The Tokyo Marathon has become a core part of my life. It’s an annual celebration of the close relationship I have with the city and its people. It’s the day when friends are reunited, friends 7 years in the making. Whilst I might only see them for a few seconds once a year, they bond is strong, and is carried throughout the whole year when I meet many of them at other events, in trains, on the streets. It’s so much more than a 42km race.
In 2015 I was happy to once again take part as a charity runner, this time raising funds for Plan Japan, who do a lot of valuable work with children all around the world.
The tragic events of the 2013 Boston Marathon meant that this year’s Tokyo Marathon saw a departure from the more relaxed event we’ve seen in previous years. The rules governing costumes were much stricter: nothing over 30cm could protrude from your body (so that meant no meter-long camera booms swinging around your head), no big battery packs, no additional cameras, no headgear that was bigger than your head… the list went on, with the live streaming gear that I have worn in all previous years falling outside of almost every guideline. The course itself had tape along both sides for the entire length (so no chance of leaving the course and giving a quick presentation in the Ginza Apple Store like I did in 2011 then…), and about 60 police officers also ran to help protect runners (somehow!).
However, when reading through the rulebook I didn’t feel despondent. I recognised this as an opportunity to develop a far more practical, lightweight live video system that had fewer moving parts that could fail, a system that would make it through the new airport-style security and costume-police, but still allow me to connect with my supporters online.
The result was by far the easiest costume I’ve had to run with since the bunny ears of 2010. The technology was simple:
1 x iPhone 6+
1 x Sony Xperia Z3
I also needed to downsize my physical costume. Gone was the camera boom. The extended shoulder out had to be shortened, and a wide-angle lens fitted to the iPhone to allow it to show more than a close-up of my nostril. My helmet, which has in the past featured as many as 12 wind turbines, was reduced to just carrying three. I thought I’d get through security without any problems that way…
On race day, as previously arranged, I met with the Fuji TV camera crews at the security gate. They were also taking the security angle for their coverage, and I provided them with the perfect subject: a well-known figure who has in the past run with all sorts of devices that would no longer be permitted. How was this impacting upon my marathon? How flexible were the rules? Would I make it through?
I didn’t fail to provide them with the footage that they were after: having made it through the airport security style checkpoint, I cheered and told the interviewer how happy I was to be able to run in my gear: just at that moment a member of the costume-police approached me and explained that my helmet was too big, and was breaking the rules. There then followed a ten-minute to-and-fro as I tried to convince them to let me run with my wind turbines. I pulled two of the windmills off, squashed the main one down, had the staff call their superiors (twice), pleaded with them… until eventually (and with the help of the TV crews who had their cameras in the face of the staff) they relented, and let me through with one remaining pinwheel.
Fuji TV shared in my joy, and I met up with them at several points along the course of the marathon, and once again at the finish line.
I was now ready to run, and as we waited for the starting gun to be fired I started my live stream.
I must say, I was really taken aback by the quality, resiliency and stamina of the iPhone 6+ stream. It demonstrated huge improvements over previous years all areas:
Software/streaming service Ustream: stable, high quality, minimal impact upon battery life
Softbank LTE network: fast, reliable
iPhone 6+: Superb battery life, reliable, large screen for easy use when running.
This setup surpassed the level of anything I’ve used in the past. A streaming marathon runners’s dream! By the end of the day I’d streamed about 6GB of video data (ensuring that my data throughput rate was then capped at 256kbps for the rest of the month!).
The same can’t be said for the Sony Xperia on the docomo LTE network (camera 2). The quality was horrible, low res, jumpy …barely watchable. I think the causes were multiple: a poor camera on the phone; very poor compression by the ustream Android app; possible limited throughout on the docomo network. As it was I think very few people ended up watching that camera.
The actual run was, as usual, pretty damn tough. Once again I hadn’t been able to train adequately, and despite not having to deal with a lot of technical issues whilst running, by the 15km mark I was exhausted. Providing a constant commentary is unbelievably tiring …and a marathon is just such a long way! Thankfully I had my wonderful support team, Nami and Phil, to meet me at various points along the course and provide me with food and drink. This year I was also delighted to have the support of not only my wife, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, but also my son, Ricky, who unlike last year could actually understand that something was going on, and was happy to see me at a couple of points along the course. I was also grateful for the support of friends such as Tetsuya, Mario, Wally and the gang from the Tsubuyaku Chinsoudan, plus Yoji, Mark and others. Then there were the online supporters, sending in their messages via Twitter and Facebook, which helped a lot, especially in the later stages of the race when the exhaustion was biting.
What moved me more than anything though was the support along the marathon course. It was, quite simply, overwhelming. With this being my 7th Tokyo Marathon, many of the supporters know me from previous years (in which they might have run, or worked as volunteers). Having my name written on my helmet means that everyone knows my name, but unlike previous years, it seemed that there were more genuinely warm, excited shouts of recognition / support than simply people who were reading my helmet.
There were also shouts of things like ‘itsumo no joseph!’ (it’s the joseph who’s always here!).
It felt like I was in another universe, where everyone was my good friend; I felt that I had a connection with each and every one of them. They were not just strangers cheering me on as another marathon runner. This was an incredibly moving experience, and truly warmed my heart. It gave me a kind of emotional recharge, a recharge that keeps me going throughout the year.
I completed the run in about 6 hours – 30 mins faster than last year, and about 1 hour slower than my personal best when I livestreamed it with a handheld iPhone in 2010. It had been really tough; this year more than any I felt that I was thanks to the support of so many that I was able to complete the challenge.
For that, I’d like to thank each and every one of you who was a part of the race, from the marathon staff to the volunteers to the members of the public cheering along the roadside, to the online viewers, to the friends and family who helped me in so many ways. You all helped make this one of the most memorable challenges I’ve taken on to date, and for that I thank you.
Looking forward to taking on the challenge again next year!