I successfully finished the 2012 Tokyo Marathon with an unofficial chip time of 3:13:15. More than a full day after running the race, I’m still on cloud nine as I write this post. I achieved my ‘B’ goal and arguably also achieved my ‘A’ goal (I’ll explain later). To qualify for the 2013 Boston Marathon I needed to run a 3:15 or better for the 40 – 45 age group, so it is a huge relief after 18 years of running to finally get that monkey off my back. Although there is no guarantee I’ll get selected to run in Boston with their new selection process, I think my chances are pretty good considering they tightened the qualifying standards by 5 minutes and I’m also 1 minute and 45 seconds inside the minimum qualifying time. But I digress, back to the race report.
After getting an okay night sleep of about 7 hours, I woke up at 4:30 am. I set three alarm clocks – I know, pretty ridiculous, but after months of training, I wasn’t about to wake up late on race day. I actually didn’t need any of the alarms as I woke up naturally before they went off. I had a moderate size breakfast, bowl of raisin bran, a buckwheat waffle, and good size cup of coffee. In addition, I prepared an energy hydration drink to sip during my train ride to the start. Then I showered, put on the running clothes I laid out the night before, and left the house to catch a 6 am train to Shinjuku.
The train was a crowded with other anxious runners, so I had to stand from Yokohama to Shinjuku. But it was a good opportunity to listen to some uplifting music – not sure why but I wanted to listen to Viva La Vida by Coldplay. It was only about a 30 minute ride and I arrived at the start area around 7:15 am.
The start area was well organized, the Tokyo Marathon organizers really know what they are doing. The whole process of getting through security, dressing, checking you bags, meal service, starting block arrangements was pretty flawless. Even the port-a-potties, a common complaint I usually have about Japanese marathons seemed to be adequate. During the two hour wait until the start, I was able to take care of business 4 times (what can I say, I was very hydrated) without any really long waits. One thing I should mention, the Japanese are usually very strict about time, so if you need to be in your starting block at a certain time, don’t be one second late because they will not let you in and you’ll end up having to start at the very back. I’ve seen people show up 30 seconds after the stated time and the gatekeeper would not let them in.
I was in Block C, which was toward the front end, but it still took me about 2.5 minutes to cross the start line. There were the normal introductions, comments, national anthem, some music, and helicopters hovering overhead. The wheelchair athletes started at 9:05 and then we were off at promptly 9:10.
The weather was perfect from start to finish. Temperatures were in the 40s, cloud cover the entire race, and slight breeze – definitely a no excuse day.
The first mile was slow due to the large number of runners, but then when the road widened significantly, I was able to settle into my target pace rather early in the marathon. There was still a lot of dodging and weaving because they allow members of the running clubs preference in the ‘A’ Block, but it wasn’t too bad, I’ve experienced much worse.
Right from the start, I felt I was in the zone. The miles were just clicking by and I was averaging around a 7:15 pace until the mid-point. I crossed the halfway mark around 1:37, right where I wanted to be and still feeling fully energized. This feeling of being in the zone lasted until the 20 mile mark, then it started to gradually feel like an effort. I still felt okay, just not great, and I started to feel mild cramping in my quads. I knocked out a couple more miles, but my pace was slowing a bit. Then my mind started messing with me, encouraging me slow down even more since the hardest and most hilly part of the course was coming up soon. Another discouraging factor at this point in the race was the course seemed to be long. My GPS watch would record a kilometer split, but the kilometer course marker was nowhere in sight. In fact, at the end of the race, it appears I ran an extra half mile. I knew relative to my GPS I was on my target pace, but didn’t know if the extra distance was going to derail my entire effort – it is just too hard to do any math at this point in the marathon and you tend to think the worst.
Just before the bridges and overpasses, this is where I really needed to dig deep and find some mental toughness. I took my last gel, said a prayer to the good Lord, and told myself to relax and just continue to put one foot in front of the other, only 4 miles to go. It was around this time I heard Viva La Vida by Coldplay being blasted by someone’s boom box – the same exact song I was listening to on my train ride that morning. If that wasn’t divine intervention, I don’t know what is.
The first major bridge came and went and wasn’t too bad – only three miles to go. Then there were a couple moderate bridges, my spirits are beginning to lift. When I saw the sign 4 km to go and I looked at my watch, I knew my chances of getting under 3:15 were very good – all I needed was to run 8 minute miles for the next 2.5 miles. Once I was able to make this calculation, it made a world of difference, and I got my second wind and started picking up the pace to close to 7 minute miles to the finish strong. In fact, my last 5K split was the fastest. Below are my recorded 5K splits, I was surprised at how consistent I ran.
1-5K (22:55), 5-10K (22:56), 10-15K (22:51), 15-20K (23:05), 20-25K (23:35), 25-30K (22:49), 30-35K (22:58), 35-40k (22:32), 40-42K (9:34)
So overall, I probably ran one of my smartest races and my even pacing strategy seemed to have worked. I ran about a one minute negative split and that includes a brief restroom break just after the halfway point. Other than the doubtful thoughts racing through my head around the 20 to 22 mile mark, I’m not sure what else I could have done to improve upon this effort. As I mentioned earlier, I arguably met my ‘A’ goal, which was to run a 3:10 marathon. Because I wasn’t able to run the tangents of the course and had to run on the outer edge for much of the race because of the large number of runners, I actually ran an extra half mile. If you factor that in, if I would have been able to run closer to 26.2 miles instead of 26.7 miles, then I would have come in around 3:10 – but I’ll happily take my 3:13 without complaint.
Garmin GPS Link: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/152624797
As expected, the Tokyo Marathon organizers and city did a superb job, it really is a world class event up there with Boston, New York, and London. The marathon is relatively young, it is only 6 years old, but you would have thought they’ve been doing it for decades. The crowds were amazing, the course is literally lined with spectators from beginning to end. I heard somewhere that there are actually more spectators on the Tokyo Marathon course than New York, which I believe. Definitely a bucket list marathon. Hopefully, I’ll have the privilege to run this race again.