Father Christmas really does exist. He must do. How else would you explain – two days before Christmas – me getting a place in this year’s Tokyo Marathon?
It really is the most exciting, spine-tingling, can’t-possibly-think-about-anything-else-especially-not-work prospect.
I have run the New York City Marathon. I have run the Paris Marathon three times, the London Marathon six times and also clocked up marathons in Rome, La Rochelle, Dublin, Berlin, Mallorca and Amsterdam.
I have even written a book about it all: Keep On Running, a light-hearted attempt to explain an addiction which still keeps me in its throes after 14 years and 25 marathons.
It’s coming out at the start of April, published by the superb team at Summersdale in Chichester – a group of people who have given me every possible encouragement and made writing a book far far easier than running a marathon will ever be.
I hope you’ll take a look at the book once it comes out – http://www.summersdale.com/book/2/569/keep-on-running/. But just for the moment, the focus is on Tokyo. The clock is ticking, the countdown really has begun. The big day is Sunday, February 26.
And boy oh boy, I just can’t wait. Something cosmic is aligning; I feel it in my bones. My 26th 26-mile run will be on the 26th day of the month. It was meant to be – and the thrill is mounting with every day that passes.
My best-ever marathon was the London Marathon of 2007 when I clocked three hours 20 minutes and an incredibly annoying 25 seconds. Five years ago. I’ve come close to it a few times since, but I’ve got to be realistic. It’s highly likely that this will stand forever as my PB, that personal best that constitutes the Holy Grail of marathon runners everywhere.
Which is why my approach to marathon-running has subtly changed in recent years. Of course, I’d love to run faster, but just as importantly, the thing I crave is different marathon experiences.
And I know that Tokyo will serve them up by the bucketload. It really is going to be the most fantastic trip to the most fascinating country at a very important moment in its history.
Last October, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation invited a group of journalists to Tokyo for a few days to learn about the marathon in the context of a country still recovering after the devastating tsunami very nearly a year ago.
The Foundation had a very important message to send out and they wanted us to be their megaphones around the world. They wanted us to tell everyone that Tokyo and indeed Japan was strong, confident and recovering. They wanted the 2012 Tokyo Marathon to shout: Japan is a great place to visit.
Seeing the course last October was a wonderful experience, but it was also a deeply-frustrating experience for a marathon runner. I didn’t just want to see the course. I wanted to run it. I wanted to slog out every yard of its 26.2 miles through the vast, intoxicating, charming, beautiful city it celebrates.
I didn’t want to just nod and say “Oh yes, it starts from here”. I wanted to line up with 30,000 other runners, nervously chatting, checking hydration, peering at the skies, setting my stop watch and waiting for the off.
I didn’t want to just nod and say “Oh yes, this is the finish” as I stepped off the tour bus. I wanted to get there under my own steam, utterly knackered but deliriously happy. I didn’t want to be taken to the finish. I wanted to earn the right to stand there at the end of the race itself.
And then, just as panto season was blooming up and down the country last December, my fairy godmother in Tokyo sent me an email. The Tokyo Marathon Foundation wanted to fund a group of journalists to visit Tokyo for the marathon weekend at the end of February.
But they were very specific. They didn’t just want journalists willing to stand by the sidelines and wave. Oh no, they wanted runners prepared to go the distance. I am never going to set a record for speed on a race course, but that morning I definitely set a new speed record for replying to an email.
“Yes! Take me!”
And two days before Christmas, they said yes, they wanted me. Christmas over here consequently passed in a blur, my thoughts elsewhere. My real Christmas is yet to come. In fact, I’ve got a lovely feeling that Sunday, February 26 on that start line in Tokyo is going to be all my Christmases rolled into one.
I hope, over the next few weeks, you’ll enjoy reading some of the thoughts that pass through my head as the Tokyo countdown really begins…
See also http://www.tokyo42195.org/2012_en/