Last year, I entered my father in the lottery for the Tokyo Marathon. There was only a 10% chance of him getting picked. To our surprise, he was chosen and from there began five months of difficult training. On Sunday, 23 February, 2014, at the ripe age of 63, my father ran the Tokyo Marathon. We’re immensely proud of him and feel blessed for having been able to accompany him on his first World Marathon Major.
If you’re considering entering the lottery for the 2015 Tokyo Marathon, bear in mind that Tokyo is not an easy city to navigate, with its hidden back alley streets and massive (yet highly efficient) underground rail system–it is quite complex and can be difficult even if you speak Japanese. Directions have never been my forte, regardless of what language they are in and we were lucky to have my cousin with us to guide us through the course to the finish. Massive thanks again to you, M!
You will also want to take into consideration the timing of this race. Held in February when flights are likely to be delayed due to unexpected weather conditions, we were lucky not to run into any major trouble. Here are some tips on how to best navigate the Tokyo Marathon as a spectator.
- The race begins in Shinjuku and ends at Tokyo Big Site. As we wanted to be closer to all the food and shopping, we chose to stay close to the starting line and make the hour-long journey back from the finish line. There isn’t much to do around Tokyo Big Site so you’ll want to decide what is more important. Either way, you’ll have to make the trek to the start or back from the finish.
- Be prepared to say goodbye to your runner well before the start of the race as they will need time to find their spot–there aren’t many signs and it can be a bit confusing as you need to go underground first to get up to the starting area.
- If you are visiting Japan and don’t want to incur massive roaming charges, rent a smartphone so you can track you runner online. As an alternative to renting a phone, most hotels have free wifi access. But that’s where your wifi access will end. Be wary of signing up for wifi hotspot access schemes, such as Wi2, as you will find that access is limited, if not non-existent.
- Base your meeting points on your runner’s pace. We decided on 4 meeting points — the starting line, Ginza, Asakusa and the finish. Bear in mind that there will be many people using the trains and you will want to account for travel and waiting time.
- We decided to purchase our tickets per journey, which ended up working out fine but for those who are on a tight schedule get a Suica or Passmo card (think Oyster Card) to avoid queuing for tickets.
- Use the restrooms within department stores and the stations–there is no public access to the portable loos lining the race course, which are for runners only.
- Bring snacks and water as you may not have time to eat or queue for lunch.
- Dress in layers as you’ll be hot when on the train and cold when you’re above ground. Bring gloves, hat and scarf as it does get cold if you’re standing for long periods of time.
Here are a few tips to help your runner stay focused:
- Arrive a few days before the race to adjust to the timezone and climate.
- To eliminate the stress of traveling across town to Tokyo Big Site, try to register two days before the race begins.
- Keep your timing chip and race bib in a SAFE PLACE. To our absolute horror, the cleaning staff at our hotel somehow accidentally threw away my father’s timing chip the day before the race. By the time he noticed it was already late, yet the hotel asked him to take a taxi to Tokyo Big Site to re-register. They did not take into consideration that the registration site would be closed by the time he arrived. And so they made my father stand outside while the staff searched his room for the chip. They came up empty handed and the entire staff ended up combing through the hotel’s rubbish and somehow found the timing chip. Lots of bowing and apologising ensued and they also refunded my father’s hotel accommodation. I suppose all’s well that ends well!
- I’m not sure about other races, but Tokyo seems to be stricter than other race organisers. They will not keep the entire course open for 7 hours (although that’s how long you have to finish the race) and will start opening up the course to traffic starting from the gun time. Be sure to keep an eye on your watch to make sure you stay ahead of the closing of each course gate.
- If you’re used to an excited crowd cheering for you, be prepared for polite (and sometimes quiet) cheering. I cheered as loud as I could for the runners but felt a bit self conscious when people turned to stare. Ha!
- Wear a bright coloured arrow on your head pointing down toward you so that your cheering squad can find you easily. We only saw a few runners do this but thought it was so clever! We watched 30,000 runners go past the starting line and failed to find my father in the crowd.
If you have never cheered for a race, perhaps Tokyo would be a good one to begin with. The atmosphere is infectious and lively (by Japanese standards) and I was impressed by how orderly everything was. Everyone queued when necessary and there were no ‘traffic jams’ below or above ground. As Tokyo has only recently joined the World Marathon Majors, there is still some room for improvement. More bilingual staff and signs would be appreciated and it would be nice to see more marathon banners along the street–many locals did not even know there was a race. The organisers were so efficient that by the time we got back to Shinjuku, the signs were gone and the streets spotless, as if nothing had ever happened. Having said that, all in all, it was a fantastic race experience!
Were you at this year’s Tokyo Marathon? Let us know if you have any runner or spectator tips!