Everything You Need to Know About Running the Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon is arguably the hardest of the Marathon Majors to get in to. With a small international ballot, a notoriously tough ‘semi elite’ entry for those with a qualifying time similar to Boston (sub 3.30 finish). And even then, only 300 spaces are allotted.

The marathon lets is 37,500 people, compared to New York’s 50,000 and London’s 40,000. There are 27,300 spots available in the lottery, with 330,000+ applying for the 2019 race…

However if you were one of the lucky ones to secure a bib (find out how other ways of gaining entry to the Tokyo Marathon)…here’s what you need to know.

Tokyo Marathon 2018 Race Recap

Sakura Asics collection

Where to stay? Whilst in Tokyo we stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel Tokyo Station which was situated right on the race course at the 29K. It was an easy subway ride from the airport and to the race start, and a 10/15 min walk from the race finish. PLUS they opened up breakfast early for runners, complete with English Muffins and peanut butter!

I would recommend staying near the finish line (around Tokyo Station) rather than start area, as the race can be cold when you finish and you’ll want to head back to shower. There are hotels for various budgets, but book early as they do get expensive.

The jetlag… It’s brutal. Coming from the UK, Tokyo is 9 hours ahead which puts your body clock right off. I would recommend getting to Tokyo as early as possible OR 1/2 days in advance. I arrived on the Friday night and relied on sleeping pills to get through my overnight flight, and pre-race night.

Tokyo Marathon Expo

The Expo: Don’t expect anything like the NYC or London expos. This is a lot smaller and with less ‘stash’, you’ll find random items like race washi tape in the official store, and the only official kit is in the Asics store.

  • Security is very tight. Do not forget to take your passport or driving license at ID.
  • There is a runner’s only section, os make sure you have a plan of where to meet the rest of your group if there are non-runners.
  • The expo is really really loud and kind of overwhelming, ideally go first thing when it opens or late at night.

For the full low down watch my expo video below.

Pre Race: Strict security is a theme of this race, on a scale like I haven’t seen at any other World Marathon Major (even in NYC the year after the Boston Bombing). Updated for 2023 race with the latest information from Tokyo Marathon.

  • No water or food is allowed through security. I had my banana confiscated the year I ran. HOWEVER, they do have water and fruit on the other side of the security so I was able to replace my pre-race snack. And you are NOT allowed through with any water bladders or handheld water bottles however you can take cartons and pouches of drink as long as they are sealed and under 250mls (you can take up to 500mls).
  • Bathrooms – be careful that you get in the line for the right gender bathroom, and check the sign for a western portaloo. I missed the memo and by that point it was too late! I found the queues for loos to be much shorter near the ‘changing area’, underneath a building rather than those next to the corrals.
  • You are now allowed throwaway layers (they have changed the ruling after feedback!) The Runners Handbook suggests you can bring a backpack that you can run with to store your extra clothes, phone etc in if you want. You stand around watching a screen with the national anthem and many announcements – I felt like I was in the Hunger Games!

During the Race:

  • The race is crowded. I found it hard to get any clear space for the first few miles. Don’t stress, take in your surroundings!!
  • There was no blue line to follow – this is the tangents of the course that the elites usually run along to ensure they don’t cover extra distance and are as close to 26.2 as possible. Without this, you do run extra mileage, and Tokyo became my longest race to date at 27.6 miles. It might be worth turning off the autolap on your watch and manually lapping at every mile!
Tokyo Marathon 2018 Race Recap
Tokyo Marathon 2018 Race recap
  • Water – there were only water stops every 5KM, and in small cups at the end of the aid stations – I’d suggest walking through these to take in as much as you can. Otherwise you’re reliant on the on-course sports drink Pocari Sweat bottles.
  • Litter – it is very much frowned up to throw your bottle/gel packet/tissue etc on the floor. They have people stationed every half mile or so with rubbish bags for you to deposit your stuff in to.
  • Bathrooms – these are VERY well signposted and pretty regular, and some of the cleanest during any marathon I’ve experienced. Don’t worry, on-course all the loos are western style! The official handbook suggests that you need a mask to enter the bathrooms, I’m not sure if they will be enforcing this but it is probably worth bringing one with you just incase!
  • Spectators – the whole course is lined with spectators which is awesome, however they’re not always that loud. Not many people had their names written on their tops like they do in other races, which might be worth doing for more cheers!
  • There are very strict cut off times, going by gun time you have 7hrs (although the official website also says 6hrs 40 minutes) to finish the race. And that’s not just from when you start the race, there are check points ever 10KM and you will get swept up if you don’t make these. You have to make the 10K marker by 11am, giving you 1hr 45 minutes from the gun time regardless of the time you actually start, then you have 45 minutes before the next cut off at 15km – meaning you need to realistically be able to run a sub 40 minute 5K for each section of the race. There are a group of runners with balloons and ‘Runner Finisher Support’ written on the back that are the back of the race, if you fall behind them at one of the check points, they literally rope the course off and you are unable to finish.
Tokyo Marathon 2018 Race Recap

Post-race: it can take a really long time to get to your friends in the Family Meeting Area

  • Do bag drop. I got SO cold and wished I’d left a big coat in bag drop to stop my lips going blue and teeth chattering post-race.
  • Arrange beforehand where to meet your runners/spectators as phones may not work. I don’t remember there being letters like in other races, instead there were red balloons on one side and blue balloons on the other. We saw a lady who had her Union Jack flag to help her runner find her – which was a great tip!
Tokyo Marathon 2018 Race Recap

Non-official tips – McDonalds makes a great post-race spot in Tokyo Station (it’s warm, the loos are clean and all i want post marathon is a Diet Coke and fries!).

Enjoy a post-race drink at a bar in Golden Gai – mini bars with only room for 4-5 people. A very iconic way to celebrate!

I’ve also got a whole guest post from my Mum filled with spectator tips for the Tokyo Marathon

Let me know if you have any questions….


  1. February 20, 2019 / 11:08 am

    This event is on my list even though the logistics are kind of overwhelming. Congrats on your race. The guy with the rubbish bag is so very different from how we do things here …very interesting.

  2. February 21, 2019 / 9:06 am

    I agree with you about the expo – I didn’t like it at all! Loved the rest of the race experience though.

  3. February 22, 2019 / 7:10 am

    Oh god I’m leaving this one until last of the six. The ballot chances sound terrible! Great tips in here regarding the water and snacks. In your opinion, could you do a quick trip for this one? e.g fly out Friday and return Monday? or would it be too brutal. Thanks, Owen

  4. Jacks K
    December 8, 2022 / 10:14 pm

    Loved the video! I ran the 2018 Tokyo as well and it was a chaotic scene from beginning to end. Congrats on your 6 star. I’m running 2023 as well, so the video was a good refresher 🙂 Awesome job!


    • Charlie Watson
      February 26, 2023 / 4:24 am

      oh that’s so cool! I’d love to run it again someday – will keep entering the lottery until I get lucky 🙂 Best of luck with this years race!

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