After an overnight flight from Sydney my friend Samantha and I arrived at the race expo on Thursday at Tokyo Big Sight and met up with friends from Sydney who were running on Sunday.

There was a dedicated pick-up line for the number card for international runners before we entered the expo foyer. The foyer had a history of the past Tokyo Marathon events and an outline of the course with the names of all 36000 runners in Kanji script for the Japanese runners and English for the international runners.

With a little help from Samantha we were able to find our names near the 25k and 35k marks on the map. We entered the expo to find booths with event souvenirs and various promotions including the ‘wearable tomato project’ from the sponsor Kagome. Tomatoes were to be served at the food stations during the event. There were demonstrations of a device to deliver tomatoes from a container on a runner’s back, over their head and into the runner’s mouth, all done while running.

The final exhibit in the hall (or so I thought) was the gigantic “Ema” or wooden plaque. This is to allow runners to offer wishes for success in the event. The event organisers organised for a priest from a temple famous for the Idaten, the God of speed to pray for everyone on the gigantic “Ema”.

We thought that was the end of the expo so we went downstairs to find another exhibition hall that resembled the “Royal Easter Show” for runners. In the words of Jake Blues from “The Blues Brothers”, “This place has got everything”.

There were over 100 exhibitors in total across the two floors, complete with a food court.

One of the advantages of staying near the expo was the chance to make multiple visits. We made 3 visits to the expo and collected a total of 8 cans of Asahi beer from the “Asahi Dry Zero” booth.

On the Saturday morning before the event there was a 5k warm-up event for the international runners at Tokyo Bay. The event finished with a run down the last 195 metres of the marathon course to the finish.

The highlight of the 5k event was the kangaroo suit onesies complete with replica joey worn by other members of the Travelling Fit group. The group became the stars of the event and were were even interviewed by a media crew. We brought along a green and gold Australian flag and were pictured in the video at the post-event function. Samantha completed her first 5km event as well.

The alarm went off at 5am on race day. We arrived at the hotel restaurant at 6am to find a queue with other marathon runners ready for the “breakfast buffet sprint”. After a breakfast of porridge, fruit salad and yoghurt it was time to catch the bus to the start at Shinjuku.

After a 40 minute bus ride on the expressways of Tokyo we arrived at the start. We met the other Travelling Fit runners in the Keio Plaza hotel foyer and posed for group photos before heading to the start.

There was a 400ml total of liquids that could be brought through security, so there was no water bottles being brought in. There were baggage checks and metal detectors similar to those found at an airport to walk through. I found baggage car number 80 and headed to corral D to wait 45 minutes for the start.

The event started at 9:10am with blasts of confetti. The confetti had finished falling by the time I crossed the start line 3 minutes later. I was joined by a couple of the Travelling Fit runners at the 13km mark and we commented on the size of the crowd and gave each other encouragement.

The support crew (or the non-runners from the Travelling Fit group) navigated the Tokyo subway system to support the runners. Felicity from Travelling Fit and the supporters were at the 21km mark, 35km and 41km marks cheering and taking photos.

The course itself has a downhill section from Shinjuku for 5km, then takes a plus-sign like route from Shinagawa in the south, back through Ginza. The course then has an out-and-back section to Ueno in the north to the turnaround point at the Kaminarimon Gate then back to Ginza to the 35km mark. The final section of the event is through the fish markets of Tsukiji before reaching the finish at Tokyo Big Sight. The highest point of the course is approximately 40 metres at the start with a downhill to sea level by 5km so there is an opportunity for fast times.

I was happy with my performance of 4:03. This is despite not being able to do any long runs since Christmas due to a knee injury.

The highlight of the event was the support on course from the “Team Smile” event volunteers. There were volunteers located every 100 metres or so with a plastic bag for rubbish. Drink stations provided Pocari Sweat sports drink, volunteers at food stations served bananas, tomatoes, bread and sweets. Locals offered all sorts of treats from the roadside. Music and dance performances were located at various intervals beside the course with the beat from a taiko drum troupe accompanying runners across the finish line.

After collecting my finisher medal, finisher towel, drink and food I arrived at the baggage pick up area to find all the volunteers clapping and cheering. The effect of the volunteers clapping and cheering in a massive hall holding nearly 36000 plastic bags was amazing.

Post race drinks were held at the “Polestar Bar” in the Keio Plaza hotel. Stories of first marathon finishes, personal bests, a sub 3 hour run and Boston qualifier times were told over drinks overlooking the metropolis.

The Tokyo Marathon is promoted as “The Day We Unite” and this was evident over the city the whole weekend. Even the lights on the Tokyo Tower were changed to black and gold the night before the marathon. A special thanks to Felicity and Mari-Mar from Travelling Fit for all their support in preparing for the trip and especially over the weekend of the marathon.

John McGann