Race Report: Tokyo Marathon

2012 Tokyo Marathon Medal

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.

Runners making their way to the starting area from the train station.

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)

Tokyo Marathon Finisher's Towel

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

My post race meal - including a chocolate milkshake. Not the most healthy meal, but it sure hit the spot!

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.

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About runninginspired

I’m in my mid-40s and have been running for about 19 years. I have finished 24 marathons with a personal best time of 3:04. I currently reside in San Diego, CA. I enjoy running since it keeps you honest and will give back what you put into it. Work hard, but smart, and good results will eventually follow. I like to experiment with training plans, gadgets, shoes, and nutrition to find what works for me. The primary purpose of this blog is to document my training and thoughts about running in my ongoing quest to improve my fitness and health.
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12 Responses to Race Report: Tokyo Marathon

  1. Pingback: UPDATED: Marathons I Have Run | Running Inspired Blog

  2. motivblogger says:

    Congratulations!
    Good job. Really 🙂

  3. fiberliza says:

    Hi! I am so happy for you! I have been watching this blog for the last 40 hours waiting for this report, you must think I am stalking you! But I know what it is like to want that BQ so bad, and do your training so diligently, and just have to run your run and see what happens.

    I literally choked up when I read how you finished so strong.

    Congratulations again! And if you are fortunate enough to get into Boston, I know you will wear that jacket with pride. And if not, you BQ’ed and no one can deny it. I wish we could put that behind our names, like academic titles 🙂 Jane Smith, B.Q. Has a nice ring, eh!

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging comments over the past few months. Getting a BQ time was probably one of the hardest, but also the most satisfying goals, I’ve ever worked toward. I’ll definitely savor the experience if I’m fortunate enough to get into Boston.

  4. Great race report – congratulations on your time, I’ll keep my fingers crossed you get in to Boston!
    That’s a fine looking medal and an even better recovery meal 😉

  5. hayyau says:

    Congratulations!
    I’m glad that all your hard work, discipline and effort paid off.
    All the best with Boston!!

  6. Pingback: Top 10 Things that Helped Me Finally Qualify for the Boston Marathon | Running Inspired Blog

  7. Jamie says:

    Congrats on your BQ! I was at the race too but at 4:24, finished more than an hour after you :). Have posted my report here http://www.jamiepang.com/blog/?p=4325.

    It was my first time in Japan and after Tokyo, I spent 4 days in Kyoto. Love the country and having run NYC, I agree with you that Tokyo is up there with the best. I’m now exploring Lake Kawaguchi, Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto Marathons as my next and hope to get more info of the Japanese races via your blog.

    Cheers

    Jamie

    • Jamie,

      Enjoyed reading your race report, you captured the event very nicely.

      FYI, I’ve run Lake Kawaguchi and Kobe. I would recommend Kobe over Kawaguchi – Kobe is in nice city and more accommodating to foreigners. Also, I found Lake Kawaguchi’s course to be very narrow and too crowded. Osaka and Kyoto are still on my to do list, but heard Osaka is a good marathon.

      Thanks for the nice comments.

      Cheers,
      RI

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