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!

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Finished the Tokyo Marathon!

Scratch one off the bucket list. This is my very first Marathon Major! And it was a glorious and magnificent experience. No run in Philippines can ever compare with this experience. Hordes of runners. People lined up in the streets, cheering, screaming, shouting Gambatte! – Japanese for “You can do it!” Aside from the plentiful hydration stations and the usual bananas, we had cherry tomatoes, adzuki (sweet paste) bread, and a variety of sweets.

Right now I'm relaxing and will probably fall asleep in a few minutes. I will write about my experience and greater detail. I just need to get some sleep.

International Friendship Run

The Tokyo Marathon International Friendship Run 2015 was held today at the Tokyo Waterfront City Symbol Promenade Park in Odaiba. This event is some sort of partner event to the Tokyo Marathon. I guess it was meant to introduce the overseas runners and their families to Japanese culture. It also provided an international running experience to the family members. The run was a 5-kilometer route around the Odaiba complex, which is a popular shopping, restaurant, and entertainment district.

 

Photos: Picking up the Tokyo Marathon race kit

The venue of the expo is the Tokyo Big Sight, where the runners go to pick up their race kits. This is also the area where the finish line is.

I took a JR train (Rinkai line) from Shinjuku station to Kokusai-Tenjijo. This is what I saw as I exited the train platform. There’s no mistaking it – this is the area of the Marathon expo!

Even if you are a foreigner with no knowlege of Japanese characters, there are plenty of signs and people who are willing to help.

Before entering the area to pick-up your race kit, there are people outside who will check if you had properly filled-up the application form.
Getting the race kit was super easy! The first station (station A) is responsible for checking your ID (I brought my passport). They will stamp your application form and direct you to the next station.
Station B where you fetch your race kit and the various desks are separated by your race number.
There’s even a set of desks dedicated to foreigners. I guess this is they can man these stations properly with Japanese who can speak English. They explained what’s in the race kit – which is basically your race number, the timing chip, safety pins to attach the number to your jersey, twister strips to attach the chip to your shoe, a free one-day Tokyo Metro pass, a variety of advertising materials, the official race booklet (no different from the PDF version which was sent by email), and a transparent bag. Because of security reasons you can’t just bring any bag. You can only bring the bag which the organizers provided.
Then you go to another desk takes care of validating if the timing chip works and if it displays your name correctly.
Then it’s off to get the T-shirt….

Everyone was smiling and genuinely helpful. Everyone was saying “Gambatte,” which means “Good luck” in Japanese.

These pics were taken on a Friday. As you can see, it’s pretty empty. They say that Saturday will be very crowded.

 

Race review: Condura Skyway Marathon

Among the many marathons held in the Philippines, the Condura Skyway Marathon is, for me, the premier running event. Unlike other marathon events which seem to be more of a competition than an event or which seem to focus more on marketing a brand, the Condura Skyway Marathon seem to be more of Condura's efforts towards the helping the community. In prior years, CSM contributed to the support of the Tubbataha Reefs, the Donsol whale sharks, the dolphins of Baclayon, and mangrove trees of Zamboanga de Sibugay. This year's CSM advocacy is for the Hero Foundation, a foundation setup for sending to school the children of soldiers killed in action or incapacitated in the line of duty, an advocacy made all the more meaningful given the situation that had befallen 44 PNP-SAF soldiers who were killed while trying to capture the terrorist known as Marwan.

I had already completed the full marathon in 2012 and 2013 (there was no Condura event in 2014 due to Yolanda). This year I chose to run the 21K because I would already be running the Tokyo Marathon on February 22. I felt good and optimistic about this run. I had already established a new PR for the 32K, set in last week's Takbo.ph 20-miler event, so establishing a new PR for the 21K is a possibility. I had, in numerous occasions, attempted to break my 21K PR, which was set three years ago, but had always come out short. And not like seconds short. I had been always 4 to 5 minutes short of breaking the record. But I felt good coming into this Condura run that I felt that a new PR was at reach.

The gun start was 3:30 am. I was at the site at 3 am. After successfully looking for a parking slot, lining up for a portalet, and weaving through the crowds, I finally got to my designated corral. At that point, the organizer (Ton Concepcion?) was giving a speech and last-minute reminders about the marathon. He mentioned that along the route there were 44 soldiers, each holding a picture of one of the “Fallen 44,” and we were requested to salute as we passed those 44 soldiers.

Photo courtesy of Philippine Star

That was touching tribute. And as I ran and saluted the 44 soldiers, the thought in my head was that 44 soldiers were a lot! There were a few – probably one or two individuals among the sea of runners – who didn't bother to salute and I found that selfish, as if the act of raising your hand to your forehead would make such an impact to your running time. These people gave the ultimate sacrifice and you can't even bother with a few minutes to salute?!

The beauty of running in the Skyway is that the road is well-paved with no bumps or potholes. It is also pre-dominantly a straight route with, unlike the traditional routes around BGC and Roxas Boulevard, no intersections where runners have to stop to let cars through or counter-flows where runners have to run alongside or against car traffic. But it has its steep uphill portions, even not counting the climb up the Alabang ramp. And it can be boring. There's nothing to see except a long stretch of concrete road.

The one thing I also like about Runrio-organized runs is that they provide a lot of hydration. The hydration stations had really long tables. I like this because it is typical for runners to crowd and bunch up at the nearest edge of the station and a long table will allow runners to run past the crowd and grab a drink towards the end of the station.

My target pace was 6 minutes per kilometer. That would keep me within striking distance of a PR. My strategy was to take it easy for the first 5K, maybe run at a 6:00 to 6:15 pace, ramp it up a bit and settle on the target pace until the halfway point, then check if I have enough stamina to push the pace even faster. I wanted a PR but didn't want to burn myself out by running fast in the first half and running out of gas in the second half.

The whole run went as planned. I was a little worried because I had a slight aching in my shins and ankles and my heart rate was breaking 170. The pain disappeared around the 5K mark but HR was still above 170. Fortunately, by the time we made the U-turn (which is the half-way point), I still felt strong, despite my heart rate already breaking 180. I still held back as I was worried that I would burn out. Still I was pacing 5:50. At around the 11K mark I opened my first energy gel. It was around the 16k mark that I figured that a PR was very much possible – heart rate steady at around 180 and I knew how a 30-minute 5K felt like and I was about 30 minutes away from a PR. The fact that the last 5K was mostly downhill made the run even easier.

In the end, I finished with a new PR of 2:04:37. I wasn't drop-dead fatigued and my legs still felt strong. I wasn't waddling around. I probably could've run faster, maybe even broke the 2-hour barrier, if I went at an all-out devil-may-care pace, but I didn't want to risk injury since Tokyo – not Condura – is my objective. It does look like I am reaping the benefits of all my training – i.e., all those long Z2 runs, those short and long intervals, and those long runs with fast paces inserted.

So it makes me wonder – can I actually go 4:30 in a marathon? or even break 4 hours?!

 

 

 

25K run

Today’s workout called for a 25k “increasing pace” run, which is basically 5K slow, 5K fast, 5K slow, 5K fast, and finally 5K slow. You’d think that the “fast” portions of the workout were the tough portions. Nope. It was actually the final 5K, the portion were I was supposed to be run at an “easy” pace, that was tough.

Ok, the first 5K (slow) was easy.

The next 5K (fast) was tough but not THAT tough. OK, it was fast and it got my heart pumping and I was breathing heavily but it didn’t exhaust me.

The next 5K (slow) was ok. I was able to recover but somewhere around the final 1K of that portion I felt my legs beginning to weigh on me.

The next 5K (fast) was challenging. Now I was breathing heavily. My mind was focused on keeping a fast, steady pace. I tried to my cadence quick and light. My arms were pumping harder than usual to keep my legs moving. I constantly reminded myself to keep my head up, my torso straight, and not to slump or look down.

And when I got to the final 5K (slow) I was tired and sapped. The final 5K was more of a mental battle than a physical one. My body was aching but not painful. I figured that the final 5K was more to train mental fortitude than actual aerobic stamina. I was feeling the fatigue during the uphill climbs but it eased during the downhill descents. My mind was counting down the kilometres.

I finished the 25K in a little more than 3 hours.

Race results: Takbo.ph 20-miler

Yes, running at zone-2 works. I am now a believer in this. I was doubtful about this, even if all the science seems to point towards its effectiveness. Proof of the pudding is in the eating, so they say, and the fact that I established a new PR in the 32K is proof enough.

My previous PR was set in November 2011 and it was a grueling experience. I had hit the wall at around the 28 kilometer mark and walked for most of the remaining kilometers. I ran a couple more 32-kilometer races but the result was more or less the same – I would struggle in the last 4 to 5 kilometers and would eventually succumb to walking.

But in today's Takbo.ph 20-miler race I didn't fold. I didn't stop to walk AT ALL. Ok, maybe that's not accurate. There were a few situations where I did stop for a few seconds to grab a cup and at least one situation where the marshalls signalled me to stop to let traffic pass, but I didn't stop because of exhaustion. And I beat my previous PR by four minutes!

Honestly, even days before this race, I had a good feeling about my condition. I conquered the uphill climbs in last weekend's 32K Resolution Run so I figured that I should be able to come out with a good result in the Takbo.ph event. I figured to take it easy in the first 5k and, since the route was actually 2 “loops” of a 16-kilometer route around Bonifacio Global City, I could gauge my pace and stamina after the first route.

The weather was cool – in fact it can be considered cold by Philippine standards. There is a typhoon in the south and rain was forecasted to hit Manila in the afternoon. The run started exactly at 3:30 am and the route took us through the International School and then close to the new Valkyrie club (where I could still see plenty of cars parked by the road) and then we ran up the Kalayaan Flyover, ran along Gil Puyat Avenue, and then making a U-Turn before we got to Sergio Osmeña Avenue for the run back. That's one loop. Unlike last week's 32K Resolution Run, this was a route I was familiar with. I knew the uphill climbs and I knew how far one landmark is to the next. I knew that it was predominantly a downhill run from Mckinley Avenue to the finish line so I planned that section for my last hurrah.

And I also knew that GPS signal would be erratic, so I knew that I couldn't rely on the distance indicator of my running app. Around BGC it was off by a few meters but after a couple of kilometers, once I got to Gil Puyat with all its trees and tall buildings, it was hundreds of meters off. When I completed the first 16K loop, my running app registered 16.7 kilometers so I knew I couldn't rely on the pace that the app was measuring.

At around the 25-kilometer mark, after running for about 3 hours, I knew that I would at least beat my PR. I knew that I could run all the way. I felt good. I didn't feel the onset of any drop-dead exhaustion. The constant thought in my head was “I COULD DO THIS!” Even running up the Kalayaan Flyover didn't sap my energy. Yes I felt my legs get tired but it dissipated once the incline levelled off. At the final U-turn near McKinley Avenue, I estimated two more kilometers until I reach the finish line so I picked up the pace a notch. When I saw the tarpaulin declaring the 31-kilometer mark somewhere by High Street, I looked at my watch (it was indicating 32 kilometers) but I paid that no mind. I was more interested at the time and I knew that even if I ran the final kilometer at a slower pace, I would make a new PR!

All in all I am more than just satisfied with my performance. I ran the second half faster than the first. And to achieve a new PR at my age is proof that age is just a state of mind. Those long boring Z2 runs did pay off!

 

Takbo.ph 20-miler tomorrow

Tomorrow is the Takbo.ph 20-mile run. Once again, just like last week’s 32-kilometer Resolution Run, I am excited for this run. I fared pretty well in last week’s 32k run, where I ran strong with some energy in the tank despite the long and steep uphill climbs. Tomorrow’s route is still a hilly route but not as steep as last week.

I also reviewed my run stats.  My PR for a 32k is 3:54, which I achieved in November 2011. That’s 3 years ago. Will I be able to beat that record?

Ok. Let’s put some goals to shoot for:

  1. Finish in 3:46 (that means I can theoretically finish the marathon in less than 5 hours)
  2. Get a new 32K PR
  3. Finish without walking

So I wonder, how should I approach this run? Definitely I won’t start off by running my marathon pace. Probably do an easy (but no too easy!) run for the first 5 kilometres then settle into a steady pace. I don’t want to burn out and struggle in the last few kilometres.

32K Resolution Run

As I write this, I am experiencing muscle aches and pains in my legs – most especially in my glutes, my quads, and my soleus.

Yesterday's 2015 Resolution Run, which was run at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, was grueling. And while I am elated that I finished the 32k, I would still give the organizer Runmania a thumbs-down on the way they had handled the event. More on that later.

Notice the elevation gain. 589 meters!

I actually discovered that the route would be an uphill run when I stumbled upon the Resolution Run event page. They posted a picture of the elevation gain and it showed that the gain would be 589 meters. Then, during the opening speech, the organizer gave more details about the route and mentioned that the route would take us up to Palace in the Sky, which an incomplete Marcos mansion but now converted to an urban park. Though I have never physically been to the site, I knew that it would be a really steep ascent. My friends and I were once contemplating a mountain bike trek to that place and we knew that it would test our strength and stamina. I mean it was named Palace in the Sky – not Palace on a Mountain or Palace on a Hill. Palace in the mother-f*ckin SKY!

Gun start was 4 am. I started the run slow. Slow as in zone-2 HR training slow. My heart rate averaged 134 for the first 11 kilometers and my heart rate stayed below 140 for most of the that portion. There were a few hills but it was nothing compared to the “mother-of-all-ascents.” I think it was that slow pace that made me survive the entire run. At the start of the run, people were overtaking me but when we reached the uphill portion, they were walking while I was running (albeit it at a slow pace) and overtaking them.

The uphill climb began at around the 11-kilometer mark, taking a right turn from the road which would have led us to Canlubang Country Club. It was about 5:30 am and still dark. It took me about 90 minutes to reach the peak which was at about the 20-kilometer mark. The sun was up by then. That's 1.5 hours! Granted that it wasn't a continuous uphill climb (there were brief moments of flat roads), but it was still a 9 kilometer torture fest that saw me climb more than half a kilometer uphill! Moreover, there were portions of the road that were unpaved.

I was running – even running uphill! – until I hit about the 19-kilometer mark. That was when I saw that it was one continuous climb to the top. At that point I uttered something like “f*ck this” and chose to walk. I still walked briskly, overtaking a number of runners as I strode up. You could hear a few runners asking the ones on the opposite side (they were going downhill) how far to the top. I really thought that we would reach the Palace in the Sky but the U-turn point was some distance away. We didn't even get a glimpse of the gate. That was disappointing. Maybe I misheard the organizer because I clearly heard him say we would reach the Palace.

Anyway, the marker for the U-turn point was an ambulance. Come to think of it, that was the first and only ambulance I saw throughout the run. I reached the U-turn point, there was also a hydration station so I took two swigs of water. Then I began “running” downhill. I put quotation marks there because it seemed more like shuffling than running. If you think going uphill is hard, running downhill is just as difficult. Running uphill is tough because your legs muscles are pushing you up; running downhill is tough and painful because your body is absorbing the shock as you hit the pavement!

I walked another time when I reached somewhere close to the 23-kilometer mark. I got hungry and ate an energy bar while holding on to a plastic cup of water.

A funny thing happened though at around the 4-hour mark. Suddenly everything felt light and easy and I really genuinely felt that I could finish strong with plenty of energy left. That feeling disappeared at around the 4:30 mark. It was supposed to be the final stretch and it looked endless. My running app was already registering 33 kilometers so I knew I couldn't rely on it. Was the GPS so unreliable that it was off by 2 kilometers?! My landmark was the parking lot, which would have meant that the finish line was a few hundred meters away, but as I looked far into the horizon I couldn't spot the parking lot! It was 8:30 am and the sun was already up so it was beginning to get warm. I kept on asking myself: “Where was the finish line?” At that point I began to walk.

Then, after a few minutes, I could hear music from a distance, which meant I was nearing the finish line. I saw the parking lot appear to my left. I began to run once more and finished at 4:45. The app measured the distance at 34 kilometers.

So why did I give Runmania a “thumbs-down” rating? Here's a summary:

  • It didn't mention anything about an uphill route in their site.
  • It didn't mention anything about dirt roads or rough, unpaved roads. It wasn't much, maybe about a kilometer in total, but if I had known earlier, I would have brought a different pair of shoes.
  • Given the difficulty of the route, a 5 1/2 hour cutoff seems unreasonable.
  • I spotted only one ambulance, and it's at the 20-kilometer mark. Given the difficulty of the course, there should be more medical facilities available.
  • The organizer mentioned bananas at the 13.5-kilometer mark. I didn't see any.
  • Some hydration stations ran out of cups.

I would think twice joining another run organized by Runmania.

 

Tomorrow I am running a 32k / 20-miler

Tomorrow I run a 32k run (that’s 20 miles for the non-metric) and I am both excited and nervous. The 32k has always been a challenge – I always “crash” some where at the 28-kilometer point. I had always paced myself wrong, pushing the pace too fast. But this will be a run where I feel that I now have a solid base. I have been running a slow zone-2 pace for months now so I guess this will be a test if that slow zone-2 training pace really works. If I finish the run without walking then I can confidently declare that it works!

The run tomorrow is the Resolution Run 2015 and will be held at Nuvali, Sta. Rosa. I have never run in Nuvali so I have no idea if the route is hilly or scenic or flat or twisting. This will be an interesting test on how I will run the Tokyo Marathon which is something like 6 weeks away.