Tokyo Marathon – 8 things you should know

It has already been a week sine I crawled over the finishing line in Tokyo Marathon and was awarded both the Tokyo Marathon finisher medal and the fabulous Six Star Finisher medal. A fantastic experience! In this post I have collected some valuable information worth knowing about if you consider running in the Tokyo Marathon.

1. Registering

The qualifying time for Tokyo Marathon is quite difficult to achieve, but no need to worry if you are not in that exclusive group, sine there are alternative means to secure a spot. One way is to enter the lottery, but with over 300.000 applicants (2018 numbers) the chances of winning a start place is quite slim. The results from the ballot are not published before September, meaning if you don’t succeed, chances of securing a spot are small.

One alternative to qualifying or succeed in the ballot is to buy a spot through a travel agent. Usually their program is quite professionally put together, but the disadvantage is that it is expensive.

What we did was to secure our spots through charity. The charity registering opened last year in early July, meaning a couple of months before we get the ballot results, and already a couple of days later, all the spots were taken. What you have to do is enter the homepage of Tokyo Marathon and enter as a charity runner (in 2019 they had 4000 charity spots), choose your charity, pay in the minimum donation of 100.000 JPY (approx. USD 800). It is important that you both enter as a charity runner and pay the specified JPY at once, or else your registration is invalid. If you have done it correctly, you will get a mail confirming your spot. Just to be safe, make sure you read ALL the information before entering as a charity runner.

2. Pre-Race Information

After entering as a charity runner in the beginning of July, we did not hear anything from Tokyo Marathon until the beginning of February, where we got the bib-number registration and the runner handbook. After that we received regular update mails up until race day. It is important that you read the runner handbook really thoroughly, since it contains information about what is allowed into the starting area, as well as an overview of cutoff-times.

3. Expo

We did struggle a bit with founding the expo, much due to us taking a taxi since it was raining heavily that day. The taxi driver, however, didn’t speak a word of English and managed to drop us off at the wrong place. Guess we would have been better off taking the metro instead. The expo was split between several big tents, which was not very practical in the rain. It was quick to register and get our bib number and then we were ready for some shopping. The main shopping stand for Asics were fortunately in a warm tent with a dry floor, but the rest of the stands were either in tents with watery floors or outside. In other words, not very tempting to shop, so I ended up just with a couple of T-shirts. One tip when it comes to buying clothes both at the expo or else in Japan, is to always try them on, since they are operating in Japanese sizes that are considerably smaller than ours. I ended up buying size XL instead of my regular M/L.

The opening times for the expo was:

4. Metro-card

Along with the bib-number we got a metro card, valid for 24 hours; a really nice touch. We chose to take the JR line (train) to the start line instead of the metro, so we saved our cards for them to be valid at another date instead.

5. Starting area

Then we have reached the race day. The starting area for 2019 was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and the nearest station was Shinjuku station. This is actually the worlds most buzziest station with over 3,5 millioner daily passengers and has 200+ exits. We were a bit concerned that we would get lost in there, but it turned out that it was nothing to worry about. From the moment we stepped out of the train, we were met by volunteers with signs showing us which way to go and they continued until we reached our gate (we were to enter through gate 3). At the gate we had to have our wristband scanned to verify identity and then our bags were manually checked for prohibited items. Luckily all this happened while we were still inside the station, so that we weren’t getting wet, at least not yet.

The first group of toilets were under roof and the lines were endless. But, it turned out that the lines were quickly executed and volunteers made sure the lines were in perfect order. One guy stood in the back of the line with a sign saying that the line started there. In the beginning of the line there were additional volunteers telling you when it was your turn and also which toilet to use. Unfortunately the toilets were of the squatting kind, so I managed with just that one visit to the bathroom.

Turning in my baggage went also OK. A smart detail was that our bib number was marked with which car to deliver your luggage to.

The Runner’s handbook contains a list of all the timings for the starting area. Make sure that you read and keep these limits or else you will not be allowed to start:

6. The Course

The course starts with about 5 km downhill before it flattens out and remain flat for the rest of the run. It takes the runners through both old and modern Tokyo and in multiple parts, you will see the quicker runners running in the opposite direction. A lot of interesting sights to view along the course, not that I would know since yours truly was more occupied with looking down in the ground and yelling at my legs to keep on going.

7. The Run

Then we are finally at the run itself. I started in the last corral (L), so it took about 30 minutes from gun time at 09:10 for me to cross the starting line. One major difference from other marathons is that Tokyo Marathon practices a course time limit of 7 hours from gun time and not from when you cross the starting area, meaning my real time limit was 06:30. They also have cutoff points approx. every 5 km and they are strongly enfored due to the need to open the roads for traffic again. To try to get as many runners to finish the race, the run had Finish Support-runners, dressed in golden colors and with gold balloons and if they ran passed you better speed up, because if your are behind them at the cutoff checkpoint, then you are out of the race. A lot of runners didn’t know about the mid-course cutoff places and some acted with rage when forced to leave the run (example). The link shows an American that doesn’t exactly take the defeat in an honorable way, but choose to yell at the volunteers and the whole thing is really embarrasing.

As mentioned, the gun time is at 09:10 and below you can view the cutoff times, which are to be found in the Runner’s handbook:

I have never taken a toilet break during my 13 completed marathons, much due to me running so slow that I have no time to spare. I did, however, hear about runners spending 10-15 minutes in line for the toilets along the course, so the best advice is to try to keep it in as long as possible.

From about 5 km you will find drinking station about every 3 km. All of these have water and every second has sports drink. At the various stations also gel, bananas, and other types of energy are offered. A complete list of what you will get at the different stations can be found in the Runner’s handbook.

The Japanese are from childhood trained in not throwing garbage but to bring it home with them and in Tokyo the streets are so clean you can practically eat off them. At each drinking station there were lots of boxes for discarding your drinking cups. In addition you had volunteers every 100m or so, holding up bags for us to discard our garbage. Even with these precautions, a disappointed number of runners managed to just throw their cups and gels on the street. I mean, I do understand the elite group not doing this, but it should be that hard for the rest of the runners.

8. Finishing Area

The finishing area was just as organized as the rest of the marathon and when we finally crossed the finishing line, we were promptly met by a water station and a goodie bag station, a station for aluminum blankets, one for the finisher medal and also a separate station for those receiving the Six Star Finisher medal (meaning you have completed marathons in Boston, Chicago, New York, Berlin, London and Tokyo). A huge moment!

Further on we were led to our baggage and then to a separate building for charity runners where we could change our clothes and warm ourselves.

I also heard rumors that those having registered at the expo that they were not to bring any baggage to the starting line, got a poncho and a fleece jacket. I did not, however, see any of those, since I had more than enough looking out for my self.

These are some of the reflections I made before, during and after the run and I hope they can be of help to others who are to participate in Tokyo Marathon, an adventure I would really recommend. 🙂

Tokyo – Elephant Feet From Hell

Friday was the departure date from Japan and I left Tokyo with somehow ambivalent feelings. On the one side, there was still so much to see (and eat), but on the other (and definetely the most dominant one) side, I was longing to see Christer (junior) again, after 9 days of Skyping.

I hour train ride, almost 12 hour first leg flight, sprinting through the airport in Copenhagen, another 1 hour flight and a short taxi ride later, we were finally home. Our luggage, however, didn’t sprint as well in Copenhagen, so they never made it to Sandefjord.

It was so good to see Christer again and he actually took it well when I told him that the Japanese candy I had bought for him was in my suitcase. Something that was definetely not in my suitcase, but where lying safely in my hand luggage, were my 2 new medals and my first order of business (even before taking a shower after 20 hours of travelling) was to hang them in their rightfulky place on the Wall of Fame. There is something so right about this picture, right?

As earlier mentioned, the trip home was a bit bumpy and I did notice (while sprinting through the airport) that my feet were not fully pn my side. Granted I felt a bit flubby from before after binging on delicacies of the fabulous Japanese cuisine for the last 9 days, but this was somewhat unexpected. Check out the size on my legs after the long flight (from last night and from earlier this morning)!! Have you seen worse?

All in all it was OK to be back at home, but what I don’t appreciate is the weather goods already messing with me and in the form of MORE SNOW!!! Now thatwe were finally gotten rid og the old one (sigh…).

Tokyo – Finally time for sumo wrestling

Today is unfortunately our last day in Tokyo and what better way to finish off than with some sumo wrestling? To us westerners seeing 2 flubby men in a skimpy little outfit can seem a bit strange, but here in Japan it’s the national sport and the wrestlers are idolized.

We had hoped to see a genuin sumo wrestling match, but unfortunately none were to be arranged during our stay. Instead we settled for an organized tour, ordered through getyourguide.com, but arranged by a local operator. It included an introduction to the sport by some retired wrestlers as well as a show-match. A very touristy thing to do of course, but hey, we wanted to see sumo wrestling, and this was the only viable option to obtain that. The price was about USD 110 and the activity also included the option of going against one of the wrestlers (spoler alert: I skipped that…) and lunch.

We were to meet up in the Ryoguku area, famous for its many sumo stables. We had a bit of a hard time finding the placesince the entrance felt like just a whole in the wall, but we had predicted this, so we still had some time to spare when we finally reached our destination.

We were greeted by an amicable middelaged Japanese lady, who fortunately spoke English fluently. She took us to our table, located in a big room with a big mat in one end. Around the room we saw memoribilis of two wrestlers’ former glory.

Soon the show started and we got to meet the wrestlers (which names I heard, but managed to forget like 5 seconds later). They took us through the rules, warm-ups and techniques, all in Japanese of course, but the lady from before translated with

The wrestlers also did 3 show matches, where the big one (still do not remember his name ) won 2-1.

Before the lunch was served, we learned that sumo wrestlers cook their own food. They actually get so experienced in cooking that 50% of them choose the restaurant business as their second careere. They only eat two times a day, but then they eat a lot. The guy below revealed that when he was active he was able to eat up to 300 shushi pcs in one single meal, but now he is down to like a hundred.

The lunch was like all other food we have tasted in Japan; really tasty. We got a «Chanko Nabe», a real sumo lunch consisting of a hot pot with vegetables, proteins an chicken broth.

Unfortunately this was our last activity in the amazing city which is Tokyo. Tomorrow we go home, so tickets to the express train have been purchased and our suitcases (nearly) packed. So long, Tokyo, hope to see you again.

Tokyo – Karaoke Time!

It would have been a real shame leaving Tokyo without experiencing karaoke, so yesterday we looked up the venues in the neighbourhood for a night of singing. The choice fell on Big Echo Karaokebar, only a 10 minute walk from our Marunouchi hotel.

Before we booked a table at the karaoke bar, however, we made a pitstop for som food and (lots of drinks) at the bar next door as a warm-up. Then we booked a private room with a big TV screen and two micriphones for the six of us (with additional drinks to further loosen up the vocal cords…).

Earlier in the day, a couple of the boys were a bit sceptical of the whole karaoke and claimed audience status only. But, being in the room with a drink in their hand, made that scepticism evaporate within minutes. The whole room took off and we all went all in singing wise. We (of course) felt that we were really nailing it, but in retrospect, I think we made a wise call deciding to prohibit autio/video recording of the seance.

Our plan was to only book the room for like 30 minutes to an hour, but 3,5 hour later the staff practically had to force the microphones out of our hands. A super fun experience, and the possibility og booking a private room made even the shyest of us break out in singing.

Tokyo Marathon – A real struggle, but the Six Star Finisher medal is in the bag

OK, first a spoler alert; I MADE IT!!

After a terrible night with hardly any sleep, I woke up at race day at 5 AM, not exactly in top shape for 42.2 km. One look at the rain ouside, and I was tempted to crawl back into bed and forget about the whole thing. But, we are after all doing this volunteerly, we have worked for it for several years an we have actually paid a small fortune to come here, so I managed to give myself a kick in the rear and get ready for breakfast.

When it came to transportation to the starting area, it was already timed perfectly by our group’s Tokyo-Transportation-system-whisperer, so we others really only had to meet up in the hotel lobby, walk to the next building (Tokyo Station), walk for a few more minutes without concerning ourselves with which direction to take and volià, there was our train and after a 15 min train ride we reached our destination.

Yhe bib-number control and baggage checked were done real quickly (have I mentioned how efficient the Japanese are?), so we had over an hour to kill before the run started. I choose to spend that time in a stair case, after a trip to one of the many outdoor toilets, which was quite an experience indeed. The most organized line ever, with a guy standing in the end of the line holding a sign saying the line starts here. There were also multiple persons actually telling which toilet to go to when it was our turn. Perfect system and no cutting in line..

Check out the line in the background.

Even if the lines seemed endless, I didn’t have to wait too long before it was my turn. On drawbavk, however, was the fact that these were squatting toilets and small, which made this. 1.78m, 40+ year old with bad knees struggle so much that I almost fell over at one point. I did make it though, but a repeat visit was out of the question, so I made myself hold it in until the race was over and more comfortable facilities could be located.

One our before my starting tine, I went to my starting block to get in an as good as possible position. Tokyo Marathon practices gun-shot timing when i comes to cutoff times, and they are strict on enforcing those times. My starting block not crossing the starting line before 30 minutes after the gun-shot, made it a real threat that I might struggle with some of the earliest cutoff times, which I incidentely also ended up doing. It did not help either that I wad, due to the heavy rain, both cold and soaking wet, so it wasn’t the most amusing hours of my life that marathon.

I must admit that the race itself was a struggle from Start to Finish and I wad really hurting from all the longruns I never took prior to it. But, I did manage to crawl over the finishing line in the end and was handed both the regular Tokyo Marathon medal and the big Six Star Finisher’s medal, the proof that I have made it through all the major marathons in the world (Boston, Berlin, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo), something approx. 4000 have done before us, but only 36 Norwegians.

Something very uplifting during the race and which really made my day, was of course our anazing cheerleader, running through town to cheer for us at three different locations. ❤️

So to sum up: rain and windy, soaking wet, painful race, but two more medals in the bag. Now it’s time for celebrations.

The gang (but missing our cheerleaders).

Tokyo Marathon – Bib number and final preparations

We arrived Tokyo a rainy and windy Thursday afternoon, dead beat after only a couple of hours sleep on the plane. Since we expected to slide into a coma the minute we reached our hotel room, we decided to go directly to the expo to pick up our bib number.

The expo was about a 30 minutes drive away, so we had the reseption call us two taxies. Neither of the drivers knew any English but we thought we were safe since we had written down both the address and the name of the place. Turned out we were not. The taxis took us to two different places and fir our part we had to search for the place for a while before we found it, and on the way we even fell into a history garage, with a display of vintage cars.

When we finally reached the expo, we managed to meet up with the rest of the group, who had to climb a hedge to get there.

When it comes to the expo… On the positive side, going there the first day was a strike of luck, since there were hardly anyone there and collecting the bib number and free T-shirts did not take any time at all. The volunteers were also so enthusiastic, friendly and helpful through the whole process.

So to the sub-par parts, where the poor weather must take its fair share of the blame. The expo consisted of multiple tents about 20 meter apart and it wasn’t that much fun running back and forth between them. In addition there were deep puddles of water on the ground inside the tents due to the heavy rain, so we where soaking wet by the time we reached the exit. It wasn’ exactly tempting to shop anything in these conditions, but luckily the main shopping stand was both dry and warm, so I was able to purchase a couple of running T-shirts (in size XL I might add, due to the bloody small Japanese sizes).

Since all four runners in our group are also eligable for the big, fat Six Star Finisher medal we had hoped to buy som Abbott merch on the expo (they had a huge stand in Chicago), but bo such luck. We’ll have to wait until the online store opens. But, it was great to see the Wall of Fame with the name of all about 4000 before us who have achieved this goal (running marathons in Berlin, Boston, New York, Chicago, London and Tokyo that is..), where only 36 are from Norway and only 14 are women (hey, when you suck too much to compete on time, you’ll have to find something else to compete in….)

It was so relieving being done with the bib collecting and on our way back to the hotel we got a crash course in the metro system of Tokyo. I wouldn’t say we nailed it, but at least we got home without too much hassle.

Fast forward to Saturday and the day before the race. No turning back now, so I am aiming for a good nights sleep and hope for the best tomorrow.

Wish me luck 🙂

Tokyo – Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing is the Times Square of Tokyo with its huge billboards and neon ligh. In is also one of the most buzziest intersections in the world with people crossing in all directions at once.

Check out this video to get the feeling of participating in the chaos of crossing the intersection.

We managed to spend a couple of hours just crossing the street from all angles and by just looking at the crowd. The Starbucks nearby turned out to be the perfect hangout for the spotting activities.

This intersection has also appeared in movies/TV shows such as Lost in Translation, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fuller House and is definetely worth a visit.

..and si is the neighbouring area…