Young, Broke, and Figuring It Out: The 2018 Tokyo Marathon

In recent years, my dad has taken up running after a health scare but I haven’t yet gone to support him in his running endeavors, which have included a few full marathons. In fact, throughout the 19 years of my life, I have never taken much notice of, nonetheless watched, a marathon.

On Sunday, February 25, that changed when I wandered the course of the Tokyo Marathon and watched thousands of runners pound the pavement for 42.195KM, all with the same goal in mind. Watching my first marathon in the heart of Tokyo was an amazing experience!

Written by Rina for the Young, Broke, and Figuring It Out series.

One of the first things that surprised me was the scale of the event. Many of central Tokyo’s main streets were closed to traffic, ensuring open roads for the safety of runners. In addition, the entire marathon course was officially marked on Google Maps. Police officers and volunteers were everywhere!

Literally millions of people lined the streets cheering for every passing runner. The energy was undeniable – it was empowering and inspiring! On that day, I felt that Tokyo really came together in a true reflection of the Tokyo Marathon slogan, “The day we unite”.

Although I’ve never ran a full marathon, I’ve heard that the hardest part is between 32 to 40KM. Sure enough, I saw more and more people walking or on the side doubled over with a variety of cramping issues. But, I didn’t see them give up. No, it didn’t look easy nor fun, but slowly they kept pressing forth. Their pace may have tapered down a little but some actually appeared to be going faster!

Tokyo Marathon map

Towards the last couple of kilometers, I felt the environment become more electric. The runners were starting to see the end of the tunnel and the cheering among supporters was more enthusiastic. 

Closer towards the finish line as the victory road narrowed, I felt the tempo increasing to an excited level of clapping mixed with shouts of “Gambare!” The crowd was more colourful and the volume rose by several decibels. People were holding up posters, wearing weird outfits, and one sportswear brand even hosted a DJ booth! 

runners stretching before Tokyo Marathon

It was around this point when I felt that people were really uniting.

In light of recent events, security was very strict, especially around the finish line where only media were permitted. I had been expecting more moving and touching moments at the end of the marathon, rather than the digital boards and announcements telling runners to keep moving forward.

One of the best things about the Tokyo Marathon (and Tokyo in general) is that everything tends to be very well organized and procedural. Yet, I wondered if some may have walked away with conflicting memories of  the Tokyo Marathon.

Despite all of the jubilation and excitement, some runners we spoke with mentioned that the inflexible emphasis on organization and efficiency feels cold and unfriendly. From speaking with runners coming from abroad, feelings of isolation were not uncommon along with mentions of a desire to communicate with  locals and engage in casual conversations. They admitted few impromptu encounters occurred in Japan, citing a seeming cultural emphasis on politeness over friendliness and restraint rather than warmth.

Overall, the Tokyo Marathon was an inspiring first marathon-watching experience for me. Watching all of the runners cross the finish line, I couldn’t help but feel motivated to pursue more lofty fitness goals – though perhaps not enough to convince me to sign up for a marathon! At least, not yet.

Young, Broke, and Figuring It Out is a series written by college students in Tokyo. Like most college students, they occasionally run, play rugby, do yoga, etc. You’ll find them at various Samurai Sports events – please say hi, they don’t bite. They are all bilingual and need jobs after graduation.