This was my first visit to Japan and what a blast!
I travelled with my husband and running partner, Stefan. We decided to spend two weeks in total in Japan. We arrived 1 week prior to the race and bought the 14-day Japan Rail Pass and travelled around the western part of Japan before and after the race. The JR Pass is highly recommended if you plan to travel around. Just make sure you get the pass prior to travelling as you cannot buy it in Japan. The train network can be overwhelming at first as there are so many different ways to get to a place. But everyone is so polite and friendly in Japan, you can easily find locals to help you.
We stayed at the Keio Plaza hotel in Shinjuku. The location of the hotel is very convenient, close to Shinjuku station which is one of the major station in Japan. The hotel is only a 10 min easy walk from the station. All around Shinjuku there are plenty of restaurants and entertainment. I would recommend walking around the red light sections of Shinjuku (which is on the other side of Shinjuku station, away from the hotel) as it is quite an experience. There are also little alley ways where you can eat Izakayas (Japanese street food) – just find the busiest place and try to squeeze in.
We travelled to the Expo on the Friday before the race. I always get a little choked up when I get to the Expo. This is my fourth Marathon Majors and the Tokyo one is one of the most efficient in terms of collecting the race bibs – it literally only took us 5 mins and no queuing! The Expo is big but since you don’t have to queue, you can easily cover the whole Expo in 1 hour or less. Note, you cannot exchange you shirt size so make sure you order the right size – if in doubt order a larger size.
There was an International Friendship Run on the Saturday morning prior to the marathon. It is only 5kms and a good warm-up event. We registered for the run but didn’t end up running on the day as we did a lot of walking while travelling around Japan the week prior and wanted to give our legs a break and save them for the race! If you are staying next the Expo, then definitely worth registering for this run and you get advance viewing of what the last 0.2km of the race will look like on race day!
There are so many things to do in Tokyo – four days was not enough!
As usual, the night before the race, we laid out all of our running gear and tried to have an early night.
We woke up early the next morning and could see all of the volunteers and organisers setting up outside the hotel. We could also see Mt. Fuji from our room which was unexpected.
There are about 3 different restaurants serving breakfast at our hotel. We just had a light breakfast on race day. Two of the restaurant serves breakfast buffet style and one served a Japanese breakfast. We tried the Japanese breakfast the day after the race and it was awesome, they serve the breakfast in a bento box and it looks so pretty.
Since the start gate was in front of our hotel, we had a pretty cruisy stroll to the start line. Finding the right baggage truck took a while as the trucks were not in number order! Once we checked in our bag and found our gate, we waited for the race to start. It was fascinating watching the other runners, I have never seen so many colourful outfits and costumes for a Majors. People watching definitely made the waiting more interesting.
The event started at around 9am but we didn’t cross the start line until about 10 mins later. There was a guy in front of us dressed as a Buddha statue and we couldn’t believe how fast he was running with all the gear he was carrying. The same guy finished ahead of us…yes, we are not a fast runner!
It was amazing to see the costumes, there were heaps of guys wearing full suits, I saw at least 2 cat woman, minions, boxers, Superman, Donald Duck, where’s wally and loads of random outfits. I wished I bought a costume of my own! Entertainers lined the side of the streets, YMCA was played in both English and Japanese! There were Japanese drummers, traditional dancers, hip hop dancers, school kids and many other entertainers.
We spotted the Travelling Fit support crew at about the half way mark. The giant Australian flag was a great way to spot them. It also helped that Mitch is about 3 meters tall so you could see him a mile away! It was good to see familiar faces in the crowd.
I couldn’t bring my hydration pack so relied on the drinks served by the organisers. They serve Pocari Sweat throughout the race. It taste like lemonade and I quite enjoyed it. There are heaps of drink tables and everyone seems to go for the first table, so it is worthwhile going to the later tables, definitely less congested.
This was the first race where I have seen tomatoes and bread offered at the food stations. We grabbed some tomatoes, there were red and yellow ones – both equally delicious! Plus the tomatoes provided a much needed change in flavour from the copious amount of gels I have been consuming.
There are also heaps of people in the crowd offering food such as lollies, but I wasn’t game enough to try them.
The race course itself is pretty flat, other than the downhill for the first 5kms and uphill for the last 5 kms. The course loops a bit, so you can see the more advance runners a few times on the course. The first 35kms you are in the city center covered by tall buildings, but towards the end as you head for the Tokyo Big Sight, you start to see more space. There are also less crowds between the 35km and 40km mark. This is also when the ramps/hills starts to appear. If you live in Sydney and have done a few hill runs, you won’t even notice there is an incline. But if you are not used to hills, make sure you save some energy for these hills. We saw quite a few runners having to stop and walk up the hills.
I had Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” playing as I tackled the last hill at the 41km mark – could not have asked for a better song or timing!
They don’t provide markers for from 1km to the finish line. If there are, I couldn’t see them. So it was a nice surprise when all of a sudden I saw a sign saying there is only 195m to go!!
We tried to sprint as fast as we could to the finish line and managed to finish just under 4:30 which was a PB for my husband! So we were both happy with our times, especially considering we had a toilet break during the race which took us about 10 mins due to the queue. This was my fault for water loading prior to the race. Not sure why I did that considering there are drinking stations throughout the course.
The highlight of the race was definitely, my husband getting a PB, spotting the Aussie support crew, seeing the other Travelling Fit runners throughout the course, and the crazy costumes. Out of all the races I have completed, I think I smiled the most at this race – even after the dreaded 32km point I was still smiling!
The local supporters are great, not only do they offer food, a lot of them also offered pain relief sprays.
When you cross the finish line, you get a medal and a Tokyo Marathon finisher towel. You also get alcohol free Asahi and a goodies bag. Collecting your bag at the end was very seamless. We had to catch the bus back to our hotel, we didn’t have to wait long to get in the bus.
My husband is a reluctant marathoner and he usually finish a race with a comment about how he doesn’t want to do anymore. This is his third marathon and to my surprise, when I started talking about the next marathon we should do, I didn’t hear the usual objection from him. So I think he really enjoyed Tokyo.
This is our second trip with Travelling Fit and as always, the team was great at supporting us, before and during the race. Thanks Felicity and Mitch! Hope to see you again at our next marathon adventures!