Warning: Most of you will probably be bored out-of-your-mind reading this. Selfishly, this is probably more of a way for Shawn and I to remember the race, rather than a way to keep you entertained. A high-five to you if you make it through this in one sitting!
It was a beautiful day for the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday, February 17. (Click on the the marathon link for a photo of the start line.) The weather could have been just a touch warmer, but overall, it was perfect. The sun was out, the skies were clear and the wind wasn’t too bad. The picture below is from the beginning of the race at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Center.
The prelude to a marathon is one of life’s strangest yet most vivid times. It is a time of intensity yet relaxation, apprehension yet resolve; a time of deeply introspective solitude in the midst of the biggest jostling throng most of us will ever join. So many people, intent on a separate inward commitment, but united in one common physical endeavor. Our motive is private, the context public. We are strangers who are instant comrades, competitors bonded by the shared knowledge that we are all about to undertake one of the hardest tasks in our lives. Ahead lie strenuous effort, weariness, and pain, but we will endure it all voluntarily, for the sheer enjoyment of trying.
The communal atmosphere before the start is tense, like an army waiting the order to enter battle, because the marathon is a contest – and each runner will be tested. Yet the mood is also ebullient and exhilarating, like a troupe of actors before a performance, because the marathon is also a drama – and each runner’s story will be part of the action.
The visible scene would surely baffle any unsuspecting Martian astronomer who happened to focus on it. Over a sprawling space of open ground wanders a huge swirling crowd of human, of both genders and all races, ages, and sizes, nervous yet peaceful, who seem confined there yet are free to go; they are diverse and disorganized yet all wearing numbers, some grouped in teams but most alone; many with bare legs, covered in old shirts or plastic garbage bags to keep out the weather, yet who also wear expensive shoes and complex watches, milling about without direction; engaged in separate idiosyncratic rituals of shuffling and stretching, all lining up to enter – one by one – a row of wobbly little boxes; and somehow all coordinated and ready when the moment arrives to move together up to the start. It seems a very strange business, but somehow it works. Once experienced, it is never forgotten.
The final moment before the race everywhere is the same, and it is magical. The music, the anthems, the speeches, the cheers, and the chatter all cease, and at last the runners are silent. For runners, compulsively in motion, it is a unique moment of stillness. For 5 or 10 seconds everyone in that vast crowd looks silently inward and forward. All feel like the premonitory glow, the flicker of readiness, like dry wood about to flare into flame. Then the gun is fired. And the marathon begins. (From 26.2 Marathon Stories by Katherine Switzer and Roger Robinson)
As we were waiting in the start area, we talked with a gentleman running his first marathon. His longest run prior to the marathon was a 13 mile run, which he had just completed 6 days prior! It was nice to talk with him and try to answer some of his pre-marathon questions. I still wonder if he finished his first marathon and was able to enjoy the experience.
This video gives you a good idea of what it was like at the start of the marathon…
The first half marathon was enjoyable. At one point, Shawn mentioned that it was so nice to be able to run through the streets of Tokyo and not have to wait for the stop lights! So true! To have the freedom to run through the streets and not have to pay attention to cars, strollers, passing trains, and bikers was definitely a unique experience.
For once, we didn’t have to deal with this…
We enjoyed the sights of the city, as well as the variety of costumes worn by the runners. I have never seen so many different costumes during a marathon! Spider man, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Santa Clause, a Halloween witch, a tiger, a lion, a frog, a cow, and several other costumes that I had no idea what they were suppose to be! There was so much entertainment all along the course including someone singing Bon Jovi, YMCA, drummers, cheerleaders, bands, and overwhelming crowd support!
I will definitely not forget this part of the race!
The crowds were incredible the entire race. At several spots throughout the course, the crowd was at least 5 rows deep. People were constantly yelling “GANBARE, GANBARE, GANBARE or GANBATTE, GANBATTE, GANBATTE.” I think we heard this shouted a least a ba-zillion times. “Ganbare / ganbatte ” means – good luck, keep going, go for it. One of my favorite cheers was a small child who yelled out, “GO! Whoever you are!” People were also handing out all types of food, candies, chocolates, and beverages.
The official water / food stations of the marathon were well-stocked with supplies ranging from water, replenishment drink, raisins, bananas, and M&Ms. The raisins made for an interesting mess on the ground. I remember grabbing some raisins and running through a “carpet” of sticky raisins on the ground. Yum!
Overall, there is not much to report from the first half of the race. It was an enjoyable run and we were happy to be out there! Shortly after the ½ marathon mark, you could feel that the pace was beginning to slow (Shawn and I included). I think the pain and soreness settled in earlier during this marathon, but we did not let this stop us. Shawn began to run ahead of me and I maintained a slightly slower pace.
As my pace began to slow, all I wanted to do was make it past the next kilometer (km) marker. There was something about seeing km markers, rather than mile markers which was more uplifting during the marathon. You felt as though you accomplished more and it seemed to keep my spirits lifted, especially during the latter parts of the race. I think the U.S. marathons should adopt the km markers!
We didn’t bring a camera with us during the marathon, but you can click here to see photos that other people have posted online.
The 25 – 33km (15-20 mile) mark is often a mentally tough section of the marathon for me. I know that I had surpassed the half-marathon mark, but I was still a long way from the final 10km (6 miles) of the race! This commercial will give you a good idea of the mental dilemma that I often go through during this portion of the race.
Some of you are probably thinking…is reading this post like running a marathon…will it ever stop??
Somewhere between the 30 and 35km mark, Shawn ran up behind me. This totally confused me and I instantly became worried. Shawn told me his ankle was hurting him and he had to do a walk/run combo to make it through. I remember him telling me to keep pushing and that I was going to make it. The last thing he asked was, “It hurts, doesn’t it?” I mumbled out a “yes” and continued on my way.
The last 10-15km consisted of some small rolling hills. On any normal day, these hills would seem like nothing. When you are the final stages of the marathon, they can often seem like mountains! My quads and calves were burning and all they wanted to do was seize up and stop moving! I continued to push myself and ran up the hills. I wanted to walk, but knew I couldn’t.
The last few miles of a marathon could be some of the worst pain you’ll ever feel.
Your aching, sweating, weather-beaten body is depleted of glycogen and screaming at you to stop moving immediately.
You’re running on guts. On fumes. Your muscles twitch. You throw up. You’re delirious. But you keep running because there’s no way out of this hell you’re in, because there’s no way you’re not crossing the finish line.
It’s a misery that non-runners don’t understand. They don’t understand why we get up at 5 a.m. to run under the moon and the stars, or why we spend thousands of dollars a year on running shoes, race watches, microfiber shorts and jog bras.
They don’t understand why we run ourselves into the ground with hamstring injuries and tendonitis, spend months getting healthy and then get hurt all over again. They don’t understand why we don’t mind keeping the physical therapy industry in business.
We bore our families and our friends with our running stories to the point that they’re afraid to bring up the subject. We’re not even into mile 16 of our war stories and they’re looking at their watches, their eyes glazing over, pushing the peas back and forth on the plate.
It’s a challenge that we take on, with just our hearts and the body God gave us. We run because if we can make it through 26.2 miles (42.165 km), everything else will seem easy. A moment in time when an average person can do something extraordinary. (From an October 31, 2001 article on CNN.com titled, “Why we run marathons”.)
How many of you are bored reading this? Wake up!!
Somewhere between the 35 – 37km mark, I really started to fade in and out of reality. At this point, EVERYTHING HURT. I’m not just talking about the pain you feel when you accidentally slam your finger in the car door, but rather, imagine your entire body being slammed in the door…over…and over…and over again! At this point, one of my toenails began to hurt. The more I ran, the more it felt as though someone was ripping off my toenail. I had visions of blood filing my shoe, but I didn’t care. My body was definitely screaming at me to stop, but I kept pushing through, because all I wanted to do was finish! It’s common for me to lose at least 1 toenail through the marathon process, so this wasn’t anything new! You just never get used to the pain! I told myself that my pain was only temporary and I thought about so many other things to try to block out the pain.
There was another small hill at the 41km mark which was tough! I continued to run (or shuffle my feet) because I knew the finish was so close!
I remember making the final turn of the marathon. Just as you made the final right turn toward the finish line, you were overcome with the sound of pounding drums. Shortly after making the turn, the FINISH line came into sight. FINALLY! Just a little more to go!
For the runner, the last 385 yards are often a near-delirium state of confused external images and sounds, physical sensations, and inward emotions. All around (for most runners) are the half-seen, half-real figures of other finishers, their faces and bodies showing the full gamut of reactions. Some raise their arms in triumph and some shuffle in pain; some glow and some cry. Beyond them on the sidelines are blurred spectators and the sketchy features of this final phase of the course – the target of so much hopeful traveling. The first sight of the Finish banner lifts ever runner’s spirits – they will all recall that moment years later.
The final approach is often a tunnel of sound, with the crescendo of the crowd’s cheers, pulsating music, and the voice of the public address announcer growing louder. Mingling with this external noise are the insistent calls from the runner’s body. Tiredness and pain are demanding that the whole thing stop, yet overriding these calls are the stronger, swirling emotions of relief, delight, and pride of accomplishment. (From 26.2 Marathon Stories by Katherine Switzer and Roger Robinson)
I can’t describe the finish line in words. It is only something which you can experience! I ran my fastest time yet at this marathon, so I was very happy!
I waited at the finish line, hoping I would see Shawn cross soon after I did. I waited…and waited…and waited…took pictures for people with their camera phones…waited some more…took more photos…waited a little more…waited for what ended up being an hour and a half. I finally got so cold and hungry that I had to walk through the line to get some food, my medal, and a warm jacket. I picked up my clothes bag and changed into some clean clothes.
I noticed there were laptops where you could check the status of a runner, so I looked up Shawn and found out he finished shortly after me!! I’m so proud of how well he did, despite being in so much pain. I wandered around the family meeting area, hoping I would see Shawn. I wandered…and wandered…and wandered. Because several hours had passed since we both finished, I finally thought that Shawn must have taken the train home. I wasn’t looking forward to the train ride home by myself (assuming I could remember the correct train to get on…!). As I started to leave the family area, we just happened to see each other. We went back inside and sat around for a long time. We talked about the race and just enjoyed the satisfaction of having completed our 7th marathon together (8th total for Shawn)!
Doesn’t everyone want their photo taken in front of the restroom?
Shawn and I can not say enough about the AMAZING crowd support, volunteers, and excellent organization of the Tokyo Marathon. THANK YOU to the Tokyo Marathon organization for putting on such an incredible event. We hope to run it again!! Thank you to our neighbors who brought us pre-race goodies and to all of our friends and family who sent notes and tracked us throughout the race. We could feel your encouragement throughout the race!
Time to go home…
There is so much more I could write, but I will not bore you with any more details…
***What we really want to know is…who is ready to join us for the next marathon?