Couch Potato: Enjoying the Tokyo Marathon and Other Sports

This week I am going to take you to Tokyo.

Well, not the Olympics in Tokyo.

But today (Sunday, but Saturday in the States) the Tokyo Marathon was held. With my NBS Sports Gold Track and Field Pass, I was able to watch the entire thing. And I don't do this out of obligation; I do this because I love watching the marathon.

Most of the time, the marathons are run while I'm at church and I have to watch them later on replay - probably knowing who already won. But with an event halfway around the world, it works to my advantage! Plus, I'm not attending any events this weekend, so I can devote my Saturday evening to watching a bunch of men and women run a lot.

Watching marathon for most people is like watching paint dry. But when you watch from start to finish, the tactics of the race pop out, and result in an enthralling two-plus hours of racing.

So I'm going to prove it to you. I'm going to watch the Tokyo Marathon and break down the race into 5-kilometer segments. As someone who's never run a full marathon but has watched eight to ten in her lifetime, I'm perfectly sure I have the best analysis on these kinds of matters...maybe.

So let's gooooooooo!

Pre-Race

Yikes - it's super rainy! Looks like it's pretty chilly out there, but not enough for the runners to not wear tanks and shorts. (Which means it's still better than Boston 2018.) It's in the 40s, but the temperature is not going to climb too much.
To my dismay, we don't have the wonderful British commentator Tim Hutchings, which is a giant bummer. Instead we get Brett Larner, an editor for a Japanese running news magazine. He knows his stuff, but is terribly dry.
Everyone is tossing their jackets and ponchos to the side, and most of the "average" runners are much more clothed than the elite runners.

Wheelchair Race

Marcel Hug and Tatyana McFadden are two hugely talented athletes that you've probably never heard of, because they are wheelchair racers. But in every wheelchair marathon I've watched, the two of them are always in contention for the lead.

Start!

This is a qualification race for Japanese marathon runners for the 2020 Olympic Trials, so there's also lots at stake.

Looks like the men and women are starting at the same time, which is different depending on the marathon. There will be pacemakers as well. (Something I do not enjoy.)

The gun goes off, and confetti rains down along with the water. Maybe not the best idea?

To 5 Kilometers

The main elite men break off easily from the rest of the pack, and will keep up a blistering pace, leaving the rest of the field in the dust. Fifteen men break out quickly. Birhanu Legese, Atushi Sato, and Dickson Chumba take the lead right away.

It might be because of the sound, but even though there's a lot of spectators, there isn't a lot of cheering going on. I mean, I heard the echo of a dog yipping, so I guess the sound is coming through okay? I'm sure in sixteen months the crowds will be much more raucous. There is a marching band playing, at least!

I love that in all my Tokyo research the past year, I am familiar with much of the Tokyo neighborhoods and major buildings that they pass. They also show the new National Stadium, which will be completed in November. I can't wait!

To 10 Kilometers

First water/nutrient break. Each elite athlete has their own bottles labeled just for them with their own nutrients that they've painstakingly concocted over their training. And without fanfare, it's tossed aside.

This is where it gets dangerous to be in the back of the pack - El Hassan El-Abbassi and Keegan Kipchirchir are back there right now, and if they don't keep up the pace, they'll drop into a rather large chase pack.

This course is almost identical to the Tokyo Olympic Marathon course, except that next year the race will start and finish in the National Stadium.

Chumba is in the lead, with Deme Tadu Abate, Legese, Shogo Nakamura, Seifu Tura, and Yuki Sato are the top six with about ten men in the lead field.

To 15 Kilometers

This is why I prefer a staggered start: we have gotten zero coverage of the women's race. Why? Because they're stuck in amongst the men's race! I don't like that at all. In Boston, the women start well ahead of the men, so they get just as much screen time as the men. Larner finally mentioned them after the men had run 10 kilometers. But he made sure to profile basically every Japanese male runner in the field first!

After 37 minutes, we finally get the first shots of the women. Larner can barely make out who is in the lead because of all the men surrounding them. Thank goodness the Olympic marathons are on different days to prevent this from happening!

Looking around, it seams like all the roads are marked with both Japanese and English characters. Not everything has English characters, but enough to know where you are.

Chumba, Legese, Nakamura, Norbert Kigen, and Sato still in the lead, with a group of ten still in contention.

To 20 Kilometers

Just passed the Sensoji Temple, and I've seen that on dozens of Japanese YouTube vlogs.

Aw, Suguru Osako just shared his drink with Sato!

El Abbassi is not fading away just yet. He has almost connected with the lead group again.

The front camera can be misleading, making people look like they are running on top of each other. The side view shows that there is a lot more space between runners.

Sidebar: I am eating brownies that I just made which has applesauce in them. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and has a small glaze of frosting. Probably the best brownies I've ever made. End sidebar.

I think we'd be getting a lot more shots from the helicopter if the weather was nicer. Shoot.

The pace runners make sure to keep the athletes at a good pace and not too slow or fast. It still bothers me that they are in these elite races. It also makes it hard to see who is in the lead, because you have to look past the pacers. (Which still isn't as annoying as not showing any coverage of the women's race because they're surrounded by male runners COME ON!)

Ruti Aga is in the lead, with Ababel Yeshaneh, Yebrugal Melese, Tamirat Tola, and Bedatu Hirpa are the women in the lead after 15 kilometers. We got a quick minute of their race, and back to the men.

To 25 Kilometers

Legese takes his turn in the lead, with Tura, Karoki, Chumba, Osako close behind. This is the time for runners not just to drink, but to eat.

I guess now that the racers have thinned, the cameras can focus more on the women, because there's a lot more camera coverage now. (They must have seen my tweet complaining about it.) Aga and Florence Kiplagat are about to get halfway through the race.

Osako and Nakamura are starting to fade, leaving Sato as the lone Japanese runner in the lead pack. Though now there isn't as much of a lead as a string of athletes behind the pacers. The halfway mark is a great time for those feeling good to start to push the pace, while those who feel terrible are going to fade back.

Some races are done as a giant loop, but Tokyo incorporates an out-and-back approach. This means fewer roads are going to be closed because they can use the larger roads on both sides. It is pretty cool for the average marathoner to see the elite runners passing them by on the other side!

Legese, Chumba, and Bedan Karoki are now the three men in the lead pack. There are now three small packs of runners spaced out in the lead. The second pack is now twenty seconds behind.

While the men are thinning out, there are still seven women in their lead pack!

To 30 Kilometers

Yeshaneh, Aga, Gola, Demise, Hirpa, and Kiplagat passed 25 kilometers all together. Their pace has slowed down a little bit.

Marcel Hug has already gotten to the finish line (by himself) and it looks like the finish line has some cobblestones on the road. With this slick weather it's going to be interesting how these runners treat that last kilometer.

Chumba, the defending Tokyo Marathon champion, has fallen behind, leaving Legese and Karoki as the last pace runner drops out. Even Karoki is starting to get a few paces behind, so this might be Legese's race to win.

Oh no! Japanese marathon record holder Osako has stopped running and has walked off the course. Even the elite runners can have bad days.

It's hard to see, but it is raining there, and with how cool it is, that probably doesn't feel good. (Still better weather than Boston. I'll keep saying it. That weather was terrible.)

The leaders are running through Ginza and headed back to the road where they first started running, in Shinjuku. (I know all these Japanese neighborhoods! I WANT TO GO!)

To 35 Kilometers

If Legese is stretching the lead so much that it's clear he's going to win, then why not focus more on the women's race? Do we have to watch the seventh and eighth place Japanese male runners?

Having NBC Sports Gold means no commercials. There might be some dead spots in the coverage, but I'd gladly take that over commercial breaks. (And there aren't dead spots during a marathon!)

Some countries have sports in which they specialize, and Switzerland specializes in wheelchair racing! They win both the men's and women's race, with Manuela Schär (who won in Berlin) taking the win.

To 40 Kilometers

Even though many of the elite runners like Eliud Kipchoge are not in Tokyo, it's nice to familiarize myself with other elite runners for both the men and women.

To the Finish

Legese is on the cobblestones! Apparently those cobblestones are new, so aren't as troublesome as the European cobblestones that have been there for many years. He takes the win with no problems. Karoki comes up second.

Oh look! The women's race! Aga has broken out in the lead, but I'm not sure how she did that because we were watching all the men finish. Tola and Demise round out the Ethiopian sweep of the podium.

Wrap-Up

So the marathon coverage was less than ideal, and I don't think the weather was to blame. It's likely that NBC Sports Gold just latched onto the Japanese television coverage, which is why we had so much coverage of Japanese runners that were not in the lead at all. But Hutchings should just be a staple in all marathons. Listening to the dry commentator today made me realize how special that Brit is.

I hope to hear more of these names in the future!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

I have about two months' worth of Olympic Channel videos to choose from, so I'm going to go back to January when Meryl Davis was promoting her work introducing girls in Detroit to figure skating. I love hearing former Olympians promoting their sport for those who might not have the chance to do so otherwise.



Tokyo 2020 Planning Update

I still haven't heard any follow-up to my volunteer application, but am hoping to soon. But the official name for Olympic volunteers is "Field Cast," which I did not vote for. But I'm okay with it. I guess.

Mini Blurbs

  • This week's BlurbWatch:
    • Track and Field
    • Curling
    • Ski Jumping
    • Gymnastics
    • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Gymnastics made its triumphant reappearance in 2019 with the American Cup. I remember watching and writing about this event last year and loving how the all-around for men and women take place at the same time. However, they make sure to take turns so fans don't miss anything. Even though it's an international competition, this was definitely a battle between both pairs of Americans, with Yul Moldauer and Leanne Wong winning in the end. Moldauer beat teammate Sam Mikulak by one thousandth of a second!
  • I watched something I'd never seen before: mixed relay ski jumping! Two men and two women jump for each country and their points are added up. It was great! Now that ski jumping is a sport for both genders (why did it take so long?!) this is something they should consider for the Winter Olympics. (Dear IOC: This is what you should be including in future Olympics. Not breakdancing! Sheesh.)
  • With all my cross-country skiing viewing the past three months, I am very familiar with Russian Sergei Ustigov and Norwegian Johannes Klaebo. They really don't like each other, but on the men's relay where they both anchored their teams and started at the same time, Klaebo had the energy and Ustigov faded terrifically. It was a little anticlimactic, but fun to watch Norway win!
  • In the race for third were Finland and France. Neither one wanted to be in front of the other during the final climb into the stadium, and they both stopped. But then they saw the group behind them catching up and realized they probably should start skiing again. I'd never seen anything like that before. 
  • The USA Mixed Curling Championships are in Seattle this week, and three of the members of Team Shuster made it to the quarterfinals with their counterpart. Matt and Becca Hamilton lost to John Shuster and Cory Christensen, and Christopher Plys and Vicky Persinger got a bye into the semifinals. Mixed curling is pretty different from four-person curling!

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????

...No.


I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

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