by Meg Versteegen
I write this as a ridiculously proud recipient of a Six-Star Medal, having just completed my last of the world marathon major race series. Truth be told, the original plan was to run four majors over the course of 2020, but I’m sure you can guess how that panned out. Thus, I ended up with a bit more spacing between marathons, and instead of Tokyo being my third of the majors, it was my sixth … and I promise you it was worth the wait!!
In typical northeast fashion, a snowstorm threatened to derail our flight out of Albany. With a bit of luck and a last-minute scramble, my husband and I were able to change things up and left 12 hours earlier, which was fortunate as we found out later that our original flight was cancelled. Arriving in Haneda Airport, we were ushered through customs and immigration by approximately 347 individuals holding signs to help us through, and then proceeded via the Tokyo Monorail into the city. So clean! So animated! SO MANY PEOPLE!!
It's always tricky when travelling for marathons, as you want to explore and see as many of the sights as possible but balancing that with not walking for ten hours straight. I think we did quite well, visiting several highlights and experiencing the local culture and flavor. The day before the marathon, we squeezed in a short shake-out run in a lovely nearby park, a brief cruise around the Tsukiji Fish Market, lunch from a little café, hotel veg-out time that included eating an apple that was roughly the size of my head, and a fantastic dinner at an Italian restaurant two minutes away.
Marathon morning came complete with terrific weather. Arriving at the starting area near the Tokyo Metropolitan Building was a little crazy, but I managed to make it through the long porta-potty line before I had to head to the start corrals (FYI make sure to note the signs for western-style and not, before hopping in a line! Oops.). I knew from various conversations that the starting corrals were not strictly seeded by time, and it definitely showed in the first half-mile or so - it was like a stampede! I conjured up my cross-country memories, elbows out, and protected myself and my space. I also knew to expect my watch gps to be off, but I hadn’t realized that mile markers would only be shown at 5-mile increments after the mile 1 marker. That introduced some brain-distracting activities to calculate approximate mileage from kilometers to compare to my pace band! Truthfully, the majority of the marathon I wasn’t entirely certain of my actual pace, and I hit the half mark a bit ahead of plan. I took it in stride (haha) and *reminded myself* that I was feeling good and tried to keep my rhythm going. Seeing my husband just after the half and again somewhere around mile 18 when we looped back around gave me a huge boost.
We weren’t allowed to bring through hand-held water bottles, so I put forth my best and most coordinated efforts to try to grab a water cup from every single aid station offered. This is not my forte, but I made it through and only choked once! Tokyo was also different from my experiences at other majors in terms of volume. There were certainly packed spectator sections along the way, but overall it was definitely quieter. The last out and back section of the course for kilometers ~34-41 was tough, as you’re seeing the faster runners head to home, but somehow that turn-around point takes forever to get to!
However, the final kilometer is on a brick-lined street, bringing you up and finally around towards the Imperial Palace. I had been oblivious to the course photogs up through then, but at that point I knew I had made it and let me tell you, I was mugging hardcore for those cameras. Tokyo Marathon – check! Six-Star Finisher – check!! And to top it all off, in my lucky number 13th marathon, 10 days before my 44th birthday, I had bested my marathon PR by 10 minutes. It is extremely difficult to simultaneously catch your breath, laugh for joy, and cry happy tears, but I somehow did all three after crossing the finish line.
I am a fan of bling and accessories, and my haul from Tokyo did not disappoint. I picked up four shiny new medals: Tokyo marathon 2023, Tokyo marathon 2020 (they gave these out at bib pick-up for those of us who were originally meant to run then – bonus!!), Six-Star Finisher, and Guinness World Record! I am a proud member of the largest group ever (3,033 of my closest friends) going for our Six-Star medal at one race, and it was a world record!
I am so incredibly grateful and thankful for this experience, and to all those who supported me along the way. I mean, is there really any better way to travel the world than by exhausting yourself, pounding along new city streets with the incredible international running community? You were amazing, Tokyo, and the perfect way to complete my six-star journey – arigato, arigato, arigato!!!