I felt strangely calm on race morning, despite waking up with jet lag and nerves at 1.45am, when by 6.30 am I was feeling surprisingly relaxed.
Anna did my hair in two braids and I got my kit on. I’d laid it out the night before to avoid as much race day stress as possible.
I only had vaseline to avoid chafing, and I just had to hope that would be enough.
A little behind schedule, we went down to the hotel breakfast. I’d scoped it out the previous day and was very happy to see English muffins and peanut butter, so my porridge pot was relegated back to my suitcase alongside the almond butter sachet. Oh and two mini chocolate muffins… I was running a marathon after all. And a coffee, to get things moving. (Although they never did, a first for me pre-marathon!)
I was actually most nervous about getting myself to the start area alone. I’ve never travelled to a marathon solo before, either going with someone else running it or having Tom drop me off at the start. Even last year at Boston, Zoe dropped me at the buses and I made a friend on the ride to Hopkinton.
However, this time I was all on my own.
I had decided to walk to Tokyo Station from our hotel, and take 1 train from there to Shinjuku, the starting area, using the free transport card you get with your bib, however at the last minute I decided to take the subway closest to the hotel meaning less chance of getting lost, but also requiring a change of train.
The first train I got onto, I was the only runner…and I started to panic. Usually as you travel towards the start line, transport is packed with fellow marathoners. Luckily once I got on the other train, I smelt the familiar tell tale sign that runners were nearby…Deep Heat.
Security is TIGHT around the Tokyo Marathon. As well as bibs we were also given wristbands and had photos taken with our bibs at the expo. In the start area, our bags were checked. We had to go through a metal detector and all water bottles were confiscated, as was my banana.
YEs, they confiscated my banana.
I had been warned previously that you couldn’t bring your own water into the start area, so had travelled with an empty hydration pack and hoped I’d find somewhere to fill it up. A kind volunteer emptied his 2 litre bottle into the bladder, laughing to his fellow volunteers about how heavy it would be for me to carry…
True. But it turned out to be one of my best decisions of the day.
I also managed to track down a replacement banana. The whole thing was absurd. However, whilst tracking down water and a banana, I came across a queue for the loos and made the wise decision to get into them, despite the fact they did NOT have a Western Loo sign. The loos were situated under one of the buildings, near the ‘changing areas’ and had queues only 10-15 deep, rather than the hundreds I witnessed closer to the corrals.
Despite its size, the queue moved very slowly, and I started to get nervous that I’d miss the 8.45 corral closure. In the past I’ve hopped the fence into the corral, however, I had a feeling this sort of behaviour would not go down well in Japan.
With 5 minutes to spare, I found my way into corral e – actually finding the corral turned out to be the only chaotic part of the Tokyo marathon and runners panicked about getting to the right zones with the obscenely long wait for the loos. From the corrals, we listened to music playing and the Wheelchair race announcement – I felt like I was in the Hunger Games listening to broadcasts from the Capitol!
I was really glad to have had lots of throwaway layers as it was really cold in the start area and we had to wait a solid 30 minutes standing around before the gun.
5 minutes after the elites were sent on their way, my corral stepped over the start line – talk about efficiency given that I was back in E.
However, it was immediately clear that this race was going to be crowded as I struggled to find any space to run at all. I began to worry that I would get boxed in, with no chance to see what I could run.
I felt like I was running slowly, conservatively and actually, not able to fully run the pace I wanted, given the crowds, so when my Garmin beeped with the first mile at 8.02, I was a little surprised.
I tried to focus on just relaxing my shoulders, making sure my breathing was steady and even, and to run a pace that felt good without relying on my watch too much.
2-6 – 8.00, 8.11, 7.53, 8.02, 8.01
I was so excited to see my Mum, Dave and Anna at the 10K mark and felt like I was flying. Smile were huge and I swear I was bouncing down the road. It was so cool to be running in a city so far from home, surrounded by people from all over the world. The streets looked the same in some way but so different in others to the roads of the other Marathon Majors. I had a few ‘pinch me’ moments as I tried to take it all in.
7 – 12 – 8.00, 8.12, 8.06, 7.57, 8.03, 8.07
The course doubles back on itself a few times, which can be nice and also, awful. There are points where you see runners who are miles ahead of you, the look of pain etched in their faces and you know all that is to come. There are also times when the very back of the pack is on the other side of the road to you, with very little noise and enthusiasm from the crowds for these runners and walkers. There are very strict cut off times for the Tokyo marathon, and the first few are actually quite tight, especially those starting in the back corral. (Eg you have to make the 10K marker by 11am, giving you 1hr 45 minutes from the gun time regardless of the time you actually start, then you have 45 minutes before the next cut off at 15km).
The highlight of the out and backs however is that we saw the elites running past!
And straight after watching Wilson Kipchoge, I ran into Christy Turlington (supermodel, founder of Every Mother Counts charity, and as of Sunday, a fellow Six Star Finisher!). My friend EJ had sent me a photo of Christy picking up her bib at the expo and said that I should try to be besties with her. Normally, I probably wouldn’t have said anything, just run by and smiled, but with so few English speakers out on the course, I decided it probably wouldn’t hurt. So I ran right up to Christy and told her I’d followed her charity and marathons, and thought she was awesome…and got this amazing selfie with her!
And then I felt like a creep so I ran off.
I ran through 13.1 on my Garmin close to my PB of 1.46 and knew that things were either going to be amazing, or the wheels were going to totally fall off. My Garmin had been off from the start, so I’d been manually lapping it at each 5K marker (although now that I think about it, I have NO idea why I did that!?) Oh and there were zero mile markers, which made the second half of the marathon mental maths challenge even harder than it usually is – although therefore also more distracting.
Miles 13-18 – 7.56, 8.18, 8.20, 8.24, 8.22, 8.17
I knew my parents were at 29KM (mile 18) and I knew I wanted to still be looking strong and smiling. They’d traveled such a long way, that I wanted to be looking good for the 10 seconds that they would see me. Oh and for the photos, obviously.
However, soon after I saw them, I started to hurt. In fact, from 16 miles, I was mentally counting down to the finish line. I’d worked out I just needed to run sub 9 min miles and I’d still get a PB, although at that point I had no idea what my overall time would be.
I thought about my Instagram friends Ashley and Heather who had run huge PBs at the Phoenix marathon, and used Ashley’s motivational quote
NEVER STOP FIGHTING.
I thought about how badly I wanted to run a PB, how hard I’d worked in the 3.5 years since my last PB in Berlin. I told myself that it was meant to hurt, I was running a marathon! I kept moving forwards, pushing the pace and seeing 8s pop up on my Garmin.
KM 32-41 were brutal. You can see the finishers heading away from the main course and towards the finish line, yet you have to trudge on one last out and back. Into a headwind. I’d run out of water. And I needed a wee. (Drinking 2L of water will do that to you).
I questioned my sanity.
I questioned whether I’d really be ready, physically and mentally to push again in London in 8 weeks time.
I thought about peeing in my pants again (read my Boston race recap if you’re unfamiliar with that story!), and couldn’t bring myself to do it on the clean streets of Tokyo. So I made the decision that I’d be a happier, lighter runner if I emptied my bladder and so nipped in to the nearest set of loos for the quickest wee of my life.
Side note – I loved how many bathrooms there were on the course, and each set had a sign telling you how far away the next bathroom was so that you could avoid queues if possible.
Relived to have only lost 30 seconds time, I headed back out to the course and managed to pick up the pace a little.
miles 19 -22 – 8.15, 8.47, 8.44, 8.46,
I just kept running, thinking about form, and trying to work out how slow I could run and still finish with a time I’d be proud of.
A 9:00 flashed up on my screen for mile 23
And I thought to myself, ‘Will you be happy with yourself, whatever the time, if you haven’t given this everything you have from here to the finish line?’
The answer was no, so I focused on form, picked up my feet and follow Coach Tom’s plan to pick people off.
Mile 24 -25 – 8.52, 8.56
I was thirsty, but there were no water stations in sight. A huge criticism of the race would be the lack of water. They had only set up water stops every 5K, and seemed more interested in handing out the sponsor Pocari Sweat than water, which was in small cups at the end of each station.
I managed to grab water at 40K and felt my spirits lift. The would only be 12 or so minutes more of pain.
Turning the corner to what I thought would be the finish straight was a joyous moment, albeit short lived when I realised I still had 1500m to go.
I ran through 26.2 in 3.39.06.
And kept running, and running…through a narrowing road lined with pedestrians. We were all looking for the finish line, yet it remained ominously absent.
Then we turned a final corner and there it was, at the end of the road.
I gave the last my legs would let me (7.39 pace), and crossed the finish line.
A six star marathon major finisher and with a shiny new PB to boot.
5.49 seconds faster than Berlin in 2014. 15 minutes faster than Boston in 2017. I sobbed with relief and happiness – then checked the time to see if it would be appropriate to ring Tom. It wasn’t.
However, the adventure didn’t stop there.
Given the lack of water on the course, you would have thought they would have an abundance of it at the finish line.
I walked for a solid 10 minutes before getting a tiny bottle, and for 25+ mins before receiving my medal. And I was directed the wrong way by a well meaning volunteer and missed the Six Star medals!
When I spoke to a different volunteer about it, she had to get a superior who explained that I’d missed the Six Star medals but they would send me one.
Obviously I wasn’t taking that for an answer, so I literally turned around and started marching back towards the finish line, against the flow of traffic and with rather loud protests from the volunteers behind me. Eventually, the official realised that I wasn’t listening so said that he would escort me back to the Six Star area.
With all the flustering I don’t know if I made the most of the experience of collecting that prized medal, but I did have a nice chat with my fellow finishers and saw my bestie Christy being interviewed and looking as glam as if she’d just stepped off a runway.
It had now been 40 minutes since I’d finished the race and I was freezing. I have Raynaud’s and my fingers were bright white and so painful and stiff, and my teeth were chattering violently.
I made the long walk back through to bag check (I didn’t check one but definitely suggest putting your biggest coat in your bag check if you do this race) and tried to find my family.
60 minutes after crossing the finish line, I was reunited with them. Cold to the bone and having had 300ml water since finishing.
Tokyo, you put on a pretty spectacular race and expo but your finish system is lousy.
I am so grateful to my Mum who dressed me in a bag of clothes she’d brought and to my step dad for giving up his coat.
And to McDonalds for the hot, salty chips and heating! My post-race craving is always a Diet Coke and chips, and although it was 90 minutes after finishing before we made to Maccy Ds, it turned my nausea into feelings of normalcy! Oh the glamour of marathon running!!
Thank you so much for all the amazing messages of luck and love on my Instagram over the weekend. And to my Mum and Dave for coming all the way to Tokyo to cheer me on!