How's this for some runner math: a three hour flight delay + 13 hour flight + jet lag + cold rain = a marathon PR of 2:26.
Columbus runner Nicholas Lawyer pulled off the race of his life and just came home from Tokyo with that incredibly strong PR on his racing resume. We caught up with Nicholas after his huge new PR on the streets of Japan. Let's see what makes the speedy marathoner tick.
CRC: Right off the bat, tell us about racing in Japan. Why did you choose Tokyo? What was it like racing through jet lag on the other side of the world in such a different culture?
Nicholas: Before my trip to Japan, the farthest I had flown was to California through a couple of 3-hour flights, so I knew my 13-hour flight was going to be something I wasn’t used to! Our flight to Japan was delayed with us in the plane for over 3 hours, which actually was worse than the flight itself. By the time we finally landed, it was 10pm in Tokyo and we immediately rode the train to our hotel. I did a short 2 mile run around the park near our hotel at about 11:30 PM to get my legs moving after the long flight, which was cool because there was even a shrine in the park. I was really thrown off by the timing difference (14 hours ahead), but I was so exhausted from the flight I was able to sleep decently for the most part, although since coming home it’s been a little more difficult!
I have always found Japan and Tokyo to be interesting, especially with the blend of historic places and modern technology, and this trip showed me that Tokyo was even cooler than I ever imagined. The city is so large and there is so much to see and do. Taking the subways was cool because almost every subway station had an underground mall attached with so many restaurants and shops, and everything was super clean. I am also in the process of running the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which this was my fourth out of the six I need to complete. I was also lucky enough to qualify for a guaranteed spot in the race through the Tokyo “Run As One” semi-elite entry, so I felt like now was the time to do Tokyo!
Running around Tokyo the days leading up to the marathon was awesome, I could always look around at any point during my run and see something that I couldn’t see every day running around Columbus. In terms of culture, sidewalks were generally pretty crowded, and people would ride their bikes through the crowds of people without saying anything! That definitely took me by surprise a few times. I also had to get used to running on the left side of the sidewalk instead of on the right like here!
CRC: On race day, how did things differ from racing in the US?
Nicholas: The start of the race wasn’t entirely different from large races in the United States. There were 38,000 runners for the marathon, but they had separate entry gates depending on the type of bib you had which helped ease the congestion in the park. At the expo, they gave a security wristband and took a photo of you that apparently would come up when they scanned it, so everyone had to be scanned before entering the start area. Just like every other recent marathon I have ran, it poured rain before, during, and after the race, so I wore a poncho and threw it off right before the race started.
Even though I had been running around the area the race started a couple days prior, and I started my GPS watch 10 minutes early, it still was not able to find a satellite and was inaccurate for the first 10 miles of the race. To make things even more difficult, they did not have mile markers but only kilometers! My watch was showing almost a full minute over my desired pace for the first ten miles AND somehow lost a mile in the beginning of the race. This, combined with runner’s math trying to figure out my mile pace from my 5k splits, made figuring out how fast I was actually running very difficult.
There were a huge number of spectators along the entire course which was great! A few would read out my singlet and yell “OHIO YEAH!!” which made me smile every time. The crowd was quieter in general, but a few people would yell out, “Ganbatte!” which means, “Do your best!” There were also a few places with Japanese bands playing music, which at one point I’m pretty sure they were playing a cover of “Mrs. Robinson” which surprisingly pumped me up!
My family also was able to see me a few times on the course, which always makes me run faster and makes the race special. They were able to see me twice during the marathon at mile 18 and then at mile 25. They were the LOUDEST cheer leaders which caused other quieter spectators to also cheer for me as I passed by, which was very cool!
The course amenities were also different than what I was used to. I brought my own energy gels, and they offered the following at different aid stations throughout the course: Water, Pocari Sweat (Japanese Gatorade… it tastes sort of like Propel), sponges, bananas, bread, oranges, glucose drops, pickled plums, chocolate, sweet azuki bean paste, jelly, and salt candy. Of those, I used the water, Pocari Sweat, and a banana. Some aid stations had many of those things right next to each other and while I’m curious what Azuki bean paste tastes like, I didn’t want to try them for the first time during the race!
The course itself markets itself as a blend of the past and the future, and the route does a great job showcasing so many cool things in Tokyo. It starts at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and passes a few large landmarks and notable areas, such as Shinjuku, Ginza, a few shrines, the Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower (modeled after the Eifel tower), and finishes at Tokyo Station. Although I enjoyed the course, the rain and handful of hairpin turns caused me to slip and fall at the turn right before 20km, ouch!
I also had more difficulty getting through the finish area of this race than most of the other large races I have done. We were instructed to go a different route depending on the color of the bib we had, but there was some confusion on my part. I completely missed the family meeting area for runners, and instead walked straight out into the middle of the course spectating area. I had to find someone who could speak English and ask if they could text my family to tell them where I was and where to meet me. She agreed, and I went down into the subway (down a few flights of stairs of course) to get out of the rain and cold. While waiting for my family, a very nice group of Japanese people walked by and noticed I was shivering in race gear, and they gave me an extra heat sheet and a thick poncho. I tried to tell them I was okay and they didn’t have to do that, but the woman told me “No!” in an effort to take care of me. After putting the heat sheet and poncho over me, and they gave me a hot tea from the vending machine. It was all an extremely kind gesture, and my family found me in the subway station about 30 minutes later.
CRC: You ran a great PR in Chicago in the fall and then followed that up with another big PR this winter. With your latest run, you even hit the CRC Elite standard. What's it like to take that next big step in your racing?
Nicholas: Going into this race, even though my training was stronger than ever, I didn’t think I would finish with a PR just based on struggling more in my last few spring races than ones in the fall. After Chicago, I was thrilled about my PR (and surprised myself), but I knew there was still a large gap between my PR and the CRC Elite standard which would be difficult to achieve. I remember looking at the clock when I ran through the half marathon timing mat in Tokyo and thinking to myself “I am running this way too fast… but if I can hold on, I can hit a huge PR.” I did try to hold on as best I could, but I was right, I did go out too fast and ran my second half 6 minutes slower! However, that positive split was the farthest thing from my mind though when I was approaching the finish line. I was ecstatic and couldn’t believe what I had done! I have been running with CRC at the Short North store for almost 4 years now, and I never would have expected to meet the CRC Elite standard when I first started attending the group runs. I am very proud of my accomplishment in hitting the standard, it has been a goal of mine for a while.
CRC: What has your training been like? Everyone always wants to know what kind of mileage and workouts it takes to hit a breakthrough - what have you been doing?
Nicholas: There is no one way to train that works best for everyone; I have friends who follow regimented marathon training plans and workouts VERY closely and have great success. I don’t follow a specific training plan but instead focus on getting a set number of miles in a given week which include workouts with my friends. For this training cycle, I tried to get as high of mileage as I could every week for my 15-week plan. It ended up being 15 weeks of 70-115 miles, which was higher than any other training cycle I’ve done. I’m also lucky enough to work at a place in which I am able to run on my lunch breaks with a group of strong runners who push each other to get out and train every day. This group’s accountability was an immense help in my training. Another important thing when running such high mileage was having very easy recovery runs throughout the week, especially days when I doubled. My favorite workouts this cycle were group tempo workouts with people from CRC and Odds and Evens (alternating miles from close to tempo speed, to tempo+1 minute) during long runs, and long runs of 20+ miles that included fast finishes at or below marathon pace.
CRC: What's your next goal?
Nicholas: Hopefully by 2020 or 2021 I will be able to complete all of the World Marathon Majors by running London and Berlin. In the meantime, I want to focus on shorter races this year as they take less time to train for and are easier to recover from than longer races. Hopefully, I will be able to set new PRs for the 5k to half marathon in the rest of 2019! I will also be racing the Nationwide Children’s Columbus Marathon this fall, so I would love to do as well in Columbus as I did in Tokyo.
CRC: What advice do you have for other runners who are looking to make their own big leap forward?
Nicholas: Increasing my mileage has had the most impact on increasing my speed. When I started running almost seven years ago, I would only run around 20 miles a week and have since been able to increase my mileage incrementally as time passed. Even if you have to slow down to run more mileage, I think any extra running is beneficial as long as you can avoid getting injured.
I also cannot recommend going to the Saturday group runs with CRC enough! Four years ago, I did not know anyone in Columbus who I could run with. Now, I have a group of runners to run with every weekend and several times a week to train and do workouts together. The group dynamic is so helpful in improving because there will be days when you may not feel like running, but having others hold you accountable or push you through workouts can really make a difference. If I know that three or four of my friends are running already, I’m not going to be the only one who doesn’t go! It’s nice to know that we all support each other, spectate each other’s races, and are available to give advice to one another when needed.
Congrats to Nicholas on the amazing race - and experience - at the Tokyo Marathon! If you're looking for others to train with as you chase your own PRs, check out CRC's free group runs or one of our many training programs. See you on the run.