Energy gels, spikey foam roller balls, and a box of protein bars are not the usual suspects one would find in a travelers suitcase. Yet for nine Australian’s travelling to Japan, these were our essentials.
For almost 6 months we have been training with the team at Prosport Health and Fitness to run the 2015 Tokyo marathon. We battled 5am starts, ice baths, and 36km runs to get our bodies into marathon ready form. We learnt the importance of protein and sleep, experimented with every flavor of energy gel known to man, and mastered a couple of Japanese phrases (maybe this is a lie… I think konnichiwa was our crowning glory).
We were about to embark on our first ‘runcation’, the phenomenon where running is used as an excuse to travel. This has become a trend globally as many athletes set their sights on completing all six of the Abbot series World Major Marathon events including; Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo.
We spent the days leading up attempting to sight see, but really walking around in bubble wrap. Every staircase was taken with ease, and every meal was carefully examined before being eaten. Often I found myself settling for a nice ‘Tokyo-does-Italy’ spaghetti option to get that carb count up before Sunday.
As one of the Abbott series world majors, this marathon draws a considerable crowd. This really hit home when we went to collect our bib number at the Tokyo Big Site Marathon Expo. Every brand and its dog were there, flogging their wears. Anita, my team mate, and I managed to have our blood pressure checked and scored ourselves some leopard patterned ankle strapping. Very stylish.
It was quite serene laying out our marathon get up the night before the run. We all knew that when we put it on in the morning, it was show time. No more practice, no more training. It was time to put it all on the line.
At 6am the buffet breakfast room was buzzing. Runners of shapes and sizes were gobbling down their preferred pre-marathon breakfast. Being slightly paranoid I had bought my own bread over (Bergen dark rye, in case you were wondering) and downed two slices of that with strawberry jam. Call me plain Jane. Not much was said between us, but we could all sense the growing excitement. It was amazing that when we were all so close to our goal, the nerves seemed to disappear.
We all got on board a bus to the start line, where, after a couple of warm up stretches, we had to split into our start zones. I was still with Anita and Alex, as well as five others from the team. Although I have run in many fun runs and GSV events throughout the years, I could never have prepared myself for the half an hour before the run. It was truly so special standing beside these people, knowing that you were all united in your one goal. That’s the fascinating thing with marathons, no one really cares about who you are, how old you are, or where you come from. You are all equal on that start line, you all have 42.2km in front of you, and you all want each other to make it.
An eerie quietness ascended on the runners when the Japanese national anthem was played. After this the air filled with cheers and whoops as cannons fired love heart shaped confetti into the air. At last – the elite runners were off.
Slowly, like a heard of brightly colored sheep, we surged towards the start line. Everyone exchanged a final good luck and got their game face on. Finally we were over the hardest part of a run, the start. Now it was all about finding that rhythm and running 42.2km…ahhh…….
I honestly couldn’t tell you much about what went through my mind during the run. I like to think I solve the world’s problems when I run, but mostly I find myself counting. When I reach 100, I just tend to start again. During the marathon, however, I was constantly distracted and entertained by the thousands of people who lined the course and cheered us on. We had Japanese cheerleaders, drum players, and flash mobs. There were drink stations every 2km and even some families who made DIY food stops. I remember being gob smacked when I was offered a gyoza at around the 25km mark. Definitely not my ideal mid-marathon meal.
What was especially fun about the Tokyo course were the two dog legs we had to run. This meant that during the run we had the possibility of seeing our team mates four times. It really took my mind off the kilometers when I was trying to catch my friend’s attention as we ran past each other.
I loved every step of the marathon journey, but reaching the bridge that marked the final 195m was certainly a highlight. Knowing that there was such a short distance between my life long goal and me was truly moving. I could no longer suppress the tears during those last few steps, knowing that I could and will make it. I have never felt a sense of accomplishment as strong as crossing that finish line. I was invincible at that moment (even though I could barely walk).
Slowly the team regrouped in our hotel foyer, all drained by grinning ear to ear. They all smashed it. Either running PB’s or completing their first marathon. It is really quite unique seeing someone at his or her absolute rawest state. When they are spent, and have nothing more to give. The bond I made with my team during this run is something that will never leave me. We had been through such a big year together, ridden the roller coaster, and now finally, we had come out on top.
Now, its time to get back on the track and start planning my next runcation – New York 2016. Bring it on baby!