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Runners hit streets for Naha Marathon on Sunday

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-12-02

A marathon begun 26 years ago as an event linking sister cities Honolulu and Naha has become Okinawa’s premier event, attracting 25,000 runners to the challenging—yet tranquil and colorful—route spanning the southern third of the island.

The 26th annual Naha Marathon kicks off Sunday at 9 a.m. from Asahibashi Crossing at Highway 58 just south of the capital city’s business district. The 42.195 kilometer-long trek winds its way through Kohagura, Haebaru, Tomigusuku and Yaese Town on the outbound leg, passing lush farmlands en route to Peace Memorial Park, the race midway point at 21.3 kilometers. The return to Naha takes runners through Nashiro, Itoman City, Onaga and Nakachi on the way back to the finish line at Onoyama Park.

The Naha Marathon is billed as one of the premier sports events of Japan under the banner of “Festival of Sun, Ocean and Joggers.” It began in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the sister city bond between Naha and Honolulu, with each successive race providing a forum for domestic and international interaction.

A mix of sun, clouds and a 20% chance of rain showers are forecast for Sunday’s race, with 20C predicted at starting time, and a high of 22C. The maximum allowable number of 25,000 runners are registered to race, somewhat fewer than the 26,268 who stepped off the starting line in last year and 26,973 in 2008. A total of 23,448 completed the marathon. Overall, nearly two-thirds of last year’s runners completed the course, including 44% of the 6,555 females. Race organizers say they expect non-Okinawans, including foreigners, to be about the same as last year when 7,231 traveled from mainland Japan to participate, as did 293 from overseas.

The Naha Marathon is a far cry from the first race on December 8th in 1985, when 5,139 runners braved the rain and 19.7C temperatures. Of those, 95.5%, 4,301 runners, completed the race.

Nagamasa Taira of Japan is particularly looking forward to Sunday’s Naha Marathon. He unseated Ryuuji Suematsu, winner of the 2008 Naha Marathon, in a time of 2:25:50. The ladies had a new winner a year ago, as well, with Risa Mizutani of Japan outpacing Makiko Kawagoe, who won the 2006 and 2007 women’s title. Mizutani ran the course in 2:50:42.Uncertain as a starter this year is the Naha Marathon’s oldest regular participant. Hideaki Kouchi, who’s 84, has completed the past six marathons.

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