Tokyo Marathon RECAP [aka surviving 17 hour time difference & a Marathon]

Tokyo Marathon is done. It's a surreal & happy thing to finally get a BREAK. 

We boarded our flight on Wednesday morning in San Diego, super excited. We were on it for awhile before they actually made us deplane because the plane was having technical issues. (I will never be grumpy about having to get off a broken plane. THANK GOD.) The next flight they were moving us to would get us to San Francisco after our flight to Tokyo was supposed to take off. Not good. We called the airlines to reschedule our flight- and the ridiculousness that was coming out of the lady rebooking us was absurd. (How many times do I have to say taking a red eye to Newark only to reboard a flight to Tokyo and going back west - and losing 24 hours that we were supposed to have in Tokyo is NOT ideal for my marathon?!) Majorly frustrating situation and I was really nervous because every option she was giving us was putting us there a full day later (when we were already cutting it pretty close in terms of time to adjust and shake out. After a lot of negotiating, we finally were on a flight that got us in to Tokyo and to our place around midnight- with a 1 am bedtime. Not ideal - especially since I wanted two shakeout runs in Tokyo- but SO much better than any of the alternatives they were giving us. 

Our flight got in after 10 pm and we navigated the metros and found our way to our airbnb. All with Tyler carrying both of our bags. He's an angel. 

We got to our little place in Tokyo- and everything was already sooo different than anything I had experienced. I was excited to do a shakeout run with Tyler and kinda nervous to see what my legs were feeling like off the plane- not terrible. 

Shakeoutttt, baby. (My legs look fresher than they really felt.)

Shakeoutttt, baby. (My legs look fresher than they really felt.)

We headed to the Expo - it's amazing how incredibly helpful the Japanese are. The expo wasn't the most exciting one I've been to and shockingly, there were literally zero options of things that I wanted to buy from the race (a FIRST for me). Asics- y'all need to step up your game with your race clothes. 

Not a lot of race-friendly options here, yall. Unless you count chili shrimp and rice as a race-friendly food. ;-)

So something that was really tough about this race for me was carbloading for it. I'm celiac- so that makes things already annoying in the states- but it made it really difficult in Japan. Luckily rice is gluten-free- but there was concern about sauces/foods. I just didn't feel like I was able to eat enough carbs prior to race. I really tried. There is seriously only so much plain rice you can eat. We ended up eating my pre-race dinner at Outback so that I could have potatoes - which is my favorite pre-race food and mashed potatoes aren't really a thing in Japan- so to American staple Outback we went. 

Heading to the Outback and crossing the world's largest crossing (SHIBUYAAAAA). It was insane how many people were in that crossing- we're in middle of the street crossing in this pic. 

Heading to the Outback and crossing the world's largest crossing (SHIBUYAAAAA). It was insane how many people were in that crossing- we're in middle of the street crossing in this pic. 

We came back to the apartment and we sat down on our mats on the hardwood floors (aka our beds) and were talking and oops- FELL ASLEEP REALLY HARD like at 7:45 pm. We woke up after 2 hours and it felt like I had been hit by a truck- SO tired. I got ready and went to bed- at least thankful that I wouldn't be tossing and turning all night. I woke up at like 4 am or maybe earlier and was wide awake - even though I didn't have to wake up until about 6:30 am. This should have been a warning sign to me that my body was super exhausted and not quite on Japanese schedule yet. 

found a random half a sweet potato on a street. first & last time to ever see a sweet potato cart in my life.

found a random half a sweet potato on a street. first & last time to ever see a sweet potato cart in my life.

We got all ready & headed out to the race. I was bundled up but it wasn't too chilly once we were outside. I was staying pretty calm pre-race. We got to the start and I waited SOOOO long in the line for the bathrooms that I was rushing to get to the start area. Somehow I was Gate 1, Wave B- which meant that my corral was a lot more open than most corrals. When the gun went off they threw these white heart-shaped things into the air and it was the most beautiful thing. I had my moment of reflection & baby tears - thankful for another start line that I had the privilege of being at. And then I went.

just a babe trying to run in asia. 

The first part is slightly downhill for a couple miles- I was just focused on not going out too fast (my usual problem- fly & die.) I was aiming for a pace between 7:40 - 7:50 /mi so when I hit the first mile at 7:45 I was happy that I was right on target - even with the huge throng of people starting out & worrying about being tripped or being slowed up. I cruised through the first couple miles & felt pretty controlled. Thinking back through a marathon is tough- trying to remember all the different feelings you felt. I had arm warmers, hand warmers, & gloves because I had thought it would be so cold. In fact, I had been freaking out prior to race trying to decide whether I should wear a long sleeve. Oh, I'm so glad I didn't. I threw out the hand warmers within 2 miles because I was worried about overheating. Then at 5 miles I threw away my gloves and pushed my arm sleeves down to my wrists (I have huge cotton white bracelets for all race photos. Genius.). The weather felt warmish with the sun beating down on us and most of the race out in the open/not shaded.

There were a LOT of us out there. ;-) let's play FIND THE MEXICAN.

I was on pace for awhile (not long enough, haha, but awhile!) and then it felt like a LOT of effort to keep on track pace-wise. It wasn't easy-breezy. There were a lot of out & backs which made the race drag on & were rough. I saw Tyler around 13 (I think) and just made a face to him. The race already felt like a struggle. 

Tyler cheered me on at around mile 13. 

I had gone into the race feeling pretty confident. All my long runs from December on were done at under 8 minute pace. They were done on tired legs from tough workouts, no fuel or caffeine, & no breakfast. I fully expected that it wouldn't be THAT much of a stretch to do a marathon at my goal pace- just a little bit faster than what my typical long run was run in- especially with rest/taper, fuel, adrenaline, caffeine, race support. Honestly the shock was most mine when during the race, I was just fatiguing. Once I realized I was falling off pace- I just tried to stay engaged and keep pushing. 

The sun was beating down and it just all felt endless (duh, it's a marathon). And then I knew that the worst was still to come (hill bridges- 5 of them over the last 5 miles). I just braced myself and tried to keep pushing. It's all a blur now. Evidently Tyler was on one of those bridges and I didn't even know he was there. Each of the bridges were tough because it was a little climb- and my legs freaked out a bit and were spasming/cramping as they were forced to use different muscle to go uphills. I just tried to not push anything too hard and risk them completely shutting down. The water stations now that we were on the bridges were chaotic and awful. Everyone was either walking through them or standing directly in front of them- not grab and go ease- so I passed most water stations so I wouldn't be forced to stop at this point. 

me & my motley crew in front of my namesake. it seems sacrilegious for such suffering to happen at chanel. 

I kept pushing the last bit and focusing on overall pace, just thinking that it would still be a win to BQ. With a mile to go, I was really excited it was all over- and then I saw the 3k sign. It hit me- what I had kinda been wondering the whole time- but hoping would ultimately correct itself. The course was just THAT off. Nothing to do at this time but just to minimize the damage and keep pushing. I crossed the finish line in 3:38:16, 26.75 miles, 8:09 pace. First thought: I'm NOT doing a fall marathon. I need a break. Second thought: Need water & where is Tyler. I went through the line and got my mini bottle - and chugged it and went back to grab another and they politely informed me that it was 1/person. (26.75 miles deserves at least 2 bottles, right?!) They looped us into this building and through it- for a total of TWO MILES before we even could reach the people we were trying to meet. This part was really tough. I just wanted to be done and sit down and see Tyler. 

THE GOOD STUFFF!

  • The volunteers! Goshhhh! They were so nice. SERIOUSLY. So nice. So supportive. They made the race what it was for me. I was bowing to them as I was taking water from them mid-run. No lie. 
  • Tokyo!!!- how cool is it running by temples & crazy different stuff?! 
  • My boyfriend being on course & at finish line- all I wanted when the race was over was to find him and get a big hug. 

That's the best person I know cheering me on. ;-)

THE ROUGH STUFF! (Gah.)

  • Bridges. In the last 5 miles. Ugh. Do I really need to elaborate more on this?! Who wants the only REAL hills in the race to be at the end. My legs were cramping/spazzing on the bridges cause it was just such a different muscle use. Pretty much these hills were the bane of everyone's existence. I felt it a REAL win to be continuing to run up them. Lots of people walked. Seriously, a guy was laying horizontal across the road on one of the bridges- just over it- not even giving 2 harajuku's that he was in the middle of the race course and not on the median like 3 feet away. 
  • Portapotties. There were SOME portapotties that were labeled "western-style." But when I went to get in line pre-race- I didn't get in one of those lines... so I had to use one that was essentially a hole in the floor. A bit traumatizing for someone who hates portapotties SO much. Haha.
  • Long course. This one probably gets me the most. Ugh. A world marathon major having a course that long- that's embarrassing. I looked back at Boston & Berlin which I did last year and I had 26.4 for both- normal-ish. For Tokyo, I had 26.75. C'mon. Everyone I knew running it/people I connected with on insta were complaining about how long the course was. Pretty big faux-pas. 
  • Out & back course x 2. You don't know things you don't like about the marathon until you essentially experience them and are like- ya know, I don't quite like that. That's how I feel about out & backs. There were two on this course and I disliked them so much. It was a lot of carnage I had to watch on the way back- and mentally I think that was tough to see. It also feels a lot more crowded with just throngs of people around. 

The Real Feel:

So initially when the race was over I felt really disappointed. This was now my 4th race off track- and I had worked SUPER hard to make it a good one and had seen so much positive progress. My tempos and long runs were always consistent and no matter what I had going on- were all really good and in about the same range. It just didn't make sense. I cried a few disappointed tears, ate a meal, and then we went back to our place. And for the first time after a race, I took a nap (usually my adrenaline is going nuts and I can't even fall asleep at night) and I slept on accident for five hours. Woke up at 10 pm. And went right back to sleep.

Because crying, while in race clothes with a race towel around your legs, while eating chile shrimp for a second day in a row at the same restaurant with same waiter in a VERY reserved culture is TOTALLY normal. ;-)

The next day I woke up and I surprisingly was really at peace with it. 1. I knew I worked crazy hard going into it- every week beyond faithful with all of the workouts, strength, massage, stretching, sleep, nutrition. 2. I gave it everything on course and can only work with what I had.

So what went wrong?! 

I mean. WHO KNOWS EXACTLY RIGHT?! Haha. Sometimes things aren't necessarily quantifiable- which makes it that much more difficult to process. But here's what I thing went wrong:

1. DATE LINE IS THE REAL DEAL, yo. I've done international races before. But a Berlin is not a Tokyo. My friend Ben (who also ran Tokyo & had a similar "off" race) broke it down:

Normal jet lag involves shifting your sleep/wake cycle a couple hours in one direction or another, which sucks, but is manageable. Going to Asia means you're actually INVERTING your sleep cycles. I think a graphical display of this is pretty interesting so I drew it out. just imagine the biological functions of a circadian rhythm overlayed on this deformed sinusoidal curve. this is not drawn to scale or meant to be scientifically accurate, but it illustrates the point: moving the curve a couple hours one direction or the other is bad, but not terrible. Your sleep/wake trajectories are generally the same, just lagged a bit. Moving it 17 hours up or back means you're INVERTING your cycles, and is way more destructive. Your trajectories are reversed: when you should be getting more tired you're getting more awake, and vice versa.

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This is what I think REALLY did me in. The rest of the points below are things that didn't HELP the matter - but I think this is really what made my race "off." If you've ever done significant travel- like Asia- or even just long flights- you know how gross and heavy your legs feel post-travel. 

2. Sleep- I was sleeping like I got hit by a truck most of the times. And my naps were just really deep sleeps- waking up from them really confused and exhausted. Here's another something Ben mentioned about sleep:

Quality of sleep is super important, and when you are making these changes your quality of sleep goes south. Even though I was sleeping every night I wasn't waking up well rested, I was still tired, and totally exhausted by 2-3pm. No doubt I was passing out from exhaustion every night, but because my body hadn't adjusted, I was sitting in nrem (stage 1-4) sleep, and not rem sleep which is where the real body healing /restoration process happens.

3. I don't think I had enough time to adjust. Getting there behind schedule meant that I missed one planned shakeout run- so I just had one shakeout run to shake off the effects of the flight and to try and feel normal- and then wham bam, international marathon, ma'am. 

4. Courses can look easier/more stable on paper. Sorry. Just tough to have your only REAL hills/climbs to be 5 spread out over last 5 miles. No matter how good you're feeling. Just tough. 

5. I don't think I got enough carbs in. I really tried- but honestly it was hard just finding things in general that I could eat. I definitely didn't overeat in the days prior to race. 

I actually just looked at my splits now that I'm back in the states. PAINFUL. I only held pace for 10 miles. Is that a joke?! I think seeing that made me realize that there was just something more at play - if I hadn't already realized that before. Literally all of my long runs except for one (8:11 for 20 miles) were faster than my marathon pace. I had zero pep in my step and was working too hard too early on. I was just tired. And I could feel it. It shouldn't feel tough from the start. 

So How AM I feeling?!

I'm surprisingly really, REALLY at peace with this race. Before Tokyo when I had that 20 miler at 8:11 pace that I "bombed" - I had a mini-meltdown. Lots of tears. A full monologue where I told Tyler that I needed SOMETHING. Some glimmer of hope for me to keep going. That with my hope in such a fragile state, I couldn't keep taking any more hits. I repeatedly told him my hope was just very fragile right now. That I couldn't keep working SO hard and not having the results that I felt like I deserved. I didn't think I would be able to remain continually positive about my running if I had another bad race. That it would just be more salt in the wounds. (I mean, these off seasons aren't cause I haven't worked hard. For one reason or another, things haven't clicked and I have been learning very valuable lessons the hard way.) I thought the only cure-all for this fragile state was a good race to rescue me from it. 

But you know what… I'm here to tell you- my hope isn't that fragile. ;-) I'm on the other side of another not too hot race, and ya know- I actually feel more hopeful and more positive about my running than before. Maybe it's because I feel like the race wasn't a real read on where my fitness currently is. Or I knew that there were too many things outside of my control to let it get to me. Or that I know that bad races shouldn't steal my joy or my love for running. Whatever it is though, I feel hopeful & strong. And I think that's a really good place to be. ;-)

Really grateful for the incredible opportunity to visit Japan. Traveling has always been my first love & Tyler and  I truly enjoyed every minute we got to spend there. Can't wait for our next adventure. ;-)