Photo courtesy of Chiba-san!
I did my first marathon, the 2007 Tokyo marathon, more or less totally unprepared. It was hell. I gave it my all for about 10 kilometers, and then ran out of energy. I forced myself to keep moving and eventually finished with a time of 6:16. I couldn't walk properly and was in pain for weeks. I wondered why I had subjected myself to such an ordeal, and had no intentions of ever doing one again.
But time passed. In 2010 I joined Namban Rengo, the Tokyo international running club. I registered for Tokyo 2011 on the last day before applications closed, and was fortunate enough to have been chosen. I didn't train properly, but I did run at least once practically every week for the second half of 2010, and the first two months of 2011. I also did the Namban Akabane half-marathon in November 2010, and I was definitely in better shape than I had been in 2007. But marathon-ready? No way!
As race day drew closer, I got more and more nervous about the race. Scared, actually. The enormity of the distance, the memory of the agony from last time. Why on earth had I got myself into this again?
But the Tokyo marathon is incredibly popular. Only around 10% of the entrants can actually run the race. The way I look at it, ten other people were denied a place because of me, so I would participate and do my best.
A number of other Nambanners were doing the race, and fortunately two others, Kana and Laszlow, were in the same starting area as me. We headed out together, and keeping track of them helped me move at a good pace. I lost track of Laszlow a little after the 10km mark, and then ran with Kana to around the 20km point. After that I gradually started to slow down. I alternated between walking a little and running, to the point where around the 35 km mark my walking and running was about 50/50. But I didn't stop, I kept going. It was painful, but not as bad as last time, and not even as painful as the Namban half marathon had been.
Two days before I had particularly bad hay fever, but during the race I think I sneezed maybe once. My body didn't have the energy to react to pollen. Everything was focused on putting one foot in front of the other, enduring, moving forward.
When I began to run especially low on energy, I would run to the side of the road, then stretch out my hand. The crowd, young and old, reached out their hands, and as I ran by doing a sequence of high-fives, I got a little energy boost, a little more motivation to keep moving. To run that next meter. Tokyo can be an isolating place, but on this day it did not seem so. We weren't running alone, the whole of Tokyo seemed to be out there cheering us on, calling out "gambatte", offering free food.
Although I was in pain, I ran the last kilometer, mildly chagrined that the crowd barriers they had set up there didn't allow for the high-fiving that had helped so much earlier on. But I ran on anyway, past the finish line. My time was 5:26, 50 minutes better than 2007. I slumped against a fence, looked out at the sea. And sneezed. The race was over. My body could afford to waste energy reacting to pollen again.
Apparently the Japanese author (and runner) Haruki Murakami said that he'd like "At least he never walked" to be written on his tombstone. I can't make that claim. But I think I made enough of an effort that I don't need to feel bad about denying those other ten entrants their place. And if the lottery gods smile upon me again, I'll be there next year too, hopefully making an even better time!