….that’s what life is all about!
Having now been back from Tokyo nearly a month, I’ve reflected a fair bit and I feel I’m fully justified in making that statement.
Sadly like Chicago, I didn’t get to make those memories with my gorgeous wife and boy (due to the dates of the trip), but luckily I got to share them with friends (old and new). If you’ve read my blog previously, you will know I’m working towards earning my Abbott World Marathon Majors Six Star, so the Tokyo trip was predominantly all about earning No.5! However, it was also about truly enjoying the journey, after all it’s not very often you get these sort of opportunities, so with a small bag of running kit, my Tokyo guide book and two tins of Ambrosia Creamed Rice I set off to meet my partners in (running) crime.
Since swimming the Boston marathon together last year Jen and I made a vow that we’d complete the Majors together and then in Chicago last year I met Jimmy. Jen now has three in the bag with Boston, London and Tokyo with Chicago to come later this year. Jimmy also has three with London, Chicago and Tokyo with Berlin to come later this year too.
I met Jen at T5 and we had some brekkie before making our way to the gate and waiting for the flight out, like an excited child I spotted Jimmy coming through the gate and we had quick catch up before boarding.
A pretty non-eventful flight and about 6 movies later we landed at Narita and were met by the Sports Tour International Reps and divided up in to two buses. This was my first experience of using a sports tour company. There are really only two routes in to the Tokyo Marathon outside of using a tour company and that’s run sub 2:45 if your a man or buy a charity place, being nowhere near currently running sub 2:45 going with Sports Tours felt like the safest option. For me Tokyo has always felt like the most difficult to negotiate logistically so having someone or a company handle all of that for you is certainly worth the reduction in pre-race stress.
First stop off the flight though was the Marathon Expo, now obviously I’ve done a fair few of these and it might be the weather clouding my judgement because the rain on arrival was biblical, but the expo for me was possibly the most underwhelming Expo I’ve ever experienced. Again the weather didn’t help and on a fine day we may have felt different, but the majority of it was outside and we were soaked within moments of getting off the coach and through the entrance. It’s also hard to compare it against London, because as Expos go, it gets you all tingly the moment you step off the tube. Boston, is awesome, you’re made to feel like a star. I thought the debacle of Chicago would be difficult to beat, but I think Tokyo topped it, as although it was better managed than Chicago it felt like we were at a boot sale, and at a boot sale in shit weather! However, the important bit in all of this is to pick up that precious race number and with that bit done, at least you’re able to relax a little.
The hotel in contrast, was worth the wait though. It’s probably for that, that I’m most grateful I decided to use Sports Tours. As I’d qualified for both Boston and Chicago, I organised travel and accommodation myself, and with Chicago I didn’t get it right at all, and I was only glad that I had travelled on my own. The hotel in Tokyo was fantastic, we stayed at the Keio Plaza, it was in a great location, and obviously full of like-minded people and there was definitely wasn’t the fear of getting mugged or worse, as I had in Chicago!
We spent Friday and Saturday seeing the sights and absorbing of much of Tokyo as we could, I’m not going to talk about the sights, they will have been covered a million times over and written about far more eloquently than I could muster! However, should you get the chance to go to Tokyo, go, it’s amazing and bonkers in equal measure. There, tourist guide bit done!
On the Saturday however we did get to see something special, well for marathon runners that is, or it could just be me, the setting up of the start line. Due to the amazing position of our hotel, we were basically sat on top of it so we took the opportunity to wander over for a look. Seeing the start line makes it real, especially knowing the following morning we’ll be toeing that start line. It was a hive of activity and was absolutely buzzing.
Saturday we did a fair bit of walking and with the beautiful blue skies all day we were optimistic that the weather could be half decent for Sunday. Full of optimism the kit was laid out, but the rain ponchos were laid out with the kit just in case……..
…….at 6am I was tucking in to my 2 tins of ambrosia and true to form it was already raining, by the time Jen and I made our way to the start line it was already p*ssing down! Despite the rain it felt relatively warm and despite how crap my legs had felt I woke up feeling relatively fresh and I was raring to go. The only trouble was getting in to my corral at just after 8, meant it was over an hour of trying to stay warm.
I took the opportunity to send a little message to my gorgeous family, and soak up (literally) the atmosphere. Much like Boston, the weather at Tokyo didn’t dampen my spirits, I get a massive buzz at being able to be part of these events and take them on, it’s an experience that I find hard to do justice with words and for me and I guess many other marathon/ultra runners there are times when you just feel privileged that you’re able to do these things. Don’t get me wrong, they come with sacrifice, both in terms of time and financially. However, as I spend most of my time running lonely miles, it gives me a real sense of pride, that all those hours, early mornings, late nights, training in the dark, cold and at times abject misery have got me to those start lines.
At 10 past 9 under a white ticker tape explosion we were set off and I set in to a rhythm quite quickly, which is strange for me, but the early km’s were difficult to negotiate with lots of little elbows and the course being quite tight to begin with, but as the course opened up I settled into my race plan pace and chalked off the miles. The course is difficult to describe, there are a few highlights you remember, but with your head down and grinding it out, especially in such disgusting weather, you could be running any city marathon. I liken it to Manchester Marathon, maybe it’s just the ‘loops’ and I’m possibly doing it a disservice but you only really get a sens of it being Tokyo when you pass various landmarks. There are no raucous crowds, there are crowds, large crowds but they’re not operating at the same decibel level you’d be used to at other major marathons. I remember Boston, despite the weather last year, being so noisy that despite how incredibly tough the conditions were, the noise of the crowd couldn’t fail to lift you.
In truth the conditions in Tokyo were almost as disgusting as Boston was in 2018, luckily not anywhere near as cold but by the time I’d finished the temperature had dropped a whole 10 degrees C. Despite the conditions though my race was pretty much going to plan, I was running very comfortably, and by half way was on target, but some how between half way and 20 miles I’d managed to stretch my pace to the point where I was going to finish well inside target and almost run the risk of pushing too hard. Thankfully, fate lent a hand and delivered a massive stitch that decided to stay with me for the best part of 4 miles, by which time it had reigned my pace right back in!
The last couple of miles were nice and comfortable and as we entered the cobbles of the finish straight I got a real sense for the first time of the excitement from the crowd and that I was running the Tokyo Marathon, and with that lift I gave it a final push and finished with the surge I expected to have having run relatively comfortably for the majority of my race.
I finished in 3hrs 20:45 which was target, at 20 miles had I stayed pushing at the pace I was, I know it could have been so much better, but the big picture was all about London. When I reflect on the marathons I’ve run since my knee surgery in August 2017, I can take a real sense of pride from how much I’ve improved. In the 11 months between Boston and Tokyo, I’d gone from running 3:37 to 3:20 (and 3:20 was comfortable), I’d also run 3:26 in Chicago, and whilst at the time it wasn’t the time I’d hoped for, I managed my race on the day better than I ever had before and I took that in to Tokyo. It also highlights how tough a race it was when 6% of the field DNF, especially when you compare that to the 5.6% of Boston in 2018 and the average generally being 1 to 1.5%!
So whilst Tokyo wasn’t a PB, it was a Major PB, but I know that big PB is coming. I’ve worked hard for it and if I continue to work (and get myself injury free), I will realise my goal of rocking up at the New York Marathon having earnt my qualification like I did for Boston and Chicago.
It’s now 5 stars in the bag and a few more marathons to look forward to this Spring, with Brighton this weekend and my 4th London since 2014 2 weeks later, finishing with Milton Keynes the week after, but what I’m really looking forward to is New York. I’ve made some incredible friends so far on this journey. We came together for Tokyo and although I now have to wait until 2020 to complete my 6 Star Journey, it’s going to be amazing that I get to complete it with these amazing people, and we get our 6 Stars together!
A special thank you as always to my wonderful wife and boy, without who, none of this would be possible, their support and love, guides and pushes me on. My little brother who’s inspiration continues to drive me and of course all those I get to share these experiences with, it’s what life is all about!