Tokyo Marathon 2013

I was marginally comforted by the fact that my intolerance to cold was shared by 36000 runners that filled the starting point at Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings.

With the wind chill, it was clear that we were to endure sub zero temperature on that day. That's despite the deceptively good weather of sunny clear blue sky. Count your blessing. At least it didn't rain.

Burly and tough looking folks were seen shivering. I just sat at the pavement, curled up in a bundle, desperately delaying the dreaded inevitability when my baggage would have to be dropped off before 8:30am. That would mean handing over my jacket. Or rather my lifeline.

The minutes ticked on. And I prayed for peace and strength as the subdued body combated with involuntary jerks and clattering teeth. The heat pads were of little help.

The crowd was enormous. You would expect that in a big event like this. The fact that Tokyo was declared as one of the Majors this year has nothing to do with it. It has always been this mad. But being a Major now grants a certain status to it like never before. Tokyo is now one of the Big Boys when it comes to marathon. And being the first Asian country to be bestowed that, I could only imagine, does the Japanese très proud. Kudos to them. Because with this level of organization, I would personally rank Tokyo as one of the best in the world. (Maybe even better than Boston!)

Anyway, I still had my own race to deal with. By 8:25am, I reluctantly took off the jacket to face the music. And instantly, a pang of piercing wind jolted me. Down to the bones. I started hopping and jogging to keep warm and headed to my B Corral.

The crowd of bodies jammed in the Corral offered no insulation from the element. Icy wind assaulted from all directions and there was no where to hide. And no one in the right mind would think about huddling together like the Emperor penguins. But it did cross my mind. Perhaps I was losing it.

The Mayor gave his speech. Judging from the crowd's response, he was well received. Soon, the wheel chair participants were flagged off. Then the elites were individually introduced with some Japanese favourites ranked in among them.

Half an hour of waiting was harder to endure than I thought. It was not helped by the knowledge that precious glycogen storage was being depleted while the body shivered uncontrollably to maintain core temperature. I think if they didn't start the event any sooner, I would have suffered hypothermia. The fingers and toes were numb. For the love of running, this is insanity in it's weirdest expression.

9:10 finally came. The confetti was cannoned into the air. What resulted was an awesome display of Cherry Blossom/Sakura in spring effect as they hung in the air and elegantly descended upon the starting point.

This, is Tokyo Marathon 2013.

Leading up to the event, it became abundantly clear to me that attempting a sub 3 in Tokyo would not be likely. Having just recovered 3 weeks ago from a left knee injury, plagued with work issues and lack of training particularly LSDs, I had to resign myself to a less ambitious target time. In other words, no heroics. No unnecessary aggravation. And no delusions!

As I made my way across the start line, the only thought that I tried to focus on was to run as comfortably as I could. If it fell within the time frame of sub 3, great! But if I couldn't, then so be it! I would ease off. I promised myself that I would at least push a bit until 28km to see how I faired. After all, I have come a long way; and with the amount of freezing that I just endured, it wouldn't seem right to simply go out there with a half hearted attempt.

The start was usually a bit sluggish as in any big races. It was a battle just to keep a clear passage while avoiding oneself from tripping over plastic sheets or bumping into other runners. I have also noticed that those in Corral A weren't necessarily fast as their Corral "supposedly" suggest. Some were probably running for charity. This isn't surprising since Tokyo Marathon grants registrations by ways of lottery with no requirement for proof of the registrant's 'claimed' best time. There is no requirement for qualification time as in Boston either. This, I think may change in future.

After zig-zagging for the first km, the run finally took 'form'. I eased into it and stepped up the pace. Running with a projected 'sub 3' time frame in mind, I was aiming for blocks of 7 km per 30 minutes. Therefore I would only concern myself in getting to the next half an hour block one at a time. It seemed less complicated that way.

Familiarity with the route did have it's advantage. But at the same time, you may be bogged down too as you keep anticipating the turn that just doesn't seem to appear. In many ways, it was de javu as in 2012 and 2011. After all, it's the same route. But this year, the chill and wind factor added in an extra twist. My coldest experience of Tokyo so far. Even for someone who enjoys running in temperate climate, this proved a little too much for me. That's because you are subjected to abrupt changes of extreme temperature. From sudden warmth of the much welcomed sun beam to instant chills in the shaded areas. And the gusty wind nearly blew off my cap on many occasions. And yes, it pierced through the layers of clothing too.

I was disappointed but not at all surprised that the actual mileage markers and my GPS did not tally. Happens all the time. And in this kind of scenario, my over reliance on GPS would cost me my focus if I were to seriously attempt sub 3 based on it's reading. (As from the Osaka experience). From now on, I think I would only resort to GPS for training. Sometimes, a good old fashion timer/stopwatch is you need.

What I like about Tokyo Marathon is the design of the route. It has a number of U-turns that enables you to catch rare glimpses of elite runners in action as they loop their way back. As a runner, this is such a treat. It never fails to inspire and invigorate. Witnessing these world class elite gliding by so graceful and effortlessly just gives me such a rush! These are the epitome of running. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Tokyo Marathon is so popular. I mean how often do we get to see that in real life?

スプリット (ネットタイム)
Split (Net Time)
5km00:23:58 (0:22:24)0:22:2409:33:58
10km00:45:01 (0:43:27)0:21:0309:55:01
15km01:06:01 (1:04:27)0:21:0010:16:01
20km01:27:19 (1:25:45)0:21:1810:37:19
25km01:49:16 (1:47:42)0:21:5710:59:16
30km02:12:23 (2:10:49)0:23:0711:22:23
35km02:38:01 (2:36:27)0:25:3811:48:01
40km03:03:51 (3:02:17)0:25:5012:13:51
Finish03:14:54 (3:13:20)0:11:0312:24:54

OK, back to my own race. The initial half was completed in 1:30. Right on the dot. But by 28km, I was already a minute behind schedule. So much for the sub 3 pace. I thought about it and decided that I have done 'well enough' by maintaining this pace thus far. Given my current fitness, it was already running on 'Grace' or bonus as some would call it. But my run was far from over. The toughest part was yet to come. Even with a more 'relax' pace that I would resign myself to, it would still require a good fight to finish with a respectable time.

After the second hour, my pace slowed significantly. For the first time in all my marathon races, I decided then that there was no point straining with a full bladder while maintaining pace. And since I was in no rush to do sub 3, might as well just enjoy the rest of my run. So, I went to the Portaloo.

And in the last 10km, I stopped a couple of times to drink and eat. In the past, I would never even imagine myself doing that. Ever. Every second counts. There was no time to waste. Even if I had to pee in my pants while running, I would. (Not that I have ever done that!) But this time, I was not feeling remotely guilty about it. In fact, after the brief respite, I felt stronger and ran better. Hey, walking is no crime. And the same goes for using the Portaloo.

Interestingly, the last segment of the race turned out OK. Grant you that I was not racing at the sub 3 pace. Therefore, the pressure's off. And the Portaloo and drinking/eating break helped too. I am glad that I made that decision at 28 km to ease off. I can imagine it would be a lot more unpleasant if I chose to go all out. Perhaps there was a remote chance of finishing a few meagre minutes faster. But to me, it wouldn't make any real difference. The initial "No aggravation" policy sounded good enough pour moi.

The champion Dennis Kimetto with a new CR of 2:06:50

Finished with 3:13:20. Despite that, the surprising thing was: I actually felt happy with it. Thought that I would brace myself for the misery, having rightly predicted the inevitable outcome....

And what did I discover?

On the surface, it seemed as though Tokyo was a wasted trip. One which was only intended to satisfy my ego: A desperate attempt at the elusive sub 3. I confess that these thoughts bothered me. And during my short stay there, I was forced to do some soul searching. What is it all about? Am I in pursuit of an impossible dream? One which would have me wasting my time and effort in vain? In return, what would I have gained even if I achieve that? ...

But, in any case, not fulfilling a goal isn't all that an issue. It's in trying. And not quitting easily. It's cliche I know, like my well worn Asics Tarther. But if I had DNS Tokyo, or even by attempting it with a half hearted approach, I would never have discovered this. It's really about discovering yourself on the road to maturity as a runner and a person. A journey of 'awareness', if you want to call it that....

Sounds deep? I have not even begun to dwell on that. But I'll save it for another blog someday.

So this concludes my Tokyo Trilogy. It was really the cold that I couldn't stand at the end of the day....


  1. better stop running and let me catch up! Haha!

    1. Haha Khoo, you are still young. Plenty of opportunity. But my window for improvement gets smaller as the time ticks on...:)

  2. Inspiring as always, Francis. Congrats! Achieving sub-3 or not it's still an awesome results and as long as you enjoyed the race, that's all that matters :D

    1. Thanks Nick. Yes, it's the state of mind. To think that we need to learn to enjoy a run. In fact it is to unlearn what we have picked up along the way...all the extra baggage. :)

  3. Doc, as I've mentioned to someone, I could not foresee running under the 'harsh' temperature. Even Berlin gave me trouble and I could understand how stressful it was between the time you deposited your bag and the start of the race.

    Anyway, big congratulations - for the as-expected superb timing but more for enjoying your race. I seriously think the HK100 and the trail training you had may have impacted the way you see/treat a race.

    Well done again and continue to inspire us in any ways.

    1. Thanks Deo. HK100 did change my perspective about running. But ultimately, as I become more self aware, I feel that I am still more suited for speed. Just can't get enough of it. :)

  4. Hi Francis, how are you?
    For all the major marathons you wrote about, this is the one that with lesser "action". Usually it was fighting with time and mind and stuffs. Could the HK100 has changed you? Or you are entering another level of insight on what's running about.
    It's not easy to have participated for many events and still keep such a fast pace. And it's travelling to overseas. However I guess if to plot a graph, your average timing is on a up trend. 3:13 is just a "normal" time for you now.
    It's true that when there's no "timing" in our mind, it's usually more enjoyable during the run.

    1. Kent, when I see friends going from races to races, sometimes even back to back, I really wonder what motivates them. Even with that, could the physical body handle it in the long run? Since 2009, my pursuit of good marathon time has pushed me to the limits of my own capability. You can say that I have reached that stage where I am confronted with the questions about my own motives and desires. I need to be a bit more careful in my choices as my physical body isn't indestructible.
      This is an off season for me. I need a break from it.


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