My Experience Training for and Running the Tokyo Marathon

March 15, 2019

Two weeks ago I ran my first ever marathon, the Tokyo 2020 marathon. And I wanted to write a separate blog post about it, because to be honest, the whole experience was a lot different than what I expected.

To back it up, I only started running about a year and a half ago, when I ran my first half-marathon in Angkor Wat (you can read more about that here). I loved it. Then I ran another half marathon a month later, and loved it too. Then I had the idea to run a marathon. I knew however that running a full marathon would be much different than a half, and would require a big time commitment, something I wasn’t sure if I was ready to put on my plate. Now the chance of actually getting to run in the Tokyo marathon is 1 in 10, unless you qualify for it, which obviously isn’t my case. So I decided to enter the draw, and if I got picked it would be the motivator I needed to train for a marathon. As luck would have it, my name got picked! I was one of the lucky ones.

I expected to start training for this marathon and become someone who loves running. I thought the more I ran, the more I would love it. I imagined getting into the best physical shape of my life, and being happy while running. These illusions would soon be shattered haha. The training started off fine enough, but as the weeks ticked by and the distance increased, it became a very stressful part of my life.

At the beginning I tried to keep up my weight training and yoga in conjunction with my 3 “short” runs during the week and 1 long run on the weekend. This was impossible, and I had to stop doing my weight training in order to focus solely on running, which I did not want to do. Running in the mornings before work during the week was a bigger time commitment than my normal workout routine and it was hard to stay motivated.

The worst part though was the long run on the weekend. I was having to set aside 3-ish hours to get these in on Saturday mornings. I started to dread these long runs, and I would get so stressed out trying to plan my weekend around them. If I drank just one glass of wine too many on Friday night, I would sleep horribly knowing I had a long run the next day and would wake up anxious and stressed. So I stopped wanting to go out on Friday nights, and then felt bad for being what I thought was a “boring girlfriend” because I wanted to stay in (this was all me btw, Zane obviously never did or said anything that would make me think that and constantly tried to encourage me and tell me he didn’t care if we stayed in on Friday nights, but of course I was still in my head and didn’t listen to his reason 😉 ). Some mornings Zane had to literally give me a 10 minute pep-talk to get me out the door and running. Other times the stress of it all would deplete me, both the run AND the emotional stress I had leading up to it, that I would be physically exhausted and wouldn’t leave the couch for the remainder of the day and night. Goodbye weekends.

My marathon training added a whole new level of stress to my life I was neither expecting nor prepared for. Running wasn’t making me happy, and I had lost a lot of my muscle by having to temporarily suspend my weight training. Basically the opposite happened of the two biggest things I had expected.

Looking back, I had too much on my plate. I was at a job that no longer made me happy, contemplating leaving to focus on building my own freelancing business. I was working on freelance jobs outside of my full-time job, training for a marathon, and still trying to have enough energy to be a “good girlfriend” (again this was all in my head) and go out and do fun things with Zane. At times, I felt like I was literally failing at everything – failing Zane, failing my job, failing my freelance jobs, and failing my marathon training.

Despite all of this I didn’t want to quit, and so off to Tokyo I went. I was actually pretty optimistic that weekend and my mood towards the whole thing was generally pretty positive but with some obvious nerves. But then Sunday came… and the weather took a turn for the worse. The weather completely changed the morning of the race from what it had been saying all week and even the day before, and I was very unprepared. It was freezing cold (4 degrees Celsius) and pouring rain. When Zane was walking me to the start of the race, the positive attitude I had maintained all weekend began to plummet just like the temperatures. I was soaked by the time we got there. Every place was sold out of ponchos. My hands were freezing. How was I going to run in this cold and rain? That was the closest I came to quitting. I really, really wanted to just give up, go back to the hotel, put on some warm dry clothes, and just do some sight seeing. Tears were shed. But I figured I had to at least try. Eventually I had to say bye to Zane and head to my start block. He wanted to take a picture of me before and I said no, because my face was puffy from the tears and I didn’t want a picture of me before a race I was questioning I would even finish, and then be a constant reminder of when I failed.

Once I got to my start block, things got worse before they got better. We stood in the freezing rain for 20 minutes. I had a very thin lulu lemon sweater on that was soaked through. My hair looked like I just got out of the shower. My shoes were filled with water. I was jealous of everyone with a poncho and hats and gloves. I shed a few more tears. I was stressed, nervous, and angry at myself for being unprepared for the weather and also for the race, because I felt I hadn’t trained enough.

When they finally shot the gun signalling it was time to go, I could barely run I was so cold. My teeth were chattering and my body was shaking. But right before we started, Zane called and told me he found a hat and gloves for me that he would hand off at some point during the 1st kilometre, so I kept my eye out. When I saw him and he put that hat on my head, it was the first time that morning I felt like everything was going to be ok. I know how dramatic that sounds, but seriously that hat instantly made a world of a difference. It was actually insane, how much warmer I felt as soon as I had a warm, dry hat on my head and gloves on my hands. Things were looking up! Then my sister Rochelle and her boyfriend Robbie found a poncho for me they also handed off to me mid-race. I was now warm, and protected from any more rain, and this is when things really started to turn around for me. I started getting into it. I was running through Tokyo with a huge crowd of people, and it was exciting. I was doing it! And it was at that point early on in the run, once I had my hat, gloves and poncho, and my team of supporters cheering me on, that I knew I would finish and have fun doing it.

I also just want to mention something funny Zane and I laughed about afterwards. So before this race, I went to lulu lemon and spent way too much money on a whole new “race day” outfit. I had Zane come with me and tell me which leggings he liked more. I wanted to look cute. Little did I know I would end up looking like the dude from icy tower haha! (if you know, you know!)

It was an amazing run. I maintained a very steady pace and finished in 5:14. However I had to wait in line 15 minutes to use the bathroom at one point, so not counting that I would have finished it under 5 hours 😉 But seriously, it was one of my best runs. I hardly stopped and just kept running. People warned me that 30 km was when you would want to give up, but if anything, I just got better and better as the kilometres ticked by. I was feeling good, happy, determined and proud of myself.

At long last, I crossed the finish line. To be honest, approaching the finish line was a more powerful feeling at first than actually crossing it. I couldn’t believe I was so close, after everything that happened that morning and the months leading up to it. I dug deep and found it in me to go a little bit faster, and the last 10k ended up being my fastest. While there were no spectators allowed near the finish line, I was actually on the phone with Zane when I crossed it. He called me saying they were trying to find a place to see me, and I was just like “I’m crossing the finish line now!” haha. Crossing the finish line was kind of anti-climatic haha, I think I was just in shock by it all and didn’t really process it. But after when I met up with Zane and my sisters, and he just ran towards me and gave me the biggest hug and said how proud he was of me… that was the best feeling in the world, and that’s when the joy of completing my first marathon really hit me.

I learned a lot through this experience. Firstly, that undertaking training for a marathon is no small task and to make sure you are REALLY mentally prepared to do so, haha. But also more importantly, that I can do really hard things. I can accomplish tasks which seem impossible, in the less than ideal conditions. When I have mentally all but given up, I have a reserve of persistence that I can use to keep on going. Proving to myself that I can do hard things, even when I feel like giving up, has given me a whole new level of confidence that has continued to overflow into other parts of my life as well. Running this marathon was one of the best impulse decisions I ever made.

I don’t want to end this post without properly acknowledging Zane for everything he did for me during the training and race. He is truly my rock. When I was down and doubting myself, he would be there giving me pep-talks to raise me up. I leaned on him 100% during this whole process, and he supported me in so many ways. He never got annoyed at me for complaining, cooked me healthy meals leading up to the race, and was unwaveringly supportive and encouraging the whole time. Not to mention that he woke up at 6 am and walked in the cold and pouring rain with me to the start; ran around to the convenient stores looking for a poncho for me; arranged for Rochelle and Robbie to hand off a poncho to me; bought a hat and gloves to hand off to me; checked in with me throughout the race; bought snacks to hand off to me; and navigated the group (Robbie and my sisters Rochelle and Alexandra) around Tokyo to see me at various check points; and so many other small things that all add up. Honestly, I don’t know if I could have done it without him. Zane, you are simply the best!

I also want to acknowledge my wonderful sisters Rochelle and Alexandra, and my sisters boyfriend Robbie for everything they did for me as well! They flew from Toronto to Tokyo to watch me run, and bought me the life saving poncho. Seeing you guys cheer me on made my heart smile and gave me warm fuzzies 🙂 I couldn’t have asked for a better support team, and I am so grateful!