Since it began in 2007, the Tokyo Marathon has continued to grow in popularity. In 2013 over 300,000 people applied to run the full 42.195km race, meaning that there was only a 1 in 10.3 chance of being awarded one of the 35,500 places available.
Until last year I had always been lucky with the lottery: for the first 3 years I applied through the usual channels, winning every time. Seeing applicant numbers increasing, in 2012 I decided to join the ‘One Tokyo’ members club, which increased my chance of winning a place by 50%. Once again, I was lucky.
However, when it came to applying for the 2013 marathon, my luck ran out – I didn’t make it through the One Tokyo lottery, or the subsequent general lottery, or the second general lottery. Whilst disappointed, I didn’t despair: the marathon organisers had recently introduced a new category of runners: ‘Tsunagu Charity Runners’, who in return for a charity donation of 100,000 yen (US$1,000) would be guaranteed a place. A few years back I would never have considered donating that kind of money to enter a race (bear in mind I wasn’t at all interested in running until 2008), but by last year the Tokyo Marathon had become an important part of my identity – both for others and for myself – I couldn’t not run it. And well, if the money was going to a good cause… so I made my donation, and secured a place in my 5th Tokyo Marathon.
When it came to the technology, I decided to give myself a bit of break in 2013, opting for a simple live streaming solution (more on that below). In previous years I have always sought to push the boundaries of the possible, using cutting-edge live streaming devices that were yet to be widely adopted. Whilst this did mean I was able to share my runs with a global audience (in 2012 I had over 42,000 live viewers join me during the run), it also meant that I had to deal with a significant amount of stress and subsequent disappointment when the devices didn’t live up to expectations. It also meant that I was unable to interact as much as I would have liked to with the other runners and supporter lining the streets – I was far too taken up with concerns about battery life.
The decision to simplify my live-streaming gear coincided with the release of the iPhone 5 and the widespread deployment of LTE networks by Softbank, Emobile and Docomo. In addition to this, LiveU have recently released an app for the iPhone that allows you to use LTE and wifi simultaneously – meaning that if you carry an LTE pocket wifi device with you, you can stream a single iPhone video signal over two 4G networks (the signal is split over the two and then recombined by a LiveU server) – this makes for a far more stable stream than if you were relying upon a single network.
This year, I carried:
- 2 x iPhone 5 connected to Softbank LTE (used for the two main cameras)
- 1 x iPhone 4S (Runkeeper & Glympse GPS apps)
- 1 x iPad Mini (strapped to my wrist to check Twitter etc)
- 1 x Emobile LTE pocket wifi
- 1 x Docomo LTE pocket wifi
- 1 x Wimax pocket wifi
- 1 x Emobile 3G pocket wifi (backup)
- 2 x 5 meters of RGB LED strips for my legs
- 3 x 18,000mAh batteries
- 4 x assorted USB / GoPro batteries
- 1 x GoPro Hero 3 Black (shot 100GB of video during the run!)
- 1 x Sony Action Cam (unused)
- 1 x Cerevo Liveshell (unused)
- 1 x bGeigie Nano Geiger Counter provided by Safecast
In the end I didn’t use the Sony Action Cam that was strapped to my helmut, or the Cerevo Liveshell – this was due to a problem I had with the Wimax router which simply wouldn’t connect once I arrived at the start point. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to sort it out, so I simply opted to use the iPhones instead.
As you can see, I also carried a huge number of batteries with me. In previous years battery life has been a huge issue. For example, back in 2009 the iPhone (3G?) used so much power to live stream video that even if it was plugged into a decent battery from the start it would end up depleted after a couple of hours. Power management and battery life on the iPhone 5 are just fantastic though. I opted to keep them both plugged in to relatively inexpensive USB batteries, and was very happy to see that when we reached the goal we were still on 100%.
The biggest surprise though was the reliability and speed of Softbank’s LTE network. Considering they only started the rollout a few months back, it’s impressive just far reliable it is. Of course, it also helps that there are currently very few people on the network, meaning that speeds are excellent. The same goes for Emobile LTE (now owned by Softbank). Docomo Xi (LTE) was as it always is, reliable but not all that fast. Wimax also lived up to its reputation – i.e it was pretty much useless!
The result of these tech advances was that I was able to carry less weight than in previous years, the stream was far more stable (only going offline when people tired to call me!), GPS tracking worked well, and above all, I could kind of forget about the tech – which had been the purpose. So, a big success.
In addition to reducing tech-related stress, I also wanted to reduce media-related stress. Previous years have seen a huge amount of press coverage in advance of my runs, with features on CNN, the Associated Press, and all major TV networks in Japan. That was not accidental. It also meant many late-night interviews, and having to co-ordinate meeting camera crews along the way (I’ll never forget the fun I had with Fuji TV back in 2009, before the era of widespread adoption of smartphones in Japan). This year I chose to keep it relatively quiet, just telling friends and family via Twitter and Facebook (despite this, we still had over 6,000 people tune in on the day).
We were fortunate with the weather – with clear skies it was beautiful, albeit a little cold. I arrived a little later than planned due to the time it took to get into my gear, so didn’t make it to J-block, instead being stuck right at the back of 36,000 runners! The mood at the start was just great, everyone excited, happy to be a part of this huge running festival. Many people remembered me from previous years, further increasing this sense of community.
25 minutes after the start gun went off I finally made it across the start line. Not wanting to end up right at the back being chased by the buses that sweep up slow runners, I tried to make my way fairly quickly through the pack. This paid off later as never once did I see those buses close behind (unlike in 2011!).
The race was the most enjoyable I have run to date. In addition to the combination of great weather, the lack of tech problems, and my increased enjoyment of running – there was the support, and this year it seemed to be on a whole new level. I don’t know how much of it was due to the fact that I had my name written in bold black letters on my helmet (as I always do), and how much of it was due to the fact that many people remembered me from previous years, but it was basically 5hrs 30 mins of people shouting “Joseph!! Ganbatte!!” The psychological impact of this was huge, and at times I felt like I was floating along the road, carried along on the wave of support.
I also made a point of cheering on not only the other runners around me (Minna-san ganbarimashou~~~!) but also of ‘supporting’ the supporters, especially in later stages where they tended to be cold and tired from all the standing around. Of course, by enthusiastically calling out to the supporters, I and the runners around me were rewarded with a sudden burst of energy from the sidelines.
A couple of the other runners I met again and again. Two in particular stick in my mind (and I have enormous respect for them): the guy who played the guitar for the entire 42km, and the chap who was a one-man-band. How the hell he ran 42km carrying that thing I don’t know. Just brilliant. Both of them finished within minutes of me – nice to see them at the finish line and congratulate them on their success.
I was also fortunate to have my own friends supporting along the way – many thanks to Nami and Phil who, as they do every year, provided me with a steady supply of food, drink and spare batteries! Tetsuya Sashiki, Mario and the gang were there at Takebashi, and Yoji on the way down to Shinagawa. Daniel also joined us at the finish. Very grateful, THANK YOU!
The online viewing community was also very supportive, providing me an endless stream of virtual support via Twitter which was so precious for those sections where there was little in the way of real-life supporters. Thank you to everyone who tuned in and / or tweeted.
Looking back on this year’s marathon, I can see how it has helped to further deepen my love for this city and its people. It’s a very special day, when Tokyo really does come together as one. Whilst you do see similar festivities on a smaller scale across the country, to have the metropolis unite for a single cause (36,000 people completing a 42km challenge) is quite something to behold. Unforgettable.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s race (however I get in!). In the meantime though, Spring is just around the corner, meaning far better running weather! very excited about that!
Anyhow, thanks again to all of those who played a part, no matter how big or small, in making this year’s marathon such a success. I really appreciate the support.
See you on the streets! (just look out for the windmills!)