Tokyo Marathon 2015: The Final Week

It is less than a week till the Tokyo Marathon 2015 on Sunday 22nd February.  This will be my 4th marathon and so far (touch wood) I am probably more injury-free than I’ve been for any previous race.  My old hip injury has not disappeared, but is not causing too many problems.

Training has gone reasonably well, though I have suffered from a real lack of motivation in this training cycle.  I have always maintained that although a marathon is a great test of physical strength, it is a greater test of mental strength.  Physical strength alone isn’t, in my view, enough to get round 26.2 miles in a good time.

As my mental strength has not featured as much as in previous training cycles, this has meant I’ve had a couple of bad runs.  Once I went out for 16 mile run and had to stop after 13 miles, really struggling after 8 or 9 miles.  Fortunately that was a fairly isolated occurrence though and I had a good run at the China Coast Half Marathon in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, where I finished in 2:06.  That was my slowest half marathon to date but it was also by far my hilliest – whereas the Great Scottish Run (Glasgow Half Marathon) has just over 200 feet of ascent, for example, the China Coast Half Marathon has around 850 feet of ascent.  I thought the additional time taken was well justified and not excessive, and altogether I had a good strong run.  I thoroughly enjoyed that event in beautiful surroundings, and it gave a big confidence boost.

I began tapering a couple of weeks ago, peaking at a 19 mile long run.  I am wondering if my body is finally coming to terms with running on concrete (more or less inescapable in Hong Kong unless you head into the hills), and that is why my knees and joints are holding up, or whether the reduction in my training load is something to do with it.

In the past I have tended to have a week that looks something like this:

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – Sprint cycling

Wednesday – Swimming

Thursday – Sprint cycling or tempo running

Friday – Rest day

Saturday – Rest day

Sunday – Long run

This training cycle I have come down to more or less this:

Monday – Rest day

Tuesday – Rest day / light run

Wednesday – Rest day

Thursday – Tempo running

Friday – Rest day

Saturday – Rest day

Sunday – Long run

Before Christmas this was largely dictated by work reasons when I simply couldn’t put in the time, although I did start with an extra day of training which I since dropped from the schedule.  Since Christmas I’ve come down to this schedule – and it seems to be alright, for now.

One big difference is that in the past I ran my long runs at marathon pace.  I was advised by several people not to do this during training, and it may be that this is where injuries or burnout were coming from.  This time I have been taking my long runs a bit more slowly, running about 1.5 minutes slower per mile.  This being Hong Kong, the temperature and humidity make slower training runs more justified anyway, but I have also tried to do this in terms of minimising injury and in dealing with a lack of motivation.

I was hoping to do a final long run tonight of about 10 miles, but the air quality in Hong Kong is currently quite bad (“unhealthy” level) and I am not sure I am keen to go out in this.  Air pollution hasn’t really been a problem since I arrived here but recently the air has been pretty disgusting with visibility considerably affected.  Another challenge you can do without when training from a marathon!

In any event, we fly out to Japan midweek and will see some of Tokyo and the surrounding area in the lead up to the big day.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Kyoto Marathon, partly because I wasn’t running for a time in the same that I had done at the Loch Ness Marathon and the Berlin Marathon.  That being said, I was only a couple of minutes down in Kyoto at the half way mark, then I pretty much lost it as my insufficient training really showed through in the second half.  I would like to say that in the Tokyo Marathon I will just run for the fun of it and absorb the atmosphere, but it’s very difficult not to aim for a time, especially on quite a flat course…

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First week of training at an end

That’s it, the first week of training for Tokyo 2015 over already.

I’m easing myself back into this having run only intermittently over the summer.  The gluteus medius strain has (touch wood) settled down, but I’m still bothered by the ligaments and tendons further round the front of the leg joint.  Not the best starting point for a marathon training programme but you only live once.

I’m taking a long run up to this marathon, with a whole month more of training than I had for the Kyoto Marathon 2014.  The week has been quite modest with the following:

Tuesday – 8km bike

Thursday – 8km bike

Friday – swimming including kickboard tombstone (that’s hard!)

Sunday – 2.5 miles easy

Will ease it up as the weeks go on, but will really try not to overdo it!

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Tokyo Marathon 2015: here I come!

When I entered the Tokyo Marathon ballot this summer, the writing seemed to be on the wall:  35,500 places available, and 304,825 applicants.  In other words, more than 88% of applicants would receive the disappointing “sorry, not this time” e-mail, and last year I was one of them.

Imagine my surprise then when last week I get an e-mail saying “congratulations, you have been selected to run the Tokyo Marathon 2015”.  I had an immediate confusion of feelings – delight that I got into this race, the excitement of another marathon in a new city, and that feeling of dread when I realise I have an entire marathon training programme ahead of me.  i.e. I don’t get to sit down and relax until after 22nd February 2015.

There is also the continuing worry about my hip and gluteus medius injury.  But it’s there for the long haul, and I just need to keep trying physio exercises and all the rest of it to try and contain it.  I might also have to substitute the bike or swimming pool for a number of runs.  Perhaps I shall have to step on the dreaded treadmill (a piece of equipment I firmly believe belongs in a concentration camp rather than a gym).

The opportunity of running Tokyo is simply too good to pass up on, however.  As the New York Times put it:  “Those who make it to the starting line of the fifth Tokyo Marathon on Sunday have already triumphed against great odds. The 26.2-mile route through the streets of Tokyo is one long victory lap.

That “victory lap” is still a long way off though, as I ease into my first week of quite tentative marathon training.  Being out in Hong Kong is, for me at least, simply not conducive to outdoor running, with its mixture of heat, humidity and ubiquitous concreted surfaces.  I can more or less forget about a personal best in this marathon – in fact in the last one (Kyoto) I was glad simply to finish, it being my slowest marathon to date.  This time I will be hoping to come somewhere between Kyoto’s time and the 4-hour mark.

Everything will depend on how the training goes.  If it goes well, I will try to clip 4 hours, though I read that the Tokyo Marathon can be quite congested, with slow, costumed runners given better muster pens than more serious runners – a very silly decision by any measure.  The thing about the marathon though is the extent to which it is such a hostage to fortune.  Training can seem to go wonderfully, and then one day some pain or strain creeps up that cancels out a couple of weeks of upcoming training.  Even on the day itself, you could arrive at the start line with completely injury-free training (something I have never managed, by the way), only to have the flu or some other ailment virtually destroy the race for you.  Or the weather can be the spoiler.  Who knows what lies ahead?

In any event, I am signed up.  The flights are booked, the hotel is booked.  I will run this one in my Brooks Glycerin 11s, which served me well in Kyoto, and I suppose that will be them put through their two statutory race cycles before it’s probably time to buy a new pair.

Fingers crossed for the long haul ahead.  For now, I’m off to write up a proper training schedule.  Back to the drawing board!

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Tokyo & Kyoto Marathon Ballots

2014 gave me my third marathon, completing the hat-trick!  Would it be my last?  Probably if I had any sense.  It’s when you’re passing the 17-18 mile point that you start to question why you entered this thing.  The first time, it’s fair enough… and as the race proceeds to its conclusion you are sorely punished.

But entering a second marathon just weeks after the pain of the first?  And still not learning a lesson, to go on and book a place in a third marathon?

All that being said, I have just entered the Tokyo & Kyoto Marathon ballots for 2015…  I am trying to sign up for my fourth marathon!

Tokyo would be the preference, not just because it’s in the Marathon Major series, but because I’ve done Kyoto.  I have slight reservations about running the same marathon a second time round, psychologically I think it could be quite tough (not to mention physically!).

BUT.  Kyoto is a wonderful place to run, it’s a very picturesque city and the marathon course was beautiful.  They have also removed the “controversial” steep hill leading up to the exhibition hall not long after the half way mark, and instead added on a couple of streets and a route through the Kyoto Botanical Garden.  It would not be the worst place to run for a second time round, and although I was lucky given my hip injury to get round at all, my time was not brilliant…  The famous last words:  “I’m sure I could run it faster”.

(The hip is not altogether recovered even yet, in August, by the way!)

Either marathon works in terms of timing.  Remember, I regard Asian marathons scheduled in Autumn as close to useless, as the Summer heat and humidity is no environment for training.  The best time for training is Winter, and that means a late Winter or early Spring marathon…  Tokyo & Kyoto both fit the bill.

They are also in a great country for running, and sufficiently far north to get out of the humid sub-tropics.  At least this time I would have a better idea of what to expect!

Results from the Tokyo Ballot are due to be announced at the end of September (the chances of getting through that are slim – and I was rejected last year), and the Kyoto Ballot results come out the week after.  Let’s see what happens!

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Quick update

Various updates to come – I should put up a Kyoto Marathon review, an equipment review for my new Brooks Glycerins, and also thoughts for the future.

In the meantime, I am a month and a half after the marathon and still getting a lot of discomfort in my hip area.  It looks like the soft tissue there is going to take a long time to heal.  Not over the moon about this as the pain first made itself felt during a game of golf in Summer 2013.  It then subsided over the course of a couple of weeks, and was felt again during a day in the hills.  Then the marathon training brought it back and it’s being more stubborn about going away this time.  I’m not sure what the issue is, but it doesn’t look like an easy one to put to rest.

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Kyoto Marathon 2014 Race Report

Kyoto Marathon Expo and Runner Check-In

We arrived in Osaka on the Friday and travelled by Haruka train to Kyoto.  Kyoto doesn’t have its own airport, so usually you would fly to Osaka Kansai International Airport (KIX) and travel on from there.

On the Saturday we went to the Kyoto Marathon Expo and Runner Check-In.  This was held in Miyakomesse at Okoshiyasu Square in the lovely Higashiyama area of Kyoto, just beside where the finish line would be the following day.  The expo itself was spread over two floors of the building.  At the first, runners were channelled into a special area to check into the race.  It immediately became obvious that there were not many non-Japanese doing this race, as there were a number of check-in stalls based on numbers – and then one at the end with “foreigners” written above it.  That gave the whole thing an exciting air to me, as it really felt quite exotic and surreal.

The route within the hall then led through some exhibition stands, where it wasn’t always clear what was on offer or being advertised.  Then we went up to the second floor, where there was a small exhibition, an official shop (where I got a t-shirt), and a lot of places to eat.  We got some really good food here.  There was also a place selling discounted running wear.  I picked up a fairly cheap woollen hat here as it was colder in Kyoto than I’d prepared for, and I also bought a pair of thin running gloves downstairs.  I had actually visited well over a dozen running / sports shops in Hong Kong, and not a single one stocked running gloves or could tell me where they were sold.  Running and sports shops in Hong Kong by and large seem to be geared towards the “fashion” end, rather like most things in Hong Kong, without necessarily being functional or useful.  All kitted up, and having now picked up my number, we headed back to the hotel before going out for some dinner.

The day has finally arrived – marathon morning

It’s a day I simply couldn’t visualise in the months leading up to the Kyoto Marathon.  After a reasonable sleep in our very comfortable hotel, the alarm went off all too soon, at 6am, and that meant it was time to get myself together to run 26.2 miles.  Even now, with my gluteus medius injury and a severe lack of training, the whole marathon seemed like a distant event that I couldn’t yet relate to.  I had some Nature’s Valley grain bars and a yogurt for breakfast, and then we took the train to the start at Hankyu Nishikyogoku Stadium.  The train was busy but not overloaded, and we had managed to buy tickets the previous day at the Expo.

Final preparations at the start

I said goodbye to my wife, and hoped she would be able to navigate Kyoto with the schedule and directions I had tried to put together.  I got changed, offloaded my spare belongings at the baggage truck, and then joined a very long queue for a toilet.  With a couple of minutes to spare before the starting blocks closed, I entered Nishikyogoku Stadium for the start.  I was starting in Block D of A to K, so was starting in the faster half of the field.

The weather, it has to be said, was close to perfect.  The sky was mostly clear, the sun blazing in this crisp, winter morning.  The temperature was around 4 degrees.  There was a chilly wind that sometimes blew, but often I was sheltered from this, and it became less of an issue once I actually got moving.

There was a small starting ceremony with a brass band playing a Beatles song (though I didn’t actually recognise this until my wife showed me a video of it later).  I did my stretching in the starting block, and was wearing some charity clothes on top of my running gear to keep warm in the 15-20 minutes before the start.  Nobody around me was availing themselves of this option.  When we did move forwards towards the start, and I handed a long jacket to one of the volunteers at the side, she looked quite confused, seeming not to know whether I expected to see this garment again!

There was a moment’s silence for the victims of the East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and then the wheelchair race was started at 8:55am.  We all moved forward, and the starting gun for the 2014 Kyoto Marathon was fired at 9:00am.  The moment of truth had arrived:  would I get through this marathon?

The marathon:  0 km – 6 km (Nishikyogoku Stadium – Kiyotakido-Sanjo Crossing)

I crossed the starting line waving to my wife, who I spotted in the stadium waving our Scottish flag.  This is really a useful place to come from, as you don’t see the flag very often abroad at running events!  It’s very visible and helps me to identify her in what may be hundreds or thousands of people lining the course at any given point.  Especially today, when the vast majority of participants were Japanese.  I had applied some white flower oil to the area of my injury to warm the area up, and I felt it burning away which was a nice contrast to the chilly morning air.  I started running and hoped for the best.  My aim today was simply to finish the race – time was much less of an issue than it had been at either the Loch Ness or Berlin Marathons; I simply needed this injury to hold together, and my substandard training to have been enough to carry me through 26.2 miles.  I was sure I would be in pain, but I didn’t want to tear or break anything.

The first few kilometres were, as they tend to be in marathons, tense, awkward moments.  You try and settle into a pace, to warm yourself up while making an effort to relax and control your breathing.  I crossed the starting line with three pacemakers running at 4 hour pace.  I thought I would follow them, but that turned out to be short lived.  It was a little busy at the start (though not as congested as the start in Berlin), and so I don’t think they were able to get up to 4 hour pace for a few kilometres.  So when a break did open up, they moved forward at quite a pace.  Before I knew it the 4:30 pacemakers were beside me, though I couldn’t understand how that was possible already.  At this point I simply decided to forget the pacemakers and concentrate on my own running.

The course initially leaves the stadium, before curving round onto Shijo Dori heading towards the Katsura River.  We came down onto the river just across from the Matsuo-taisha Shrine, and then followed the river on a curving road northwards.  The view that opened up was beautiful, across the river to the foot of slopes that rose up into the hills and mountains that surround Kyoto.  Just before this I had dumped another piece of charity shop clothing on a railing, so had warmed up sufficiently to run wearing just my running shorts, a t-shirt, and a long sleeved running top over it.  I was also wearing my woollen hat and thin running gloves, but even then that cold wind came across the river and bit into me.

The course had now come into the truly lovely Arashiyama district.  Ridiculously, I visited this area just two days later and didn’t recognise it from marathon day, which says something about the extent to which when I run I see – or fail to see – what is around me.

Or maybe it was another pressing concern which was distracting me at this point:  I had failed to get my pre-race fluid intake right, again.  I needed a toilet.

Ordinarily, this would simply involve finding a wall or tree and urinating behind it.  Not here – everyone was using the toilets, and not a single person was going for an alternative.  I was a bit surprised by this, but wasn’t going to be the foreigner to upset people by being the only one urinating in full sight of everyone else.  This was definitely a distraction and I reckon the cold was intensifying the feeling of discomfort.  I had passed a few toilets, but the queues outside them were simply too long.  I was annoyed – I have stopped for the toilet not long after the start now on all three of my marathons.

The marathon:  6 km – 12 km (Kiyotakido-Sanjo Crossing – Ritsumeikan University)

I can see now from the map that it was at the corner of Kiyotaki Dori that I used the toilet, about 7km into the race.  I spent about 2-3 minutes queuing for this toilet, and was really annoyed at myself for this.  When I emerged from the cubicle, the people now passing me were from several starting blocks behind mine.  This was a dent to my confidence so early on.

Nonetheless, I felt like a piece of baggage had been lifted from me.  The route continued along an undulating road through tiny village streets.  At one point there were people standing on the roof of a building waving at everyone and flying flags in the air.  People all along were enthusiastic at the side of the course.  Sometimes I got a special wave or cheer from people as a foreigner.  That was quite nice.

I think it was on this stretch that a couple of significant hills came onto the course, round about where it passed Hirosawa Pond.  This felt quite rural, but was again a lovely place.  The marathon route had already passed several temples and shrines, including Ninna-ji Temple and Ryoan-ji Temple, and also passed close to Kinkakuji Temple.

I felt fine.  My injury wasn’t producing any pain at all, and I was taking it easy.  I kept an eye on the clock, but only for my own information rather than for setting myself any strict targets.  I knew that it was going to get tough later in the race, and I wasn’t going to do myself any favours by speeding away at this point.  The name of the game was to run very conservatively.

The marathon:  12 km – 21 km (Ritsumeikan University – Kitayama Dori)

At one point during this next section, we passed a temple or shrine (it could have been Waratenjin Shrine or Imamiya-jinja Shrine), and there was a whole band outside playing music.  An even nicer touch is that a whole group of what appeared to be monks were outside cheering for the runners.  Again a few of them were really waving at me as a foreigner.  I felt very warmly welcomed in this race where it might have been easy to feel isolated and alienated.  The atmosphere was very much the opposite of that, and this gave me a warm feeling inside and spurred me on.

I have clearer memories of the race (despite it only being four days ago!) as we approach the 17-18km point, where the route turned left onto the banks of the Kamo River.  We turned left, and I could see runners coming down the opposite bank, having turned at a bridge up ahead.  I distinctly remember feeling for the first time that I was starting to feel tired.  Whether this was partly psychological in seeing runners ahead of me coming down the other side of the river, I don’t know.  But I do know that I hadn’t trained properly, and so tiredness was going to come earlier than normal (whenever that is).

By this stage I was running with my hat off, having sufficiently warmed up to be doing without that.  My wife was due to meet me at the corner where the route turned off the river eastward onto Kitayama Dori.  She met me exactly as planned and I passed my hat to her.  I don’t think I said anything as I passed but I was very happy to see her, just ahead of the halfway point.  As I crossed the bridge, the other half of the road had just a handful of the fast runners coming in the opposite direction, who were now a good 10km ahead of me.  I really wondered how those guys were running like that.  But I have to admit it was a novelty to see them, because I tend to try and avoid out-and-back courses, so rarely see the front runners at all!

I passed the half marathon point in 2:07.  I was pleasantly surprised by that, as if I took off the, say, 3 minutes I wasted at the toilet, that was effectively a 2:04 half marathon – just 4 minutes slower than 4 hour marathon pace, which was my theoretical target in all of this.  I was expecting to be running more slowly than this already, all things considered.

The marathon:  21 km – 30 km (Kitayama Dori – Kyoto Concert Hall)

This is where the race definitely became more difficult.  Just over half way along Kitayama Dori, as I was eating a couple of delicious cakes someone was kindly giving out at the side of the course – faster runners coming the other way the whole time – the route turned left onto Takaragaike Dori.  This curved round a stadium and then began a steep climb up into a tunnel.  It climbed a good 30 metres in one relentless pull, and by the time I emerged from the other end of the tunnel, I was now around 55 metres higher than when I started.  Quite a difference from the pancake-flat Berlin Marathon!  Most people walked this hill, as running was barely any faster than walking such a slope.  But I vowed not to break into a walk this early on, and continued running.  It wasn’t easy – and again there was the psychological difficulty of seeing faster runners coming downhill on the opposite side of the road the whole time – some of them from my own starting block.

The course continued up this road into a nice woodland area, before turning back on itself at Kyoto International Conference Centre.  Then it was back into the tunnel, and quite a muscle and joint-jarring descent back down that hill.  We turned left onto Kitayama Dori again in the direction of the Takanogawa River.  I was starting to struggle, now about 26km in.

It was at this point that, for the first time, I saw a runner came down the other side of the road with two artificial legs.  He was running with crutches and had a support runner following him from behind, but who was actually doing nothing to assist him.  He ran awkwardly with a smile on his face, at a very impressive speed.  A sight like that is enough to send off a well of emotions.  Overwhelmingly, this is a humbling sight, to see someone push so hard to overcome adversity in their own life.  To not let their circumstances hold them back – but to push on through them.  I felt a surge of respect and admiration for this man.

At the same time, it made me think of people (some of them close to me) who use every excuse under the sun not to do any exercise.  “It’s too hard”, “I’m not the right build”, “I don’t have the will power” etc.  Those kinds of “reasons” pale into self-deceiving rubbish when you see a person like this.  They are actually quite a horrible attitude to adopt, by people who, in comparison to someone like this, cannot complain about their condition – or at least should not complain too loudly.  People love to have someone or something to blame, it’s never enough to give themselves a shake and accept they simply have to do better.  That might not be easy, but what is the point of sitting around and telling yourself – and everyone else – that everything is simply too hard?

This man also made me acutely self-aware.  I said that I was beginning to struggle.  But I immediately felt guilty for feeling that I was struggling.  I actually had all my limbs intact.  I may have had a gluteus medius strain, but what is that compared to having no legs below the knee?  I pushed forward as if to punish myself for the self-pity of it.

In the long drag of the marathon, though, you go through phases.  You fade in and out of strength, and accordingly, in and out of weakness.  It did not take long for me to feel that I was struggling again.  I recall this feeling intensifying as I turned into the side street of Shimogamo Naka Dori.  I wanted to walk for a while and take a gel, but I promised myself I would wait until I saw my wife a kilometre ahead.  A kilometre is a long way in the later stages of a marathon.

The marathon:  30 km – 35 km (Kyoto Concert Hall – Marutamachi West End)

I finally re-crossed the Kamo River, and my wife was there as planned by the river with her flag.  I broke into a walk and took my gel out – she walked with me for a few hundred metres.  It was good to talk at this point and try to take stock of where I was.  The time on the clock was now about 3:10-3:15; it was obvious that this was going to be my slowest marathon, but it almost felt liberating that I did not have that kind of time pressure.  I saw a set of traffic lights ahead and announced that I would start running again at those.  I also announced that because I had walked these couple of hundred metres, I wouldn’t walk again before the end (which turned out to be false).  My wife ran with me (her first time running on a marathon course, which she found quite invigorating!) until the course went down to a narrower path beside the river.  Surely I could make it now without stopping, it was only about 10km to the end.  10km is nothing.

Unless you’ve already run 30km, and especially when your training hasn’t been up to par.  What immediately struck me was that I was now running on much softer ground, a firm but softish mud.  I told myself that this should be providing some relief, but I struggled to perceive whether it was or not.

The route now followed the Kamo River in a south east, and then southerly, direction.  As it did, it went under a number of bridges.  The drop in height to go under these bridges must have been little more than a couple of metres – but it felt terrible.  The soft tissue at the front area of my injury was very painful on these inclines, and it got to the stage where I felt I simply had to walk these inclines, as I feared something was about to give in the tissue.  This circus went on until the end of this bank of the river at Marutamachi West End.

By the way, I passed the runner with the crutches on this section.  I clapped for him as I passed him.  I thought for a moment about whether to do this or not.  In situations like that you do not want to seem condescending, but at the same time I felt an urge to acknowledge his achievement, which was much greater than mine.  From the look on his face, he seemed happy with my recognition, so all was well.

The marathon:  35 km – 42.2 km (Marutamachi West End – Heian-Jingu Shrine)

The route now re-crossed the river, and began heading up the other side.  This next section of road was probably the worst I felt in the whole race.  I walked part of it again.  I started to become annoyed at simple things like a guy riding a bike along the pavement. He looked so comfortable, and not struggling or in any kind of pain, which somehow felt unjust.  The confused mind of the toiling marathoner.

I had grown to become annoyed by the presence of this river, and was glad when the route finally turned away from it.  That is the way it was working.  Somehow I was associating this river with my physical feelings, and so getting rid of the river somehow felt like a remedy of sorts.

The course turned onto another section where faster runners were coming down the other side of the street.  I was now running in the opposite direction from where the finish area would be, which was frustrating.  As we turned onto Imadegawa Dori, and a sign indicated that only 4 km remained until the finish, I decided I really should not be doing any walking in that final section.  It’s one of those things – even if you did walk a little during the race, it somehow feels obligatory that you should run into the finish.  Actually, I would be furious if I didn’t feel like I had given it full effort in the very last stage.

So I took a painkiller – something I avoid doing (I never take medication unless really necessary, marathon or not) – to push the growing pain in my injury down, and firmly decided that this would be my last section of walking.  I began running, and seemed to tap into a new well of – well, let’s call it energy.  At any rate, I was somehow able to run again.

I eventually passed the point where I could see the finish area from Okazaki Dori.  I started looking out for my wife, as she was due to see me just before the finish, though unbeknownst to me, she had taken the wrong exit from the subway and arrived late at the finish.  And unbeknownst to her, I had not yet finished, so if she had come to the finish line instead of to the meeting area, she would still have seen me finishing!

And I did finish.  I crossed the finish line of the Kyoto Marathon, in front of the iconic Heian-Jingu Shrine Torii Gate, in 4 hours 34 minutes.  My slowest marathon to date – but I felt great, and as usual, relieved to stop moving.  I had somehow got through this marathon, and in a not disastrous time, despite having done almost no running in the 5 weeks preceding the race, and with an ongoing injury which I expected to flare up badly during the race.  Pain on the inclines after 30km aside, it never did.  And unlike in the Berlin Marathon, where I almost fell down after the finish line from the utterly washed-out feeling that surged through me, and the wave of weakness that swept through my legs; I was able to walk after the finish line in a less shaky way.

I received my medal and wrapped myself in my finisher’s towel.  My third marathon is completed – in Japan.  This has a very “cool” feeling to me… my marathon story is turning out to be an interesting one.

For the first time, I would describe the marathon I just completed as “fun”.  Of course, you reach a point where you are hurting and you just want to get it over with.  But the first half, for sure, was fun.  The narrow streets, the beautiful scenery, the impressive temples, the perfect weather, being one of very few white runners participating… all of this had a seductive charm.

For the past few months, I could never visualise myself running the Kyoto Marathon.  I was somehow sure that either I would not manage to participate at all, or it was all going to go horribly wrong on the day.  In the end, I put my head down and did it.  This was an experience I will remember for life.

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An awful realisation

Haruki Murakami has, just fifty pages in, made me realise something pretty awful – I have been far too casual and half-hearted about my running.  Arrogantly so.  Why arrogant?  Because I’ve been forcing myself to go out (literally forcing myself against my will at times), notching up a paltry amount of miles, and telling myself I deserve X days off a week for this.  Then I spend half my time injured and struggling to make the time I want in the marathon.  Is it any wonder?

If you look at all the marathon training schedules out there, they have you running most days in the week.  They generally give a single rest day off.  My typical schedule has Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays off.  And the Monday is just a “one mile” loosening up day providing I’m not hobbling from the Sunday.  I claim that this low mileage suits me and stops my body falling apart because I’m injury prone.  Actually, my body falls apart anyway.  Murakami claims he has never been injured, whereas I am injured with every training cycle.  Moreover, my ambition is to beat a 3:30 marathon.  My personal best is 3:55.  Twenty five minutes is a hell of a lot to shave – it means running almost every mile a whole minute faster.

I think it’s safe to say that something isn’t working.  What have I had… achilles tendonitis, patellar tendonitis, stress fractures (that was before the orthotics), sciatica… these are just the ones I remember off the top of my head, and it doesn’t include the gluteus medius injury I’m currently carrying just 8 days out from the Kyoto Marathon.  What is wrong with me.

I am not expecting a great time in Kyoto.  Not only has my whole hip area been inflamed (though the good news is the X-rays showed the hip joint itself is in perfect condition), the combination of time constraints, few daylight hours, jet lag, bad weather and a lack of self-discipline meant I did not sustain my training through Christmas.  My runs in Hong Kong have also been lacklustre, trundling around concrete and not enjoying it much.  Running seems really rather boring here, but this surely also requires an attitude change.

I will run this marathon in Kyoto.  It’s not for the time as much as for the fact I’ve done at least a reasonable amount of training for it, paid for the race and all the flights etc, and it will still be an achievement to pick up my third marathon medal.  But I think things have to change for any future marathons.  3:59 at Loch Ness was a great start.  To some extent I blew it in Berlin by trying to make up time too much in the first half having been held up by slower runners; that lapse in judgment got me a PB, but only of 3:55 instead of the sub-3:50 I was aiming for.  All the extra effort I put into the Berlin training only won me four minutes.  How on earth do I get rid of 25 minutes without something much more fundamental changing?

One piece of good news – but it doesn’t go to the root of the problem, or anywhere near it, is my new running shoes are a vast improvement on my last pair.  The Adidas Glides are not quite good for the bin, but they were a waste of money.  The Brooks Glycerins 11 take everything I liked about the Brooks Glycerin 10s, remove the things I didn’t like about them, and pretty much go on without complaint, and do their job quite comfortably.  It’s early days yet but getting your shoes right is actually a major part of the whole thing.  For an orthotics wearer it’s actually quite a hard thing to achieve, as the orthotics seriously disturb how your foot sits in the shoe, and half the time lifts your heel far too high out of the heel box, making the whole thing ridiculously uncomfortable, sore, or the shoe simply falls off.

Haruki Murakami is not, of course, sitting in my living room.  I’m reading his What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which was a gift from my wife.  A bloody good one if it initiates a sea change in my running.  What bodes for that remains to be seen, but I haven’t really had this realisation before that things fundamentally need to change if I am serious about sub-3:30.  Whether I am serious about that or not is another thing, in fact there are times (including quite recently) where I’ve thought this whole long-distance running thing is getting on my nerves, consumes too much energy and should be left behind.  At the heart I know that is a load of nonsense.  If I was sitting there at the age of 80, when it would be rather unlikely that I’d be cracking out new personal bests, I’d be pissed off if I hadn’t run a sub-3:30 in my life.  Or put differently, I’d be deeply satisfied if I had.

I used to also have this ambition to run the West Highland Way Race.  That’s a long way – 96 miles – and in some senses is a bit annoying because if you’re going to run 96 miles, surely you would want to run another 4 so you’ve run 100 miles?  But the West Highland Way has personal significance for me, I love that part of the country and that trail was one of my first proper encounters of the outdoors in Scotland.  How do you run 96 miles without stopping?  Not by half measures in your training.  Now that I think about it, it would be great to say “I ran 100 miles without stopping”.

It’s food for thought in Kyoto.

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The taper begins! Though from what?

It’s now 3 weeks until the Kyoto Marathon 2014.  That can only mean one thing:  it’s time to taper down to the big day.  But from what, exactly, am I tapering?

It’s now been over two weeks since I’ve run at all.  That’s with the exception of a short run to a doctor’s appointment on Friday when I would get a medical opinion on my hip at long last.  The doctor reckoned that it is not a problem with the hip joint itself, as none of the stretches and positions he put me into caused any pain, as they normally should if the hip joint is damaged.  Nor did he think it was a stress fracture.  He reckoned that the problem is twofold:  a damaged tendon (at the site of the specific pain), and a resurgence of last year’s sciatica problem (the general pain at the front and back).

That sounds plausible to me.  He sent me for an X-ray just to be sure – I had those taken, though won’t be able to see the doctor again to discuss the results until after the Chinese New Year holidays.  In the meantime, he said I could try running 5 to 10 minutes to see how it feels, but not to overdo it.  The less good news was that he said he was “not optimistic” about the marathon.

I explained to him – and this is genuinely how I feel – that I do not mind pain on marathon day, so long as I don’t tear or break something.  I will have a stash of painkillers in my running belt just in case, and I will run through it.  I simply don’t want to cause actual damage as such.

Instead of running 20 miles as I should have yesterday, the longest run of the training schedule, I had to make do with 90 minutes on the bike in the gym, followed by about 45 minutes in the swimming pool.  It gave me a workout, but I didn’t feel even 20% as tired as I should have felt had I ran 20 miles.

To coincide with all of this, the Kyoto Marathon organisers sent through their race day pack with all of the race instructions and information.  This is always an exciting moment in the lead up to any race, but this time round I felt strangely disconnected from the event.  Ominously disconnected.  I somehow can’t picture myself there on race day, getting round the marathon.

But this is a psychological mistake.  One of the ingredients in successfully completing a marathon – and a really important one at that – is having the right mental attitude.  I once read that you could complete a marathon with 50% of the required fitness and 100% of the right mental attitude; but not with 100% of the required fitness and only 50% of the right mental attitude.  There is something in that:  a marathon is a painful experience.  For a good number of miles in the later stages, more than the final hour, you want to stop.  But you simply need to keep going and pushing through that.  If you did what your body wanted you to do, you would happily lie down at the half way point, eat something and go to sleep.  In fact you wouldn’t even get that far, because you wouldn’t have had the positive attitude necessary to go out and do all that marathon training.  As any runner will tell you, the marathon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical challenge.

To that extent, I need to stop thinking negatively about the day, and start to visualise myself there in Kyoto running 26.2 miles.  Of course I have doubts and anxieties about how my hip is going to be come 16th February.  But I also know that I can run a marathon:  I’ve done that twice, and with a good time in both.  This year it’s not about the time – I’m not in the right condition to break any records – but I will be more than happy to complete the thing.  Providing my hip holds together, and I continue to train on the bike and in the pool, I should be able to achieve that.  It’s going to be grind, but it’s a grind even when you’re not carrying an injury.  I do hope I’m in one piece at the end of the race, as we have a further couple of days in Japan which I’d quite like to use to look around the place.

So the taper has begun.  Psychologically, perhaps.  Physically, I’m going to keep on pushing my current routine at least until next weekend before bringing it down.  My joints are getting zero impact these days, so there is nothing to save them from.  And my fitness, certainly my cardiovascular fitness, has already deteriorated, so I can’t afford to let it slip much further.  I need to look more into what Kyoto looks and feels like, picture myself there on race day, turn up, and successfully complete the Kyoto Marathon.

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Hip injury

Last summer I was playing a round of golf and my hip became progressively sorer as the game went on.  I think I was putting too much power into my shots and was twisting my hip too much.  It took about a week for the pain to subside completely.

It came back a little during a day’s hillwalking I had in the month that followed, and I’ve felt it niggling away in the background during my runs.  I’ve tried to ignore it.

Following last weekend’s 16 mile run though, I was barely able to walk without feeling the pain all around the hip region.  I hoped this would go away, but it’s persisted and time spent on my feet during work has been aggravating it.  Even sitting can cause pain and discomfort, and I’ve even experienced pain in the swimming pool.  That is really not good as swimming is the one thing physiotherapists usually tell you to resort to when trying to maintain fitness during a training programme but struck by a running injury.

I’m not entirely sure what the issue is.  I’m fairly certain it’s not muscular.  There was a part where I could isolate the pain to quite sharply, which may have suggested the beginning of a stress fracture or a ligament running over the bone, the top of the femur.  However, the pain has also had a more general manifestation through the hip region, including at the side and rear, and sometimes even some discomfort at the front.  This perhaps points towards a general joint issue such as hip misalignment.  I know that my calf muscles were not the same length in my last training cycle and the physiotherapist gave me exercises for those – the length issue was about 80% resolved after around 3 or 4 weeks.  I will get back to those, but I think I should also see a doctor to identity what the problem is.

I may also have to look for a public swimming pool deep enough to get back into deep water running.  The pool in our apartment complex isn’t deep enough for that, which is a shame as it’s quite private, and I don’t fancy a gawking audience in a public pool.  Either way, my long run is cancelled this weekend, and I’m not sure how many more of those I’ll be doing before race day.  More generally, I really struggled in terms of general fitness through last weekend’s 16 mile run, so my focus may simply shift to completing the Kyoto Marathon rather than going for a time.  Beating my personal best will, at any rate, be almost a waste of time contemplating.

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