The following was authored by Queens Distance’s very own co-founder, Maria Wong! We’re very proud of her achievements and how inspiring she is.
– Queens Distance
Pre-Tokyo & Training
Four months ago, I completed the Tokyo Marathon – my fastest marathon to date. I PR’ed with a time of 3:06:42 under the tutelage of Coach Medina (CM) and in the first class of the CM Sub-3 program. It was an incredibly hard but worthwhile training cycle with people I trust, respect, and admire.
Since fall marathon training is in full swing and the Tokyo Marathon lottery has opened, I feel like this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on my experience in Tokyo this past March.
I’ve always dreamed of going to Tokyo since I’ve learned of it and its culture and food. Running the marathon just seemed like a good reason to go. Kevin and I made the choice last summer when I submitted myself to their Run As One program, where I had to have run a marathon between 2:45-3:30 within the past year.
Let me preface this by saying that my previous attempts at a Spring marathon were abysmal. My training went well with a few hiccups but race day temps always hindered my performance, and thus, my goals were out of reach. I admit that I was (and am still) disappointed that I could not achieve my time goal for both of my Bostons, but I did not want it to happen for a third time. This is why Tokyo was a good choice. During this time, I was also training for Chicago with Coach Medina for the first time, so I was getting used to the hard workouts and summer heat and humidity.
Fast forward to October, my Chicago marathon performance was hindered by stomach problems that I developed early into the race. Kevin and Edwin were kind enough to pace me, and Edwin stayed with me all the way to the end. I didn’t achieve my time goal again and managed to finish with a side stitch. Was I disappointed? A little. I wasn’t sure I could really even run another marathon and had already made up my mind to skip Boston next year. So again, Tokyo was a good fit.
Two weeks later, I started training for Tokyo with the CM Sub-3 group. There were good days and bad days, easy and hard days. Most times, I could barely hold a pace that I knew I could run. It was grueling but I had great company all the time. Everyone was just as motivated as I was to get to the starting line, fit and prepared.
Expo, Takoyaki, and Rabbits
At the end of February, Kevin and I finally embarked on our first trip to Asia together. To say that we were excited is an understatement. We tried to fit in as much as we could: visiting sites, playing with rabbits, exploring the city, riding the subways, etc. My mind has expanded since I’ve visited Tokyo, in a good way.
Back to the marathon, the number/bib pick-up was unlike any other I’ve experienced. It was outdoors, set in interconnected tents, starting with bib/number pick-up. When you enter, you are directed to one of the many friendly faces that scan your confirmation forms. Immediately after that, they scan your face and give you a bracelet (similar to entering a club or multi-day event) that you HAVE to wear until you complete the marathon. Then you walk towards the back to get your shirt and other goodies. The next few tents are Tokyo Marathon-themed paraphernalia, sponsor tents with samples and coupons, and some interactive tents. Honestly, it was all a blur and all I remember is sounds, colors, and a lot of people in an enclosed tunnel. Once I exited, there were picnic tables set up with food trucks all along the way to the exit. Of course, I opted for some takoyaki, which are fried dough with little pieces of octopus in the middle finished with a light drizzle of teriyaki and sweet mayo sauce. It was the perfect snack to end the crazy marathon pickup tunnel through which I just experienced.
The next day, we went to a Rabbit Cafe. It was a wonderful surprise that Kevin arranged that was both exhilarating and relaxing. Since this post is about the marathon, I won’t go into the details of our hour playdate with the rabbits. In short, it was bliss. And it was a well-needed distraction that made me happy and re-affirmed why I chose to go to Tokyo.
On race day, it was drizzling and would be raining for the remainder of the day. (Did I mention that it was also humid and raining during Chicago?) Kevin and I met up with Julie and David to take a photo before we all left to our respective corrals. I felt like I was going to kindergarten all over again. I went to check my baggage and then went on a search for the nearest port-a-potty. I encountered a port-a-potty line that winded around like a snake. In my mind, it didn’t make sense nor did it seem efficient. After waiting for almost 45 minutes, a couple of guys started directing people to unoccupied port-a-potties. It moved quickly for those 5 minutes but I needed to be in my corral in 5 minutes. I literally jumped in, did my business, and ran up a set of stairs to my corral, only to find that there was a separate section of port-a-potties for the Sub-elite. I didn’t even have time to think about that because I just rushed into my corral. I was surprised that there wasn’t more security/volunteers monitoring the corral closing, but I also showed my bib, which ensured that I was in the right place.
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Meet your QDR Tokyo Marathon Class of 2019! This will be the 1st Tokyo Marathon for each of them. Remember the names, because it’s SHOWTIME. Leading off, from Kew Gardens, frequent QDR Volunteer David Dominguez @duhminguez! Batting cleanup, one of our favorite #beyondtheborough members, from the Lower East Side, Julie Tran @eastvillageveg! Finally, standing in at 5 feet, 4 inches, hailing from Jackson Heights, your Co-Founder of the Queens Distance Runners, Maria Wong @mwmaria! We’d like to wish everyone running the 2019 Tokyo Marathon an incredible experience! See you on our stories 🤗 #queensdistance #queensnyc🌎 #itsinqueens #qdrteamtravels #tokyomarathon #maytheforcebewithusall #running #marathon
As I was standing in the corral, I noticed a lot of other English-speaking runners around me. There were a set of bleachers to our left and one to our right. Once the announcer started speaking in Japanese, I just listened (even if I didn’t understand) and observed what other people were doing. Then all of a sudden, the people in the bleachers to our right stood up and started singing, what I assume to be the national anthem. Immediately after that was done, a huge group of Japanese men (who were dry) showed up to our left and lined up at the start line. The announcer also stated all the runners at the front of our corrals – the elites (because I recognized some of the African names). And then before I knew it, the start gun went off and confetti showered down on us. All I remember was starting my watch and saying to myself, “easy down the decline.”
The first thing I saw and was impressed with was the amount of Japanese women and men around me. They were all very fit, small, and purposeful in their movements. The crowds were loud, but not as raucous as the NYC crowds. My effort felt good and I enjoyed the sights and sounds. I knew that if I looked around too much, I would lose focus. And so, I focused on the road ahead and the backs of runners. There weren’t too many costumes, which disappointed me: Doraemon, Pikachu and a guy in a gold onesie. And then I saw some NYC club singlets: NBR, PPTC, and GCR. It felt like I was home for those few seconds.
From the start to about 30K, all I heard were the continuous cheers from along the streets: “Ganbatte! (Good luck!)” Since the marathon is in Japan, all the marathon markers were in kilometers and miles were marked every 5 miles. I found that kilometers went by really quickly and I quite enjoyed looking out for the mile markers. It gave me something to focus on besides my breaths and steps. The water stations were also spaced out a little differently than I’m used to: the first at 5K, and then alternating every 2K/3K. It was a lot to think about, but it’s hard to miss the stacks of cups on tables as you near them. They also had an electrolyte drink called “Pocari Sweat” that was more agreeable to my sensitive stomach. It tasted like a lighter version of the Gatorade Ice series. For my fuel, I brought 5 Hammer gels with me, which I took every 45 minutes, or 8K. Dispersed along the course were nutrition choices that were odd to American taste-buds; they had pickled plums, chocolate, and other interesting choices that I didn’t even see. Suffice it to say, I didn’t touch any of those tables.
During the first 30K, I did a quick whole-body check every time I took a gel to see how I was doing. At around 30-32K, I did another check and mentally prepared myself for the last 10-12K. As soon as I crossed the 33K mark, my legs started to feel heavy and tight. I forced myself to focus on my arms and to stay with the people around me. I continued taking water when I needed it and just focusing on matching my arm swing with my foot strike. I remember that last turn at 36K before the long straight-away to the finish. I don’t remember many good thoughts or feelings – just a lot of struggle. The wind was strong, the rain was pelting harder, and I could barely feel my thighs from the cold wind and rain. As we were coming up on the finish line, a narrow section of brick-laid streets felt never ending. Every side street that opened up, I expected to turn to the finish. I just wanted it to end already! Then I finally saw runners turning and my heart did a flip. The turn and finish felt like 5 seconds, compared to the last 1K. And then, it was over. I saw my time of 3:06 on my watch and was happy. I had PR-ed by 4 minutes since NYC in 2017. As I was walking, I saw a blue shadow from my left peripheral vision calling my name. It was Michael Capiraso, eager to take my picture and congratulate me on my accomplishment. I was elated from my effort and time and even more so to see a familiar face. Little did I know, what was looming.
The march to the recovery food was brutal. I was cold and wet. We must’ve walked for at least 800-1000m before receiving a bag with a bottle of water, a bottle of Pocari Sweat and some form of carbs. (I can’t remember what it was.) We walked another 400m before receiving a Tokyo-Marathon-themed towel and heat sheet. Then we collected our baggage and went to our respective gendered changing tents, which was a god-send after being cold and wet for several hours.
When I finally exited the area and went on a search for Kevin, I felt like a zombie. My limbs felt odd, like they were taken off my body and reinserted into its sockets. Since cell service was bonkers with so many people around, Kevin and I used Facebook messenger and finally met up in the underground station and headed back to our hotel. We later met up with Julie, her brother, and friend to take back to our hotel so she could shower and fly back to the states. We both rested for a while before managing to move around and eat a lot of delicious food before sleeping that night. Before the night ended, I contacted Coach Medina to let him know how I felt about my performance. I felt it was critical for me to let him know right away so that it was still fresh on my mind. Then, I probably had the best sleep in a while.
Our trip home was bittersweet. I loved our stay in Tokyo and wished we could’ve stayed for a couple more days. But my main purpose in going to Tokyo was to better my marathon time and I accomplished it. Along the way, I played with some rabbits, ate a lot of good food, and experienced a culture that I have dreamed about since I was young. What more could I ask for?
If you are considering running the Tokyo Marathon, take a look at the below Pros and Cons list, based on my experience. And as always, if you have any specific questions or topics I didn’t write about, message me and I will try to respond. Thanks for reading!
Pros & Cons
- Very well organized, from the expo to the family gathering area
- Clear directions on race course (kilometer/mile markers, turn signs, water/fuel signs, etc.)
- Super friendly and helpful volunteers
- Very clean (several volunteers were stationed right after each water/fuel station to collect trash)
- Easy to read signs pre- and post-race
- Very safe (only runners were on the race course; no pedestrians were on the course at any time. Police on motorbikes and police towers were visible on the course.)
- The 24-hour one-day metro pass (given in your race bag) is very handy for traveling during race day. If you don’t end up using it on race day, you can save it to use on another day.
- Even though volunteers were super friendly and helpful, they don’t always know the answer to your question and will go around in circles to try to be helpful.
- The walk from the finish line to the recovery bags, towel/heatsheet, and changing area felt quite long. As it was raining and windy, I was cold and my body was shaking after a few minutes into the walk.
- The port-a-potty lines could be better arranged, instead of the snaking line that they use now. Be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes even if you show up about 1 hour before the race begins.
- Please bring your nutrition with you as you will not find any Western-branded nutrition (GU, Hammer Nutrition, Spring Energy, etc.) in Japan.