Part 4: Tokyo Marathon – The Race

Monday, 10 March 2014  |  Race Reports

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.


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 –


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 –

Next: Part 5: Tokyo Marathon – Pros & Cons