…and what a wonderful start it was. Tokyo is a fascinating city to visit and it was a privilege to find myself running in the 10th Tokyo marathon on 28 February 2016. Distance running is an obsession in Japan, and it was no surprise to find a city in such anticipation ahead of the race. The trip to the Expo (straight off the 14 hour flight!) was made worthwhile by the hundreds of smiling and clapping volunteers who made the usually mundane process of collecting number and t-shirt a memorable one.
The Japanese are nothing if not ordered, and I’ve certainly never been part of a race that was so well organised – it just didn’t feel like there were 37,000 other runners taking part, whether going through the usual pre-race routine (changing, toilet queuing, bag-check, more toilet queuing and assembling in the correct zone), during the race itself or at the finish (after race acupuncture anyone?). Everything was well thought through and ran like clockwork (not sure about the Japanese style porta-loos though!) assisted by an army of cheering volunteers who couldn’t do enough to help and support us. The course takes you through the main areas of the city, starting in the metropolitan district of Shinjuku, taking you past the Imperial Palace and through upmarket Ginza, before finishing in the Tokyo Bayside. It was a great way to see the sights and sounds of Tokyo, but made so much more special by the 1.5 million people who came out to line every single part of the 26.2 (or 42.195 as it was!). They were simply amazing; cheering, shouting, clapping us all the way round. A normally quite reserved people, the Japanese do tend to throw themselves into the things that matter to them, and this was no exception. And if you gave them a wave, smile or high-five then they responded even more. Quite what they made of my own Union Jack hat-wearing support I’m not sure – but it gave me such a lift to see a friendly face at three points along the way.
And as for my race? Well it was always going to be tough after spending so much of the last five months injured. Despite that, the four weeks before the race went well (including a wet and cold 16 miler around London one evening and a local 10 mile race) and I boarded my flight feeling quietly optimistic of a decent, if not spectacular, run. A final twist was waiting however, as a chest infection took hold in the couple of days before the race. In the end it was all about keeping going, finishing, and enjoying the whole experience. “Pride, determination, obsession, grit” was the mantra that I regularly repeated to myself as I completed my first World Marathon Major.
It was my slowest marathon to date, and physically the toughest. But it is also the one I have enjoyed the most. I’m not normally emotional about my running, but I will admit to shedding a couple of tears as I stood at the start waiting for the gun. “I’m in Japan and about to run a marathon”, I thought to myself, beginning to grasp the true ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ nature of the moment. More importantly, I was acutely aware of the huge support I was getting from family, friends and teammates, all but one of whom were over 6,000 miles (and a 9 hour time difference) away, with some particularly dedicated souls staying up into the early hours in order to track my progress. It’s often said that running is a lonely sport, but at that moment I realised nothing could be further from the truth. You kept me going to the end, and I hope one day I’ll be able to do the same for you. Thank you.
So now it’s a few days off to recover from the chest infection, before putting in some quality training ahead of the Boston/London double in April.
Train hard, race easy and enjoy the views along the way.