Though I had participated in other marathons in the Philippines, this was my first international marathon experience. And a Marathon Major to boot!
With Metro Manila being what it is – horrific traffic, a variety of districts run by a variety of mayors with their own political agenda – it is virtually impossible for Manila to hold something similar. Maybe Cebu has a shot except that it probably won’t have as much landmarks as Metro Manila. It’ll take a huge amount of passion and courage – not to mention, political will – to get this done in Manila.
I was impressed with how the race was organized. I wrote about how the runners were segregated into 11 groups, overseas runners being in group K which I suppose was done for English translation purposes. The race booklet recommended different subway stations for the different categories – for example, runners belonging to blocks A, B, and C were recommended to take Shinjuku West Exit and those belonging to D and E are recommended to take the Shinjuku South exit – probably to avoid congestion.
I belonged to group K and thus the recommended station was Nishi-Shinjuku over at the Maronouchi Line. I knew I was on the right path simply because there were many runners in the area. You could tell because all of them were carrying the official plastic bag that had been given when they checked-in. Because the weather was cold and that rain was predicted, the majority was wearing plastic raincoats over their running gear. Some were seated in a corner, changing into their running outfits and checking their gear. There was a long queue leading to the toilet. There was an atmosphere of excitement and anxiety in the air. Runners were taking selfies. One runner unfurled his country’s flag and asked one of his fellow runners to photograph him.
There were race representatives outside the station, holding up placards that directed you to the venue. Some were hollering things in Japanese. I couldn’t understand exactly what they were saying but they said the words “Tokyo Marathon” in their sentence. Even if you couldn’t understand the placard or what they were saying, all you had to do was to follow the throng of runners.
Security was extra-tight. I guess this was because of the recent ISIS hostage crises that involved two Japanese. We weren’t allowed to bring water bottles. Our baggage was searched and we had to pass through a metal detector.
Aside from us runners being segregated to several blocks, even our bags were assigned different trucks, the trucks being huge container vans. My baggage was assigned to truck 83 which was also further sub-divided based on bib number.
With my baggage checked-in, I proceeded to perform some “biological duties.” Unfortunately, so did hundreds of other runners as we queued up for the toilet facilities. It was about 8:30 am and we were all supposed to be at our respective starting blocks by 8:45 am (actual gun start was 9:10 am). The loudspeakers constantly reminded us of the schedule. Fortunately the line moved quickly and I was able to do my “duties” and get to the starting blocks around the Shinjuku Central Park before 9 am.
So there I was, on some sloping walkway around the park, runners all around me in tights and plastic raincoats. One female runner beside me had her kilometer split times painted on the back of her hand. The loudspeakers began announcing a countdown. 5 minutes . . . 1 minute . . . 30 seconds. Then gun start!
It wasn’t actually a “gun.” More like explosions! It was several big, heavy, bass-filled thuds. I imagined fireworks being set off. The crowd didn’t move immediately, which was what I expected since there were 10 blocks ahead of us. We snaked around the park until we got to the main road where then all hell breaks loose. People were darting left and right. As soon as the road turned left (Tocho-mae minami?), I saw the familiar START structure and said to myself: “THIS IS IT!!!!”
The thing that struck me was that there were runners as far as the eye could see and there were spectators cheering at the sidewalks. And the spectators were genuinely cheering and hollering Gambatte! (translation: You can do it!). In Manila, the spectators would thin out after the starting line. Not in this marathon. Spectators filled both sides of Yasukuni-dori! And this continued on for the entire marathon!!!
There were runners all around me, many wearing all sorts of costumes. I saw runners – male and female – in tutu costumes. I saw people dressed in fruit costumes, animal costumes, manga characters. I saw Spiderman. I saw Michael Jackson running with a microphone in hand and he would occasionally stop in front of crowds, strike a pose, and moonwalk!
And in the sidewalks, there were people everywhere. Everywhere as in the entire 42 kilometers! They were cheering, shouting, fist-pumping, holding up signs in Japanese and English. I made out a few that said “Hang in there!” and “Go for it!” They held out their palms for high-fives. There were people who were also dressed in costumes. There were bands and street performers. At one point, there was a band playing Village People’s “YMCA” and the runners started doing that YMCA dance with their arms. As we got close to the Ginza district, which was after about 20 kilometers, the spectators began holding out trays and handing out all sorts of sweets and sugar-based confectioners. When I passed the first set of food stations, I grabbed about two bananas and some tomatos.
As for my running? Well, the rain and cold weather did take it’s toll on me. It was probably 6 degrees Celsius. If it’s any consolation, Ethiopian Endeshaw Negesse, who won this year’s Tokyo Marathon in 2:06:00, also considered the rainy and cold conditions a “little bit tough.” What’s frustrating is that it was warm on Friday and Saturday!
I did manage a new PR, though, slicing about 12 minutes off my previous record.
For the first 5 kilometers I was holding back. I knew that I had to slow down and not let the enthusiasm and the crowds get to me, otherwise I could burn out. After 5 kilometers I settled into my target pace. There were markers in each kilometer so I didn’t use my watch’s “Auto Lap” feature (wherein the watch will automatically register a lap once its GPS detects that I ran 1 kilometer) as I knew it could be inaccurate. Instead I manually triggered the end of a lap once I crossed the kilometer marker. All was well and good until about 26k when I began feeling fatigue creeping up. My legs began to feel numb, signalling an impending spasm of cramps! Things began to slow down after 28K and it became a mental battle. I started to walk for a couple of meters, particularly in the hydration stations and food stations, then I would begin running again. It wasn’t my stamina that forced me to walk. It was the nagging ache and cramps I was feeling in my hips. Somewhere around the 40K mark, my inner thigh seized and I had to stop and stretch. At the 41K mark, my right calk seized as well and I couldn’t even land my foot flatly on the road! All around me people were struggling, wobbling, bobbing arms pumping wildly but with shuffling legs. As we turned a corner, a big sign loomed above us – 0.195 meters to go! And from a distance you could see the finish line.
Contrary to my expectation, security wasn’t that tight in the finish line, probably because the elite athletes had already crossed the finish line hours ago. Spectators were lined up along the final 200 meters.
I raised my hands in exhiliration as I crossed the finish line. People were shouting all around me. Omedeto! Congratulations!