Every decade or so, one of my kids talks me into doing a marathon. This time it was Kurt, my son who heads up McDonald’s supply chain for Japan in Tokyo. A long way to go to run 26 miles, but there were added attractions. A chance to be with grandchildren that I see rarely, travel with my Wyoming daughter and son-in-law, and celebrate my friend Cathy Morgan’s birthday and first-time marathon.
We packed a whole lot into six days, travelling by train, foot, taxi, and subway. We admired the Meiji shrine in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo’s answer to Central Park in New York. We cruised the world’s largest fish market in the early-morning rain, and afterwards appreciated the welcoming warmth and expansive breakfast buffet at the luxurious American Club.
We shared little plates of exotic fish and veggies at a restaurant where each diner squeezes a fresh grapefruit and concocts a delicious drink, not for himself, but for the person sitting next to him at the table. “Eating is much more social here,” Kurt explained as he ordered for us all. “It’s not like in the states where you order your own dinner and eat it all yourself.” The highlight of that evening was a magic show in a setting so intimate that a total stranger in the small audience, learning it was Cathy’s birthday, ran out to the street and bought her a beautiful bouquet of roses.
Sunday morning it was down to business. For the first time ever, I rode a taxi to a race start. It took 30 minutes to drop a clothes bag and find my assigned spot in the line-up of 35,000 people, packed so closely together that the cold was no longer an issue. Twenty minutes after fireworks announced the start, I finally crossed the starting line. The course, nearly all flat or down hill, ran through the city with two long out-and-back sections. When I reached the 20-mile mark where I’d promised myself a walk if needed, I kept on running, anxious for the last miles to be over. Crowds of spectators along the way offered dried plums, candies, and at one point even beer or wine. Thousands of volunteers saw to it that there was plenty of water, electrolyte drink, medical assistance, and encouragement.
The first 26 miles were manageable. It was the next two, or was it three, after a subdued finish area because spectators were barred, that became a challenge. I began to walk, following the orderly stream of human traffic that flowed, up, down, and around the Tokyo Big Site conference center until I’d completely lost my bearings.
The day before, while picking up race packets at the Expo, we’d spotted the small McDonald’s restaurant where we planned to meet. Fifty employees had run the race, and hundreds more had cheered us on as we passed by in our yellow McDonald’s “Smile Runner” shirts, so it seemed an appropriate place to gather. But after the race, obscured by milling crowds, it took me 90 minutes to find it.
Never, in all my life, I had I been so happy to see the golden arches.