Weather’s ‘just right’ for Sunday’s Naha Marathon

The finishing line is at Onoyama Sports Park in Naha.

The maximum number of runners ever –30,000 were picked from 43,000 applicants— are poised to toe the line Sunday morning for the start of The 30th Naha Marathon, and overcast skies and mild temperatures make conditions just about perfect.

The Naha Marathon this year has a guest runner, Eric Wainaina.  Wainaina came from Kenya in 1993 and won his first race, the Hokkaido Marathon, in 1994.  He subsequently won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.  The Naha Marathon began in 1985 in commemoration of the 25-year sister-city relationship with Honolulu, Hawaii.

A record 30,000 runners are expected to start the race.

Runners will zip through the five cities and towns in the central region of the island, including Haebaru and Yaese Town, then south to Itoman, and back through Tomigusuku and to the finishing line in Onoyama Park in Naha City.  One of the appealing elements of this marathon is that local people cheer the runners on while at the same time serving beverages and snacks from the sides of streets.  It is not uncommon for people who ran this marathon for one time to become repeaters.

It only took one day to fill the quota of  runners, and organizers say they’re expecting a tremendous race, which begins at 9 a.m. at the Meijibashi crossing on Highway 58 in Naha.  The finishing line will be in Onoyama Park, after runners make the 42.195 kilometer trek across southern Okinawa.

The Naha Marathon has  become the island’s premier race event, meandering along a route covering the southern third of the island.  Runners will go through Kohagura, Haebaru, Tomigusuku and Yaese Town on the outbound leg, passing through farmlands en route to Peace Memorial Park, the midway point at 21.3 kilometers.  On the home-bound stretch, the course goes through Nashiro, Itoman City, Onaga and Nakachi.

Spectators have a front row seat the first few kilometers of the run, as the course winds through Naha City streets.  Thousands traditionally line the streets to cheer on the runners, which has become a forum for domestic and international camaraderie.  Runners have a maximum six hours, 15 minutes, to complete the Naha Marathon.

Partly to mostly cloudy skies with virtually no chance of rain is the weather prognosticators’ view of Sunday.  Temperatures are expected to be about 18C at the race start, warming to about 20C by the time runners cross the finish line.

The Naha Marathon has come far from the first iteration on Dec. 8th in 1985, when 5,139 runners battled the rain and 19.7C temperatures.  Of those, 95%, 4,301, completed the race.  Today, about two-thirds of the runners jumping off from downtown Naha finish the race.