On Sunday, I completed the Tokyo Marathon! It was quite the experience so I have a lot to say about it. I hope this helps other runners in the future who plan to run the race because it is a trek to get to Tokyo and there are quite a few differences compared to American races. The distance, of course, is the same. =) I applied for the international sub-elite lottery, but did not get in. Andrew and I signed up with Marathon Tours to get a bib and hotel room. I invited my mom to come with us from NYC and two of my aunts from Hong Kong also met us in Tokyo on Thursday. We booked them a separate room at the same hotel to make meeting up easier. It was Andrew’s sixth marathon major so it was nice to have a cheer squad for him. =)
The package also included a day tour on Friday, which was great because we would have never gone to all of those places on our own in one day! At the end of our tour, they dropped us off at the expo, my favorite part of marathon weekend! I wish we had more time and knew that there were 2 floors to the expo. We wasted a lot of time on the top floor and only realized as we were leaving, that there was merchandise to buy on the lower floor. I thought all of it was sold out and was prepared to leave, but got excited when I saw the lower level! After a very rushed shopping experience, we hopped on the Marathon Tours shuttle bus back to the hotel. The trip should have taken an hour, but because of an accident on the highway, it took us two hours to get back to the hotel. We were exhausted!
Saturday, Andrew and I went for a shake out run in the park by the hotel and to Meiji Jingu Gyoen. You are not allowed to run on the grounds at Meiji Jingu Gyoen so we shortened our run and turned around. After showering and having breakfast, we walked and shopped in Shibuya and Harajuku. We managed to get back to the hotel by 4pm to relax, but when I looked at my Garmin later, we had walked over 28,000 steps! Oops. Marathon Tours hosted a pre-race dinner at our hotel so we did not eat sushi or ramen the night before the race. At the dinner, they briefed us about some of the race details and answered questions. The finish line was new this year so Marathon Tours did not have all the answers because they also had to learn about the new location. I read the runner’s guidebook and online blogs, but you do not really fully understand everything until you experience it first hand. Here is my experience of that day broken up into sections. Enjoy!
The Start Area: Friends warned me that security would take a long time and that there would be limited bathrooms at the start. Security gates opened at 7AM and were only a few blocks from our hotel so we left at 7:20AM. I had the map from my race packet, but expected to see signs to direct us to our assigned security gates. There were no signs. Just volunteers who were not directing traffic. They only provided info if you asked a question. Once I got to my security gate, I waited for about 10 min to get my ID band scanned and then got my bag checked. I cannot imagine how long the wait would have been if we got there later. They definitely needed more people to scan ID bands.
Prior to the race, I read the race manual, which had a lot of rules. They did not allow you to bring any plastic bottles into the starting area. We were told that the race organizers did not want a lot of trash in the starting area so they limited the amount of items we were allowed to bring in. See pictures below.
What I do not understand is how some people got through security with backpacks and duffel bags! I wondered how much contraband was in their bags and how security was going to check their bags when the rule book said that they were only allowed to use the clear plastic bag given to us at the expo.
There was water, bananas, tomatoes, and Pocari Sweat in pouches for runners at the start, but I was too rushed to take anything. I needed to use the bathroom!
A friend told me that they labeled the porto potties “Western Style” so that foreigners did not have to use a squat style porto potty. When I saw how long the lines were, I did not care what style I got. I waited about 15 min to use a porto potty, which I thought was not too bad. The bad part was that I could not figure out how to open the door once I finished my business. I panicked for a few seconds and fumbled with the lock and door handle until I was able to free myself from the squat toilet porto potty. Whew! Crisis averted!
Afterwards, I headed to bag check and was impressed by how organized it was considering how crazy everything else was in the start area. I got back in a different bathroom line to try to go one more time before getting in the corrals, but the line was wicked long so I left and headed to the corrals.
There were some signs directing you where to go, but it was not very clear. I ended up on this foot bridge and had to ask a volunteer for directions. Andrew entered through a different security gate and I could not contact him because I do not have international data on my phone. We did not set a meeting point beforehand because we had no idea what the situation was like in the starting area. I waited a few minutes by his corral and was so happy to see him. He told me that he was also in a very long bathroom line and just got out of the bathroom.
We were in the corrals by 8:20AM as they closed at 8:45AM and we did not want to risk being sent to the back of the corrals if we missed the cut off time. We stood in the shade shivering because we only had a poncho to cover us. It was stated in the manual that throwaway clothes were not allowed in the start area. I still wore my Marathon Tours poncho, but did not bring my throw away blanket. I was told to gently put my poncho down on the barricade and to not throw it over the side like we usually do back home. I kept my poncho on until two minutes before the start. Even though the runner’s manual said that they would not be collecting throw away clothes, there were volunteers with trash bags taking all of our clothes and trash bags. One poor volunteer got pelted in the face by someone’s shirt. That runner did not get the memo to “gently” put their clothes to the side.
The Race: The wheelchair athletes started at 9:05AM and runners started at 9:10AM. The start line was right by our hotel so my mom and two aunts were able to watch us at the very beginning of the race. After I saw them, I ran straight to the first porto potty stop, which added a little bit of distance to my race. All of the porto potties were positioned away from the race course so we had to run off course to get to it. (I felt that there were more porto potties along the course than at the start!) I thought for a few seconds whether or not I should close the door completely because I did not want to get locked inside again, but I probably would have fallen into the squat toilet if someone barged in on me, so I locked the door. Thirty seconds later, I freed myself from the toilet and got back on the course!
The road was wide, but there were a lot of runners so I was always surrounded by people. I do not know if it was the bathroom break, the jet lag, or the anxiety of running a new race, but I could not get into a good breathing rhythm. Something felt off so I had to focus a lot on my breathing. I was also very distracted by all the runners and spectators in costume.
Some people thought the crowds were not that great, but I thought they were amazing. In NYC, there are some spots (eg. Verrazano Bridge & Queensboro Bridge) that have no spectators. There were no quiet sections and the course was lined with spectators from start to finish.
The course is advertised as flat and fast, but it was not entirely flat. I think the Chicago Marathon has a flatter profile than the Tokyo Marathon. There were a few out and backs, which were good and bad. The good: I was able to spot my faster friends a few times and exchange cheers. The bad: I wanted to be on the other side of the road! My neck also started to cramp because I ran with my head turned to the right looking for friends and Andrew for many miles. I almost missed water stations because I was not paying attention to the left side of the road!
Weather: It was a cool day, but very sunny and there was very little coverage from the sun despite all the tall buildings in Tokyo. I took off my gloves within the first mile and decided to take in nutrition earlier to prevent cramps. My other concern was that fluid stations were not as frequent as I preferred. The first water stop was at 5KM. Subsequent water stops were every 2-3KM. I did not think that was enough because my lips were so chapped during the race and I felt dehydrated. I took two cups of water at each station and took eight salt pills during the race. I was still pretty salty at the end of the race. The electrolyte drink was called Pocari Sweat, which I knew I did not like so I only took water. Fluid stations also altered having water and Pocari Sweat first. The inconsistency threw off my timing of when I would run in to grab a cup. The order should be consistent at every station to make it easier for runners.
Since I started taking in my fuel (Honey Stinger Fruit Smoothie Chews) at mile 4, I finished them by mile 16 so I needed to eat something else. Also, after 40 chews, I really wanted something salty or plain. I knew they had “bread” at the later aide stations so my plan was to eat some bread to fuel the last few miles. I was really excited to grab a roll at the aide station, but was disappointed after taking my first bite that it was very sweet. I looked down at the roll and saw that it had a red bean paste filling inside! I ate around the filing and then threw the rest out. They also had tomatoes, oranges, and chocolate, which I could not eat because of my acid reflux, so I stuck to drinking more water at each aide station.
At the Marathon Tours briefing the night before the race, they told us that the marathon organizers clean up very quickly after the race so that it would not seem like there was even a race in the morning. There were hundreds of volunteers on the course holding clear plastic trash bags to take our trash. One of the rules in the book was “Take your garbage home to keep the city clean”. They take their sanitation very seriously in Tokyo. I did not see a single trash can when I walked through the city streets and the streets were spotless. It was amazing and eye opening.
Volunteers: I felt like there were more volunteers than runners. They were amazing, friendly, and full of marathon cheer! Volunteers who did not have anything to hand out, stood there and clapped for us. Best volunteers ever!
The Finish: I was hoping for a big finish line banner to help me gauge how far down the road it was, but they only had two pillars on each side. After the finish line, we walked for about 2 miles to get nutrition, towel, mylar blanket, and baggage. I will NEVER complain about walking to get my bag after the NYC Marathon again. We walked forever to get a bottle of Pocari Sweat, which I did not drink. I needed water and really felt like I was about to pass out if I did not get water soon. Once I got to the water table, I saw that it was small bottle of water. I chugged the water and asked for another one even though the sign said “One bottle per person”. The volunteer was nice enough to give me another bottle. The bottle of water came in a plastic bag and we used that plastic bag to collect a banana, bread, and a box of something. It would have been more efficient to have the bag already packed with all of those items!
After getting my bag, which was the quickest baggage retrieval ever, I found my friend Paul and Andrew. I walked with Andrew to get his 6 star medal and took some photos. There were a lot of tents for runners in the park, but we were so exhausted that we did not look around and went to catch the shuttle bus back to the hotel. The shuttle bus was only for runners who came through a tour group. Runners who came on their own had to take the subway back to their homes/hotels. The race packet included a free 24 hour subway card, but it did not work on all the subway lines so it was not that helpful. I was very glad to be part of Marathon Tours and have the benefit of the shuttle bus take us back to the start line area.
Overall, I was very entertained and wish I had been in better shape to feel better in the later miles. I was so happy to see my mom and aunts three times on the course. It was a pretty amazing feat that they were able to get to three spots on the course and see me and Andrew each time. One of my aunts is fluent in Japanese so it made navigating the metro and city a little easier. I am so thankful that they came and so happy that they were able to see us run. It is always special to me when I am able to share my passion of marathon adventuring with my family. My mom and aunts had a great time, but they were also pretty exhausted from spectating. It was a different type of “marathon” for them, but they have so many stories to tell others now.
Here are some race statistics:
Men’s Champion: Wilson Kipsang 2:03:58
Women’s Champion: 2:19:47
Men’s Wheelchair Champion: Sho Watanabe 1:28:01
Women’s Wheelchair Champion: Amanda McGrory 1:43:27
My time: 3:45:56
Andrew’s time: 3:50:06