It’s over. It’s done. I’ve completed the Fujisan Marathon, my first full marathon, and, barring any further bouts of lunacy and self-delusion, I’m thinking it’s my last full marathon. It’s also my last race in Japan.
For the most part, the marathon was a good race to end things on as it was, for the most part, a good race. And by “good,” I mean I didn’t die. Which was a pretty big surprise to me because right up until I finished the marathon, I was convinced that my death was imminent.
Sure, I’d been “training” for this marathon for about six months. But, in all honesty, during that last month of so-called marathon training, the only thing I did to prepare myself for the big day was print up articles about what I should be doing to prepare myself.
Luckily the articles giving advice for the day before the marathon featured all kinds of tips that I was more than happy to follow, like “Don’t run the day before the race” and “Avoid eating salad.”
Taking this advice to heart, my marathon buddy, Lisa, and I arrived in Lake Kawaguchi near Mt. Fuji on Friday night and spent the 24 hours before the race eating pizza.
Unfortunately, all the napping and pizza-eating came to an abrupt end on Sunday morning around five. While the race didn’t start until the more reasonable hour of 7:30, we had to wake up at five to get ready before grabbing our shuttle from the hotel to the race course.
Unfortunately, our shuttle bus driver didn’t seem to think our chances of dying at the marathon were quite high enough and decided to increase our chances of suffering cardiac arrest by sending the lumbering shuttle bus around hairpin turns at 80 miles per hour in the dark.
After the harrowing shuttle bus ride, we arrived at the registration area with a good hour and a half to kill before the starting gun went off.
We were definitely not alone.
There were 14,000 other racers signed up to take part in the event, which included three different races including an 11-km “Fun-Run”, a half marathon that went around the lake and the full marathon.
Like us, our fellow runners looked sleepy and jittery.
Unlike us, our fellow runners seemed to be a bit better prepared for the cold weather. Convinced that the weather would be just as balmy and sunny as the weather had been in Kobe the previous week, I had only thought to pack my short-sleeve running top. But the weather in Kawaguchi that morning was decidedly chilly and overcast.
Rifling through my bag, I found a long-sleeve shirt which I could easily layer under my t-shirt but it was made of cotton. If you’ve read any website about distance running or any books on marathon training, you will quickly learn that cotton doesn’t wick away moisture which makes cotton very, very, very bad. In fact, runners even have a fun, catchy anti-cotton slogan: “cotton is rotten.”
Despite my knowledge of the evils of cotton, I threw caution to the wind and put on the long sleeve top. While getting dressed in the ladies’ room, I started chatting with a fellow marathoner who was also changing — into a Mrs. Claus costume.
Yes, that’s right, while I was fretting over whether or not I’d survive running 26.2 miles in a cotton t-shirt, this woman was happily getting decked out to run a full marathon in a red velveteen mini-dress with fake fur trim.
Putting my fears of death by cotton behind me (after helping the very chatty Mrs. Claus zip up the back of her mini-dress), I marched out to the starting line.
Well, actually, we marched out to where we believed the starting line to be.
As the crowd was so huge, it was hard to discern exactly where we were meant to begin the race and we didn’t want to get too close to the starting line. Another helpful marathon day tip that I was more than happy to follow was the one suggesting first-time marathoners should line up at the back of the pack to avoid slowing down faster runners. The last thing I needed to do was risk being trampled to death by a bunch of speedy runners in moisture-wicking attire or, worse yet, by women in red velveteen mini-dresses.
Once the starting gun finally went off, it took us about thirteen minutes to finally make it to the starting line.
The first part of the course, the 11-km “Fun-Run,” is through the the downtown area of Kawaguchi, which looks much like most downtown areas with the scenery consisting of convenience stores and restaurant parking lots.
Luckily the crowd was supportive, and more than a few townspeople crowded outside of the convenience stores and inside parking lots to wave flags and cheer us on. Volunteers cheerfully handed out drinks, fruit and candy at the aid stations, and a high school jazz band was set up on the side of the road playing music.
After the “Fun-Run” racers finished, the rest of the racers started the first loop around the lake. Which, in case you’re wondering, happens to be a very, very, very big lake.
And, as one of the lucky full-marathoners, I was scheduled to go around that very, very, very big lake not once, but twice.
Luckily, it was a very beautiful lake, and the fall colors were out in full-force. So, even though, we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji, due to the overcast weather, we could enjoy the view of the lake. Along with the sounds of the occasional high school jazz band.
Somewhere during my second loop around the lake, it started to hit me how incredibly long 26.2 miles can be.
Sure, I knew 26.2 miles is pretty freaking long. I’d probably get tired driving that distance!
But until you’re actually running it, it’s just a bunch of numbers. At the start of the race, I had been determined to run the majority of the race without walking, so that I could finish the race by the official cut-off time of six hours in order to get my marathon finisher’s t-shirt and certificate. I’m by no means a fast runner, so I knew that even if I ran the whole race I’d still be cutting it pretty close to the 6-hour finish time.
As the miles wore on, the idea of running 26.2 miles in under six hours just so I could get a t-shirt and a piece of paper with my name on it started to seem, well, pretty ridiculous.
After all, I could go out and buy a t-shirt for a lot less money than it was going to cost me to get the new pair of kneecaps that I’d need after finishing this race.
As I started to feel more exhausted, the racers around me started to look the same way I felt. More and more people stopped running and started walking the race. Those people who could no longer walk had started limping or shuffling towards the finish. Some people had given up completely. There were shuttle buses set up at the aid stations to pick up those who couldn’t finish.
Somewhere around mile 23, I spotted a guy in a monkey costume. He looked beat. This was a man who woke up in the morning and decided to run a full marathon dressed in a full-body monkey costume. This was a man who didn’t let things like common sense and the fear of non-moisture-wicking fibers get in his way. This was a man with panache, determination and, possibly, more than just a little bit of insanity about him, and he had given up.
How was I going to fight this thing if the Monkey Man couldn’t do it?
Shortly after spotting the Monkey Man, I came across an old man standing on the side of the road playing the Rocky theme song on a kazoo. Despite the fact that I was tired and disheartened and becoming very sure that I would never see my finisher’s t-shirt, I did something truly amazing.
And I started to run just a little bit faster.
Have you ever run a full marathon? What was your experience like? Would you do it again?