I ran the Tokyo Marathon!
Read about my wonderful experience
Getting into the Tokyo marathon can be confusing. I am not Japanese, and I have never been to Japan before, so it can be a bit daunting.
I am an avid runner, and it was only early 2018 that I started to consider running in the 2019 Tokyo marathon. I have run marathons in Sydney, Australia previously (my home country) but have never run overseas. This was to be my first international marathon.
You can read through the steps that I followed to have an enjoyable Tokyo marathon and holiday!
The Tokyo Marathon
The Tokyo marathon is held annually at around early March. Being in the northern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to Australia. Hence, Japan goes through the slow transition from winter to spring, while in Australia, we go through the heat of summer to a warm Autumn.
Approximately 30,000 people run the marathon each year. This, I thought was surprisingly low, given that in Sydney there is any event called City to Surf, an annual running event that holds 80,000 people! I soon discovered that Sydney’s City to Surf is possibly the largest in the world in correlation to its local population.
The course of the Tokyo marathon is not circular as many would believe it to be. In fact, the course runs through many of the city’s attractions, which makes the event fantastic. Unlike the Sydney Marathon, the streets are lined with spectators at all parts cheering you on.
Getting a ticket
In getting started, I had to first research how to get an entry ticked.
There are in summary 5 ways to obtain a ticket.
And they are:
- Time qualified
- Tour package
Time qualified runners are invited to participate in the Tokyo marathon. This means, if you are fast enough you can get in. Now, unless you are or were a professional, then you can scratch this option off. I am not the slowest of runners, clocking an average of 3 hours and 30 min. But this is no where near fast enough to be time qualified. This option was therefore not open for me.
If you know the right people, you can get in via social connections through an organized group. These groups can be sponsors of the event, or other Tokyo marathon affiliated groups. I don’t know of any organizations connected to the Tokyo marathon, hence this option was not possible for me either.
Many running events have charity groups. I have a friend who has run in the Sydney City to Surf numerous times running for Autism Spectrum Australia. In order to participate in the charity, he had to raise a minimum of $1000 AUD in order to obtain a ticket. Autism is very close to my friend’s heart as he has two boys on the autism spectrum. So, I very much admire his fund raising activities for the City to Surf.
Each charity will have it’s own minimum threshold that you will need to meet. It’s a great cause, however, I did not know of any charities associated with the Tokyo marathon.
This left with me with two options: the ballot or tour package.
The ballot is a way of trying your luck to obtain a ticket. To join the ballot you must register through the Tokyo marathon website. When the ballot opens, immediately register and provide your credit card details.
The ballot is a lottery, and all entries are selected from the pool of runners who have registered. If you are selected, payment is immediately drawn from your credit card.
Please note: once you have been selected you cannot transfer the ticket to someone else and there is no refund if you decide to pull out.
Tour operators that provide a holiday package with a ticket for the marathon is the last option. These packages can be very expensive, so I didn’t explore further the refund process, the accommodation, site seeing routes and other aspects.
I was fortunate to hit the jackpot for the ballot! And was extremely happy when I was selected as a participant for the Tokyo marathon.
Planning for the trip
After the elation of being selected, I began to looking at accommodation, plane tickets, itinerary and the like. I decided to arrive in Tokyo two days before the event, do some light site seeing. So light that there would be no pressure on the legs. And hen run the marathon.
In the proceeding two weeks after I would continue with the rest of the sight seeing and travel the shinkansen (Bullet Train) with a JR Pass, going around Japan.
This was the plan. And it turned out to be a great one for me.
Preparation for Tokyo marathon
I had the worse preparation for the Tokyo marathon. In January 2019, only two months before the race, I went to China to celebrate Chinese New Year with my relatives. I ate a lot, drank a lot, but did very little running. The worst preparation possible.
Arriving in Japan
I landed in Japan two days prior to the event and actually felt quite good. Coming from Sydney Australia, I experienced no jet lag, given the time zones are only 2 hours apart.
I had performed a few good runs in the lead up to the race. My fitness was ok – wasn’t great but good enough to get through it.
All runners had to go to the Tokyo marathon expo to retrieve their band, bib and have the face scanned and registered. The band is the ID to get into the race area and cannot be transferred to any other runner. ID must be shown to prove you are the correct runner for the band, and once proven the band is strapped around your wrist. The band cannot be removed temporarily. It is water proof allowing you to continue to take showers in the lead up to the race.
The race day arrived and it was a miserable day. At approximately 8 degrees and raining, it did not make for a great day.
You need to turn up early in at the starting area as it is very crowded. They identify with you the band that they gave to you at the Expo, hence it is not transferable to another other runner – even as simply a substitute runner.
Only those with bands are permitted into the start area.
I wore a pair of gloves, which unfortunately weren’t water proof, and was one of the worst decisions a runner could make for running in the rain. The gloves became soaked with water and did nothing to keep my hands warm.
Anyways, the race began, and off we went running in the rain. As you can see, it is extremely crowded. The first 15kms is extremely difficult to get into any rhythm, and if you are fast, you will need to dodge and zig zag around other runners.
As you can imagine, to my surprise some runners were extremely fast and were wasting copious amounts of energy in my opinion. Very very fast, that I thought they were either professional or crazy. What I later discovered was that there was also a 10km run at the same time and same starting point. Hence their fast pace.
Starting from Shinjuku, famous for the most people crossing at an intersection in any city of the world, the route wound through the attractions of the city. At each turn, numerous spectators lined the streets, cheering us on. Even in the heavy rain and cold, local residents were out in force to support us. It was very invigorating.
In my opinion this is what makes Tokyo marathon so special. The spectators and volunteers. They really go above and beyond to make you feel welcome and provide lots of support. As you run the route, volunteers will often hold out water, gels, bananas, chocolates and other sustenance.
The race was one of the flatest marathon courses I have ever run. And to be honest, it was mostly smooth sailing, except when I had to run over these little bridges or ramps that were scattered throughout the end of the course. These bridges aren’t overly steep, but for some unexplained reason, it really threw me out of my running rhythm. It was like kryptonite!
I completed the race in an honest time of 3 hours and 45 minutes. A fair time, given how little training I did in the lead up to the race.
I had a great time running the Tokyo marathon. Unfortunately the weather was terrible. But the crowd support was something awesome. I will never forget how friendly and supportive the crowd was.
I high recommend running the Tokyo marathon – and it is also a great city to holiday at!