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Tokyo Marathon Training Overview

So how am I, an athletically average at best individual who is simply stubborn and motivated enough to run 26.2 miles/42.2km going to train for the Tokyo Marathon? As should surprise nobody who knows me, I’ve given my training a lot of thought. But first–a trip down memory lane!

new york marathon – november 2017

In November 2015 I decided I wanted to run a 10K race. In January 2016, I made that happen! I then proceeded to complete NYRR’s 9+1 program, gaining me guaranteed entry into the 2017 marathon. This process included running a half marathon in April 2016, and although I was in pain at the end, I still loved it! I then ran my second half marathon in December 2016, cutting over 10 minutes off my time and completing the training process uninjured. I used a Hal Higdon training plan for both of these races. At this point, I realized that if I wanted to get faster, I should get over my social anxiety and join a running team. So I did! I lucked out, and joining the Dashing Whippets is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. By running with the Whippets, I gained a lot of consistency in my training, and met people who inspired me to wake up early and go running.

Overall, my training cycle was decent, though I did almost no speedwork, and I definitely could have cross trained (non-running physical activity) more. I made a rookie move and didn’t take Imodium before my race…I finished my first marathon in 4:52, which included several bathroom stops. But I didn’t care! It meant that I had lots of room to improve.

tokyo marathon – february 2018

I entered the Tokyo Marathon lottery in August 2017 and was accepted the next month. I was thrilled, and registered for my second marathon before I even finished my first. This definitely encouraged me to take it easy during the NYC Marathon, since I knew I’d have another crack at the distance in a few months–and on a much flatter course.

I had almost 4 months between the NYC Marathon and the Tokyo Marathon. This was fine in the sense that I was still highly motivated and had retained a decent amount of fitness. However, this was shitty in the sense that my body was not used to running marathons. I spent a lot of time in physical therapy and seeing a sports medicine doctor. The sports medicine doctor got me to the point where I was pretty confident I could run the race. This training cycle I ran when I didn’t feel pain. I did a little cross training, and definitely no speed work. My only long run was 18 miles, and mostly consisted of the Fred Lebow Half Marathon. The doctor said this would be enough.

Luckily, it was! I took Imodium before the race, and overall it went very well! I had to pee early on, but that was my one and only stop. Toward the middle-end of the race, my left IT band started acting up–this also happened during the NYC Marathon but ironically it wasn’t what my doctor had been treating me for (that was my right IT band and tendons in my right foot). Oh well! I ran the marathon in 4:31 (4:25 moving time, 6 minutes were lost while waiting in the bathroom line).

so what now?

This time around, I decided to try a Hansons marathon training plan. The benefit to this training plan is that the long runs are a little less long–three 16 milers and one 15 miler–no 20 mile runs this time! I’ve managed to find half marathons the weekend of every long run, which will make the process much easier. I get bored when I run alone, so running a race is a nice way to break up the monotony. This plan puts a bit less emphasis on the weekly long run, and instead prioritizes back-to-back runs, sandwiching the long run in between two shorter runs. This means getting used to running on tired legs, which is very helpful for marathon training.

I seriously considered trying Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 program. but when I saw the sheer number of long runs that I may very well be running alone…it was demoralizing.

This plan also includes speed work and tempo runs (runs where the majority of the miles are run at a specific training pace–in this case marathon pace minus 10 seconds). These workouts will hopefully help me regain the speed I’ve been sorely missing. Most of my miles these days are junk miles–I’m just running with no plan for the pace. It’s not ideal for training for a specific time goal. However, right now running is sometimes the thing that gets me out of my apartment, so junk miles are much better than nothing.

Base building

My plan for the 2020 Tokyo Marathon involves 7 weeks of base building and then completing an altered form of Hansons beginners marathon training plan. Base building means that I am spending time building up the weekly distance that I run. I don’t want to immediately jump into a marathon training plan. Although they can start easy, there is often a sudden jump in mileage that can be tough to handle. For example, the first five weeks of the Hansons plan are a relatively gentle mileage, but there is a 16 mile jump into week 6, which also begins the speed work and tempo runs AND cuts out a rest day. That sounds brutal. So I’m spending 7 weeks slowly raising my mileage, to the point where I’m used to running 31 miles/50km per week. I’ll start training with the Hansons plan on October 29, right after I return from a trip to Amsterdam and Paris with my friend Camille.

Since I’ll already have a decent base, I am going to skip the first five weeks of the Hansons plan, which has low mileage. Instead, I’m going to run weeks 6-10 for my weeks 1-5, and then go back to week 6 in the “correct” time. This way, I have five weeks to get used to all of the speed work and tempo runs. If I screw up one of the workouts or don’t want to do it, I can switch it out for one of the easy runs from weeks 1-5. Another reason I want to do this is because I think somewhat stricter training (the speed workouts and tempo runs) will help give me structure and a sense of accomplishment at a time when I’m not working.


My time goal for this marathon is around 4:15, which is around 9:40/mile or 6:00/km. At this point I don’t know if it’s doable…but then again, the marathon is 5 months away. I’m going to give training my all, and see how this goes. As I write this, I’m in week 4 of base building, and am already excited by my progress. When I started, 10km (6.2mi) was my long run. Two weeks ago, that jumped to 12.5km (7.7mi), then 15km (9.2mi), and this week my long run is 18km (11.2mi). I’m currently building up to running a half marathon, but as training progresses, 13.1 miles will be part of a training run. I can’t wait to see how my running progresses!

Aside from time goals and actually doing speed work, my other goal is to remain injury-free, so that after my post-marathon recovery break, I’ll be able to return to running sooner–and hopefully start to regain my speed!

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