Racing in Japan – Kokyo Marathon – different yet the same!

Taking a trip? Always worth checking to see if there is a local race you can run! In this post I share the story of my first experience racing in Japan!

Before arriving in Tokyo, I registered for the 8th Kokyo Marathon. Before you are too impressed, I should explain that in Japan the term marathon can be used to refer to a race of any distance. My Kokyo marathon was 21.1 km so it was what most of us would call a half marathon!BibNumber

I received an email with instructions on how to find the start, right down to which exit to take from the subway station! Arigato! They also sent me my bib number: 1. With a bib number like that I already knew this would be a race to remember!

Race day was 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 standing 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 and four safety pins from her Ziploc. I was ready to go!

Susan and Japanese runner

Making a friend at the start

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. He has run the London Marathon, 2 Boston marathons, 7 Tokyo Marathons and 8 Maui Marathons (and those are just the ones he mentioned)!

9 o’clock was the scheduled start time, but at 9 AM we were still standing around. There were 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 make sure as we complete each loop we make sure we pass close to the garbage bag on the wall because it contains the timing mat and registers your timing chip.

Our race route is the loop around the Imperial palace, a popular local jogging spot. One loop is 5 km. Since the Japanese tend to be very organized, there are signs that inform joggers they should run counterclockwise. Our race will be 4 loops (counterclockwise of course!) and then an extra km after the last loop to reach the finish line,

PalaceGuard

Because there are others using the trail, instead of a bulk start which might clog of the path with runners, 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.

Mileagemarker

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 there is a nice downhill stretch with a beautiful view of the moat around the palace.

20171021_104127
At the bottom of the hill was another volunteer cheering us on and making sure we did not miss the turn through the gate.Volunteer

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 met two joggers who were running clockwise (at least one of them was clearly not a local, any tourist doing a Google search for running routes in Japan will likely find the Imperial Palace loop as a recommend running spot :))

20171021_105932I 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.

 

HeronThe views along the route are beautiful, a pair of swans swims in the moat,  a heron flies past and lands near one of the bridges. I could get used to this!bridge

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.

Pedestrians

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, there is absolutely no litter around Tokyo! 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 (Yes apparently they have Tony Romas in Tokyo) Unfortunately I have plans, so I skip Tony Romas and check the race results the next morning on the website. Lucky for me they printed my name in English so I can see how I did.

raceresults

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 and to discover my time was fast enough to set the women’s course record!! Okay, only 35 people registered, and only 18 people finished the race, but I’ll take it! I always remember my mom’s advice when it came to running races “Every race is won because someone else didn’t come” so enjoy your victories big and small! My mom was in the 50+ and 60+ category when it wasn’t as common as it is now for older women to run, so she was frequently the first and only woman in her age group 🙂

CourseRecord

So maybe my bib number was a sign!  Perhaps a return trip is needed next year to defend my title! I hope they are able to ship my official finishers mug all the way to Canada! Arigato to all the runners, and volunteers at the race!

Here the rest of my running related posts and race reports.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sheila Andrew on October 30, 2017 at 4:01 PM

    A splendid running expeience

    Reply

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