Last weekend I took a break from hard training to participate as a guest in the Kumejima marathon. Kumejima is one of the many islands which make up Japan’s southern-most prefecture, Okinawa.
Just 60km square, Kumejima is a tiny sub-tropical paradise surrounded by white beaches, crystal-clear ocean and blue sky. It feels like a million miles from the busy, crowded streets of Tokyo, and it’s hard to believe you are in Japan! There were several events on offer, and I chose to run in the half-marathon, using it as an easy steady run.
Kumejima’s population is only 8000, but just under 2000 runners participated in the marathon, so it was all hands on deck for the island’s mayor and his staff to organise the day’s events. Even in October, temperatures often reach 30 degrees so the day’s proceedings got off to an early start with the marathon participants setting off at 7:30am.
The half-marathon got underway at 9:00am, and we were treated to a spectacular course through Kumejima’s sugar-care fields, along the rugged coastline and through various small towns where the residents were all out in force to support the runners. This race is popular because it allows runners to compete for up to 7 hours – most races in Japan have a much shorter cut-off time due to traffic restrictions. Seeing some of the runners complete the marathon in 5, 6, or 7 hours on a hot day was very inspiring!
But once the running was over, we discovered why 60% of this race’s participants are regulars – they don’t come for the running as much as the post-race party. In an ice bath after the race a fellow runner told me it was good, but I didn’t know quite what he meant until proceedings got underway at 3pm.
The local organisers laid on nearly four hours of continuous entertainment including traditional Acer dancing, Okinawan shamisen music, a live band, cream cakes for anyone who happened to have a birthday on race day, and on & on it went, all washed down with not just beer but free Kumejima Awamori – Okinawa’s famous drink which, at typically 60% proof, is not for the faint-hearted (I’m not sure I would recommend it as a good drink to consume after a marathon on a hot day, but it certainly helped the party along!!).
What a show! Okinawans certainly know how to put on a great event and let their hair down – which might explain why they have the longest average life expectancy in the whole world (Japan is the nation with the longest, and Okinawa is the longest in Japan). A huge thank-you to the organisers, runners, and supporters who made it such a memorable and fun day! I can’t wait for our next visit!
Meanwhile back in Tokyo I have resumed my training with my batteries recharged and all systems go! It’s only three weeks now till my next big race - the Tokyo women’s marathon on 16 November. I can’t wait!