Laying Claim to the Tokyo 2020 Games Legacy - Tokyo Readies for Its Newest Road Race
[CONTRIBUTED ARTICLE] The inaugural Tokyo Legacy Half Marathon will be held on October 16, 2022. Its world-class course, based on that of the Tokyo 2020 Games, is one of unparalleled excellence. What is the attraction of this course that will uplift the spirits of runners and spectators alike?
One of the questions facing any host city of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is what the Games' legacy will be, both for the city and its citizens. Legacy implies not just past events or their remembrance, but their connection with the future, the impact of history on future events and people. There is no question that the Tokyo 1964 Olympic and Paralympic Games had a profound impact upon the Japanese capital. As a symbol of revitalization it gave a renewed sense of identity to the people of the city, and the developments in infrastructure ahead of the Games shaped the future movement and form of Tokyo—a concrete legacy that still impacts its residents to every day.
On October 16, just over a year after the close of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, one aspect of its legacy will come to light in the Tokyo Legacy Half Marathon 2022. Put on by the Tokyo Marathon Foundation, this new event will give the average runner the chance to run on a course designed for the world's top athletes and to share in the legacy of those Games.
Tokyo - A Global Capital of Running
Tokyo is one of the world's great running cities, and the course that was announced in May 2018 for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games ingeniously incorporated the full range of its history as a global capital of running. It featured elements from the 1964 Olympic marathon course, the historic Tokyo International Marathon and Tokyo International Women's Marathon course (also used in the 1991 Tokyo World Championships), the modern Tokyo Marathon, and one of the city's most popular running loops for mass-participation runners. It even included a key landmark from the course of the Hakone Ekiden—the university men's road relay that is the most-watched sporting event in Japan and, one of the first races in the world to receive a Heritage Plaque from the sport's governing body, World Athletics, in acknowledgement of its importance to the history of global running culture.
The planned course generated a lot of excitement, both in Japan and abroad. 2018 European marathon champion, Koen Naert of Belgium, even traveled to Tokyo in the summer of 2019 to run it exactly a year out from the Olympics. It was used once in September 2019 for the Marathon Grand Championship, Japan's selection race for its home-soil Olympic marathon teams, and proved very popular with both athletes and fans. But as events played out, the Olympic marathon was moved to Hokkaido by the IOC after negative press coverage of hot conditions at the 2019 World Championships marathon in Doha, Qatar. The Paralympic Games did use the course, and Tokyo residents had the chance to see three Japanese athletes—Michishita Misato, Horikoshi Tadashi, and Nagata Tsutomu—win medals on it. But despite public pride at that success, in the country where distance running is a top-tier participation sport and is more popular as a spectator sport than anywhere else in the world, the absence of a heavily anticipated Olympic marathon on the city's streets still left a sense of a lack of completion, a feeling of unfinished business in not getting to share in one of the Olympic Games' signature moments too.
A Tour de Tokyo
The Tokyo Legacy Half Marathon 2022 gives about 15,000 people the chance to finally share in that legacy firsthand by running on much of the original Olympic and Paralympic course, and thousands more through their TV screens. The race starts and finishes inside Tokyo's New National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and the start and finish point of the Paralympic marathon. It's a rare opportunity for the average runner to experience running on a state-of-the-art world-class track. As the site of the former National Stadium built for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, it also connects them with the legacy of those Games in being the starting and finishing point for their marathon.
The course from there follows the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic and original Olympic route, giving a tour of the city center on roads closed for running only one other time in the year, and, in one case, only for this race. I ran the Olympic and Paralympic route seven times in the summers of 2018, 2019, and 2020, three times each on the actual day and time planned for the Olympic women's and men's marathons, and once as Naert's guide in 2019. Recently I ran it again, and from my experience I can tell you that it stands up well against the world's best half-marathon courses.
From the point of view of seeing Tokyo's major landmarks, en route it gives views of Shinjuku Gyoen, a public garden originally dating back to the 1700s; the outer moat of the Imperial Palace; the bottom end of Kagurazaka, named one of the 25 coolest streets in the world by Time Out earlier this year; Tokyo Dome stadium; the Tokyo Skytree tower; Nihonbashi, the bridge that is the traditional zero point on Japanese maps and the 1 km to go mark on the Hakone Ekiden course; and the inner moat and grounds of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo's most popular spot for amateur runners to get in their mileage. The Tokyo Marathon Foundation establishing this race follows the trend among the other Abbott World Marathon Majors—the group of the world's top marathons including Boston, Berlin, and New York, of holding a half marathon in the season opposite their main event, few of those races can match the Legacy Half in sightseeing opportunities. In terms of urban greenery along the course, it's one of the best of the bunch.
The Experience Runners can Expect
From a runner's experiential standpoint, it's a fast course but one that is saving a knockout punch to throw at you near the end. The entire course is on wide, smooth streets with high-quality surfacing. After some undulation in the first 2 km, there is a serious downhill section that is bound to get people moving in time for the almost totally flat middle 10 km. But in the back of your mind you have to remember that the last 5 km or so is mostly a climb up to the stadium. It was this section that proved so critical in both the Marathon Grand Championship and Tokyo Paralympics, and you can expect that it'll be important again in deciding the first winners of the Tokyo Legacy Half Marathon. Like most of the other AWMM half marathons, it's not the easiest course the organizers could have put together, but don't forget that the idea here is in the race's name. Legacy.
Runners at the front and in the back can also expect to get a boost from seeing each other out on the route. Except for the last kilometer, the entire course has people running in both directions. They'll even go through Jimbocho crossing three times, so depending on how fast they are they'll be able to exchange cheers with each other for most of the race. That sets the Tokyo Legacy Half Marathon apart from other events and seems likely to end up one of its signature elements.
The very last section of the course is a gradual descent back past Shinjuku Gyoen before runners cross under a bridge and along the western side of the stadium to the marathon gate. Not many major races around the world finish on a track, and the chance to emerge from the dark of the tunnel into the wide-open light and space inside one of the world's most modern stadiums is something participants can anticipate the entire way, an experience that will live with them for the rest of their lives. It ties them to the experience of the world's Olympians and Paralympians, a shared moment that will resonate whoever they are, wherever they are from, however fast they run. It's an intangible but profound aspect of the Olympic legacy. Especially so for the pandemic-era Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, uniting in the here and now the legacy of what might have been with the possibility of what is to come.