February 28, 2007

Tokyo Marathon 2007

A while ago you might remember me dropping the hint that I was considering entering the 2007 Tokyo Marathon. Well enter it I did, and in mid November I heard that I was one of the lucky 30,000 enough to get a place - most of the other people I knew were part of the less fortunate group numbering around 70,000.

I entered the festive season with trepidation and several questions running around in my head such as "how was I going to get enough training in between all the end of year parties?", "would the start of year parties get in the way at all?", "is running a fourth marathon too much for one pair of legs?" and "had I remembered to pack my baby costume when I moved to Tokyo?".

As I searched for the answers to these questions and more I began to increase my weekly milage. I began to increase it from the zero kilometers I was currently running to 10km by undertaking the momumental task of a 10km run once a week. I then sat back and enjoyed a few parties here and there.

I woke up one cold but sunny morning to the realisation that it was already the start of January, the big day was mere weeks away and I'd yet to run more than 10km since the London Marathon in 2005. "No problem" I thought to myself, "I'll sit this one out. I've done three already after all so there's no need to push myself to do this one", and I continued my 10km runs proud of my mature attitude and the fact I was running 10km a week more than in 2006.

A couple more weeks passed and a talk with a colleague sowed the seed of the idea that running the full distance might be achievable after all. I mulled it over during my next 5km run (10km seemed to be beyond my reach after a particularly vigourous party the night before) and the idea began to take hold. It was going to be the inaugral Tokyo Marathon after all and 70,000 people would be most upset if I didn't take up the entry ticket I was lucky enough to be grasping tentatively with one hand.

So slowly and quietly I began to lay my plans. During my weekly run I cast my mind over possible choices of apparel for my fourth marathon, over what my race plan would be given the difference between my weekly runs and the goal line, and where was the best place to buy bananas in Tokyo.

The date drew closer, the gaps between parties began to grow, and the memories of marathons past became steadily more vivid; joking about doing a marathon and then waking up the next day determined to actually do it; crossing the finish line for the first time and breaking down into tears; the months of training; my supporters (for which I'm enourmously grateful); the same supporters pointing and laughing at my inability to traverse staircases in the days following a marathon; travelling to Paris; travelling to Berlin (even if I didn't run that one); returning the favour as friends ran past my house in the London marathon; having physio-therapy to fix my leg injury; shopping for a non-chafing costume; the charged atmostphere at the start of a race as 30,000 people all jostle to begin their run.

As I shopped for a costume which would be attention grabbing but easy to run in I began to regret not giving the inaugral Tokyo Marathon the respect it deserved and of not putting in the hours of dedication my legs required of me. None-the-less my inner voices were confident. "I've run three marathons before" they said, "I have the experience to see me through", and "I certainly can't be going for a record finishing time" they concluded. Sound advice I thought to myself as, concealing a smirk, I paid for the bright blue ninja outfit and nunchucks.

The day before the marathon was time to mainly sit down, eat lots of pasta, and sew bits of costume down to prevent them flapping about when running. A final check of the weather report before retiring to bed left me mildly disturbed. Large storms were forcast to be coming in during the night and not due to clear up until the afternoon. I shut down the web browser and put some plasters out for the morning.


February 18th, 5:30am. The day had arrived. Rise and shine, shower, put plasters on nipples. Dress in costume. Look out of window to confirm sound is the torrential rain that was forecast. Eat breakfast. Stretch. Put mobile phone into clear plastic bag for running with. Hunt for plastic bag large enough to wear while waiting to start. Final check of kit bag. Leave house.

7:00am. Getting some strange looks on the Yamanote line I am reminded of similar moments two years ago in London except the trains were much more crowded with runners, and certainly more crowded with people wearing silly outfits. I arrive at Shinjuku station and begin to feel the charged atmostphere as I'm quickly engulfed in the mass of people changing into their race clothes in the dryness of the station. Every toilet has a queue longer than outside Maddam Tussauds, everyone is wearing a Tokyo Metro bin liner, no one is dressed in costume.

8:00am. I find my baggage lorry and pass my kit bag to the excited volunteers. I remember they are in the cold and rain too, and hope that the sight of a bright blue ninja made them forget that for a second. I make my way to the start clutching my throw-away-umbrella and try to concentrate on today's marathon rather than relaxing into the memories of the previous three starting zones which had all been bathed in sunshine and full of smiling runners as opposed to 5 degree centigrade downpour and mostly people with expressions of cold on their faces.

9:00am. Everyone's been stood still in the rain for 20 minutes now to listen and watch an opening ceremony which is, for me at least, both out of sight and comically unmotivational. A mexican-wave of hands passes down the throng of runners which, for me, is much more motivational and lightens the mood briefly. Umbrellas are put down, and a large bang up ahead complete with confetti and smoke signifies the official start.

9:13am. I cross the starting line and I consicously crush the small voice in the back of my mind called Doubt which had started to grow in the wet and windy conditions. I settle down to a nice slow jog and breathe in deeply. "Off we go" says Confidence, "You'll never make it" says Doubt. I rip off the bin liner to reveal the complete ninja costume, look up to see the top half of buildings shrouded in mist and once again dismiss Doubt with a shake of my head and a big smile. "Marathon number 4 here we go."

After 18km I pass the only supporter I'll manage to see this time around. Luckily they manage to snap off a picture to capture this year's ninja winter collection. I've spotted a few other people in costume so I don't feel so alone, plus almost every other spectator has been cheering for Andy Ninja so I feel pushed along by the wave of "ganbattes".

11:44am. I finally understand what it means to hit 'the wall'. Just past the 26km marker a muscle in my right leg between by quad and my knee begins to cramp. I slow my gait and will it to go away. It's no good though, Doubt was beginning to resurface and I realised I had to do something and do something quickly. I acted decisively and immediately stopped running. "There, that's fixed it" I thought. The obvious drawback to my plan soon became apparant however as people continued running around me. I began to vigourously massage the offending muscle. A minute later and off I trotted again. A kilometer later and the cramping had disappated. Hoorah!"" said Confidence.

12:21pm. I reach the 30km milestone. Doubt has not been allowed to make a reappearance, Confidence was still pinning him down just off stage right. I'd run a fair way longer than my weekly runs but unfortunately not fast enough to make it to the food stops before the mountains of bananas had ran out. My stomach growled but was thankfully appeased by the occaisonal spectator's timely donations. These ocasional spectators were mobbed as they held out their arm with a handful of sweets or chocolates. At 33km a saintly restuarant owner even dished out small doses of miso soup to warm the runners. I was very grateful to that restaurant since I'd had to drop my horn about 10km ago when I began to lack the tensile strength in my frozen fingers to squeeze it loud enough for it to be worth carrying.

12:58pm. I enter the last 7km. I'd been warned about how this would test the runners. Entering a dock area meant crossing several bridges in the last stretch. Each one had a change in altitute of 10 meters which to the tired legs of those around me was too much to handle. I'd been feeling the twangs of a muscle so close to cramping for the last 10km and I feared these relatively mountainous inclines would also be the end of me. I took a deep breath though as I crossed the "5km to go" sign and realised the rain was clearing up. I decisively uttered what has been my simple mantra in each of my marathons - "Come on Andy, get it done". I lifted my head and continued at my blisteringly slow pace towards the finish.

1:54pm. I cross the finish line holding my nunchucks aloft whilst the TV commentator remarks it's the first time he's seen a ninja with nunchucks and perhaps this foreigner is confused. Number four complete. Slowest time to-date (4 hours 41 mintues), but better than I had dared hope given circumstances and weather combined. I pick up my medal and wear it proudly as I shuffle humbly along through the mass of thousands of other people also wearing medals.

A sleepless night followed as all the leg muscles I didn't know existed repeatedly cramped up serving as a painful reminder of why training for a marathon is a good idea. As I tried to catch a snooze between waves of pain I mused that I still hadn't found the best place to get bananas in Tokyo.

I have now endured the customary, highly comical, challenge of traversing flights of stairs and I'm back to reasonable condition now with just a bruised left hip and right knee to contend with.

I wander what number five will be like?

Posted by Andy at 2:52 AM into Running
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