Running the Tokyo Marathon

Well, my Tokyo Marathon journey has come to an end. It’s been almost a week since I, along with 36,000 other runners from all over the world, braved the cold weather and harsh winds and ran the streets of Tokyo. And I’m still on a runner’s high!

I had traveled to Tokyo with my new runner friend, Iman, who was introduced to me by another runner friend, Melisa. In fact, the first time we met face-to-face was at the airport, LOL! But, this is what I love about the running community. With our love for running as our common denominator, we immediately clicked and had a great time exploring Tokyo together.

Once we had landed in Tokyo, our first area of business was to pick up our bibs and running packs at the Expo. After buying our Subway tickets and getting directions from the super friendly people at the Tourist Information Center, we were on our way to the Expo at Tokyo Big Sight. There were hundreds of runners there but the system set up was so efficient, we had our bibs, timing chips, race t-shirts and goodie bags in record time.

IMG-20170224-WA0011 (1)The day of the race was nerve wrecking to say the least. The race didn’t start until 9:10am but we were advised to arrive early as the security clearance and baggage drop-off process would take a while. In the end, we headed out from our Airbnb around 7am, with sufficient time to make it to the starting area, drop off our baggage, hydrate and make the ever important bathroom stop. The gates to the different starting pens opened at about 8:15am so it was here that I separated with the other Malaysian runners (they were in the quicker pace group).

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What I wore for the race: Riada Active Pants, Zip Up Azeeza Lite top, Hooda Racerback hijab with two Raazgloves (One underneath my hijab for added coverage and another as a neck warmer/face cover). All available from Nashata. I also wore and inner top ad inner pants for added warmth, compression socks and gloves.

IMG_20170226_085945  The 5:30 pacers in front of us, calmly waiting for the go ahead signal.

At 9:10am sharp, we heard the gun go off for the elite runners category. About 10 minutes later, we were released into the wave of runners heading towards the starting mat. We passed it 10 minutes later, which made it the longest delay to the starting mat after flagoff I’ve ever had. However, once we all started running, it was all good.

We started from the Shinjuku area, near the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Sidenote: Instead of paying to get a birds-eye view of Tokyo at the Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree, go here instead. There are two observatory towers and both are accessible for free! The first 6km of the race took us past the Shinjuku-Gyoen national park and also the Science Musuem. It was also mostly downhill so unintentionally, I ran it at a much faster pace than intended. It wasn’t until I reached that first checkpoint did I look down at my pace and decided to slow down a bit.

The next 6km had us running parts of the Kanda and Ningyocho area. It was here that several performances were being performed to give the runners a boost if needed and also entertain the many spectators of the race.

IMG_20170226_101820Cultural dance performances made the race special and were a treat for international and local runners alike.

The first loop of the race came about km15, near the Asakusa area. It was here we got glimpses of the elite runners as they had already made the turn way ahead of us. Asakusa’s most recognizable landmark is the Kaminarimon Gate, where one can see the huge red lantern, protected by the Gods, Fujin and Raijin.

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Funfact: That huge red lantern weighs about 700 kilograms!

Heading towards the 25km mark, the race heated up as more and more supporters lined up to cheer the runners along. This Ryogoku – Fukagawa area showcased many landmarks such as the Tomika Hachimangu Shrine, the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the Ekoin Temple and the Sumida Hokusai Museum.

IMG_20170226_115356The cheerleaders were a welcome sight after reaching the halfway point.

After the 25km mark, we started to see a lot of runners stop beside the road to stretch and walk around a bit. I have to admit, I was one of them. The cold really got to me, despite my many layers of clothing. However, the cheers of the crowd yelling “Gambatte” and “Fighto” pushed us to carry on.

Heading towards the finishing line, we were treated to sights of the Tokyo Tower and parts of Hibiya Park.

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Modeled after the Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower stands at 333 meters and is the world’s tallest, self-supported steel tower.

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The last stretch before the turn towards the finishing line was, in my opinion, the most emotional I’ve ever ran. Hundreds of supporters were cheering the runners on, many of whom I took time to give and receive high-fives and shouts of congratulations. Turning the last corner, I almost cried seeing the finishing line. The pain I felt throughout the race, fighting the cold, the leg cramps…it all disappeared once I crossed that mat. Volunteers rushed ahead to make sure I was OK then directed me towards my baggage pickup area.

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All finishers were given a medal and a finisher’s towel. Awesome!!

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Proud Malaysians with the Jalur Gemilang after the race.

Eventhough this is not my first Full Marathon, it is certainly the most memorable yet. I don’t know if it’s just a Japanese culture but the crowds and volunteers were top-notch. From start to finish, spectators were lined up along the roads, cheering and providing provisions for the runners. Some had drinks, some had candies, some had chocolate, some even had cooling sprays! I saw parents hold up signboards with pictures of their children, crying with joy when they spotted him/her along the course. Drones of families, some with small children (so cute!!), some even in wheelchairs came out to give their support. I can’t tell you how many times my spirit got lifted by the crowd. Even the volunteers were amazing; always serving with a smile, a high-five and words of encouragement. Eventhough I didn’t achieve my target time of 5:30, this Tokyo Marathon experience will certainly be one to remember fondly for all time.

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Arigato and Sayonara, Tokyo!

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