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Runners ready for Sunday's 25th Naha Marathon

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2009-12-03

A marathon that began a quarter century ago as a friendship event linking Honolulu and Naha, who hold sister-city status, is this year expected to draw more than 27,000 runners to the challenging—yet tranquil and colorful—route spanning the southern third of the island.

The 25th 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.

Sunshine’s on tap for Sunday’s race, with 20C predicted at starting time, and a high of 23C (75F). Close to 27,000 runners are expected to step off the starting line, slightly more than the 26,973 who started last year. As he did last year, Naha City Mayor Takeshi Onaga will ring the starting bell to send everyone on their way.

A record 69.16% of the entrants completed the grueling 42.195 kilometer run across southern Okinawa last year, pleased with pleasant 20.7C temperatures and moderate sunshine. There were so many runners, it took nearly 25 minutes to get everyone out of the starting blocks. Race organizers say they expect non-Okinawans, including foreigners, to be about the same as last year when more than 7,200 traveled from mainland Japan to participate, along with another 300 from overseas.

New champions were crowned on both the men’s and women’s slates, with Korean Chon Un-san taking the men’s prize and Chihiro Tanaka the women’s. The 29-year-old Chon led 18,654 racers across the finish line in a time of 2 hours 28 minutes 24 seconds. Hoygo Prefecture’s Tanaka scored the ladies’ title in 2 hours 43 minutes 57 seconds. A 75-year-old making his 24th appearance in Japan’s largest city marathon made his way across the finish line nine minutes under the 6 hours 30 minutes time limit. Hiroshi Sunagawa of Naha City has not missed a festival race, and had been sick the past three months, but decided to run anyway.

Ten visually handicapped runners participated, aided by escorts and 60 volunteer groups. A visually disabled runner praised organizers, saying “Naha’s marathon course is fun to run, and there were a lot of supporters on the streets and everywhere, giving joggers food and drink, and lots of cheers too. Even though we can’t see them, we felt their warm hearts.”

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.

Spectators are welcome both at the starting line and at Onoyama Stadium’s finish line. Final registration for participants is Saturday 1 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Prefectural Budokan at Onoyama Park.

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