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.

 

51 days to go: a 5K run to test my cold weather outfit

The Tokyo Marathon will be held on February 22. February is the coldest month in Tokyo. And according to the 2015 Tokyo Marathon brochure, the average temperature is 6.5 degrees Celsius (that's 43.7 degress for Farenheit folk). The coldest for Metro Manila in 2014 was 15.8 degrees Celsius. The coldest ever for Baguio is 6.3 degrees Celsius, and that happened way back in 1961!

So I had purchased these compression leggings and its matching compression shirt courtesy of Amazon and it was delivered to Manila by a friend of mine. The reviews claim that they are suitable for cold weather insulation and yesterday I gave it a try.

I ran an easy 5K while wearing the compression leggings. I figured that wearing the matching compression shirt would make me look like Superman so I settled for a simple singlet. The weather was relatively cool – my iSmoothRun would register it as 27 degrees Celsius – despite the fact that I ran at about noon. And yes the compression leggings kept my legs warm. I had originally planned to wear it for Sunday's long run but changed my mind and opted for trying it out in a shorter run. Good thing I did that because I don't know if I could have lasted. I also can't say if compression clothing actually improve performance. They feel nice and snug and my muscles don't feel like they're jiggling all over the place, but the jury is still out on whether or not it will make me faster or make me last longer.

Run stats: 5k in 38:35, average HR was 133, maximum HR was 145. The whole run felt more like a warm-up than an actual training run.

Today is a rest day, which is fortunate as I was still awake at 3:00 am, celebrating New Year. Here's hoping 2015 will be a fantastic year!

 

Paid and secured!

Now that I have paid JPY 12,800 (roughly PHP 5500 or USD 115), I got this email message:

Thank you for your registration in Tokyo Marathon 2015.

We have received your payment.

With this, your place in Tokyo Marathon 2015 has been secured.

Tokyo Marathon 2015 Pre-race Registration will be held from February 19 to February 21, 2015. For participants, important documents about this will be mailed in late January. Please check the documents for more detail.

So now it’s official. I have an official secured slot in the 2015 Tokyo Marathon!

Flight tickets already booked as well. The ticket cost is USD 530 round-trip from Manila to Haneda airport. Haneda is my preferred airport because it is a much closer to Tokyo than Narita. A bus ride from Narita to Tokyo can take about 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on traffic. A bus ride from Haneda to Tokyo is less than 45 mins.

And yes I already have a visa to Japan. I was granted a 3-year multiple-entry visa to Japan this year.

 

Good news! I am in the 2015 Tokyo Marathon!

“Congratulations! You have been selected to run Tokyo Marathon 2015” was the first sentence I saw.

Well it's pretty obvious that I'm in, otherwise what's the point of this blog?

I have in my lifetime ran a total of 4 marathons. My record is 5:25:15, which I set last year. I have always wanted to experience an international marathon, where crowds would be lined up cheering from the starting line to the finish line. Philippine marathons could be lonely – there are only crowds in the starting line and the finish line – and there are empty stretches of pavement where all you have is your own thoughts to keep you distracted from the long road ahead. I submitted my name for the New York marathon but was unable to make the cut. When the 2015 Tokyo Marathon opened for application on August 1, I immediately submitted my name and eagerly awaited for September 25 to arrive. And I had told myself that I would start a blog journaling this endeavour from start to finish if I were selected.

And my heart leapt when I received the email saying that I was accepted. Over 300,00 people applied – 304,825, to be exact – vying for just 35,500 slots. I am ecstatic that I would be one of the 35,500 runners that would ply the route from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku through Imperial Palace, Hibiya, Shinagawa, Ginza, Nihonbashi, leading to the finish line at Tokyo Big Sight. I am excited to run through the familiar streets of Tokyo, the streets where I used to walk going to work, where I had gone shopping, where I had wobbled after downing several liters of beer.

So now that I'm in, what now? Well, for one, time to get off my lazy ass and start running!