Tokyo Marathon 2016: Race Report

Out of the eight marathon I’ve completed, Tokyo has got to be the best. No, I have not done Boston or London or Chicago, and I’m sure those are great too, but I can say with confidence that Tokyo is an amazing experience. I feel like a little kid who is giddy after a rollercoaster and just wants to do it again!

Unfortunately it’s not easy to get into Tokyo. I missed the ‘sub-elite’ entry by 1 minute (for this year it was 2:55 or less) so I had to try my luck with the general ballot system. It’s about a 1/10 chance of being selected so I will consider myself lucky (it’s free to put your name in the hat, so just give it a try!)

This year there were 36,000 people running in the race. That’s a lot of folks. So if you end up going to Tokyo for the marathon remember to get to the start early. The race started at 9:10. I arrived at 7:15, but didn’t actually get into my corral until around 8:15 or maybe closer to 8:30 (I was assigned to the B group based on my 2:56 time from a previous race). The organization is excellent. It’s just that there are so many people and you’ll end up waiting in line for the toilets. But if you get there early and find your place then you’ll have no trouble.

The weather was cool and just about as good as it gets (around 8 C with only a light northwesterly wind). No complaints there.

After reading reviews of the race from previous years, I was worried that I would be boxed in by slower runners and lose valuable time. But it wasn’t a problem. I might have lost 30 seconds or maybe a minute at the most.  I was near the front of the B group and got away pretty well. Considering how many people were in the race I’ll have to say it was better than expected. After the first mile it was wide open.

I guess most people know that the Japanese love running (if you are interested you really should check out The Way of the Runner for a deep exploration of running in Japan). But until you actually experience it, it’s hard to imagine. Not only are there thousands of very strong runners in the marathon, the fan support is really something to see.

I trained hard for this race and was actually very consistent all the way through 2015. So I ran well and felt strong. My goal was 2:54 but I ended up with 2:52:45. I ran almost even splits, which I’m happy about. In terms of my training all that I can say is that Pete Pfitzinger’s marathon plans work, so buy Advanced Marathoning if you want to go fast (even if you are not ‘advanced’ – anyone who wants to improve can benefit from reading this book). It’s all about putting in the miles.

Lots of people were fading fast in the final 10km. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me (I’ve been there myself), but I really noticed it in Tokyo. It seemed like most people went out out too fast. I think this is a problem with Tokyo because the course starts with about 5 k of downhill. This combined with the enthusiastic fans can lead to a kamikaze approach! If you are going to run this race, try to hold back because there are some little hills near the end that can kick your ass (note: looks like the course will be different in 2017). The hill are really nothing to worry about, but can be very tough if you’ve bonked already and are turning into a zombie. When I crossed the line, there were people sprawled out and one guy was barfing hard. It was pretty intense!

I’ll never forget the whole experience. I had some nice conversations with some other runners and really enjoyed all the high-fives from the volunteers. I just wish I could have spent a bit more time in Tokyo – I had to get back to Hong Kong so I flew out that night.

This was my second marathon in Japan and I’ll be back for more. Nagano Marathon is also  fantastic (and maybe even better than Tokyo if you prefer smaller events – only 10,000 people in that one).

Next up: training for a 100km race in June. Damn!