Well, 2011 marathon is over now. I ran it (yesterday, in fact), so here's a walk-through of the race-day process for those of you looking for detailed information in the coming years. Unless the world ends in 2012.

You may also be interested in part one of this guide, which goes over the application procedure and offers some details of the course.

First of all, you'll want to have a look at the 2011 race guide pdf. It should still be on the Tokyo Marathon site here. It has various figures on how many people finish in what times, cut-off times, average weather conditions etc.

Bib collection
You will have to go to Tokyo Big Site on the Thursday, Friday or Saturday before the race to collect your bib, race t-shirt, maps etc. The process only takes a few minutes, but you're then forced to walk around the Marathon Expo, which is one giant shop/advertisement rammed full of people. They do have some cool things there, like professional gait assessment and expert tips on your running form.

Race day details
The guide tells you to get there at 7:30, even though the race doesn't start until 9:10. Do this. Some people (including me) found themselves in a queue for the toilet which almost made them miss the baggage check-in. And be sensible and plan your route to Shinjuku with extra time for full trains/mistakes.

  • The baggage check-in is for clothes for you to change into after the race (closes at 8:30am). It's very well organised, and you shouldn't have to queue long to use it, although you may face a little walk to find your truck (truck number is on your bib). When I finished the guy took one look at my ID number and immediately produced my stuff.
  • Getting to your position on the starting block will take a while if you're anywhere but the back. It took me about 20 minutes to get from baggage check to block G, and that was after the rush.
  • Predictably, you'll be delayed crossing the starting line by the mass of people. I crossed at almost 11 minutes after kickoff (this is subtracted from your finish time).
  • Members of the public will be very friendly, wanting to high-five everyone, offering sweets and snacks, ice etc.
  • At the end, you will first walk through a corridor of excited staff who will give you a sports drink and free towel, then have your timing tag cut off your shoe, then swap the tag for your medal, then get presented with a bag of free things - water, leaflets etc. - then march through another line and get some muscle spray, SoyJoy meal bar, fruit etc (probably varies with sponsors) before collecting your baggage and changing in a huge hall (women get a room). Then you'll be let into the family area and follow a frustratingly slow group of people on a mammoth march to the trains, which is easily one of the most agonising and soul-destroying experiences known to man. Be smart and work out some kind of alternate route / call a taxi. And check which of the three nearby stations is the one for you. If someone can give you a lift/carry you you will feel like you owe them your life.

First timer advice

  • The crush will slow you quite a bit at the start. Try not to be tempted into weaving in and out at this stage, as it just costs energy.
  • Throughout the race you get free water and energy fluids. If you haven't tried the energy stuff before, don't do so on race day - it may go straight through you, give you cramps or cause the diarrhea.
  • Also, don't eat the bananas, bread or sweets offered unless you know you can handle them during long runs. Your best bet is to take along something you know works for you.
  • If you need the toilet and it isn't urgent, keep an eye out for the queue lengths. I waited until 15km to go, despite a pressing need, when I spotted a queue of only four or five people. I've heard of people waiting 10+ minutes.
  • Don't forget plasters on those nipples, anti-chaffing stuff on your privates, bum crack, etc.

There are various events going on along the route, which can be enjoyed by spectators and runners (although rather quickly for the later). This year they had taiko drummers, dancers, a brass band, and several other things including loud speakers playing YMCA. The whole procession of runners spontaneously did the dance. I liked that. Details of all these things will be on the map you get at registration.

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