I can’t believe that the 2016 Tokyo Marathon is now over, and I am sitting on my couch writing my race report. I found out on September 15th that I was selected to participate. I entered the lottery in August, not knowing what would happen. The odds were not in my favor. I remember reading an article months before that said the Tokyo Marathon was one of the hardest marathons to get into. I was shocked when the email came. I screamed when I read it. I prayed that I would get in, and I did! But of course actually pulling the trigger wasn’t an easy decision after that. There were multiple discussions like “Can we afford this?” or “Is this wise to do when we’re trying to save for other stuff, or pay other bills?” and “Do we have the time to take off from work?”
I naturally began to wonder if my goals of traveling all over the world to run marathons were selfish, and not in the best interest of my family. I made a goal after running the Chicago Marathon in 2011 that I wanted to run all of the World Marathon Majors. Getting into Tokyo would get me one step closer to my goal. So it seemed serendipitous that I got in. But still, I didn’t know if it was the “smart” thing to do. After many discussions and my personal consultation with my “crew”, we decided to go. My friend Susan told me that the timing will never be perfect, and to go now if we can. My husband is incredibly supportive. He loves that I have all these goals, and he wants me to achieve them. And he wants to be there with me every step of the way.
So there you have it! We booked our flights and headed off to Japan. I wrote a separate post on our travels to Japan (click here), along with pictures of where we went and what we did. I also give restaurant suggestions. I think that post will be beneficial for anyone traveling to Japan. It provides some travel tips, but this post is all about the race itself and my experience running the Tokyo Marathon.
PLEASE NOTE: There are MANY useful scanned documents located in the TOKYO MARATHON icon on my main home page. After you finish reading this report, please refer to those documents for more helpful information. These are the race documents for the 2016 race. The 2017 race documents will be different, as the course has slightly changed. But you will find important rules, and aid station information there.
The Tokyo Marathon Expo and Packet-Pickup took place at the Tokyo Big Sight (where the race finished. ***NOTE: FOR THE 2017 RACE THE FINISH WILL BE IN A DIFFERENT LOCATION). Before we went inside, the Tokyo Food Festival was taking place outside. This was the best thing that could have happened to us that day. We went Friday afternoon to avoid the crowds, but we forgot to eat breakfast so we were cranky. Seeing the little vendors and smelling the perfectly balanced merge of Japanese cuisine was divine; it was a mini paradise. After we ate, we entered the expo in a better mood. We were now ready to enter a marathoners version of heaven. Runners were only allowed in the packet pickup area. I was asked to show my ID a couple times. Everything was very organized and secure. There were several volunteers who spoke English, so I never felt confused. There was also an “overseas runner” booth. It was a seamless process. After I got my packet I met my husband and we worked our way through the maze. I took pictures and grabbed a bunch of free products. I sampled stuff and played a couple games for coveted prizes that I didn’t win. The Tokyo Marathon official merchandise store was small, and a little crowded. I was surprised at how small it actually was. But little did I know there was more stuff on a different level. I bought Tokyo Marathon brand chopsticks and arm warmers. Other levels at the expo had more merchandise from Asics to New Balance and other top brands. My clear plastic bag for bag check was filled with my purchases and free items. It was a great expo to say the least. Tip: If you are running the Tokyo Marathon, go on Thursday or Friday and avoid Saturday if you can.
There were some words that were spoken in Japanese over the loudspeaker (I have no clue what they announced) followed by the introduction of the Elite runners and wheelchair participants. A song was sung in Japanese, possibly the national anthem? Then the starting gun went off. I believe it was 10-15 min before we were able to actually start.
Some key things along the course:
The portable toilets are very frequent, and there is a volunteer holding a sign that announces the bathroom coming up and how far away the next one is. So the sign will say: “Exit here for the bathroom now, or next one is 1.2 miles away”, for example. Cool right? Every toilet area has a couple volunteers who will guide and place you in line. They manage the line and flow. Again, you will have to squat when using most toilets. There were “western style” toilets, but not as frequent. No hand sanitizer or soap/water to wash your hands is available. Near major sights like the Imperial Palace there were “real” bathrooms. So you can always divert from the course and use them if that makes a difference. The one thing that stood out to me was that every toilet line was always long. Some races you will find shorter lines eventually, but not at this race. We stopped twice to use the bathroom, and the lines both times were long. Expect a bathroom stop to add 10-15 minutes on to your time. I do commend this race on having volunteers stationed at each toilet area.
Course Fuel and Food
Pocari Sweat and water are the beverages offered along the course. Pocari Sweat I learned has MSG in it (I had no clue. I should have done my research ahead of time!) Read about it. Know what is offered before running just in case you need something else. Unfortunately you cannot carry your own water bottles in. I believe you can take in unopened commercial products, like bottled water that has a seal on it. Please check the official rules. I scanned the ‘course restrictions’ document and it is located in the Tokyo Marathon icon on my home page. We did see runners with Camelbak hydration packs on. I am guessing they put their empty hydration packs in their checked bags, went through security (metal detectors), and then filled them up later? I mentioned a product in an earlier post, the Salomon S-lab Sense Hydro Set (a handheld collapsible hydration flask). You can add your electrolyte tablet or powder to water and mix in this flask after the race starts. There also were bananas and tomatoes along the course. The bananas were full sized which was nice. You peel them yourself. Volunteers did wear gloves when handling food, for those health conscious individuals. I carried my own gels and chews in my SPI belt, so the only thing I needed was water and Pocari sweat.
There are volunteers everywhere! They have volunteers organizing the bathroom stops, and ones holding garbage bags along the course. The water stops have plenty of volunteers handing out water and cheering you on. They were simply amazing. They always had a smile on their face, and they were extremely polite. The volunteers make this race wonderful. Even at the family meet up/baggage pick-up area the volunteers would congratulate runners. I saw someone post a video of them clapping in sync as runners picked up their bags. I can’t thank the volunteers enough for all their help in making this an amazing and successful race. Volunteers wear different color jackets which mean certain things. I can’t remember what each color represents, but I do know the green jackets meant the volunteer could speak English. At the Expo you will see a display of what each color jacket means.
The course is very flat. There were a few bridges (near the end) with slight elevation. It wasn’t bad though. I think if you were racing, they would be slightly annoying since they are located near the end. But for my friend Brian and myself, they were a change of pace.
The course goes past the major sights of Tokyo including the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji Fish Market, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Ginza Ave, Tokyo Museum, etc. (in no particular order). It really is the best way to see all of Tokyo by foot! I was surprised at how close the course was to Sensoji Temple (see picture above). We went to that temple the day before, but we didn’t even need to because it was right there on the course!
Course limit: The course limit is 7 hours and there are checkpoints along the way. Make sure to know ahead of time what they are.
Medical Aid: Medical aid was offered at various locations along the course. Please consult the runner handbook for where they will be located and what they offer, if you will be running the Tokyo Marathon. I did see medical runners (doctors wearing vests) along the course as well! I am a medical runner for a couple different local races, and it was nice to see this service being offered elsewhere!
The crowds also were my favorite. There were people everywhere! I believe the runner handbook says 1.5 million spectators. And they cheered their hearts out. They even knew one or two phrases in English to cheer us on. And they LOVED high-fiving everyone. I ended up high fiving everyone because it was just fun and they got so excited. There were many forms of entertainment along the course as well. There were groups of dancers with music. I am sure there is a formal name for them, but I don’t know what it is. There were dancers with flags, children dancing, people banging on drums, everything! I’ve never seen anything like it. They took it so seriously and it seemed like they were so honored to entertain the runners. I practically stopped at every group to take a picture. It was beautiful. Simply beautiful. One reason I don’t listen to music while running a marathon is to soak it all in. Complete strangers come out on their day off to cheer me on. The entertainers are there to entertain. Why would I block all that out by listening to music? I love hearing the crowds and being aware of what’s going on, especially when I’m in a different country. You don’t need music on this course. Soak up the experience. Be present. Enjoy the gift of running. Tune-in to the music the crowds are making.
As stated before the finish is at the Tokyo Big Sight. After you cross the finish, you are given a towel (better than a foil blanket!) and a finisher’s medal. You are given a bag of food, water, and a Salonpas pain spray that was valuable! You have to walk a bit after collecting your freebees to get to the family meet-up and bag collection area, which always is exhausting after running 26.2 miles. But with over 35,000 finishers I don’t think they could do it any other way. I maybe walked a half mile back to the family meet-up spot, but it felt like 2 miles since I had a blister that popped and I was in pain. Everything is very organized as expected. Because the end is at the Tokyo Big Sight (like a convention center), there are normal bathrooms and showers inside. There is also a Starbucks inside for the coffee lovers. I saw people getting massages and I’ve heard rumors of acupuncture. My little toe had a blister and ingrown toenail, so I had a bloody shoe and needed to go to medical after I finished. I missed out on the massage. I also felt bad keeping my husband waiting. I quickly went through that area and met up with him. Ending at the Big Sight was nice because if the weather was bad (which it wasn’t), being indoors would be helpful. Luckily the weather was warm; it was in the 60’s.
You may want to change your clothes, eat a little something and rest before walking to the metro. Or even get a massage.
Enjoy the after party!
Dōmo arigatōgozaimashita, どうもありがとうございました