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A Long Run In Japan: The Tokyo Marathon

tokyo marathon media
Image: Tempo Journal

If you have ever traveled to Japan you might have noticed how many people are employed for simple tasks like pointing you in the right direction, doing construction work in the streets, and cleaning public spaces. The Tokyo Marathon is no exception to this cultural habit. For every 3.8 runners, there is one volunteer either marking the course, working at an aid station, providing pre or post-race services, and any task you can imagine. The 10,000 unpaid volunteers make it possible for 40,000 runners to have the best run of their lives in pure Japanese fashion. This weekend, Eliud Kipchoge will be at the start line among the many elite runners looking for a PB or an Olympic qualifier.

runner tokyo marathon temple
Image: Tempo Journal

The Tokyo Marathon is the latest addition to the Majors, completing the circuit with Boston, Chicago, New York, London, and Berlin, and the youngest. The event as it is today officially started in 2007 when the Tokyo - New York Friendship Marathon (held on odd years) and the Tokyo International Marathon (held on even years) were combined into a larger event after 26 years of cohabitation. Right from the start, the combined event, called the Tokyo Marathon, attracted 25,000 runners (plus 5,000 in the 10K) and it quickly became the largest marathon in the country. The numbers steadily grew over the next 16 years, reaching 37,500 runners in 2023 and 10 times more applicants to the lottery draw.

tokyo marathon runners
Wearing a costume seem to be a tradition at the Tokyo Marathon. Image: Outside

Despite being the only Major in Asia, the event has much in common with other Western marathons. Through the Tokyo Marathon Foundation, every year $2 million is donated to a range of charity organizations. To participate runners need to be drawn in a lottery, established in 2017 after the growing number of applications. Eliud Kipchoge won it - even though he still misses Boston and New York.

Volunteers aid station tokyo marathon
Volunteers at the aid station. Image: Flickr

Since 2007, the course has been adjusted a few times to provide the best experience to runners and showcase what Tokyo has to offer. It is flat and fast with a downhill right at the start that helps runners take on their pace. The course starts from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and then touches many neighborhoods: Iidabashi, Nihonbashi, Asakusa, Koto, Nihonbashi, Ginza, Shinagawa, and Hibiya Park to finish at Tokyo Station. Some would think that many world records were established in Tokyo but they have yet to happen. Both men's and women’s course records were set in 2021 by Eliud Kipchoge (2:02:40) and Brigid Kosgei (2:16:02) respectively. But if you are not an elite runner and you are looking for a PB and some sightseeing to forget the fatigue, Tokyo is the right place for you.


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