The Tokyo Marathon held on the first weekend of Spring attracts over 40,000 runners from all over the world. Tokyo is one of the six Abbott marathon majors and sees runners of all abilities chasing their six stars in pursuit of the six star majors medal. Consequently Tokyo like the other marathon majors is difficult to enter. There are four ways to obtain an entry. The first is to qualify, the second is to enter the ballot, third is to run with a charity and finally travel with a dedicated agent specializing in running events.
Travelling Fit based in Australia offer packages to all major events including Tokyo with a range of options to suit all budgets starting at $2800.00 which includes accommodation at the Keio Plaza Hotel. Unlike other events a jacket is available; but only upon purchase of a premium package purchased through an agent and not able to be purchased at the expo which left many people including qualifiers disappointed. Tokyo is the only marathon to do this. The limited addition Marathon jacket however is fabulous and I would strongly suggest purchasing a premium package for this reason. It also gives you a very spacious room and access to the club lounge where breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapés including bar can be enjoyed.
A 3.5km fun friendship run is held the day prior near the diver city shopping centre, the worlds largest Ferris wheel and expo. Pacers ensure the run is purely fun with no one allowed to pass the pacers at the front of each start group. It does make for a nice day out with much to do in the one area. The friendship run is perfect for those travelling with family and supporters not running the marathon. It gives them an opportunity to participate in an overseas event and all participants are given a special bandana to wear. Many people dress up as characters or in clothing representing the country they come from. I decided to fly the flag for rhinos and ran as Rupert the Rhino. Transportation to and from the friendship run is at the runners expense and tickets cost approximately $2.00 each way from Shinjuku to the Tokyo Teleport Station.
The expo was outside and housed in large temporary pavilions. Photo ID is required, along with documentation sent to runners. All runners are fitted with a wrist band that is not to be removed. No band, no run. You then have a photo taken and number issued. This is all to prevent people copying numbers and running illegitimately. The expo has many exhibitors, however the downside is not being able to speak or read the language in some cases. It was hard to recognize what was free, what was not and what stuff was (**note the location of the friendship run and expo has changed in previous years).
The day of the marathon also has a 10km event that commences at the same time. This event however is only for local runners and not international visitors. The 10km course follows the marathon route until it peels off at 9.5km for their finish.
Starting at the metropolitan government building in Shinjuku, it is close to all major hotels, with the Keio Plaza, Hilton and Hyatt hotels being the closest. Baggage drop closes at 0830 and all runners are required to be in their designated corrals by 0845. As frustrating as it is, allow plenty of time as the lines for the toilets are long and slow with many forced to abort their attempts. If you are not in your corral by 0845 you will be turned away.
Security scan your wrist band upon entry into the zone, search gear bags and prevent the carriage of food, liquids and sharps into the start zone, so leave your humble banana behind. Food is offered once clear of security. Any clothing worn into the start you wish to discard is collected for charities and volunteers are present with garbage bags to collect gel packets.
Japan is a very clean, respectful and modest country and the marathon is no different. There are very few garbage bins on the streets as in almost zero. People carry rubbish with them and dispose of it appropriately when they can. Which in a city of 13 million people is actually a beautiful thing. The streets are immaculate! The marathon is kept just as clean with volunteers lining the course approximately 50m apart (if not closer) on both sides of the course with garbage bags. These guys kindly collected gel packets so littering would not a problem either during or after the event. The challenge is running, aiming and throwing one’s gel packet into the held garbage bag successfully. Many runners including myself made the effort to run to the side to deposit gel packets respectfully. The presence of spectators along the course was constant and cheers of support were plentiful. It was however once again respectful and polite with no loud tooting things, whistles and other noisy items which made it quite pleasurable for such a big event.
The 2019 event was wet, very wet. It was also cold with the temperature dropping during the run. Wind was negligible until the last 6km when it became a head wind. Again nothing too strong but noticeable as runners approached the finish weary, wet and cold. The course takes you through many popular areas of Tokyo including Ginza, Shinjuku, Sky tree, Sensoji temple, Tokyo tower and finishes outside the impressive Tokyo Station; however this years event was tough with weather conditions and it became a “head down get it done” marathon.
The course has both kilometer and mile markers with the addition of 4,3,2 and 1 km to go as the finish becomes real. Drink stations were located approximately every 3.5-4km. Some offered only water but most offered both water and the electrolyte Pocari Sweat a Japanese brand. There were 2 food stations offering bananas, gels and bread; and two wet sponge stations which weren’t really required this year. Toilets in the form of portaloos were plentiful along the course with a sign indicating at each pit stop point how many km it would be to the next one. Some toilets were a good 100m off the course while others right next to it with a run chute too and from. The stop at 15km was probably the best one on the course for this reason.
The first 5 km of the course has a slight decline and from then on is largely flat apart from the region of 20-25km where there are very slight undulations in the form of small bridges. The undulations are negligible but to the savvy runner they can be advantageous or a hazard for those battling cramps.
Upon completion you follow a designated path according to your bib colour. During this walk which is approximately 1.5km in length you collect water, finishers towel, medal, food and emergency blanket. The journey ends at the bag collection which is inside a designated building for you bib colour. Luggage is all coded for quick identification and location and the area over staffed with volunteers eager to help weary runners which is brilliant. Change rooms follow providing welcome respite to runners needing to remove wet clothes. Hypothermia in the 2019 event was a real concern especially given the length runner had to walk in the cold and wet. However in better conditions, a walk like this offers runners a mandatory cool down and helps reduce soreness and stiff limbs in following days.
Shortly after exiting change rooms; free acupuncture is offered before runners proceed to the family meeting area upstairs (there are escalators); and into the arms of loved ones. Staff are again everywhere and direction for both family and runners to waiting shuttle busses are plentiful. Busses return to a variety of places around Tokyo with the one to Shinjuku stopping right outside the Keio Plaza hotel. Tokyo Station is also close and offers many overground and underground transport options. A travel card providing free travel on the day of the marathon is included as part of your run pack collected at the expo but does not include the bullet train.
The Tokyo marathon is highly organized and volunteers that speak English wear labels for easy identification. Around the city during your travels many people speak limited English but everyone is very friendly, obliging and patient and they absolutely love it when you attempt to speak Japanese.
Athletes do have the option of attending a three hour after party in the evening with traditional Japanese food, entertainment and presentations of an additional gift to those obtaining their sixth star. Busses return to hotels from this event at 2100. This is a brilliant opportunity for those only in Japan for a short time to experience many traditional Japanese foods and cultural entertainment. After parties are not held upon the conclusion of the other five marathon majors and Abbott do not do special presentations to their Abbott medal recipients at other major marathons and for this reason unless things change I would highly recommend that those pursuing this goal to make Tokyo their sixth and final marathon of the majors. At the 2019 event my marathon hero presented the additional Abbott majors gift and I was lucky enough to speak with her. The Tokyo marathon was extra special for me because I got the opportunity to run with, speak with, thank and have a photo with Deena Kastor the American Woman’s Marathon record holder.
Tokyo is a brilliant and incredibly safe city and it makes for a wonderful trip away either alone or with family .There are many day trip options from Tokyo including Mount Fuji, snow monkeys and Kyoto can also be done in a day. Cherry blossoms are starting to bloom with some early blooms visible around the city; though the actual season isn’t until late March and into April, those wanting to see Cherry Blossom (Sakura) will not be disappointed and we saw many. Seeing Sumo wrestling is difficult in March as many training venues stop visitors watching practice due to upcoming tournament preparation.
Food in Japan, is fresh, plentiful and eating Japanese food is highly recommended. If wanting a more traditional pasta meal before the marathon, there are also plenty of options in the Italian department.
Overall I can highly recommend the Tokyo marathon. The rain not so much but these things happen. My biggest regret is not leaving Tokyo until my last marathon due to the fabulous after party and not having longer away so I could explore and experience more of Japan as a whole.
Event profile: Bonnie Davies