So those of you who know me or who have been following this blog for a while know that I got into running back in 2012 and that in 2013 I ran my first marathon. That’s also the year where I decided that I want to run a marathon on every continent and hopefully be the first Egyptian woman to do so! And up until last week I had run two marathons in the US (DC & Delaware) and two in Europe (Paris & Athens).
But back in the summer of 2016, I realized that 2016 would pass by without me running a marathon that year, and so I decided in July to sign up for the lottery for both the Tokyo and the Kyoto marathon for 2017. Sadly, in October, I found out that I didn’t make the cut for the Tokyo marathon, but then one week later (as if the running gods were watching over me) I received an email saying that I got a spot in the Kyoto marathon. It literally took me less than a couple weeks to pay my marathon fee as well as book my plane tickets (which were surprisingly cheap!!). I couldn’t believe it; I was going to run a marathon in JAPAN!!
Training started well in November and went smoothly until mid December; however, by mid December I got my first cold of the season and skipped one of my long runs. In the weeks that followed I ended up skipping more of those (due to travels, icy roads, flu etc.) So, by the end of January, I was freaking out. I had 3 weeks to go until the race and my training was worse than it has ever been. However, I still attempted to go out for shorter runs and decided that no matter what happens that I would show up at the start line of the marathon and see where it goes.
SO fast forward to January 17th where I woke up at 5.30AM Oslo time and made my way to the airport. A few train rides, a couple sleepless flights and 24 hours later, I finally arrived in Kyoto and immediately made my way to the packet pick up after dropping my bags off at the hotel front desk. It was Saturday morning and there would be no packet pickup on Sunday (the day of the race), so there was no way that I would not pick up my bib then.
Arriving at packet pickup, I immediately noticed that this race included mostly Japanese runners. However, the race organizers made sure that us internationals didn’t get lost in translation and even offered us separate check in lines. Even the bib numbers (I later discovered) were colored differently for internationals than for locals.
Packet pickup was fairly quickly, and so I had some time to walk through the different booths and look at what they had to offer. I ended up buying a race shirt since it wasn’t included in the registration (we were given an awesome BUFF and a towel at the finish line). At the end of the expo there were some food stalls which offered all the delicious Japanese treats I was looking forward to try during my stay in the country. Given the fact that I had barely gotten any sleep for more than 24 hours and that I knew I would crash soon, I decided to opt out for a couple snacks at the expo so that I could go back to the hotel right away. And while definitely different than my normal pre-race meals, my dumplings and dessert were delicious!
On my way to the hotel, I stopped by a grocery store for a banana (race day breakfast!) and a couple snacks in case I got hungry later on.
I ended up crashing at 6PM that night (having set my alarm for 5.45AM the next morning). And while I did wake up a couple times throughout the night, I honestly felt like I had a good night’s sleep when my alarm rang the next morning. I immediately got up and got ready while snacking on my banana (which I didn’t even get to finish). I was excited and super nervous. I continued picturing myself crossing the finish line as I had been doing for the last several weeks. Somehow I think that helped calm my nerves down a little but definitely not completely. I slowly put my warm jacket on and made my way to the metro stop. I wanted to give myself some time to navigate the way to the start line. I would need to take two metros and one train to get to the stadium where the race would start, but luckily enough once I stepped into the station, I saw a couple more runners and from there the number grew.
I arrived at the start area at 7.45AM and the race was due to start at 9AM. It was a gorgeous morning albeit a little cold. But honestly, the weather forecast had been calling for rain up until the night before, so as long as the sun was up I was happy! The start area was in general small and very organized. I immediately found the truck to check in my plastic bag with my jacket but decided to hold onto it for a little longer. I spent the next half hour or so people watching and I suddenly realized that while there might have been other international runners, there were very very very few non-Asian runners. Throughout the day I might have maybe seen less than 10. This made it more exciting for me. I felt even more special for making the lottery cut and getting a spot in the race, and all of a sudden the pressure was more on to finish!
I slowly took my jacket off and handed in my plastic bag and decided to go on a toilet hunt thinking that I would need to wait in long line. Surprisingly enough, the line didn’t last more than 5 mins and I was greeted with a clean toilet and a flush! Those Japanese toilets I tell ya! Even the porta potties! The rest of the world definitely has some stuff to learn…
By that time the corrals were opening up and I decided to make my way there. I was pretty impressed to find out that they we would be starting in an actual stadium and that the race organizers were able to fit most of the 16,000 runners in the space. Over the next 45 minutes most of us waited there trying to look out for the sun and attempting to ignore our freezing toes which were turning into blocks of ice. Soon enough, the Japanese speeches started and we were on our way.
Even though the race course is not considered flat at any rate, I would say it’s still doable with the right training (first part is hillier than the second). Plus, the course is really pretty and on a day like Sunday we were definitely lucky! My two favorite parts of the race included a couple kms in the first half where we were running towards a GORGEOUS view of some mountains & a few kms later on when we were running alongside a river. (sorry that I don’t have any pics!).
But even during the parts that didn’t have any gorgeous views I got to appreciate my favorite thing about this race, which was the course support. I was literally treated like a celebrity. Don’t get me wrong, the race support in general was superb, but I think the fact that I don’t look Japanese was a definite benefit for me. At so many moments throughout the course, so many bystanders started offering encouraging words to me whether it was the Japanese GAMBAAAREHHHH (which happens to sound like the Arabic word for shrimps but really means ‘Go-go!’) high fives or some welcoming words along with a smile. In return all I could do was smile really big and bow my head in thanks. These people literally kept me going even when I started to walk.
As far as the official race organization, it was splendid! There were plenty of ‘water’ stops throughout the course (every 3KMs or so). All of them had water, some had energy drinks and most of the ones in the second part of the course had food items. And not really your typical race food (as in bananas and oranges), but more like bananas, clementines, tomatoes, candy, bagels, little japanese crepes, more candy. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to test anything new, so I decided to stick with the fruits and energy chews that I had brought with me.
At mile 20 (32 Kms) I hit a BIG FAT WALL, and I realized that the next 6 miles (10Kms) were going to be HELL. I decided to stop for a quick bathroom break having pushed it for the last couple hours (and again got treated to the cleanest public toilets I’ve ever seen!).
I am honestly still unsure how I made it through the last few miles, but somehow I eventually saw the km sign for KM42 and knew I had less than a couple minutes to go. I turned the corner and spotted the finish line and all of a sudden I got this burst of energy that I didn’t realize I had in me. My legs felt like FLYING. I crossed the finish line and had to wipe a few tears from my face.
I had done it! I had completed my 5th marathon and got to check the third continent off my list!
Overall, I would DEFINITELY recommend you to sign up for the lottery of this race! Good luck getting in! You will love it!
More on the rest of my Japan trip to come soon….