CONTRIBUTED BY ANNA TIENTER
Did anyone notice the huge group of 25,000 people hanging out around the Asahibashi Park a few Sundays ago? It was the 26th annual Naha marathon.
A little history: This “Festival of Sun, Ocean and Joggers” started in 1985 as a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the sister city bond between Naha and Honolulu.
This is the beginning bell that opens the marathon race.
This is the first year that the entrants were limited to 25,000. This race also closed very quickly. Race entry started on August 2nd and was full by August 13th. Twenty five thousand people had registered in just 12 days! Even with the 5500 yen in hand, you could not run the 26.2 mile course.
My friends and I (all WOOT runners, yes, we are an OkinawaHai group, come and join us), decided to pace our good friend Andrea for the last six miles of the race. For those of you who have run marathons before, you may remember that right around 20 miles your body has finally convinced your brain that you are an idiot for being out here and running 26.2 miles. Who in his/her right mind would do this?!! Why am I out here?! I hate running! These are some of the wonderfully depressing thoughts that hit around some point in your marathon (hopefully somewhere after the midway point). That is why having support out there while you are running a marathon is very, very helpful and why running marathons on Okinawa is so wonderful (more on that for a future article).
The Naha marathon course is beautiful. It starts at 9 am at the afore mentioned Asahibashi park, which is on your left as you are driving to the airport, right behind that tree house restaurant. It then goes through downtown Naha on Kokusai dori, loops down through Haebaru town and Gushikomi Junction.
The half way point is at Peace Prayer Park. If you have never been before, come back with a car full of friends and family and properly dressed and showered. It is a definite must on Okinawa. Now back to the marathon; here at Peace Prayer Park, you get many port-a-potty options if you need and overhead run-under sprinklers to cool you down.
Hitting the half way point can be entirely intoxicating. You made it half way and you are hopefully feeling great. You ran up, up and up to get here, there are many, many people here cheering you on even though they don’t know you and will never see you again. Kids want to give you a high five; you are riding the endorphin high and are a superstar! Soon the course goes through Itoman and up to Tomigusuku. At the Ahagon crossing, the 33.1 Km point, where we met our runner, Andrea, there is only 9 kms left. That is less than 10 Km, something positive to keep in mind.
The rest of the run is pleasant. People are waiting to cheer you on and offer you food, water, mikan (little tangerines), salt, umeboshi (salted plums that are so yum), chu-chus (frozen sugar pops, also yum), Aquarius, sponges, ice, etc.
Notice I said pleasant, not easy. This is a full marathon after all, 26.2 miles or 42.195 Kilometers. At some point, every runner hurts during the race. You need to keep running, one foot in front of the other. Don’t count the miles, the kilometers or the pace. Just go with what you feel.
All along the Naha course there are taiko drummers, school bands playing, happy people, Eisa dancers, wishing you the best with cheers of GAMBARE or GAMBATTE (do your best!). The end of the marathon ends in the Asahibashi stadium. Yes, there is a lap that must be run so sprint it out to the end.
Here we are all done:
Andrea, our runner, did not achieve her PR or personal record this year, but the Okinawa City marathon is coming up on February 20th. If you are interested in entering any of the marathons or races on Okinawa, use the sportsentry.ne.jp. It is very useful to have a Japanese speaker sitting next to you when you do this.