The world marathon majors are 6 of the biggest marathons in the world. London, Boston, New York, Chicago, Berlin and Tokyo. On completion of all the races you enter the Six Star finishers Hall of Fame and are awarded with a huge medal celebrating your achievement. Tokyo marathon was to be my fifth on the list, and I have to admit, the one I was most excited about.
Slightly less so about the race, much more so about Tokyo itself. Having visited around 15 years ago, I knew that as well as marathon day, there was so much to look forward to. Tokyo is unlike any other city in the world.
The Japanese are a delightful mix of extreme politeness with an unabashed sense of fun. Tokyo itself is a melting pot of rich tradition, technological wizardry, supreme organisation and cleanliness, cartoon kitsch, with added raw fish and over designed toilets. What's not to love?
I headed out with my Six Star running buddies, Sophie, Sam, Ben, Tim, Kate and Emily. Hot off the heels of Costa Rica Challenge (whistle stop of just 22 hours in the UK) we and a few days prior to the race to absorb Tokyo, and for me to develop new levels of jet lag.
This year we would be running a new course. Past Tokyo marathons have been described as "not the prettiest" to me, however this year the course has been rerouted to take in more of the Japanese sights that you would expect.
We went into full Japan tourist mode. Temples were visited. We went to a noodle bar where you ordered your food via a vending machine. The noodles were delicious and the loo had an amusing display of 18 toilet rolls to choose from. We hooked up with more Brits and had an enjoyable pre-race run around the Royal Palace, taking selfies past the British Embassy. Went up the Skytree, the world's tallest freestanding tower.
Here we watched the sun set and the dense web of streets below us light up with technicolor neon as the city eased into the night. A personal highlight was a Cat Cafe. Despite having spent 18 years with my old cat, we paid to go into this 'cafe' to stroke kittens. They gave you cat ears and whiskers on the door.
By the end of the few days we had so much fun and had almost forgotten there was a marathon to run.
A huge Japanese drumming performance opened the Expo and we were applauded into the space by lots of staff. Here, as expected, the organisation was exceptional. It was a mixture of the traditional expo wares and uniquely Japanese touches. As well as the more standard race food, there was a huge stand with a variety of packaged sandwiches with fillings that ranged from curried pork, to custard. Randomly, everyone was given a slice of bread to go in their race bag.
Numbers collected, it was time to get into Marathon mode.
Our hotel was right next to the race start, however bag drop area was on a road beneath the bridges of the start line. It was worth paying attention to signage. English speaking helpers pointed us in the right direction. I was in the slightly intimidating sub-elite start. I had planned on running with Sophie, and we planned on trying to meet up within the first mile. Despite 35,000 runners she was surprisingly easy to spot in her Union Jack top. I slowed as she sped up to meet. Our plan had worked and we began on what was to be the most fun I've ever had running 26.2 miles. Sophie was using this as a training run and I did not want to push it post Costa Rica Challenge. We had decided to relax, and pace it for fun.
The crowds were deep in support, and were politely clapping and cheering us. There were lots of people dressed up as cartoon characters in the crowd too, and Sophie and I spent some time running with a Japanese Paul McCartney.
Frequent drinks stops manned by the smiliest volunteers. If they were not handing out water, they were enthusiastically clapping. The food stops had energy drinks, bananas, sweet bread and the most popular running fuel in Japan, tomatoes. It's worth saying it's the tidiest marathon I've ever been too. Not a single gel packet was dropped and all runners were so respectful of the rules and tidy streets.
Past temples, under bridges and through neon clad shopping streets we ran. Several out and back stretches gave us the opportunity to see the elites and our friends running whilst we lapped up the atmosphere.
As we got nearer and nearer the finish, Sophie and I where in full-on milking the crowd mode. Waving, high-fiving and heel kicking our way round, the crowds responded with huge cheers and clapping frantically. It was so infectious!
I thought my legs would fatigue at some point, but it just didn't happen. I don't think I have ever run a marathon where the sight of the finish line was not welcome. At Tokyo Marathon when we got to the end, I really didn't want it to be over. It was like all the best bits of a marathon without any of the tough bits to muddle through.
The whole race was absolutely joyous from start to finish. The organisation was exceptional. The atmosphere jubilant, and yet uniquely Japanese. Everyone was just so respectful and happy for you. Even the bag drop volunteers handed your bag back clapping and bowing in congratulation. I had such a marvellous time with all my friends. Thank you Tokyo. I had high hopes and you didn't disappoint.
Later this year I will head out to Chicago for last of the six stars.
Hoping to finish on a PB. Bring it on!
A short video of our run. Tokyo Marathon in two and a half minutes.
Thank you to Sophie, Sam, Emily, Tim, Ben, Kate, and Ash for the laughs.
Also thank you to London Marathon and Intersport UK