The Tokyo Marathon was an incredible experience. Though my finish time wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, I only have positive feelings about this day and this experience. Thank you to the city of Tokyo for hosting such a spectacular event. It was, hands down, one of the coolest marathon experiences of my life
Getting to the Start Line:
As I mentioned here, we ran the Tokyo Marathon via Marathon Tours. Many of the runners with the tour company stayed at the Park Hyatt, which was right by the start line, but our hotel, the Hotel Nikko Tokyo, was at the finish line. Marathon Tours arranged for shuttles to take us to the start line. The complementary breakfast at the hotel started at 5:45 am and the shuttles took us to the start line at 6:30 am.
The breakfast was the same hotel breakfast that was served every day, which included a vast array of options…but no peanut butter. Fortunately, I had packed a jar in my suitcase so I could have my regular pre-marathon breakfast of toast with PB & J and coffee.
The forecast for the race was pretty darn perfect temperature wise- upper 40’s at the start and upper 50’s at the finish, with the possibility of rain.
When we headed to the shuttle, it was raining, but Marathon Tours kindly provided us with these handy ponchos!
It worked out pretty well to keep me warm on the long wait at the start.
We met a bit of a running celebrity named Joe Schlereth in Tokyo, who was there with Marathon Tours too. This legendary ultra winner was running the Tokyo Marathon via Marathon Tours as well; we randomly sat with him and his daughter at the tempura lunch on this tour and had no idea we were chatting with such an amazing runner! This guy has won the Wasatch 100 and has completed over 100 marathons in his life. He was super nice and a pleasure to talk to.
In fact, Joe helped me out quite a bit at the start line. Dustin and I had to split up right away when we arrived at the start, as he was in Gate 1 and I was in Gate 2. It was about 7:15 am and the race didn’t start until 9:10! I was sad that we had to separate so early, but Joe took me under his wing and showed me a “secret” bathroom at a lovely hotel on the walk to our gate. Together, we figured out where to go, making our way through the security. The security was quite intense at the race, with metal detectors and loads of guards. No outside beverages were allowed either; Joe’s water bottle was taken away by the guards.
After security, there were rows upon rows of bathrooms- so many bathrooms. The “Western-style” (non-squat) were clearly marked.
Joe left me at this point to find his corral; he used to be a 2:40 marathoner in his prime, but now he usually runs around 3:40’s and he was placed in corral D. I was in corral E, but I also still needed to drop my bag off at the gear check.
There were volunteers everywhere directing you where to go and many of them had hats on that said “English” to indicate that they spoke English. This was so helpful for me.
As I made my way over to the exceptionally organized gear check, I heard a familiar voice call my name….there was Dustin!
Gates 1 and 2 weren’t actually separated once we were inside the starting area and he had remembered which gear check I was in, so he was waiting for me there. It was so nice to have company for a little while. It was still only 7:30-ish, so we hung out together chatting with some very friendly ladies from Oregon before splitting up around 8 am.
I was in my corral by 8:15 and it was already packed! I suppose if I had one complaint, it would be that there definitely was a lot of waiting around with this marathon, but I didn’t mind. It was drizzling just a little bit at this point and sure, I was cold. But I didn’t need the bathroom or anything, so I figured it didn’t hurt to be in my corral early, rather than stress to get there late. There were a lot of announcements, but unlike at the Berlin marathon, none of the announcements were translated into English so I had no clue what was said. About 5,000 of the 35,500 runners were non-Japanese, meaning that most of the time I was surrounded by non-English speaking runners, so there wasn’t any of the normal pre-race chit-chat.
Around 9 am, there was the national anthem; I assume it was the national anthem as everyone around me started to sing! There was a big blast of confetti way ahead of us at the actual start and I believe the wheelchair division started. Then, a choir started singing “The Sun Will Come Out…Tomorrow!” from Annie. That was a bit surreal.
A few minutes later, we were moving slowly towards the official starting line…and then I was off!
There’s always a moment at the start of any marathon where I feel a little emotional about what I’m about to do, and this time felt even more special. I was in TOKYO running a marathon. I threw off my poncho and settled in to enjoy the experience.
From the first mile onwards, the crowd support was unbelievable. Everyone was cheering and applauding you enthusiastically. Most of the time, I had no idea what they were saying, but sometimes they would see that I wasn’t Japanese and they would cheer, “Fight on!” I also wore my name on my shirt and a handful of people did cheer, “GO JESSIE!” (Maybe Yessie like Berlin?) 🙂 Such awesome crowds.
There were plenty of signs out on the course, and I’m sure they were witty and motivational, but hey, my comprehension of kanji is non-existent! I had no idea what the signs said.
The support stops were plentiful with the friendliest volunteers I have ever experienced handing out water and Pocari Sweat. Remember when I was in Singapore and I drank Pocari Sweat during my long run? At least I knew what to expect and I actually really liked it for the race.
And YES! I did try tomatoes on the course, as well as mandarin oranges. Dustin’s brother Collin, his wife Yuka, and their two kids were at 22 kilometers (about half way) and again at 35 kilometers. They had jelly bellies and signs for us. It was adorable!
This picture isn’t from the race, but you get the idea.
Also, looking for my in-laws throughout the race really helped to distract me. Another good distraction was an out-and-back part of the course where I got to see the elites coming back! So cool to see.
After I saw them, I spent the next 45 minutes watching for Dustin…and I saw him! There was another burst of energy when we waved and cheered for each other. I could tell he was somewhere around 3:15 and I was right (he ended up with a 3:14:02.)
The course gave you a great tour of the city of Tokyo, running through Shinjuku to Shinbashi to Ginza, out to Shinagawa and back to Ginza, up through Asakusa (where we saw the Senso-ji temple from Friday’s tour) back to Ginza off to Daiba for the finish at the Tokyo Big Sight.
It was mostly flat with just a few rolling hills over some bridges, but nothing drastic.
The medals were simple, as it seems most international marathons seem to be. I did like how they had a map of the course on the back; that was a nice touch.
The Finish Line:
The finish line was at the Tokyo Big Sight, the same location as the expo. Right after the finish, you are quickly given a Tokyo Marathon towel, your medal, more Pocari Sweat, water, bananas, “calorie mate” and more. After that, we were directed right into the convention center.
In the convention center, the first thing you see if the baggage pick up. This was one of my favorite moments of the entire race. All of the volunteers were enthusiastically applauding you, cheering “Congratulations!!!” You’re already so emotional after running a marathon; to have these people cheering for you; I think everyone around me was choked up. It was so touching.
I picked up my gear bag and made my way through the rest of the convention center, through the “Dressing Area” where there was an acupuncture area (rather than massage) and an onsen for your feet (a hot tub of sorts) Dustin participated in both while he was waiting for me!
Finally I made my way to the family meet-up area where I found Dustin, Joe, his daughter, and my friend Phil from the Cayman Islands. Phil ran a PR- way to go! He has done a ton of marathons, including all 7 continents (Antartica!) but he also was in love with the Tokyo Marathon.
After taking a few pictures at the finish, we were ready to head back to our hotel. Marathon Tours also had arranged shuttle buses from the finish to our hotel, even though it was only about a 1.5 mile walk. It was a nice perk!
A few other remarkable things about the Tokyo Marathon:
- There were a ton of people running in costume. I saw one guy in a full Sumo outfit.
- There were Tokyo police men running the race for security measures
About one mile into the race, I still had my long sleeve throw-away shirt on. Another running ‘patrolman’- different than the police- ran up beside me, smiled and said, “Good morning!” I looked over, smiled..and then he asked to see my bib. No bandit runners on this course!
The marathon has a 7 hour cutoff, but apparently, they started blocking runners off the course with a rope around the 6 1/2 hour cutoff time. Fortunately, this didn’t affect Dustin and me, but there were a few people with Marathon Tours who didn’t get to finish.
Throughout the race, I really focused on positive thoughts. I kept telling myself “I believe in you! I believe in this pace. I believe that you are strong.”
As corny as it sounds, it really helped me stay positive and stay on track. And according to my Garmin, I was hitting my mile splits exactly as I should be!
Here are my splits for the race:
Mile 1 8:53
Mile 2 8:28
Mile 3 8:41
Mile 4 8:36
Mile 5 8:36
Mile 6 8:47
Mile 7 8:42
Mile 8 8:39
Mile 9 8:36
Mile 10 8:15
Mile 11 8:43
Mile 12 8:30
Mile 13 8:44
Mile 14 8:32
Mile 15 8:24
Mile 16 8:26
Mile 17 8:46
Mile 18 8:51
Mile 19 8:37
Mile 20 8:30
Mile 21 9:20
Mile 22 8:53
Mile 23 8:08
Mile 24 9:08
Mile 25 7:47 <– what??
Mile 26 8:48
Mile 27 9:05
Mile 28 00:46
Average Pace: 8:40
I did such a terrible job of running the tangents at this race. With 35,000+ runners, there is definitely a lot of weaving around the runners, and I also didn’t stay on the ‘turn’ side of the turns. Since there were no mile markers, only kilometer markers, I didn’t realize just how far off my Garmin was until the final 5k. At that point, you can see that I tried to pick it up. Mile 25 was a 7:47! But that speed was short-lived and I ended up coming in right right around my old PR.
When I turned off my Garmin at the finish line it told me, “Fastest marathon yet: 3:46!” If only I had just run 26.2 miles, ha!
My coach said even though my finish time was not what I wanted, I should use this a big a confidence booster. He doesn’t think my Garmin was wrong– he think I really did run 27 miles due to all the weaving and wide turns. Many others had long mileage on their Garmins and they believe that its impossible to run 26.2 miles in a marathon as big as Tokyo; as comparison, Dustin had 26.8 on his Garmin.
Don’t worry- I am NOT claiming that 3:46 as my PR; what I’m saying is that mentally now I have the confidence in my ability to run an 8:40 for 26.2 miles. Next marathon? I will be ALL. OVER. that time. My average pace of 8:40 is exactly what I wanted to do and I feel like its definitely obtainable.
My true marathon finish time at the Tokyo Marathon 2015 was 3:54:22.
But I am happy- I’m happy that I now know that I can run 8:40’s for a 26.2 miles and I can (and will) get that 3:45 time that I have been shooting for. I felt amazing pretty much the whole race and I had such a fun time. It was such a different experience than my two marathons in 2014. It was significantly faster than my two marathons of 2014 (Flying Pig: 4:11 and Outer Banks 4:10). I’m back under four hours. And better yet, I FELT GREAT.
I was mentally strong the entire race. I never gave up, I stayed positive, and I had an amazing time. I felt grateful for the experience, for the training that got me there, and for those who supported me along the way.
I was grateful that I was here, in Tokyo, running a marathon.
It was really special to me and I loved every minute.
THAT feeling is what running is about.
And with that, we had a very special celebration with my Tokyo in-laws at a cool izakaya in the Shimbashi neighborhood after the race. Such a fun day and night…My love of marathons has been rekindled thanks to Tokyo, Japan!