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Tokyo marathon, a world marathon major

Tokyo! We are going to Tokyo!!! Tokyo! Tokyo!!!!!

A wild idea to travel so far for a marathon. But there are two reasons:

  1. The Abbott World Marathon Majors: In Boston, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York.

  2. Sponsor run for Nepal earth quake victims, see: www.sponsortrek.nl

Course map and elevation profile. Note the bridges past 35 km. Click on all pictures for full view.


Last April, 2 hours after the London marathon [1], this was the song of many runners in the bar while drinking beer. However, those running within 3.5 hours finishing time were drinking water. 

In the end the beer drinkers did not go, the water drinkers were still thinking about it, but one young girl did it already. She also wanted to do Boston, needing a qualifying time of 3:33 for her age group. She did 3:37 in London, 4 minutes short.

Qualifying times for Boston are brutal, I heard, when I was there. Women and 50+ runners have an advantage. Some men may have to wait till 60, qualifying time of 4 hours, minus two minutes.

Tokyo is one of the 6 marathon majors, the Abbott World Marathon Majors, and once you qualify for and run the Boston marathon, there is no way back, it seems. Only 15% of marathon runners qualify.

Boston, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and finally New York. Will I do them in this order?

Top runners, male and female, finally no difference, win $500,000 when they finish first in points collected from these six marathons, the Olympic Marathon and IAAF World Championships Marathon, over a one year period, see [1].


I did send a note around on my Tokyo plan but refrained from a sponsor pledge for Nepal like I did in the past for: 

Every marathon is different. Problems could be weather, injuries before the run or dropping out after 30 km due to cramps or achilles tendonitis problems. After seven successful marathons in a row, the next one could fail.

But, you as a reader, like last year, thanks a million, you could again sponsor the earth quake victims in Nepal, details:

Donate € 1 - 5 for every minute below running 4 hours.

Details: www.sponsortrek.nl. See link "Donation".

Stichting Sponsortrek Nepal, The Netherlands

Bank account number: NL81ABNA0861147545 Bic (swift): ABNANL2A

Example: Achieved time 3:35 h, with € 1 per km, donation: 25 x 1 = € 25. Most common amounts are € 25 or € 50.

See below a note from Sponsortrek on the situation end of 2015, not much has improved: www.sponsortrek.nl

Admission for Tokyo and travel

For most marathoners the only way into Tokyo is a hospitality package through a marathon travel agent, e.g. in the Netherlands ATPI, Marathon Internationaal or Holland Runner. We used ATPI.

When you try the lottery, chance is only 10% to get in. 300000 runners apply. In Tokyo, around 20% of runners are women, a record.

Costs from Europe are around € 2000 for 6 or 7 nights. Given the time difference of eight hours from Europe, it is advised to go a week earlier, instead of the common 3 days earlier, as offered by the travel agent.

The flight

The outbound flight is a night flight so I highly recommend getting an upgrade. For Amsterdam to Tokyo on KLM it takes around 24000 air miles. Paying for an upgrade depends on your ticket, anywhere from € 200 to 500.

We travelled on KLM staff tickets, Henk works for KLM, but unfortunately the business class was full, and economy still had several seats which is fine as we got a seat at low cost.

On the way back from Osaka we were more lucky, many empty business class seats, 11.5 hours in a spacious seat and a large movie screen. During this flight I wrote this narrative.

Time difference and the La Daiba hotel

The eight hours earlier time difference causes problems in sleeping. You tend to wake up at three in the morning the first few days, also because of nervousness for the big day.

The six-lane highway below the La Daiba hotel room, 60 m down from the 16th floor, did not help.

The highway at the La Daiba Hotel. Click on picture for full view.

The window is well insulated but you keep on hearing a faint sound of traffic and occasional noisy truck and motorcycles. And of course the constant background noise of a big city, hum hum hum, ringing in your ears.

I should have asked for a hotel room at the back at booking time, now it was too late. The hotel was full.

The La Daiba is a good hotel, rooms are spacious and the beds excellent. Not sure if a room on the back side is more quiet as you are high up. The breakfast area on the 30th floor has an excellent view of the city and a good selection of Asian and Western food, except for cereal.

View from the breakfast area of the La Daiba Hotel at downtown Tokyo, view North. Click on picture for full view.

If you rely on high quality cereal like good old oatmeal for breakfast, bring your own.

White bread is a good replacement as it is full of calories and has only 30% fibre compared to whole wheat bread. The morning pasta with tomato sauce is also a good replacement for oatmeal. Advantage, less fibre and higher calorie intake.

The location of the La Daiba is not convenient, you always need to take the expensive (¥630 return) slow (30 min.) train to Dimagochi Station downtown, and a ¥ 600 metro day pass is invalid. You only need to be in the Expo area twice, for picking up your Bib number and after the finish on marathon day.

During marathon day you get a free metro day pass and access by metro is the fastest option. We got a shuttle bus from our tour agent and near the start gates traffic was very slow so don't take a taxi.

Marathon day

On marathon day, a shuttle bus picks us up at 6:45 h and takes us to the start, so breakfast is at 6 AM. We get up at 5:30 AM to start the first of several toilet visits, focussed at number two's. I started already the night before and during the night. Preparation nerves, works well.

The hotel has some 200 runners from various countries in Europe and 5 busses are waiting to take us to the start in Northern Tokyo.

Our Antillean runner we met on the plane is late, at 6:30 h he comes down for breakfast and mentions he did sleep very well. We didn't.

He gets into a last minute panic as he forgot to pin his running number to his shirt ( what about the timer tag ?), rushing upstairs. I am sure he made the 6:45 h bus, as some people are always lucky.

The start area

At 7:30 h we arrive at the start area. Hordes of people, some 40000 in total, are walking on the sidewalks, going for one of the 6 gates. 40000 people is .... a lot of people!

We have Gate 1 for the fast runners, with position A and B. It seems like we would be delayed with so many people, but I studied the map carefully and have it on me to move quickly through the crowd.

Entering Gate 1 is quick, a fast number check and a baggage check, no fluids in plastic bottles allowed. We were still early.

We rush for the toilets at the far end, other toilets have long line-ups. Her the cue was fine, just 20 people for 3 toilets and just after eight we finish. Now the line-up is much longer, some 50 people or at least 30 minutes. For men there is normally an urinal, 4 at the time, but not in prudish (or civilized) Japan.

Latest reporting time at the A/B start line-up is 8:45 h. When late, you will have to start at the end of the line-up, 40000 people ahead of you. I would need to pass around 30000 people to reach an end time of 3:35 h.

Next is dropping the bag with excess clothing in baggage truck 30. A quick undress, pants that get stuck on running shoes, pull hard, and go.

Another check to enter the A/B start area and a 100 m further we find the gate for A/B start line-up at 8:20 h. There are more toilets, 7 per line up of some 20 people only, line up will grow every minute. Good as a back-up, but no need. 

In Tokyo, every few km, there are plenty of toilets. Excellent, for just in case. In Amsterdam you have to find a tree for men and bushes for women. I never go, by avoiding drinking tea in the morning.

In Tokyo, until 35 km, most of the sidewalks are occupied by spectators so finding a semi-private tree is impossible, and Tokyo has very few trees anyway within the tightly packed building and roads.

Small park between building and roads in downtown Tokyo. Click on picture for full view.

A and B area

At 8:30 h we enter the start B area with end time within 3:30 h, some 100 m from the start gate. A very good position. Most runners look like Japanese, Chinese or Koreans, saw a few Americans and also a Georgian Swede, a three hour runner, working on anti flue medicines.

A bright sun shines between the high buildings and heats up the start area. It feels like 15 Celsius but it is only 8 Celsius in the shade.

Humans produce around 70 Joule/sec of heat or 20 (small) calories (mind the confusion between food or large calories  = Kcal or Cal, a factor 1000 off with real calories). In between closely packed runners of the line-up, it is much warmer, you do feel their body heat, so you only need a long plastic see through rain coat to stay warm, the favorite dress of many runners.

At 10 minutes before the start we are supposed to sing the Japanese national anthem but only a choir and dignities on the stage participate.

A few speeches introduce the top runners present today like Emmanuel Mutai with his record 2:03:13 h (Berlin 2014).

Emmanuel Mutai would finish in 2:10:23 h, so why is he here? He just made the Dutch Olympic limit for Rio, 2:11 h.

The start

The start in 2015 with confetti (9:10 h), note the elite runners. Click on picture for full view.

The usual gun shot sounds and a surprise cloud of confetti is coming down on us. A good encouragement.


The start with a rain of confetti (9:11 h).

The first 2 km

Henk and I run together for the first 2 km, all down hill. Our km times are fast, below 5 minutes. I feel good so a half marathon below 1:45 should be possible. My “wheels” are spinning nicely, soundless, and “my sensors” are on green.

As agreed, Henk lets me go. His target is 3:50 h, with a half of 1:50 h. My target is 3:35 h, with a half of 1:45 h, a km difference at the half marathon.

It feels warm, around 15 Celsius in ta bright sun but cool in the shade, around 9 Celsius.

Spectators are lined up along the street, they fill every side walk until the 35 km mark, sometimes 3-5 rows wide like in the Ginza district, the downtown underground shopping district.

Every few hundred meters there are volunteers wearing yellow jackets, some keep an eye on the spectators and others have plastic bags for trash. I drop my old gloves in a plastic bag of one of the volunteers but donate my red cap to two clowns.

At drinking stands, there are big boxes for used cups, a good idea, so you don't have to make your way through a carpet of flat paper cups. In London they handed out small bottles and you are at risk of tripping on a carpet of small bottles, as happened to one of the runners in my group. Result, sprayed ankle, visit to to a hospital, out of the race, and the handed-in bag with a smart phone lost, not picked up in time.

Until 21 km

The road is wide and consist of good tarmac. Temperature is still cool in the shade but it feels warmer in the bright sun and there is a mild wind. Most of the time we run in the shade of tall buildings.

Photography signs appear every so often and here we are suppose to do the thumbs up, even past 35 kms. I decided to imitate a flying Dutchman. We go around a left corner and I take the outer bent to be in full view. Nice picture, thanks!

Jean, at around 10 km near the Imperial Palace (9:57 h), a flying Dutchman.

At 10 km we pass the Imperial Palace and here we go up and down the same road until the 21 km mark. The turn around is at 16 km. Top runners are passing us on the other side, coming back, an encouragement. We all participate, at any level, so we cheer them on, we are all heroes.

I try to spot Henk on the way back, but no luck, he is probably one km behind.

Here the 3:30 h end time blue balloons overtake me, so I follow. Some 5 runners have the end time written on their blue shirt and running behind them is easier. Some 10 persons follow them, e.g. a tall young Brit, heavily breathing, and a young Japanese girl with shorts only, without lycra tights, exceptional for Japanese girls in this prudish country. Many men have the same dress.

Lycra covered with pants, a cache misère, but where is the misère to be covered up? I only see size small and extra small. Three to four hour runners have something positive to show in this inactive world.

Henk, at around 20 km, at the Hibiya Park (10:49 h). Click on picture for full view.

Half way, 21.095 km

So far my km times are mostly below 5 minutes, on my GPS. However, the tall buildings distort the readings.

I clock the half marathon point at 1:43:55 and distance 21.6 km. Explains my excellent km timings below 5 minutes. Difference is around 400 m or 2 minutes.

To the 30 km marker

Legs feel good and in the Ginza district I would expect to see the captain and his crew. They happen to be in Tokyo for their tug boat business.

No captain, he saw me but I did not see him. I was on the far side of the street.

Public is lined up in 5 rows. This is near Tokyo Station, downtown Tokyo, the underground posh shopping district, inside an “ant hill”, crowded with workers, commuters and shoppers every day of the week.

Later on he sees Henk.

Jean in Ginza, spotted by the captain, at 10:45 h or 22 km.

Henk in Ginza, spotted by the captain at 11:08 h or 22 km.

We again run up and down the same road and see the fast runners again.

At the 25 km mark I take my first banana gel. I am suppose to believe that this works but I still doubt it. I keep on running while drinking water not loosing the blue balloons.

To drink without spilling, you squeeze the cups creating a small gutter and this also avoid choking.

At 22 km (also at 32 and 38 km) they have pieces of bananas, useless to eat as it will not digest in time but very tasty! I even see bread and tomatoes.

Tomatoes!?! For what?

Bread!?! For the 5 – 6.5 hour “walkers”?

Overview of drinking and feeding posts.

I am glad to see the 28 km turn around approaching at the Asakusa temple as I am getting tired.

Jean at 11:30 h or 30 km, view at Tokyo Tower, 600 m high.

At 30 km I decide to a break, have the second banana paste and two cups of water while walking at ease. The distance to the blue balloons increases to 100 m or 30 seconds.

To the 35 km marker

Around 31 km I hear a shout and see Henk, he is on the other side, about 2-3 km behind or 10-15 minutes.

I still keep up with the balloons but around 32 km I see them slowly disappearing in the distance. Thats fine. I am not aiming for a 3:30 h.

At 34 km they are gone.

Here, not paying attention and head down. I suddenly hear the captain and his crew of 3, a very loud “Jean!!!”.

As instructed, he is now on the other side of the road, taking pictures. Thumbs up. The passing timings I sent him are close, within minutes. He also spotted Henk later wearing his easy to spot KLM shirt.

Thanks for the encouragement, I needed this.

He later said that at 22 km I looked fine, but not at 34 km.

Jean at 34 km, spotted by the captain and his crew.

Jean at 34 km, greeting the captain and his crew.

Henk at 34 km, greeting the captain and his crew.

Every 100 to 200 m a volunteer in a yellow jacket keeps an eye on the spectators. The captain was telling me that as soon as you dare to touch the tarmac road, the runners domain, leaving the sidewalk, they would come to you. But they also gave a fan consisting of a folded marathon map that makes a loud noise when smashing on a hand. The spectators use it to encourage the runners. This is the Japanese equivalent of the South African vuvuzela.

The captain and one of his helmsman, with noisy hand fans to encourage runners.

Medical station appear every 2 or 3 km. The first casualties are being treated by first aid people, lying on the ground on their backs, treating legs. Cramps! Good runners, below 3:15 h I estimate. A sad view.

A few people are walking, running again, walk again. Could be cramps, achilles tendonitis or extremely sour calfs. Or old injuries like a scar caused by the well-known whiplash, a sudden tear in a muscle associated with a loud sound, extremely painful.

Some runners take pain killers past 30 km, this is doping. Unclear how many runners take this, a marathoners secret to be ucnovered, certainly extremely unhealthly.

From 35 till 39 km: the bridges

At 35 km I stop again for banana paste and try the Japanese sports drink. Mmmmh, not sweet, good taste, not like overly sweet tasting Western brands like Gatorade or Aquarius.

The route leaves downtown Tokyo to reach the finish at the Expo and we are now heading for the islands, so we have to scale “Monster bridges”, to use Discovery Channel or National Geographic speech.

Will I have to walk? Two are 10-15 m high. We will cross two main waterways, two small canals and two highways.

The first bridge in the far distance has a gradual incline, some 10-15 m high, but I can see the top, so I am slowly going up, taking smaller steps. Target is clear and it feels like "Ça va", given the current circumstances. Few runners stop.

Jean, on one of the bridges, at 12:18 h, 38 km. Hard, slowing down to 11 km/h.

The second bridge, a small one. Also fine.

More and more runners are walking because of injuries, a battle field with wounded “soldiers”, a grim sight.

I don't pay attention, head down, also because I am tired.

Many runners carry on in a reasonable pace, I do pass several, few overtake me.

At a running speed of 11 km/hour between 35 and 40 km, given the many bridges, this is fine.

Right after the second bridge past a left corner, another steep bridge crossing a canal, but this is only 6 m high. Phew!

From 39 to 43 km GPS distance

I start counting down the kms by imagining this to be a routine Vondelpark run of 4 km.

First to the old film museum, takes forever, 50 m, 100 m, 110 m, 120 m, 125 m, 126 m, 127 m ................... 

Legs have been hurting since the 30 km marker.

How could people run the marathon in 5 or 6 hours, I am almost dying past the 3 hour mark and can barely hold out another half hour.

Respect for the 5 hour runners!!! In 5 hours I would reach a distance of 60 km. Will never do this. Too far.

The 40 km mark, where is the Expo, the finish?


Only two more kms. Every km now feels like twice the distance, time passes too slowly.

Henk said something similar, but he ran 30 min. slower so he must have felt even worse.

Henk, at 12:43 h, 39 km, on one of the bridges. Hard, slowing down to 9.5 km/h.

The infamous wall does exist, at 30 km. Past 30 km (or 2.5 hours) you must suffer, this makes a marathon interesting.

Another big bridge, again most runners do not stop, so I follow.

I loose count, how many bridges we crossed and at what height.

Past the 41 km marker, I can see the corner leading to the Expo, do we really have to go all the way to the back.


No last 100 m signs, counting down from 500 m like in London. Arrrgh.

Ah, a last steep ramp, of course, why not go up a plateau, level with the main Expo floor. Good for the organization, not good for us.

When you go too fast on the first 30 km, we just saw them, you may be one of several stranded runners who have to limp the last 5 to 7 km, which takes forever, not to mention the foolish feeling of “shame on you”.

Most of us stumble up the ramp, ignoring the incline. A last effort to achieve eternal glory, we think.

Another corner? We are still not there?

Yes we are, 100 m to the finish.


Jean, barely able to raise a thumb, after 3:34:31 h of running.

Henk, not able to raise a thumb, after 4:03:02 h of running.

No time for a high five for the finish photo, I need to switch off the GPS watch, clocked time 3:34:31 h, distance 43.0 km, running distance likely to be less, 42.5 km.

Hallo sir, well done ........ The voices of many volunteers, giving endless high fives.

I met a young Danish man staying in our hotel and congratulate him. Tokyo was the last one of the majors. “A big day for me”, he said. He would get a special medal for this. Until today, before this run, only 589 runners have completed this.

Mmmhhh, thanks for the idea.

After care

Attendants hand out water, sports drink, orange pieces, bananas, power bar, sandwich.

Only one bottle sir! Oh, sorry. They must have bought only 40000 bottles of water.

Almost forgot to mention the medal.

Tokyo marathon medal.

We also got a nice towel to commemorate 10 years of Tokyo marathon and to show off in the sauna of our fitness club.

Tokyo marathon towel.

We are walking slowly to the bag pick up area, in one of the main halls. Many more high fives from volunteers helping us.

A large area for changing and to make a big yellow print of your end time. Where to put this? Outside your house? In the corridor? No, in your bed room, to show off.

I carry on to the exit and notice a coffee and pasta stand, yes! A good spot to wait for Henk and have tasty calories.

After eating, drinking and treating 5 toe blisters still no Henk. Not even after one hour so I get worried. Did he finish within 4 hours or did he drop out? I hope we missed each other.

I go for the shuttle bus leaving every half hour for our hotel. Close to the bus, I run for the bus, pretending to the attendants that I am fine, and I am, no frozen legs. I get a oud applause.

The Spa

Henk arrives in the hotel half an hour later, he took it very easy changing at the finish. He finished in 4:03 h. He was sure I would be at the pasta stand. He missed me by only 15 minutes.

We go to the hotel spa, using the sauna, hot tub and pool. My blisters hurt. Finally an hour in relax chairs and “oef oef, that hurts” to get up.

This evening it is celebration time, its on me, we will take taxis tonight for transportation, "traveling in style”. In downtown Tokyo we have dinner with the captain, he knows Tokyo very well.

The main occasion: "It is a party, Henk completed his second marathon, after 25 years!". Tokyo was my number eight, a routine, it seems, see: List of marathons from 2007 till now.


Boston, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and finally New York. In this order? Point of no return or point of getting out?

Running a marathon is participating at any level, we all have our own running speed, differences can minutes, but when you go slightly too fast, it can be killing. Each man and woman has his or her natural running speed. Nature is unfair! If you compete on time, your marathon life may be over quickly.

A marathon in 3, 3:30, 4, 4:30 or 5 hours, it doesn't matter, so we are all so-called heroes. However, 4 hours for men and 4:15 h for women seem to be a healthy limit. Beyond this, it is not wise to participate, or ... only once.

Welcome home and well done marathon flowers, still going strong after 10 days.



Heart rate first half 157, second half 165. Overall 161.

Speed: 12.0 km/hour

Weight: before 66.5 kg, after 65.5 kg, day later 67.5 kg, another day later 67.8 kg.

Time: 3:34:31 h over 42.5 km net.

Overall rank: 4090 out of 30000 (?) men.


Speed: 10.6 km/hour.

Weight: before 69.5 kg, after 68.5 kg, day later 69.5 kg, another day later 69.5 kg.

Time: 4:03 h.

Overall rank: 8417out of 30000 (?) men.

Our biggest fan

Leslie, 40+ times marathon runner and 250+ times half marathon. Did the Boston marathon in 2015. Potential finisher.


Running on average 12 km/hour

At 12 km/hour 42.195 km takes 3:32:30 h.

The normal moving distance is 42.5 km and this takes 3:34:30 h.

End time 3:30 h

Requires a running speed of on average 12.142857 km/hour. No time for drinking and toilet stops.

Detailled Garmin 225 results Jean

Per km
Per km
Per km
Per km
Speed and heartrate



Tokyo map

Tokyo downtown. Click on map for full view