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  • Tokyo Marathon 2012 Write-up II

    Posted on April 3rd, 2012 Michele Sun No comments

    I would really like to write an inspirational and awesome master piece about how I overcame challenges and ran a great race, but I can’t since that did not happen! Yes on Feb 26, 2012 I ran the Tokyo Marathon, and I did it so easily without any cramp, side stitch, dehydration, 10 mins at porta-potti, hit the wall or whatsoever during that 26.2 miles or 42.195 km since it took place in Japan. I was cruising with lots of energy and joy throughout the entire race, and if I had known that I would have so much left in my tank, I probably should have run faster and harder. But again, that would be too cocky and may not work out well. So this write up will be more like my memoirs of the whole experience of going 5,400 miles for a race in foreign country, instead of a simple race day report.

    The journey of Tokyo Marathon started with my entering the lottery drawing in summer of 2011, and got accepted in Oct, after a long, cold and somehow lonely training season, I was Tokyo bound on Feb 23 2012. The trip started hopping on the CalTrain in the morning of 23rd from Santa Clara, and soon I was joined by Max and Anita who were going to Japan to support me on the race day. During the 13 hours flight to Tokyo, I did not sleep because of the excitement of the marathon and thought of the post race travel in Japan.

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    We landed Narita Airport around 3:00pm on Feb 24, after Anita went home with her Dad it’s up to Max and I finding our way with jet lag and language barrier in this Rising Sun territory. I wanted to hit the race Expo right after landing to pick up my bib, so I could avoid the crowd on Sat and take it easy the day before the race. Within the first hour after landing, we managed to get money exchanged, got our 7-day JR Pass, visited the fancy Japanese toilet, then we were on the bus to Big Sight. It was cold, gloomy and drizzled a little bit, but it’s really interesting to see so many narrower cars on “the wrong side” of the streets 🙂

    There is no direct public transportation to the Big Sight, with JR it would require couple transfers, so I opted for the bus and did not think walking for 10 to 15 min would be a big deal for runners like Max and I. However, after 13 hours trans-Pacific flight, with heavy luggage, my stiff and tired body simply could not manage well. When I saw the Expo was way up there above so many stairs, I cursed out loud right there. But soon I was overwhelmed when we walked into the Expo, everything in sight was grand, neat, bright and modern, and not as cramped as race expos in the U.S and it’s super organized. Unfortunately only runners were allowed to enter the bib pick up area, so Max had to wait elsewhere while I dealt with the courteous ojisans and obasans :-p   The race packet contained the bib, pins in little zip lock bag, race day gear-check bag, and some other literature about the race photo, course map…etc. That little zip lock bag for pins totally impressed me, and it’s so Japanese — neat and organized, and attention for details.

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    We walked around the Expo for about an hour and half, and I bought some tech T’s for myself thinking I totally deserve it, even though I haven’t earned/ran the race yet:-p. One thing I immediately noticed was the bold colors of running wardrobe and shoes; despite how conservative Japanese are, their running clothes are very flashy and bold. If I say it’s too pink, then you know it’s way too pink. Also noticed Japanese males are very well groomed and somehow they are all uniformly dressed in black trench coat. Other interesting highlights were those magic bananas – grown and enhanced with AKB48 songs, the most popular J-pop girls group, that would give runners energy and protect us from race day muscle cramp (sounds really weird, doesn’t it?)  Plus the very typical Asian booth culture — booth babes, all the young girls dressed in neon or white leather mini skit and knee-high boots, or cute guys in bright shirt and tights!

    Done with bib pick up, I found myself way too exhausted to walk to the train station back to Tokyo. At the stairs case, I simply just stopped dead, open my palms, and dropped my luggage with fatigue, and sorry that the just as tired Max had to return and come to rescue by carrying my bag as well. We were staying in Ikebukuro, which is a couple stops to the race start —Shinjuku, but cost a little less. We were SO tired but unfortunately found we had gone to the wrong station, so had to retrieve our steps and continue walking to find subway then transfer to JR train. Though we were not working very efficiently, and everything seem to take twice amount of time, but with Max’s being very good with directions and my being not afraid to ask, we eventually managed to find our hotel without being too lost. We got to Ikebukuro and found the streets were so very lively with actions – lots of young people walking, eating, shopping..etc, and we found ourselves indeed in Tokyo, YES ^_^V

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    Checked into the Sunshine City Prince Hotel and finally feeling relieved, now we were hungry for food, so we walked into the cold air again and just wanted something quick and simple. Within few blocks, we had our first meal in Japan and it’s funny that we had picked Chinese fried rice and it happened to be an all-men after-work-drinking-eating place. The food came fast, and we gobbled it down while our neighbor table chain smoked non-stop 🙁 On our way back to hotel, we saw a young couple standing right outside of a love hotel and the young man was working hard to get his girlfriend to enter the hotel with him, haha!! We don’t need any translation to understand the interaction :-p

    On the 25th, there was an International Friendship Run for foreigners (runners and supporters), so Max and I put on our running cloth, gloves and beanie and headed to a very wet run – “when it rains it pours” certainly apply in Japan as well. We took the JR again, and I was beginning to idolize how efficient Max weaving through the complex and complicated JR systems despite all the confusing lines and station names. We got to the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery, and witnessed the famous Japanese efficiency and hospitality! They setup multiple tents for runners to stay dry, while the volunteers and little children greeted us in the rain. We did two short but super wet loops around the blocks, and after run were handed some bottled green tea, an-pan (azuki beans stuffed bread) which I loved completely after this race! The highlight of this race was finally meeting my friend Mark from Netherlands for the very first time after months of communication on Facebook; too bad that did not find David, Karl and Jerome, whom I also made friends with on FB.

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    After stripping the soaking wet cloth and much needed hot shower at hotel, we headed to Ghibli Museum which was one of the MUST we have planned for this trip to Japan. As much as I enjoyed the amazing Ghibli, I am going to skip this for now since there are more to talk about related to the Marathon itself. After the museum trip, we were scheduled for our carbo-load dinner at Bun’emonsoba, a shop inside the Sunshine City. When we looked at the mall directory, we found the soba shop listed on the B1 floor, so leisurely walking down and soon we met up with Mark and Miranda. We waited for a while but did not see our Japanese friends arriving, so just went ahead and ordered different types of soba which none of us have had before. Max had the soba with Hokkaido duck and some very interesting and yummy dipping sauce with a tiny quail egg in it, plus a make-me-envy beer! Mark kept saying “we are running, so no beer.”  🙁  About an hour later, a nervous looking guy walked in and called out “Ah, you are all  here” — there goes our Hata-san; the guy who recommended this place to me, the guy who posted my hotel picture last week on my Facebook wall, and the guy who always leaving “ganbatte” on my each training run post. With the joy of Hata-san joining us, I asked Mark how about we order some Japanese sake, and surprisingly he was fond of this idea and I got my drink before the race 🙂

    I knew I would experience jet lag and too excited to sleep, so at 9:30pm I took the prescribed sleeping pill and layout my clothing and gears for the next morning and went to bed just rest. I am not sure what time I fell asleep, but I was awake before 2:00am then just laid awake in my bed and waiting for the daylight to break. Before 5:00am, I was becoming very antsy and no longer could lay still so decided to get up and change — just wanted to get ready for the race. I sit by the edge of my bed and having the raisin bread I bought the night before in Sunshine City, and thinking this was so surreal — I am actually going to run the Tokyo Marathon in few hours. Wow, that’s so unbelievable and freaking cool!!!

    We walked into the streets around 7:00am, and were embraced by the crisp and coldness of winter in Tokyo, amazingly I actually welcomed the cold temperature since I have been training for months and preparing for cold weather like this. After getting out of Shinjuku Station, I found myself surrounded by so many fellow runners walking toward the Start. Another new discovery — Japanese runners are dressed in so many layers of clothing, the long sleeve undershirt, short sleeve race shirt, long compression tight, knee length short, jacket and poncho…I really don’t know how they run in such overdressed condition. Perhaps they also puzzled how I would run under-dressed — in short sleeve and capri?

    The Start area was right in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and the hotels and shops in surrounding area all opened early that day and welcomed runners to use the restroom, which was so nice and different than in the US. There were trucks lined up and waiting for runners to drop their gear bags, plus more porta- potti for runners. Totally unexpected, Hata-san came to wish me luck and his surprise visit once again showed the Japanese hospitality. Only runners with bib were allowed to walk into the Start Block (corral), so I had to part with Max for the next few hours. He said I looked nervous, but I wasn’t sure how I felt actually since my brain was so numb and completely shut down from the reality.

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    I felt so very alone standing in my Start Block/corral and feeling like a kid first day at pre-school , while there were more than 30,000 runners but I found them extremely quiet and reserved, nothing like crazy Americans I guess. I understood nothing being announced on the PA system in Japanese, but I was starting to feel the excitement while repeatedly reminding myself what Mark had told me last night —  “not to start too fast or you will bunk.” I did not know when exactly the gun has gone off, but heard the cheers suddenly blast off and saw the smoke in the air and helicopter circling above — the Race has begun and it’s time to see how my training would take me!

    Till this day, I still have no idea what happened at that race. Usually I could remember mile by mile from every Marathon I had participated, but at Tokyo Marathon it felt like a hazy dream. My heart was filled with joy and my smile never left my face – it’s like having runner’s high from the beginning to the end, though I only had few hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. I ran pass many famous landmarks (link to course map), but I did not see or pay attention to any of them; there was only one thing in my mind — running and finishing Tokyo Marathon! So too bad that I can’t share with you about the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Sky Tree, Asakusa Senjo-ji, or the celebrities that were running this race. However, the few things I did notice and remember were the aids stations, the volunteers, the specters, and my friends near mile 13.

    There was no Gu or any other kind of gel at aid- stations, instead runners were given bread, rice cake, banana, raisins, salted preserved plum — all real food, and I found myself fueled with sheer energy and did not experience fatigue at all. The crowd cheering and shouting “ganbatte” along the course was simply amazing! I fell in love with the crowd!! Also I have spotted runners with “Doctor” bib pinned at their backs so people can seek for medical assistance, on top of the Medical Stations on the course. There were also “gate” for every 5 km, so runners must pass those control gates within certain time frame in order to continue running this race. A great surprise came when I spotted Joseph on the course, who is my buddy on Google+ and probably the most famous non-Japanese runner besides those Kenyans, and as usual he was running in his most colorful race-day outfit with multiple gadget on him 🙂

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    Specters were the best part of Tokyo Marathon, and they were everywhere!  They came with noise makers, trays with snack, hot tea, soup, pastries..etc. Earlier in the morning when Max said good-bye/good- luck to me, he also told me that he would be standing at halfway point, but I wasn’t sure where to look for him and I worried that I may miss him. But it’s not hard to find him and Anita in the crowd as they totally stood out, and seeing them standing there brought tears to my eyes and choked me up a little bit – I was moved by my own emotion. I ran up to Anita and gave her a big hug then had to keep going, after all this is MY race!

    The only glitch I experienced at this race wasn’t the “wall”, it’s the mile markers! The night before, Max told me I would be running 42.195 km, but that “42.195 km” meant nothing to me, and I simply had no idea what “42.195 km” would feel like. So by the time I hit 35 km, I questioned myself “should I pick up my pace now?” “how far will I have to keep running?”, and the course started turning into hill-turn-hill-turn and more hills and more turns. I was charging on the up hills no problem, but was pissed about “where is the Finish?” Looking ahead but did not see any arch, so do I sprint or not sprint now? At this point, I was furious but not sure it’s about the stupid metric system or my being stupid and clueless of metric system, and I questioned myself why I did not train with “km” with my iPhone app?

    Soon I started seeing runners limping, hopping and they looked seriously suffering, so I knew it’s home stretch time and I must be very close to the Finish. I could not conceal the smile on my face as I experienced a sudden rush throughout my body, and I started high-five the crowds as I sprinting as fast as I could, and before I realized it the “195 m” sign was in front of me and in no time — FINISH!! I crossed the finish line and the big Tokyo Marathon Finisher Towel and finisher medal were waiting for me! I could not wait to regroup with Anita and Max to share my joy, so I skipped the finishing photo session and foot bath/massage area, just kept walking toward the family reunite area in the west wing of Big Sight. Volunteers directed me to a hall that’s for gear bag pick up, then took me to an area where runners changing clothing on the floor. Wow, so many cute guys!! ^++^

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    I found the family reunite area but did not see Anita or Max, however Mark and Miranda were there and looking happy because Mark had met his goal and PRed!! At this point I started to wake up from the joy of finishing the race and pondering “what is my time?” According to the clock time it was 4:19, but how about my chip time? Really curious, but nevertheless I knew I had run a good race that’s better than ever! I did not expect myself to finish that fast and that strong. Thank to Mark and Miranda for hanging out with me and sharing snacks and candies with me, and I absolutely love the pictures Miranda took for me! You two are so awesome and adorable, and hope in the very near future that I will run the Rotterdam Marathon and pay you a visit.

    On the way back to the hotel, I was feeling really hungry and cold, but wasn’t tired or sleepy. So just took a hot shower, ate some bread, put on my pink compression socks and laid in bed staring at my most elegant finisher medal with my silly pride:-p  Without internet access, I did not know my finish time until Anita looked it up for me later on — 4:08, and I PRed by 47 mins. Finishing Tokyo Marathon (or any marathon) in 4:08 with jet lag and tired body is something that I have never dreamed about, and probably none of my running friends anticipated that to happen either. On my last two 20ml long runs I did 3:12 and 3:08, so before I left San Francisco friends were saying that I should be able to do a 4:20 to 4:25 in Tokyo if I do everything right. But guess what? I outran myself and did it in 4:08! Not only I did not bunk but my best 5k split was between 35 km to 40 km. Woohoo, that’s one hell of a race I would say~~~

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    The remaining trip in Japan is another story for another time, so I will stop my Tokyo Marathon Write-up right here and thank the people who have supported me and helped me accomplished this race. Again, I need to thank Michael for being my dedicated long run buddies, my Facebook friends from different corners of the world – Mark, Karl, Jerome, David, Hattori-san and Hata-san for virtually going through the long training season and completing Tokyo Marathon together with me, my Bay Area Runner buddies for supplying me good vibe and moral support, Anita for seeding the idea of going to Japan for this race. And now last but not least, profound appreciation to Max for taking care of so many tedious things on this trip and tolerated my clumsiness and forgetfulness. Domo arigato gozaimasu ~~


    1. Photo credits go to David, Karl, Mark, and Miranda, appreciate their allowing me to use their Tokyo Marathon race pictures which helped this mono-toned and lengthy post to be more interesting to read 🙂

    2. I was talking with Max after drafting this post that how I had almost no memory about the race itself, and his comment was “because all your trainings proved to be working and the race has gone well. That’s how a race should be.” I think he might be right 🙂


    2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

    • […] this trip as soon as I can before I complete lose it. I will start from where I left off in the “Tokyo Marathon Write-Up II” post, after picking up the race packet upon our landing in Tokyo on Friday, Feb 24th. That […]

    • […] Tuesday, Feb 28th, we left Tokyo and were heading west to Kyoto via Shinkensan(新幹線); our train was at 9:03am so we had little time for checking Facebook, emails..etc before we checked out of the hotel. And I just discovered that the pictures and race result I posted on Facebook the in the past two days were somehow set as “private” and could only viewed by me, so friends back home were wondering if I ever made to Tokyo and how the race went…etc.  Sigh… no one knew that I PRed by 47 minutes […]

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