Confessions of a Runner Podcast Episode 2–Eliud Kipchoge proves he’s the G.O.A.T. Stay mentally tough after an injury. Plus, trespassing for a speed workout.

Here’s Episode 2. Eliud Kipchoge just can’t be stopped. I explore how to come back strong mentally after an injury. My confession involves trespassing to get in a speed workout.

https://free.finisherpix.com/gallery/2019pasahalf/

NOTE: I incorrectly mentioned in the podcast that Kenenisa Bekele participated in the Breaking2 project. He did not. It was Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese along with Eliud Kipchoge.

Confessions of a Runner Podcast! Episode 1– Boston Marathon Medal Controversy, Running During a Pandemic and a Snot Rocket

Here’s the revamped podcast for the revamped blog. This is Episode One. I hope you enjoy. Let me hear your feedback in the comment section below.

Let me guide you through the world of running. Hopefully you laugh, relate and get value out of each podast.
Confessions of a Runner Podcast Episode 1

Boston Marathon Medals For Me, Thee, He and She

Rarely does the amateur running world ever have any kind of controversy but one is brewing now over the decision by the Boston Athletic Association to award highly-coveted Boston Marathon medals to runners who participate in this year’s virtual marathon. You can read about it from the B.A.A. website here.

The controversy is from the reaction some runners had over the announcement. You can read a bit about it here. But basically, there are runners who feel handing out Boston Marathon medals to people who participate virtually cheapens the prestigious race and diminishes the accomplishments of those who earned a spot at the start line in Hopkinton. It’s also interesting this is popping up now shortly after my blog entry last week about virtual racing.

The B.A.A. is doing this as a way to make money to make up for what was lost by not having a race last year due to the pandemic. If we want the race to continue, the B.A.A. needs money to put it on every year. I completely understand the idea behind this move. Frankly, I think it’s quite smart and a good business decision.

It takes a mixture of work and talent to get here. Are those really diminished because of a virtual race too?

I can understand, though, the argument of those against awarding medals to virtual runners because the Boston Marathon is the pinnacle of distance running for amateurs like me and you. To simply meet the time qualification (or the high dollar mark needed to secure a charity entry) is an accomplishment in-and-of itself. But then to make it to the start line, tough out the Newton hills and cross the finish line on Boylston Street, that’s another high-level achievement that everyone should be proud of if they’ve done it. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, time and dedication. All runners know this which is why you get smiles and a look of awe and wonder when you tell people you’ve finished the race. That hard work, dedication and fortitude means a lot to people personally and they respect others who’ve put in the same effort to cross the finish line too. I can understand how they feel like all of that work to earn the unicorn medal is cheapened by someone else who can earn it by running around their neighborhood.

At first, I thought it could diminish the meaning of the medal. But I thought about it some more and realized it would do no such thing. We run because we want to achieve our own life goals. We run to celebrate and challenge ourselves, always pushing to go farther and faster. I run for myself. That’s it. Yes, I’ve run for charities before and am proud of that and will do it again. But what gets me to a start line and what gets me out the door on most days is my desire to improve and challenge myself. I don’t run for handshakes, congratulations from others or for social media “likes.” I run because I like what it does for me. I ran the Boston Marathon in 2014. It was an amazing experience and my second-fastest marathon to date. I know what it took to get there. I know how incredible it felt to cross the finish line on Boylston Street. I proudly wore the medal after the race. In no way does a virtual runner who also has a Boston Marathon medal take away from what I know I achieved. I’m proud of what I did to get to Boston. Tens of thousands of people with the same medal who will never earn a spot on the starting line doesn’t make me feel less in any way about what I did to get there.

If people want to run the race virtually, whether to help out the B.A.A. financially or to simply get the Boston Marathon medal, it makes no difference to me. If virtual finishers want to show off their medal on social media, good for them. It could have the effect of getting even more people more dedicated about running. That’s always a good thing. Anyway, just remember that you know what you did if you got to the real start line.

Me and my Boston Marathon medal in 2014.

Yes, the Boston Marathon is exclusive and I like that which is why I’m even more proud to have run it. But the race itself isn’t about the medal. It’s about your drive and spirit to push yourself to the limits. Even If your medal isn’t so limited, you know in your heart what it defines for you. A flood of the same medals around people’s necks could never diminish that.  

Virtual Racing For Thee But Not For Me

Race organizers have taken a big hit since the pandemic. They’ve been unable to operate except for a small few in certain areas. The ones that have been able to operate have had to limit capacity and make other changes that have cut into their profits. Us runners need race organizers, big and small. How else would we get to race each other, win medals and hang out on a Saturday or Sunday morning? We can only hope that when “normal life” resumes we’ll get to enjoy the regular amount of races. Before the pandemic, there were several races of various distances each weekend in southern California. If you had an itch on a Thursday to race Saturday, you had options.

I’ve never organized a race but I do know that a lot of work goes into it such as mapping the course, getting permits, renting porta-potties, ordering t-shirts and medals, recruiting volunteers, etc. They do all this so people can challenge themselves through racing. How have some of these organizers been able to survive the shutdowns? Virtual racing.

Virtual racing isn’t new. It’s been around for a bit as an option for people unable to run in the real race. I’m not going to do a deep dive into its history but it’s really gained momentum during the pandemic as a way for organizers to stay afloat. Basically, you register for a race like you usually would and pay a fee. Then you are given a window of time (usually a week or two) to complete the distance in one session. You can run that “race” distance anywhere you want—around the block, on a track, up in the mountains, wherever. You then submit some kind of proof you ran/walked the distance and you receive a medal, t-shirt, whatever else you’re promised.

The Boston Marathon did this last Fall. Though, let’s be honest, it wasn’t the same as running in the actual race. You need to run the actual race itself to experience the spectacle of the Boston Marathon. The London Marathon is doing something similar this year.

I think virtual races are a great idea for organizers and runners looking to add to their medal collection and those who need the extra motivation to run. I support the idea of virtual races for these reasons. So that means I do them, right? Here’s where things aren’t always black and white. Yes, I totally support virtual races but no, I don’t run them. They’re a great idea but not for me. I’m motivated plenty to run even without formal races and I have plenty of t-shirts and medals. Virtual races do nothing to excite me. I prefer the real thing. I need the competition of other runners next to me. I need the excitement and rush of crossing a real starting line and the exhilaration of making it to an actual finish line with people cheering for me and others. I like running in the middle of a street closed for us racers.

Virtual racing is fine but there’s nothing better than the real thing.

I enjoy accepting an age-group or top three finisher medal. I like seeing others achieve their goals while others pat them on the back and congratulate them. I love the crowds, even small ones, and the coalescence of positive energy centralized into one space. There’s just nothing better. I like the real thing. I miss the real thing. If I’m going to spend money, I want the full experience. Race organizers provide that experience for me and many others.

That being said, I still think if you’re considering a virtual race do it if it’ll get you out running. Just because I choose not to partake doesn’t mean I don’t think you should. The larger point to this post is to show people that we all have different views on aspects of the running world. Those views are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. I don’t think less of or look down on runners who are thrilled about a virtual race just because I don’t care for them. I think virtual races have a lot of positives.  We need to respect those looking to better themselves and stay motivated through virtual races and those organizers looking to survive in these uncertain times. We also need to respect those who would rather just wait for actual races to come back. We all run to better ourselves and as long as we’re all running then isn’t that the point? Maybe if we adopt this “run and let run” attitude in other aspects of life, we might all be a little friendlier to each other.

Getting Older and Going Stronger

One of the hardest things to deal with as an athlete, whether professional or amateur, is the inevitable fact of life that is getting older. It happens to all of us each day. This fact hits athletes more than others for several reasons, I believe. I won’t get into all of them but one big reason is that the body ages faster than the mind.

How do I know this? Because mentally I feel like I’m 25 but my body tells me a different story. When you feel 25 you believe your 40-year-old-plus body can handle the workload of someone that age. But it turns out that’s not true. Wear-and-tear is real. The body can only handle so much workload before muscles break down and need a longer time to repair. Also, the body slowly loses muscle mass as we age. If we believe we’re forever 25 and train like it, we’ll find ourselves with constant injuries.

So this information likely isn’t new to you and it’s not new to me. There’s a reason why you don’t see 50-year-old professional athletes in track and field or other high-intensity sports competing at the highest levels.

So this raises two questions. First, if this is the case, then why bother competing at all once you hit a certain age? Second, if you know your body can’t handle the same training load as when you were younger then why not accept it and adjust?

Me at age 40 finishing the Tokyo Marathon in under three hours. (2:56:39)

Just because you age doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your goals or even improve. You can and people do. But you’ll have to adjust. If you consider yourself a competitive amateur runner, you’ll have to give your body more time to recover one you begin your more intense training cycles. 2014 Boston Marathon champ Meb Keflezighi won the race at age 38. He realized his body couldn’t handle the traditional 7-day training cycle. He needed a couple more recovery days so he switched to a 9-day cycle. You can read about it here. Did it work? Well, he ran in the 2016 Olympics at age 40.

Let’s try to answer the second question. For me, it’s just stubbornness. It’s taken a couple years and several injuries to realize adjustment is necessary if I want to meet my goals. I’ve learned a quick buildup in mileage won’t work anymore. I need to gradually build up and that’s what I’m doing now. Second, I’m doing more strength training exercises than before. It’s not much. Squats and calf raises three times a week as well as push-ups. But these exercises should strengthen my muscles enough to withstand the upcoming increase in mileage. I’m learning that there are many different training methods out there that can lead you to where you want to go. It’s ok to change things up.

It’s important to know you can still achieve great thing running as you age. It’s ok if you can’t run a mile as fast as when you were 18. It’s ok if your best marathon is behind you. Set new goals and try to reach them. I realize I’m starting over in a sense and it’s given me excitement to see how much I can improve from where I’m at now, even if I never reach the level I was at just a few years ago. If this helps, keep in mind that almost everyone your age can’t or won’t do what you’re doing. Take comfort that you really are among an elite group of people who compete and run. The older you are doing it, the more in awe people are of you. That’s always a nice ego boost!

Let me know what you’ve learned about getting older and running.

Blinded by the Night

Winter is here. While the Night King has been defeated, darkness reigns. No, I’m not writing a fan fiction novel here but rather just describing what it’s like to run at this time of year. Whether you are a morning runner or a post-work runner, you’re probably doing it right now in the dark during the week. I am and it’s certainly a different experience for me. What makes it so different is that my pace is a lot slower even though my effort feels the same. In my head, I’m thinking I’m at 7:25-7:30 pace easy. Nope. Wrong. 7:55-8:05. What?! But my effort feels like I’m running faster. What’s going on? Well, my eyes are deceiving me. It’s true sort of. It’s called optic flow. This article sums it up here.

If you didn’t read it, basically you can only see objects close to you at night. It seems like they’re zipping by you faster than if you were running during the day when you see much more. When objects are moving past you quickly, your perceived effort seems much harder even though it’s not. I likely slow down subconsciously thinking I’m running too hard. It’s my brain and eyes messing with me. So what can I do about it? I could pick up my pace to compensate but I need to slow down during training runs anyway so there’s no point to do that. I’ll just keep chugging along.

Running in the dark certainly is different. I tend to start my runs between 5:30 and 6:15pm. But it feels like I’m running at 10pm. It’s quieter with not as many people out walking. Even the Rose Bowl loop at that time has fewer people than it would in the Spring and Summer at the same time. I finish convinced it’s so late in the day. But it’s not even 7pm!

I wear a headlamp and reflective vest to increase my visibility. It makes a difference because it’s really hard to see other runners and cyclists at times if they don’t have similar items on. You don’t want a collision which has almost happened with me.

This is night running in early 2021.

Personally, I prefer running with daylight. I like seeing my surroundings. But the peace and quiet of night running has a certain calm about it.

What do you prefer? Dark or daytime running? Let me know in the comments below.

The Great Running Reset

The pandemic has been impacting all of our lives for about a year now. I’m not getting into the history of it or what’s happened because you already know. I chose the title of this blog post carefully for two reasons. The first is that this blog is getting a reset of sorts. Second, people have talked about the pandemic sparking a great reset of society. I’m not sure what to think about that because some of it sounds like straight conspiracy stuff. But what I’ve been doing, and what I think us runners should be doing, is using this time for our own running reset.

Almost all races have been canceled. There have been just a handful that have gone on as planned since March. Without races, what’s the point then? The vast majority of us circle our calendars and plan way in advance and revolve our training schedules around these races. But they’ve been postponed or canceled. No doubt that’s left some of us unmotivated. The COVID-19 19 (as in pounds) is real.

So what have I been doing? Running. I had planned on the Paris Marathon in April of last year. But then it got pushed back to last October then November before finally being canceled and put off until this October. That was my main goal race last year. I had planned on possibly running the Boston Marathon again this year but that won’t happen. So without big races to look forward to how does one stay motivated to run?

What’s worked for me are a few things. Acceptance of the situation and making the best of it are what I recommend. That’ll put your head in a good place when it comes to running. Try not to mope anymore about what could’ve been. The races will come back and soon, hopefully, because of the vaccines. Once I decided to accept and make the best of it, I felt relieved. I decided to look at the bright side which is that it gives me plenty of time to get back into the type of running shape I want to be in. I’ve had nagging little injuries over the past two years that have disrupted my training. It’s the result of getting older and not accepting that fact, which will be the subject of another blog post soon. When you can’t run, you lose fitness. Now, I decided to hit the reset button.

This is running in 2021.

Starting over so to speak is hard to do with a big race coming up soon. You fear you won’t be prepared enough if you don’t start training hard and consistently right away. The grind of intense training can be exhausting physically and mentally, not to mention it can increase risk of injury if you’re not careful. But with no major race coming up, I can take as long as I want to build up to the point where my body can handle harder training again. So that’s what I’m doing.

Of course, I was “helped” in this regard by peroneal tendonitis which impacts the foot and ankle area. I had to take several weeks off from running because of the pain. Once the pain subsided, I decided to build back up very slowly. I walked then I mostly walked and ran. Then, I had mostly ran and walked. Now, I’m running again. All this over the last five months or so. I got sick and tired of being hurt with nagging injuries and felt a very slow buildup would be best for my body. Plus, there’s no time crunch because Paris isn’t until October anyway (maybe). The timing is perfect in a sense.

I’m close to 40 miles a week now with the goal of getting to around 45 before reassessing and figuring out what’s next with training. I may get a coach to see if he or she could get me to a new level. I’m not worried about what shape I’m in because I have plenty of time to get back to where I want.

30-40 miles is quite the reset for me because I haven’t run that few miles regularly (when not coming back from injury) since before 2012 when I started running marathons. But I need this reset both physically and mentally and it’s really paying off.

Bottom line is this: Use this time now to take it easy and reset if you feel you need to. Drop your mileage if you’re feeling stressed. Take a day or two off during the week. I feel great now both physically and mentally and I’m nowhere near optimal racing shape. I know my body’s getting stronger and isn’t taxed due to trying to complete a training cycle ahead of a big race. Find your way to reset. Soon, we’ll be back to normal and it’ll be great.

World Marathon Majors BEST list

Since March 3rd, I’ve relaxed and limited my mileage as well as celebrated my Six Star Medal after running the Tokyo Marathon. I took three-and-a-half weeks off before starting up again. It was a nice break because marathon training can be grueling and both physically and emotionally draining. It’s good to give your body a chance to recharge. In fact, after my first day back on the road running. I was very sore the next day as if I had never run before.

Soreness and other nagging muscle issues aside, I’ve had a chance to reflect on running the six World Marathon Majors since starting my journey in 2014 at the Boston Marathon. Each major marathon was special. Each has its charms and each experience was very different from the others. It’s what makes the World Marathon Majors so special. No race is the same as the other.

For those of you who are also looking complete, start or restart your Six Star journey, or for those of you who have finished the adventure and still love to read about it, here’s my BEST list for the World Marathon Majors. There are many topics I could list but I’m going to limit it. Some of you will agree. Some won’t. But one thing is certain–all six races are amazing.

BEST EXPO

London Marathon— I’m not necessarily a fan of expos, however, I don’t dislike them either. The London Marathon expo, I felt, was the best by far of the six. Yes, the location isn’t near the start or finish but ExCeL is a fine place to have the event. As far as expo logistics, it was easy to find, easy to get your bib and anything else you needed. The people there were friendly and helpful. I felt the layout was the best. It wasn’t tight or cramp like Boston or Tokyo. It wasn’t cavernous and didn’t feel half empty like Chicago. You really couldn’t get lost in different sections like Berlin. The apparel selection was good. They had nice areas to take pictures and provided an upbeat, lively vibe which got me excited about the race.

BEST PRE-RACE WARM UP AREA

Berlin Marathon–While I did like Greenwich Park in London, I think Berlin wins here. The area was easy to get into and close to a subway station. There was plenty of room to stake out a small area to sit and relax before warming up. Plus, how cool is it to prep for one of the world’s best races in front of an iconic building like the Reichstag?! You also had the Tiergarten too which provided a scenic area for a quick warm-up jog.

BEST START

New York City Marathon–There’s a serenity amidst the high energy of 50,000-plus runners when you look out from the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and see the blue waters around you and the magnificent Manhattan skyline in the distance. You realize your’re in the right place at the right time. It’s by far the most scenic start of the majors and maybe any marathon.

FASTEST COURSE

Berlin Marathon–This should be obvious given that the last several world records, including Eliud Kiphoge’s amazing 2:01:39, were run on this course. It’s also the course where I ran my PR of 2:48:48. So, what makes it so fast? It’s a very flat course. Chicago is also quite flat but there are far more turns in Chicago which can slow you down. Berlin doesn’t have all that many turns. Also, the weather is usually cool. With temperatures in the low to mid-50s, the conditions are there to run a PR.

HARDEST COURSE

Boston Marathon–I did consider putting New York here but I think Boston presents the most challenges. The first half is mostly downhill but then you have the Newton Hills in the second half and other small inclines toward the end that can make things tough. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to start too fast then blow up in the second half. For me, the crowded streets the first several miles kept my pace in check which helped me toward the end. I train in southern California in a somewhat hilly area so the Newton Hills weren’t anything I wasn’t already used to but they have broken many people. While I do think it’s the hardest of the majors, I managed to run my second-fastest time of 2:49:21.

BEST WATER

London Marathon–I understand plastic bottles, especially if they’re still half-full, can present a hazard. However, it was so convenient to squeeze the water and drink it without concern it’ll spill everywhere. This was important in 2018 when it was sunny and hot. I needed all that water when I crashed and burned.

BEST VOLUNTEERS

Tokyo Marathon–First, all the volunteers are great. They give up their time to make sure us runners can have a great experience. But since I have to choose one, I choose Tokyo. The volunteers kept thing organized before the race. They kept the course exceptionally clean at the water stations and they guided exhausted runners like myself after the race to the places we needed to be. They did it all with smiles, even in the rain and cold.

best crowd

London Marathon— Again, this was a tough one because all the crowds were great. I think London wins out here. I don’t recall any spot along the course that there weren’t loud cheers. This crowd was the loudest and most excited of six that were loud and excited. I could feel their energy and their support pushed me along when I was crashing and burning at mile 20. I heard nothing but encouragement. As a runner, it really felt like I was on the field at the Super Bowl or the World Series with the home crowd roars pulling me through.

BEST FINISH

Boston Marathon–I think cases can be made for London and Berlin but the Boston Marathon finish on Boylston Street is legendary. Turning from “Mount Hereford” onto Boylston for the last 600 meters is something runners of all abilities dream of accomplishing. Making that left turn and seeing the finish line gives you instant goosebumps amid the exhaustion. The cheers and roar of the crowd get louder as you get closer and you realize you’re about to make into reality something that was just a dream at one time in the past.

BEST POST-race gathering AREA

Chicago Marathon–Berlin was similar but I think Chicago was the easiest to navigate. I was offered beer before water after finishing–LOL! Seriously! That’s what makes Chicago fun. The volunteers lead you to a nice open area in Grant Park where you don’t have to fight crowds or sit on concrete or asphalt after a grueling race. There’s also more beer too–and it’s free as well if you remembered to bring your ticket from your goodie bag.

Me and my parents in Chicago 2015

BEST MEDAL

The Six Star–Why? The Six Star Medal represents all the hard work, planning and money spent to earn the other medals. It signifies that dedication, planning, fundraising and money well-spent for incredible experiences that will last a lifetime and more.

Agree or disagree with my list? Did I forget something? Write a comment below.

Tokyo Marathon Recap: The Six Star Journey is Officially Over

My quest for the coveted Six Star medal from the Abbott World Marathon Majors started in 2014 when I entered Corral 3 at the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton. As I stood at the start and stared into the distance ahead of the world’s oldest, and arguably most-esteemed marathon, my only concern was crossing the finish line on Boylston Street to celebrate the pinnacle of my running accomplishments. I didn’t envision and couldn’t imagine traveling outside the west coast again to run a marathon unless it was Boston again. I thought this was it–my once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t even think I was aware of the Six Star Medal or achievement at the time.

But a funny thing happened after Boston. I decided to run another major marathon. I saw I qualified for the 2015 Chicago Marathon. Since I have family in the city, I thought it’d be a great time to visit and run the race. It was after Chicago, I became aware of the Six Star medal and set out to run all the major marathons. Because why not? I made it a mission and something I wanted to do before it’d be too late to run them all. The New York Marathon followed in 2016 then the Berlin Marathon in 2017 where I set my personal best time of 2:48:48. That was followed by the London Marathon in 2018 where it was hot and I ran my worst race.

Flash forward to this year and the Tokyo Marathon. I registered through the charity route and donated money to the Ronald McDonald House Charities Japan.

I had some concerns as I had mentioned on my last posting about whether I could run under three hours again given my truncated training due to nagging injuries throughout much of last year. But I was also optimistic since my training, however shortened, had been going well.

My wife and I left Los Angeles on Wednesday and arrived in Tokyo Thursday night. For the Berlin and London Marathons, I arrived on Friday for the Sunday race but with an even larger time difference, I thought arriving Thursday would help me adjust a bit more.

We’re on the plane ready to go!

We headed to the marathon expo on Friday rather than Saturday to avoid large crowds. Much like everything in Japan, the process was smooth and orderly. Also, like Japan, there were parts of the expo that were overly crowded and small. While the process to pick up everything I needed was easy, the expo itself wasn’t great. I felt the expos at the other majors were better. They seemed larger and had more items for sale and more to look at. However, I’m not fairly big on walking around expos anyway so it really wasn’t a big deal.

Outside the expo

There’s me

Well, you don’t see Pac Man at marathon expos very often

The wife and I walked around part of the outside of the Imperial Palace on Saturday and also cruised by the finish line of the race which is right outside the palace area. I thought it was good to check out the finish line and see some of the route just to get an idea of what to expect. We had an early Saturday and headed back to the hotel so I could rest and make sure I had everything in order before the race. I made sure to hydrate myself properly.

Here’s the finish line area

The race was scheduled for 9:10am and all runners were required to be in their assigned corrals by 8:45am otherwise they’d have to start in the very back. These are hard and strict times. No grace period which means you need to be there. I woke up around 5am with plans to eat downstairs at the breakfast buffet at 6:30am and then leave for the race at 7am. I saw in the forecast that it was probably going to rain so I planned accordingly. In my race bag, I packed a beanie I could wear after the race, two hand warmers to keep my hands warm before and during the race and my trusty rain cap to keep my head dry and glasses clear during a run. It’s so important to look at the weather forecast ahead of a race and plan properly.

I took the subway to the race at 7am. The ride was smooth and I arrived in Shinjuku in the start area at the huge Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building a little before 8am. It was raining which I wasn’t expecting so soon. It was a steady rain that was on the lighter side. Arriving at the time I did was probably a mistake as I should’ve shown up earlier to give myself more time to warm up and stretch. Anytime you run a big marathon for the first time, I recommend arriving 90 minutes to two hours before the start to give yourself enough time to find where you need to go, where to check in your gear and to find and use the porta potties.

It took me several minutes to find my gate to enter as I headed in the wrong direction before asking a volunteer for help. I passed through Gate 3 which was smooth. The security checkpoint wasn’t crowded and easy to pass through. I then decided to use a porta potty. The lines around 8:10am were long. I found the shortest line but that turned out to be about a 10-15 minute wait. When I finally got out of the porta potty, it was roughly 8:25am and I needed to drop my bag off before the 8:30am deadline. I weaved through crowds to get to the truck to drop my bag off. I pulled out my rain cap, an old sweatshirt to wear inside the corral that I would throw away and hand warmers. I then rushed to the start line and my corral. I made my way inside with five minutes to spare. Inside the corral, I did some light stretching just to loosen up. Had I arrived earlier, I would’ve had much more time. However, I don’t think my performance was really impacted. I wore my singlet, sweatshirt, shorts and my rain cap in the cold and wet weather. It really wasn’t terribly cold though in the corral which I think was because the collective body heat made things a little warmer.

I met a fellow American in the corral. He’s from New York and was running in his third World Major. We chatted a bit before the start. The hand warmers started to heat up which was nice and the sweatshirt and cap kept the rain from bothering me. I estimate the temperature at the start was anywhere from 48 to 52 degrees. If it wasn’t raining, that would be ideal for a marathon.

The clock started ticking closer to the start of the race. People made their way toward the start line. The energy was amped up. I wasn’t in a big hurry though to rush to the start line since the race is chip timed, meaning everyone wears a chip to record their time. It doesn’t start until you cross the start line even if it’s several minutes after the leaders.

I tossed my sweatshirt aside next to some bushes and moved toward the start line with a minute to go before the gun. Then BAM! The race started. There was a roar among the 30,000-plus runners at the start. The 2019 Tokyo Marathon was off.

It was a crowded start and I found myself bunched among all the runners. The pace with the initial crowd was much slower than I would’ve liked. I was aiming to start the first mile or two no slower than 6:50 pace. I didn’t want to expend too much energy weaving through crowds so I was content with the first mile being slower. It was 7:17. I decided to pick up the pace and pass runners until the crowds thinned out a bit and I could find packs that could push me along between a 6:20 and 6:45 pace.

I picked up my pace in the second mile which was done at 6:31. I ran the next six miles between 6:18 and 6:35. The Tokyo Marathon’s first 10k is mostly a slight downhill so I made sure not to push it too much and burn much-needed energy.

The rain wasn’t bothering me. Again, it was steady but on the lighter side. My cap kept the water from hitting my head and the bill kept the water away from my glasses. The cold bothered me a bit for the first couple miles as my hands were cold but then the hand warmers heated up even more as did the rest of my body.

The water/Pocari Sweat stations were much cleaner than you’ll see at any other race. Usually, there are cups/plastic bottles on the road. But Japan hates litter. It’s immensely frowned upon to toss things on the ground. Trash cans were set up near the stations on the road which made tossing the cups away easy so I did that. Also, there were volunteers with bags picking up cups and offering to collect them. It was really something to see.

I felt good through the first 10k, I was cruising along at under 3-hour pace. I really wasn’t thinking about much either. It was just making sure I was maintaining a rhythm. I crossed the half marathon mark at just over 1:27. This was good and well under 3-hour pace, especially since I didn’t think I could keep the same split in the back half due to the course not having another long stretch of gradual downhill.

Crossing the half mark at 1:27 gave me a lot of confidence especially since I felt good. This was the complete opposite of what happened in London. I crossed the half mark at 1:28 but I was fading quickly and knew a sub-3 was probably out-of-reach in the unusual heat.

Miles 14 through 20 were between 6:28 and 6:43. I was pleased as I was still on pace for a sub-3. My mind was in a good place which is so important when running. I knew I could make this happen. As usual in every marathon for just about everyone, my legs did start to wear down. This is where having a positive mindset and mental toughness come into play most. It sounds corny but you really do have to tell yourself you can do this. You have to convince yourself to trust yourself. You have to believe you’re in good enough shape to handle the rigors of the back half of a marathon. You almost have to be borderline cocky knowing you can handle it and believing any doubt is crazy. I should add though that drinking water and taking energy gels are just as essential as the mindset. The body obviously needs the water to prevent dehydration and the energy gels provide glucose which the muscles need for fuel. FYI…I tossed my hand warmers at around mile 16 as I didn’t feel like carrying them anymore since I was no longer cold.

The back half of the race is harder than the first but is still almost entirely flat. The only inclines are slight when running across street bridges.

I slowed down the final 10k. My pace ranged from 6:36 to 6:58. I felt a little something in my left calf too. It’s a bit hard to explain but it felt like there was a potential to cramp. This would’ve been a disaster for my sub-3 quest. I felt it wasn’t going to cramp but I didn’t want to take any chances so I didn’t push myself when I realized I was slowing down. Fortunately, I was handed two packs of what was billed as anti-cramping gel at the expo. I stuffed those into my shorts pocket before the race. I took one a little before mile 19 and then again around mile 24. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take them and could only help. Maybe they worked. Maybe they didn’t but I didn’t cramp.

I made the second-to-last turn of the race onto a narrow brick-type road. I had about 600 meters left and knew sub-3 was in the bag. I felt excitement that my Six Star journey was going to end. I could feel the rain come down a bit harder. I picked up the pace as much as I could since I was so close to the finish. I turned left and could see the finish line about 150 to 200 meters away near the Imperial Palace grounds. I kept my pace steady and raised my hands into the air as I crossed the finish line. 2:56:39 is my official time. 1,367th place. I was done! All six World Majors completed! Five of them done under three hours.

The Tokyo Marathon is a great experience overall. The crowds toughed the cold and rain and covered the entire course with loud cheers. I would recommend fellow marathoners run it at least once.

The cold weather started to hit me after I finished but I was given a solar blanket which helped. I was directed to the Abbot Six Star tent to receive my Six Star medal. I was given high fives by the volunteers as they guided me inside. I was handed the Tokyo Marathon medal and the Six Star Medal. I took a couple photos and went to collect my gear. It was a long, slow walk but the physical pain was made more tolerable by wearing those two medals around my neck.

Exhausted and in pain but so excited! Note the trusty rain cap. I can’t credit that beat up old thing enough for keeping my head dry in wet weather

Fortunately, charity runners were allowed to change and warm up inside a building near gear pick up. I was all too happy to get inside, warm up and put on my warm up clothes and beanie.

I met up with my wife and told her “We did it!” as I showed her the bling.

Me warming up inside after the race

We did do it. She was there with me the whole way, always supportive and always listening to me talk about running or venting about training. She always massages my legs before races to make sure I’m as fresh as possible. That kind of support is beneficial beyond words.

I can’t believe I ran all six World Marathon Majors but here I am. What began as a chance to run the Boston Marathon ended with me traveling across oceans for experiences I’ll never forget. All the hard work and slogging through training in the heat, rain and cold paid off. Much of it was difficult. Marathons are hard, usually very hard. But if they were easy then I probably wouldn’t have done them. The challenge is what drove me. I wanted to push myself to see what I was capable of. Now I know. I want to apply this to other aspects of my life because if I can make my running goals happen, surely I can make other goals happen too.

Such a great experience

So what’s next? I’m certainly not finished running or running marathons. I’d like to do all the majors at least once more. As it pertains to my own running, I’m going to concentrate the next couple months on getting some speed back that I lost. I’m possibly going to attempt to run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis in October. I wanted to run it last year but was derailed by nagging little injuries. I’m eyeing the Paris Marathon in April, 2020 then Chicago in the fall of 2020 with a return to Boston or London in 2021. However, plans could change. Right now, I’m just going to enjoy my new prize.

Running With You,

Donald

Tokyo Marathon: Concerns and Optimism Together

One thing I’ve learned when writing is to avoid cliches because…well…they’re so cliche. But I’ll do it anyway–The hay is in the barn. I have one week (technically less if you factor in the time change) until the Tokyo Marathon. As long as I can cross the finish line, I’ll finally collect the coveted Six Star Medal handed out to those who complete all six World Marathon Majors. This is a goal I’ve had for the past four years and it’s finally close to happening which is beyond exciting. However, I come into the race with more uncertainty than normal.

It’s now week two of taper time which is the best part of marathon training up until the actual race and crossing the finish line. This is the time when mileage and intensity of workouts are reduced to give the legs rest and allow them to repair themselves leading up to the race. The idea is for the body to recover and lock in fitness and strength gains. The cliche about the hay in the barn rings true in this situation because there are no more fitness gains to be made that will impact marathon performance. All the gains I’ve made that will help me are done. The only thing to do now is to run to at least maintain fitness and keep the body sharp and in tune before the race.

Yet, I feel this uncertainty with how I’ll perform. This is for a few reasons. First, I haven’t gained back all the fitness lost from last year’s nagging injuries. I haven’t been able to train properly over the past few months. I only had two weeks of 60+ miles and one week at 57 miles. The rest were in the 30s, 40s and around 50. Usually, I’d have four to six weeks of 60+ miles and several in the 50s. Plus, my legs seem a little more fatigued than normal since they went so long last year without several consecutive weeks of intense running. Second, I’m about 7 to 10 pounds heavier than I was before the Berlin Marathon in 2017. The extra pounds will slow me down some. Third, after my performance at the London Marathon, I’m unsure if my body will hold up on me. That race certainly didn’t go as planned for several reasons which you can read about in my race recap in the hyperlink above. I feel like there’s part of me that is wondering if I’ll have a repeat performance. Maybe I’ll have extreme exhaustion again. Maybe my current training wasn’t sufficient and it’ll show in the second half. Usually, I’m much more confident heading into a race, especially with my training. But I never experienced what I did in London.

The flip side is that I have reasons to be optimistic. My race at the Pasadena Half Marathon went better than I thought and I held up just fine physically. My last interval/speed workout before the upcoming race was at the end of my first taper week. It’s what I usually do before a marathon which is 6 x 800 meter repeats. I had a good workout and my splits were faster than I had thought and they were consistent, ranging from 2:46 to 2:48. My legs seemed to be healing from the fatigue too. This gives me reason to think I can do better than what I think.

I ran better than I thought here which gives me reason to think I can do the same in Tokyo

So, how do I think I’ll do when it comes to time? This is a good question. Honestly, I don’t know. I would like to run under three hours and feel it’s within reason, especially after my 1:23:50 half marathon in late January. I also think I can do it if I run a smart race and start at a comfortable pace. The temperature is going to be ideal for a marathon as it’ll be in the upper 40s to mid-50s during the race. However, it might rain. That’s no good. But I’ve been running in the rain lately so I’m getting used to it.

Basically, I’m going to take it as I feel on race day but start conservative. After the 10-mile mark, I’ll reassess based on how I feel. If things go well, sub-3 is there for me. I’m not going to worry about specific time range though. If I do that right now, I might make a tactical mistake that could leave me exhausted. The best course of action at this stage is to just take it as it comes and that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m looking forward to another marathon journey and I can’t wait to share my thoughts when it’s all done. This will be my second visit to Japan. I had a great time on my first trip in 2006 which was not related to running. The people are fantastic and the country is beautiful. I’m looking forward to the entire experience and, of course, wearing that amazing Six Star Medal around my neck at the finish line. My Six Star journey is almost complete but my marathon adventures are just beginning.

Running With You,

Donald