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5 Tips to Survive the Tokyo Marathon

You know that feeling when you're in a busy grocery store on a Saturday afternoon and you're bombarded with a million options? All you have to find is one thing, but all you can think about is dodging the chaos? That's sort of what Tokyo felt like for me: an unmistakable feeling of scramble + so many options - no immediate escape.

The days leading up to the Tokyo Marathon sort of felt that way, too. But despite the feelings of craziness and the slight discomfort I may have had being out of my element, like all things Japan, it just worked.

Here are 5 things I learned at the Tokyo Marathon that you should know before going into it.

Image from the Tokyo Marathon Foundation, used with permission.

1. There's a lack of conversation going into the event. I'm not talking about the training on my home turf gabbing away with my buddies about my upcoming trip, but instead a lack of communication from the race itself. The days and weeks leading up to the marathon felt quiet on the race front. I knew I was registered, I received a huge package of ads in the mail before I left for Japan, but I still had no idea what my bib number was, what corral I'd be in, or how I was going to get back to the start from the finish. I had wayyyy too many half-translated maps with so many warnings that didn't lead to me any comfort -- instead I felt like I had a lot of information that didn't say what I wanted to read. But when I stepped out of my hotel the morning of the marathon, it all unfolded perfectly.

2. There's approximately 1 volunteer for every 6 runners. Because Tokyo hosts an Abbott World Marathon Major, this is a HUGE number of runners -- and an even larger number of volunteers. This ratio remains true for all aspects of the race: During the expo, volunteers line the venue so you stay the course. Before the race as you gather into your gate, volunteers line the gates so you stay the course. During the race, volunteers line the race to make sure you stay the course AND gather your trash for you. After the race, volunteers usher you through the fences to make sure you stay the course. They will double, triple, and quadruple check your numbers, timing tag, bib, and drop bags before you hand them over and before they hand them back. Japan is notoriously organized and efficient as a city, and the race is no exception. Just believe in the magic of Japan.

(Additional reading: To further expound, you will get all the final information you need in your packet at the expo -- your bib number, gate assignments, corral number, etc. The bibs, gates, corrals, and finish chutes are color-coated, and as long as you aren't ignoring the swarm of volunteers ushering you the correct way, you'll get to where you need to be. The volunteers wear signs with additional languages they speak, and they can answer any questions you have that aren't covered in the materials. And if language ends up being a barrier, take comfort in the fact they will do everything they can do to help or find someone who can. I cannot stress it enough: The volunteers are amazing and will essentially do everything but run the marathon for you.)

Image from the Tokyo Marathon Foundation, used with permission.

3. You cannot bring your own water bottles on the course. Do not fret! There is plenty -- too much even -- water, electrolyte, and fruit well-marked and all along the route. The tables are so long that you can grab a cup, down it, keep running, and still have time to grab another cup. Do you walk water stops? You could grab three or four. Are you used to training with your own electrolytes because you have fueling sensitivities? Sure, you can try to smuggle a water bottle with your drink of choice on course, but the race explicitly asks that you do not bring your own water bottles for safety and sanitation reasons. Questioning this rule is akin to a host saying "Please don't put your feet on my coffee table," and you asking why not because you're used to doing things your own way. Follow the host's rules and plan accordingly.

4. The crowd support is something you have to see to believe. The noise of the crowds and the city in general is inspiring. The out and backs allow for you to see the frontrunners and have onlookers cheering from both sides. Having so many locals lining the streets and screaming for strangers is a wonderful feeling -- and for me, it's even cooler to be cheered for in another language. (But I still always savor the random English sign!) Kids, adults, families, dogs, balloons, noisemakers, bands, and the overall atmosphere of TOKYO!! propel you along every inch of the world-famous event. Your ears will ring from the decibels, so take out your headphones and tune in to the incredible support.

5. Your legs are going to get a goooood long shakeout immediately after the race. There's no way around it. Hibaya Park is huge, and I'm pretty sure the Japanese wanted us to walk every inch. Even if you don't check a bag, you, guessing the theme, will be ushered to stay the course. Again, volunteers will double, triple, and quadruple check your bib and tags to ensure you head the right direction. At times it may not feel like you're going the right way because the walk between the finish line, finish-line banana, and finisher's medal is verrrrryyyy long. But trust that the volunteers are looking out for you and you haven't missed anything.

Bonus: The good news about walking so long after a marathon is that the thousands of volunteers line the route cheering and bowing for you. You will feel like a celebrity just picking up a towel to wipe the salt off your crusty face. Savor it and soak in the applause! You just completed the cherished Tokyo Marathon and lived to tell about it.


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