Tokyo Marathon 2016

In the stifling confines of a crowded AA bound for Haneda, Tokyo, I sat riveted to Jack London's The Call of the Wild. (e-book is a godsend!) And this particular read stirred something within...

The odds were clearly stacked against Buck in a wager that Thornton had somehow got himself into: The insurmountable task of pulling a 1000 pounds sledge load across 100 yards! Thornton wasn't at all sure if Buck could pull off such a feat; But as he turned to Buck, he tenderly spoke: "Do it as you love me!" ...

Overwhelmed, I tried to hold back the tears....but all was in vain.

Invariably, of course Buck prevailed. For the real test of the strength was not the weight of the load but his unwavering devotion and absolute love for his master and friend.

I was taken aback by my emotional lapse; But soon realized that it has simply struck a chord with what was weighing upon my heart. What is my ultimate reason for running? In retrospect, the inexorable strife and endless attempts to sub 3...what was it all for? There will come a time when all the motivation in the world will not be enough. And now, at this juncture, bordering on that threshold, a 'void' has led me in search of a greater purpose. Something transcendent. Something lasting. Something timeless and meaningful. And the key words that just unlocked it was Thornton's "Do it as you love me!" ...

It was the most logical conclusion. Do it, (run it), as I love Him! In this, sums up the whole reason and purpose. To me, it is like rediscovering your very first love for running. And it is a liberation from the tyranny of overreaching and the wearisome strife to self fulfillment. Could such coincidence be more timely? I think not. I know that I know, God was speaking straight to my heart: "Run, as you love Me!"

Nothing else quite invigorates as the spoken Word of God. I stepped off the plane into the land of the Rising Sun a few hours later. Physically tired but spiritually refreshed. Whatever comes, regardless of the outcome, I am ready. 'Success' is no longer measured by the height of the accomplishment. Sub 3 or not, I have found something better. It is a new breath of love's conviction expressing itself with the simple utterance of "Yes, I will run, as I love You!"

I put up in my usual Capsule Hotel in Shinjuku. And after a restful night, headed to Tokyo Big Sight for the bib collection and the all essential EXPO. Everywhere you look, the time-honored Japanese hospitality and fluidity of the flawless transitions seemed to declare aloud without a hint of subtlety that We are now the Majors. You see runners happily posed in front of the exhibitions of the six Majors, taking selfies, wefies etc, soaking in the splendour and glory of it all. Such display is Tokyo's proclamation to the world that Japan is undeniably a formidable new kid on the block. They say, flaunt it when you can. I say, why not?

I was eyeing for a new pair of Hoka Clifton 3 but was a tat disappointed that Hoka had not made their appearance in a Major event like this. Instead, I stumbled upon a New Balance booth and decided to try out their new Fresh Foam technology. The shoe was a snug and comfy fit but remains to be sanctioned by the actual on the road pounding. But more surprising was an offer of a free Tee with my choice of inscribed spray-paint words. I thought about it and decided to go with: "Run, As I Love You". Call it a 'collaborative coincidence', but I'd rather see it as God's approval, sealed with a Tee.

2016 marked my 4th Tokyo Marathon. Started in 2011 before it was declared one of the Majors. Consequently, ballot slots did not come as 'easy' as the pre-Major years, relatively speaking. Thus, I was not selected for 2014 & 2015. So, to forfeit this opportunity in 2016 would be a crime against hundreds of thousands of those who failed to be selected. Better luck next year?

As for training leading up to Tokyo Marathon, it hasn't exactly been as intense or structured though I did put in a few LSDs in the weekends and some tempos/intervals in between. But fulfilling the concept of weekly mileage of 100km or more was not something I could just pull out of a hat. It ain't an attempt at an excuse because I frankly just didn't have the time. C'est la Vie. That's all I can say. We make do with what we can. I know it may seem nothing more than a lament but that's reality's foregone conclusion.


Race day. Crisp cold air greeted us with a promise of a frosty start. Not too bad for a 6 degrees Celsius. Could have been worse with wind chill but fortunately the air was calm. I came a bit over prepared for fear of the 'imminent' cold frontal assault. Overdressed with my longs and a pullover that I was prepared to discard, it felt just a bit too cozy all bundled up before the race. As I stood in my B corral, I saw many with nothing but singlets and shorts. Made me feel very amateurish but at least I wasn't the one shivering like a leaf. (Apparently there is a different dress code for every category of runners ranging from the elite to sub 3, -4, -5, -6 etc. The faster your time, the skimpier you dress. And I am not joking because I saw a display outlining it in the EXPO!) It was postulated that this was 'suggested' out of concern for runners who may risk hypothermia if dressed inappropriately...not just a status symbol or fashion statement. Well, looks like I am certifiably a sub 5 hours according to their dress code....

A long wait ensued. Almost 45 minutes of it. But I was calm and collected. My one focus was to run my best race for the day; and to run it as I love Him. How that would translate into reality was yet to be fully realized. However, it was not a sentimental warm fuzzy feeling in case you were wondering. It was a kind of 'actuation of a conviction'. The Creator's love for me was to be reciprocated in a display of His glory by running my very best. This, is love expressing itself. With all of my mind, soul, and strength.  

Gun off. White confetti burst forth and fluttered in the air, auspiciously ushering in the revelry with the quintessential 'cherry blossoms' ambience of spring time. What a beautiful send off! Amidst the euphoria, all eyes looked to the starting arch as 37 thousand strong men and women rushed forth to embrace the long journey ahead. Here we go!

My race strategy was simple: Even pace. Even effort. No surprises. No heroics. No GPS, just a stopwatch against the mileage markers. Go out slow and be mindful of fuel. And yes, stay focus.

When you have frequented a course for the 4th time, it becomes a little less distracting. And consequently, one can focus his attention more towards the pace and effort. Knowing what to expect in terms of elevations helped too. In the initial 3 km, I took my time settling in. Though started a little slower, I made up in the next 4 km to draw even, thus covering the first 7 km within half an hour. Gradually, as the perceived effort felt sustainable, I felt the urge to move forward a little faster. Stepped up the cadence and unconsciously, the first 14 km just whizzed by. First hour passed with a minute to spare.

At this point, we were seeing the first turnaround and I caught glimpse of the elite runners, led and accompanied by the road marshals, making their way back just across the other side. Instantly, you feel a presence: a palpable surge of adrenaline amidst the backdrop of a roaring crowd. The excitement could easily throw you off guard. Hence, I fought to keep focus and ward off the temptation to speed up. Still, it was an awesome sight. A privilege to witness the superhuman speed. Yet they just made it look so effortless!

The mood of elation was infectious. It elevated my morale and I completed the first half of the race with relative comfort and confidence. Touched base at precisely 1:30 @ 21.1 km. Normally, I would have frowned at that as I would be aiming for a 1:28 to bank on the latter half. But somehow, I was just happy. Even pace. Remember? Besides, it seem more prudent to just conserve the effort to make a better attempt at the Part II.

From the 10 km mark, I kept up my fueling for every 5 km interval. This kept me going smoothly without any glitch or sudden pang of anergia. I was on a constant sugar high, so to speak. Some may not subscribe to this, but it worked well for me. As long as your stomach could tolerate it, why not? Besides, I have experimented with the much debated (and personally hard to understand) fat-fueling or fat-metabolism. Sounds very nice and ideal, but it didn't quite work out for me. Just not too sure if that was at all applicable to amateurs the likes of me....And the debate goes on....

I plodded on and reached the 28 km mark @ 2 hours. Here, we were heading towards the second turnaround at Asakusa. This was also the point where things were heating up. Swung around at the 30 km check point and started feeling a little tired. I took my gel and hoped it was just a glitch. But it soon felt like a wall coming head on. I was thinking: "Lord, let me run as I love You. Meet me here." Then at around 33-34 km, when the wall seemed imminent, I heard distinctively from Him: "Now soar on the wings of eagles and see where I take you!"

I suddenly found myself picking up pace. Sure there was more effort required, but it felt sustainable. Regaining focus, I felt "I could do this!" The clock was ticking as I cleared the 35 km mark. It read 2:31. I was already running one minute behind schedule. It's OK, just 7 km more and we are home. I did not care so much about making it within 29 minutes. I just wanted to run and finish strong without ever giving up or slowing down. I knew well enough that the real tests were yet to come. Beyond 35 km, two significant elevations awaited us. When I finally got there, some runners were already slowing to a walk. Yet I found the energy to stormed through, overtaking as many as possible along the way. That was the moment when it dawned on me: I was already riding on the wings of the eagles....

At 39 km, I stole a glance at the watch and knew that making sub 3 was already out of the question. In any case, one would naturally give up. It would seem pointless to fight so hard. It's over. But somehow, these thoughts never crossed my mind. I just felt like fighting. And kept on picking up pace as much as I could. The strangest thing was that I did not experience any cramps. For a habitually 'crampy' person, this is a first. I just felt like running. And ran I did. With all my heart. The time factor was long discarded from the conscious mind. I was just chasing down as many runners as I could until I approached the Tokyo Big Sight. Then, the run almost broke into a semi sprint. Soon, it was over.

I was exhausted. But it was a happy and overwhelmingly gratifying exhaustion.

I stopped the timer. It read 3:04:45.

How do you put a value on a time like this? Sure it isn't anything as dramatic or flamboyant as a sub 3 or sub 2:50 or sub 2:40. If it is within my God-given ability to achieve that one day, so be it. I would be more than honoured to do it. Even if it is not, it is OK. Because as of now, this has superseded all. Personally, it was already a triumph to experience God in such an intimate way. Frankly, "To run as I love Him" was not something that I simply 'came up with'. It was a gift, inspired by Him. Such simplicity and beauty was beyond me. In it, time stood still as love reigns supreme.

My take on marathons will never be the same again.


  1. Congrats Francis! I am in awe at the hospitality of the Japanese. It's my first time in Japan and after what I experienced, I will be back, not just for races but to experience more of the hospitality and discipline of the Japanese people. I simply love Japan!

  2. Yes Nick, having done 4 Osaka and 4 Tokyo, I am still loving it. You should try Osaka next in Oct. It will be a blast!

  3. That is a bold move to get to the race with a stopwatch. Back to basic, traditional, who knows it may bring out the real grit. Sometimes I do hope to do that - not listening to the beeps, but dare not to risk it. 45 minutes waiting before the start line. That is one of things that do not know how to handle if I were in it. Congrats for a good timing and great experience!

    1. Thanks Kent. After several misses because of over reliance on the GPS, I decided to just follow the mileage markers. After all, most of the GPS distance will always throw you off the actual pace. It is still quite straight forward for the majority of AIMS certified marathons where there are good clear mileage markers placed for every km. But in some of the local races like PBIM or Borneo, you may still need to rely on the GPS, or else, you will be lost. Mileage markers for these races are scarce.


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