Food, cherry blossoms, nature, culture, technology, history – these are just some of the many reasons to visit Japan. But consider this reason for your next trip to the Land of the Rising Sun: to join a marathon. With its ideal weather, stellar organization, exciting race expos, and the festive-like atmosphere of race day, participating in a marathon in Japan is a must for every runner or Japan enthusiast out there.
Not only will you get an exclusive finisher medal if you complete the race, you will also get the rare opportunity to see a side of Japan that not many have the privilege of experiencing. Just imagine one whole day when an entire city closes its roads and its people take a step out of their usual routines and into the streets to cheer on thousands and thousands of runners with food and drinks to offer. If anything, a “runcation” just gives you another excuse to travel to Japan!
Planning for a trip revolving around a marathon does require more thought than the usual holiday itinerary. After all, you will be running 42.195 kilometers around a city in Japan in under six or seven hours. With that in mind, here are five tips to help you get started!
Many of Japan’s internationally renowned marathons such as the Kyoto Marathon and the World Marathon Major Tokyo Marathon are held in February. The temperature this time of year varies from 8 to 19 degrees Celsius on the mainland of Japan.
For many who are used to a warmer climate, the difference in temperature is a challenge on its own, and the best way to overcome it is to allow your body to adapt to the temperature difference. It usually takes about one to three days to acclimatize and to overcome jet lag so it would be advisable to fly in a couple of days earlier for you to rest, acclimatize, and also to fully enjoy the festivities of the run.
As soon as a marathon date is announced, accommodations tend to get snatched up faster than branded handbags on sale. So here’s a pro tip: As soon as you sign up for a marathon, book your accommodation on a hotel booking website that allows for free cancellations and date adjustments in case of plan changes after. But before that, you would need to pick an area to stay.
In Japan, the best way to move around the city is through public transportation. Majority of roads will be closed on race day so when picking an accommodation, look for one within walking distance to a train or subway station for easy access to the start line and from the finish line. If you can lock down a place near a station on a direct train line to the race venue, that’s even better to minimize train transfer.
All runners would know the cardinal rule in the running world – “Do not try anything new on race day.” Abiding by this rule might be hard in Japan as the cuisine is just top-notch, be it a high-class restaurant or a street izakaya, so prior to traveling, determine restaurants and eateries that offer food that you usually consume pre-race as part of your carbo-loading stage. Read up on reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp.
On the plus side, completing a marathon basically gives you permission to eat anything you want after the race. So go crazy and pig out on the best sushi, sashimi, ramen, and so on. You’ve earned it!
Packing for a runcation is different from packing for a typical vacation. For starters, you need to think about your gear. Do not underestimate how much space your running gear can take up in your luggage, especially when going to a colder country where you would probably need to layer up to fend off the cold. If you’re traveling on a budget airline, you should purchase check-in baggage to avoid paying the expensive baggage fees at the airport.
While Japan offers many sports shops selling gels, nutrients, and supplies for running, it’s always better to bring along your usual energy gel and medication to avoid problems on race day. It is also advisable to bring spare running socks and a lightweight windbreaker with you.
However, if you do forget, fret not because in Japan, the marathon expos are an event of their own. You can get tons of running gear and supplies, including limited edition and Japan exclusive merchandise, and the local region’s food and drink specialties.
In 2017, ASICS and Brooks both launched an exclusive model of running shoes in conjunction with the Tokyo Marathon, which can only be found at the expo in Japan. Going on a spending spree at Japan’s marathon expos is bound to happen and if it does, you would be glad to have that extra luggage space and weight for you to bring home your souvenirs and memorabilia.
Another thing to consider when planning a runcation is when you want to explore Japan – before or after the race? Do you want to save your legs for the race? Will you still have the energy to walk after the race?
Despite its modern infrastructure and efficient transportation system, stairs and long hallways are constant designs all around Japan’s stations and attractions, so walking is more or less unavoidable. But why not take advantage of this? Apart from being a cheap and cost-effective way to travel, walking is also a great way to get rid of the lactic acid build-up and muscle soreness in your legs after running a marathon.
True, you will be most likely limping and hobbling up and down a street or a staircase, but so will many other fellow runners around you – be it local or foreign. There is nothing quite like seeing someone else at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in a similar state as you and you just know what they have been through. So give your fellow runner a nod that says, “Yes, I feel your pain. Good job on surviving a marathon in Japan.”
With more and more people joining marathons every year, Japan is quickly becoming one of the most popular countries for a runcation. Not only is it host to one of the World Marathon Majors (Tokyo Marathon), but every city in Japan offers a different and unique experience to each runner. A runcation in Japan combines the love of being active and the love for traveling, and at best gives you a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the country’s friendliness and warmth while enjoying the local cuisine without guilt. As I have said earlier, you’ve earned it!