Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo Marathon #105

The Tokyo marathon was something I never would have considered running when I started running marathons in 2012.  I only started to consider it after getting accepted into the Berlin and London marathon.  Getting the World Abbot Majors 6-star medal seemed attainable for the first time. 

Kim and I paid $200 in 2020 to join the Seven Continent Club to get put toward the top of their list to be selected for the Marathon Tour packages. This was how we first anticipated getting into Tokyo.  Then Covid hit and everything shifted. Fast forward, we applied for a charity in 2023 and Kim and I were both accepted. 

There are more details at the end of this race recap on how we got into the race, tips for travel and some tips for this marathon. 

Expo: The expo was quite a distance away from our hotel (The Hyatt Regency) and it took the entire day to get there, get our bibs, have lunch, and then return. We took the subway from the Tochama Station (under our hotel) to the Yurikomone line which is and above ground monorail to the Expo.  Getting there was super easy.  Our friends went the opening day where it was pure mayhem. The jackets and shirts sold out in less than an hour.  People were relentlessly grabbing and elbowing their way in crowds to get their size.  Colleen’s husband Rich went to merchandise while she went to get her bib. He fought the crowds to get jackets.  She mentioned the experience scarred him for life!  Knowing this beforehand, we just got our bibs and left and didn’t bother looking at merchandise.  We had lunch at a Japanese restaurant, Ueno Ichigoro that was recommended by our friends that did a food tour.  It was excellent! I highly recommend getting Google Translate if you can’t speak Japanese, it definitely helped us with our order.

Tip:  If you want a jacket, you need to order it on the Asics website and have it delivered to your hotel in Japan.  You can’t purchase these in the US. If this doesn’t work, have a designated aggressive person go into the expo in the non-runner line.  Get there before they open, or possibly camp out all night like we used to do to get concert tickets, to be first in line. Go in strong, don’t give up and fight until you get your race jacket (just kidding, well sort of)…

Race day

I had researched the runner’s handbook and had a plan to drop our bags at 7 am when the corrals opened and then come back inside and stay warm until the start.  Instructions for this race from the runner’s handbook so far were very clear:  no hydration vests, no water bottles, no running through the flower beds, no throwaways on the course, and you have to carry your own trash until the end.  The night before the race at our dinner our friend Annie said she read that once you enter the corrals you cannot leave.  I got back to hotel and started reading to see the logistics. The new plan was to meet in the hotel lobby at 8 am with no turning back to keep warm. 

Tip: Get a hotel near the start like the Hyatt or Hilton so you aren’t outside too long.  It’s not freezing but it’s quite chilly waiting.  Keep your throw-away clothes on until closer to 9 am as there will be donation bins and volunteers collecting them closer to the start.

The night before the marathon by the looks of the streets, you would never have known there was a marathon happening the next day.  It wasn’t like NYC or Boston where the fencing is up in preparation.  We only saw minimal signs.  When we woke up and looked outside, the marathon starting corrals were being set up.  By the time we left, the streets were full of runners, and it felt like a real marathon.  We got to our baggage check and headed for the bathroom line only to find out that the one line we were in was wrapped around and there wasn’t enough time to go before our gate closed.  I kept my throw away clothes and looked around to see the other runners doing the same.  When it was around 9 am there was a volunteer taking throw aways.  I stripped down to my running outfit and got rid of everything including my gloves only to find as we turned onto the main street there were additional bins closer to the start.

We all started running!  I could hear heavy medal music playing as we crossed the start line and looked up to see some dude jamming on an electric guitar.  It was pretty cool! 

The first 7 miles of the course are mostly all downhill, so I made a point of not going out too fast.  There were so many runners too, so it was almost impossible to try to race it.  This never seemed to let up the entire race.   My goal was to finish around 4 hours and enjoy every minute of this experience.  It was also quite nerve-wracking coming all this way and doing something on the course that would cause me to DNF.  They also had aggressive cut-offs and sweeper buses waiting there like the grim reaper. 

The course was forgiving and even though they were packed with crowd support it was quiet.  Occasionally, a non-Japanese spectator would scream out “YOU GOT THIS”!  The music on the course consisted of drummers, beautiful Japanese dressed woman dancing, Japanese band (orchestra), and cheerleaders.  There were a few out and backs where we were able to see the leaders flying by. When we were at 15K, and they were already at 30K!  Colleen and I used the bathrooms on the course around mile 2.  We were directed by volunteers in a roped off area and as we approached, then they would direct us to open bathroom.  I got locked in mine and started banging on the door.  I ended up jamming my finger into the lock to pry my way out!

The sea of runners in front of us never ended.  It was amazing. Water stops were organized by the last digit of your bib.  Kim’s bib ended in a 4 and mine was an 8 so we had different water stations.  At first, I didn’t like this approach, but once we got the rhythm of the water stations, it seemed like a smart way to control the crowds.  They didn’t provide GU or typical supplements.  They had Pocari Sweat, pickled plums, chocolates, cream filled rolls, sweet jellied azuki-bean paste, bananas, salted candy and doll shaped pancakes.  I grabbed most of these treats and put them in my pocket for later with fear my stomach wouldn’t like them.

There were volunteers on the course with garbage bags to collect our empty nutrition wrappers too.  The weather was perfect.  It did get a bit warm toward near the end but never to the point where it was overwhelming.  The miles seemed to fly by.  I remember saying “What mile is this?” and Kim responded, “This is mile 17”.  I thought we were only on mile 14 so I said “Wow!  This is going by so fast”.  Apparently, there was a runner next to Colleen that wasn’t having the same marathon experience as I was and made a comment to her.  I think her reaction to him was something like “try being her friend”. 

The last out and back seemed to go on forever!  I kept thinking when the hell are we going to turn around to head back.  I think that one was close to 2 miles long. The final descent was on a cobble stone street.  I was nervous I’d fall.  My watch had already hit 26 miles and this road went on forever.  People were cheering on both sides of the street.  Finally, we turned left, and I could see the finish line.  Kim grabbed my hand and we crossed together.  I was smiling ear to ear! I did it!  Tokyo is DONE!  I just completed the 6 World Abbott majors!  Holy crap!  I started to cry. What an incredible experience. My official time was 4:04:59. Even though I didn’t break 4 hours I was still able to Boston Qualify with my time.  That is always a plus.

The course was definitely long.  My watch registered 26.74 miles.  I talked to another runner the next morning that said her watch registered 27 miles! 

Next, we were directed to a table where they handed us a plastic bag and different stations would give us water, face wipes, food (in a tube) but nothing to snack on like pretzels or a banana.  I was starving!  Then, we got our Tokyo medal!  I started crying again. I just couldn’t believe that I finished! 

I couldn’t wait to get that cool terry cloth Tokyo poncho that was all over the internet.  They handed me a heat shield!  I was disappointed!  As we kept walking, I was saying to Kim, “I want that special heat shield”!  Finally, toward the end of the walk they provided them.  I was so happy! 

Next, we were directed to the World Abbott tent to get our 6-star medal. MORE TEARS!   They put that incredible medal on us and took our photo.  I was so proud to wear that medal!  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to complete the 6 majors and wear that medal.  It goes to show you that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

I was quite emotional starting the morning of the race.  I taped my dad’s photo on my World Abbott majors bib that I pinned on my back.  I wanted my dad with me during the race.  I was hoping he would carry me through the race if I started to fail.  There is a photo at the finish that warms my heart that Kim took of me.  There is a ray of light going right through me.  I feel that was my dad’s presence to let him know that he was with me.

How to get into Tokyo:  For US participants, you can get into the Tokyo marathon with a tour company like marathon tours, lottery, charity or if you are an elite athlete.  We both tried for the lottery but were unsuccessful.  Also, with all the runners that couldn’t run in 2020 and 2021 their backlog for marathon tours that made it impossible to get in. We ran into our friend Suzanne at the NYC marathon, and she told us she was running Tokyo and that she got in with a charity.  Tokyo’s charity is set up differently than others.  There is a small window where runners can select a charity from their list and apply.  Some of the charities require a story why we selected them, but the bottom line when we applied, we told the charity how much money we would raise based on their suggested lowest amount.  I put this into a spreadsheet and sorted them by the lowest to the highest and which charities required a story as to why we selected them.  It was stressful because we weren’t sure how much more we should donate from their base amount.  Both Kim and I selected our charity and donated 500,000 YEN more than their base amount.  Then we waited for the window to close and see if we were selected.  As it turns out, we got in as well as all of our other friends that signed up.

Traveling:  Going to Tokyo was a destination that I never had any intention of traveling to.  My fear of flying was a huge factor.  We booked our flights and tried to get Delta-One, but the price was $16,000 for both of us so we ended up booking premium select seats.  Don’t get me wrong, I kept looking up to see if I could upgrade but the price never went down.  Our flights were out of JFK. 

Our Tokyo journey started Monday, February 26th at 12:15 am.  We had a car service pick us up at the house and drive us to JFK.  Michael, our driver, got there early and we left anticipating getting to the airport with a 3-hour buffer for our international flight. That morning there was no traffic and he got us there early.  We walked into JFK only to find people sleeping on the floor and the ticket counters closed.  We sat and waited about 3 hours and finally the ticket counter opened.  We had a 45-minute layover in ATL.  I was a nervous wreck because we had just missed our connecting flight a few weeks prior, and we had an hour layover.  We got off the plane when we landed, and we ran/walked to the gate that was already boarding.  Next up was our 14 hours flight to Tokyo.  We had a smooth flight thank God!  We landed in Haneda airport and had a 30-minute ($75) drive by taxi to the Hyatt Grand Regency hotel.  The taxi driver drove aggressively through tunnels, on highways until he finally landed at our hotel. Both of us were exhausted.  I barely slept on the plane.  We had dinner early and went to bed around 5PM. I woke up at 2:30 am, 5:30 am and then finally woke up at 10.  I got up and started making coffee.  Kim said, “what time is it”?  I said 10 am.  He said “Jeanne, it’s still dark out, it’s only 10 PM”.  The time change was quite difficult.  It took until Friday for me to sleep all night until 5:30.

Tip:  Fill out the immigration forms online and have your QR code ready when you land.  I did this but was too tired to figure out where the QR code was.  They will give you a form on the airplane to complete and you need to complete a form when you land.  Bring a pen to speed up the process.  Don’t forget your debit card for the ATM machine to get YEN.  Some credit cards aren’t accepted in the machines.  Also, add the SUICA card to your Apple wallet.

Japan/Tokyo Tours:  I booked a Mt Fuji, Hakone Lake Ashi Cruise Bullet Train Day Trip from Tokyo.  I really didn’t know what to expect other than I was doing something out of my comfort zone that included a cable car ride up a steep mountain.  As it turns out this was an epic experience, I highly recommend Viator Tours.  Our guide was funny and very knowledgeable.  We also got to take the bullet train back from the destination.  We got to the platform to pick up the train and witnessed another bullet train approaching.  All I can say is I stood there with my mouth open!  Holy crap you can’t even describe the speed that it was moving.  The people on our tour had the same reaction!  We just gasped as it zipped by.  Kim kept trying to take videos, but they were just too fast.  He strategically waited with his camera on and was able to capture one.  We also went Senso-ji in Tokyo to see the ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa.  We had lunch at an authentic Japanese restaurant where I learned to use chop sticks.  I now understand why Japanese women are skinny.  It takes a long time to eat with chopsticks! 

Karaoke:  If you are looking for a fun thing to do, I highly recommend booking a karaoke room.  It’s not like US Karaoke, as you book a private room.  They have tambourines, props and costumes.  We had the room for 2 hours.

Kyoto:  Arashiyama - Bamboo Forest was a tour that I booked but ended up canceling because the logistics were too much the day after the marathon. We would have had to get up at 4:30 am to get the meeting location by 8:45 AM.  We decided to do this on our own without the tour guide since the logistics for this trip were challenging.  It started with a 20-minute subway ride to Tokyo station. When we arrived, we had to figure out how to purchase tickets on the bullet train.  We found a machine to get tickets and selected the later departure to give ourselves a little wiggle room.  From there it got confusing.  We got to a centralized location and looked up at the monitor and couldn’t figure out where the platform was that we needed to go on to get our train.  Finally, we found someone that worked there that directed us to the correct platform.  We got on our train with minutes to spare.  The trip to Kyoto station is a little over 2 hours on the bullet train.  I have to admit this fast train kind of freaked me out, especially when we went through tunnels.  I just closed my eyes and prayed for a safe trip. Once we arrived in Kyoto, we had to take another train to Arashiyama.  This little town was so quaint and beautiful.  We walked to the Bamboo Forest.  There were little shops on the side of the road for souvenirs and food stands.  We walked through the forest and visited a shrine walking through their gardens and upstairs to witness the most breathtaking views of the city.  I wouldn’t recommend doing this in a day even though it’s possible. We didn’t get back to our hotel until 10PM. 

Tokyo’s culture is so different from ours.  The subways are designed to accommodate deaf people and have bird noises to guide them.  They have music that plays when the train stops/starts to alert (and calm) people to wake up if they’ve fallen asleep.  The subways and streets are extremely clean, and I feel safe walking to get coffee alone at 5 am.  Japanese people bow and are quiet and extremely polite.  They don’t walk and eat.  It’s so beautiful here too.  There are statues everywhere and the toilets are remarkable!  The lady’s public bathroom has baby “holders” on the walls so moms can have their children with them while they use the bathroom.    They look like infant children’s swings.  There are little benches everywhere.  There are very public garbage cans as they don’t have garbage pickup since the Tokyo Subway Saren gas attack.  People are encouraged to keep their garbage with them.  When we ate at restaurants we were provided with a basket near our table.  At first, we thought this was a garbage can, but soon realized that these were for pocketbooks.  They also give us a wet nap with every meal.  I did a lot of googling when I first arrived to solve these mysteries. 

Would I come back?  Well, technically if Kim and I run Tokyo and Berlin one more time we can get our 6th star for the 2nd time.  I am sort of considering it!

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