I've heard so much about Tokyo Marathon from Malaysian runners who have taken part in its previous editions. It has been a highly regarded marathon even before it was elevated to be one of the six marathons in the World Major Marathon series. And it wasn't easy to get in, either. One Japanese I met at the Shibuya Tourist Information Center told me that I am very very lucky to get drafted to run in the marathon after balloting for my first time while she had tried in seven straight occasions and failed each time. Similar stories were heard about ow difficult to get in the Tokyo Marathon. I was informed that they received around 305,000 applications to fill up the 35,500 marathon slots, 8.5 times oversubscribed. And out of 35,500 slots, only about 5,300 runners were from outside Japan. Malaysia was represented by 93 runners and I was one of the tiny fraction of the total number of participants. I also was lucky to be able to run in Osaka Marathon last October and had the taste of what Tokyo Marathon would be like, but in a smaller scale. The organizer of both marathons are the same and the hospitality and the organization was just the same between the two. The expo was almost about the same size except for the different apparel sponsor (Mizuno for Osaka while Asics for Tokyo) and some other booths/products/brands being showcased. Although the expo meant nothing much to me, I was still super-excited upon presented with my bib number, knowing that I would run my second Marathon Major and it would be my 30th marathon.
I had quite a big expectation to run in Tokyo. Deep inside my heart, I really wanted to run a PB timing here, even by a slight seconds but would be nice to break under 3:40:00. With all the expenses incurred, especially, it would be great to come back with something to celebrate other than just finishing the race. And it has been a while since I last ran my marathon PB of 3:40:11 done at 2XU Marathon in Singapore way back in March 2014. I failed in Osaka and don't want to fail again in Tokyo. But I also realized that I had failed to run a PB timing on another big stage before (in Berlin 2012), probably because I put on too much pressure to myself and the cold weather! It was around 16-degree Celcius when I ran in Berlin and I got cramps all over the body - legs, fingers, and even the neck, quite early into the race. And with the forecast of Tokyo Marathon will start under the even colder temperature of 8-degree Celcius and drizzling, I was just afraid that the Berlin history will repeat itself. Based from friends' experience, the course would also be a little over-distance, can go up to 1km over-distance, due to left and right turning in the city and the large crowds that prevent you to run in tangent line. So, in the end, I didn't tell anyone of my target because I wasn't sure and I don't want to put pressure to myself and based from my experience, I had always do well and run a PB timing when I least expected for example in Hatyai 2012, Vientiane 2013, and Singapore 2014. Not only until I reached the marathon expo and upon getting myself pictured at the Seiko booth that I had to actually declared my target timing. I was reluctant, but failing to plan means you planned to fail. So, being modest, 3:39:59 was my target timing.
I was lucky (or unlucky) to get a quick assimilation to the weather as soon as I arrived in the morning of Wednesday when the weather went as low as 3-degree Celcius with rains that lasted from morning until I went to bed that night. It was really cold but couple of days that followed were lovely with sunshine despite low temperature. On Saturday, during the 5km International Friendship Run, it was sunny but windy and it was chilly to the bones. I guess walking around Tokyo for four days prior to the event day under the similar weather and temperature had helped me to settle down with the temperature on the race day. And the walking, really a lot of walking, that I did for four straight days, were helping to loosen up the tight muscles (I think) especially when I hadn't had much mileage after TNF100 Thailand three weeks before and zero mileage during the week of the marathon. Oh, maybe that is what really meant as tapering period, I guess so. And another thing that I would think that was helping was the good dip of the whole body in the hot spring followed by a good leg and upper body massage, a day before the race.
So, on Sunday I had instant porridge for breakfast at the hotel before slowly making my way to the start line at the Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, just a few stations from my hotel in Ikebukuro. It was cold as forecast but the rain has stopped but the road was still wet. I had about 75 minutes before flag-off but the entrance to the race start area was already crowded as there were security checks on each participants - including the waist pouch we were carrying and the contents, and they even restricted liquids/water to be brought for the race to be in a maximum of 200ml in an unopened bottle. I tried to find a bottle of 200ml mineral water but I just couldn't find any so in the end, I decided to just rely on the water provided at the water stations that were place at every 3km and 2km apart. Once I cleared the security checks, I had the urge to pee but the queues were terribly long at all portable toilets provided. And I don't have much time to spare to queue. And the thought of taking my jacket and track bottom (to keep me warm) right until the very end before I moved to inside the starting block was just didn't go as planned as due to the crowd, I thought it was better to deposit my luggage early and head over to my starting block as early as possible. After I deposited my luggage, I only had a disposable poncho I got from one of the booths at the expo to keep me warm. I headed to the starting block D as assigned and the queue for the toilet was a lot shorter so I did what I could do and felt so relieved. Slowly I made my way to the start pen and got to the front of the block, just behind block C, which I think is pretty awesome.
It was still cold and it started to drizzle again and I shivered everytime the wind blew, sometimes smack on my face. Met another runner from Malaysia at the start line, it was great to have someone to talk to to kill the time until the race was flagged off. But with about 20 minutes from the flag off time, I had the urge to pee again and I had to abandon my spot to go to the toilet. I had to queue again and as I had to deal with so many stuffs with me - gloves, poncho, two layers of top, two layers of bottom, just to pee, I accidentally dropped the left side of my glove into the portable toilet bowl and at the same time my foot was pressing the flush button and the glove was gone and I was left with just the right side of the glove. I sensed that maybe luck was against me this time. So, I decided to run without gloves. By the time I got back to the start pen, I had to wait at the really back and at the side as it was already filled. Then slowly we were allowed to move into the pen but I was still at the really back until the actual flag-off. I crossed the start line, some four minutes behind the official flag off. With the amount of crowds we had that morning, the first 5km was done at a relatively slower pace than other parts of the race, and had to zig zag around really a lot. This time, I wasn't paying much attention on or got too excited with other runners in costumes or the crowds at the side as I had experience all of it before in Osaka so, I was just focusing on my pace and calculating the projected finish time.
For the marathon, I had worn the Team 2ndskin vaporlite team t-shirt with Nike Procombat long sleeve t-shirt underneath. For the bottom, I put on thermal compression bought in Uniqlo before putting on Kraftfit long compression bottom on the outside. No gloves sadly. Powered by Skechers GOrun 4 that has performed awesomely for me during the marathon as well as the RHB Half Marathon (1:42:54), two weeks earlier. Seriously, the shoes was simply awesome, fast and very responsive to every stride and propulsion - making it my favorite racing shoes for now. The rest I had on were my Garmin FR920XT, Lifeline ID, Compressport socks, Merrell's hat and a pair of sunglasses that I never put on as it remained overcast throughout the race. For supplements throughout the race, I had Hammer gel, a packet for each 8km (around 40-minute interval), and 2 caps each of Hammer Endurolytes and Anti-Fatigue Caps before the race and for every 7km. Route wise, the race took us around Tokyo city with total closure of those roads. Crowds were lining up at the side of the streets - left and right - all the way to the finish line and there were quite a number of performers (of all sorts - traditional, modern, orchestra, yoga, etc) performing for the runners in the cold weather.
Slowly with the zig zaggings and overtaking of some runners who started in block A, I reached KM5 in 0:25:24 and just like in RHB Half Marathon, it wasn't done with much effort. Judging from the time, I thought that PB is possible if I can maintain the pace up to KM30 and slowed down a little the rest of the race. As I had done in 2XU Marathon in Singapore, I was able to maintain average pace of sub 5-minute up to KM26 so I reckoned to try maintaining sub 5-minute pace up to KM30 this time. And I hadn't stopped running since the start except slowing down at the two first water stations. Body all felt great, and the runners around me who kept moving had motivated me to keep running too. I hardly seen anyone walking not just in the first 5km but the entire race. And along the route, there were two u-turn points so you could see the front runners making their ways from the opposite direction and I was lucky that I managed to catch the elite runners, including Endeshaw Negesse, who was the eventual winner of Tokyo Marathon and Stephen Kiprotich, to name a few.
As the race progressed, I found myself in an unfamiliar territory - my average pace kept getting better instead of worsen and at first, I was worried thinking that I might have gone too fast that I would run out of steam towards the end. But taking it positively, I might just go with the flow, run at the pace which had not troubled me so far. Looking back at my pace average pace, it went down from 5:03 in KM3 to 4:56 after KM7 to 4:50 after KM10 and down further to 4:45.5 after KM30. That was the fastest average pace point for me before it went up again. At KM30, I had all the confidence that I would run another sub 4:00:00 marathon and I thought with minimum effort, by just maintaining a 6:00-minute average pace for the final 12-13km. And that point also, the thought that I could do a PB is possible if my pace didn't drop too much. And although there were thoughts that I could even run a sub 3:30:00 marathon, I wasn't still not convinced at all that it would be possible. I was thinking about 'the wall' that I was going to face soon, just not knowing when is that soon will happen.
I was still running stronger than ever until about KM36 when I finally felt that I started to face 'the wall'. Even then, when I was expecting the average pace would go up really quickly as I thought I had slowed down from KM30 onwards and would surpass 5:00 anytime soon but it didn't happen, as it moved up rather slowly, only reaching back 4:50 at KM38. I could fell that my legs were starting to take the beating (of going too fast early in the race). All I wanted to do was to walk, to walk about 500m before running another 2km or 3km then walk again. It would be very easy to do, just walk. PB timing was well within my reach as long as I didn't walk for too long. But then again, I hardly saw anyone walking around me. I did walk on two occasions, going halfway up on two of those bridges near the finish line but those were very short walks, about 50m each time. And each time I was down walking and moved to the side of the road to walk, I was greeted with "Gambare!" and "Go! Go!" by the supporters and as if I was obliged a big time to them, I continued running....
And by KM36 when walking was the best cure for my legs that time, I realized that sub 3:30:00 is within a whisker for me. If I keep running, I would finish with a respectable timing and be one of the few sub-3:30 runners in Malaysia. But the other side of the mind told me that I would still finish with a PB, a 3:3x:xx timing which is still respectable to Malaysian standard. So, I had the options. Which one to take, it was the mind game from there onward. I dug deeper in me, flashes of the memories of how I started running, how I've came this far, achieving so much within this five years of running, how something that was not even in my dream (of running sub 3:30:00) is now right in front of me, just waiting for me to pound it. I braved myself, ignoring the stiff and screaming legs, I kept moving, ignoring the urge to walk, albeit now running a lot slower than in the first 35km. Even if I don't get to finish under 3:30:00, I knew that I won't regret as I had given it a try, I had given it my best. And I kept thinking that if I don't do it today, I wasn't sure when would the same opportunity be presented to me again?
At KM40, I still had about 12 minutes from 3:30:00. It wasn't safe for me yet to take it easy. There was still 2.195km to go, and understandably, it could be more than that. And in the end, I reached the final turn towards the finish line, came underneath the gantry that says, "Last 195m" and I had full 90 seconds to cover the remaining distance. I took it easier this time, confident of finishing under 3:30:00. I slowed down to soak all the phenomenal feeling, hearing the claps and greetings from the crowds, raised my hands as if I was the overall winner and stopped my watch and I stood momentarily underneath the finishing gantry. I felt the world stopped as well, allowing me to have my moment to celebrate one of my greatest achievements, one significant milestone, not only in my running life, achieving something that I had not dared to dream before. 30th marathon. 3:29:15 is the official timing. A PB. And I am officially a sub-3:30 marathoner. It is now to maintain it, and that is a lot more difficult than to achieve it for the first time.
I walked away from the finish line towards the hospitality area, and just like in Osaka, each volunteer there welcomed you back. My tears dropped the moment I was handed with the finisher's medal and the towel and it kept flowing down as I kept thinking that how did this happen, how did I able to do this? and the moment I saw my sponsor, Team 2ndskin, posted on its facebook wall about my PB in Tokyo, I just kept weeping the tears that crazily rolled down my cheek. Thank you for the trusts and thank you for sharing this proud moment. And to Tokyo, you were awesome. I still don't have the answers to what I had achieved but it could be all the lucks (I think I had all of them on the race day, although there was the bad moment when I lost my glove) and all the confidence and well wishes from friends and family. The official result came out few days ago and I was placed in the 4,067th position overall out of 35,310 starters (11.5 percentile) and 3rd of 93 runners from Malaysian. Frankly to me, although the timing was something I cared about, the position didn't mean much to me as there is no point of being fastest Malaysian in Tokyo or anywhere else, but what is most important is to be able to defy the odds and the pains, overcome the obstacles but not taking the easy way out and finally achieving something that is unthinkable before.