translated and edited by Brett Larner
The mass marathon boom is overheating. Races everywhere are selling out within a matter of hours. Tokyo's "Runner's Paradise," the Imperial Palace loop, is packed solid with runners even at the peak of summer heat. On Aug. 1 the spark that set off the wildfire, the Tokyo Marathon, opened applications for next year's edition scheduled for Feb. 27. Applications exceeded the field size of 32,000 in less than 48 hours. Organizers expect to measure the total number of applicants in the hundreds of thousands.
The trend has spread to other races. The Nov. 28 Tsukuba Marathon, with a field limit of 12,000, sold out in 13 hours. Last year's race took 3 days to reach the limit. The 8,000-limit Nagano Marathon this past April 18 sold out in 5 and 1/2 hours. The Teganuma Eco Half-Marathon on Oct. 31 filled all 7,000 spots in 8 hours 20 minutes after taking 2 days last year, another signal that things are out of control. With the trend for more and more people to apply the moment applications open, online entry services have had difficulty keeping up and have experienced frequent crashes.
Masanori Onobu of RB's Inc., publishers of the monthly magazine Runners, said, "Five years ago it wasn't like this. Races didn't have field limits and if you applied you got to run. In the last few years the numbers have grown so quickly that a lot of races have had shortages of toilets and drinks. The Tokyo Marathon has been so heavily promoted in the media that its influence is everywhere. Since Tokyo started in 2007 all the other races have grown as well, and a cycle has started where people who get shut out of a race one year apply more quickly the next, causing the situation to escalate each year. Things are to the point that we can expect to see other races start having an entry lottery like Tokyo's."
According to research by Runners magazine, in 2004 the nationwide number of people who ran a full marathon at least once was 78,776. In 2009 the number had more than doubled to 166,794, while according to organizers 226,378 people applied for the 30,000 spots available in the 2009 Tokyo Marathon.
This year Tokyo applications were up to 272,134, over 8 and 1/2 times the number of spots available. 40% of applicants had never run a full marathon before. Truly, the Tokyo Marathon is the cause of the nation's running boom. Applications for this year's race are open from Aug. 1 to 31. With entries increasing year by year in the 4 runnings to date organizers expect at least 10 times the field limit of 32,000 to apply.
From 2007 to 2010 the Tokyo Marathon was operated as a joint enterprise between the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Rikuren, the Japanese national athletics federation. On June 30 control of the event was passed to a new, independent Tokyo Marathon Foundation. Foundation executive Hiroaki Chosa commented, "If we are to become the world's number one marathon we must do more to attract foreign entrants."