Tokyo Marathon 2012

As predicted, it was 6 degrees Celsius as we touched down at Haneda International Airport. Led out like a flock of well bundled sheep, we were at the mercy of the icy wind as we made our way into the bus limousine, which later transferred us to the main terminal building.

With only a hand luggage, I took the Keikyu Line, changing at Shinagawa to Yamanote line, headed towards Shinjuku. Reached my station in good time, but had a little trouble finding my bearing at Shinjuku JR station. Being the largest in Japan, this station is reputably a giant maze! My Capsule hotel was situated in Kabukicho, just under 10 minutes' walk from the station. It was already 1 am (local time) when I finally located the hotel and checked in.

The capsule concept intrigued me. And it was rather inexpensive too. Since I was travelling alone for this second trip to Tokyo for the sole purpose of the marathon, affordability was my priority. And I was not disappointed. Expecting very confined space with little room to manoeuvre, I was surprised that the capsule was rather spacious. Not claustrophobic at all. There was also a built in TV in case one requires some entertainment. The communal bath was a uniquely Japanese experience with 2 Onsen and a Jacuzzi. Especially soothing and highly recommended for the cold feet and tired body.

The next day, bumped into Tuck and Moira (fellow Penangnites) at the EXPO in Tokyo Big Sight. I collected both the FM and IFR (International Friendship Run) bibs/race package. Two birds with one stone. The EXPO was as happening as I remembered it, with loads of freebies and interesting offers ranging from sports wear to food. The selections were enormous. For a marathon fanatic, this would be heaven.

On 25 Feb, woke up to a drizzling, wet, cold morning. It was IFR at the Meiji Jingu in Shibuya. I wanted to sleep in since IFR was only a 2km fun run. No point braving that kind of weather just to risk getting sick. But because I was responsible for delivering the bibs for 2 friends, I had to be there. As it turned out, one decided not to run anyway and the other didn't make it on time. Well, it was one of those things. Needless to say, I DNS. But it wasn't all a wasted trip. There, I met with Tuck and Moira (who DNS too!) and we ended up spending the rest of the day roaming around Harajuku and Shibuya.

26 Feb. Race day was at least dry. But it was cold and cloudy with a temperature of 0-2 degrees Celsius. Add in wind chill, it felt more like minus 2 degrees. Even some tough Japanese men whimpered and shivered under these conditions, I was fearing the worst as we waited for almost an hour in my assigned C pent for gun off. The hour felt exceptionally long and tormenting. If it were less cold, I believe the crowd would have been rowdier. Instead there was an awkward silence. Well, what could one really do but persevere?.....

Finally, 9:10am. Gun off. It took more than 2 minutes to reach the starting line. I was relief to just be able to move the muscles. Felt as though they were just thawing as I covered the initial km. Pace was comfortable at 4:30min/km. At the initial few km, the adrenaline rush seemed to help with the cold. But it was the cheer and roar of the crowd that really boosted the spirit. I felt woken up to the event with renewed infusion of enthusiasm and passion.

When I reached 12km, the elite runners were already making their way back from the 15+km turning point. They must have been at their 18th km. It was such exhilaration watching them run. The leader pack exhibited long strides and were literally "floating" on air. Their feet seemed to just tip the ground and lifted effortlessly. Like gazelles. It was precision and control in it's purist form. Poetry in motion. 

I turned my attention to my pace after they passed by. Kept it as constant to 4:30 pace as much as I could without speeding ahead and getting into trouble. Therefore, it was somewhat reassuring when I reached 21km in 1:34:30. The exact pace I had hoped to achieve. Now, to do the same in the remaining half would be the real challenge....

As I approached 22km, Haile Gebrselassie and Michael Kipyego were the first two to reach the 33km mark on the other side of the road. Up close, these marathon gaints were not tall or intimidating, but relatively average in stature. But all possessed ultra long legs by trunk:leg ratio. No doubt the built of a lean mean running machine.

Within a short interval, the Japanese hero Arata Fujiwara and Stephen Kiprotich were slogging it out just behind the leaders. The media focused and much loved Yuki Kawauchi was far behind. I knew at that point that he was having trouble and the race was over for him. Arata Fujiwara would go on to take second place with 2:07:48 (PB), while Michael Kipyego of Kenya would be crowned the champion with 2:07:37. Haile would later fall back and take 4th place with a disappointing 2:08:17.

The Champion Michael Kipyego and the Japanese hero Arata Fujiwara

Yuki Kawauchi. Japan's working class marathoner champion in 2011.
Frustrated, deeply humiliated and upset with his performance, he appeared the following day in a press conference with a fully shaved head.

I was a bit distracted by the elite runners. But it was a welcome distraction. After the first half, for unknown reasons, I felt a bit sluggish and unmotivated as I approached 22km. But eye witnessing these Elites, I was deeply inspired and felt a sudden revived surge of energy. Subsequently, I stepped up pace again to 4:30.

Beyond that, it was all the way down to Asakusa at 28km turning point and back. I was running on high spirit. And the strange thing was: there was no sense of tiredness. Usually, at 30km, I would have been worn out. I kept to my pace. Ran without a care in the world. In fact, my usual consumption of powergel was 5 per race. In this race I only took 2. The rest were just the isotonic drinks and 1/3 of a banana along the way. 

I maintained the same pace up til 41km when I started feeling fatigued. That was the point that I finally understood what is meant by "digging deep" and persevering til the end. I dug deep and kept as close to 4:30 as I could. Finished with a new PB of 3:15:30. Shaving off 18 seconds from my Osaka result in Oct 2011. 

My GPS registered 43.3km. Found out later that the others also registered the same distance. But could Tokyo Marathon (AIMS certified) be wrong? Later we conceded that it was perhaps our own zig zagging that contributed to it. But a whole km of zig zagging? Hmmm....

Overall, I felt great after the race. Felt that I finished the strongest compared to all my previous finishes. The issue is not so much the improved time, but being able to run and enjoy the last 10km when I was really tested and coming out of it strong. It was indeed a whole new experience for me. Most of the time in the past, I would dread that 30km point. I would be low in energy and certainly there would be no enjoyment beyond it.

And to top it off, there was no injury. And after an hour of sleep, I was up and about. And in fact was walking normally with no pain the following day when I met up with Jamie to savour the Tsujiki sashimi.

Of course, I know that I am still a long way off from my target. To achieve sub 3 requires a lot lot more mileage and certainly speed work. Earlier, I met a 56 year old gentleman from Adelaide at the subway while enroute to Tokyo Big Sight. His PB of 2:35 was done when he was at 44 years of age. And currently, he is still able to maintain 2:52 at his age! I told him about my aim. The first thing he asked me was my mileage. I was ashamed to admit that I was only doing 60-70km per week. We both agreed: at least 100km/week or above should be my new aim.  But to know someone like this truly inspired me. It gives me hope.

Well, Boston would be too soon. Inadequate time to build up any significant mileage. I would have to aim for GCAM.

Until then, I think I could finally enjoy LSDs a little more now....Thanks to Tokyo.


  1. Congrats Francis :D I knew you would a new PB. Gosh, I envy you being able to see those elite runners in the flesh.

    Happy Feet

    1. Yes, Nick, it was very exciting! Like fans seeing their pop stars up close. Haha! But the difference is, these Elite runners inspire u to do better.

  2. Francis...while pursuing the new PB, you can actually spell out the name of the elites ran pass you! What can I say?!!

    Congrats and thanks for the sharing...especially on the Uncle-from-Adelaide...inspiring!

    Oh...the capsule hotel, my first impression is what if someone "pass gas"...would take time to escape...:)

    1. YS, fortunately, ventilation system is quite good. Otherwise, imagine the worst case of Hong Kong foot, or in this case, Japanese foot!
      Yeah, these elite were already introduced in the marathon booklet. Everyone has one. So, not too difficult to identify them. Just a matter of whether u want to or not...

      As for the Aussie from Adelaide, my only regret is not getting a contact number from him. He's very gentle and encouraging. No aloofness at all even with such amazing achievement. I was truly blessed to have spoken to him.

  3. Congrats Francis! It was an awesome timing, as always. I was so thrilled when you said that you saw Gebrselassie with your own eyes. Anyway, now for the 100km/week yay! :p

  4. Thanks!
    Yes, it's a real eye opener! 100km week, well, no an option any more.....let's see if it translates into reality....

  5. Congrats Francis! BTW, my watch read 42.9K and when extrapolated, I actually ran faster than Gold Coast - even with a much abused body (Tylenol and throat drops) with all the long haul lugging. I'm happy.

    1. Welcome back! Yeah, how I wish we could....I would hv sub 3:15 if so! Haha! And BQ for 2013 some more...
      From your sharing, I hv a feeling that there will be many more Japanese Marathon for u in future?

  6. Wow, you saw Gebrselassie and other elite runner! It's very few chances can see them with our own eyes, esp those big names. Envy you~

    Congrats for the new PB. You started feel fatigue only at 41km, I think your body really ready for the next level. And with your plan to increase weekly mileage, can't wait to see your new PB.

    I can't imagine the run under 0-2 degres. Do you all put on more cloth or what? Despite the travelling, sleeping at new place, and different climate, you still perform well. For me, I'll surely feel tired due to the new environment.

    1. Kent, believe me, it was a real eye opener and priviledge for me to see the Elites in action.
      Yeah, it was my best run to date. Hope to improve in Boston. Glad to have discovered that there is "rainbow" at the other end of the storm. I hv always thought that I would only be expecting more suffering everytime I reach that 30-35km point. Apparently, with some training, it need not be so.
      I am excited to see how increasing the mileage would do to my target time.
      Climatizing to a new environment is quite important. I was glad that I had 2 full days to do that. Otherwise, I don't think I could have adapted. :)


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