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  • Tokyo Marathon 2012 Write-Up III

    Posted on April 19th, 2012 Michele Sun No comments

    This is the part 3 of my Tokyo Marathon write-up, focusing on sharing the planning and logistic if you are thinking about running this awesome race in the land of Rising Sun. Everyone I know that have run this race have expressed (or actually have) the desire to run it again and again; it’s such a well organized race and it’s a great experience to travel in Japan post race. There is simply so much to explore but so little time, going back to run it again becomes necessary! So here you go, my Tokyo Marathon check-list

    Tokyo Marathon is the largest marathon race in Asia, and in the last few years were held at the last weekend of Feb. The registration information will be available in mid July and registration will be accepted between Aug 1st to Aug 31st. Entrants will be decided by a lottery system due to the popularity of this race, and the odds is about 1:30. However, from my own experience and according to other international runners’ input, we (foreigners reside outside of Japan) seem to be picked by default. It’s free to enter the lottery, unlike New York or other big races, and you only pay when you are accepted and complete your registration. Entry fee was 12,000 yen for 2012 when I ran it.
    The website for 2013 is not up yet, but you can check the 2012 and follow up later. For 2013, the race day will be Sunday Feb 24th, 2013, and registration will open on Wed Aug 1, 2013.
    During sign-up, it will ask for “Best Time” and “Estimated Time”; Tokyo Marathon is very strict about starting wave according to your assigned Start Block, if you have recently improved a lot since your last PR, you may still get a late Start Block even if you go aggressive with your Estimated Time. So just be prepared and don’t get frustrated at the Expo when you realized you can’t move up your Start Block.The race is awesome, and you will enjoy it regardless which wave you start!
    Choosing shirt size, the size is unisex and runs big; my Small was two size too big for me.

    Same as any races, you will need to train for Tokyo Marathon, and I would say be ready for running in cold weather is important. The race is in end of Feb and can be really cold, so depends what part of earth you are from, get familiar with running in cold and rain. I trained through winter season and it was tough; I even prayed for raining days in order to do my 20ml long run in the rain – it rained on race day before.
    The race is in metric system, and I know this might sound silly but I have no clue what that 42KM feels like, and ended up getting irritated after 38th KM. So if you are like me, only and so accustomed to mile markers, you might want to train/setup with KM on your Garmin, RunKeeper, DailyMile… etc.

    VISA –
    Depends on your nationality, you may require an entry VISA for visiting Japan. For US citizen, there is no VISA needed for a stay of up to 90 days for tourism. Check the official website for Japanese Visas guideline.

    Transportation –
    Air – you can fly into Narita airport or Haneda airport; both airports are international airports so just depends on where you are from and which airline you fly. Narita is bigger and have more daily flights, about 70 mins to center of Tokyo, while Haneda is smaller and your choice of airline may not fly there but it’s about half an hour distance to Tokyo.
    Train – the easiest way to get around Tokyo or within Japan is via train (Japan Rail), and the most economic way is to buy a JR Pass. A 7-day, 14-day and 21-days JR pass will allow you unlimited train ride on JR systems, even including the Shinkansen (bullet train), the NEX express train from Narita to Tokyo, and even the express shuttle from Shinjuku to Disneyland. Just one way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto will justify your purchase of a 7-day JR Pass, so in a nutshell it’s a great bargain. Note the JR Pass is only available for foreigners who reside outside of Japan, and the pass must be purchased before you enter Japan. So check with JTB office in your region for options and prices, and order them before you leave your country. You will receive your voucher in the mail, and then you exchange it for the actual JR Pass at the airport terminal upon arrival. There are JR offices in major train station that you can reserve rides and seats for your trips, or you can just hop on any JR train and ride in open seating compartments.
    JR system is not subway system, so study the map carefully and plan your route accordingly to avoid confusion and frustration of being sent away at the stations. However, you can always buy a subway ticket for short ride that interconnects with JR system.
    Bus – I took a shuttle bus from Narita Airport to Tokyo Big Sight for the Expo; that trip took about an hour and saved me from multiple transfers on train systems. Cost is 600 yen and you will find the bus stop on the curbside right outside of terminal. Other than this trip, I only took bus when I was in Kyoto, which you can also purchase 1-day, 2-day bus pass.

    Hotel –
    The race starts at Shinjuku, and it finishes at Tokyo Big Sight. You can access Shinjuku via subway or JR Train easily, so you don’t actually have to stay in Shinjuku which is busier, more expensive, and rooms will be much smaller. I stayed in Ikebukuru which is only few minutes away from Shinjuku and about 5 – 10 mins walk to train station depends where you stay. Hotel that I stay or other runners’ stay are – Sunshine City Prince, Shinjuku Washington, Shinagawa Prince ( nice and cheaper, but it’s further than Ikebukuro)
    Some of the runners stay in Japanese style room – ryokan, which offers very unique experience by sleeping on tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and the facility is usually smaller than western-style hotel. Of course, ryokan is more expensive.
    If the hotel offers room + breakfast option, you might want to consider that as well, especially Japanese style breakfast – I just love the porridge and grilled salmon at breakfast time. Also if you are really TALL, ask hotel about the length of the bed or ask them to bring an ottoman or bed bench as extension.
    Here is a map showing Start area and hotels near-by, mouse over the individual mark and you will see info, rate and booking info. Just keep in mind that most of hotels near Start area get sold out fast and require 2 nights stay since local Japanese will travel into this area for the race as well.

    Cell Phone & Internet –
    To avoid roaming charges, you can rent cell phone for incoming calls while you are in Japan. You can reserve one in advance, and pick it up at airport terminal when you arrive.The phone will be free, incoming calls will be free, and you actually receive  your local phone number prior arrival, so you can give out that number before you leave home. Then use Skype or other VOIP service with your own cell phone for outgoing calls.
    Wireless, free public Wi-Fi is not as widely available as in the US, so forget about Starbucks and McDonald..etc, but there are 23 hot spot at 7 Eleven that you can access Wi-Fi free of charge, and list of locations is here. I will explain how it works here –
    1. You need to register with 7 Eleven to use their 7 Spot service, click here
    2. Once you have user name and password, you can access free WiFi with iPhone, Android phone, Notebook..etc. For instruction, see screen shot here

    Food –
    Tokyo is such an east meets west metropolitan, therefore you can easily find food from your country with some modification to Japanese taste, and of course you don’t wnat to miss tasty Japanese food that you don’t see back home. For instance, I always like raru soba in summer (buckwheat noodle with dipping sauce), so I decided to have soba the night before the race as my carbo-load dinner. However I was so impressed finding much tastier soba and more varieties, such as soba with duck from Hokaido, dipping sauce with quail egg, which I have never seen in California. For carbo-load, both soba and udon will be good choice, stay away from ramen though – the broth may be too fattening.
    Most of Japanese restaurants have pictures on the menu, so you can point and pick. If you have budget concern, you can always eat at places within the train station – usually there are supermarket and food court within the same plaza. Supermarket closes around 9:00pm to 10:00pm, so if you go before the shop closes you get great discount on food – bread, fruits, sashimi.. etc.

    Weather –
    The race is at the end of Feb, but weather can be very unpredictable. There have been hail, rain, heat wave from the past; this year the rain was pouring down like crazy the day before, but just cold and dry on the race day which makes a perfect weather for long run. But after I left Tokyo, it started to snow. Japanese runners run in multiple layers of clothing, which I found it very amazing how over-dressed they are. I was in my usual short sleeve T, arms sleeve, knee length tights.. and I found it very comfortable to run in cold weather.
    For post race travel in Japan, depends which region you plan to visit, just pack accordingly. I only had my hooded jacket and scarf with me and I had no problem going to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

    What to bring –
    I was very stressed about packing, and that’s just me I think. You can actually buy everything in Tokyo and its’ fun to shop there – weird and interesting at the same time. For electronic gadget, I don’t need outlet adapter for my computer or phone charger. One thing you can consider is the water proof spray for your shoes and jacket. I bought a can at sport store and only cost about $ 5.00, but I sprayed my shoes before I went out for morning run, and it kept my shoes dry, so it’s a good investment.  Umbrella, camera ( of course), small sized wifi router (if you already have one).

    Money –
    It’s not common to use Credit Card, and it’s a hassle to see the cashier running around to get your card approved. So use cash!! But it’s hard to find ATM machine for my US issued ATM & Credit Card, and there is transaction and exchange fee involved, so just prepare about $ 100 a day for food, snacks, drinks.. purchases. I would say the biggest spending is on transportation, but if you are getting the JR Pass as I suggested, then you should be Ok with $ 100 cash per day.

    Expo –
    The race Expo is held at Tokyo Big Sight, a very grand convention center on the south side of Tokyo. You can access Tokyo Big Sight via JR Train or Subway, but be prepared that you need to transfer couple routes, access map here The bus ride took about an hour, and via train will take about an hour and 20 mins plus transfer.
    I went to the Expo right after landed in Tokyo, so had to haul my luggage with me. Taking bus is not a problem with that luggage, and there is coin operated locker you can store your luggage.  They are located inside the convention center, will be on your right hand side before you enter the official Expo. I found going to Expo on weekdays very time saving and less crowded than visiting it during weekend.

    Race Day –
    You should arrive the Start area at least an hour before, so plan your time accordingly depends where you stay. I left hotel at 7am and took JR to Shinjuku, and walked to the Start area. I did not have to check-in my bag since I had friend coming with me, if you need to check in your bag just look for the truck that correspondents with your bib number.
    Instead of “corral” it’s called Start Block at this race, and it’s reinforced very strictly. When you register for the race, make sure you enter your target time aggressively in order to start at front of the pack. Only runners with bib are allowed to enter the Start Block, so take you race photos with your supporting group before you are separated with them.
    The course is point to point, so you won’t see them till you finish the race. Meet them at the family reunite area — in the west wing of Big Sight, and it’s a long walk from the train station, so tell your family & friends to allow enough time for that long walk. That way you won’t be sitting at reunite area by yourself and no one to celebrate your accomplishment with 🙂

    Aid Station –
    The aid station is fully stocked with water, sport drink, real food like raisin, bread, sliced and peeled banana, rice cake..etc, so no GU Gel, Protein bar. I love the raisin and bread, instant fuel! But if you worry about the food they provide may upset your stomach, you can always carry your own gel. Official Sport Drink is Amino Value which I can’t find in US, but I found it’s very similar to Amino Vital  which is used by US Open. So you can buy the Amino Vital on Amazon.com, Amino Vital web site or your local Japanese supermarket. Try it on your long runs so you can get used to the taste and whatever in it.

    Post Race –
    After you cross the finish line, you will get the huge Tokyo Marathon Finisher Towel and your medal, then you will receive more banana, sport drink, snacks..etc. Also volunteers will direct you to pick up your bag, foot bath area, and change area to get out of your wet & sweaty clothing. Family reunite area is in the west wing of Big Sight, and it’s a long walk from the train station – tell your family & friends to allow time for that long walk so you won’t be sitting at reunite area by yourself and no one to celebrate your joy with. Since it will take a while for you to return back to your hotel, make sure you snack a bit after crossing that finish line.

    These pretty much sum up what you need to know about participating Tokyo Marathon, and I will update the check list if I remember anything else. You are welcome to leave/email questions and I promise to response.



    1. 4/25/2012, added 2013 race date and registration date
    2. 6/21/2012, the official website for 2013 is up & running,
    3. 7/31/2012, the registration will open on 8/1, don’t forget to signup. You do not have to pay for the registration until you confirm it after the lottery.
    4. 8/1/2012, registration is up and running, but expect delay due to site traffic.
    5. 8/5/2012 updated shirt and Best Time info under “Registration”, please check.
    6. 9/26/2012, Added maps for hotel info.
    Just received confirmation email that I got into Tokyo Marathon 2013! See you in Japan 🙂


    24 responses to “Tokyo Marathon 2012 Write-Up III” RSS icon

    • Hi there,
      I am a person who don’t do much exercise but just do yoga most of the time. Do you think it’s possible for me to participate in the Tokyo Marathon next year if I start to train up myself now?

      • I don’t know how your health condition is, so first recommendation will be checking with your doctor about this. Running a marathon is not for everyone, after all.
        If your doctor give you OK, then I will say YES you can train yourself for Tokyo Marathon (or other marathon you fancy) as long as you have the right expectation. Going through the training and finishing it is a big deal already, then you can work on improving your time 🙂
        Let me know if you like me to recommend training program for beginner.
        Good luck and thank you for visiting my blog.

    • Hi, I like your blog and thank you for your thoughts. I also just got my notice that I made the Tokyo marathon. This is my first and i am going to walk, light jog it. I saw your note on a beginner training program. Would you mind sharing the program with me?

      Good luck in your training.


      • Hi Jon,

        Congrats on getting in Tokyo Marathon and you will have a blast!!!
        There are many training programs out there, and I personally followed Hal Higdon when I was preparing for my first marathon and couple more after that. It’s quite simple to follow and not as aggressive as some time-goal programs.
        Happy Running and let me know if you have any question about this race.

    • Michele, thanks for your fantastic write-up about the Tokyo Marathon. I’ll be there in 2013 as a member of the Marathon Tours group. I’ll have to order some Amino Vital for my long training runs.

      • Tim,

        Congrats on getting in Tokyo Marathon and good luck with your training!!
        See you in Tokyo and “gambatte” 🙂

    • Michele. Wll you be here in Tokyo. I have been training a lot but i am not really running as much as I wanted to and am still mainly walking. With 46 days left, i need to get more running in. Gambatte!

      • Yes, I will be running in Tokyo again this year, may not be as exciting as last year since some logistic with traveling issue. But I am sure it will turn our to be great race! Hope you have fun and good luck with your training.

    • Good luck. Ii live herr so feel free to call out for any emergency issue

    • BTW, USA ATM cards can be used astheseveral Citibank branches located inTokyo. Their website is in english and will give you good directions. Also, Shinsei Bank and Japan Post Bank (Yucho Bank) will also accept foreign ATM cards.

      • The most convenient way to have cash for me is ATMs at train station, and after trial and error I found Shinsei Bank works 🙂
        But there was very limited Shinsei Bank ATM. Thanks for the tips, now I know about Post Bank as well.
        Pretty excited, less than one month away.

    • Hi Michelle,

      I’ll be running TM2013, I think i am going to start at the last corral, may i know how long it takes to clear the corral? Also, they have enforcement on all check points…so i have to run faster to catch up those lost mins in the waiting corral? Thanks in advance

      • How do you know which corral will you be in? And what was your last marathon tme?
        Tokyo Marathin have wave start, so each corral have a block of time to take off. I was in corral G and took me about 15 minutes to cross the Start timing pad. So it’s about 2 minutes per corral I think.
        Yes there will be check points and you need to make sure you make those in time. If you do end up in the last corral as you said, then at least stand at the very front in your corral. At the beginning, people tend to start too fast; you should try to pace yourself and not to burn your energy too fast too soon.
        It’s an awesome race, and unless you walk all the way, otherwise you should be able to meet the check points time 🙂

    • Hi,

      Thank you for the prompt reply! Yeah, will pace my run and not overwhelm by the adrenaline rush. Does the check point timing give like mins allowance or on the dot?! Thanks


      • The timing at each check point is on the dot, and you can expect losing about 25 minutes if you really are in the last corral.
        The first several miles are very exciting, so do control your pace. You have a target in mind?

    • Ya, quite confirm is last coral! Last timing was around 5:30hr. Last couple of questions.

      1: what’s like running in the cold cos i’m from a tropical country?! Does it makes the run easier?

      2: what is the best running attire for the run? I was trying to put on comp tights while running here but felt uncomfortable. I really hope can wear split shorts instead and a thermal comp top.

      Sorry for all the troubles! Thanks

      • No trouble at all, the reason I blog about this Tokyo Marathon is I found how little information I could get from their website and Facebook. There are just not enough info for people outside of Japan. I’m glad to be resourceful actually 🙂
        1. I found it easier to run in cold weather, because your body and head don’t get over-heated. Tokyo is about the same in terms of temperature as where I am, but it’s more “wet” in the air.
        2. I would suggest you pack two sets of running cloth. One for cold condition, even rainy condition. And one set assuming weather to be warm. Most of Japanese run overdressed, too many layers! I think to them it’s really cold on the race day. I wore a short sleeve tech-t, with compression arm sleeves, that way I could roll the sleeve down if necessary. I had a 3/4 length Capri, only because I was trained in those cloth not because I needed the Capri. You should race in what you are comfortable with, and don’t change or try anything new. You can pack warm cloth in the gear check bag, and change to them after you cross the Finish. The Finish area is by the ocean and it gets very cold.
        My blood sugar and body temperature dropped really fast after I finish my race last year because my friend had my bag & cloth, but he was late coming to meet me — I ran much faster than we predicted 🙂

        Any question just let me know, no trouble at all!!! Gambatte!!

    • Hi,

      Thank you so much for the infos, cant get much answer from the website. Hope to see you around the race ya!

    • Is there an entry system for fast runners as in other major marathons e.g. NY, Chicago, london

      • Besides lottery drawing, fast runners that meet JAAF (Japan Association of Athletics Federations) standard and a member of the JAAF, or elite runners invited by FAAF can register. You can contcat tm2013@or.knt.co.jp with your time and see if you qualify as elite runner.

    • What a great writeup Michele!

      How did you reserve a cell phone before your arrival at Narita airport? Do you remember the site url? Thanks Scott

      • Congrats Scott!! You must have gotten into Tokyo 2015 🙂
        There are several telcom companies provide similar service, and you can pick up the phone at arrival lobby. You can try JAL ABC , or Soft Bank
        Free Wifi is also available from NTT for up to 14 days, but they stop giving out Wifi card at the airport. You can pick up the card (with proof of Passport) in Harajuku. The Wifi setup instruction is here in case you can’t read Japanese 🙂
        Have a great race, and let me know if you have any question. Gambatte!!!

    • Thx Michele. C U at TNFEC-SF in Dec!

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