Race Review: Abbot World Majors Tokyo Marathon

07 May, 2019 • by Admin

The event has become the most popular running event in Japan, if not the world, with about 320,000 runners vying for an entry through the lottery


The Tokyo Marathon (東京マラソン Tokyo Marason) is an annual marathon sporting event in Tokyo, the capital of Japan. It is an IAAF Gold Label marathon and one of the six World Marathon Majors. The latest edition of the race took place on 3 March 2019. It is sponsored by Tokyo Metro.

The first Tokyo Marathon was held on 18 February 2007. However, years prior to 2007, Tokyo Marathon actually consisted of two marathons - the Tokyo International Marathon which took place on even years, and Tokyo - New York Friendship International Marathon which took place on odd years. In the inaugural year, 1981, both marathons took place. However, because it was not possible to support two marathons a month apart in the same city, from 1982, the alternating format went into effect.

The 2007 marathon was also a representative selection race of the 2007 World Championships in Athletics in Osaka. The total number of participants was set at 30,000. Of that, 25,000 people signed up for the marathon, and 5,000 signed up for the 10K run.

For the 2019 event, there were 331,211 applicants. 330,271 of the applications were for the full marathon and 940 were for the 10km race.

  • Date: March
  • Location: Tokyo, Japan
  • Event type: Road
  • Distance: Marathon, Half Marathon, 10K
  • Beneficiary: Tokyo Metro
  • Established: 2007
  • Japan residents: 16,200 Yen
  • From overseas: 18,200 Yen
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The Course

The race course itself is pretty flat, other than the downhill for the first 5kms and uphill for the last 5 kms. The course loops a bit, so you can see the more advance runners a few times on the course. The first 35kms you are in the city center covered by tall buildings, but towards the end as you head for the Tokyo Big Sight, you start to see more space. There are also less crowds between the 35km and 40km mark. This is also when the ramps/hills starts to appear. If you live in Sydney and have done a few hill runs, you won’t even notice there is an incline. But if you are not used to hills, make sure you save some energy for these hills. We saw quite a few runners having to stop and walk up the hills.

In 2018, distance markers were only measured in KM – except at the halfway point (13.1 miles). You should either rely on your Garmin for mile measure or “practice” running in kilometers.

Unlike Berlin or Chicago, which make their way through many very different neighborhoods and sights, Tokyo was primarily running through the concrete jungle of Tokyo. You run through many high-rise-lined streets, store fronts and sky scrapers, but there’s little diversity in the sights. You do run through Asakusa and past the iconic Kaminarimon Sensouji, before turning toward the view of the Sky Tree and Asahi headquarters

The course has many out and backs, which means you often cross paths with runners at different parts of their race than you. This was somewhat frustrating at the end (a 5k out and back segment) when you saw people at their 40k while you were approaching your 31k

The on-course entertainment was good, but not at the level of Berlin or Chicago. There were many groups performing, including a military band, choir, traditional dance groups, cheerleaders and musicians. These performances were intermittent and a little further from the course than I’d expect. Often times, it felt more like they were performing for the spectators.


For security reasons, access to the initial part of the expo was restricted to runners. After successfully passing through the necessary procedures, runners were streamed towards the rest of the expo, which was open to the general public.

The Tokyo Marathon implemented a variety of measures to raise awareness about heightened security procedures and surveillance before and during the marathon, as well as in case of emergency, e.g. an earthquake or other large-scale accident.

Race security is a priority for the Tokyo Marathon. Hence, all runners must wear their Tokyo Marathon wristbands which includes a chip with details of vital information, including a photo of yourself with your bib.


It was amazing to see the costumes, there were heaps of guys wearing full suits, I saw at least 2 cat woman, minions, boxers, Superman, Donald Duck, where’s wally and loads of random outfits. I wished I bought a costume of my own! Entertainers lined the side of the streets, YMCA was played in both English and Japanese! There were Japanese drummers, traditional dancers, hip hop dancers, school kids and many other entertainers.

When you cross the finish line, you get a medal and a Tokyo Marathon finisher towel. You also get alcohol free Asahi and a goodies bag. Collecting your bag at the end was very seamless. We had to catch the bus back to our hotel, we didn’t have to wait long to get in the bus.

Nobody drops any litter. It’s amazing how many volunteers line the course with trash bags to collect everything from gel wrappers to cups and bottles. Don’t even think about throwing your empty gel on the floor. I was too scared to drop even the top bit, so I ended up with a rather sticky pocket! I think this is a great idea; having seen the debris and aftermath of other races, this is something that should be implemented more often.

There were aid stations every 5 kilometers or so, positioned after the drink sponsor, Pocari Sweat. Personally, I like to drink little and often, and therefore cups of water every 3 miles is not enough for me. I took a hydration pack with me and drank the whole 2 liters out on the course–definitely a wise decision, as it turns out both of my PRs have been achieved while wearing them. If you do decide to take a hydration pack or handheld with you, it’s worth knowing that you can’t take it through security full of water, but you can take it empty and fill it up once you’re through security lines. I am so glad I knew this before I went, as race officials were confiscating full bottles!

The atmosphere is incredible. There were spectators lining the streets for the entire race, and although they were predominantly cheering in Japanese, you can still absorb the amazing vibes even if you don’t speak the local language. I smiled all the way around and soaked up the spirit of the Tokyo Marathon. Everyone just seemed so thrilled to be there, and there were so many six-star finishers!

The race is really well organized. You must be in your corral before the cutoff, otherwise you have to start at the back–no exceptions. Similarly, the expo is very formally organied which helps everything run smoothly.


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