Return to Asia and the land of the rising run
Recently back from running a marathon in the depths of Outer Mongolia, our adventure runner, Shona Thomson, returned to Asia just a few weeks later to take on Tokyo marathon. With little time to recover and a February plagued by illness and injury, she tells us how she got on.
The land of the rising run
As part of my goal to complete the six world majors, I was lucky to get the opportunity to run Tokyo marathon with Sports Tours International. Tokyo is a city of conflicting images; wherever you look you catch a glimpse of the past, the present and the future; the same was also true of the marathon.
In recent years, there has been a huge focus on distance running in Japan. The Tokyo Marathon Foundation had clearly put a huge amount of energy and vision into the marathon. The new logo portrayed images of the runners, volunteers and cheering crowds along the course, emphasising the huge human commitment to running. Furthermore, with Tokyo being selected to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, I was really excited to be part of the rising Japanese running culture for even just one day.
Behind the scenes
It’s very easy just to look at the marathon highlight reel of finish line smiles. However, behind the scenes often tells a very different story. After the pretty challenging Genghis Ice Marathon running through the unforgiving and hostile Mongolian winter in minus 40 degrees and sustaining severe frostbite at the end of January, I had just four weeks to recover and get ready forTokyo.
Unfortunately February went from bad to worse! Sometimes it feels like life has a way of testing our resolve by throwing everything at us at once! I picked up the most excruciating chest and throat infection which made breathing and swallowing agonising, let alone running. Eventually after two weeks down, I got back out for a long run but woke up the following day and couldn’t put weight on my foot! Both my Sports Doctor and Physio prescribed “no running” until marathon day. You’d think my body was trying to tell me something!
The bottom line was that I was heading out to Tokyo with pretty much no training banked in February, held together by KT tape, and fuelled by Lemsips, ibuprofen and blind optimism. I’ve never been a PB chaser but Tokyo certainly wouldn’t be producing one: being on the start line virus free and pain free was my sole objective. And to honest, that objective wasn’t fully met either but the show went on anyway…
The race weekend
We were met from our overnight flight at Narita airport by our friendly Sports Tours International reps, Ludo and Joe, and headed straight to the marathon expo to collect our race numbers. After a little wander about, we made our way to the lovely (and perfectly located for the start) Keio Plaza Hotel, which would be our home for the next few days.
Tokyo marathon day
Inspiring us at the start was the tagline for the event: “the day we unite”, which captures beautifully the huge attraction of this marathon. For me, it was a huge pleasure simply to be there and a privilege to share the streets with 36,000 other runners all facing the same journey of suffering and euphoria.
As thousands poured from all directions to the race start at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, the air was filled with nervous chatter, smiles, and the intoxicating smell of deep heat. The weather was hot for the time of year but good for running: 14 degrees with a slight breeze. The start was an explosion of energy with a pipe band playing the “Soldier March” from Faust and white confetti floating down like snow. As we made our way down to Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace, my body wasn’t quite sure what had hit it having not run for two weeks. However, I settled into an easy pace and focuses on enjoying the amusement provided by my both the Japanese runners and crowds.
The second section took us south down to the first “hairpin” down-and-back. Crowds were deep and enthusiastic as we passed Tokyo Tower looming in the background. There was plenty entertainment with musicians and performers as we headed back up to the half way point in the Ginza area, a very modern part of Tokyo rich in creative architecture.
The third section of the course headed north towards Asakusa for the second down-and-back hairpin. Asakusa is a major tourist area with some incredible temples and sights. A stage was set up near the entrance of the famous Senso-ji Temple with traditional performances, from dancers to taiko drummers to costumed actors. There were huge crowds here which helped as by this stage I was starting to hurt, and the lack of training in February was starting to take its revenge.
The final stretch took us east over several bridges onto the man-made scenic island of Odaiba, with spectacular seaside views. The inclines over the bridges were not appreciated, especially when coupled with the winds from the ocean! By this stage, the course was littered with participants walking and stopping due to fatigue and injury. At several points I thought to myself that there must be easier ways to die! However, as with everything, the time and distance passed and I was thrilled to make it across the finish line.
The highlight reel
– The marathon takes in some incredible sights: the Metropolitan Government building, the Imperial Palace, Tokyo Tower, the Ginza, and Asakusa before finishing at the Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba.
– The crowds were spectacular, and create a terrific atmosphere that is missing at many other races. The Japanese put on an event that is world class yet remains relaxed, unpretentious and a real sense of humour.
– The volunteers were extremely enthusiastic and friendly.
– The event management and logistics were near flawless.
– The fabulous team at Sports Tours International who dealt with every question and concern.
– And of course, crossing the finish line!
What is next?
Despite a fabulous trip to Tokyo, unfortunately, my foot didn’t enjoy the trip quite as much as I did and it flared up pretty badly during and after the marathon. I will need a bit of rest and rehabilitation but I’ll be planning another adventure soon so make sure you read the next edition of RunABC to find out more!
If you would like to run Tokyo Marathon with Sports Tours International, you can enter at www.sportstoursinternational.co.uk/tokyo-marathon
Contact if you are an individual, school, charity or organisation and would like to get in touch with Shona about how she can support you in your running journey through a motivational talk, workshop or training plan, please get in touch at ST@SlowTwitch.co.uk or via www.SlowTwitch.co.uk
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