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Looking Back: 2016 Tokyo Marathon

Looking Back: 2016 Tokyo Marathon

I can’t believe that the 2016 Tokyo Marathon is now over, and I am sitting on my couch writing my race report. I found out on September 15th that I was selected to participate. I entered the lottery in August, not knowing what would happen. The odds were not in my favor. I remember reading an article months before that said the Tokyo Marathon was one of the hardest marathons to get into. I was shocked when the email came. I screamed when I read it. I prayed that I would get in, and I did! But of course actually pulling the trigger wasn’t an easy decision after that. There were multiple discussions like “Can we afford this?” or “Is this wise to do when we’re trying to save for other stuff, or pay other bills?” and “Do we have the time to take off from work?”

I naturally began to wonder if my goals of traveling all over the world to run marathons were selfish, and not in the best interest of my family. I made a goal after running the Chicago Marathon in 2011 that I wanted to run all of the World Marathon Majors. Getting into Tokyo would get me one step closer to my goal. So it seemed serendipitous that I got in. But still, I didn’t know if it was the “smart” thing to do. After many discussions and my personal consultation with my “crew”, we decided to go. My friend Susan told me that the timing will never be perfect, and to go now if we can. My husband is incredibly supportive. He loves that I have all these goals, and he wants me to achieve them. And he wants to be there with me every step of the way.

“One day, you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

— Paulo Coelho

So there you have it! We booked our flights and headed off to Japan. I wrote a separate post on our travels to Japan (click here), along with pictures of where we went and what we did. I also give restaurant suggestions. I think that post will be beneficial for anyone traveling to Japan. It provides some travel tips, but this post is all about the race itself and my experience running the Tokyo Marathon.

PLEASE NOTE: There are MANY useful scanned documents located in the TOKYO MARATHON icon on my main home page. After you finish reading this report, please refer to those documents for more helpful information. These are the race documents for the 2016 race. The 2017 race documents will be different, as the course has slightly changed. But you will find important rules, and aid station information there. 

The Expo!

The Tokyo Marathon Expo and Packet-Pickup took place at the Tokyo Big Sight (where the race finished. ***NOTE: FOR THE 2017 RACE THE FINISH WILL BE IN A DIFFERENT LOCATION). Before we went inside, the Tokyo Food Festival was taking place outside. This was the best thing that could have happened to us that day. We went Friday afternoon to avoid the crowds, but we forgot to eat breakfast so we were cranky. Seeing the little vendors and smelling the perfectly balanced merge of Japanese cuisine was divine; it was a mini paradise. After we ate, we entered the expo in a better mood. We were now ready to enter a marathoners version of heaven. Runners were only allowed in the packet pickup area. I was asked to show my ID a couple times. Everything was very organized and secure. There were several volunteers who spoke English, so I never felt confused. There was also an “overseas runner” booth. It was a seamless process. After I got my packet I met my husband and we worked our way through the maze. I took pictures and grabbed a bunch of free products. I sampled stuff and played a couple games for coveted prizes that I didn’t win. The Tokyo Marathon official merchandise store was small, and a little crowded. I was surprised at how small it actually was. But little did I know there was more stuff on a different level. I bought Tokyo Marathon brand chopsticks and arm warmers. Other levels at the expo had more merchandise from Asics to New Balance and other top brands. My clear plastic bag for bag check was filled with my purchases and free items. It was a great expo to say the least. Tip: If you are running the Tokyo Marathon, go on Thursday or Friday and avoid Saturday if you can.

 

Starting Line

There were some words that were spoken in Japanese over the loudspeaker (I have no clue what they announced) followed by the introduction of the Elite runners and wheelchair participants. A song was sung in Japanese, possibly the national anthem? Then the starting gun went off. I believe it was 10-15 min before we were able to actually start.

Some key things along the course:

Bathrooms

The portable toilets are very frequent, and there is a volunteer holding a sign that announces the bathroom coming up and how far away the next one is. So the sign will say: “Exit here for the bathroom now, or next one is 1.2 miles away”, for example. Cool right? Every toilet area has a couple volunteers who will guide and place you in line. They manage the line and flow. Again, you will have to squat when using most toilets. There were “western style” toilets, but not as frequent. No hand sanitizer or soap/water to wash your hands is available. Near major sights like the Imperial Palace there were “real” bathrooms. So you can always divert from the course and use them if that makes a difference. The one thing that stood out to me was that every toilet line was always long. Some races you will find shorter lines eventually, but not at this race. We stopped twice to use the bathroom, and the lines both times were long. Expect a bathroom stop to add 10-15 minutes on to your time. I do commend this race on having volunteers stationed at each toilet area.

Course Fuel and Food

Pocari Sweat and water are the beverages offered along the course. Pocari Sweat I learned has MSG in it (I had no clue. I should have done my research ahead of time!) Read about it. Know what is offered before running just in case you need something else. Unfortunately you cannot carry your own water bottles in. I believe you can take in unopened commercial products, like bottled water that has a seal on it. Please check the official rules. I scanned the ‘course restrictions’ document and it is located in the Tokyo Marathon icon on my home page. We did see runners with Camelbak hydration packs on. I am guessing they put their empty hydration packs in their checked bags, went through security (metal detectors), and then filled them up later? I mentioned a product in an earlier post, the Salomon S-lab Sense Hydro Set (a handheld collapsible hydration flask). You can add your electrolyte tablet or powder to water and mix in this flask after the race starts. There also were bananas and tomatoes along the course. The bananas were full sized which was nice. You peel them yourself. Volunteers did wear gloves when handling food, for those health conscious individuals. I carried my own gels and chews in my SPI belt, so the only thing I needed was water and Pocari sweat.

Volunteers

There are volunteers everywhere! They have volunteers organizing the bathroom stops, and ones holding garbage bags along the course. The water stops have plenty of volunteers handing out water and cheering you on. They were simply amazing. They always had a smile on their face, and they were extremely polite. The volunteers make this race wonderful. Even at the family meet up/baggage pick-up area the volunteers would congratulate runners. I saw someone post a video of them clapping in sync as runners picked up their bags. I can’t thank the volunteers enough for all their help in making this an amazing and successful race. Volunteers wear different color jackets which mean certain things. I can’t remember what each color represents, but I do know the green jackets meant the volunteer could speak English. At the Expo you will see a display of what each color jacket means.

Volunteers. THANK YOU! They were so awesome. I spotted a doctor running as well. He was a medical volunteer on the course.

 

The Course

The course is very flat. There were a few bridges (near the end) with slight elevation. It wasn’t bad though. I think if you were racing, they would be slightly annoying since they are located near the end. But for my friend Brian and myself, they were a change of pace.

***UPDATED: The 2017 course is different than what I ran. Please click here for the updated 2017 course. More details on the 2017 course can be found here.

A view at mile 22-23. You can see how many people there still were on the course. And I was not running fast. I finished in 5:20? 

A view at mile 22-23. You can see how many people there still were on the course. And I was not running fast. I finished in 5:20? The course includes a couple “out and backs” which have the potential to mess with you if you’re racing. Running out when people are returning can get frustrating and play tricks on you. The turn-around seemed far away, but know in advance at what mile you will turn around and you’ll be fine. I personally didn’t find them to be terrible.

Brian and myself on the course. Cherry blossoms! Tomatoes that were part of the food offered on the course. I actually enjoyed them!

Brian (a fellow Headsweats Ambassador) and myself on the course. Cherry blossoms! Tomatoes that were part of the food offered on the course. I actually enjoyed them!

The course goes past the major sights of Tokyo including the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji Fish Market, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Ginza Ave, Tokyo Museum, etc. (in no particular order). It really is the best way to see all of Tokyo by foot! I was surprised at how close the course was to Sensoji Temple (see picture above). We went to that temple the day before, but we didn’t even need to because it was right there on the course!

Course limit: The course limit is 7 hours and there are checkpoints along the way. Make sure to know ahead of time what they are.

 

Medical Aid: Medical aid was offered at various locations along the course. Please consult the runner handbook for where they will be located and what they offer, if you will be running the Tokyo Marathon. I did see medical runners (doctors wearing vests) along the course as well! I am a medical runner for a couple different local races, and it was nice to see this service being offered elsewhere!

Crowds

The crowds also were my favorite. There were people everywhere! I believe the runner handbook says 1.5 million spectators. And they cheered their hearts out. They even knew one or two phrases in English to cheer us on. And they LOVED high-fiving everyone. I ended up high fiving everyone because it was just fun and they got so excited. There were many forms of entertainment along the course as well. There were groups of dancers with music. I am sure there is a formal name for them, but I don’t know what it is. There were dancers with flags, children dancing, people banging on drums, everything! I’ve never seen anything like it. They took it so seriously and it seemed like they were so honored to entertain the runners. I practically stopped at every group to take a picture. It was beautiful. Simply beautiful. One reason I don’t listen to music while running a marathon is to soak it all in. Complete strangers come out on their day off to cheer me on. The entertainers are there to entertain. Why would I block all that out by listening to music? I love hearing the crowds and being aware of what’s going on, especially when I’m in a different country. You don’t need music on this course. Soak up the experience. Be present. Enjoy the gift of running. Tune-in to the music the crowds are making.

Many runners wore fun costumes, and that is entertaining as well. My favorite was a guy playing a Ukulele while singing to his “Bride”. We saw Super Mario, Waldo, Tomatoes, Pokémon, Winnie the Pooh, monkeys, and more!


The Finish

As stated before the finish is at the Tokyo Big Sight. After you cross the finish, you are given a towel (better than a foil blanket!) and a finisher’s medal. You are given a bag of food, water, and a Salonpas pain spray that was valuable! You have to walk a bit after collecting your freebees to get to the family meet-up and bag collection area, which always is exhausting after running 26.2 miles. But with over 35,000 finishers I don’t think they could do it any other way. I maybe walked a half mile back to the family meet-up spot, but it felt like 2 miles since I had a blister that popped and I was in pain. Everything is very organized as expected. Because the end is at the Tokyo Big Sight (like a convention center), there are normal bathrooms and showers inside. There is also a Starbucks inside for the coffee lovers. I saw people getting massages and I’ve heard rumors of acupuncture. My little toe had a blister and ingrown toenail, so I had a bloody shoe and needed to go to medical after I finished. I missed out on the massage. I also felt bad keeping my husband waiting. I quickly went through that area and met up with him. Ending at the Big Sight was nice because if the weather was bad (which it wasn’t), being indoors would be helpful. Luckily the weather was warm; it was in the 60’s.

You may want to change your clothes, eat a little something and rest before walking to the metro. Or even get a massage.

Enjoy the after party!

 

Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita, どうもありがとうございました

-Jill Monroe

Challenged Athletes Foundation Hosts San Diego Triathlon Challenge

Challenged Athletes Foundation Hosts San Diego Triathlon Challenge

The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and The YMCA of San Diego County took over the beautiful La Jolla Cove on Sunday, October 23, 2016 to host the Aspen Medical Products San Diego Triathlon Challenge! During the event, over 200 physically challenged athletes completed a 1-mile ocean swim, and 44-mile bike ride, and a 10-mile run along one of the most breathtaking courses in the country. In it’s 23rd year, the event is unlike any other in the world, and is called by many the #BestDayInTri.

In addition to the Triathlon Challenge, over 100 riders and 50 challenged athletes participated in the YMCA of San Diego County Tour de Cove event, a sweat-drenching 4.5-hour stationary cycling marathon! Participants rode individually or as members of 3-person relay teams.

Check out this amazing recap video of the event:

Headsweats is the official headwear partner of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The Challenged Athletes Foundation® (CAF) is a world leader in helping people with physical challenges lead active, healthy lifestyles. CAF believes that participation in physical activity at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life.  Since 1994, more than $76 million has been raised and over 13,000 funding requests from people with physical challenges in all 50 states and dozens of countries have been satisfied. Additionally, CAF’s outreach efforts reach another 60,000 individuals each year. Whether it’s a $2,500 grant for a handcycle, helping underwrite a carbon fiber running foot not covered by insurance, or arranging enthusiastic encouragement from a mentor who has triumphed over a similar challenge, CAF’s mission is clear: give opportunities and support to those with the desire to live active, athletic lifestyles.

A Race Experience Abroad – The Amsterdam Marathon

A Race Experience Abroad – The Amsterdam Marathon

Running is such an amazing sport because it constantly introduces you to new people and places. Headsweats Ambassador Kim Cowart experienced this first-hand when she had the opportunity to race in the Amsterdam Marathon earlier this month. Read more about Kim’s experience in Amsterdam and what she learned from racing in another country!

My three passions in life are running, writing and traveling.  My dream is to combine all three writing about my running adventures in far away places.  My most recent adventure was at the Amsterdam Marathon.

What set this race apart from so many other big races is there were three races in one day: the full marathon, a half-marathon and an 8K.  The day before the race, we took part on the Good Morning City run which was an easy jog through Amsterdam.  Four miles later we had a better idea of the layout of the city and had already seen many of the highlights.

Because the streets in Amsterdam are quite narrow, the start times were staggered.  Full marathoners began at 9:30.  The course was a loop course, starting and finishing in Olympic Stadium.  Spectators dotted the stand above, giving them full views of all the action on the track.

The energy was electric with music pumping at the start, and big screens around the stadium so we could see the elites take off.  Five minutes after they began, I crossed the same start line.

Amsterdam is the most beautiful European city I’ve ever seen.  The weather was a perfect 50 degrees with plenty of shade from the gorgeous trees lining every street.  The half marathon course follows most of the full course.  The advantage of the full marathoners is we got to run around the Amstel River which offered the most scenic, bucolic views.  Horses running across the fields, sheep grazing in the pasture.  Yes, we even ran by a few iconic windmills.  I had to pinch myself to make sure it was all real.

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A view from the race course.

While this is only my second European marathon experience, I have traveled to numerous other big marathons like New York and Boston.  Here are a few points that set Amsterdam apart from the rest of the pack.

First, the race is cheap.  At around $80, this race is by far the cheapest big city race I’ve ever run.  By comparison I paid over $250 to run New York and $180 to run Boston.  Half marathoners only paid $45 to run through the streets of Amsterdam.  The support didn’t suffer; in fact, it was even better than some of the bigger races with plenty of water, energy drink, food and bathrooms along the course.

Second, there was music at every kilometer along the race.  I didn’t know what a difference this would make in my mood until around the 10K mark I realized I was starting to look forward to the bands and DJ’s that dotted the course.  A marathon is 42 kilometers.  So, yes, there were 42 music stations to keep us pumped and it worked.

Third, we started and finished in Olympic Stadium.  Not only was it just plain cool to run around the stadium, but it made it easy for spectators to cheer on their runners.

Fourth, there were a variety of distances to choose from.  Most big city races limit themselves to the full marathon, and for good reason.  Logistically it’s difficult to close down the streets on a Saturday or Sunday.  Accommodating tens of thousands of runners can be a challenge as well.  But Amsterdam made it happen.  By staggering the start times, more than 35,000 people ran either the full marathon, half marathon or 8K.

Finally, the views were spectacular.  It was like running through a postcard.  Every turn offered stunning views of canals and tree-lined streets.  While many streets are cobblestone, we avoided most of that.  My legs were grateful.

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With my finisher’s medal!

It wasn’t all roses.  I was disappointed at the finish line offerings.  The only food at the finish was bananas.  There was water, but only in little cups.  There was also plenty of Isostar, their energy drink of choice, but my stomach did not agree, so we declined.  There were food trucks, but I wasn’t willing to spend money on them.  They did distribute free toothpaste, so there’s that.  I would recommend packing some extra food in your drop bag.  I didn’t and I lived to regret it.

Also, more than 16,000 runners ran the full marathon.  European streets are narrow.  This makes for a tricky start.  I had no intention of racing, so I was fine with going with the flow.  There is an attempt to organize runners by pace at the beginning, but they aren’t strict about it so there were quite a few people who started at the front and slowed the crowd.  It wasn’t until mile 10 I felt I could find a comfortable stride.

My last complaint would be transportation.  We did a dry run on the busses to the stadium, only to wake up race morning to find the busses were shut down.  Not even the concierge at our hotel knew that would happen, so we scrambled to find a taxi that could get us somewhat close to the stadium.  Getting back to the hotel after was tricky, too.  We walked quite a ways until we could find a tram to the hotel.  I ran with some money just in case, and I was glad I did.

Overall I loved the Amsterdam Marathon.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I love the diversity.  I loved the energy.  I loved the beauty.  This flat course is well-worth your money.

Gorge Waterfalls 100k…Still learning…

Gorge Waterfalls 100k…Still learning…

Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare, your race doesn’t go as expected.  HS Ambassador Joe Dean found out the hard way when unexpected illness stuck in the middle of his 100k race.  In this blog post, Joe discusses his first time dealing with mid-race nausea, overcoming the disappointment of a DNF, and how he found the silver lining in a race that didn’t turn out quite the way he planned.

I remember it clearly…it was October 22nd of last year, the day before my birthday.  Still hunting for a Western States qualifying race for the upcoming year to keep my lottery streak going when someone from the Wasatch Mountain Wranglers posted about the Gorge 100K.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to run a 100 miler in 2016 after still feeling the effects of the Bear in the previous month, so a 100K sounded ideal.  I glanced at the race; an out and back course in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge in Cascade Locks, Oregon. Having never been to Oregon, and joining on the heels of 14 other members of the Wranglers, I decided to sign up (which was a good thing because it sold out in a day).

As race day crept up, instead of flying up, my buddy Ryan and I decided to pull the pop-up camper out of storage for the first trip of 2016 and make an adventure out of it.  We stayed at Ainsworth State Park, which was about 5 miles away from the Start/Finish area for the race.  If you have never been to the area before, let me say that there is not a lot of real estate between the mountains and the Columbia River, which means that the campground and the train tracks were right next to each other.  I think I may suffer from PTSD for some time to come at the sound of a train whistle, but hey, we did say we wanted an adventure!  Train whistles aside, the views were absolutely worth it.  We arrived Thursday night and did the tourist thing on Friday.

I must’ve been tired from the loaded day on Friday because I managed a solid 6+ hours of sleep despite the best efforts of the passing trains.  I felt ready to go in the morning.  My only concern was an out-of-whack right knee that was bothering me for the 8 weeks leading up to the race and was about 80% healthy (which thankfully did’t give me any problems).  We started in the dark at 6am from Benson State Park with the first big climb of the course up to the top of Multnomah Falls (the second highest waterfall in the U.S.).

The course was absolutely magnificent, while brutal at the same time.  The 50K out to the turnaround point took us past 13 different waterfalls.  Being from the Wasatch, I am not used to this much green!  The first 10+ miles were quite a bit rockier than I expected as we passed by, up and down,  a number of waterfalls.  This made the course a bit trickier to navigate, especially with the rocks being slippery from the wet, mossy terrain.  After the first 10 miles, you come out onto the only significant portion of pavement on the course, a 2.3 mile stretch leading to Yeon Aid Station.  While I don’t normally enjoy pavement in ultras, it really wasn’t all that bad and afforded me some time to ease into a relaxed, but speedy cadence.  Despite the unexpected difficulty of the terrain early on, I was feeling good and on track.  Shortly after leaving Yeon, you arrive at Elowah Falls, which was my favorite waterfall on the course.

After Yeon and Elowah Falls, the terrain smoothed out a bit.  It seemed that once you got past the larger waterfalls, it wasn’t as rocky, but a bit more “rolling”.  Rolling, or course, is a relative term as I would have described it as more “up and down” than “rolling”.  Still, it was a pretty uneventful ride to the turnaround at Wyeth campground.  Little did I know that I was about to get a rude awakening…

I pulled into Wyeth in 6:50, which was somewhat respectable compared to everyone else on the course and only about 20 minutes off of what I was shooting for.  After a change of shirt and shoes, I got out of the aid station at exactly 7:00 and began my journey back to the finish line.  Unfortunately, that would be the last time I ate anything as my stomach decided to revolt about 2 miles into the return trip.  In 5 years of ultra running, I have never had nausea problems.  I suppose there is a first time for everything, but I honestly had no idea what to do.  Eating and drinking was a fruitless effort.  What was worse is that each of the next two aid stations were 9 miles apart, which translated to a long, miserable grind.  I got to mile 40 and relied on the volunteers to help revive me.  After sitting for 20 minutes and eating some food, I started to feel better so I decided to continue on. Unfortunately, shortly after getting on the move again, it flared right back up.  It seemed that movement alone was more than enough to make my stomach unhappy.  As I reached mile 46, I started to get dizzy after 14 miles of no calories and was having a problem walking straight.  I had no choice but to slow it down to a walk.  That 4 miles to the next aid station at mile 50 was the worst I have ever felt in any race…EVER!  The only redeeming factor was this picture that I took as the sun was setting:

When I got to Yeon again at the 50 mile mark, I knew I was done.  Without a pacer and without being able to solve the nausea problems between the last two aid stations, I didn’t feel it was safe to continue through the most technical part of the course in the dark.  Still, I sat for a bit to make sure.  My stomach was literally in painful knots and I ultimately decided to call it a day and save it for another battle.

It is still early in the season and there is no reason to jeopardize that.  While I always hate disappointing people and DNFing is never easy, I feel great about my 50 miles on that day and still believe I made the right decision.  As I said, nausea is new for me (would love to hear in the comments how you all combat it).  I clearly still have a lot to learn and I need to figure out how to react to it better in the future.  I will not likely search out another Western States qualifier this year.  In fact, I once again find myself thinking that I really want to focus on the 50 Mile distance (it is still my favorite by far).  Only time will tell for sure, but I still have a lot coming up this year, so stay tuned!