The Tokyo Marathon was my first marathon of 2019, first international marathon ever, eighteenth marathon overall, and my fourth World Marathon Major. So there was a lot going on here, but as I was running, I kept thinking how I didn’t think I’d have much to write about for it. Not from a lack of it being memorable, but I just couldn’t think of what I’d say. After sitting on it for a week, I think I have a ton! Let’s get to it!
Anyone following along on Twitter or Instagram Stories will already know how horrible my training was for this race. I’ve drafted posts about it, but couldn’t ever quite find the words I wanted so I never posted any of them. In short, I’ve been spending the last eight months fighting against my body. I’ve been fighting with a lot of extreme fatigue to the point where I’ve been going to doctors and having tests done to try to find out what the deal is. So far we’ve eliminated anything hormonal/thyroidal, Lyme Disease, and likely Lupus, to give you an idea of the level of my symptoms and what we’ve been looking for. I was able to scrap together enough for NYC Marathon, but these symptoms only continued to get worse for Tokyo. In the interest of keeping this recap under 5,000 words, I won’t go further into detail here, though, I’ll try to give an update at some point.
Very few of my weeks this cycle even broke 30 miles, most didn’t have long runs at all. Overall, I had one 15-miler and one 17-miler and that’s about it for runs over 12 miles. Not good.
Going into the race, I was really, really worried about this (lack of) training. I knew how bad it was and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. My body was fighting me and it truly broke me down mentally and emotionally. I set my expectations appropriately and focused myself on having fun and enjoying as much as possible. I needed to get my brain in a place where I didn’t worry about my time. I’ve been in bad training situations before, but never this bad. I just had to hope I had enough in me to get myself to the finish line.
Travel and pre-race
I could write an entire post just about the travel and pre-race stuff for this race, honestly. Maybe I even will later this week!
We booked a direct flight from NYC to Tokyo so at least we wouldn’t have to deal with any connections, but 14 hours is a long time to be on one plane. Our flight was out of JFK, which is not our preferred airport, being that we live in Jersey City. Because it was an evening flight, I decided I would work the first half of the day at the office and then leave from there to meet Danielle and head off.
Before boarding, I popped a couple Tylenol PMs so I could sleep the first half of the flight. They worked great and I was able to get a decent amount of sleep. Not great sleep, but not terrible either. Once we got halfway through the flight, I made myself stay up the rest of the way. We landed around 9pm, so the plan was to get through customs and immigration, get to our hotel, grab a quick bite, and hit the goddamn hay. Essentially, we left on Wednesday evening and missed most of Thursday with the 14-hour time difference.
On Friday, we went over to the expo to get my stuff for the race. This is when a lot of the overwhelmingness of Tokyo really hit us. We were staying in Shinjuku which is basically like being in Times Square if Times Square was the size of all of Midtown Manhattan, but the streets were small and narrow like in the Village. Oh, and you doubled the population. We struggled a bit at first trying to figure out how to get tickets for the trains and get around, but eventually we figured it out. And just as we did,a family from the USA asked us for help getting to the expo because they couldn’t figure it out. I tried to explain things as best I could, but eventually I was just like “come with us.”
The expo was, for sure, the wildest race expo I’ve ever experienced. It started off pretty normal, you get in a line and get your bib, packet, and shirt and all that jazz. In addition to your bib, you also are given a bracelet you need to wear until you finish the race. This is a security thing, I guess.
After that, you go into a tent with the official race stuff. This was like the NYC Subway during rush hour with how crowded it was it. The tent wasn’t super big and the rows of stuff were really narrow. You pretty much just had to shove your way through—no one was saying “excuse me” or anything. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of anything interesting in here. There were no official race jackets anywhere to be found so I just bought one tech t-shirt. I was kind of bummed because I wanted an official jacket.
After this tent was when things got wild. You go through another few tents where you can only walk in a straight line through them. There are vendors on both sides and it’s very narrow and very crowded. But these aren’t running companies. They’re just like whatever businesses and corporations trying to get your attention like you’re at some sort of trade show. It was just an insane display of in-your-face commercialism. It was super stressful, tbh. I wish I had taken photos of this part, but we were just trying to get through.
Finally, you come out of all of those tents and you’re back outside again. There are a bunch of food trucks and then there are the regular running vendors, the brands you’d expect. This was a bit more open and, instead of being in a single tent, each vendor was under their own canopy-thing. This was much more manageable and much more like any other race expo I’ve been to. I didn’t look at much here, though, since I didn’t have anything I needed or wanted to buy. We backpacked for the trip so everything we bought had to fit in our backpacks and would weigh us down. We needed to save as much space as possibe for Danielle to buy a gazillion pens and for the KitKats.
After the expo, we explored the area a bit and went to teamLab Borderless, which I would highly recommend. It’s a fully immersive visual art experience. If you’ve ever done Sleep No More, think that, but for digital/visual art instead of performing art.
On Saturday, we explored a bit more and I did a shakeout run around the Imperial Palace. This worked out great because there’s a 5k running loop around it that’s very popular. We were able to hop in with the other runners and do a lap. I felt kind of like garbage, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I chose not to dwell on it.
Thanks to our bodies being all kinds of confused about the time, we spent most of the trip getting up early and going to bed early, by like 8 or 9. This worked great for the night before the race. I set out my stuff and got into bed for like nine hours of sleep.
With the race starting at 9:10am and needing to be in my corral by 8:45am, I had plenty of time to not wake up early and rush. I woke up naturally at 6:30, a half hour before my alarm and relaxed a bit in bed before getting dressed. I gulped down my overnight oats and at a Clif Bar. My stomach felt kind of weird halfway through the Clif Bar so I tossed the rest. And the same thing happened again with my second Clif Bar in the corral.
At about 7:45, I decided it was time to head out. The walk to the start was less than a mile so that wasn’t a big deal.
It was fucking raining.
You’d think I’d paid my dues with rain races last year after Boston and the Brooklyn Half Marathon, but NOPE. The day before the race was beautiful, of course, but not race day itself. Though, I will say the weather wasn’t even close to as bad as Boston. It was 10º warmer, there was no in-your-face wind, and the rain was light. With the temperature in the mid-40s, I had some throwaway stuff on and a couple old heat sheets wrapped around me.
On the walk over, I talked to a few people from the UK about races and stuff. All of my interactions with other runners during this trip involved some sort of mention of how many Majors they’ve done so far. It just seemed like this was the only reason a Westerner would come to Tokyo to run. And, to be fair, it’s why I was there, but I don’t think that’s the only reason to run this race.
Getting through security was super quick and easy. It was the level of which you’d expect these days from a World Marathon Major. Metal detectors and crap. The only annoying part was they don’t let you bring bottles of liquid though. So you gotta toss your pre-race water. I knew this ahead of time, but it was still disappointing to toss a Nuun I had barely even touched yet. If you needed water, though, there was plenty on the other side of security that you could grab.
I wandered slowly through the starting area to just take it in and kill some time, but eventually, I wanted to be near my corral so I made my way near where the B-D corrals were lined up. I was lucky to find refuge from the rain under the front of a big office building. While huddled up with all the other runners, I found more English-speaking people to chat with. These were Americans so we talked about US races and Boston and Brooklyn last year.
As 8:45 approached, I decided it was time to get into my corral and deal with the rain again. Once in my corral, I wanted to stay near the back, but people kept filling in behind me and pushing me into the middle. I was in corral C which was probably a good place for me to be if I had had any real training at all, but I didn’t want to be in the way, given that I was going to be running pretty slowly.
While waiting for the race to finally get under way, I ended up chatting with some Aussies—really, you’d just find anyone who spoke your language to chat with—who were there to finish up the World Marathon Majors. It was just interesting hearing everyone have the same kind of takes on the race and Japan, in general.
As the corrals started to be collapsed and we we walked up a bit, the PopSocket I had literally just put on my phone before the trip popped off. I was planning to rely on it for not dropping my phone during the race while taking photos, but that was out the window. I guess it’s better that it fell off then and not while I was running.
It was cold. I mean, it was still wayyyy better than Boston last year, but it was still cold. I thought about just running with my heat sheet still tied on me—I had cut out a head hole and tied the sides so I was able to wear it like a poncho. I still had my throwaway long sleeve shirt and throwaway armwarmers on too. I texted Danielle that I might have throwaway stuff still on so she’d have to be on the look out for that while looking for me. It was just your standard pre-cold-race thing where you’re in the corral and can’t imagine the concept of ever being warm again.
The first half
Once the race got started, there was so much energy around. They didn’t do separate starts for each corral/wave which was kind of nice, actually. You’d just get to go as you got up to the start.
It was still raining, of course, that wouldn’t stop until two days later. But the crowds were out! There were people lining the bleachers along the starting line and then tons and tons of people on the course. It was amazing and energetic. I immediately got hit with excitement for the next 26.2 miles. I was still worried about my training, but I had a good feeling about things finally.
All of my throwaway stuff came off in the first quarter-mile with the exception of my throwaway armwarmers—a pair of tall, white tube socks with the toes cut out. Those would stay with me the entire race. With the exception of my hands, I warmed up pretty much right away. Because I wasn’t in a hurry, I pulled off to the side to peal off my layers and there were volunteers there to immediately take things from my hands so I wouldn’t have to throw anything on the ground. The entire race had volunteers every 25 meters or so for taking trash from runners. It was amazing. I wish US races had this!
My running didn’t feel great early on. I held myself back a lot and tried to stay closer to 9:00 miles. I think I was a little fast for some of those early miles, but keeping things easy was my number one priority. It was hard to keep it easy, though, the crowds were OUT AND LOUD. The crowds were what you’d expect for a World Marathon Major. Every single inch of the course was lined with people cheering and screaming. This was some of the best crowd support I’ve ever seen. And people would cheer for you even if you were obviously not Japanese. If you’d stop to walk for a bit, people were right there encouraging you. It was truly unbelievable and would give Boston and NYC a run for their money.
My race plan involved walking through water stops and up any of the super tiny little hills on the course. I spent a lot of time getting my mindset straight around this so I could walk whenever I wanted without beating myself up over it. I started with the easy little walks with the first water stop. Most walk breaks would be for like 20 seconds or so. Just enough to be there.
Unfortunately, I had some dark thoughts in the first ten miles. I was feeling tired and doing my best to run through it. I knew if I just got into the second half of the race, I’d be in a place where I could mentally fight my way through. Still, I wasn’t feeling great while running. I had thoughts about what would happen if I couldn’t make it to the end and I’d have to come back again for this race. Not that I wouldn’t want to run it again (I do), but I wouldn’t want to have to run it again to complete all the majors. I thought about if I’d have to DNS Boston next month. For a little while, I was just making sure I was keeping enough of a pace where if I had to walk out the second half of the race, I wouldn’t get swept. This isn’t where I wanted my mind to be, but it’s hard when you don’t have any training to rely on and trust.
Around 10k, there was a little 180º turn with cameras and all. That gave me a small mental boost, as there was a ton of energy there. There were cameras, both still and video, pretty frequently through the race, so I’d use them to pump myself up and pose for photos as I’d run by. For sure, they helped get me through.
One thing I knew about going into the race, but wasn’t sure how I’d deal with, was there aren’t really mile-markers during the race. They have markers at every five miles, but the rest of the markers are all for kilometers. Being an American, I train based on miles and that’s how I track my pace and such. It’s also a very important part of my mental strategy on race day. Usually, I’ll set my Garmin to manual lapping for a marathon and lap it at each mile-markers so it’s more accurate than relying on the GPS. With this not being a possibility, I considered manually lapping every kilometer, but ended up deciding to leave my watch in autolap rather than mess with it. The thing about the kilometer-markers, though, was the medical markers looked exactly the same. So the 12km medical tent would have a sign that looked like the 12km marker and you couldn’t tell the difference until you were right in front of it. The medical tents would be either a little before or after the official marker. This messed me up a few times and left me trying to remember if I’d already passed that kilometer-marker or not.
However, in general, counting kilometer-markers was actually better than counting mile-markers. Sure, there are 42 of them as opposed to 26, but they come so quickly!
For the first time in a few years, I actually took my gels as planned, every five miles. I used to be really good at this, but over the last couple of years, I’ve let it slip and would only take two or three each race. I took water or Pocari Sweat (their sports drink) at just about every water stop so I was nice and hydrated. Though, hydration wasn’t really a big concern given the weather.
The course is mostly a few out-and-backs which can sometimes be annoying, but most of the time, it didn’t bother me. It often meant getting to see some of the landmarks along the course twice.
The span from mile 10 to the halfway mark felt like it was going on forever, however, I started feeling much better about my race in this section. I wasn’t worried about having to DNF or walking a large portion of the end of the race anymore.
I crossed the halfway mark at around 2:01:09. Pretty much right on schedule for where I had wanted to be. At this point, I thought I might even be able to pick it up slightly in the second half.
The second half
The second half of the race felt a lot better to me than the first half. At least mentally. I was in much better spirits entire time and I really, really enjoyed myself. The race just felt like a great time. Mostly, this was due to the weight being lifted off me now that I was no longer worried about a DNF.
I kept up mostly the way I had been in the first half, but I think I might have taken fewer walk breaks overall. Unfortunately, around mile 15, my left hip started to bother me. This isn’t the one that bothers me literally any other time, but it’s the one that caused me trouble after Boston last year. It wasn’t terrible, but it was the kind of thing I wouldn’t run a training run through. Luckily, it stayed steady through the finish and never got worse, but it was there.
Mentally, the bulk of the second half of the race was the last out-and-back. The out section of this felt like it was going on forever and ever. I’d see the KM markers on the other side and then the ones on my side and it just felt like there was an eternity between them. I was feeling okay, but I was getting tired and I was worried about how my hip would feel at the finish.
As I started approaching 20 miles, I started doing some math, and a negative split and a sub-4:00 finish were both still on the table. I didn’t want to push for it, but if I kept it steady and then pushed in the last 2-3 miles, it was possible. I kept this in mind, but every time I took a walk break, I was like “well, that’s it for that.”
Somewhere around mile 21 or so, my right hamstring started to bother me a bit. This is the one that has been causing me a little bit of trouble. It was never bad, but I also wanted to be careful to not let it become bad.
If not for my hip and my hammie, I likely would have run out the last five miles without any walk breaks. I don’t know if this is ultimately what slowed me enough to miss sub-4:00, but it did cost me a negative split. I’m not upset about it at all, but it would have been nice!
The back portion of the last out-and-back felt like not even half as long as the out portion. Obviously, they were the same, but it just went by so much more quickly. At this point, it was just about managing my hip and hamstring while pushing as much as I could to not aggravate it more.
The last 5k or so was probably my quickest of the race. I was going at a nice, steady clip and passed a ton of people. It felt like how I finish the Disney Marathon. I was shocked I was able to push it a little in these last few miles. I didn’t expect to have anything left.
As we turned onto the last stretch, it was time to start looking for Danielle. This section was like a scream tunnel. It was a bit of a narrower street with buildings along it so the screams really echoed. The excitement was real, though!
Eventually, I heard my name before I could see Danielle, but there she was and I was nothing but smiles going by her. Marathon 18 was coming to a close and I was psyched!
I was SO ready to stop running, but with a quarter mile left, it was time to just hang on. I knew I was coming in over four hours, but I wasn’t bummed at all about it. I was just excited to cross that finish line.
As I crossed, it was with a sea of other runners. I feel like I usually don’t finish around that many other people, but looking at my photos from the finish, you can barely even find me.
A 4:02:27 and I was happy. My slowest marathon in a few years and I really didn’t care. My second half was a 2:01:18, only nine seconds slower than the first half.
So now, just like Boston last year, as soon as I stopped running, my hip locked right the fuck up and I was in excruciating pain. And I was freezing and wet. I just hoped the hip pain would go away after laying down for a bit, like it did at Boston.
Unlike every other race I’ve ever run, you don’t get your medal like right there after finishing. It’s not until you walk for a bit. At this point, I was more concerned about a heat sheet, but I wanted to see the medal I had just worked for! I was so honestly excited to see that it’s not a HUGE medal. It’s a beautiful medal of a reasonable size. I love it!
At the finish, there are different routes to go based on the color of your bib. I chose to not check a bag, so I was directed down a different path from those who did. All runners got towels and heat sheets at the finish, but those of us who chose not to check bags also got fleece jackets and ponchos. And the volunteers physically put them all on you and helped you get your arms in the sleeves and everything. Honestly, I needed the help at this point.
I wouldn’t say I was warm, but all the layers of stuff helped a bit.
Trying to walk back to Tokyo Station, our meeting point, was real rough, though. My hip hurt so bad. I was like dragging my left leg. It was as bad as it was after Boston. When I got to Danielle, I said I didn’t want to bother trying to change. I just wanted to get back to the room as quickly as possible. The train back wasn’t a long ride, but I was at least able to get a seat.
After getting back to the room and showering and resting for a little bit, my hip loosened back up and I was fine again. I was surprised to find how not stiff and not sore I was. My legs felt pretty good. Like, I could jump still. Go figure.
Overall, I had a blast at this race. Yes, the weather sucked and so did my training, but everything about this event is so well organized and the volunteers are simply amazing. I couldn’t recommend this race enough, whether you’re doing it to complete all the Majors or for any other reason.
I’m happy with the time I ran considering everything. I know I’ve got Boston coming up in five weeks so I’m going to have to go through all of the stress of a marathon on next to no training, but I’m a lot less concerned now than I was before Tokyo.
P.S. I know I shouldn’t be using the DO NOT COPY race photos. I am a firm believer that you should pay people for their work and that includes race photographers. I’ve bought a lot of race photos over the last few years and I am almost definitely going to buy these ones, as well (when I do, I will update these images). However, at $38 each or $192 for the whole set, those prices are outrageous. This is way more epensive than any other race I’ve ever run, including other World Marathon Majors. Given the cost of the entire trip to be able to even run the race at all, I need a moment here.