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World Marathon Majors - Tokyo Marathon
Until mid-January, preparations and training for Tokyo had been going very well, too well. With my injury history (basically arthritis in my knees), I had changed my training plan with the hope of peaking at the right time and not doing too many LSR's. My fitness is good, I'm confident that I don't need to go above 20 miles in training and that spending time on speed work and hill work is a good formula with 3/4 runs above 15 miles. Chuck in a couple of half marathon races and this was my plan. 

After completing the Central Lancashire half marathon in a comfortable 1:31 on 7th January, I took my wife and daughter to Gran Canaria as a trade off for her staying behind when I went to Tokyo! I continued with the speed work while away and was enjoying the warm weather and change of scenery. It was now just 6 weeks until the big day. On my final run in Gran Canaria, 3 miles in to a 10k, I felt a tremendous pain in my calf out of nowhere. I stopped, stretched and tried again, but no luck. I was forced to hobble 3 miles back to the hotel in pain. I've never had calf issues before, so took myself off to see the physio when I got home. He confirmed it was a strain at the point where the calf met the achilles. I had to rest it up, but would be fine in 10-14 days. Frustrating, but not the end of the world. Sure enough, 10 days later and I was running again. Taking it easy to build back up, but no more pain and no real fitness lost. I had missed one or two of my planned LSR's, but I had time to get them in.
 
On Monday 29th January, I went out for a planned 16-18 miler. Feeling good, I set off niggle free! Now, some of you reading this will be bored of my ramblings about the knees (Teamgreen) and expect to see me at a race sporting a fancy colour of KT tape! Before last years Paris marathon, I had all kinds of knee issues, but it all came together on the day! Anyway, on said LSR above, I felt a twinge in my left knee after about 9 miles. I know that pain! It's a similar feeling to tooth-ache, like a sharp - shooting pain. I bimbled on another 8 miles until I got home and then went through the now familiar RICE process. The irony is that it's usually my right knee, not the left one!
 
The physio confirmed ITB syndrome and a bad dose of patella tendonitis. I know it usually takes a few weeks, even up to a couple of months to clear in the past. I was devastated!

I tested it a week or so later, but the pain was still horrific. I felt like my race was in tatters. Now if we were talking about any local or even national UK race (with the exception perhaps of VMLM), I would have pulled out, I knew I couldn't run well and could risk further damage. However, with flights and hotel booked, a prestigious world major to run in an amazing city, I wasn't going to miss this one. I decided not to run again until the big day, 25th February. I had only done 2 LSR's of 15 and 17 miles and the latter was with one bad knee. I spent the next fortnight massaging, exercising and stretching the knee, I tried everything I could, but it still hurt just to walk on. I was really gutted and my wife bore the brunt of my bad mood!
 
Anyhoo, that's the negative rambling's over, let's get to the good stuff! 

I flew to Tokyo on 20th February with my mate, Simon. Landing the next day on my birthday after a 17 hour journey. This gave me a few days to get over the flight, acclimatise and do some sight-seeing. Japan is an incredible country. So many highlights and cultural experiences, but nothing can compare to the Japanese toilets, yes that's right, fly half way around the world and all I can offer is toilet talk! Wow, a plumbers nightmare perhaps, but going to the toilet in the UK has been very underwhelming since! I'll say no more, just google it! 
 
I hit the expo on the first full day to register and buy some souvenirs. Not as good as I was expecting, but it certainly gave me a buzz and made this all feel very real.
The day before the race, myself and Simon took part in the International Friendship run with 2000 other runners. This was to be my first run in over 2 weeks and the acid test for how the knee will hold up. I knew it would cause problems at some point on the big day, it was just a case of when. What I wasn't expecting on the 2.5 mile friendship run, was that the pain would start after just half a mile and progressively get worse! 
That afternoon, Simon took himself off to a J-League footy match, while I spent time in one of the national parks gathering my thoughts and preparing my kit back at the hotel. I was determined to crawl if I had to, but hoped adrenalin and the atmosphere would carry me through.
 
Race Day
 
I woke at 6am, had the usual porridge, banana and coffee. Strapped the knee up, kit on and then my pre-race show-stopper, a pink onesie! It was freezing in Tokyo and a warm throw-away was needed. I might have looked like a Tellytubby, but boy was I warm!
The pre-race atmosphere was incredible, like noting I've witnessed before. Organisation was slick and easy, I was in coral B, very close to the front based on my pre-injury expected finish time of 3:15:00. The start is by the government buildings in Shinjuku, close to my hotel for ease. Tall, neon clad skyscrapers dominated. Forget the knee, my main concern was would the Garmin pick up GPS with the towers! it did! Phew. At 9:10 40,000 excited runners were off! I was running in my first major and the smile was from ear-to-ear.
 

All along the entire route, the crowds were phenomenal, loud and encouraging. It's estimated that 1.5 million come out to cheer. Compare that to an estimated 500,000 for London. The locals made this extra special. Along with the brilliant route, yes it has some out and back turning points, but that really doesn't matter. The juxtaposition of traditional and modern buildings is brilliant. Live music and the chance to see the elite runners after turn points was special. Aid stations and toilets were plentiful, along with awesome marshalling. The level of organisation was something else to what I've seen before.   
 
Right from the start, I was focusing on the knee, waiting for something. Strangely, there was nothing! No pain. It must be the adrenalin I thought. Great! I soon forgot about it all together and focused on my run. I took the first mile or so steady at around 8 min miles while I dodged the crowds and listened to the knee. Then once I couldn't feel any pain I was able to get in to my rhythm and speed up a little. I had no intention of going fast, I didn't have the mileage in my legs due to the injuries and besides that, I just wanted to enjoy the experience.
 
That said, the race was flying by, so much to look at and listen to. It was like a carnival, celebratory atmosphere. I came up to the half way point in 1:35:00. I was surprised, all was going well and I still felt very fresh. I hadn't been expecting this and was so grateful. Then, out of nowhere I could feel the knee pain kicking in around the 14 mile mark. I took some painkillers and naproxen at one of the aid stations and continued. I knew this second half was now going to be a real slog. the pain got worse with every step and it also started to hurt down the right as I had to put more pressure on that side and adjust my gait. Despite this, I was loving it and was determined not to let anything spoil the big day. I had already adjusted my expectations pre-race and to be honest, I felt grateful that I had got half way pain-free, with a decent pace already banked. By mile 20 the only pain I had was in my knee. The rest of my body felt good and surprisingly, the lack of training in the final 6 weeks wasn't showing. Perhaps it's because I had been forced to slow right down. I was still smiling and enjoying the unique experience, there is an irony in slowing down and taking it all in that I was happy about.......I didn't want this race to end!
 
 
6 miles later, I couldn't wait for this race to end! The knee was telling me to stop and the pain was extreme. I limped over the line in 3:48:50, my slowest marathon to date. I really didn't care however. I felt so privileged to be part of this festival of running and was so glad to receive that amazing bling. Time wasn't important to me, the memories will last a lifetime. This is a bucket list race and I enjoyed every second of it. If you get the opportunity to race in Tokyo, grab it, you won't be disappointed!
 
We stayed in Japan until 1st March, visiting other amazing cities. It's a wonderful, captivating country with so much to offer. I'm certain that I will be back. 
 
I'm writing this blog 8 days on from the marathon and walking is still very painful. The knee may take some time to get over this one and sadly I won't be running for 3-4 weeks......................but boy it was worth it!!!!!
 

 
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Huge thanks to Mike for sharing his experience of one of the World Marathon Majors. Tokyo sounded like a wonderful experience and is firmly on the bucket list!
 
If you'd like to share your running journey of one of the World Marathon Majors (or any other running related story) then get in touch with us at info@runr.co.uk.
 
Happy running.
 
Team Runr.

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