Tokyo Marathon Race Report

The Tokyo Marathon joined the big league in 2013 when it was included in the World Marathon Majors series. And rightly so – this is one well-organised event with around 35,000 runners and a mind boggling 1.6 million spectators lining the street of Tokyo on the day! Read on for our race report…

Our Training
The TTS team of Paul, Drew, Alison and Nick entered the marathon back in September last year, using Travelling Fit to book our entries and accommodation. Many of you will have seen us training over recent months, with our Saturday long runs peaking at about 37km a few weeks prior to the event. Training over summer was great, with early starts much easier with an early sunrise, although the recent heatwaves didn’t help so much!

It was the most structured training plan we’d followed for a while, with the long runs starting as far back as October last year. We all had a bit of a break over Christmas, with the big distances from January onwards. Some of you might remember that Paul, Drew and Alison last attempted an overseas marathon in November 2012, when we flew to New York only to have the marathon cancelled at the 11th hour due to the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. It was with some concern that we watched the news a week prior to Tokyo with reports of the heaviest snowfalls in decades!!! We’re Off!

Landing in Tokyo, one thing was immediately apparent – it was cold! Great running conditions, but the piles of snow on the sidewalk that weren’t melting was an indication of how cool it was. Fortunately the weather had cleared and the forecast was for a cool but dry event. We immediately set off to the Marathon Expo to collect our race numbers.

Tokyo learning #1 – the subway is seriously large and busy. We were staying at Shinjuku where the subway station records 3.3m passenger movements per day. Wow. The Expo was impressive – plenty of noise and movement! A little disappointing in terms of merchandise (Drew was remarkably restrained!) but a great atmosphere. There were fewer international runners than we had expected, although no shortage of stalls to look at and kitsch gifts for people back home. Tokyo Marathon branded chocolates, anyone?

Preparation Time!
We all arrived on the Thursday, giving us three days before the big event. Time for carb loading!!!! Oh and some shopping and a bit of sightseeing : Paul took us to a few of his favourite spots (he’s run the event before) including a Soba Noodle place in Shinjuku and a small noodle house in Harijuku. So we didn’t go hungry, nor did we have a shortage of things to do for our few days. It’s an amazing city – although apparently it’s actually a “metropolitan prefecture” – with a population of around 35 million. So that’s about twice the population of Australia in an area less than half the size of Tasmania. A shame we only had three days!

Race Day
And so enough of the tourist fun, time to get serious. Breakfast at 6:00am at the hotel, rubbing shoulders with the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, a good three hours before the 9:10am starting gun. One of the top Kenyan runners was spotted eating green beans with scrambled egg on waffles. Really? By 7:45am we met up in the hotel lobby with all the other Aussie runners (about 80 in total travelled over) including a guy called Mark from Canberra that we often see near Lennox Gardens with the TTS group. Small world… A few photos later and we’re off for the big 200m walk to the entry – good choice of hotel from the team at Travelling Fit! Bag drop done and we’re through the chute into our start groups.

9:10am and the gun fires – the confetti sprays across the crowd – the fireworks go off – these guys know how to start a run! Brian, can we get confetti and fireworks for the club half marathon???? It’s a perfect day for it, about five degrees with a cool breeze. The first 5km are a very gentle downhill, which is the perfect way to settle in and get your pace sorted out. The runners are all in good spirits are we are feeling great after tapering for the fortnight prior and eating like horses for a few days! This is going to be easy!!! We each run our own race but the theme is the same.

The first 10km is great – very scenic as we pass the Imperial Palace. The 10-20km stretch is easy running, nice and flat with a good crowd to cheer us on. Time passes quickly. At the 21km mark we are halfway and things get pretty crazy as we round the corner into Ginza. There are so many spectators, all cheering and yelling. The crowd keep yelling “gambatte” which translates to ‘do your best’ … I think we must have heard that about 1.5 million times throughout the run, once from each spectator. Heck this feels like the Olympics! It’s a long out and back stretch, with us turning at the Asakusa Kaminarimon Gate where there are drummers and dancers. Great stuff!

But as we head back, the distance starts to accumulate and we pass the 30km hurdle. Around the 32km mark there was some light sleet – but each of us press on. There’s the occasional “Aussie Aussie Aussie” from someone in the crown that recognises the top. Not sure how to best respond by this point!!!

At the 37km someone has rather cruelly put a hill in the course which comes as a shock to us all. And another one at 41.5km … what the? But the end is so close now! As we turn the final corner there is a huge banner across the road at the 42km mark proclaiming “195m metres to go” at which point various people attempt a sprint, unsure if their legs will agree with the request.
And we’re finished!

PBs all round!!!!!
All four of us have had a great race. PBs for each of us, hurrah!

  • Alison – came in at 3:37. A remarkable time, especially given her problems with a blister and then a flu in the final weeks of prep. She’s stoked!
  • Drew – came in at 3:11. Over 11 minutes faster than his previous time and a big relief after his DNF in Canberra in 2013. And a negative split. He’s very happy!
  • Nick – came in at 2:56. After his Gold Coast time of 3:00:01 he has officially smashed the three hour mark in convincing fashion. Very pleased!
  • Paul – came in at 2:50. Attempts are being made to contact him for a drugs test. A damn fast time in anyone’s books!

Oh and the winner? A Kenyan named Dickson Chumba came in at 2:05:42 which is a Tokyo course record. Well done to him as well!

Very satisfying, especially after the disappointment in NYC a few years ago. So what’s next?

  • Alison – no way am I running another marathon this year!
  • Drew – well if I shave another 11 minutes I could get under three hours?
  • Nick – gone snowboarding.
  • Paul – I almost broke into the 2:40’s…

Final Thoughts
It was a great event and an awesome outcome for us all. There was some genuine euphoria at the finish! We’re lucky to have a great running group to share this with, and we hope you enjoy reading about it! If any of you are contemplating an overseas marathon then Tokyo is a pretty good one to aim for.

And this event serves as proof that a good training plan, decent preparation plus a flat(ish) course and cool weather = fast times.

Gambatte indeed – we did our best at eating, shopping, running, drinking and then some : Now there are five other marathon majors, right? Which one do we do next????