Recap: 2015 Tokyo Marathon

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!!!!”

Tokyo View - TOKYO MARATHON 2009

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!


Milo Marathon is postponed!

Bad news to all those running the Milo Marathon tomorrow December 7 – IT’S POSTPONED!

In a statement released earlier today, the National Finals of the 38th MILO Marathon will be postponed “in view of the imminent arrival of Typhoon Ruby and to ensure the safety and welfare of all concerned.”

Typhoon Ruby (international code name: Hagupit) is the strongest storm to hit the Philippines since Yolanda last year.

I feel for the runners. I am not running any Milo Marathon event but I can imagine the frustration of the runners who had trained hard to get to tomorrow’s run. Of course safety should take precedence over beating a personal record.

Marathon Bingo: A Game for the Spectators

Here’s something your family and your friends can do while waiting for you to cross the finish line!

Bad Angel Rules for Running

L5RZvHo*Guest post*

When we run races, we can’t resist the urge to tell our friends and family to come and watch us run the race of our lives. This is especially true when it’s your first time running a marathon, and sometimes, even when we don’t want them there, friends and family still find a way to show up.

But let’s face it: marathons are LONG by nature, and a lot of time can pass when you’re watching from the sidelines, waiting for your racer. Because of this, Susan Lacke of Competitor Running has come up with a fun game of Marathon Bingo that your loyal spectators can play.

Just like races, bingo games have been adapted to fit a variety of themes and causes over the years. For example, we see Race for the Cure events in support of breast cancer awareness, and Free Bingo Hunter reports “Pink Fridays” being held…

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Beijing Marathon

Image from @PDChina

Despite the smog – “hazardous” as described by the U.S. embassy – that hit the Chinese capital, the Beijing Marathon still pushed through. That runners still chose to run the marathon was no surprise to me. That pollution levels peaked at 400 micrograms per cubic metre, exceeding the WHO threshold of 25 micrograms per cubic metre, was no deterrent to the thousands of runners. A marathon after all is a test of willpower. It’s definitely no cake walk. Those who have experienced the “wall” know that it becomes a battle of mental fortitude. A marathoner has trained himself to disregard that voice in his head that tells him to stop.

It’s not easy training for a marathon. It would have been frustrating not to have run. Runners would have trained for months, a number of times probably under the hot morning sun. They would wake up early in the morning and run for hours and hours. Would they let some pollution stop them from running a race that they had trained long and hard for? Would they throw away months of training just because of smog?

I am not saying that I approve of the choice they made to run. I am just saying that I can understand why they chose to run rather than sit it out. After all, you have to be a little crazy to run a marathon.

I am an aging marathoner!

On way to work today I listened to the latest podcast of Marathon Training Academy and the topic was “The Aging Marathoner.” It appears that, because I am now over 50 years of age, I am classified as an “aging marathoner!”

And it appears that I am not a rare breed. According to the article, in the US, “runners over age 50 represent one of the fastest-growing age groups participating in the marathon” and that “the number of marathon finishers age 50 and older nearly tripled to 92,200, or about 18% of the total in 2011.” Also, a recent study from the sports science department at the University of Burgundy in France, looked at the NYC Marathon from 1980 to 2009 and they found that “the percent of finishers younger than 40 years significantly decreased, while the percent of master’s runners significantly increased for both males and females.”

Actually the article made me regret not running a marathon much earlier in my life. The article lists what happens to our bodies as we age – the physiological changes like decreased maximal heart rate, decreased stroke volume and cardiac output, fewer blood capillaries, smaller and fewer mitochondria in the muscles (which are responsible for energy production), decreased maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max), decreased insulin production, decreased growth hormone production, decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, decreased muscle strength and endurance, and changes to nerve functioning which would result in increased reaction time. I wonder what my time would have been if I had started training for a marathon ten years ago.

But on the other hand, it’s good that I started running before I had hit 50. I also wonder what would have happened if I had not started running, if I had not joined those short 5k fun runs and if I had not graduated to running a half-marathon. If I had not started running, it probably would have been much much harder to start.

Throwback Thursday: My First Marathon

Here’s a post that I did for an earlier site I made. It recounts my first ever marathon that I ran in February 2012. I am lying down as I write this, my feet elevated to help with the blood flow, a bottle of 100Plus beside me. Standard recovery procedures call for stretching (done), rest (done), hydration (I’ve already guzzled copious amounts of sports drinks and water), and nutrition (6 stacks of banana pancakes). I wish I could do an ice bath, but in its absence a cold shower will have to do. I just finished my first full marathon, and to sum it up it was surreal, tortuous, and humbling. A marathon is indeed a test of human endurance. I thought that a marathon was all about physical stamina. I learned that it is also about steel resolve and mental fortitude. Putting it bluntly, I made the classic rookie mistake, over-estimated myself, and paid for it dearly. Continue reading