Kirkcaldy Paralympian Derek Rae says Tokyo 2020 was his "finest achievement"

Kirkcaldy Paralympian Derek Rae says his experience of competing at Tokyo 2020 was “absolutely incredible”.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 2:11 pm
Derek Rae crosses the finish line in the men's Marathon at Tokyo 2020 (Pic: Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Now back on home soil, the marathon man has been reflecting on what he says was one of the best experience of his career.

"From the moment we arrived, the Japanese took us under their wing,” he says.

“They made us feel like family. The whole experience is hard to put into words, really.

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“The way you were greeted by the volunteers everyday was heart warming and humbling.

"When I speak about it now I’ve got a smile on my face.

“It was unimaginable.

"Obviously it was going to be different because there were no spectators in the stadium, but some of the athletes I spoke to said it didn’t feel like that.

“I went to the stadium a few times and the atmosphere around it, and the holding camp in Yokohama, was just electric.”

Having been well looked after, it was time for Rae to get down to business and compete in the race, one which he reveals was “touch and go” whether he was even going to make it to the starting line.

"I kept quite tight-lipped about this. I had quite a bad injury and I didn’t want my competitors to find out I had only been training on a bike for eight weeks.

"I’d had a stress reaction in secrum.

"I only had four weeks of running before the race, and a week of that was a taper, so I had maybe five or six key sessions building up to the marathon.

"I knew I was fit and in good shape because of the work on the bike; I just wasn’t sure if I was lacking in marathon training fitness in terms of mileage in my legs.”

Rae set off well aware he wasn’t going to be able to run for a medal, but says he was delighted with his ninth-place finish, saying it was the race he’s most enjoyed running ever.

"It was probably the first time I’ve ever ran a marathon and really enjoyed it.

"It was probably the most important one of my life after I hadn’t finished in Rio in 2016.

"I was running at a pace that was sustainable and I could handle towards the end.

"I had missed eight weeks of running, that’s about 950 miles which is a lot to miss, so I knew I would get tired at some point.

"I didn’t want a repeat of what had happened in Rio. I had spoken to my support team, had a few discussions with my wife and sorted out in my head my pacing at which I would run.

"I stuck to it and it was manageable, so I enjoyed the whole occasion.”

Whilst running the race Rae says he was taken aback by the support along the way.

"I had been told that there would be a few spectators allowed in the stadium and some on the marathon route.

"I was unsure what I was going to see. But in that first mile I saw the same amount of spectators that I would the whole way. It was a line from start to finish.

"There wasn’t a single part of that race that I felt alone, though that’s how I ran it.

"I let the guys I would usually compete against go off into the distance. I was resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to be competitive.

“I had my own game plan and I had to stick to that.

“It was a major achievement just to get to the start line.

"To finish in 2:47 is probably one of my proudest achievements given the restrictions I had in the build up.”

In finishing the race Rae says he finally laid the demons from Rio to rest after five years.

"It was strange. When I crossed the finish line that was the Tokyo box ticked, but it was the Rio box ticked as well.

"That finally got put to bed.

“I felt like it was off my shoulders and I felt a huge amount of pride in tackling it.”

He added: “The injury came at a less than ideal time, but that happens in sport and there are no negatives about it.

"I’d go back in an instant!”