alice runs tokyo

The Tokyo Marathon is one of 6 annual World Major Marathons along with Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. Over 35,000 runners participate from Japan and abroad and yesterday I crossed the finish line! 

The Tokyo Marathon is a notoriously difficult lottery to win, as over 300,000 applicants enter for only 35,000 available spots. As a charity runner, I raised ¥100,000 or approximately $1000 dollars to benefit the Special Olympics Nippon Foundation, whose mission is to provide year-round training and competition  for intellectually disabled athletes. The added bonus is that charity runners are guaranteed admission into the race pool. I am grateful to have a body that can propel me through space and rise to new challenges, and I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to feel the accomplishment of physical competition. I hope that I can do more in the future to make this a reality for more people who might be denied it due to disability and generally to volunteer and participate more in my Tokyo community.

Since this is my first full marathon, I was on a consistent training schedule for the first 11 weeks of my 21 week plan. I gradually increased my mileage every week and incorporated cross training with yoga, biking, and strength training. I got sponsorship from my company and also convinced 4 other coworkers to run with me so we trained together once a week, running laps around the Imperial Palace, which is across the street from our office. But then I got out of the game for 4 weeks thanks to a stay in the hospital ER and holiday travel with my mom as a month-long house guest. I ran a half marathon at week 16, and took another 2 week hiatus due to a project closing that required 15-17 hour work days (including weekends). The last 3 weeks I put my effort into running twice a week and eating/sleeping optimally despite having several visitors. Suffice to say, the latter half of my training was pretty weak, so I was nervous and anxious leading up to the race day; the night before I kept waking up in a panic wondering if I had overslept my alarm. My goal was to just finish under the 7 hour course time limit.

While I didn’t finish as fast as I had hoped to when I first set out to train, knowing now what my body is capable of, and finishing a race where 78% of the runners were men, I have gained the confidence to run more often and enter other races.IMG_5294.jpg


The race started in my old hood, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku (a 5min walk from the sharehouse I lived in for a year), passed my current apartment around the 15K mark, and ended in front of Tokyo station, which is across the street from my office building. I loved seeing iconic Tokyo landmarks such as Kaminarimon, Sky Tree, and Tokyo Tower along the way. It felt like I was in on a secret being able to run down typically chaotic city streets blockaded just for the race.

In my research I read a few running blogs about previous TK marathon race experiences and saw that some runners wear their names on their shirts to allow course cheerleaders to shout their names. I wrote my name in katakana (1 of 3 Japanese writing systems, it is the one used to write foreign words) in masking tape and it gave me a little bit of life each time a stranger shouted “ARISU! GANBARE!”IMG_5299.PNGThere were plenty of hydration stations with pocari sweat and water throughout; the official course food stations were posted in the last 10-15 km, stacked with tangerines, bananas, and mini adzuki (red bean) buns. Unofficially, race cheerleaders on the sidelines passed out all kinds of snacks (I grabbed kit kats, crackers, chocolates, hard candies, and tangerines). Common sense tells you not to eat unwrapped food from strangers but in my desperation for calories I did it anyway. Probably would not have done so if I didn’t think Japan is one of the safest places in the world.

The Japanese have the practice of human herding down to a science, so despite the crowds and initial madness of getting through security and bag check, once I was in my assigned race corral it was smooth sailing to the finish.

Friendship Run:
Kelly-chan and I ran the Tokyo Marathon Friendship Run 5K again the day before the big race, which is where I got the inspiration to join the marathon in the first place. The race is meant to be a warm-up fun run for international marathon participants and others to meet and interact with runners from all over the world. Approximately 1300 runners with bibs displaying their origin country came together in Ariake for the run. Last year I met an Asian woman in her 50s from California who told me she started running marathons in her 40s. I told her I had always wanted to do one and she said, why not? You can do it! And she was right. There was nothing stopping me and I’m glad she gave me that little push to finally do it. Proof that inspiration is everywhere; even brief interactions with strangers.

I could not have finished this race without Ebony
, my friend and coworker. We supported each other throughout the 42.2km with chitchat at the beginning, encouraging words at different checkpoints, and seriously, having the comforting constancy of someone else’s footfalls next to your own keeps your mind from overthinking the pain in your body. She saved my life around 28km when the scenery was a bit lackluster and there were several sloping hills; that was when my knee started to seize up. Ebony was starting to outpace me and I gave her the signal to go ahead without me, but as I saw her figure moving farther and farther away I had this sinking feeling and thought ‘oh noo I don’t want to be left all alone on this course’! So I bit down and pushed through the pain, running faster to catch up to her. She gave me a caffeinated ibuprofen which really helped me bust through the discomfort and keep going. That moment of nearly ‘hitting the wall’ made all the difference because for the rest of the race I felt calm and energetic.

I was running like there were 44 kilometers in a marathon so when we passed the 37km mark and I saw a sign that said ‘5km to go’ I thought WHAT?! I’m almost done?? I can’t describe the feeling of elation when Ebony and I semi-sprinted the last 2 km and crossed the finish line hand in hand. It sounds cliche but there is no other way to explain my amazement at overcoming this formidable challenge and the shock that I actually did it. I really think marathon running is a 70/30 mental to physical challenge. And like a metaphor for life, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other and knowing that you will reach your goal with time and perseverance. #cheesybuttrue

captureI’m riding high on endorphins and race day adrenaline even though my legs are destroyed today. There is something strangely gratifying about brutalizing your body in long distance running. I set my PR at 5:43:10 (including a 10 min bathroom break near 15km–never rely on race porta potties! 6:01:45 is the gun time). Certainly a far cry from the sub 5 hour goal I had originally set when I signed up for the race, but I’m still proud of myself for finishing and running the entire race given that it was my first time and how little I was able to train (my longest consistent training run was 17 km OOPS). We ran a consistent 8 min/km pace throughout.

Thank you to everyone who helped me fund-raise, shared encouragement along the way, and came out to hit the pavement on those cold winter training runs! I’ve got mad respect for everyone out there today including the volunteers and spectators.

Overall, it was a great experience and further affirmation of the strength of the mind. I would absolutely run another marathon, although I’m not too eager to do it anytime soon. I do have my eye on the Taipei Marathon in December 2017…but today I’ll relish the achievement and treat myself to some hot baths and relaxation.


(photos taken on iPhone 6S)

*update – I copped these professional photos from the race course (and yes I most definitely did copy…) I look either full on derp or very sad but I assure you I was feeling both simultaneously.


please observe my elated finish line face in the below photo (circled in purple) LOLfinishline.jpgalmosttheremedalmy ‘yeee buddy! i’m in pain but I made it’ face

xo your friend alice

Location: Tokyo, Japan

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