Countdown to Tokyo: Support in abundance on the day

ARTS editor Phil Hewitt revelled in a glorious day as he competed in the Tokyo Marathon 2012 on Sunday (February 26).

Here he tells of his 26th marathon experience.

“Marathons need to offer you stimulation along the way and they need to other you great support.

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Tokyo offered both in abundance on a day which saw Tokyo take every single runner to its incredibly-generous heart.

As we collected our bags at the end, the luggage people were standing there applauding – a moment which was typical of the entire day.

The Japanese people really are extraordinarily giving.

They smile all the time, and a smile counts for so much when you feel you are on your last legs.

A 12-hour flight and a nine-hour time zone shift weren’t exactly the best preparation two days before, and the day itself was bitterly cold, but everything about it was superb.

This was the 26th time I have run a 26.2-mile race, and I did so on February 26.

The Japanese love number games like that, and it certainly felt like the stars were aligning in my favour.

I didn’t do a great time, but I had a great time.

Three hours 46 minutes is 26 minutes off my best, but as a marathon experience, Tokyo was right up there with the very best, comfortably rivalling New York.

The Tokyo Marathon Foundation’s dearest wish is that the race one day might nestle alongside the world marathon majors (New York, London, Berlin etc), and there is every reason to believe that it will do so before too much longer.

Any marathon runners out there should seriously consider Tokyo next year for the complete marathon experience.

It is exotic, constantly exhilarating and a total thrill.

But it is also brilliantly organised.

Marathon runners need to be able to trust in the event they are running in, and from the moment you register for this one, you sense that you are in the very best hands.

Tokyo is a newish marathon, but for organisation, it is streets ahead of some of its vastly more established European counterparts.

Marathons really do give you the most incredible highs, as I explain in my new book Keep On Running, which will be published by Summersdale on April 2.

Tokyo takes those highs to levels I’ve never experienced before.

The fascination of the very best marathons is the way that they reflect their city.

Tokyo’s is at the top of the tree in that respect.

You start off amid Tokyo’s skyscrapers and then run through the wonderfully-colourful, neon-lit night club district before skirting the Imperial Palace, so rich in history.

You then pass by a gorgeous shrine and Tokyo’s very own version of the Eiffel Tower before heading off into the high-end shopping district where all the world’s major labels sit side by side for my very favourite kind of shopping – the kind where you zoom past without stopping.

After that it is into the ancient heart of the city for a glimpse of the Gate Of Thunder which leads on into the city’s most historic areas.

After that you cross a succession of thigh-busting bridges before approaching the finish just outside a massive exhibition centre.

But alongside all those great permanent features, you’ve also got the sheer spirit of the day, traditional Japanese dancers, Japanese choirs, Japanese drummers, Japanese brass bands, Japanese children’s bands, all lining the route.

It’s like running through a culture and history lesson unfurling before your eyes to give you a glorious insight into this vibrant, confident and above all likeable country.

It’s nearly a year now since the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan.

I was running as part of a select band of journalists from around the world, invited to Tokyo to experience at first hand that Tokyo is up and running again and back on its feet – as indeed were we.

But whereas my feet now ache like hell, Tokyo’s are ready to run forever.

Marathon-running is one of life’s great privileges and pleasures.

But today I feel humbled and honoured to have been part of the Tokyo Marathon, a wonderful event in a truly-wonderful country.

I am sitting here going gooey-eyed at the thought of all those thousands of sweet little kiddies holding out all sorts of delicacies along the way, and towards the end I ate my fill as tiredness and the cold took their toll on me.

But the strange thing was that those gorgeously-smiling children reacted as if you were doing them a favour by choosing their delicacy to grab.

Quite the contrary.

It was Tokyo which did its runners a great favour today – and I will relive forever the moment that my Tokyo Marathon medal was placed around my neck.

Moments don’t come sweeter than that.