One of the great things about travelling is the opportunity to run races in interesting new places! You never quite know what to expect!
This weekend I ran the 8th Kokyo marathon in Tokyo Japan. Before you are too impressed, I should explain that in Japan the term marathon is used to refer to any race of any distance. My Kokyo marathon was 21.1 km so it was in fact a half marathon.
The race instructions said the start was at a specific subway station and exit number. It was about 18 degrees and raining. There was no mention of bag check, so I stopped at Tokyo Station to leave a backpack with dry clothes in a locker.
Unfortunately I underestimated the time to get lost in Tokyo station and reached the start line 2 minutes before gun time. The start line consisted of a volunteer in a white rain coat clutching a Ziploc bag next to a large garbage bag. The local runners had all received their bibs in the mail, but since I was coming from Canada I was told to pick up my bib at the start. Luckily I found another runner who spoke English and with her help the volunteer retrieved my bib from her Ziploc.
Once I had my bib I was able to relax a bit. I looked around and spotted 4 or 5 other people with bib numbers. Several of them wearing clear plastic bags with arm holes to keep themselves dry. One gentleman stopped to ask where I was from. It turns out he is over 70 years old and used to travel to Toronto for work. He has also run the London Marathon, 2 Boston marathons, 7 Tokyo Marathons and 8 Maui Marathons.
9 o’clock was the scheduled start time, but at 9 AM we were still standing around. There are now about 15 runners milling about. The lady in the white raincoat starts explaining various instructions in Japanese. Thanks to a helpful local with fluent English I determine she has told us to make sure we run close to the garbage bag on the wall so it registers your timing chip.
Our race route is the loop around the Imperial palace, a popular local jogging spot. One loop is 5 km and all the signs ask you to run the loop counterclockwise. Our race will be 4 loops and then an extra km after the last loop to reach the finish line,
Because there are others using the trail, instead of a bulk start one runner starts every minute. Soon I am called forward and I get a nod indicating I can tap my bib to the timing garbage bag. I can’t hear the beep but the official says she heard it so off I go!
The first part of the loop is uphill and you past the first of the many imperial palace guards.
It’s easy to track your mileage even if you don’t have a Garmin. There are tiles of flowers on the sidewalk every 100 meters marking the distance.
1 km into the race I see two guys in white raincoats and another black garbage bag leaning against a wall, this must be the finish line!
Shortly after the finish line you reach a nice downhill stretch with a beautiful view of the moat around the palace.
At the bottom of the hill was another volunteer cheering us on and making sure we did not miss the turn through the gate
Immediately after the gate I pass the start line for the 5 km and 10 km runners. They start at 10 AM and it isn’t long before some of them start running past me. The trail is now a mix of joggers, 5km , 10km and 21 km runners. It’s fun checking out all the different race shirts from races across Japan. Apparently some races give you shirts after the race with your finish time. A group of 3 fit looking young men job past me wearing shirts that say 100 km finisher. Their shirts show a finishing time of 9:33, 9:34 and 8:27! Okay no shame in being passed by them! Some of the runners have different ways of coping with the rain, I spot a few raincoats, and a couple of runners jogging with umbrellas!
I also discover that my trip to Tokyo station was unnecessary. The Japanese are a very honest society. Apparently there is a designated patch of trees and benches where everyone leaves their bags and water bottles.
The views along the route are beautiful, a heron flies past and lands near one of the bridges.
The Imperial Palace is a popular tourist attraction, so of course on a Saturday morning, even in the rain there are people coming to tour the gardens. A volunteer holding a sign in English and Japanese asks the tourists to wait on the other side of the sidewalk for the pedestrian signal so they don’t block our path
The next time I pass the water stop I take a cup. It’s a cup of Gatorade or something similar and as I finish it I realize I have a problem. I am now clutching an empty cup and don’t know what to do with it. I can’t just throw it on the ground! But of course, the race volunteers have already thought of this, a little further down the path is another volunteer who takes my empty cup and adds it to his growing collection.
I complete my last lap and cross the finish line! I am wet and I am tired but this was a lot more fun than just going out for a jog on my own. One of the volunteers at the finish line asks if he can take my picture. I assume they want the picture because they don’t usually have Canadians in their races. I am invited to join the post race celebrations at Tony Romas. Unfortunately I have plans so I skip Tony Romas and check the race results the next morning on the website. Fortunately they printed my name in English 😊
The time is about what I expected. Not the fastest race I have run, but good enough. So I was very surprised to see my picture is on the race site. Apparently my time was fast enough to set the women’s course record
Perhaps a return trip id needed next year to defend my title! Arigato to all the volunteers! I hope they are able to ship me my official finishers mug.