The one and only goal was to finish, and maybe have a little fun as well. So a time that's nearly my slowest ever and a last six miles that were torture through cramping and what I suspect is a stress fracture couldn't stop me from smiling. I was able to fly to Japan, run a world major marathon on a perfect weather day, pace my long-time running partner for 25k and made it across the finish line in one piece. Can't complain about that.
All the sights and sensations of an international marathon on this scale won't fit in this post, but in a quick word it was spectacular. A race with 37,000 is organized flawlessly and on a very large scale -- the expo itself was several floors and the passage from finish line to exit was at least a 1.5-mile walk. Just an incredible production. The citizens of Tokyo love the race, they line every step of the course up until the last kilometer or so (the terrain gets a little weird for spectators as you approach the finish because its kind of industrial), people even prepare their own fruit and treats and hold out platters of aid for you as you wind through the metropolis. There are dancing groups along the course, traditional drummers, some choirs, and one beat-up old boom box playing a scratchy version of "Eye of the Tiger" on repeat. And because there are two turnarounds on the point-to-point course, you get to watch the Kenyans/Ethiopians and Japanese Olympic qualifiers zip by, which is a little motivational burst. In short, toss your name into the lottery if you like a little adventure and want an experience.
I entered because my long-time running partner has lived in Japan the past 18 months, and he wanted to try this race. So I had friends to stay with and help navigate some of the logistics (hotels, places to eat, airport pickups). I had been resting the previous 10 days or so after the tendinitis re-emerged, and was pretty nervous on the flight over. My left calf just didn't feel right, and it's not like you stretch out much on a 9-hour overnight plane ride. But I jogged 20 minutes the day after landing and that went fine, if a little stiff. I iced a few more times, tried to keep loose, and even decided to run in tights as a precaution (weather called for a start-time temperature in the 40s, and I didn't want to risk freezing up while waiting an hour outside).
Weather predictions turned out to be a little aggresive, and it was sunny and mid-40s, actually very nice. Still didn't hurt to wear the pants, because once packed into our gate we were stuck for about 40 minutes and much of the course is in shadows due to Tokyo's tall buildings. The start was a bit affair, singing and ceremony maybe 75 meters ahead of us, and they shot cannons full of paper hearts to send us off with the gun.
Mike and I wound through crowds for at least the first 3k, it's a packed race and even in an early gate there's plenty of variation in pace. By 3k we settled into a nice pace (other than one 90-second potty stop, because the lines were too long before the race) and actually held right at it (around 7:20 miles, though I measured kilometers because those were the signs) until 25k. Mike needed the pacing, he later told me he struggled to get going and felt really sluggish the first half. We hit the half-marathon at 1:40, after running past the Imperial Palace and seeing the leaders zip past. I was happy with every step, knowing my achilles was on borrowed time. I was counting on the magic of adrenaline and the couple of ibruprofen stashed in my pocket.
At 25k my body reminded me that 12 miles had been my long run in training. I knew it, and backed off while Mike kept right on and surged his pace a bit. I was in "management" mode, and that was fine. I knew it would be tough from there and didn't want a crash landing. I backed off to something closer to 7:50/min miles and held those until mile 20 -- where, as you can imagine, my body made another clear announcement.
The final six are always difficult enough, but especially when you're running on limited endurance and fitness. I began to cramp, first in the right hamstring, then the left, then both quads. It was pretty rough. I stopped to stretch and a volunteer (there may have been 100,000 of them) was immediately by my side. I smiled and said I could make it, and I started again, though the cramps would be severe enough to bring me to a quick stop a few more times. But I always recovered from them, and walked every aid station, and eventually I was home. Running kilometers is nice, actually, because they count down more quickly than miles. Using the "just get to the next one" strategy in my head was a little easier. I ran across the line among people falling over in exhaustion, looked out across Tokyo Bay to the "Dragon Bridge" and smiled really big.
Mike had finished in 3:21, a little slow for his expectations, after cramping and slowing at mile 23. His wife Tracy was behind us, coming just over 4 hours. We caught our breath and rested in a large auditorium for the Tokyo Big Sight convention center, and eventually made our way out to the food carnival (post-race: coffee, fish and chips, and two onigiri rice balls) and then took the train/subway back to Hiro. Celebration dinner was an okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake with pork and shrimp and egg) and the richest hot chocolate I've ever tasted. After everything this winter, I think I had earned it.
supernova glide blue -- 93