Ever since having seen the film Lost in Translation a few too many times, I’ve been fascinated with a visit to Tokyo. The streets! The lights! The food! The opportunity to go somewhere totally strange and alien! Naturally, the Tokyo marathon soon hit the top of the “races I want to do” list.
It can be notoriously hard to get into. Fortunately, after a rejection in the highly competitive open ballot in 2016, my Hamburg marathon PB secured me a spot for 2017 in Toyko’s “RUN as ONE, Semi-Elite (Overseas)” programme.
Flights booked, training started in earnest after the excesses of Christmas. Living in Berlin this was far from ideal, with the cold, dark nights and snowy streets not exactly conducive to wanting to leave the sofa! Fortunately with the help of local running groups Berlin Social Runners and Adidas Runners I found some like-minded souls to train with, and by the end of February was feeling in good shape.
Landing late in the evening in Tokyo, I experienced the first of many “lost in translation” moments, when trying to navigate Tokyo’s famous transport system for the first time. But we acclimatised quickly, and were weaving our way through Shinjuku station like pros in no time!
The next day it was off to the expo to pick up the numbers. Having been to various European expos this one by far topped it. Having arrived in time for the opening meant being welcomed in by local elites and Japanese drums, and with so many weird and wonderful stands it was an experience in itself!
With so much to see in Tokyo, it was hard to resist the tourist urges to go see it all! Having said that, some pretty acute jetlag helped ensure that the legs got plenty of rest, and come race day I was ready to go!
Conditions on the morning felt pretty perfect for running – sunny, still and not too hot. I said farewell to my boyfriend and off I went into the mass of runners. One thing I definitely hadn’t anticipated was the start – runners in the semi-elite athlete category were given a pen of their own, immediately after the Kenyans and ahead of the main field.
The gun went off and I was over the line and starting in just 18 seconds, the ticker tape still floating overhead. The first few km were very fast and slightly downhill towards Shinjuku and off, under the shadows of the skyscrapers, into the city. I was feeling good and flying, as I reached the 5km mark in 24:03, and 10km in 47:12 – and that includes a toilet stop!
With crowds lining the course and so many runners (including many far quicker runners behind me), I kept up the pace and still felt comfortable as I passed the Kaminarimon gate and then the skytree to reach the halfway point in 1:41:06.
Unfortunately it was around this point that things started to feel tougher. This was certainly in part physical, it was getting warm, I was getting tired. It was also in part psychological – the course had been changed make it a faster, flatter course but this did mean three out-and-backs which I found challenging mentally, especially the last long one from 30km round to the 41km mark. The pace started to drop, and as I reached each feed station I made sure to stop and take on fluids and food.
As I started the last long out and back, I saw runners coming towards me to go into the finish – and I was ready for that too. I pushed myself to the 35km mark and still there was no turning point in sight. Fuck this I thought, where the bloody hell is the turn? Finally I reached it, and then I was onto the long homestretch. I ran, I walked, I swore some more and somehow, exhausted, I made it to the finish just in front of the Imperial Palace in 3:37:57.
Even as I write this, months later, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. It’s actually one of my best times, but it was also a complete struggle to get there and I’d definitely been hoping for more. In hindsight, I went off far too quickly, wasn’t ready for the heat and probably hadn’t done enough training to sustain such a quick start. Lessons learned.
All in all it was a great experience, and luckily there was plenty of adventure and excitement still to come in Tokyo to cancel out any immediate disappointment with the race itself.
Having sworn off drinking for 6 weeks during my training, the first stop after a shower was the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Hotel, made famous during Lost in Translation. Watching the sunset over the 52nd floor and enjoying a well-deserved sake, my boyfriend and spectator extraordinaire popped the question, and soon I had an extra piece of bling to wear alongside my medal! So as well as the next marathon, we now have a wedding to plan!