The Tokyo Marathon, run on the first Sunday of March each year, is a popular and prestigious marathon that welcomes runners worldwide to participate in one of the toughest races hosted by Tokyo. It’s known as the marathon with the biggest elite start of all the Majors.
From the history of the marathon and how to qualify to course records and qualifying standards, we will explore the finer details of the Tokyo Marathon and share with you just what it takes to participate in the Tokyo Marathon next year.
This is the Tokyo Marathon.
- The Starting Line
- Yasukuni Dori
- The Imperial Palace
- Shinagawa Station
- Ginza – The Halfway Mark
- Tokyo Station
- Download the Runner’s Handbook
- Eat a Carb-Dense Meal Before You Run
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
- Get Proper Sleep
The History of the Tokyo Marathon
The Tokyo Marathon is just one of the six marathons that form the World Marathon Majors. The others are New York City, London, Chicago, Boston and Berlin.
First run in 2007, this marathon has gone through a few changes.
Before 2007, the Tokyo Marathon consisted of two separate marathons – the Tokyo – New York Friendship Marathon on odd years and the Tokyo International Marathon on even years. Both of these marathons started in 1981 but were only a month apart, so it was decided that they would alternate. In 2007, the two marathons were combined into the Tokyo Marathon.
Now one of the world’s most popular 26.2-mile races, the Tokyo Marathon has earned itself the title of World Athletics Platinum Label Marathon and is a must for elite athletes and amateur runners alike.
The marathon is sponsored by the Tokyo Metro and allows charity teams to participate, raising much-needed funds for the 33 charity organizations supported by the RUN with HEART charity program of the Tokyo Marathon.
Let’s look at a few key historical dates that shaped the world of marathon running in Tokyo and made it the event it is today. Here are a few of the more notable events that have made the Tokyo Marathon what it is today:
- 1981: The Tokyo Marathon was made up of two events: the first was the Tokyo – New York Friendship International Marathon and the second was the Tokyo International Marathon.
- 1982: Race organizers quickly learned that hosting two marathons wasn’t feasible, and the events alternated yearly. The Tokyo International Marathon was run on even years, while the Tokyo – New York Friendship Marathon was run on odd years.
- 2007: The two marathons were combined to become the Tokyo Marathon we know today. The event was sponsored by the Tokyo Metro. The inaugural race saw 25,000 runners taking part in the full marathon, while an additional 5,000 runners participated in the 10K. The Tokyo Marathon was chosen as a selection race for the 2007 World Championships in Athletics held in Osaka. The marathon was run on February 18th, 2007.
- 2010: Runner Masakazu Fujiwara became the first Japanese national to win the men’s title at the Tokyo Marathon. He crossed the line in 2:12:19.
- 2014: Dickson Chumba, a Kenyan national, set a new course record as he crossed the finish line with a time of 2:05:42. Second place went to Ethiopian Tadese Tola with a time of 2:05:57.
- 2020: The Tokyo Marathon saw a change in entry as only elite runners were able to run the race due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Other entries were deferred to 2021. Musician Hyde released a track called “Believing in Myself” to pay tribute to the excitement and challenges of running a race like the Tokyo Marathon.
- 2021: The Tokyo Marathon was postponed to October 17th due to the pandemic. The event was again postponed to 2022.
- 2022: The 2021 Tokyo Marathon took place on March 6th, 2022. There wasn’t a 2022 Tokyo Marathon. Overseas runners weren’t allowed to compete, with their entries deferred to the 2023 Tokyo Marathon.
Course Records and Wins
Many records have been set at the Tokyo Marathon since its inception in 2007. Here is the list of winners and course records for this prestigious marathon:
|2021||Eliud Kipchoge||Kenya||2:02:40 (course record)|
|2020||Lonah Chemtai Salpeter||Israel||2:17:45|
|2021||Brigid Kosgei||Kenya||2:16:02 (course record)|
The starting line of the Tokyo Marathon is always packed to the brim, with both local and international runners lining up to run this incredible marathon. With 37,500 runners taking part in the 2023 marathon, the event is popular, seeing runners traveling from every corner of the world to participate.
The first Tokyo Marathon saw an impressive 25,000 runners participating in the full marathon, while another 5,000 ran the 10K. These numbers have increased each year, except for 2020, when only elite runners were invited to run the marathon – this marathon saw only 165 finishes.
Spectators come from near and far to enjoy the festivities surrounding the Tokyo Marathon. While it’s impossible to measure the number of visitors and spectators accurately, recent records show that at least two million spectators lined the streets of Tokyo to watch their favorite runners, lend their support to those athletes braving the challenge of the 26.2-mile run, or enjoy the festivities of the day.
The Tokyo Marathon Expo is one of the largest trade shows in Tokyo and brings around 100,000 visitors to the city. The expo is a hive of information for runners and spectators and has various information booths, activities, food, and entertainment to keep everyone busy and entertained.
The Impact of the Tokyo Marathon on Communities
The Tokyo Marathon is one of the top events on the running calendar and brings many visitors to the city to run, spectate, or enjoy the festivities around race day. It is also responsible for generating between $5 million and $10 million for the city. This income sees hotels, restaurants, and stores receive a large bump in their revenue.
Allowing charity entrants, the Tokyo Marathon successfully raises more than 350 million yen (roughly $2 million) for various charities annually.
The Tokyo Marathon and the Global Running Community
Named as one of six marathons making up the Abbotts World Marathon Majors, the Tokyo Marathon is an especially popular race that sees local, national, and international runners signing up to enjoy this prestigious run that is known for its fast, flat course through the bustling streets of the city.
The Tokyo Marathon draws in entrants from around the world, all hoping to cross the finish line and collect their finishers medal. And with a purse prize of $50,000 and the prestige of winning a World Marathon Majors title, elite runners from almost every country flock to the streets of Tokyo to participate.
Here’s what the top winners receive for finishing on the podium:
- 1st – $50,000
- 2nd – $25,000
- 3rd – $12,500
- 4th – $7,500
- 5th – $5,000
The cash prizes are the same for the men’s and women’s winners, one of the few marathons in the world to do so.
The Tokyo Marathon Course and its Features
The Tokyo Marathon has undergone a few course changes since its inception in 2007 and now takes runners through some beautiful suburbs and past several famous landmarks, including the Tokyo Skytree, the Sensoji Buddhist temple, Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, the Tokyo Station, and Tokyo Tower.
From 2007 to 2016, the course took runners through the following parts of Tokyo:
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Starting line)
- Tokyo Imperial Palace
- Hibiya Park (Finish line for the 10K race)
- Tokyo Big Sight (Finish line for the full marathon)
This has, however, changed, and the new route adopted in 2017 sees runners passing through the following areas:
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Starting line)
- Nihonbashi (Finish line for the 10K race)
- Koto (the halfway mark)
- Hibiya Park
- Tokyo Station (Finish line for the full marathon)
The course is fairly flat and fast, allowing runners to clock good times (often PBs) as they meander through the streets of Tokyo. With a downhill right after the start of the race, there are no major hills to be conquered for the rest of the course. And while fatigue is fairly common from around the halfway mark, runners can practice pacing to help with stamina and endurance to finish the race – there are no surprises waiting around any corners.
From busy downtown Tokyo to the high-end shopping districts of Ginza and Shinagawa, there are a great many landmarks that make the run worthwhile for both runners and spectators and gives everyone a chance to enjoy the beauty and history of this old city that started as a fishing town in the early 1600s.
Check out this stunning live race footage from Kofuzi:
Crowd Support and Cheering Sections
Crowd support is critically important at marathons and can help motivate and encourage runners to push on and finish the race, even when they’re tired and ready to give up.
With benefits like these, organizers have created cheering sections where spectators can gather to cheer on the runners. The Tokyo Marathon has many cheering sections, some with grandstand seating for longer waits, which are scattered throughout the marathon.
Here’s where you can watch the Tokyo Marathon:
The Starting Line
Join thousands of spectators as you see the runners take off for their 26.2-mile race around one of the oldest cities in Japan. Grab a beverage and some food, and join in the festivities of race day from the starting line at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
Located just a block from Shinjuku Station, Yasukuni Dori is a hive of activity where spectators line the streets to cheer on the runners just before the 3-mile mark.
The Imperial Palace
Located at the 5.5-mile mark, the Imperial Palace is a popular cheering section that also makes for a great photo opportunity.
Great for those who use public transport to get to and from the marathon course, the Shinagawa Station cheering section has a great buzz and is the perfect place for spectators to catch a glimpse of their friends or family members running the Tokyo Marathon.
Ginza – The Halfway Mark
Ginza is located at the 13.1-mile mark and is in the more modern and elegant part of the city of Tokyo. Also considered the shopping district, Ginza is just one of the more popular cheering sections for the Tokyo Marathon.
An artificial island just outside Tokyo, Odaiba is an exciting leg of the Tokyo Marathon that takes runners over a series of bridges. This is also a great site for photos, so head down to Odaiba to take in the sights while supporting the runners.
This is the finish line for the Tokyo Marathon and is where the best action takes place. From music stages to food and drinks, the cheering section at Tokyo Station is by far the most popular (apart from the start) of the many cheering sections.
Qualifying for the Tokyo Marathon
Taking part in a marathon like the Tokyo Marathon can be fairly tricky as spaces are limited, and several qualifying standards must be met.
Similar to the other races in the World Marathon Majors, entry to the event is done by a lottery system as the number of entries exceeds the spots available – by a considerably large amount.
Here are a few more qualifying standards to be aware of ahead of the next Tokyo Marathon:
- Entrants must be 19 years and older on race day
- The race must be completed in 6 hours and 30 minutes
- Qualifying times: Men – 2:32:00 and women – 3:19:00
- Entrants must submit their qualifying certificates between June and July of the year before the event date
- Charity teams are allowed
- International runners are welcome
To enter, you must run a certified race and qualify within the time limit for your gender and age group, register on the event website, and pay the entrance fee (23,300 yen for Japanese residents, 25,300 yen for international entrants). Successful applicants are notified via email. Entry fees are non-refundable and do not guarantee your spot at the starting line.
Charity Teams and the Tokyo Marathon
Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon set aside no less than 4 000 spots for runners of charity teams. Supporting 33 charity organizations, the Tokyo Marathon RUN with HEART program has several worthy causes to choose from.
Here are the categories to choose from:
- No Poverty
- Quality Education
- Climate Action
- Zero Hunger
- Gender Equality
- Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
- Peace, Justice, and Strong institutions
- Life Below Water
- Life on Land
- Affordable and Clean Energy
- Partnerships for the Goals
- Good Health and Well-being
- Clean Water and Sanitation
- Decent Work and Economic Growth
- Responsible Consumption and Production
- Reduced Inequalities
- Sustainable Cities and Communities
There are three charity program options available for the Tokyo Marathon:
3,700 entries: first-come, first-served non-crowdfunding entries for runners who pay 100,000 JPY (around US $950).
300 entries: crowdfunding entry for the “Run with Heart” charity for runners who raise the most money for the cause.
1,000 entries: runners can work with Tokyo Marathon-affiliated charities and need to raise at least 200,000 JPY (around $1,900). Bibs are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
All funds raised support the 33 charities that belong to the RUN with HEART program, as they seek to uplift the lives of the less fortunate.
The Tokyo Marathon RUN with HEART program raises no less than $2.5 million annually for charity as runners donate and raise much-needed funds for these worthy beneficiaries.
Training for the Tokyo Marathon
Running a marathon requires sticking to a marathon training schedule that can range from anywhere between 12 to 24 weeks. Largely dependent on your race goals, fitness level, and time available for training, a good training program can help you prepare for the Tokyo Marathon and the challenges it presents.
No matter what marathon you’re running, the training basics within the plan remain the same. You’ll need to do regular training sessions that help you work on your mileage, speed, endurance, and overall running performance.
A good training program will have you working out or running four to five times a week, with one day for rest and one for active recovery. You’ll include one long run every week, and the distance of this run will increase each week. Your plan should include two to three cross-training sessions to improve your lung function and strength and to increase your V02 max rate.
As the course of the Tokyo Marathon is largely flat, it is considered a fairly easy, fast run that will see runners push themselves to get a good time. Intervals and tempo sessions increase your speed and capacity, so include one speed session weekly.
Your training schedule should increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10% each week. Running is considered a high-impact activity, so you don’t want to do too much too soon as you run the risk of common running injuries that can see you out of the race or not being able to train properly.
Easy runs make up the bulk of your weekly mileage and are done at an easy, conversational pace. These runs allow your body to adapt to the strain it’s being placed under while working your muscles.
Cross-training is especially beneficial to runners, so include low-intensity cross-training exercises like walking, hiking, elliptical training, swimming, or cycling to help increase your muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance.
The last week of your training program should contain more rest days than anything else as your body (and mind) repairs for the upcoming challenge. This week is called taper week – depending on your plan and skill level, taper week can be anything from 7 to 14 days before the marathon.
Good Nutrition While Training
Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet during a training block is vital. Daily nutrition should include carbohydrates, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein. Take vitamins and mineral supplements if you need to. Most runners already have an established eating routine – if it works, don’t change it.
Where Can I Find a Great Training Schedule?
There are many resources you can turn to when looking for a great training schedule for the Tokyo Marathon. Several websites have fantastic training programs and can be chosen according to the amount of time you want to set aside for training or based on your goal finishing time.
These training programs are usually free to download and can form a great base for your running schedule, and you can make the necessary changes depending on your personal needs.
Life happens, and some might struggle to stick to a training schedule. This is why commitment and dedication to your end goal – completing the Tokyo Marathon – are key to your success, and you should go into this experience with that goal in mind.
Often, deciding to do something can be harder than actually doing it, so be sure you are ready for the commitment and hard work it takes to run a marathon.
If you want a schedule that allows you to adapt it to suit your needs and availability, you may want to consult a running coach or personal trainer who can create a training plan based on your situation. They can observe your running style and technique to offer advice for improvements. They can also assess your progress weekly to make adjustments where necessary.
Races to Help You Prepare for the Tokyo Marathon
Running a few races can help you prepare for race day, learn how race day protocol works, and determine if your current training program is sufficient. Join a local running club, sign-up for a few virtual events, do a few local races and use each experience as a stepping stone to success.
There are so many 5K, 10K, and half-marathons to choose from, so check out your local athletics club news board or social media page for information on any upcoming races you can run to prepare for the Tokyo Marathon.
Other Resources to Help You Prepare
One of the key elements of running a marathon is pacing. Forget about endurance and performance for a minute as you consider the benefits of pacing on your run and your time.
Races like the Tokyo Marathon have cut-off times that need to be adhered to, so you must pace yourself so you have energy for the entire distance while ensuring you cross the checkpoints with enough time to spare.
A running pace calculator can be an extremely useful tool to determine what pace you need to run (minutes per mile or kilometer) to ensure you cross the line in your goal time.
Race Day Strategies and Tips
It’s race day, and you are at the starting line of the Tokyo Marathon. What should you focus on before crossing that line and starting the race? What pace must you maintain, and how can the weather affect your performance?
We have these answers, and more, as we take you through a few race day strategies and tips to help you make the most of your run while experiencing the thrill of participating in one of only six World Marathon Majors.
What is a Good Time?
Rules of the Tokyo Marathon state that runners must complete the race in 6 hours and 30 minutes – the finish line cut-off is 7 hours from the gun. This isn’t hard to do if you’ve put in the training and is more than enough time to finish the race.
Those who want to finish on the podium or set a new world or course record will need to up their game to finish well ahead of everyone else. The current course records are as follows:
- Men: 2:02:40 – Eliud Kipchoge
- Women: 2:16:02 – Brigid Kosgei
Most of you reading this are likely not aiming to break the course record but rather run for the achievement and challenge of the race. The average finishing time for the Tokyo Marathon is around four and a half hours. Most elite athletes aim for sub-2:30.
The Weather and Your Performance
The weather can greatly impact your performance, no matter the terrain. Thankfully, the terrain is fairly flat and fast, allowing runners to increase their speed on those long flats. There are a couple of hairpin bends to keep an eye on.
The Tokyo Marathon is run in March each year, which happens to be spring. This is the perfect time for a marathon as the air is crisp but not cold, and moderate temperatures are observed with the occasional showers. The average temperatures for the Tokyo Marathon over the last decade are 41 °F (5 °C) to 54 °F (12 °C) – ideal running conditions.
Wear comfortable clothing, and bring a sweater or jacket that can be tied around your waist while running or discarded on the side of the course once you’ve warmed up. If race day is cold, pack in a beanie and wear long but light pants to keep your muscles warm.
A great rule of thumb for running attire is to dress for the weather and then remove the last layer you put on. This will ensure you aren’t too warm while running.
Top Tips for Runners of the Tokyo Marathon
Whether this is your first or tenth time running the Tokyo Marathon, we have some tips that will make your experience of running one of the most prestigious marathons in the world a great one. Here are our top tips:
Download the Runner’s Handbook
The Tokyo Marathon runner’s handbook is a great source of information for runners and includes the most vital information needed for race day. The handbook has everything from where to collect your race pack to a list of no-nos for the event. Runners can download the handbook from the Tokyo Marathon event website.
Eat a Carb-Dense Meal Before You Run
Breakfast is essential, and as no food and drinks are allowed in the starting area, it is crucial that you eat a high-carb breakfast around 2 hours before the start to give you the energy needed to complete the Tokyo Marathon.
Professionals recommend oats, bananas, pancakes, bagels, toast, peanut butter, fruit, and nuts. Choose foods high in micronutrients to support your health the best way possible, and grab a few healthy snacks at the hydration stations along the route.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Hydration is key to preventing muscle aches and fatigue. Stop as often as you need to drink water and electrolytes, and carry gels to consume along the way. Because the Tokyo Marathon is a Major marathon, it conforms to the requirements for aid stations – there are no shortage of stops along the way, so use them as often as needed.
Get Proper Sleep
Elite runners will tell you the importance of a good night’s sleep before a marathon. You should get at least 12 hours of sleep in the 24 hours before race day, giving your body the rest it needs to take on the challenge before it.
Race Day Essentials
The following items are essential for the Tokyo Marathon:
- Your race day bib
- Your timing chip
- A warm jacket
- Comfortable shoes (the shoes you’ve done your training in)
- A beanie
For a full list of what you should pack for your trip to the Tokyo Marathon, visit the Running Coach site. The website is packed with resources for runners and includes tips on where to stay, how to get to the starting line, and other essential things you need to know. The information has been compiled by world-famous athletes Paula Radcliffe, Viktor Röthlin, and Frank Shorter.
Next Step: Run the Tokyo Marathon!
Fancy running a marathon that takes you through both the old and new parts of Tokyo? The Tokyo Marathon does just that, and sees runners travel through some of the oldest neighborhoods, home to the Imperial Palace, the upmarket shopping district of Ginza, and the Tokyo Metro Station.
Determination, commitment, and hard work are the order of the day for marathon runners, and this marathon will test your mental and physical strength. And, while the roads are flat and relatively fast, nothing can prepare you for those last few miles when your willpower and grit are tested. But it’s worth every step.
Take inspiration from Mieke Gorissen, marathon runner and Olympic medalist, as she shares her thoughts on running the Tokyo Marathon: “Even if we don’t finish in the top 100, don’t get a PR, or we finish dead last, shouldn’t we give ourselves the room to be happy?”
We can all agree that these are wise words and how we should all approach any marathon. So, what are you waiting for? Sign up for the Tokyo Marathon today.