

The late start however meant a sleep in until 6:30am and enough time in the morning to check that I had all of my gear, both for the race and the trip to the starting line, the latter of which included several layers, beanie, gloves, scarf and some rather attractive 1000 yen shiny plastic looking tracksuit pants I had bought at the Tokyo running expo to throw away at the starting line (1000 yen = $10). 

Despite there being about 36,000 runners, and the race being one of the largest marathons in the world, the entire starting area was super-organised. Lines to get into the drop off baggage area, guides for the toilet areas (up to but stopping outside the portaloo doors), and multiple checks to get up into your allocated running group. Perhaps all of this is what helped the Tokyo Marathon get accepted into the World Majors for marathon runs in 2013 (only 5 others are included in that group - New York, Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin). Or perhaps it is just the Japanese way of doing things. 

Anyway, the details of the race. The short story is that while I did a personal best run by over 6 minutes, I still missed the elusive 3 hour goal by two and a half minutes. The rest of this post will outline how and why I think this happened, so feel free to stop reading here if you like. 

Two and a half minutes is not much really. But then again it is quite a lot. 

To break a three hour marathon you need to run somewhere in between 4:16 and 4:17 minutes per kilometres. I have tried various things in the past such as building up a bank of time, only to come crashing down, or perhaps crashing into a rather large wall and finishing on over 5 minute per kilometres. My goal was to run 4:15 kilometres for as long as I could and just keep it steady right to the end. 

The Tokyo marathon course is virtually flat (almost entirely under 10 metres elevation) except for the first 10 kilometres. This is because the starting line is at 40 metres elevation and the 10 kilometre mark is at 0 metres elevation. Although I tried to slow myself down for this first 10 kilometres I ended up with about a minute in the bank after this distance. In fact the rest of the run was pretty boring for a race report until about the 30 kilometre stage (sound familiar anyone?). 

So at 30 kilometres it began to snow. At first I mistook this for more confetti, a repeat of the massive amount they were blowing around at the start line, but I soon realised that it was actually snow. It was cold, but not unbearably so. I was in my normal running gear, shorts, six foot marathon track shirt, sock condom (a calf sock to prevent muscle tearing), but with one addition - a pair of running gloves that I had also bought at the expo for 1000 yen. I had toyed with the idea of wearing another shirt underneath, but decided to toughen up, and while there were a few wind tunnel areas here and there, nothing made me regret my apparel choices for the day (or gave me an excuse as to why I missed the 3 hour mark). 

At 30 kilometres I still had about a minute in the bank ahead of the 4:15 pace I had set myself. In fact by 32 kilometres I realised that I only had to run 4:24 kilometres home to make it. I was feeling confident. 

I had been eating and drinking enough and had no problem (nor excuse) with nutrition. I did however avoid the tomatoes which found a home at each aid station after about 25 kilometers next to the sports drink, water, bananas and bread rolls. Tempted as I was, I stuck to the water and bananas. 

So 33 kilometres went by, as did 34, 35, and 36 still with a bit of time in the bank. I was definitely slowing down, but it was by no means a blow out nor did I really hit the wall at any stage. In the back of my mind were previous marathons where I had pushed myself too hard and the few seconds per kilometres I saved were not justified by the minutes added to each subsequent kilometre. Unfortunately I just petered out. From fatigue. Or stamina. Or the cold. Or lack of ticker. Or a combination of all of the above. 

Towards the end, I continued calculating my split times per kilometre to make it home under 3 hours, and I was still hopeful. I think even with two kilometres to go I had the vague idea that perhaps I could do the well under 4 minute kilometres to break the 3 hours. 

But alas I didn't. I finished in 3:02:33. 

A personal best by over six minutes but still wondering, perhaps I should have pushed harder and maybe I wouldn't have hit the wall. Maybe there wouldn't have been a blow out. Maybe my ticker would have held up to the challenge. Maybe I should have eaten a tomato. 

However, I finished the race, went through the barriers, collected the sports drink, the banana, the marathon towel with the race logo ("the day we unite"), the medal and the tomato, and had an overwhelming urge to lie down and have a sleep. I realised that such an urge was probably not a good sign, so continued walking, still wondering whether I really had just collected a tomato as part of my race loot. This urge was and is also enough for me to realise that I probably didn't have much left in me, and almost certainly not two and a half minutes. While disappointed, not with the 6 minute Personal Best, but the elusive three hour mark gone again, but probably not as disappointed had I been within a minute or seconds of the goal. 

My wife and four year old son spotted me from the crowd (my two year old daughter was in the pram sleeping), in between Gold man, pink man, and Pikachu (my domestique) and my wife said I was actually looking pretty good compared to some of the pained looks of other people going by. However another thing was that while I put on a big smile for her photo, I actually got a bit emotional for the last 500 metres after seeing her and my son, the final sign that my body was low on energy, or just showing my true sensitivities. 

If there was one word that I could sum up the Tokyo marathon race, I wouldn't have had to write this entire race report, so I will finish by saying がんばれ, Gambare (the rare strong imperative of Gambarimasu, which in Japanese means Good luck or Do your best). I will write Gambare only a few times, which is a little less than the few million or so times I heard it along the course from every Japanese man, woman and child who were saying it, screaming it, yelling it, loud speakering it, and vuvezeling it. 

So Gambere for your entry for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon (東京マラソン 2015) and Gambare if you actually get in. 

Have you ever done the Tokyo Marathon? How did you go or what did you think? If you liked this report, please share it with others, or leave a comment below.


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