“Every race is an opportunity and some skills will be sharpened from it
regardless of the outcome”. ~ Molly Huddle ~
Have you ever thought about running the Tokyo Marathon, and wondered what the chances are to get accepted to participate? There is no guarantee, sometimes the stars align, yet it becomes ‘the unknown’ for others.
The race drew close to 330,000 lottery applications for Tokyo Marathon 2018. While it is free to register to enter into the lottery, the selection process is random.
Roughly less than 10% fortunate runners get accepted. Most likely, the remaining 90% of runners vying for entry could very well be back entering the following year’s lottery again.
Everything came together in a very positive way for 2018 races, when I received this notification.
Sep 24, 2017 at 10:00 PM
** Tokyo Marathon 2018 Notification of the Lottery Result / Accepted **
Congratulations! You have been accepted for participation.
I had been thinking about running the Tokyo Marathon before This was truly an honor to represent my home country the Philippines.
It was a first attempt to enter this lottery. I remember clearly that late evening, – I was walking from the grocery store towards my car in the parking lot and saw the above email notification flashed on my phone ‘Tokyo Marathon 2018 Notification of the Lottery Result’.
My face must have turned extremely pale from shock, mixed with excitement! As I got inside my car, I screamed like a little girl. No one was around, it was 10:00 P.M..
If you landed on this page and you have secured a race entry, I congratulate you! I’m sharing some of my thoughts and what it was like to run the Tokyo Marathon. I hope you’ll find this useful as you prepare for this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!
If it happens that you are still working in getting into the race, don’t be discouraged. Another option to secure a guaranteed entry is to register as a charity athlete via the Tokyo Marathon website. I heard great reviews through friends about Marathon Tours.
The Road to Six Stars
My personal ultimate goal in running for the marathon distance is to complete all Six of the Abbot World Marathon Majors which is series consisting of the six largest marathon events in the world. These races are held in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City.
The seventh medal to the collection made its debut at Tokyo in 2016 called the ‘Six Star Finisher Medal’. This is the most coveted of all marathon medals awarded to all runners of all abilities from around the world that completes all six events.
Image Source: Tokyo Marathon
One of my friends will be running the Tokyo Marathon this weekend, March 3, 2019. All the hard work runners put in to accomplish a remarkable achievement like this series is something to be celebrated for – BIG time! I’m super excited for her and will be cheering from thousands of miles away, as she is going for her Sixth Star!
My target is to complete all Six Marathon Majors in 2020, with Boston and London left in the series. However, with both events scheduled in the same month (one week apart), I will probably not take that risk.
Each time I plan for travel, setting an alert for airfare price changes is always a helpful tool for me. In most cases, I use Expedia and was fortunate to have found the best deals on flights for this trip.
While in the midst of my family moving to a different state two months before the race, flying out of Los Angeles was the best option. It was a more central location. Los Angeles Airport also offered numerous direct flights to Tokyo Narita International Airport.
I booked my flight as soon as I received the best airfare price alert for Al Nippon Airways (ANA) from Los Angeles to Narita Airport. Best roundtrip package – $497.89 US Dollars and for that price, it felt like I won another race entry. 🙂
In 2015, one of my sisters Mely, came out to support at TCS New York City Marathon. From walking, some jog, to multiple subways rides in New York, just to catch me for a quick few seconds at different mile markers, she felt that she logged 26.2 miles that day. 🙂
With that said, I didn’t think she will have any interest in doing it again, let alone in Tokyo. But, my awesome 72 year-young sister Mely flew to Tokyo from New Jersey, to continue to support me in this journey. I am forever thankful!
One helpful side tip I learned from my awesome first run coach – was about this app Google Translate. It is a free multilingual app that features translation. I only know how to speak Thank you in Japanese – ‘Arigato’.
We found it so useful especially when at grocery stores or at restaurants where menus are printed in Japanese. We hit the first 7-Eleven Store we found, little did we know that everything was labeled in Japanese. The app came handy in reading the prints in English.
We both arrived at Narita International Airport at about the same time – Thursday, February 22nd. Huge airport! The arrival checkpoints and immigration area is well organized. Everything went smooth.
Logistically, and considering the suitcases we had, taking the Airport Limousine Bus from Narita International Airport to Tokyo was our best option. These buses operate to major hotels at the greater Tokyo area, with free WiFi access.
We paid 3,100 Yen for one-way bus fare. Still very reasonable versus taking a taxi.
Chiba Prefecture where Narita is located at is approximately 37 miles (60 Km) to Tokyo. Travel time is about 70 to 120 minutes depending on your destination. When taking the limousine bus, the ticket counter is conveniently located inside the airport right across the arrival terminal.
When returning from Tokyo back to Narita Airport, it’s best to reserve your ticket in advance at one of the major participating hotels, or online – sometimes seats are limited.
Depending on your budget and time, a more convenient option is taking a taxi. Factor your destination in Tokyo from Narita or vice versa. Taxi fare costs approximately between 10,000 – 13,000 Yen or more. However, some taxi operators may offer a flat rate.
We took the bus that stopped at Park Hyatt Tokyo (Shinjuku).
From Park Hyatt (Shinjuku), we took a short taxi ride to our AirBnB in Shibuya. Shibuya is a popular area for travelers with easy access to different subway stations. Yoyogi & Shinjuku stations were just a 15 to 20-minute walk to catch the Metro and JR (Japan Railways) lines.
We were centrally located in a safe quite lovely neighborhood. We had one of the best hosts, a nice young couple. They communicated everything what first time Tokyo visitors would need before and during our stay. We loved the traditional feel of the place. We had a wonderful stay!
Packet Pickup and Expo
We took the train to pick up my packet on Friday. We thought we got lost as soon as we got off the train, but on major events like this, it’s easy to spot who is heading to the same place you are going. You can tell by the type of shoes they are wearing. So, we just followed them. 🙂
Packet pickup and race expo last year was at Tokyo Big Sight. The area was exclusively for registered runners only. My sister waited at the designated lounge for accompanying friends and family.
I was looking forward to receiving all the goodies we (runners) all look forward to receiving pre-race, at least for me anyway. I loved the race wristband – it’s one unique piece of identification. It contains the runner’s photo and bib or ‘number card’ as they reference bib on this race. This wristband is scanned at the gate on race morning.
The exit takes you towards the Expo. It is widely known that Tokyo holds one of the largest trade shows in Japan with numerous participating vendors. We spent plenty of time browsing at the Official Tokyo Marathon Souvenirs section but only bought a few souvenirs. Of course, a running hat to add to the collection. How many hats do we need?
My sister bought an official Tokyo Marathon Tote bag that she still uses to this day, which I regret I didn’t pick up one for myself. It’s best to purchase any race-related gear and souvenirs at the expo rather than ordering online, especially if you reside outside of Japan.
Tokyo Marathon: Friendship Run
There are many events taking place as part of Tokyo Marathon pre-race fiesta – three of which that I was aware of: The Friendship Run, Family Run and Tokyo Marathon Week Parade signifying different themes both on a Saturday – day before the marathon.
Ambitiously, I registered for both with a plan to join the Tokyo Marathon Parade with my sister. The event was free to participate but the selection process was rigorous. It’s an event that participants have a chance to run or walk representing their country flags. Unfortunately, I canceled it as both events last year – was scheduled simultaneously. The parade start time was 12:00 Noon.
The Friendship Run, on the other hand, took place at 11:00 AM at the Tokyo Water Front City Symbol by Promenade Park located right across Tokyo Big Sight (Expo location). In the same venue was the Family Run also, which was a 1.5K course distance.
I registered to join this 4K fun run instead, which featured around 2,000 participants from more than 40 countries. Some runners wore different fun and cultural costumes.
Before the event, the organizers held their popular Japanese ‘Radio” warm-up and exercise session that everyone participated. It was different and unique in a way. It was a blast!
Image Source: Terri Boyce
After a mile of running, I found it was a great opportunity to meet and mingle with other runners from overseas, versus it being a race. I noticed only a handful were seriously running. The photo I took (top), is the only photo where you see people are running. The rest of the photos taken were merely group photos and selfies.
I met Bianca from the Philippines. I also had the pleasure to meet numerous runners from different countries. We mostly spent time chatting, took more photos and just enjoying the friendly atmosphere. Chocolates were handed out at the half-way point. Yes! I eat anything sugary on race day and caffeinated beverages (but not much). Some delicious soup was served after the race – perfect for the cold weather.
We strolled around the start line the day before to get familiar with the surroundings. The start line was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Race morning was a breeze – it was just a 15-20 minute walk from our AirBnB. It looked confusing to find my gate as the crowd got thicker, but there were volunteers holding signs directing us to the corral gates.
Security is a priority all around this race, hence all runners must wear their wristbands as this gets scanned before entering the gates.
The wristbands include runners vital information which was taken at packet pickup. It also included a photo with your respective runner’s bib.
The race has strict regulations on hydration units and sports nutrition runners are allowed to carry. Due to these guidelines, I decided to purchase a few of the official sponsored hydration called Pocari Sweat at the expo.
I was able to test it during training runs. They were available at our local oriental grocery, fortunately.
However, I did notice some runners were permitted to bring empty hydration bottles and hydration packs where they were able to fill them at aid stations.
Image Source: Terri Boyce
The cleanest and organized course I’ve ever run. The signs were well-marked in terms of distance to the restrooms and yes, plenty of them. Both western and non-western style.
No litter everywhere! We practice ‘leave no trace’ during training and this is what I observed along the course, pretty much everywhere you go. A great example other racing events should implement.
It was amazing to see volunteers along the course about every 100 meters collecting everything that runners have to throw away.
It is a flat course which is ideal for individuals chasing for personal records. Expect several on-course entertainments – bands, children performers, kimono dancers, which felt like a fiesta atmosphere all throughout.
And Oh! Snacks galore along the course handed out by spectators and volunteers. This was the only running event where I tried new race nutrition on the course. I broke the ‘Nothing new on race day’ rule for the first time. I had a piece of sushi (actually two), shrimp flavored chips, dried apricots, chocolates, and lost track of what else I tried.
I recalled our New York City Team In Training team coach mentioned 3 years ago – another way to save energy is to refrain from giving too many ‘high five’s’ – but rather wave to spectators instead. He was absolutely right!
That’s me waving! Funny thing though, I realized a few days later that, waving and looking to left or right constantly to thank the volunteers and spectators gave me a stiff neck. But, it was a lot of fun.
There were three or four ‘out and back’ sections along the course, like the photo on the right. Not too many runners like the out and backs. I actually enjoyed watching people running in the opposite direction. At one point early on, it was neat to see the elite runners zoomed through the next street over.
There was an Air Salonpas Spray station on the course. These work great for sore and tight muscles relief. It works similarly to Biofreeze. I gladly used it and took a free sample for the road! Spectators gladly sprayed them to runners who needed it too.
Image Source: All Sports Community
First time seeing stations so organized and again very clean. There were a variety of fruits – bananas, oranges, and even cherry tomatoes. They also had gels, but I didn’t try them.
With the limitations, I didn’t carry a hydration bottle. I loved their Pocari Sweat hydration. I also took some Nuun tablets with me which I mixed a quarter or half tablet per cup of water at aid stations. It worked well.
I believe the distance between stations was approximately 3 miles apart.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record as I talk about the volunteers again. I think without them, there will be no sporting events. They are an integral part of the entire event.
And I truly believe that the success of an event has a great deal to do with the amount of time and effort their volunteers contribute. Tokyo Marathon volunteers are just top-notch!
Image Source: Terri Boyce
They were everywhere. I mean, EVERYWHERE! Whether they were collecting trash, at cheer stations or helping at aid stations – they were out there enthusiastically cheering “Ganbare”. I think some cheered ‘Ganbatte’ – which I later learned, it meant ‘Don’t give up or Hang in there. Do your best’ (something like that).
At the time, it didn’t matter what those cheers meant, you couldn’t help but sense their genuine smile and presence. Was it cold? Yes, mostly in mid-30s Fahrenheit to low 40s, – especially for the volunteers that were out there all day.
I cannot speak highly enough about the amazing Tokyo Marathon volunteers.
Though my sister was unable to come out to the race course, she’s that Twitter and social media guru, as always.
Unbeknownst to me, she was on top of updating every one of my status. I am so grateful! A few followers shared that the race tracker was pretty accurate also, in terms of runner location.
The finishers went off into different chutes depending on our bib color. It was a bit of a walk, yet, it was a good cool down walk. I passed by the Six Star Finisher Medal station – got a glimpse of the medal. I met a Six Star Finisher in his late 60’s (maybe in his early 70’s). He inspired me!
It was chilly, but they provided us with foil heat sheets, a nice blue fleece jacket. Fortunately, I opted for poncho last year. The added layer kept me warm while walking to the train station. They also handed us a bag of food and snacks. I ended up with two bags, I don’t recall how it happened.
What it was like to run the Tokyo Marathon – Few Things I Learned
It was a great honor and privilege to have toed the line with 36,247 runners.
I adapted to wear a mask without being embarrassed about it. It is a norm in Japan to wear masks in public.
I learned not to be embarrassed brushing my teeth in public restrooms.
I learned that there are different types of toilets in Japan and quite a lot of different flushing methods. At the Expo, it took me nearly 5 minutes to figure out how to flush the toilet with all push-button features not found in other countries. I mistakenly pushed a button and it played a musical note, not knowing the music’s purpose is to block the embarrassing sound while you’re doing your business. Japanese toilets are famous all over the world for always being spotless and sure found this to be true.
I struggled with directions more than once. I needed walking directions, – they gladly walk with you and direct you to be sure you are going the right way.
The day after the race, I realized my travel identification and credit card were missing and apparently dropped it along the race course. I reached out to the race organizers via email and was informed to visit the nearest Police Station. I was redirected to a different station where the person who found it had turned it in. Honest people!
Running the course was sort of like touring Tokyo on foot. We ran by tourist spots – the Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace, Ginza and much more.
While my own experience may be different from others, I found spending those few days in Japan with my sister was the most enjoyable race experience.
Running the Tokyo Marathon was a dream come true!
Race Day: Gear and Nutrition
So, there you have it! If given the opportunity, I would love to run this race again and spend extra days to explore Tokyo.
If you have anything you would like to share about Tokyo Marathon, or if you have any questions, please leave them below.
Keep moving and stay active!