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Runners hit streets for Sunday Naha Marathon

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2008-12-05

A marathon begun 24 years ago as an event linking sister cities Honolulu and Naha has become Okinawa’s premier event, attracting more than 26,000 runners to the challenging—yet tranquil and colorful—route spanning the southern third of the island.

The 24th annual Naha Marathon kicks off Sunday at 9 a.m. from Onoyama Park Stadium 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.

A mix of sun and clouds are forecast for Sunday’s race, with 18C predicted at starting time, and a high of 21C. At least 26,400 runners are expected to race, slightly more than the 26,268 who stepped off the starting line last year. 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.

Ryuuji Suematsu is particularly looking forward to Sunday’s Naha Marathon. He won the 2005 edition, and then led the pack across the finish line first last year with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes and 55 seconds. Makiko Kawagoe, who swept both the 2007 and 2006 women’s title, is eager to hit the course Sunday. The Chiba Prefecture lady is determined to better her 2007 win time of 2 hours, 52 minutes, 26 seconds.

Uncertain as a starter this year is the Naha Marathon’s oldest regular participant. Hideaki Kouchi, who’s 84, has completed the past five marathons.

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