(This is the continuation of a two-part article. Click link for Part 1.)
Countdown to the Marathon
Marvin was in high spirits. I was always praying during the trip – in the shower, before sleeping, while walking in the bitter cold. I prayed that his body would be able to take the beating it was about to get during the long run coupled with close to freezing temperature, and that no cancellation would happen again. (On hindsight, I should have prayed for my petite tropical body as well.)
Three days before the marathon we did a one-day tour of Kyoto, not advisable but we were pressed for time. We had to take the bullet train instead of the cheaper overnight bus ride. The cost of the bullet train for the three of us was something beyond the Ilocano comfort zone but time was more valuable so I guess we just had to “bite the bullet!” The ride was very comfortable with ample leg room and a somewhat Zen atmosphere. Again we experienced the Japanese penchant for order and cleanliness. There was a passenger who looked very dignified, he could well be the Chairman of the Board of a company. He was drinking beer while reading the papers. Then he accidentally spilled his beer. He immediately reached out for tissue paper and wiped the floor as quickly as he can and didn’t stop until the floor was dry!
Kyoto is a beautiful place but to maximize our day tour we were walking all the time, which was very tiring to me. We had a short respite from the cold in a quaint restaurant with these two items in the menu: Spaghetti with “meet” sauce and “Coca-Cora.”
Two days before the marathon we went to get Marvin’s bib at the Tokyo Big Sight. The Expo was full of interesting running goods. It was full of people but not as crowded as the NYC Expo.
On the eve of the race Marvin did a “dress rehearsal” to check if his outfit would be warm enough to protect him from the cold and light enough for him to endure the 42.195-kilometer run in it. The three of us also had a dry run of the big day going to our meet up points located in milestone stations. Again, it was a tiring day for me. Too much walking in the cold really kills me. We ended the day with an anticipated mass in Japanese language at the chapel of the Jesuit Sophia University and a carbo-loading dinner at an Italian restaurant.
The Big Day
On the day of the race Marvin was up and ready early. He went ahead with his running buddies in full gear and with all the marathon tips in tow – petroleum jelly applied on spots where friction is expected, plastic poncho to serve as wind breaker, energy bars, banana, gu, salt tablets, music and audiobook to play once he hits the wall, and even an empty bottle that can be used in case of long queues to the portalets.
My son and I followed to the starting line. Multitudes of people were there to cheer for their family and friends and there were over 36,000 runners! Somehow, everything was still in order. There was no pushing in the crowd and there were no litters. There were a lot of runners who came in costumes – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Power Rangers, Captain America, Darth Vader, Bride and Groom, Corporate Executive with portfolio, Kiss, Country Singer complete with guitar and he was singing, Gladiator, Jesus Christ (all I could say was, “Jesus Christ! How can this guy manage to run just with a loincloth and an inflatable cross on his back when it’s two degrees?!”)
Everyone was cheerful and exuberant especially when the supporters finally spotted the person they’re cheering for. I had my share of shouting at the top of my lungs as I called out “Marvin! Marvin!” when I spotted him at the 10th kilometer milestone. The Japanese guy behind me said, “You’re very ‘rucky’ to spot him!”
It was at the 21st kilometer when I began to worry because My Runner was delayed for almost an hour. I was in charge of taking the short videos with my iPhone and since I can’t operate it with gloves on, my right hand wasn’t wearing any but was kept in my pocket for heat, ready to take the video once I spot him. I was trembling in the cold, my toes and fingers felt like they could just fall off any moment, my nose was red and frozen, and I was about to give up and go inside the Apple store behind me for some respite from the cold. Then I got a text from him that he had cramps and had to do walk-jog causing the delay. So I stayed a bit longer and caught him again. Martin even gave his dad a quick leg massage to ease his cramps.
Then off we went to our next station. We had a quick lunch break and that was about the break that we had from the cold. And I thought we would have the time to shop in between stops.
On our way to the Finish Line at the Tokyo Big Sight I hit the wall! I didn’t expect that even a marathon supporter could experience this. I thought this was exclusive to the runners. I wanted to give up. I was in pain, freezing, dizzy, hating the cold, exhausted, daunted by the distance I had to walk to go to the Finish Line to position myself to take a good shot, with trembling hands, wondering what I was doing. It was a good thing my son was with me, dragging me, protecting me from the wind as much as he could. For someone whose long distance walk is from SM Megamall Building A to B, I felt like the amount of walking I do back in Manila for one whole year was the amount of walking I was doing on that day. I was doing my own marathon!
Why do we do this punishing thing called marathon?
In the midst of my desperation I secretly asked myself why are we doing this painful thing? Why is my husband doing this to himself?
Let’s see if the legend of marathon can help us understand this. The legend states that Pheidippides, a Greek messenger, was sent to announce that the Persians had been defeated in the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. He ran the whole distance without stopping and burst into the assembly exclaiming, “We won!” before collapsing and dying.
This legend is not very helpful in trying to understand the psyche of the modern day marathon runner. I’m sure no one among them intends to exclaim, “I did it!” and then collapse and die at the Finish Line.
I think it’s more of proving to yourself that you can do anything you put your mind to. It’s also trying to test your limits. There’s this fear and excitement at the same time. There’s camaraderie developed among running buddies. If you’re the type who would rather do it on your own, there is still that sharing of experiences that you can have with fellow runners.
A lot of people are now into running because it’s probably one of the easiest sports to take up. It has little or no barriers to entry. You can do it alone or with a group. No expensive equipment is required.
However, running a full marathon is not something that you can do without proper preparations. It requires self-discipline. You have to eat the right food, have enough sleep, train/run at regular intervals as you approach the big event. On the day itself, and even after all the necessary preparations, you will still need that extra leap of faith. You have to do it for a higher purpose. That’s what my husband said. I think in his midlife reflections he has come to realize the many parallelisms marathon has with his investing and life in general. He says, “Investing is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
Life is also like a marathon. You should know how to pace yourself, how to prepare, how to adjust when expectations are not met. You get a lot of energy boost from the cheerers. You should be happy to be by yourself because even if there are 36,000 other runners you are “on your own” while running. You should know how to break the daunting 42.195 kilometer task into smaller success milestones. Unless you’re one of the Kenyans gunning for the first prize, you measure your success not so much in comparison with others but more in relation to your own capabilities and goal. You know that pain and desperation are all part of it as they are part of life. And it helps to realize that your thoughts can either be your worst enemy or your biggest ally. Discipline is key and no matter how well you prepare for it, you’ll always need that leap of faith, that conviction, no matter what others say.
The reason why marathon runners do what they do may not always be that obvious to other people. In fact, they may even consider them weird; but for sure, they can’t help but admire them. And I think that’s the reason why a lot of them do this “crazy thing.” We all love affirmation and admiration. As marathon runners say, “The pain is temporary but the pride is forever!”
So with my sincerest admiration and a serene Japanese bow, I say, “Congratulations Marvin, Jojo, PJ, Monty, Larry and all those who ran the Tokyo Marathon last Sunday!”
P.S. My big thanks to my son Martin who was my escort, tour guide, protector and wonderful companion. Mart, I really admire your sensitivity to local customs and rituals during our trips, and how you try to speak to people in their native tongue (be it in Japanese, Korean, French, Chinese, etc.) I shouldn’t be surprised, I remember signing your homework when you were around six years old. One of your big dreams was to invent a machine where a person can enter and come out fluent in all the languages in the world! Well, maybe the app in your phone that you refer to from time to time is the nearest thing to that machine.