One Dan's Journey to the Tokyo Marathon
- Name: Dan Lemelman
- Age: 28
- Height/Weight: 5’7″, 120 lb
- Lives in Brooklyn, New York
- Has ran 30 marathons in 27 different U.S. states since 2012
- Completing the World Marathon Majors Six Star Challenge
- Lifetime goal is to run a marathon in every US state
FROM NEW YORK, TO TOKYO
It was 1100 on Friday, March 1 and I was at JFK waiting to board my flight to Narita International Airport. After the previous year’s mishap, I was finally on my way to run the Tokyo Marathon!
We were delayed 20 minutes in New York but by the time we arrived in Tokyo, we were actually 20 minutes early. That was great since my arrival on Saturday late afternoon gave me just a few hours to collect my race packet at the Tokyo Marathon Expo.
Everything was relatively smooth until it was time to figure out the Narita Express. After some confusion about getting into the city, I finally arrived at the Expo around 1800.
At this hour, most people were already on their way out of the Expo but there were still plenty of last-minute stragglers like myself collecting their race packets so I didn’t feel rushed.
There was more steps to getting my race packet than at any race I’ve ever been to!
First, I entered a tent exclusively for runners and a volunteer placed a waterproof band on my wrist. Then, I walked over to the “Overseas” counters where I was handed my two bibs and my photo was taken. Everyone was very friendly and I had no communication problems. FInally, I shuffled along further to get my race shirt, along with a simple Asics bag to carry it all in.
The day before the race, packet pick-up ended at 1930 but by that time, I had walked around the Expo and picked up my bib. Altogether, I spent a little over an hour there but at this point, there was hardly any merchandise left at all so I didn’t spend much time (or money!) shopping.
I also walked through the Expo quickly since I knew that I still had to find my way to Shinjuku, check-in at the hotel, find dinner, eat a hearty meal, and most importantly – sleep.
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I was able to reach the hotel in Shinjuku a little after 2000. Once I settled in the hotel room, I spent a few minutes browsing through the race packet trying to figure out what was important and placing the RFID tracker chip on my shoelaces.
I wanted to find a quick place to eat and while I was looking forward to ramen, I stay away from pork so I decided to check out a few different restaurants in the area. Eventually, I opted for a large portion of Japanese curry (editor: many Japanese curries are made using pork – be careful) and was finished by 2130. I wasted no time returning to my hotel room and was in bed by 2230. The room and bed were comfortable, so I slept well.
0645 Rise and shine
0745 Planned departure from hotel
0800 Actual departure from hotel
Surprisingly fast (5 minute) walk from the hotel to A-block
0810 Check bag and try to stay dry
0820 Personal water bottle about to be confiscated at security, run back to hotel to drop off water bottle, still trying to stay dry
0835 Proceed through security again sans water bottle, starting to not feel dry at all
0845 Get situated in corral A, talk with fellow runners who are more or less drenched and reach the consensus that this race would be very challenging
0910 Start the race among singing children and confetti – a really cool opening
Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%
Compression calf sleeves
Light-weight running shorts
Tech long sleeve
Compression arm sleeves
Knitted running gloves
I was frustrated with the water bottle rule, which I admittedly hadn't read about very carefully. I managed to run back to the hotel and put my bottle away before the start.
HABITS AND RITUALS
No rituals that I’m truly obsessed about. This (running marathons) isn’t my first rodeo so I’m pretty relaxed about everything. I mean, I almost missed the expo and packet pick-up. Even with stretching, I will do less than five minutes.
To be honest, I used to be more paranoid about what I eat but I am less sensitive about it now. Out of habit, I will wear compression calf sleeves and my running shorts tend to be rather short. I also wear the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%, but so does everyone else now. Had it not been raining, I often prefer to race without a shirt. In cold weather conditions, I always wear a headband to warm my ears.
- Four slices of bread
- Protein bar
On the morning of the race, the security measures seemed a little over the top but it was efficient. I was frustrated with the water bottle rule, which I admittedly hadn’t read about very carefully. I managed to run back to the hotel and put my bottle away before the start.
For those thinking about it, banditing the Tokyo Marathon would be very challenging as there was a volunteer and/or security presence at every part of the course.
The volunteers and staff kept repeating that if you show up late, you would have to start at the back. Once the race started however, we were told that you could not run at all and had to forfeit the entire marathon for security reasons
Throughout the race, I felt safe and I think people should feel safe running the Tokyo Marathon route. Ultimately, I don’t think the security presence took away from enjoying the race nor did they create a logjam.
DURING THE RACE
HYDRATION AND NUTRITION
So, I didn’t even know what Pocari Sweat is, but I accidentally grabbed a cup during the race thinking it was water. It tasted like Gatorade, just not as sweet. I actually kind of liked it but I had no idea that was what would be served on the course.
They also had all kinds of snacks at each aid station and it seemed interesting but I didn’t have the time to enjoy it.
Usually, at miles 6, 12, and 18 (about 10KM, 19KM, and 29KM), I will have a caffeinated GU – usually one of the berry-flavored or salted watermelon ones. I love chocolate and also enjoy the s’mores flavor but not so much for a race.
THE ACTUAL RUNNING
Once everyone was lined up in the corral, we all tried to huddle together and stay warm as we could tell that the weather was not going to be very promising. I was able to talk with some international runners about different things to help relax us before the race started.
The atmosphere of the crowd and the volunteers are amazing.
The initial start is very typical of your large world major marathon with everyone trying to bolt out of the gate. The atmosphere of the crowd and the volunteers are amazing. The neon lights are very bright and there are so many interesting buildings and people dressed up in great costumes. The Tokyo Tower was a highlight of the race towards the end of the race.
The volunteers were very helpful and there was a ton of food and drinks for runners to choose from. One thing I remember about the race is how smooth the roads were. There were minimal potholes or uneven surfaces, so it was very enjoyable to run on and my feet stayed drier because of this than most American races I have experienced.
Unfortunately, the weather really took away from the race and it would be the thing most memorable to me, just trying to survive and finish the race.
Initially, the weather was not too bad and there was not much separation so that allowed us to shield each other against the wind and the rain. However, about a quarter to half way through the race, conditions began to worsen and I was really just grimacing my face to fight back. Unfortunately, the weather really took away from the race and it would be the thing most memorable to me, just trying to survive and finish the race.
In the last 3-6 miles of the race, the packs of runners I was working with started to thin out and we were all by ourselves. This is when the race really begins and becomes more challenging without the help of other runners to push you to the end. There were some other fun resources and post-race activities for runners held in the park, but I just wanted to get out of there immediately and warm up.
FINISHING THE RACE
At many of the races I’ve ran, there is usually a big arch-like structure at the finish line. At the Tokyo Marathon, there were structures on either side of the finish but to me it was hardly noticeable, especially from a distance.
In fact, I barely realized how close I already was to finishing that I didn’t get that final extra push I wanted. That was confusing and a disappointing end to my 2019 Tokyo Marathon. In hindsight, a last kick to the finish could have saved me the two seconds for a sub 2:40.
After crossing the finish line, the exhiliration quickly wore off and I almost immediately began shivering. Everything was well-marked but it was a long walk in the cold. I wanted a poncho, but they were only given to runners with no bags.
Not only was I soaked to the core, it continued to drizzle for the mile or so as I shuffled around to receive my space blanket, medal, and finisher goodie bag before finally collecting my own bag.
It was a short trip back to Shinjuku and I took the subway home using the free 24-hour Tokyo Metro ticket in my race packet. I had anticipated complications on the return but maybe I’d begun to adapt to public transportation in Tokyo – it was surprisingly easy to figure out my way back.
This was one of the coldest races in the history of the Tokyo Marathon.
Usually, I will also take some aspirin and an ice bath to quell the swelling I get after racing. The ice bath was not an option in the hotel’s miniature bathroom but after the conditions I raced in earlier, I was only interested in warming up.
Once I was cleaned up, I had my usual pizza and champagne to celebrate another marathon in the books. I polished the pizza and was hungry enough to top it off with pasta. With the race done, I could now spend the rest of the day walking around Tokyo, visiting various tourist hot spots and seeing the city in slow(er) motion.
Overall: 441 of 35,440
Age (25-29): 111 of 2,106
Gender: 420 of 27,238
7th of 1,039 Americans
I was a bit disappointed with the tracking of the race as I heard a bunch of my friends and family had a hard time figuring out how to follow me. You needed to download an app separate from the main Tokyo Marathon app.
I had envisioned them tracking me as I hit each timing mat, so it was disappointing when everyone was asking how I did. The results were also not available on the official website until maybe a week after the race was over.
This was one of the coldest races in the history of the Tokyo Marathon. Overall, I still had a great time though and there was a ton of energy despite the poor conditions. It was a very festive race and I think it would be one of my favorite races had there been more favorable conditions.
With Tokyo Marathon checked off the bucket list, I now only have two of six World Marathon Majors remaining. London would be the next Major but for now, I was already looking forward to my next marathon, which would be in just another 14 days in Korea at the Seoul Marathon.
A huge thanks to Dan for taking his time to talk with us! Samurai Sports has been in touch with Dan since he first reached out to us in August last year with questions about the 2019 Tokyo Marathon.
We wish Dan the very best in all of his future marathon endeavors!
What is "semi-elite"?
Qualifying Full Marathon Times
Men: 2:21 to 2:45
Women: 2:25 to 3:30
＊Achieving the qualifying standard does not guarantee the entry into the event, but simply the opportunity to submit for registration. In recent years, not all qualifiers who submit an entry have been accepted due to field size restrictions.
All semi-elite runners start in Block A. Limited to 300 runners who reside outside of Japan, regardless of nationality.