“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
It’s Race Day! Let’s Go!
Sunday 25th February 2018
Not too ridiculously early of a start, I managed to get a fairly decent sleep and felt quite relaxed. I spoke with Tom shortly before leaving the hotel to have a final chat about our race strategy. Based on this past block of training and the fact that 4 hour pace (9.09 per mile) had been feeling quite comfortable on my easier runs, I felt confident enough to try the pace today. Deep down, I just wasn’t sure if I’d be able to maintain that pace for the full 26 miles, that part was still very much unknown. I knew I had a sub 4 in me, I just didn’t know if I was quite ready today.
Tom agreed that whilst trying for around the four hour mark was ambitious (my previous PB being 4:27) he felt it was sensibly ambitious. Tom is ALWAYS positive which I love and his pep talk really made me feel confident. He said not to worry too much if the pace dipped for a few miles, just to try and stick within that 9:00-9:10 area give or take 10-20s either side. If at half way it was feeling too much, I would pull back a little and like he said would still have a huge PB to be proud of but if I was still feeling good, I would pick it up and push on. His advice for the final 10K was to be bold. Spot people ahead in the distance, chase them and finish strong. Easy peasy…eh, maybe?
The M & S pot of porridge I’ve been carting around since Singapore is finally getting put to good use. Armed with it, a banana and my take away cup of coffee, I was ready to get on the bus. It was a short transfer from the hotel, only around 20 minutes and I was planning on eating my breakfast on the trip to keep in time with the 2 hour window that is now part of my routine. As I juggled various items of Tupperware and plastic cutlery, one lady looked pretty disgusted that I hadn’t eaten yet. Her judgement would have previously bothered me but I reminded myself this was my race day routine, not hers and just to be confident with what had worked in the past.
Upon arriving at the entry gates, security was super tight, which I believe to be a good thing. No food items or bottles of any kind were permitted, though there were aid stations inside where you could help yourself to stock up on whatever you needed. I intended to repeat what I did in NYC and other than warming up, try to stay off my feet for as long as possible. I pitched up in a quiet spot on a set of stairs to get my drop off bag organised and get focussed. I put my headphones in for a short time, just as a wee bit of extra oomph to get me going and had a wee chuckle when ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ came on. Please, no judgement.
Even pandas need to tie their laces tight!…
Bag drop was slightly chaotic but the volunteers were super enthusiastic and full of well wishes. I made my way to my start corral in plenty of time and although the butterflies were definitely there, I was still feeling calm. What’s the worst that can happen? You blow up, so what, at least you know you’ve tried. I kept thinking this to myself.
I chatted to a lovely American lady as we were waiting on the race getting underway. She asked if I had a time in mind. I told her my big goal is to go under four hours but I’m not quite sure that it will be today. She told me that was her dream too though due to injury, she hadn’t had the training build up she’d wanted so she wasn’t going for it here in Tokyo.
As the gun went off and I crossed the start line, I started my Garmin as soon as my first foot hit the timing mat. The watch is ticking. I remembered my mantras; “believe” and “what would Paula do?” Again, please, no judgement.
Well, there was almost no point in wearing a watch. As seems to be standard with the big city races, there was a lot of interference with my GPS. Possibly from the skyscrapers, possibly from the fields of thousands of other watches beeping left, right and centre. In the early stages it took a while for it to settle down and for the first three miles I didn’t really know what pace I was running. It’ll be fine I thought to myself, if anything use caution and go a bit slower to keep it relaxed, the last thing you want to do is start out too fast.
The course itself was fantastic; super flat with lot of big landmarks to take in along the way, although much of it is still within the concrete jungle of grey high rise buildings. 2018 made for a change to the previous route and there were a few turning points which made for some out and back sections on the course. Some people really don’t like this, but I don’t mind so much as I always find the people on the other side of the road who are running way faster than me to be a brilliant source of motivation. What was particularly inspiring and rather special was to catch a glimpse of the elite runners in their pack gliding effortlessly along at close to double the pace I was.
From miles 3-10, thankfully the gremlins settled down and my watch suggested I was right on pace (give or take those 10 seconds) some miles quicker, some a little slower. However, from mile 10 onwards the watch was caput. GPS kept dipping in and out and according to it, I was running anywhere between 7 to 16 minute miles. The first mile or so I started to panic. How can I possibly be running 16 minute miles? I’m running bloody faster, and the watch says I’m slowing down. Kimberley, ignore what the watch says! In that moment I thought to myself you have two options. You either let the watch dictate this race and ruin it by getting in your head which I didn’t want it to do or you commit, run hard and go for it. The course has kilometre markers and I’m still an old fashioned minute miler so at each of the check points, trying to convert the kilometres and my splits to mile pace, or at least what I thought it was kept the mind busy and somewhat distracted.
In that last 10K, I did exactly what Tom said. I couldn’t be sure if my calculations were correct, but I knew I was close and I wasn’t giving up without a fight. I did something I never do on race day- for that last 10K I put my headphones in and listened to music. I don’t really like to do it as you miss out on so much of the fantastic atmosphere from the crowds and supporters but I was so close that the little motivational playlist I had as back up might just help to give me that final push.
I quite like some of my race pictures, but at the crazy prices they want for them I sadly won’t be buying them!
Unfortunately I missed out on the fuelling stations, though really through choice. I like to stick with my own and what I’ve trained with. It seems the Japanese are big on the ‘real food’ varieties of fuel. I’ve heard there are all of these fantastic choices at Ultras but I’ve never seen anything quite like it on the marathon courses and certainly not at a Major. They had everything from tea, buns, even tomatoes! I stuck with the fuelling strategy that seemed to work for me. Gels at miles 3, 8, 13, 18 and 21 (which I think is still quite a lot) and drinking to thirst meant I only had cups of water at mile 13 and mile 20.
I gave the last 5K my all. I just kept thinking, it’s just a parkrun, just one Parkrun. How much do you want this? KEEP GOING.
Coming up to that last mile, I realised if my calculations were correct, I should be in well under the four hour mark. In hindsight, the watch not working was probably the best thing that could have happened. I pretty much cried my way along the last half mile, complete and utter disbelief and incredible happiness all at the same time.
When the emotion is all just a little too much!…
My best marathon time now starts with a 3! I may never stop smiling. I crossed the finish line in 3:57:58 with a 30 minute PB, a huge negative split and lifetime membership to the sub 4 club.
The look on my face! Ha, I genuinely cannot believe what has just happened!
Yes this race had been all about the performance, but I had an absolute ball along the way. Little did I know then that my time would also earn me a spot on the listener’s podium of my favourite podcast, Marathon Talk. I couldn’t wait to message Tom and catch up with everyone back home to share my news.
My time actually starts with a 3!!!
Today was one of those rare days where everything seemed to be perfect; the weather conditions, the route, my mind set, all paired with that magical feeling that comes when running is effortless, when you feel light as a feather and feel like you could run forever. When I crossed that finish line I honestly felt like I’d won the marathon. Breaking four was my #breaking2.
Statistics say that one tenth of one percent of the world’s population has completed a marathon. Fewer than 25% of those marathoners have broken the 4 hour mark. Just for once, I am mighty proud to be a statistic!
I celebrated in true Japanese fashion…the best sushi (bonus points for balancing the recovery protein and carbs) and my first taste of Sake! I have been waiting all month to try it but wanted to save it for tonight in the hope there would be something worth celebrating. My word, it is made of strong stuff!
Hilariously, the chef thought with my ‘gold medal’ that I had actually won the marathon and I was treated a bit like royalty, more so than is normal in Japan. He was sure he recognised me saying repeatedly, “I know you.” “Yep, just call me Paula, or Shalane maybe?” (jokes!) After some jolly banter I managed to explain that this was the medal that everyone gets. I’m still not sure that they understood though but it did make me laugh.
Back at the hotel, I met some of the other 2:09 runners. Yvonne smashed her PB today too (congrats!) and so we enjoyed a nightcap in the rooftop bar to finish off the day, though no more sake for me.
Tonight I had another wee chat with the city. But this time to say thank you. I have beyond loved my time in Japan, learning so, so much about this beautiful country, the culture and people. A country I have learned that is very much built on respect and hard work, rather than entitlement. I can only hope I am lucky enough to come back some day. Here in Asia, I have ticked another marathon off the continent list, completed Major number five and marathon number 8 and gained so much in the way of special memories.
Tokyo, you hold my PB (for now) but you will forever be the place I broke 4 hours for the first time and for that reason, you will always have a special place in my heart.