Check out his Stephen’s own words on training, injury and his road to Tokyo below…
” Your first marathon is a momentous occasion. The second, an opportunity to put right any wrongs from the first. Tokyo marathon was to be my third, and a combination of the two. My first (Paris in 2014) was hampered by injury before and then during. My second (Berlin 2014) a textbook in how not to run a marathon: Starting off too fast, feeling great for half of it then “hitting the wall” at 30km and needing to stop every kilometre thereafter. Although the finishing time the second time around was a considerable half an hour quicker, the overall experience, especially from the last few kilometres, stayed with me for a while, leaving me somewhat disheartened.
I’d always wanted to travel to Japan to see and experience the fusion between oriental old and technological advanced new Japan, so when I heard people from Run Dem Crew had signed up for ballot places for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon it seemed like a perfect excuse for a visit. After missing out on London Marathon ballots two years running, I didn’t really expect to get a place. Little did I know the ballot is heavily weighted to allow more international entrants. I’d actually forgotten all about entering until the end of last year when an email appeared in my inbox and I quickly realised I’d managed to get a ballot place and had a couple of weeks to confirm my participation. Before really thinking about the marathon itself, flights were booked, race entry confirmed, and I was looking forward to my first trip to the land of the rising sun.
Training through winter, over Christmas, and in the rain, sleet and snow, went well. Leading weekly long runs with LDN Brunch Club gave me a focus and more often than not a reason to get out and run when otherwise I would have been tempted just stay in bed. Before I realised it, Christmas had been and gone, January came and went and we were in February with just a few weeks to go until I flew to Japan.
A badly sprained ankle whilst out with LDN Brunch Club one Sunday meant I missed my planned longest run the week after. I was resigned to the dread-mill for a fortnight or so and I started to feel nervous going into a taper with my longest training run being just over 20km. It seemed at the time that my marathon target had gone full circle with the aim, as with my first in Paris, just to finish. I didn’t want to race flat out and struggle to finish as I did in Berlin and then be unable to walk for days and unable to see the sights of Japan I’d looked forward to seeing for so long.
LDN -> JPN
Fast forward a week or two and I left London bound for Tokyo without a specific time in mind but thinking and feeling I could probably start off the marathon at the pace needed to beat my time from Berlin and to see how long I could maintain this or if my ankle would stop me in my tracks. After a fairly lengthy 11 hour flight I arrived in Tokyo in the early hours of the morning. By the end of the day I’d consumed about 10 cups of coffee, wandered around some beautiful Japanese gardens and I’d made my way through the marathon expo. I was now equipped with my race bib and the worst, most garish marathon t-shirt ever designed.
The day before the marathon, an 8km shake out run with Athletics Far East confirmed that my ankle was nearly 100% as we ran around the Tokyo Imperial Palace and gardens. As with all Bridge the Gap events it was great to meet so many runners from all over the world and see familiar faces from other European based running crews. Great too, to meet Rio and Eni from AFE Tokyo and find out more about Japan and Japanese culture, not just during the BTG weekend but throughout the whole trip.
Time quickly went and soon it was time for the traditional pre-marathon carb loading pasta. Or so I thought, the Italian I’d earmarked earlier in the day strangely stopped taking orders at 8:00pm so by the time I got there the chef had already started cleaning up the kitchen. I had to settle for a less traditional but probably more fitting Chicken yakitoti dinner.
Race day did start traditionally, with the usual early morning wake up for pre-marathon porridge. The sound of cars driving through puddles outside confirmed the predicted rain had come overnight and, there was more on the way throughout the morning and afternoon.
With breakfast out of the way, after a short subway ride, we reached the security bag checks and lined up for what seemed like an eternity. It was here the rain started again but fortunately it was only light, and by the time we had dropped our bags and made a quick toilet stop off it seemed to fade just as some firecrackers went off ahead of us in our starting pen to signal the start of the Tokyo Marathon.
The downhill start I’d read about was ideal for my usual racing the technique in starting off faster than my required pace then settling into it once the race got going. However in Tokyo this didn’t quite go to plan. Due to the last minute toilet break I started at the back of my starting pen, just ahead of the 5 hour pacer markers.
Once the race got started, frustratingly the first mile was pretty crowded. Further frustration soon came from the numerous people stopping to take photos and selfies within the first mile. Are cameras really necessary during a marathon? I understand that after the dedication and training it takes to prepare beforehand, the marathon day itself should be a momentous and enjoyable experience and one which someone may want to capture and share with others. However for most people, I would have thought it’s unfair, and possibly a little selfish to create unnecessary obstacles for hundreds of people by stopping in the middle of the road to take a photograph.
Having the 10km race running simultaneously meant that more often than not there were a small group of a runners I could slipstream behind to reduce the weaving I’d needed to do at the start. The 10k mark soon came, the end of the race for some, which opened up the roads and allowed for a much clearer path. The 10k mark was also the first part of the course to double back – 5km out to the south of Tokyo then 5km back in. I’ve never really been a fan of double backs in races but seeing the NBRO guys racing along the other side and then some RDC familiar faces really made the miles tick away without me really noticing. I passed the 4:30 pacers and later the 4 hour pacers, I knew because of the start there would be little chance of my getting close to the 3:30 pacers but by all accounts the race was going well, my ankle felt fine and I felt good.
At the half way point came the second, larger and last double back – through Central Ginza where there was an Athletics Far East cheer point, to the north of Tokyo near Assakusa before looping back down and heading central again. The second double back brought a second round of face spotting, finger pointing and waving. Everyone seemed to be having such a great time. It was around here I realised that if I kept up my current pace, I was likely to finish with a new marathon PB. This encouraged me to the point where I would end up running the second half of the marathon quicker than the first – negative split for the first time ever.
By the time the course went South East towards the finish, there had been a few small hills, nothing really to write home about but the elevation at both the Sumidagawa River and Harumi Canal was a killer. I don’t think I really had the feeling of hitting the wall like I did in a Berlin during this race but this bridge in particular seemed to test everyone’s resolve, it seemed to come out of no-where but could be viewed for a mile or so beforehand. It was one of those long and slow inclines which just doesn’t seem to stop. It was here I noticed the support from the crowd more than anywhere else, perhaps because this is where I felt I needed it the most. The Rocky theme suitably played out of a loud speaker at the top of the bridge and once the accent started the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre, where the finish was in sight. Glancing at my watch again, I was now sure I would finish well under 3:40 which was a huge relief. I pushed on, keeping pace, thinking to myself: don’t let all the hard work for the last 3 hours go to waste. After a few twists and turns and another unexpected hill, I crossed the finish line and the race was done.
The time on my watch read 3 hours 36 minutes 44 seconds. A new marathon PB, beating my time on Berlin’s renounced flat course by just over 6 minutes. I was delighted, and as my legs started to cramp and blisters started to reveal themselves, I made my way through what seemed like an endless barrage of marathon of post marathon gifts – much needed water and electrolyte drink, a towel, banana, orange, a muscle cooling spray and of course, a Tokyo Marathon 2015 finishers medal.
I limped my way through the bag collection and changing area and celebrated and reviewed the race with a few other racing Run Dem Crew members over a well-deserved Chicken Katsu curry. Everyone had ran a PB, but more importantly everyone had raced hard and still enjoyed the race and finished relatively injury free and having had a positive experience. I feel this is, without a doubt is the most important aspect post-race which often goes unsaid and unspoken. If you train well and run well on the day you still might end up disappointed somehow – normally with your time or specifically it not being as good as you’d hoped or as good as someone else’s who may have ran the same distance but a completely different race, on a different course, in variable conditions. It’s hard to compare and I feel it’s impractical to make the comparison.
ONTO THE NEXT
With the race done and dusted with some time to reflect, Tokyo Marathon was not only my best marathon but perhaps my best race to date. I remember struggling through the second half of Berlin, and finishing to say that I never want to do that again. I didn’t run for 6 weeks after due to injury, had to cancel plans to run the New York Marathon, and it took a while to get back to enjoying running. Despite running slightly faster, things felt completely different this time around. I’d pushed my body but in a controlled way, and now within a week after I’d already ran a few more times and my body feel just about normal. Maybe it was eating all the sweet treats I could get my hands on or being in such an interesting place for the first time that I couldn’t just laze around and rest, I had to be out exploring and enjoying my time in Japan and I know April, London Marathon, the one on home turf will soon be upon me. Although there wasn’t the huge support there has been in other races and although pre-race prep wasn’t ideal, the race on the day couldn’t really have gone much better.
London soon come..! ”
Article written by Stephen Adjaidoo.