Tokyo Marathon 2010 Race Report

Byron Kidd
The first four months of 2010 turned out to be incredibly busy for me due to an exceptionally large project at work.  As a result this blog didn't get updated over that period, and I neglected to let everyone know about my experience of running the 2010 Tokyo Marathon on February 28.  So its late, and not the least bit cycling related, but please enjoy my Tokyo Marathon 2010 Race Report.

Tokyo Marathon 2010 Race Report

Rain.  Why did it have to be rain?  Cold I can handle, but cold and wet is just miserable.

The Start - 4 degrees and raining

I arrived in Shinjuku around 7:30am and followed a couple of seasoned looking runners down the long underground passageway towards the start line in Nishi Shinjuku.  The further I went the more congested it became as runners had pulled over to the sides of the passage to strip down to their running gear and place their baggage into the plastic bags provided.  Not wanting to look like a first timer I did the same.

Once changed and with luggage safely stowed in a plastic bag I continued my pilgrimage  into the runners area.  Only invited guests and runners can get within two blocks of the start area as the logistics of 35,000 runners is enough to organize without their families and supporters as well.  I showed the number pinned to my chest, the security guy patted down my runners pack with two delicate fingers totally ignoring my backpack and I was in.

My first mission once inside the runners area was to rid myself of my luggage.  Everything was extremely well organized, with maps and directions posted everywhere.  I found truck number 35 and left my luggage with the volunteers for transport to the finish line.  With that out of the way all that remained was to visit the toilets and to make my way to the starting blocks.

I found a long row of toilets (toilets are going to be a repeating theme today) and surprisingly didn't have to wait to use one.  I did what had to be done then followed the signs to my designated starting block, G Block. Without fuss I took up position towards the front of the block and settled in for a wait of almost 40 minutes.  The the first 10 minutes or so of waiting in the rain weren't so bad, but the longer we all waited the colder we all got.  At one stage about 10 minutes from the start I was shivering uncontrollably.  Above me I noticed a lot of spectators had gathered in a 5th floor hotel restaurant to watch the start .. damn they looked warm.

Not only did all this waiting make me freezing cold, it also made me want to go to the bathroom again, but walking back to the toilets against a steady stream of runners trying to get to their starting blocks before the cut off time was just impossible.  Nothing to do but grin and bear it.

After what seemed an eternity the gun went off at precisely 9:10am.   It took us a minute or two to even start moving, then it was a brisk five minute walk before we even crossed the start line, during which time my freezing fingers fumbled with my iPod to get it to record my race progress.  (I heard from a fellow in J Block that it took him a full 20 minutes to reach the start line after the gun had gone off)

Shinjuku to Hibiya - Where did it go?

Once over the line it felt good to be running, I could feel my body warming and the urge to go to the bathroom subsided.  I thought to myself I'm not going to feel any pain in my feet today, as my feet were already seriously numb from the cold.  Seconds later I ran through an ankle deep puddle.

The first 10km of the race from Shinjuku to Hibiya passed by amazingly quickly despite my slow pace.  As it was my first marathon I was soaking up the atmosphere that only tens of thousands of spectators and fellow runners can provide.  I was distracted from the effort I was putting in by the other runners, supporters, scenery and enjoying the atmosphere that the kilometers just flew by. 

During the first 10km I really enjoyed watching the costumed runners.  There were just too many to name, but here are a few: Snow White was there, as were Spiderman, Pikachu, Winnie the Pooh, and a bloke in an Hawaiian skirt wearing a coconut bra.  But it was a great moment at the 3km mark when I passed Jesus Christ himself. When you pass the messiah you know you're going well, although he did have a pretty large heavy looking cross strapped to his back which was obviously slowing him down.

After the race, my daughters told me excitedly of all the characters they had seen running.  I never knew what to think of costumed runners but now I think they're awesome.  Like rodeo clowns they lift every ones spirits.  When feeling tired seeing Batman run past really takes your mind off the pain.  But best of all the costumed runners kept all the children in my Support Team entertained for hours .. I mean how boring is watching a marathon for a 5 year old if Minnie Mouse or a gorilla doesn't run by once in a while?  I used to think the were just attention seeking fools but now I realize they're a great asset to the race.  I'd love to thank every one of them that waved to the children in my Support Team, you brightened up their day and mine.

I arrived at the 10km mark behind schedule, cold, soaking wet and only partly able to see because my glasses were covered in raindrops and occasionally fogged up.  Ahead of me was the most boring looking part of the course from Hibiya down to Shinagwa and back which would take me to the 20 kilometer mark.  This part of the course takes you past Tokyo Tower but aside from that there is nothing to look forward to about going to Shinagawa, other than coming back.  I was still in need of a toilet, but those around the 10km mark had huge lines outside.

Hibiya to Shinagawa and back - is this bit really necessary?

I donned my iPod for the drudge to Shinagawa and back only to discover that it was reporting my distances in miles not kilometers which left me pretty much clueless as to my progress, plus it was barely audible possibly because it and my headphones were also drenched.  The most boring 10km of the race ahead, I had no music, no race feedback, and I needed to go to the toilet ... really really needed to go.

Less than 2km later natures call became too much and I headed off the course to line up for a toilet.  While waiting I gave my wife a call to let her know where I was, she was already in Ginza with the rest of the "Support Team" and I could here them cheering on the runners in the background.  The longer I waited in line for the toilet the more I realized that standing around in the cold with a full bladder was worse than running with a full bladder and that I was losing time fast.  So, I broke from the line and rejoined the race without any relief.

Shinagawa came and went and on the way back towards Ginza I felt the need for an energy gel.  I fumbled around at the zip of my pouch with my freezing, numb fingers and eventually managed to extract a gel.  Try as I might though I could not twist it open .. my fingers  felt like big frozen sausages.  Eventually I held the cap in my teeth and wrenched it between the heels of both hands .. which worked, but I must have looked a right moron.

Ginza - A boost in energy

I knew the Support Team were waiting in Ginza with a huge hand made banner featuring the Australian flag, drawings by the kids, and messages of encouragement, so I called my wife once more while running past the 21km mark to let her know I was on the way.  I didn't want them to miss me after standing out in the cold for so long. I must have slowed quite a bit because I was determined to find them.  As I ran through Ginza Crossing I positioned myself on the left side of the road as close to the supporters as possible and scanned the crowds ahead for my girls.

I did a lot of 20km runs during training, but at this point I was feeling a little tired.  This changed the moment I spotted my wife, daughters, and the rest of the Support Team a huge grin spread across my face and felt a surge of energy from deep within my body.  After launching a now unneeded pair of soaked woolen gloves at them I high fived as many hands as I could.  Looking back I wish I had stopped for a quick chat, and photo opportunity as they had been waiting for me for a long time in the cold rain.. but after stopping I wasn't sure I would be able to start again.  I was so happy to have seen them, they changed my race.

Less than a kilometer away I spotted, my neighbor, training partner and the man who talked me into entering the Marathon in the first place.  (Unfortunately he didn't secure an entry, but was in training to run the Nagano Marathon in April)  He was cheering on runners all morning and when we spotted each other it took a moment for us to recognize each other .. it was really odd, but after a pause he  exploded with a loud cheer and shouts of encouragement.  I grinned, shouted something, waved and took the energy he gave with me.

Ginza to Asakusa - Its a smorgasbord!

From Ginza the route takes us to Asakusa.  Its an exciting part of the course mostly due to the cheering spectators who hand out food (candy, bread, hot coffee, and even Miso soup!) at to runners and shout words of encouragement as we ran by.  On this part of the course, all us amatures are getting tired and need all the support and encouragement we can get.  The supporters know this is a tough part of the course for us and gather there to push us all forward, its an amazing atmosphere.

I was 25km into my run and STILL needed to visit a toilet.  Finally I spotted one, ran almost 50 meters off the course to see 3 port-a-potties and a line of roughly 40 people.  Damn! Back to the race, more valuable minutes lost.  A kilometer later I HAD to stop, I HAD to go or I was at serious risk of my bladder exploding.  (But as all the runners were soaked from head to toe nobody would have noticed!)

I waited roughly 10 minutes before I took the longest most satisfying pee of my life.  Just like the scene in Austin Powers where he wakes from suspended animation and pees an endless stream for minutes on end.  Evacuation com ... com ... evacuation complete.  (Sorry, it needed to be said.  It was a very important part in my race :)

I rejoined the race and was amazed at how quickly Senso-ji came into view and we turned back towards Ginza getting an amazing view of the currently under construction Tokyo Sky Tree. 

Asakusa to Ginza - Twice as long as Ginza to Asakusa? Thats unpossible!

The Asakusa to Ginza leg takes you past the 30km mark and for some reason feels almost twice as long as the Ginza to Asakusa leg.  The rain had stopped, the sun was coming out and it was getting decidedly warm in he garbage bag I had been wearing since the start.  I shed the bag, grabbed a banana and drink from a nearby drink station and settled in for the long grind back to Ginza.  My iPod had dried out and was audible but I took it off in order to hear the crowds and enjoy the atmosphere.
During training my longest run was 30km, and I only did that once and it left me buggered for a week afterwards, so the kilometers from 30 to 35 were all new ground for me.  Losing energy fast it was this stage of the race I was beginning to think "OK, you're going to make it to the end, but once this is over you never have to run another marathon again in our life." I was close to taking a walking break during this section but knew the Support Team and some people from work would be around the 35km mark and I was determined not to let them see me stacking off.  Knowing there were friends and family up ahead waiting for me, cheering for me kept me running.  If they had not been there I would have slowed down for a little rest and my time would have been longer.  You have no idea how important having them there was to my race.

Not long after rounding the bend at Ginza 4 Chome for the final 8km to the finish line at Tokyo Big Site  I spotted the Support Team once more.  Again their cheers gave me an incredible boost in energy and bought a big grin to m face.  Hayakawa-san grabbed the hand made banner and ran along side me behind the waving crowd shouting encouragement for about for a short time before he faded and dropped back.  Not long after I spotted my neighbor again ... I slumped over to convey to him just how tired I was, waved and pushed on.

In truth I wasn't just pretending to be tired but I had to keep up a brave performance because a fellow from work had said he'd be waiting somewhere around the 35km mark for me.  I had no confidence he would be there as he is the type to bail out at the last minute, but on the off chance he was there I had to keep up my pace.  Right before the 36 kilometer mark I spotted him and two others from work which really surprised me, smiled and waved .. that was all I had the energy for.

Ginza to the Finish - from the worst you've ever felt to the best in under 8km
Once well past my supporters my mind told my body to take it easy.  I'd been holding on to my pace up until the 36km mark because I wanted to run past my supporters in good form.  But in the kilometers after 30 a voice in my head was telling me "Once you've passed everyone here to cheer you on, you can take a break.  They'll never know." So, between the 36 and 39 km mark I walked a bit, ran a bit, drank a bit, ate a bit and generally took it easy knowing I was going to make it to the finish even if not in a stellar time.

I think if someone told me they'd be cheering me on somewhere between 35km and 42km I wouldn't have given in to the voice in my head and have ran right on to the finish. 

Surprisingly though with the crowds, and volunteers all cheering you on its actually harder to walk than run.  They're all pushing you forward, giving you energy and somehow you feel like you don't want to let them down.  It was really strange but each time someone looked me in the eye an called out Gambatte! Go on! You can do it! I found the energy to break out in a run despite my tiredness.  Without that crowd support I would have slacked off a lot more.

With 3km to go the sun was shining and I was feeling in really good shape.  It was the warmest I had been all day and I was actually enjoying myself a lot more and couldn't help thinking what a different race it would have been if the weather was this nice from the start.  I pulled out my phone and called my wife again to let her know I wasn't far away.  Like many others I walked through the final drink station downing the entire content of two amino supplement drinks before shuffling up to what passed as running speed at this stage of the race for the final 2.195 kilometers.

With the sun shining brightly and the crowd all cheering loudly I turned into the final straight and broke out into what felt like a sprint, but was probably more like a slow jog, up to the finish line.  There were stands of spectators on one side of the straight and entertainment on the other.  I was really surprised the stands were so small as there must have been thousands of spectators who wanted to see their loved ones cross the finish but couldn't get a position, my Support Team included.

My arms felt like limp noodles when I flung them in the air as I crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 8 minutes.  A long way from the 4 hours 30 minutes I had planned to run, but with crowds, weather, and toilet stops thrown in I was proud to have just finished in such good shape.

Once over the line I took the time for a short stretch on the warm asphalt and to check for any injuries (thankfully there were none) before following the herd into the finishing area.  With amazing efficiency myself and thousands of other runners made their way forward collecting the finishers towel and a bottle of Amino Vital before having our timing chips cut from out shoes and traded for the finishers medal.  After that I received  huge plastic bag with a single small bottle of water in it, odd I thought.  But as I wove my way to the luggage pickup area my plastic bag filled with energy bars, bananas, oranges and other goodies to refuel and repair my tired body.

I made my way into a surprisingly empty exhibition space at Tokyo Big Site where 3 girls spotted the number on my bib and raced each other to retrieve my luggage.  Incredible the enthusiasm and energy all the volunteers displayed even this long after their day had begun.  I was pretty much dry at this stage so simply pulled a tracksuit on over my running gear before filing out of the runners area.

The exit to the runners area was like that of an international airport.  We runners made our way down a long glass walled corridor with doors at the end. On the other side of he doors barricades were set up behind which friends and families of the runners, some holding signs, waited for their runner to appear.  Without any trouble I found my Support Team and gave my wife and daughters all a big hug. 

After chowing down on some of the goodies I had received in the runners area and sharing some of the highlights of the day with my excited team we all filed to the station to head on home.  The train was crowded (as you'd expect when 35,000 runners and their supporters hit the same venue) and I found myself to be very sleepy, not stiff, sore, tired or injured.  Bundled up in my tracksuit riding the train I was the warmest I had felt all day and I was feeling very relaxed and very sleepy.

All things considered it was an awesome day, and I really hope I can run this event again next year.

OK, turn away now if you don't want to read about my BLEEDING NIPPLES!  (Sorry, launched right into BLEEDING NIPPLES without warning there didn't I?)  Its something I've read about, but not experienced even during my longest training runs so I didn't take any precautions such as band-aiding them up before the race. Upon arriving home I stripped down to take a shower and decided to remove my number bib to keep as a souvenir of the race.  Underneath my bib, standing out quite noticeably on my white running jersey were two perfectly round, red patches of blood.  It looked like I had been shot twice in the chest!

The only side effect in the days after the marathon were some really painful thigh muscles, ordinary muscle pain, not injury, (oh, and some sensitive nipples) so all things considered I came out of the race in really good condition.  It took about 5 days before I could go down a flight of stairs without any discomfort, but come Friday evening I was really wanted to get out for another run.

Now the Tokyo Marathon is over I'm looking for another event to work towards.  I expect to run the Toda and Yokohama Half Marathons in November but will be looking out for another event before then.  I'll most certainly put in an entry for next years Tokyo Marathon, it is just too good an experience to miss out on.  
It has been three months since I ran the marathon, and with no goal to train towards, and a lingering cold, by running has dropped off to as little as once or twice a week for a mere 7km  at a time.  But having just re-read my race report I realize just what good shape I was in on February 28 and that has given me the inspiration to get out there and start running again.  Three times a week for 7km with 15km or so Sunday mornings, then cross my fingers that I can get an entry into the Tokyo Marathon 2011.


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