Sometimes I'm a bit like a dog with a bone, I don't like to let a challenge go unfinished and once I'd heard about the World Marathon Majors I was on a mission to get the job done and complete the set of six. This hasn't always been plain sailing with the Boston bombing and back surgery to contend with along the way but this was the year to complete the series with Tokyo.
Unfortunately I didn't get a ballot place for Tokyo (I think the odds are 1:10) so Plan B was to go out with Sport Tours International. Their travel packages were full so it meant travelling out to Tokyo on my own which seemed a little bit daunting at the time!
Anyway, I put on my big girl pants and got on with it, arriving in Narita airport 23 hours after I left Manchester. The very organised Japanese public transport system meant that 90 minutes later I arrived at the Keio Plaza in Shinjuku, a MASSIVE hotel with 47 floors and 18 lifts. It was also home to the elite marathon athletes who seemed uniformly tiny and ate lots of fruit at breakfast.
Expo was a 30 minute train ride away and was the usual chaos of numbers, T-shirts, free samples and extortionate and bizarre marathon merchandise (including the marathon route depicted in cookies).
The marathon festival started with an International Friendship Run on Saturday morning, 500+ runners dressed in national costumes, flags, silly hats and stick-on tattoos. A good leg stretcher with loads of enthusiastic volunteers keen to high-five everyone and anyone. Nice to have a chat with BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth here proudly sporting her union jack vest.
Our hotel was right by the start line (hence the elite athletes) so there was no early start with hours to kill like in New York or Boston, in fact the hardest part of the journey was getting into a lift that wasn't already jam packed with runners!
So leaving the hotel at 8am (11pm UK time) we joined the other 36,000 runners. Security at Tokyo was the tightest I've seen, all runners had to wear a wristband from the moment we picked up our numbers at Expo and these were scanned before we were allowed to enter the start village. Then it was pretty chaotic, with thousands of runners moving in opposite directions to find the right bag drop and then the correct corral.
The toilet situation, which has never been great in any of the world majors was especially bad, the queues went for miles and then the portaloo contained a hole and a bar to hold on to…interesting.
The day was absolutely perfect, cool with bright blue skies, so bags dropped, my new best friend Sophie and I made our way in to Corral C. A short national anthem, an explosion of confetti and we were off.
It didn't take too long to get over the start line but the next mile was pretty congested, I did too much weaving about and went off too quickly to try to get out of the traffic but another couple of miles and I'd settled down and got into a reasonable pace.
I'd printed off a 3:30 pace band but couldn't see any pacers around to follow so just decided to run my own pace and hope for the best.
The day got warmer so I popped my arm warmers (Poundland over-the-knee socks with the toes cut off) into the bin and got on with it. The Poundland gloves were soon to follow.
The 26.2 mile race route goes from Shinjuku to the temples at Asakusa and the fancy city shopping streets of Ginza. There are three long 'out and back' sections on the race which I found really helpful, I love watching the really fast athletes ahead of me and then the runners behind, some in fancy dress costumes, lots of Pokemons, Pikachu and Manga characters, Samurai warriors and even the odd kimono.
The miles ticked by relatively comfortably, the drinks stations were plentiful and had both water and Pocari Sweat isotonic drink (the worst name ever for a sports drink!), later food stations had bread rolls, oranges and tomatoes(!) as well as the more standard energy gels. I had a Clif Shot Bar and one gel which I carried round for ages and there was no litter dropping anywhere on the course – they're a tidy lot the Japanese.
The crowds were plentiful, enthusiastic and encouraging and there were dancing troops and choirs scattered along the course. I even heard the TAC presentation night classic 'Uptown Funk' but resisted the urge to flash mob on my own!
New best friend 'Sophie off the news' and I shared a few high-fives on the out and back sections and we soon hit the 30K mark. This can be where the wheels fall off but I just kept reminding myself that it's only a 10K(ish) to go. By mile 23 I had completely lost the ability to do simple maths, I was hopeful that a PB could be on the cards but couldn't for the life of me work out how long the next three miles were going to take.
Repeating 'only a parkrun to go now' then the end was in sight, a cobbled section which was thronged with noisy and enthusiastic supporters then a sharp turn to the left and finally the finish line and clock.
To say I was both surprised and pleased to come in under 3:15 was an understatement, then came the unbelievably long zombie walk, five minutes' walking then a bottle of Pocari Sweat, another five for our Tokyo Marathon towel, then the foil blanket, five more minutes to the medals then FINALLY a bottle of water and a pre-packed peanut butter sandwich. The marshals all wanted to give high-fives and give their congratulations, I must have said 'Arigato' (thank you) a thousand times, they were absolutely fantastic.
I couldn't stop smiling, even when I was made to go into a tent, make a great big sign with my time on it (3:13:55 chip time) and go into the park with a photography crew to have pictures taken for tube posters with Malcolm from Chesterfield who they believed was my husband. I know, only in Japan.
Then we found the World Majors tent and were able to collect the coveted six-star finisher medals and have more photos taken.
It was such a brilliant day, we were bussed back to Shinjuku and most people seemed happy with their times and the marathon course, we'd all suffered varying degrees of jet lag and poor sleep but adrenaline works wonders.
So that's it, job done and the big shiny World Majors medal is in a frame on the mantelpiece, so what next? A Guinness World Record hopefully…fingers crossed.
Sayonara Tokyo and Arigato for everything.