Forget riding the Yamanote Loop Line … how about walking or running it? Try to do so on May 21 while raising money for a great cause!

By Tamatha Roman

For many of us, the ultimate run around Tokyo is via the renowned Tokyo Marathon held each February. But due to a highly selective lottery system, few are guaranteed the chance. There’s one equally scenic race, however, that skimps the lottery and the cold weather, at just a fraction of the cost. Oh, and you don’t have to run. Sign me up please!

The Yamathon, held this year on May 21, gives Tokyoites the chance to tour the city through a familiar means: the Yamanote Loop Line. Yet, as you may have guessed, no train is involved. Instead, teams of three or four must circumnavigate the 40-kilometer loop using their own two feet – running, walking, or skipping. Go clockwise or counterclockwise. Go in the same order as the train or zig-zag. Race an opposing team in opposite directions around the loop and see who wins. Basically, choose your own adventure. The only stipulation: you and your team needs to have their picture taken at each one of the 29 stations along the loop line, and show that proof at the finish line near Tokyo station within 12 hours.


You have to get your team’s pics taken at each station . . .


. . . but there’s no rule against drinking as you go

According to Joe Pournovin, Founder and CEO of the Yamathon, “this event is about pushing people to the limits and inspiring them.” Starting out as a small Facebook event in November 2010 with 120 people, the Yamathon has since turned into a household name with a projected participation of 1,000 participants this year and dedicated sponsors such as JP Morgan, Credit Suisse, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Now in its 6th year, the Yamathon is primarily a fundraising cause. Registration, at ¥10,000 per team, is entirely donated to this year’s charity of choice: Plan Japan, a non-profit organization working to rebuild two elementary schools that were destroyed after the Haiyan Typhoon in 2013. “There’s a lot of work still to be done there,” insists Mr. Pournovin, who organized a separate charity event right after the typhoon. Plan Japan was chosen as a partner because they “saw the potential in this event and came back with many amazing ideas to help it grow,” including bringing in Akemi Masuda, famous retired marathon runner, to speak at the event. Teams are also encouraged to set up a race fundraising page through Japan Giving after registration, as race officials hope to double or triple this year’s fundraising goal.

A new addition this year is the option to complete a Half Yamathon, ending at JR Mejiro station. “Eighty percent of our teams walk, and walking 40 kilometers on concrete is actually really tough,” says Mr. Pournovin. “Some people are not runners. Some people don’t even do a lot of exercise. They just want to see Tokyo. That’s why we created the Half Yamathon. It’s so other people – families – could get involved. Because people want to get involved.”


One of the younger participants in last year’s Yamathon

So what’s in it for participants besides the inevitable sore muscles post loop? Though we may be familiar with bigger stations like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara, what about everything in between? This race affords participants a chance to sightsee beyond the guidebook recommendations. In addition, as a reward to racers this year, the Yamathon has teamed up with the app “Blippar” to offer special discounts to select Tokyo stores, as well as other media sharing tools. And of course, what would a 12-hour foray around Tokyo be without an after party? Make sure to stick around to enjoy the free massages, DJ, and refreshments at the posh party just a few minutes’ walk from the finish line. Finally, the memories are what’s to be cherished. It’s not only an event to enjoy with your friends but one to share race stories with the people you meet.

Eager participants can benefit from a few words of wisdom from the organizer himself: “The Yamathon is actually not an event you need to train for. You can wing it,” Mr. Pournovin notes. However, “the Yamanote line is very deceiving. If you just choose to follow the train line, you can get lost. My advice would be to look at parts of the Yamanote line and train on parts of it. Spend a Saturday and walk five stations.” A map and outlined course are given beforehand but it’s up to you to prepare your homework.

Some logistics: After check-in and a short ceremony, the race will start in waves from 8:00 am. Note that on race day, there will be no road closures or safety police. There will also be no “help” along the way, so racers are responsible for acquiring their own refreshments and meals. Register by May 15. If either the Full or Half Yamathon really isn’t your thing, the race officials are looking for volunteers to be photographers, helpers at the stalls, time keepers, and, perhaps most rewarding of all, cheerleaders at the finish line. I will be taking part in the Yamathon so stay tuned post-race for a personal account. Or just come out and try to beat me to the finish line.


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