Hong Kong ? or Tokyo Marathon?

It's inevitable. On 24 Feb 2013, two major marathon events coincide on the very same day. 

It seems too obvious, perhaps even intentional that the two organizers couldn't even be bothered to come to a consensus to set the dates apart like in previous years. (3 weeks apart this year). 


If you are one of those who love to run back to back (B2B) marathons, I can imagine this creating a bit of a dilemma. Too bad you will finally have to choose.

I have run in HKSCM for 3 consecutive years since 2010-2012. And twice for Tokyo Marathon in 2011 and 2012. 

Let me share a bit about my experience in both marathons to help you weigh your options. 

Today KNT Toyko Marathon has sent out emails informing the result of the ballot. (Yes for Tokyo Marathon, there is a ballot/lottery system). The majority of foreign runners like us are usually given the priority. Pure economic sense. If you are the "chosen" one, good for you!

As for HKSCM, the registration will be opening in a matter of days. And the places available will be snatched up pretty quickly. So, if you already have your heart set on HK, be on the look out and be even quicker to register.

First of all, both marathons will be held in the winter season. Needless to say, the temperature will be very conducive to runners who favour the more temperate climate. HK will naturally be a bit warmer in the range of 15-20 degrees Celsius whereas Tokyo will be cooler and dryer in the region of 10-15 degrees.  This is only an estimate. It could well be colder in Japan during that time of the year. (It was 0-2 degrees this year!). And as for HK, runners may expect warmer climate since they will be having it at the end of Feb 2013 compared to 5th Feb this year.The humidity is also of relevance especially if the temperature soars to the 20s.

Logistics? Flight and accommodation is variable. It all demands on how well you budget your travel. You could opt for cheaper hotels like the Capsule hotel in Tokyo and still be able to save a bundle. As for flights, AA offers a fairly good rate as long as you don't mind the air-"BUS" experience. Most runners do not mind "roughing it out". So cheaper flights and accommodation are usually booked well in advance. Sometimes even before registering for the event!

But overall, HK is a lot closer to Malaysia and by far the "cheaper" place to be. But hotel prices can be astronomical. I stayed in YMCA this year and the rate was almost 400 ringgit per night. It's a perpetually "Peak season" there. However some friends managed to book budget hotels at half that price (twin sharing). Besides, the Japanese Yen is strong at the moment and that could certainly bore a hole in your wallet if you were to decide on Tokyo.

OK, if logistics and money aren't at all your concern and you are only in it for the running experience, then let's now focus on the kind of course that you will be experiencing. 

HK is a rather hilly route. And Tokyo is quite flat in comparison. So, if you are eyeing for a PB. Tokyo may well be a better option. 

Tokyo Marathon

Both events are very well organized and there are plenty of water stations and mileage marker as in any international marathon races. However, for me, the spectators' presence in Tokyo Marathon has always been the highlight. From start to finish, every inch of the route was visibly lined with spectators cheering you on! And there are also fantastic array of performances to feast your eyes on and to soak in the experience. To add on to that, the local runners also join in the festive mood with bizarre display of costumes ranging from cartoon characters to Jesus Christ....If you have never experienced this before, it would certainly be an eye opener. 

Because HK's route largely involves running on bridges and tunnels, the feel of it is somewhat "suffocating" to some runners, particularly in last long stretch of underground tunnel. And GPS isn't much good either as you would be traversing 3 separate tunnels. As for spectators' response, the only visible crowd is when you near the finish at Causeway bay. A bit disappointing by comparison.

I think the cultural acceptance of marathon is quite different between Hong Kong and the Japanese. It is reflected in the enormous participation and warm reception of the crowd in Tokyo. Of course, the choice of route in HK would limit the participation of the spectators. No one would be allowed on the bridges or in the tunnels...But it is still perceivable that the Japanese has a deeper and keener sense of appreciation for the sport compared to many other countries in the Asia Pacific region. That's perhaps the reason why they can produce such elite runners who are sub 2:10 marathoners. 

Anyway, whatever choice you make at the end of the day, I am sure you will still enjoy the run! Wherever you decide to go! Because if running is your passion, the venue is only secondary...


  1. Will give a miss in both, may be in 2014 :P

    1. Yeah Neoh. You shd try out either one. An experience not to be missed. ;)

  2. Very good review, Francis. Maybe choose one for 2013 and keep the other one for 2014.... Haha.

    1. Thanks Kok Keon. Tokyo is already closed for registration and the ballot's been drawn. It will hv to be 2014 if you are thinking about it.

      But HK is due to open for registration. I guess, you don't hv to choose. Go for it! :)

  3. Stumble upon your blog by chance. Good read for all things running. Regards.

    1. Thanks Kum Yein. Just sharing my 2 cents on topics concerning running based on my own experience. Glad you like it. You are welcome to comment on any of the topics. Cheers!

  4. FYI: Please note that the registration for HK Marathon starts on 24/10/12.

  5. Hi Francis, I am doing some research regarding the major marathons around the world. Would you mind giving me your thoughts about some of the races you have participated in? I found this blog very useful interms of what makes the HK and Tokyo marathons different and would love to hear more about your overall participation as a runner. Im focusing on the Boston, Hong kong, Singapore and Tokyo races and the ways in which they differ from the perspective of a participant.

    Thanks alot and keep blogging, good luck on your next race!

    Charlie Morrice

    1. Thanks Charlie for your comment. I have participated in all of the races that you mentioned. But perhaps with the slight "exception" for Boston 2012 as it was quite an unusual race with the freakishly hot weather that we experienced. I will be going there again in 2013.
      I am glad to be of help if you need more input. Feel free to email me at francisyeng@hotmail.com.


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