Running fever kicks in as Tokyo prepares for its annual marathon

by Jae Lee

The first Tokyo Marathon took place in February 2007 and attracted 30,870 participants, despite the dismal weather. Though it has only a short history, the event has been snowballing in popularity every year to become one of the most oversubscribed marathons in the world.

This year is no exception. More than 330,000 Japanese and foreigners applied, setting yet another record number of 36,000 participants, who were chosen through lottery.

Hisashi Sekiguchi, Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s spokesman for the Tokyo Marathon said that for 2011, the city is focusing on the charity concept behind the race, and it is doing its best to get more people interested in both the run and its benefits. So far, Tokyo Marathon 2011 has raised more than ¥70,000,000, with runners able to choose which organization their registration fee and any sponsorships will go to.

Though there are, of course, serious runners, including world-record holder Haile Gebrselassie from Ethiopia, the fun aspect of the marathon is also being highlighted. Japan’s capital has planned to make the 42-km route more festive with 28 events to be held throughout the city, such as taiko drum performances and traditional Japanese dance festivals.

For those not experienced at running such a long distance, there has been plenty of preparation to ensure that they have an enjoyable and safe run, including a group of professional pace setters (for estimated finish times of 3 hours, 5 hours and 7 hours) who anyone can follow, and numerous liquid refreshment stalls.

At Tokyo Runner’s Collection 2011, food coordinator Shiori, known for her recipe book series “Kare ni Tsukutte Agetai Gohan” (“Dishes For My Boyfriend”), also recommended a Vietnamese style rice-noodle soup as the ideal marathoner’s breakfast, cooking it live before an audience; while a fashion show revealed the latest in high-tech running wear.

There are also several other events taking place for those interested in running. The Tokyo Marathon 2011 expo on Feb. 24-26 at Tokyo Big Sight will have more than 90 booths offering information on sportswear, food supplements and other sport-related goods, while several sponsors are running related campaigns, such as the release of Seiko Sports Life’s special edition sports watch and Yamazaki Baking Co. Ltd.’s Tokyo Marathon “lunch packs.”

For more information, visit www.tokyo42195.org

Runners in training for the Tokyo Marathon

The Japan Times put a call out for readers (and Twitter followers) to let us have a piece of their mind before the Tokyo Marathon. Here’s what they had to say:

Erek Speed, 24, American

First time Tokyo Marathon runner
Projected time: 4.5 hours
Motivation: To exercise and be competitive.
Secret weapon: Energy gels are key.
Biggest fear: Long lasting injury to my legs.
Meal night before race: Light dinner before the race. Shakey’s Viking Course for lunch. Unlimited pasta and pizza!

Keren Miers, 50, Australian
Third-time runner

Projected time: 3 hours, 20 min.
Motivation: Because it is the biggest running event in the biggest city in Japan, which happens to have been my home town for the past eight years. I love to run, and this event has great atmosphere and amazing crowd support.
Secret weapon: Lots of training before hand! I started serious marathon in December to prepare for the race.
Biggest fear: The weather. Will it snow heavier than it did last year?
Meal night before race: Pasta! Lots of pasta!

Yasuhiro Koyanagi, 38, Japanese
First-time runner

Projected time: 3 hours, 57 min, 28 sec.
Motivation: To sightsee Tokyo on foot, since the major highways are blocked.
Secret weapon: I’ll broadcast my run live on the Internet, using an iPod touch and Wifi router on my helmet, and I will high five as many cheering spectators as I can.
Biggest fear: I can’t test the reception of the Wifi router in advance because I’m in Fukuoka.
Meal night before race: I’m gonna eat carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, for the energy, and I’ll dine with my Tokyo friend whom I will see for the first time in 2 years.

Phil Ryan, 37, Australian
Fifth-time runner

Projected time: 3 hours, 45 min.
Motivation: A renewed interest in running after many years. To hear the laughter and celebrate the quiet beauty and joy of a city without cars for a day. To celebrate the act of getting around on my own two feet — an incredibly gratifying mode of human transportation, and an artform, intricately woven over millennia into the very essence of our humanity, but which appears to have been all but lost.
Secret weapon: Lollies. A winter of early morning training at dawn on the back streets of Yanaka. A good night’s sleep.
Biggest fear: Snow. Sleet. Rain. Cold.
Meal night before race: A big one. Pasta, naturally. Perhaps anchovy tomato sauce.

Ingaramo Alessandro, 34, Italian
First-time runner

Projected time: 6 hours
Motivation: It’s a challenge for myself.
Secret weapon: My running-pace, i can keep it up for a long long time.
Biggest fear: The weather (if it will be cold)
Meal night before race: Only water, juice and a light fish.

Derek Clark, 42, Scottish
Fourth-time runner

Projected time: 3 hours, 10 min.
Motivation: I used to live in Japan. The marathon is a great excuse to return each year. I arrive on the Thursday, go to the Expo the following day, and then run on the Sunday. I then have about 10 days of lovely eating, drinking and shopping with friends. I try to squeeze back into my Tokyo life. I go back to my old area in Sakura Shimmachi, and go to my favorite bakery and stand outside my old apartment and wonder just who is living there now. It is pure nostalgia. Only this year I need to be a bit more careful of what I eat, as I am also running the Meijiro 5k the following Sunday.
Secret weapon: Positive thinking — planning what I will be doing on my trip. Counting down the miles, and doing mental calculations in my head.
Biggest fear: Weather — last year it was pouring with freezing rain. I was wearing the vest of my running club, London Frontrunners, and it was soaking wet.
Meal night before race: Whole-wheat pasta with tomatoes, kale, and linseeds. Green tea to wash it down.

Hiromitsu Kita, 43, Japanese
Second-timer runner

Projected time: 4 hours
Motivation: I have been enjoying running as part of a diet, so wanted to challenge the full Marathon.
Secret weapon: I’m gonna shout to the sky!
Biggest fear: My physical condition. I hope I’ll be in top condition on the day.
Meal night before race: A large portion of pasta.

Alain Riedacker, 43, French
First-time runner

Projected time: 3 hours, 40 min.
Motivation: I enjoyed so much the experience of running my first marathon in Honolulu last December. I want to renew those incredible feelings!
Secret weapon: My motivation and, of course, a regular training.
Biggest fear: Mental strength to be able to overcome pain in the last 10 km, which are decisive.
Meal night before race: Lots of carbohydrates to fill glycogen stores properly.

Carol Cunningham, 33, British/Australian
Fourth-time runner

Projected time: 3 hours, 20 min.
Motivation: This is quite simply the best marathon I have ran — atmosphere, organization and the amazing friendliness of the Tokyo supporters. I look forward to this race every year and feel honored to have a place again.
Secret weapon: I train hard before the race but on the day I stay focused, absorb the atmosphere and enduring support along the marathon route and of course have FUN!
Biggest fear: Ummm probably the weather — hail, sleet, rain, sun — who knows what race day can bring.
Meal night before race: As it’s Japan I’ll probably go for rice and maybe tofu/vegetarian tempura. Something high in carbs that will fill me up ready to go on race day. For me it’s the meal after the race I look forward to — time to have all those naughty treats I’ve been denying myself in the training before!

Yohei Goto, 31, Japanese
First-time runner

Projected time: 5 hours, 10 min.
Motivation: Completing the marathon is one of the things on my “to do before I die” list.
Secret weapon: I recently noticed that gazing at natural sunlight energizes me. During my run, I am going to try to keep my eye on daylight and sun beams, or even the sunset.
Biggest fear: I will be wearing a “Kanpei Earth Marathon” outfit . . . I’m concerned about my sense of style. (Editor’s note: Kanpei is a Japanese comedian who ran and sailed across the North America and Europe, and then back to Japan, completing his journey in January this year.)
Meal night before race: Probably spaghetti, with meat sauce.

Laszlo Demko, 31, Hungarian
First-time runner

Projected time: 5 hours
Motivation: I arrived Japan in March and spent the first half year really like an alien, figuring out how to start a completely new life on a different planet. Then came the Aug. 1, the first day of the application process for the marathon, so I decided to start to do something. I applied, and looked for my running shoes. That was the day when I started to run in Japan, and the day I started to live actually. After that I began to visit the gym, started doing yoga (for the first time in my life). I’ve found a great running club, an outdoor club, and tons of new friends! The fact that I was selected and will have the opportunity to run is just the cream on the pie. I’m already a winner!
Secret weapon: Friends around the globe sending me music for running/training, and friends in Tokyo along the course smiling at me.
Biggest fear: Since this will be the first marathon in my life A~’ the distance.
Meal night before race: Pasta, soba, udon.

Lisa Batey, 32, American
First-timer runner

Projected time: 4 hours, 30 min.
Motivation: I’m a fitness dork and I see all my beer-drinking and smoking friends running. I thought, “I’m gonna kick your butt.” So happy I got in. Lost the first lottery. Also, I have thousands of online fans keeping tabs on me as “nekomimi Lisa” — my online webcasting personality — and it’s great to hear that I’m inspiring people around the world to take up exercise, even if it’s not running.
Secret weapon: Gels, a plan, and my not so secret love of pain. Nekomimi power!”
Biggest fear: I fear nothing, but I hope it won’t rain, I that hope don’t have to stop for a toilet break. And I really wanna beat my friends. Ha!”
Meal night before race: Nothing really special. Probably more carbs than usual but not more volume. Gonna try and keep the routine; do there’s no digestive strangeness. But I will have a higher calorie breakfast and lunch!