Tokyo Marathon 2024

March 4, 2024 · run travel

Welcome back to my blog! In this post I'll share my journey to Tokyo and my experience at the marathon, covering the training period, race prep, the race itself, and my post-race feelings.

But first I'll lead with a tl;dr FAQ section in case you're not here for the long version:

Q: Finish time?
A: 3:35
Q: What shoes?
A: Adidas Adios Pro 3
Q: What watch?
A: Garmin Forerunner 255 Music
Q: What I brought?
A: 4 x Decathlon Power Gel with 50mg caffeine, Insta360 Go 2 camera, metro ticket, 1000 yen just-in-case money, hotel room key
Q: Strava or it didn't happen?
A: https://www.strava.com/activities/10878218921
Q: Do you recommend?
A: 100% YES!

The Lottery

I'm not a big fan of running marathons. The last one I ran was in Paris 2019, and every race I've covered in this blog has been half marathon or shorter. I just find the half distance much more fun overall: much easier to train for, no worry about hitting a wall in the race, and your legs still belong to you for the rest of the day after the event instead of being completely solidified into blocks of wood.

That said, when the lottery for Tokyo opened up last August, I figured why not? and applied. I'll take just about any excuse to travel to Japan, but especially if the excuse involves running!

I found out the lucky result of the draw in October. To be honest, I didn't realize it was a big deal; I did not know until speaking with others that the success rate was around 1 in 20, meaning it's harder to get into the marathon than to go to Harvard! That meant I couldn't waste this chance, so I prepared to begin training immediately after my return from Slovenia, which coincidentally lined up exactly with Hansons 18 week training plan.

Training

I first encountered the Hansons plan when I trained for the Las Vegas half marathon in 2019. Despite some setbacks during training and a bloated belly courtsey a Gordon Ramsay lunch and a night race, I PR'd by more than 10 minutes. I used the plan again in 2021 for the Amsterdam half marathon to run a 1:33, which improved my record by a few minutes more.

Since there's no reason to fix what isn't broken, I naturally picked up the full marathon (beginner) version of the plan for this training. Overall it went pretty well; some minor injuries* and travel days meant I lost about 10% of the total prescribed mileage, but I hit all of the tempo pace runs and 16 mile long run goals. Overall, I'd say the plan prepared me well for the race, and any failure on the day would be down to my fault, not the training plan's.

* injured my right achilles and my left calf, I suspect from running too long on my old Saucony Endorphin Speed 2's.

Race Report

Pre-Start

Well, they say if something can go wrong, it will. I'm honestly pretty clueless about what happened, but all I know is that I woke up race day morning with a funky hip. Each step I took on my left foot sent a jolt of unnerviness shooting up the outside of my left hip. Maybe some sort of pinched nerve? Or a bursitis? It felt worst on downhills or when slowing down; any braking force going into the left leg would immediately draw a grimace on my face. Internal rotation was also extremely sensitive.

Anyway, I did my best to disregard the discomfort as I devoured my pre-race big breakfast at 6am (consisting of various treats from 7-11), then laced up my super shoes and struck out at 8am for the metro to the start, taking it extra gingerly on the walk over. At least I wasn't afflicted with cheese disease this time, and I was not going to let the last 4 months of work go to waste after having come so far. I reached the starting gate and hoped for the best, armed with my 3 secret cheat codes ready to go: caffeine, super shoes, and music.

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Tokyo army marching to the start

Let's go!

The race starts at Shinjuku, next to the world's busiest train station with over 150 exits and 3 Uniqlo stores. The course sets off with a loop around the Metropolitan Government building before sliding through a canyon of office buildings downhill towards Akihabara at kilometer 10. After nearly becoming a popsicle in the slow shuffle to the start, it was great to get moving and thawing out in the sunlight. I tried to relax into a consistent pace, but there was still a lot of jostling around other runners. Looking back at my videos, I'd say the start was the most crowded, but not by much; I was almost completely surrounded by people the entire way.

Did I mention braking force triggered my hip? Yeah, that occurred a lot on the day. When I signed up for the race, I filled out an expected finish of 4 hours, but by the time I reached the starting line, I knew I could likely go a good deal quicker than that. This meant I would spend the entire course passing people. Based on the tracking app, I crossed the starting line behind more than 12000 runners, and I crossed the finish line behind 7000, meaning I overtook at least 5000 people on track. The marathon is 40000 steps, so I'm passing at least 1 person every 8 steps on average! Under normal circumstances I might enjoy that, but this time I shuddered at every pace change.

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Across the start line!
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Up and down Akihabara

Middle of the race (km 10-39/miles 6-24)

By now the sun had come out in full force and temperatures rose quickly heading into midday. I was glad I had a short-sleeve shirt and plenty of sunscreen on me! In terms of pace, I was going a little slower than I expected, and my heart rate was much higher (~10 bpm) than what I was used to at from training. I assume the difference lay in some combination of a poor taper (it's Tokyo, I'm going to be on my feet walking!), the hip thing, an extra dose of adrenaline, and the warm sun. However, I kept an even pace throughout the race, kicking along the asphalt at just over 8 minutes per mile (5 minutes per kilometer).

Starting with Akihabara, the route makes several out-and-back sections to various landmarks around Tokyo. All the 180-degree turns look a little uncomfortable on the course map, but they're not bad on the ground. It's great that runners can cheer each other on, and it also concentrates crowd support by making it easier to spectate.

One of my favorite moments was getting a front row view of the breathtaking speed of the race leaders (everyone who finished sub-2:20). Each group was led out with a convoy of officials on bikes. The men's leaders were sandwiched between camera cars and scooters, and the top women were protected by a pack of pacing men. Despite not being at the first position, I think I heard Kipchoge receive the loudest cheers from my side of the race.

I was all positive vibes through this part of the race. I was fueled well enough, I grew a bit used to the hip quirkiness (I won't pretend that caffeine's painkiller properties didn't help!), and I felt happy just to experience each moment.

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Front gate to Sensō-ji in Asakusa, then turning to the Skytree
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A chance to see the unbelievable pace of the leaders

Tunnel Vision (to end)

For the last 3 kilometers (2 miles), I remember I was still happy, but this happiness took on more of a delirious flavor. I noticed all of a sudden that I had lost all of my peripheral vision. I could not see the people right next to me unless I turned my head toward them, and if I looked straight forward I could not see the ground.

But my brain wasn't concerned about this in the slightest; I knew there was only about 15 minutes left and I was certainly going to make it to the end. I actually found it kind of fun in a sort of feverish giddy way that I could make things turn invisible just by looking slightly away from them. Like a magic trick! Neat!

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Race to the end!

Post-Race

I knew my energy wasn't going to last much longer, so I made my way quickly (relatively speaking, for someone who just ran a marathon...) through the ending area and collected my finisher's medal and a beautiful comfy cape towel. I used the provided Metro card* to take the train back to my hotel, where I showered and then collapsed into bed.

* by the way I'm so happy that the title sponsor is the Tokyo Metro, not some awful oil or car company

Overall, the marathon was an amazing experience, and I'm thankful for the incredible team of volunteers who made the event a true delight. It was a privilege to participate!

Video Incoming?

I still have to review all the footage I shot during the race; potentially I will publish a recap on YouTube like I did 2 years ago for Lucerne and Amsterdam. No promises, but if that happens there will be another post here as well!

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