Serendipity in Tokyo

 Donate for a Cure


The Tokyo Marathon, the first of six this year, is finally in the books. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. On the flight back I had lots of time to think about how I would write this week’s blog, because I already had the name – it came up during one of my meals in Yokohama. I was discussing with a few new friends, as well as a longtime friend,  how grateful I was to have had so many serendipitous experiences during the trip – so the title immediately became “Serendipity in Tokyo”. This isn’t going to focus on just the race, just like my other posts it will be a continuation of my journey. The journey of growth, experience, allowing, and of course running.

One month ago I would not have thought I was running another marathon, let alone going to Tokyo to run it.  Lots of things had been going on the weeks before, so it was really hard to focus on taking the trip. Even my training didn’t feel like I was running a marathon. I would wake up, think about everything going on, then I would run 13-18 miles and be done. I’d wished it seemed surreal, but it wasn’t even that – I was just somewhere else. A few days before the trip I hadn’t even thought about packing, which is very unlike me. I usually think about everything I will bring on a trip like this one many weeks in advance. I ended up packing the night before and went over everything so many times. Then the trip to the airport came and I started to feel a bit more comfortable.  Once I settled on the plane it finally dawned on me that I would be starting the journey of running all the Abbott World Marathon Majors in 2016. The 14 hour flight from New York to Tokyo finally gave me a chance to get excited for the race.

I arrived at the Tokyo-Narita Airport on the Friday before the race. After 14 hours on a plane I was ready to be on solid ground, but I still had a 90 minute train ride to get to Shinjuku. At around 4pm I arrived at my accommodations for the next few days. It was a perfect little AirBnB that was a 5 minute walk to the starting line (though it was close to the start, it still took 30 minutes to get to the start on race day – but that’s for later). My first bit of Serendipity came when I me up with the owner of the place that I was staying, Ju. She was really friendly, had spent time studying at NYU, and loved food. She recommended a great soba restaurant that was just a quick train ride away. It was amazing! When traveling abroad I usually am pretty go-with-the-flow when it comes to what I do each day, but I typically like to scope out the museums, sights, and touristy things ahead of time. However, I don’t mess around with food! I typically will have dinners planned, because meals make me happy and set the tone for most of the trip. But, this trip I didn’t plan a thing, and I was blown away by what was delivered from the get go. Letting go and allowing is an amazing thing.

The next day I attended the Tokyo Marathon Health and Fitness Expo to pick up my bib. It was a wonderful train ride out to the Tokyo Big Sight, which is located along the water not far from the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was an awesome venue, but a bit crazy for me. The crowd was insane on the Saturday before the race. Getting the bib was fast, but moving around was so insane – it was packed to the gills. I have to say  that entering a marathon expo and first thing being handed an Asahi Dry was pretty awesome. It was a great reminder that my first priority for the race was to have fun. I did a little bit of shopping to purchase a ritual hat, as  I now have a hat from every single race that I have run. Then it was on to the Abbott World Marathon Major booth to check out the new bling. They have finally made a medal for those that have finished all of the six World Marathon Majors. I can’t wait to get mine. I have run 4 of the 6 already, and this year I am running all six. So when I run the Berlin Marathon in October I will be receiving my Six Star Finisher Medal. Then when I cross the finish line in New York City, two marathons after Berlin, I will have almost done it again. Maybe they can make a 12 star finisher medal?

10 Year Anniversary Medal for the Tokyo Marathon

The day was long, but by then I was hungry and it was time to get some pre-marathon food in my system. Serendipity struck again, as I met up with one of my fellow ambassadors, Jill, and her husband Jack. We ate at a soba spot I found in Shinjuku, which also became my favorite breakfast spot. We all hit it off right away and it made everything so much more enjoyable. I learn more and more how these races can bring people together when you let it happen. Showing up in a country thousands of miles away alone, then leaving that same country with a couple of new friends is a great thing. We ate, had a beer, and then went on our merry way. Jill and I agreed to meet before the race and go in together. Now it was time to prep for the race.


My night-before routine hasn’t changed once in 10 marathons. I put the bib on the shirt, get all clothing laid out, my energy gels, my Skratch for electrolytes, and music. I usually have a moment of panic, too. It hits me that in a handful of hours that I will be running another 26.2 miles. I know I can get it done, but it always seems so much more daunting the night before. The morning of the race I am raring to go. I eat my usual breakfast of coffee, an egg, I replace toast with an onigiri (rice ball), and I drink plenty of water. I meet up with Jill outside my door and we are off to the race…

Race Routine

The Tokyo Marathon was incredibly organized. In fact, I think it was too organized. Jill and I had separate corals, but we figured that we could each go in to the slower coral, as that is the norm at all races. First of all, even though my apartment was 200 feet from the start we had to walk 20 minutes around. Second, you could not have any water bottles with you – so I luckily had little packets of my Skratch. Third, there was  a separate entrance for those that did not check a bag, so we thought we would use that one. Nope!!! We each had our phone, so since they didn’t have security we couldn’t use that entrance. Finally I decided to tell a happy lie, and let the security people know that I really needed to stay with my sister. Serendipity again, as the nice person escorted us straight to our coral entrance – totally bypassing security. Compared to all the other security personnel we got through clean as a whistle. Even people that were wearing masks had to get a security check on those. We finally get through and it is time to walk to the start. One of the things that I have loved experiencing at races in different countries is the culture. In the U.S. we play the National Anthem, as well as God Bless America. Afterward there is usually the blasting of “Born to Run”, or maybe “Don’t Stop Believing”, but it is all about hype. The Tokyo Marathon had an anthem, but then there were a few traditional songs that seemed to be met with sincere reverence. It was quite beautiful to hear silence in a large crowd, and see people bow in respect. It was a time to bring your spirit to the same energy level of your body. I am still moved by it.

Time to race!!!

Once the race began we started working our way through Shinjuku. It was amazing to be on the streets that are so lit up at night, with hundreds of thousands of people. Now it was just me and 45,000 of my closest friends taking a stroll. Running through the different neighborhoods of Tokyo was pretty thrilling. Places I had walked many times now became a backdrop for enjoyment, instead of a place to visit for enjoyment. From Shinjuku we went past the Imperial Palace, then we started the first of two “out and backs”. I have to say that it was the only thing that I did not like about the race. From the Imperial Palace we went to Shinagawa and back; this was about 11 kilometers. Then we went from Ginza, out to Asakusa and back. This was a bit longer, at about 15 kilometers. It gets incredibly boring staring at people heading your way for many miles, knowing all along that you are going to be coming back on that same stretch. However, that only bothered my when I thought about it. From Ginza we went through Tsukiji (pronounced skee-jee), where the fish market it, and then we went out to finish at the Tokyo Big Sight, where the expo was held. Overall it was a beautiful course. Very flat and fast if you can work it. There was a tiny hill in Ginza, which was a break form the monotony of the flat course. Weather was perfect and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to run.

Jill was an amazing partner in crime. We stayed together for about 23 miles of the race. She is a beast of a pacer. Knowing I had two more marathons coming up in a month I decided that I would not think about time, but instead take in everything I could for the race. Thankfully Jill was game. We stayed at the same clip the entire race, for the most part, and we talked most of the way. We stopped at the same places and took pictures of the sights, the sounds, and the people. The performances along the route were amazing. Overall the Japanese are a very conservative culture outwardly. But, when you put a great event together  the people tend to let their hair down – the marathon was no exception. People were dressed as every type of anime you could imagine, game characters, rainbow wigs, lobsters, tomatoes (I will give more insight to tomatoes in a bit), and every other character you can imagine.

It was like a larger version of Bay to Breakers, in San Francisco. We had a blast. I slowed at 23 with some cramps. The weather was beautiful, but it was a little dry out. The only real issue I had with race organization was that they ran out of water at a few stops, right past 20 when I really needed it. Not being able to have a water bottle sort of screwed me up. Add that fact to the dry wind and I was not happy for a bit. I told her to go ahead, which she was totally game for becuase if she slowed she would have cramped up. In the end it worked out. Although I later found out that she had a blister issue that took her to the med tent before the finish, so we crossed at around the same time. The other person I want to mention is Jack, Jill’s husband. It is a real pleasure to run in to a friend a long the route, but we saw Jack twice. He always had some Hi-Chews (amazing fruit candy) and some great energy for us. Hats off to you, Jack!

Fuji-san from my hotel room

So let me tell you about tomatoes. The Japanese tomato company, Kagome, did research and discovered that tomatoes were good to consume during the race – how convenient. They replenish your sugar, acids, electrolytes, and they tasted good – after all the tomato is fruit. I had my drawbacks, especially when I saw a video that was of a Kagome executive wearing a machine that fed him tomatoes while he ran – uber creepy. At the expo they had a large booth, where you can sample tomatoes, but I did not. Jill and I both tried the tomatoes at about mile 22. I have to say, they were pretty F@#$ing good! They were cherry tomatoes, both red and yellow kinds, that were perfectly sweet. They were absolutely refreshing. I wanted to keep eating them, but then I realized that the acid was a little difficult to take when they didn’t have much water at the stops from then on. I was pleasantly surprised. Glad I tried it, but not sure if I will have tomatoes in my pack from now on.




After crossing the finish line we are met with a towel – yes a towel. I have to say that this was pretty awesome. It was a full-sized towel that was warm and wonderful. Much better than any Mylar blanky, but maybe not as nice as the Snuggie-like poncho from the NY Marathon. At the time it was perfect. From there we got our medal and I began the long, arduous walk back to the train- along with 35,000 of my friends. 90 minutes later I make it back to my pad, get changed in the hopes of celebrating a bit, then promptly fall asleep. Very exciting, huh? I was going to meet up with Jill and Jack, but we were all pretty tired and decided to crash. I realized I had slept only 8 hours in the time since I arrived, so sleep was very much welcome. The next day I was pumped to get going.


The Towel

My last bit of serendipity was something that lasted the rest of my trip. My good friend, Shelley Lindgren, was opening a restaurant in Yokohama the week of my race. This was monumentally serendipitous, as not only have I known her for a long time, but I also worked at A16 – her eponymous restaurant in San Francisco. Over the next few days I spent having some amazing experiences in food, sake, beer, bubbles, and friendship with Shelley, her chef Rocky, as well as her pastry chef Hannah. I also had a few dinners with her friends, that also became my new friends. There is another place and time to talk about the meals that I had with these wonderful people, and I promise that will come soon. ( but I did give you all some photos). It was also wonderful to see the second A16 open in Japan. I had known her partners in the business, Hal, previously from my work with the restaurant, and he added to my amazing time. Japan has always held a special place in my heart. I was married to a Japanese woman for 12 years, and loved every experience I had visiting the country. as well as my family. This time I was returning after six years and things were very different. I was on my own, but this time I was ingratiated with a different family. This family is one of similar loves of food, wine, humor, and great conversation. We are family because those that have similar loves are always drawn to each other, no matter what our background. For that I am eternally grateful.


(Each trip I make a special stop to reflect on my mother. She was the inspiration for this journey. She always wanted to travel, so with each race I realize that dream for her. I always find a spot to leave some of her ashes behind. It is sometimes sad, sometimes full of happy memories, and sometimes downright hilarious. This trip was hilarious. I decided to leave her in the moat of the Imperial Palace. It was done very quickly, as I didn’t want the Emperor to thing I was poisoning his water. It was done very swiftly, but also a la “Big Lebowski”. The wind was pretty fierce – laughter is also a part of mourning. )


Kamakura Buddha under renovation

The most important lesson I learned this trip is allowing. Serendipity usually only comes from allowing. It is difficult to let things happen when I’m wanting to control a situation. It can be as simple as not planning out an entire trip. If I did plan the whole trip, then I would not have become part of another family. I could have spent the time before my trip worrying about my pace. I could have spent the whole race worrying about a performance. Instead I learned to enjoy the steps, let the experience happen, and when I hit the finish line I still had things to look forward to right after.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Cristi Cronin Scheffman says:

    So proud of all you have done!! I always enjoy reading your blogs. Love you cuz!!

  2. Dawn Smith says:

    A great read! Thank you for sharing your journey Brian. You are an inspiration!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s