The Tokyo Marathon draws more than 320,000 applicants each year – A staggering number. And of those applications, only 35,000 are selected to participate in the race.
That means, each year nearly 300,000 applicants are left disappointed by a letter of rejection.
The Feb. 25, 2018 version of the marathon is no different. Hundreds of thousands of runners will be sitting at home, while the lucky few get to run the 26.2 miles through Tokyo.
But 49-year-old Stars and Stripes employee Koichiro Sakaki won’t be sitting at home. He was one of the lucky ones that was chosen to run – again.
Sakaki was lucky enough to be chose to run in 2009 and now again in 2018. So, with roughly 1 in 10 odds of being selected, Sakaki has been chosen twice in four tries.
In 2009, he finished 22,547 out of 22,789 people who finished the race. His time of 6:48:53 wasn’t the best, but he accomplished his goal of receiving a finisher’s medal.
As Sakaki beings his training with sights on a second finish, Stars and Stripes was able to sit down with him and talk about the race and his impressive luck.
Q & A
Q. How do you feel having been chosen to run the Tokyo Marathon for a second time in four tries?!
A. Excited, of course. And I realize just how lucky I am, as well!
Q. Do you realize how hard it is to be chosen for the marathon? Only 10 percent of applicants can join the marathon. And you won that twice, didn’t you?
A. Yes. I feel it was very lucky of me to win twice having only applied in 2009, 10, 11 and then 2018. But, I’m sure anyone will get a chance eventually if they don’t give up applying. I think the key is to keep applying.
Q. What drove you to take on the challenge of running the Tokyo Marathon?
A. Frankly speaking, I had no running experience until I participated in the marathon nine years ago. I went along with my colleagues who submitted their application just for fun. So, when I received an email notifying me that I was selected, I was so surprised and excited. In the end, I was the only one who ended up actually running.
Q. What kind of preparation did you do before running?
A. I did nothing but exercise for one hour in the gym a couple times a week. I did this for one month. Through the exercise, I tried to learn the pace that I could run just to finish. I didn’t care about my time at all, as my concern was only finishing it within the time limit. Seven hours for 42.195 kilometer means 10 minutes per kilometer and one minute for 100 meters. So, running 10 meters ever six seconds I was able to finish it. When you think of it that way, it doesn’t seem as big of a challenge.
Q. So, how was the event? How were you able to finish?
A. As we are allowed to run with a watch or cell phone, I could keep my pace throughout the route. My friends were kind enough to track me online and kept sending me texts to encourage me. I thought the first 10 kilometers were the hardest, because I had to run with other runners in a confined group at a faster pace than I wanted. Since we started in such a large group, I couldn’t slow my pace down until the group gradually broke up. One thing that I won’t forget was a heartfelt yell from a spectator – “Hey, I know it’s hard, but you’re one of the runners who get to taste it. So, hang in there!” – I remember it was around the 30 or 35-kilometer mark and that really helped me finish.
Q. How did you feel when you finished the goal?
A. I couldn’t help but shout with joy and excitement. It gave me great confidence and that made me feel as if I could do anything. You might think a fatso like me could never finish a full marathon. But I did. As soon as I reached the goal, I received more than 200 congratulating emails from my colleagues and friends. I ran in an Argentine national soccer team uniform so they would easily recognize me finishing on the Internet broadcast.
Q. Have you set any goals for your second run? A better record, perhaps?
A. No. To finish it is my ultimate goal - just like the last time. I recently started my exercise – the same way I did last time. This time, however, I want to show the challenge to my five-year-old daughter. I want to get another finisher’s medal to give it to her.
Also, as I am turning 50 this year, I want to celebrate it by finishing the marathon and confirming I am still in good shape. I climbed Mount Fuji to highlight turning 30 and my last Tokyo Marathon decorated my age of 40.
Q. What do you think makes the Tokyo Marathon special?
A. The race slogan is “The day we unite,” and the event gives not only runners, but people in Tokyo, a sense of unity. Top runners may be different, but most of the other runners can enjoy the event in a warm and fun atmosphere, just like a big festival. And that is what makes it special and attractive, I think.
TOKYO MARATHON 2018
STARTS: 9:10 a.m., Feb. 25, 2018 (event ended at 4:10 p.m.)
NOTE: You can see and cheer on the runners.