Dear runners and friends, This is a story and a race review by my hubby a.k.a “sole mate”…..
I can’t believe that the 2019 Tokyo Marathon is now over, and I am sitting on my couch writing my race report. I found out in November 2018 that I was selected to participate. I entered the lottery in August, not knowing what would happen. The odds were not in my favor. I remember reading an article months before that said the Tokyo Marathon was one of the hardest marathons to get into. I was shocked when the email came. I screamed when I read it. I prayed that I would get in, and I did! But of course actually pulling the trigger wasn’t an easy decision after that. There were multiple discussions like “Can we afford this?” or “Is this wise to do when we’re trying to save for other stuff, or pay other bills?” and “Do we have the time to take off from work and the children?” I naturally began to wonder if my goals of traveling all over the world to run marathons were selfish, and not in the best interest of my family. With the support of my amazing wife, Chrisy, she said to me “Let’s do this! My wife is incredibly supportive. She loves that I have all these goals, and she wants me to achieve them. And she wants to be there with me every step of the way.
So there you have it! We booked our flights and headed off to Japan.
Word of advice: the security check and gate entrance process is confusing and time consuming. Give yourself plenty of time before the race! Gates open at 7 am; race start is 9 am (Gate entrance is open from 7-8:15 am). You will end up walking around in circles trying to find where you should go, so go early.
Race day was a mix of emotions- both excitement and nerves. We stayed at APA Hotels and Resorts Nishishinjuku which was just a short walk to the start line. This was very nice because it helped alleviate the stress of getting to the start on time. It also meant I could sleep in a little and hang at the hotel a little longer, not having to wait outside in the cold for the race to begin. I had originally hoped and planned for the temps to be in the mid 15 degrees to low 12 degrees. However, on race day, the temperature was around 5 degrees. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, hugs and kisses from my wife and I walked to the starting area in the cold rainy day. Thank God I had my poncho.
That was a difficult process. I managed to weasel my way in. So here’s how it works: You are assigned a gate entrance number 1, 2, 4 or 5. Gate 3 is for runners who don’t have ANYTHING on their body at all. So no bag, no water bottle, no phone, no fuel belt, no costume, nothing! If you even have an armband on with a phone, you can’t go through Gate 3. Make sure get a waterproof bag. I did not choose the baggage check in because my wife would be waiting for me at finishing area with warm clothes. (well that was the plan originally…… ) I started to walk to my starting block. There were all together 12 Blocks and mine was on Block L… Yes.. the last block!. (I believe they group by running time. During registration, you will have to fill in information on your expected finishing time. )
There are multiple entrance gates. Please ensure that you follow the gate number that is written on your BIB. It is strictly forbidden to enter any other gates other than yours. Mine was gate No 2. Once you are there you the volunteer will scan your wristband followed by a Security officer. The security is very tight. You need to go through a metal detector and also have your bag contents examined thoroughly. There weren’t garbage cans nearby to throw trash outside the gates. Volunteers hold large clear plastic bags for you to throw trash near the gate entrance. Again, this is a safety measure so there are no repeat bombs in a garbage can. Everything was examined and a “Security Check” sticker was placed on it. Oh yes.. and strictly NO water bottles are allowed. They are very strict about this and will show no mercy in confiscating your bottles. Once confiscated, you will not be able to reclaim it. Then only you are allowed to enter. We are taking about 38,000 runners gathering in small area like around Dataran Merdeka. Can you imagine the chaos? The entrance gate will be crowded so please arrive early. I repeat, arrive early!
I was shivering in cold, we had to wait about an hour before the flag off. Standing there seemed like ages. With few minutes to spare, I found my way into corral – actually finding the corral turned out to be the only chaotic part of the Tokyo Marathon and runners panicked about getting to the right zones with the obscenely long wait for the loos. From the corrals, we listened to music playing and there were some words that were spoken in Japanese over the loudspeaker (I have no clue what they announced) followed by the introduction of the Elite runners and wheelchair participants. A song was sung in Japanese, possibly the national anthem? I felt like I was in the Hunger Games listening to broadcasts from the Capitol. Then the starting gun went off. I believe it was 20-30 min before we were able to actually start. It starting Moving very slowly.. Crowd was so huge. Quick wave to official at podium and pick up my steps. Noticed many shirts and poncho were by the roads sides. It was clearly mentioned to all runners not to throw their clothes on the road but put into the donation bin but unfortunately some did not adhere to this basic safety precautions. The rain started to be heavy and I can feel the low temperatures. I found out that this year was the worst conditions in the 13-year history of the Tokyo Marathon. I was supposed to took off my shirt and put in the bin but decided to keep it on due to the freaking cold and chilly weather. I started to pick up my speed and but it was really difficult to run with three layers of shirt and a poncho . I try to hold to the poncho hood because its keep coming off because of strong wind. The road was wide to run because the organizer have closed almost all the major roads in the city. We started to run with about 6 lanes opened. After running about 5km the road was narrowed down to 3 lanes but we all the runners had plenty of space to run. I saw the first Seiko cut off time which. This is important …The Tokyo Marathon has notoriously strict cut off times. You see the race started at 9:10 AM but for me I crossed the starting line 25 minutes after the gun. It was highlighted in handbook clearly that it did not matter what time you crossed the starting line, or whether you stopped for a “Potty Break”. You must cross the checkpoint as per below cut off times . I heard from another blog later “hundreds of runners” were prevented from continuing the race after the 10 kilometer cut off. So.. pls do not spend much time for potty break.
The course takes in many sights including the Tokyo Government building, Tokyo Tower and Imperial Palace. The marathon incorporated some down hills, wide roads and flat surfaces, but also some nasty little inclines and bridges which kept it interesting. Along the course, there was also a few sections of out and backs where you crossover, getting to see many runners ahead of you and behind you. I even got to see the elites run by a few times which was cool to see. These crossovers also allowed for ample opportunities to see my wife at the 30KM cheering along the course, which was nice!
The first half of the race went well and I felt pretty good. It wasn’t as crowded as I expected and the race started on a downhill which was nice. I had my fuel plan in place and was excited to start my 26.2 mile journey through the city and take in the sites that Japan had to offer.
I skipped the first water station. My run plan was to take a break every 5km..maybe due to the cold weather and wanted to keep myself warm and skipped the first 5km. There were tons of water stations and toilets .
Events along the road some places. There were about 22 events which were planned along the road. There were school children performing and singing in their ponchos. That’s a truly amazing sight to see their dedication and commitment to ensure that this event a successful one! About 10KM.. I decided to take a break. I notice the poncho took a beating and my shirt was soaked and totally wet. To add to my misery my shoe was not water proof wet. My socks were soaking wet too. I was totally drenched and soaked under the rain. I decided to stopped for some water and isotonic drink then I started to move again. At some point, the rain and wind was heavy. But my mantra kept was telling myself to keep, keep going, running to keep warm.
With the rain continued heavily and it did not look like it was going to stop or slow down anytime sooner.. I knew it was never going to a be an easy run. I have to give it all I have got now!
The Performances by the road sides made the run more liveable unfortunately it was raining. They were not able to perform to the full potential. I even saw some singers that had to perform from the buildings to take shelter from the rain. Some schools students preformed their singing in a group with their ponchos. The rain did not stop their spirits. They were all 100% performing with all their might and strength. There were a total of 24 events during the Tokyo marathon. Some runner were running with cosplay and anime costumes. There was one that even looked like a Pikachu. At some point you will be able to see a group of runners on both sides of the roads because they have U turns at few places. Its an amazing view. The opposite runners gave us motivation and was cheering for us to keep going and not to give up.
After 2 hours of running ..somehow as the rain got heavier and the temperature of around 5 C, which was the second lowest in Tokyo Marathon history. Later I found out that the runner, Osako, who currently holds the national record, had to pull out around the 29-km mark.
“I began feeling cold even before the start. I eventually could not move my body and it forced me to withdraw from the race,” Osako said in a statement.
Can you imagine now how difficult was it for me? A first timer in this type of weather and this was my third official full marathon.
It was certainly cold running in the rain and the wind. At some point my legs felt heavy and I just wanted to walk. Then I remembered I met person in a hotel lift and he was telling about his friend that has been trying for 10 years to run the Tokyo Marathon and is still not able to get a slot. And here I am in Tokyo, running Tokyo Marathon and in my head I was telling myself, It’s now or never because I might not get another chance to do this! THIS IS IT! Just do it!
The course goes past the major sights of Tokyo including the Imperial Palace, Tsukiji Fish Market, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Ginza Ave, Tokyo Museum, etc. (in no particular order). It really is the best way to see all of Tokyo by foot! I was surprised at how close the course was to Sensoji Temple.
The distance are marked every KM. I was almost reaching to half way point and was looking at my watch. Duh! It went blank. Maybe due to rainy weather and water, my watch gave up on me! I’m not sure what was my pace time. It was raining heavier and it was getting so cold. The wind was kicking up the speed as well.
I ran looking downwards due to heavy rain and just kept running. Then suddenly I heard a voice, calling out and shouting my name! I looked up and I a familiar face, a friend from Malaysia, Mallissa. She was at opposite side of the road. It was amazing for two Malaysians to be able to meet in the a large crowd of 38,000 runners. We said Hi and wished other good luck and continued to run again.
There were volunteers everywhere! They have volunteers organizing the bathroom stops, and ones holding garbage bags along the course. The water stops have plenty of volunteers handing out water and cheering you on. They were simply amazing. They always had a smile on their face, and they were extremely polite. The volunteers made this race wonderful. Even at the family meet up/baggage pick-up area the volunteers would congratulated runners. I saw someone posted a video of them clapping in sync as runners picked up their bags. I can’t thank the volunteers enough for all their help in making this an amazing and successful race. Volunteers wear different color jackets which mean certain things. I can’t remember what each color represents, but I do know the green jackets meant the volunteer could speak English. At the Expo you will see a display of what each color jacket means.
The most amazing thing about Tokyo Marathon is not about the runners… Its about the crowds and the volunteers. They were simply great, standing in the rain and always offering support and cheers the runners. The crowd shouted something that sounded like “Gambatta Gambatta …Chayo.. Chayho.. I did not know the what was the meaning at first and later my wife explained the meaning to me. LOL. The crowds were my favorite. There were people everywhere! I believe the runner handbook says 1.5 million spectators. And they cheered their hearts out. They even knew one or two phrases in English to cheer us on. And they LOVED high-fiving everyone. I ended up high fiving everyone because it was just fun and they got so excited. There were many forms of entertainment along the course as well. There were groups of dancers with music. I am sure there is a formal name for them, but I don’t know what it is. There were dancers with flags, children dancing, people banging on drums, everything! I’ve never seen anything like it. They took it so seriously and it seemed like they were so honored to entertain the runners. The Tokyo roads were just superb. Even though it was raining heavily, you could hardly see any puddle of water or not even a single pot hole. Tokyo is known for his cleanliness and it lives to its name. Simple a beautiful city.
A day before the race, my wife and I took a tour to the finishing line and decided to meet near the Hibiya park, which was the 30KM. I was so ecstatic to meet my wife. It was huge boost of motivation for me. As expected , she was there to greet me with an umbrella and with our national flag. I was so happy to see her. Gave her a hug and a quick chat and she gave me words of encouragement and I took off and ran. We agreed to meet at opposite of the road which will be a point mark 41KM where she will pass the Malaysian flag to me. I decided to take out my last layer of my T-shirt because it was soaking wet and also decided to take off my poncho. From 30KM onwards I ran in rain. Completely soaked and drenched. At this point of time, I could see lots more medics now. Maybe they were expecting more runners in need of help at this point now. Some of them were on bicycles. There were lots more photographers at this point onwards too.
From 30KM onwards it was a big loop so we can see runners on the other side of the road. I could see everybody pushing their limits to complete their last 5KM in the rain and the cold chilly breeze wind.
When I reached the 41KM ..jeng jeng jeng…. I was unable to find my wife. So, I decided to go backwards and walked back again slowly , hoping and thought maybe, just maybe I missed her along the way . She was nowhere in sight and was no where to be found. At this point of time, the official came and advise me to keep running forward. At this point, I was puzzled at the same time, how come she was not there when it was just the opposite side of the road? But at the back of my mind, I was worried too as well ..hoping she that she was alright. I decided to continue hoping to meet her at the last 1KM stretch so I could get the flag and finish off the race proudly with my national flag. The last stretch of the final KM was crowded and all that I could say was that it was just awesome to hear the crowd cheering. I have never felt so supported from a running perspective! THANK YOU to all of my friends & family for your support during this Tokyo Marathon journey!! From a race perspective, the crowd support is unparalleled—I have never done a race where there are wall-to-wall people from the start to the finish. Amazing sauce is all I can say about the people of Tokyo & the love of their city & marathon! Indeed it was a challenge especially for a runner like me from a tropical country who has never ran in a cold weather furthermore in the rain. And then came the final turn and I could see the finishing line.
And just like that, the finish line loomed. I threw my hands in the air & gladly stomped across that final mat. 5:16:28!! What a relief. Like all major marathons, the finish did not disappoint- lots of spectators and lots of fanfare. Nothing better than crossing a finish line!
Tokyo Marathon Foundation, Race Director, Mr. Tadaaki Hayano summarized the event. “It was the coldest in Tokyo Marathon history. I’m sure the runners were chilled to the bone. But the international athletes had the strength to make a mark despite these conditions.”
This was just the most amazing experience of my life and I can’t agree more. Will I do it again…perhaps.
Overall, visiting Japan has been an amazing vacation and tremendous adventure. This was truly the journey of a lifetime. It was fun to try the local cuisine, explore the city, see Mt. Fuji and visit various temples and shrines. Japan is a city filled with lots of culture. There is lots to do and many places to visit. Traveling the world, exploring new cities, and getting to run is a truly awesome privilege. I feel so blessed. It’s been an amazing experience and something I couldn’t have done without the love, support, & encouragement from my wife, my family, and my close friends. It’s been a remarkable journey and I can’t wait to see what’s next.