Mark and I had been considering our next running options, and a few years after my only marathon (in 2015), I thought I was ready to tackle another! Tokyo Marathon was our first choice, but as it has become extremely popular with the ballot oversubscribed by about 10 times, we didn’t get an entry. A few other Front Runners were heading over to Shizuoka Marathon, and so we decided this would be a good second option. Shizuoka is about an hour from Tokyo on the Shinkansen and promised cool weather (temperature between 8-12 degC which is perfect for running); a flat, fast course (with views of Mt Fuji); and a reasonable field size meaning that we were all likely to find others to run with, without the congestion of some of the major races.
I had very solid training block over the summer, with higher volume than I’d previously accumulated and some early starts to beat the heat! I was looking forward to racing and was pretty excited when we arrived in Shizuoka. We dropped out bags off at the team hotel and had what turned out to be a huge lunch of Tonkatsu pork (spotting some other runners tucking in too!)
From the beginning of our experience, Shizuoka Marathon was extremely well organised. From the train station there was a trail of blue raincoat clad volunteers pointing the way to bib collection and the marathon expo. We picked up our bibs (front and back unlike other races), timing chips and the souvenir socks – even though we weren’t sure if the larger of the two sizes available would fit our large Australian feet! We were also given some magic tape dots, and it was funny to see everyone covered in dots the next day, but I’m not actually sure they did much for preventing muscle fatigue… There was a small expo with some Shizuoka Marathon items to buy, but only a couple of sports gear stalls. As it was cold and I kept feeling like I was getting sick, we didn’t stay too long and went back to the hotel to get our gear ready for the next day. (I had actually become a bit paranoid about getting ill during the taper and kept thinking that the glands on my neck were inflamed, and the sniffle due to the cold was also playing with my head!)
Later in the evening we met up with the rest of the Front Runner crew and went searching for some pre-race dinner, with the group preference being pasta/pizza. Luckily we had seen a couple of Italian restaurants earlier in the afternoon and although the first was too small for our large group (11 of us!), we ended up at a pasta place which seemed to cook the pasta one at a time, so it took a while, but was OK in the end. It was nice to hang out with the others and talk about what we were individually targeting. Even though there was a range of times and paces amongst the group, we had all trained hard and were excited about the challenge we would face the next day.
It took a while to get to sleep (as part of taper I’d had a little bit of trouble during the week too), but I eventually dozed off and woke up ready to run. We’d specifically packed Weetbix for pre-race breakfast, and after this breakfast of champions we checked our bags with the hotel. There were lots of other runners milling about, including a medical running team staying at the hotel. We were the only ones in short shorts…
Like the day before, there were lots of volunteers on the streets holding signs to direct athletes. I left Mark and headed to the area of the women’s bag drop, following the signs, but it felt like a long detour. I was a bit confused about the actual bag drop location versus the gym for changing and didn’t have much time before both bag drop and the marshalling areas closed. I really should have also gone to the bathroom one more time! The start corrals were rapidly filling up, without much option to sneak through to the front for a good start position. I was in D wave, which had lots more people than the A/B/C waves but E and F behind were even larger again. As they moved the faster waves through to the start line, we snaked past the moat of the Shizuoka castle, and people were running even though the race hadn’t started! There was some more waiting/walking/running/waiting and then we were off!
At first I was a bit concerned about the pack running too slowly, but very quickly it spread out and it seemed like the seeding had worked pretty well (as compared to races like City to Surf). I heard a shout from Raf as I went past, and then it was on through the city streets. There were lots of locals who had come out to cheer “ganbatte” and “ganbare” (keep going/try hard). I enjoyed the atmosphere, smiling and waving, and the locals were happy to have a gaijin (foreigner) thanking them for cheering! The only issue was that I still felt a bit like going to the toilet, but there were long queues as I ran past, and it wasn’t too pressing so I kept going!
The weather was great, pretty cold but I soon warmed up and took off my gloves, keeping my ear warmers on. Around 5km as we headed out of the city we even started running past some rice paddies and I was really enjoying myself. In the outer suburbs it seemed like everyone had come outside to cheer the marathon runners on and it was quite festive.
At around 10km we headed back into city centre and then out along the river. I settled into a comfortable pace around 5.07min/km and tried to find someone else to run alongside. There were lots of middle aged (or older) men in not necessarily what I would consider running gear (large fishing style hats, longer shorts). Just before the halfway mark, I saw Fujisan for the first time. It is such a massive mountain compared to the rest and quite awe inspiring. I actually sped up a little in excitement and had to settled my pace back down in the following kms! I was really pleased with my split at 21km which was 1.47.30 so right on the pace that I wanted.
The next part of the race was a long stretch along the coast, with lots of the strawberry farms. I really wanted to have a strawberry at one of the food stops, but it wasn’t something that I had practised and I didn’t know how my gut would react. It was so upsetting to see all the squished strawberries at the aid stations (especially when you find out how expensive strawberries are in Japan!) I was actually feeling pretty good nutrition wise, having had my gel and quite a few chews. There was a light breeze, but nothing like running around the river so it didn’t bother me much and I just tucked in with a group of runners, counting down the kms.
Everything was going well until about 35km (well the body was going ok but my watch wasn’t doing too well! I think the cold must have affected the battery and it went into low battery modewhich never happened on a training run of equal time. I only knew what time I was doing at the end of the km, but not during which might have been a good thing…). At 35km my legs started feeling pretty tired. We turned off from the beach and into Shimuzu town. My legs were so heavy that I slowed down a bit, and even though there were more people out cheering, I found it much harder to smile, let along joyfully wave like before! It was a bit of struggle to the finish line, even though Mark said it was all downhill. Finally, I could hear the beating drums at the finishing line. I was shattered but very happy to have run 3.34.56, a massive PB and a great result based on my training paces. I was also happy that it was the legs that had tired out – unlike Perth Marathon I didn’t feel sick due to nutrition issues and mentally I was still strong. I didn’t hit the wall, my legs just worked as hard as they possibly could and I couldn’t have asked anything more from them!!
At the finish line we were given a medal, commemorative towel and a drink. As it was still pretty cold, I went to get changed and finally use the toilet! There was a large hall for the women to get changed in, but there were no benches or chairs and no way if I sat down on the floor that I would be able to get up again. The Japanese ladies already there (i.e. faster than me), were all sitting on the floor practically doing the splits and putting on their make-up!
I shuffled back to get my finishers certificate (printed out in about 20 seconds – super-efficient) and then went to find Mark. He had run 3.02 which was great considering that his preparation was limited due to injury. We met up with some of the other TRC runners who had also had great races, and we heard the awesome news that Rochelle had won the women’s race! We had some lunch (didn’t opt for a beer), enjoyed the stalls at the finishing line, admired Fuijisan a bit more and then took the train back to Shizuoka (only about 15 minutes away).
All in all, it was a really good race and after training hard for so long, it was nice to achieve a time faster than my goal! Now to try and break 3.30!