TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Choking pollution and sapping heat will be the major concerns for the world’s elite marathon runners at this year’s Beijing Olympics.
But for millions of other marathon men and women, concerns are of an altogether more painful nature.
After his first assault at a marathon last year banker Brian Jones was shocked to discover the sharp pain in his chest was not cardiovascular, but bleeding nipples.
“When I took my shirt off at the end it was white — apart from two particular parts of it,” he told Reuters in an interview after completing his second Tokyo Marathon at the weekend.
“It looked like I had been shot by a sniper. This year I bought some Vaseline. It worked, although I had nasty chafing elsewhere.”
Such dark thoughts are unlikely to have troubled Sunday’s winner, Switzerland’s Viktor Roethlin, who powered to victory in two hours, seven minutes and 23 seconds.
But for around 30,000 fun runners who took part in Tokyo, issues such as chafing can trigger deep despair.
“I struggled to find a comfortable pair of underwear this morning,” said Jones, who clocked 4:37:46, beating his 2007 time by 11 minutes.
“I walked two kilometers this year, between 34 and 36km, because my leg seized up. The last 20-K was freezing. The wind was absolutely brutal.”
Jones credited the Japanese crowds lining the roads for helping him get to the finish.
“It was amazing,” smiled the 33-year-old bank employee. “Random people on the side of the street just appear with muscle sprays and start graffitiying the back of your leg.”
Jones admitted to having had second thoughts about running again after a traumatic first attempt last year when he suffered an early knee injury.
“I was in agony last year,” said the Londoner. “My feet were all blistered and bleeding. My knee blew up. I could barely walk. Yesterday morning I was terrified.
“You read stories of runners who are fit and who train properly and they end up with serious problems, respiratory problems or someone had a heart attack.”
Worse even than the fear of sudden death, however, was the humiliation of being overtaken by pensioners at the 20km mark.
“I thought I was doing quite well and then there’s some 70-year-old granny I’m just catching up to,” Jones said with a sheepish grin.
With Tokyo’s elderly destroying his morale, and one runner further unbalancing him by trotting backwards down a hill, Jones had to trick his brain into staying focused.
“There was one woman dressed as a nurse, or a maid. I followed her for a bit,” he said.
“You think about anything to take your mind off the pain.”
Even during the most tortuous moments of Sunday’s race, quitting was never an option for Jones.
“I never thought I wouldn’t finish,” he said. “When it was really bad, when I got to about the 33km mark, it wasn’t a mental thing. It was just that my legs couldn’t move.
“I had cramp in my thighs, the back of my hamstrings, my calf and my shins — if that’s possible.”
Despite the pain, however, would he do it all again?
“Even though it hurts like hell it is fun, oddly,” said Jones. “Last year finishing at all was a miracle. When I finished I was close to breaking down.
“But I remember instantly thinking ‘I’m going to do that again.’ Yesterday I didn’t have that same feeling, although I was a little more philosophical this morning...”
Editing by Sophie Hardach