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 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 🙂

From Dubai to Tokyo in 3 days

Well, my Japanese is quite rusty (or, full disclosure, non-existent), so I have no idea what the above means, but I do know that we are closing in on Tokyo Marathon race day. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is less than one week to the Tokyo Marathon, and how have I spent the final week of preparations? Poolside in Dubai (OK, I have managed to include 3 short running sessions between my tanning and bathing, but that is all). Maybe not the perfect physical preparation, but I must say it was all worth it in mental wellness.

I have just about broken loose from the not so comfy seat at the Norwegian flight from Dubai, have emptied my suitcase of all beach related items and am now packing my marathon gear. The weather forecast doesn’t exactly look promising, with rain on race day, but that can change (hopefully), so I am packing for all eventualities.

Update: I have received translation of the above text from a reader (thank you so much) and the text means:

Well, no…the Japanese says:
“Tokyo Marathon 2019
Press Conference
(Wheelchair athletes interview)”

Tokyo Marathon – Less than 1 month to go (#SoNotReady)

Sometimes life throw you a curve ball that takes you totally by surprise and forces you to re-evaluate all plans…. 1 week ago, with only 1 month to go before Tokyo Marathon, my biggest concern was whether I will be able to complete at all and get my big, fat six-star-finisher medal. Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly Tokyo seemed inconsequential. After 10 days back and forth to the hospital for MRI, CT, colonoscopy and you name it, we finally got the good news yesterday that the tumor seems operable and that the cancer seems not to have spread to any other organs. Safe to say we cried of relief of that message.

So, given the good news, my trip to Tokyo is back on. But, of course, having used all my energy on worrying, my immune system was quite beat, so no I am out cold with fever, sore throat and an aching body… In other words, I think it will take a few more days before I am wearing my jogging shoes again.

Even being quite unprepared (but then again, what else is new?), I am starting to look forward to my trip to Tokyo. My knowledge of the city is quite below par, and what springs first to mind is sumo wrestling, sake, supporters who actually pick up their own litter after world cup football games (even when loosing big), and of course the a bit too close proximity to a sometimes trigger-happy Kim Jong Un. After reading “The Runner Handbook” that arrived last week, I must also found some of the warnings to be quite interesting and new: First was a list of what was prohibited to bring to the starting area. I mean bottles and cans, unless for commercial unopened container for less than 500ml are prohibited. A bit strange, but OK. Then to the a bit more bizarre: it is not allowed to bring advertising, boom boxes, animals (!) and plants…. But, what really got me freaked was the necessity of actually having to specify the prohibition of bringing pepper spray, knives, poison, fire works and explosives!

A couple of other warnings in the handbook are also new to me in marathon settings.

» If the Japanese Government’s nationwide warning system J-Alert sends an alarm related to ballistic missile launches, follow the instructions.»

and

»If an upper 5 or greater earthquake strikes Tokyo, the race will be discontinued immediately»

Not very comforting, I must admit, but hopefully it will be OK. At least I feel my lack of preparation is not my biggest concern at the moment…