10 Unexpected Things I Saw at the Yokohama Marathon

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How a night owl like myself managed to wake up at 4am on a Sunday for the 2019 Yokohama Marathon I’ll never quite understand. Nevertheless, on November 10, fueled by caffeine and a recommended morning intake of carbohydrates, I made my way to the start line.

For those who’ve never run a marathon before, the Yokohama one is a pretty good place to start. Whether you’re running the full 42 kilometers, keeping things more casual on the, around, six-kilometer race, or simply cheering from the sidelines, there is something for everyone to see and enjoy here. As the Yokohama Marathon is super popular event with runners traveling to compete from all around Japan and beyond, spaces are limited to a first-come-first-serve basis.

Here’s a look at what to expect, from pre-marathon events all the way through to the finish line.

1. The Most Passionate Taiko Performance

Before a marathon there’s always a little pre-marathon event. This is usually a good way for the marathon organizers to highlight their sponsors and give advice to the runners. At this year’s pre-event opening ceremony, I was privy to the most passionate taiko drum performance I have ever seen in all my long years living in Japan. This drummer had skills.

This man’s performance was also filled with emotion. He somehow managed to encapsulate all that it is to run a marathon through his drumming show. The drummer, at the climax of the performance, utterly exhausted himself with a steady rhythm of fast-paced drumming. Yet, as he reached peak exhaustion he released a passionate scream and continued drumming with even more energy and speed than before. This was the perfect tribute to the tumultuous highs and lows of running.

Photo courtesy of Yokohama Marathon Organizing Committee

2. Amazing Discounts at the Yokohama Marathon Expo

Coupled with the runner check-in is the Marathon Expo. After you pick up your runner’s tag, a number you must wear throughout your marathon, you can enter the expo. This is your chance to browse different goods showcased by the sponsors (and get a few free samples). Shirts, protein powders, energy jellies … there was no short supply of training goods and supplements at this event. Most sponsors realize that the top marathon runners are already fully prepared so they’ll be targeting a more casual runner by providing insane discounts on essential products, running shoes and under armor.

Yokohama Marathon pre event
Photo courtesy of Yokohama Marathon Organizing Committee

3. A Play on a Japanese Talk Show

Asides from booths and sales, the Marathon Expo put on a pretty entertaining information session. Presented as a Japanese talk show with a live audience, it featured a host (a Japanese sports commentator) with special guests including a few VIPs who were going to be running the marathon, and videos of experts offering their top tips such as how to prep for the race. First-time runners should definitely stay for the information session as it provides helpful information about marathon running and a few tips and tricks for staying on top of the 40km run.

4. Plenty of English Signage and Support

With about 28,000 participants, the Yokohama Marathon is one of the largest marathons in Japan. Because of the size and scope of it all, I didn’t expect much of an English-language support system to be in place for Yokohama’s foreign visitors and residents. To my surprise, the organizers went above and beyond to make the event foreigner friendly.

From the website where one registers to the maps and marathon information packs, there were English options for everything. There were also English-speaking staff ready to help any foreign face looking a little lost – and not only at the pre-event. Marathon day, 7am, still not fully awake, I made my way to the start line through a maze of runners and staff. As I most definitely looked dazed and confused, I was approached by various staff who took the time to guide me in English to my designated zone.

5. Supportive Camaraderie from Start to Finish

Standing about 28,000 strong on the start line of a daunting 42km race is a terrifying thing. The atmosphere is sometimes a little tense but the encouragement from other runners and the general good vibes from all the other participants quickly puts you at ease. Running a marathon isn’t a team sport, however you can easily make friends on the run. I was able to join little groups of runners along the way, so I really felt supported.

But this sense of camaraderie doesn’t only come from inside the track. From the start line to the finish line, the route was brimming with supporters cheering and shouting praise and support at all the runners. No energy drink or supplement can provide as much motivation as the cheers of supporting fans.

Photo courtesy of Yokohama Marathon Organizing Committee

6. Hawaiian Dancers, a Gospel Choir and Other Performances Along the Route

From Hawaiian dancers to a gospel choir, the Yokohama Marathon was definitely not short on entertainment. During the run, there were various performances along the route to entertain and encourage the runners. The gospel choir, which showed up at the 1/7 marathon (about six kilometers) finish line singing a rendition of “Oh Happy Days,” was one of my favorites. Finishing the race gave me flashbacks of Sister Act 2: the greatest ending to a short marathon.

Anpanman also made an appearance at the three-and-a-half kilometer mark with a group of kindergarten-aged cheerleaders at his side. What better encouragement than a team of kids screaming at you to ganbare and a high-five from the living-bread man himself? It was adorable.

And finally, since Yokohama is famous for its live jazz scene, there was of course a jazz band. Full marathon runners got to cross the finish line to the sounds of some smooth jazz.

Photo courtesy of Yokohama Marathon Organizing Committee

7. Lucky Snacks

Japan is famous for its omotenashi (hospitality) and at this year’s Yokohama Marathon, the organizers took the country’s “think of everything” philosophy one step further with Lucky Snacks. Why lucky? Well, there was a delicious but limited supply of popular local snacks and drinks placed along the course in various locations. To get your hands on these snacks, speed – and perhaps a dose of good luck – was key.

8. Runners in Dress-up

With every marathon comes a group of runners who don costumes – sometimes for charity, other times just for fun. This year we saw robot men, a life-sized frog and, of course, the Mario Brothers, a marathon staple. While there were many costumed runners this year, my favorite was a man dressed head to toe in anime running gear with a giant picture of an anime girl on his back. Truly a man of culture.

There were also people attempting to inspire or encourage the runners behind them with some great shirt quotes. Two of my favorites were: “You start a marathon alone, you finish a marathon alone, but we all run together” and “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.”

9. Insane Running Times Revealed at the Medal Ceremony

The medal ceremony is for congratulating those with the top eight fastest running times. It’s motivating for anyone wanting to improve their performance for the next marathon, as the running times are stated before the awards are presented. The fastest time in the 1/7 marathon was 18 minutes. That’s insanely fast.

Medal ceremonies are also the place to congratulate fellow runners who didn’t make it into the top eight. Its’ a time where you’ll hear a lot of “Otsukaresama deshita” (“Good job out there”) and you get a chance to thank the friends you made along your way.

10. My Very Own Medal

For those in the top eight, medals and glory await. But what about the average runner who trained hard, tried their best but couldn’t place on the podium? Fear not, a medal awaits all who ran and finished the Yokohama Marathon. Called “finisher medals,” they’re made from metal and expertly crafted and are a beautiful addition to any marathon runner’s trophy case.

For those feeling inspired why not apply for the 2020 Yokohama Marathon, applications start from March 2020 and the marathon is on November 1, 2020, leaving plenty of time to train.

 

For more information about the Yokohama Marathon, go to yokohamamarathon.jp


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