- Part 5: Tokyo Marathon – Pros & Cons and Travel Tips
Are you thinking of running Tokyo Marathon?
Here are my thoughts on the race (it’s pros and cons) as well as some tips on travel:
- Fast course. Tokyo is a fast and relatively flat course. The downhill in the first 10k of the course is a fantastic warm up. There are short climbs in the end, but these aren’t too steep. When it comes to the World Marathon Majors, I found that Berlin and London Marathon are faster courses than Tokyo (considering the course and the congestion), but Tokyo is definitely faster than New York.
- Great cool weather. Temperature during race start was around 5 to 7 degrees. A bit too cold for those who live in tropical countries like us, but with the appropriate clothing it makes for faster running. Just bring throwaway clothes (old jogging pants and sweater) or a couple of trash bags to keep you warm while waiting for race start.
- Lots of runners in fun, colourful costumes
- A lot of spectators generously handing out chocolates, fruits, candies, and drinks. There was not much screaming or yelling as Japanese are quite polite and shy, but one still could feel the crowd support.
- Clean race and city. There were trash bins everywhere. The Japanese love cleanliness and there were bins for cups and marshals holding out garbage bags from start to finish.
- Friendly and courteous staff and organizers. The marshals went out of their way to help runners.
- Cool finishers’ towel and goodies such as food, fruits, and drinks handed out at the finish line.
- Efficient baggage claim system. Hardly any waiting time to deposit and claim your baggage.
- Great time. Most marathons abroad are scheduled for the latter part of the year. Tokyo being in February is a great time for Filipinos because we don’t have to do our long runs in summer!
- For us Filipinos, this is a great opportunity to run a World Marathon Major so close to home and in a beautiful city. It’s also the most affordable World Marathon Major for us.
- Extremely long lines at the portalets before and during the race. Expect to lose 5 to 15 minutes just standing in line. They’re pretty strict about peeing in other areas too so don’t think you can get away with it.
- High congestion in some areas. The first 10km was pretty crowded for me. It may have been due to our missed wave which had us start the race at the back of the pack though.
- Local sports drink was “Amino Value.” Ingredients include amino acids but no electrolytes like Gatorade. Be ready to carry your own sports drink if water isn’t enough hydration for you.
- Uneventful start. Due to the wave start, runners are split into various groups according to their waves. There is no special start per wave like what is normally done in New York or London, there was one gun start for the first wave and the rest of the later waves do not experience this. There was a Japanese choir singing upon passing the starting line.
- Anti climactic end at Tokyo Big Sight. Once you cross the finish line, there’s not much fan fare. You receive your medal, giveaways, then you claim your baggage in a warehouse, enter another warehouse as the dressing room, and exit the area passing the family meet & greet area. There’s a Tokyo Marathon Festa with food trucks and music, but it was small and wasn’t well attended.
- Medal is small and typical. Our local medals are actually a lot more impressive.
I’m sharing some of our travel details for those who plan on signing up for Tokyo Marathon in the future.
HOTEL: Keio Plaza Hotel. Hotel is located across Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where the race starts. Do not book at the finish line because this is in the outskirts of the city. We were quite happy with our rooms, service, location of the hotel (5 minute walk to Shinjuku station), and price.
- Keio Plaza hotel had a Tokyo Marathon booth at the lobby -
AIRLINE: ANA. We booked ANA because at the time of booking, PAL did not have available afternoon flights. But, other friends were able to book PAL later on.
FOOD: Great food almost everywhere in Japan. You’ll find the best restaurants just by seeing the lines outside. Make sure to have sushi at Tsukiji market. Drool drool.
- Gabby, Mench, Ton, Angel and I fell in line for sushi at Tsukiji Market. It was so worth the wait! -
SHOPPING: Shop at Ginza (the biggest Uniqlo in the world is there!) and Ometesando for upscale shopping and Takeshita and Harajuku for trendy stuff.
- Shopping at Ometesando -
– Hidden Cat Street by Ometesando -
- Takeshita Street is a small street full of character and trendy items -
– Right by the entrance of Takeshita street are the best tasting Takoyaki balls I’ve ever had. Yummy! -
CITY: Tokyo was a fantastic city! To be honest with you, it’s what made the marathon a great one! There’s so many little pockets in the city to visit and so many things to do. Japanese are generally quiet and keep to themselves, but they are kind and friendly should you need help or engage in small chitchat. I love it so much that we’re currently planning a trip there with the family this summer.
- Part 4: Tokyo Marathon – The Race
RACE REPORT: Tokyo Marathon 2014
Date: Sunday, 23 February 2014
Many runners say that Tokyo Marathon is a PR course. The first few kilometers of the race is a gentle downhill through the roads of Shinjuku, majority of the race is flat with only short climbs starting Km 36 so you can imagine the excitement and adrenaline from all 36,000 runners standing at the starting line of this great race in an amazing city. The weather was around 7 degrees, cold for us Pinoys and even colder when the wind would hit, but we all knew that, once we started running, our bodies would warm up and we would be able to run comfortably.
During the first few kilometers, Ton, Lit, and I ran together and tried to stay close to each other as we weaved through the sea of runners. It was downhill alright, but we couldn’t really speed up due to congestion. It was a great warm up to the race.
The start of any marathon is always electrifying and filled with excitement and nerves. At Tokyo Marathon, it’s made even more interesting by the runners who came in costume. It’s hard enough to run 42km, but to do it in uncomfortable, bulky garb is something else. I spotted Bumblebee of Transformers, three cute tomatoes, a blind Batman, Jesus Christ running barefoot carrying a cross, and more during the course of the entire run.
There were also a lot of spectators from start to finish. The crowd support isn’t as big as New York or London nor is it as loud and rowdy, but the Japanese definitely showered us with their hospitality. They were extremely generous with spectators handing out anything from chocolates to strawberries and oranges to soda. They would often cheer politely: “Ganbare” meaning “Hang in there!” to motivate us runners.
Since we had started at the back of the pack (which was largely our fault because we didn’t arrive earlier), there was extremely high congestion until Km 10. It was quite tiring to weave through runners. All the portalets we passed had unbelievably long lines. You would be lucky to catch just 10 runners in line, more often there would be a lot more. Unlike other races abroad where runners can take to the bushes to relieve themselves, Tokyo is very strict with using only portalets on the race course, not even restrooms at hotels and other establishments are allowed to be used by runners.
Hydration, water and their “sports drink” Amino Value, was overflowing and served about every 2.5km, but Amino Value was problematic for me even before the race started. Amino Value only had amino acids as its ingredient, no added eletrolytes or salt like Gatorade, which I always need to perform in a marathon. To solve this, I carried 2 sachets of Gatorade Endurance formula on me plus a pack of Gatorade chews.
ON MY OWN
The first few kilometers went by quickly. Ton, Lit, and I ran as close to each other as possible, but we all had our own plans for the race. Even before we hit 5km, we all needed to go on potty break. After seeing the long lines, I told myself I’d rather hold it in than waste over 15 minutes in line. Lit and Ton decided to go on potty and I simply ran ahead.
After making a right at Iidabashi, the course was mostly flat. From Takebashi, I passed the Imperial Palace, another one of the famous landmarks of Tokyo, which was home to the Tokugawa family. It was still a bit crowded in this area, but there was definitely a bit more room to move than in earlier kilometres.
Km 10 was marked by Hibiya Park. The course took us towards Shinagawa for up to Km 15 then made a turnaround and headed back to Hibiya Park. I was feeling strong. I was on pace. I was pretty confident I could make my 4:15 target.
At Km 11, I finally saw Tokyo Tower for the first time. Tokyo Tower is 333m tall and overlooks the entire city of Tokyo. I was tempted to stop and take a photo as other runners were doing, but this was definitely no time for sightseeing. I finally felt warm enough to discard my Uniqlo fleece jacket in a clothing bin, which served me well through NYC Marathon and Berlin Marathon. I kept two gloves on all throughout the race. Yes, that’s how cold it was.
Sometime during the race, it started to drizzle. Wait, I looked again and it was snow! It was my first time to experience snow fall. I thought about my kids and how they would’ve loved to experience this. I plodded on.
At around Km 19, I finally spotted a restroom that marshals allowed for us runners to use. I felt like I had won the lottery when there was only 1 woman in line. Unfortunately, she took her sweet time in the cubicle and I think I lost almost 5 minutes waiting for her, but still it was a blessing compared to the other lines I had seen earlier in the race.
Km 21 was close to the railway tracks at Yarakucho. We passed Ginza, the upscale shopping and dining area of Tokyo, much like New York’s 5th Avenue. The roads were wide and flat. It was beautiful there! I couldn’t help but smile even if I was a bit tired. At this point, my Garmin had registered a full kilometer more than the kilometer markers on the route. This was frustrating, but I chose to focus on the goal.
At Km 22, we turned left at the Ginza 4-chome intersection and headed towards Nihonbashi then towards Asakusa. A few kilometers later, I spotted a friend, Noey Lopez, who was over 10km ahead of me at Km 34! The thought left me amazed (and also tired LOL) that I had such a long way to go compared to him.
The new Skytree, a new 634m tall broadcasting tower that provides a fantastic view of the city, marked at Km 27. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it! I hit the turnaround at Km 28 where the course took us back to beautiful Ginza where the crowds and cheerers were plentiful and we returned to Ginza 4-chome.
Just before we hit Km 37, the longest climb of the entire marathon and the only major obstacle for what runners say is a PR course, I was struck by cramps. Cramps?!! I’ve never gotten cramps in a marathon! It came so suddenly and with such great strength that it felt like there was a guinea pig doing cartwheels in my inner thigh. I assumed this was due to the lack of sports drinks so I gobbled down the last 3 Gatorade chews I had on me. Instantly, the cramps disappeared. I ran only to have them return after a few meters. I chugged down strawberries and oranges from the spectators and, again, the cramps disappeared! That cycle repeated itself from Km 36 to 42k. My pace had slowed to 7. Gaaaah! Those last 6 kilometers were the most painful kilometers I’ve ever run in all the past 9 marathons I’ve run. They felt like forever. I didn’t know if I was going to laugh or cry, but I was absolutely sure though that I was going to finish this race come hell or high water.
Soon, we were nearing Tokyo Big Sight, the finish line area. I passed the arc marked “42km! 0.195km to go!” I couldn’t feel both my thighs, but I ran through the numbness hoping that my legs wouldn’t betray me by collapsing. I crossed the finish at 4:37:15 unofficial.
- Selfie as soon as I crossed the finish -
HURT BUT HAPPY
The finish line is quite solemn. At Tokyo Marathon, there were no screaming spectators nor booming music playing in the background. All I remember seeing and feeling was a certain calmness.
- Finishers after crossing the finish. -
- Smile naman diyan! -
- with Minnie Mouse at the finish line -
There were hundreds of Japanese spectators on both sides of the finish line, but they watched in silence probably waiting for family to arrive. The marshals were very pleasant and kind, one even went out of his way to take my photo even if we could barely understand each other.
All finishers lined up to collect our medals, towels, loot bags, bananas, and oranges distributed by volunteers with cheery smiles who would politely congratulate us or gingerly clap their hands before us. To be honest, I wasn’t quite used to this type of finish. I wanted to scream: “I did it! My 10th marathon! F@#ck You, cramps!” but it almost felt like they’d pull you out of the line if you misbehaved.
- Got my towel! -
- Volunteers happily hand out fruits -
As I walked alone into the large warehouse holding my baggage, I couldn’t help but feel frustration and disappointment. I missed my target by a whopping 22 minutes. I had higher expectations for myself. I should’ve arrived the race start earlier. I should’ve known better and I should’ve carried more Gatorade formula on me to prevent cramps. Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.
- Wow, baggage claim was quick and organized. Here are the race staff awaiting runners at the baggage claiming. -
Then, I met friends Ton and Lit at the dressing area and we laughed and giggled as we shared our marathon stories. I realized that it was awfully selfish and shallow of me to dwell on missed targets. Lit reminded me that we were blessed to finish yet another marathon.
A marathon is a marathon. From the day we start training until we cross that finish line, so many elements have to come together to run your perfect race. We try our best and hope for the best, but if things don’t end up as planned, then we correct our mistakes, we lace up, and we train harder. It’s as simple as that.
- Runners are treated to a foot bath at the finish area -
I have been fortunate enough to run 10 marathons in some of the most beautiful cities in the world. Even more, I am simply blessed to be able to run. Thank you, Tokyo, for reminding me about that.
- 10 fingers for 10 marathons! I was happy to have chosen Tokyo as my 10th marathon -
- with Ton and Lit -
- My post run meal at the Tokyo Marathon Festa by the finish line -
- Part 3: Tokyo Marathon – Race Start
Our hotel lobby was buzzing with activity by the time Ton, Lit, Angel and I came down from our rooms at 8:00AM on race day. Numerous runners from all over the world had booked at our hotel, Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, which was just across the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, one of Tokyo’s landmarks and the race start of Tokyo Marathon. There was even an official Tokyo Marathon booth at our hotel lobby.
We met other Filipinos who were racing that day, wished them luck, and quickly headed for the race start.
- View of the assembly area from our hotel room over an hour before race start -
- Bumped into friends Ian Ocampo and Joan Tengco who were racing that day too -
Tokyo Marathon this year had 36,000 participants. The entire road was filled with runners of all shapes and sizes busy prepping for the race.
- Obligatory shoe shot with my dearest friends in running -
- Gangstas from Manila! -
- Entering the assembly area -
- This was the scene when we finally entered the assembly area -
Most runners were shuffling to and fro heading to baggage deposit before the 8:30AM closing or to their different race starts. Others were eating and others were warming up. Most were waiting in long lines at the portalets. We each deposited our baggage and lined up at the portalets while chatting and laughing away, something that, as I observed, the more timid and quiet Japanese don’t indulge in as much as we Pinoy runners like to do LOL.
- Here I am in line at the portalets. Don’t you think the lady behind me looks like an older version of our dear Tessa Prieto-Valdes? -
- It’s Bumblebee! -
Tokyo Marathon implemented a wave start to accommodate all the runners and avoid congestion. The 4 of us had different wave starts. Due to the long wait at the portalets, by the time we joined the mass of runners heading towards our respective wave starts, we were caught by surprise when, just a row ahead of us, a marshal closed off the road.
We learned that we missed our wave and we, along with hundreds of other runners, would start the race at the back of the pack. This could only mean one thing: we were in trouble. Back of the pack of a major race meant that there would be heavy congestion for us. Worse, weaving through a mass of runners would require extra effort and take more energy from us. Later on, we learned that this also made for even longer lines at almost all the portalets we passed.
After a few more minutes of waiting in the cold and watching all the waves start before us, the cordon blocking us off was released and we were off.
- The last shot I took before our race began. We basically started our race AFTER all the other waves had started. -
We ran ahead with huge smiles on our faces as we made a left towards the starting line arc at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. There was a Japanese choir singing quite dramatically and loose confetti scattered all over the roads from the single gun start. Other major marathons will actually have separate gun starts for each wave for runners to feel the excitement and adrenaline of each start, but not this one. There was no gun that went off for us nor an announcer marking our start. We simply crossed the starting line, turned on our Garmins, and we were off.
Next: Part 4: Tokyo Marathon – The Race
- Part 2: Tokyo Marathon – Eats & Run
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The best way to tour a city is to run it.
For destination marathons, it’s almost tradition for my friends and I to run a short, easy run on Friday to get our bodies warmed up and to acclimatize while we discover the city on foot before the marathon, which is usually held on Sundays.
FRIDAY, 21 FEBRUARY 2014 – TRAINING RUN
Ton, Lit and I set out from our hotel and just decided to run around the area.
- Group selfie before our little adventure -
- Aaah Tokyo! What a beautiful city -
- This area reminded me of Central Park in New York -
We were lucky enough to discover Shinjuku Cheo Park just a few kilometres from our hotel. It was a small park that was just a delight to run in.
- Snow! -
The starting area of the race was at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building just across our hotel.
- Ton and Lit running at the building -
– Lit right at the start area -
After our run, Ton and I tried our best to get our game face on so we could join the elite Athletes Conference at our hotel.
GOOD TOKYO EATS!
When we run, we must eat, too! My favourite cuisine is Japanese, so you cannot even imagine how thrilled I was to be eating Japanese food 3x (or more) a day. We set out in search of the best places to eat and willingly lined up just to enter them. These are just a few of the restaurants we visited.
First stop: Ramen! We ordered ramen via vending machine, we filled up a form for our preferred taste, then we were led to single cubicles to eat! It was a different and super satisfying experience!
Ton, Mench, Gabby, and I fell in line—again—just to enter Tsunahachi Tempura at Shinjuku. They said this was one of the best places for Tempura. We were lucky enough to land ourselves a tatami table, too. The tempura was good, but not great.
After the marathon, we ate even more! More on those later.
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE
As always, I lay out all my gear the evening before the race. Cold races always require us to pack so much more equipment: additional layers of clothing, throwaway clothes, garbage bags to keep us warm, gloves (I wore 2!), bonnets, petroleum jelly to combat chapped lips, and more. I used my black Nike long sleeves top which I purchased years ago at Nike Campus in Oregon when I ran Hood to Coast. I wore it to all my major marathons: New York, CIM, Berlin, and London. (After Tokyo, my poor baby will retire! Sob sob!) I also used my favorite CW-X compression tights which I used at London. For the first time, I was using my Saucony Guide 6 for a marathon. A shoe that passed my long run tests with flying colours and I was willing to test for a 42k.
My major concern with this race was that they would not be providing Gatorade nor another sports drink with electrolytes and salt. As announced, the hydration sponsor was Amino Value, which I learned during the expo, contained amino acids. Good thing, Angel brought an entire bag of Gatorade Endurance Formula along, so I prepared sachets of Gatorade for me to carry, mix with water at stations, and drink at certain points during the race. I prepared 3 but, last minute, I decided to carry only 2. Huge mistake. Angel also gave me a pack of Gatorade chews.
Lit provided us with buffs to shield our faces from the cold as we run. Of course, we had to test these too. Yo from the gangstas from Manila!
With that, we all got an early night’s sleep for next day’s marathon. It was going to be my 10th marathon. I shut my eyes and tried my best to contain the excitement.
- Part 1: Tokyo Marathon – Race Expo
I had been dreaming of running Tokyo Marathon for the past few years. The dream was planted by a friend who mentioned that Japanese hand out chocolates from start to finish of the race. (I know, I’m easy!) Then, when Tokyo was included into the roster of World Marathon Majors just recently, it was a no brainer. I signed up for the lottery and later found out I had been chosen! It was fate!
So, I left for Tokyo last February 20, ran the marathon on the 23rd, did some marathon shopping on the 24th, and got back last February 25. For the next few days, I had been practically glued to my bed uncertain if I was tired from the marathon or the marathon shopping-eating combination.
Thankfully, with the help of deep tissue massage and Bikram Yoga, I’ve been able to bounce back this week with renewed energy. And so this begins my series of posts about Tokyo Marathon. Sit back with some sushi and enjoy!
THURSDAY, 20 FEB 2014
Brrrrrr. It was freezing cold when I, along with friends Ton and Lit accompanied by his wife and son, arrived in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon. After we checked into our hotel, Keio Plaza Hotel, which was a partner hotel of the race and was conveniently located across the starting line of the marathon, Ton, Lit and I wasted no time in heading out to the race expo to claim our race kit. Uh huh, we weren’t that excited.
The Tokyo Marathon race expo was located at Tokyo Big Sight, the venue for the finish line. It was a fantastic expo, comparable to the expo of other bigger marathons, like New York and London and much better than Berlin’s. Allow these photos to do the talking…
Entrance to the Expo
The requisite pose by the entrance before claiming my bib
Orderly, organized, and, most importantly, quick claiming of race kits
Big poster of the Tokyo Marathon course
And now we feel like we walk through the course
Tokyo Marathon is now part of the World Marathon Majors which include 5 other marathons: Berlin, London, New York, Chicago, and Boston. After Tokyo, I have two more to go!
Tokyo Marathon medals
Runners hang notes for the marathon
After claiming our race kits and having the chip tested, we entered the sponsors’ booths area to be welcomed by this view. My jaw dropped. I had never seen so many official race shirt choices before. (Later I learn that only 3 or 4 of those shirts were for women. Boo!)
They had official race towels, gloves, and caps too.
The official apparel and shoe sponsor of the race was Asics, but almost all major shoe brands were represented here. Conspicuously absent was Nike.
- We are marathoners! -
Limited Edition Tokyo Marathon Saucony shoes
And now for more shopping!
Only in Tokyo will you spot CW-X tights that are these colourful!
In case you tire while running, they had a BMW bike too LOL