A few things before we get to the race:
- Register in early May via sportsentry.ne.jp
- There is a 21km and 3km option
- You will get your race packet in the mail a few weeks before the race. You will need to bring this information with you to pick up your bib.
- There are multiple days during the week leading to the race to pick up your bib and shirt.
- The time limit is 3:15:00 to complete the half and 30:00 to complete the 3k. There is one cut off point at the 13km point that you need to be past prior to 1100 (2 hours).
- The capacity for the half is 7,000 runners and 1,500 for the 3km.
- When I asked those who have done this race what stands out about it, the answer is always, “THE HILL.” I decided I would preview the course the week before so I could get a feel for the hill(s). What goes up must come down, right? THE HILL is one heck of a hill. You would have to be a super beast to run all the way up it – it lasts for about a mile. I decided then that I would be walking up THE HILL.
Race Day started with a 0445 wake up (too early) and a quick drive down the expressway to the shuttle bus parking lot. The shuttle bus ride was a quick 15 minutes and there were no issues with that. (Japanese efficiency.) I got to the Sugar Hall Parking Lot by 0615 and had to hang around bib pick up till 0700 when they opened. I handed over the bib information they sent in the mail and had my bib, commemorative shirt and some other goodies in hand. I made my way over to the WOOT area and got to catch up with friends and make new ones while we waited to start the race.
The time rolled around and we all started making our way to the start line. This is really where you can see just how many people are running. This race marks the beginning of race season in Okinawa. It has cooled off enough for all the sane people to come outside to run. If you are running for time/PR or think you have a chance to place, work your way to the front of the mass of people. Otherwise you will get stuck in a pace that you don’t want to be in. I ended up running about a minute slower per mile on my first 3 because of the crowd. There is only one side of the road shut down, so everyone is crammed into one lane. I finally felt like I was getting into a good rhythm and then I hit THE HILL. Most everyone walked it, and that was my plan from the beginning. So I walked it and I didn’t die. To properly train for this race I would suggest hills. Lots and lots of ‘em. This race has an elevation gain of 848’ but all that elevation is between mile 3 and 10. To quote my friend Sou, “By the time I get to the top of this hill I’ll already be dead.”
After that, miles 5-8 were a lot of rolling hills and water station after water station. Seriously, the crowd support is so great for this race. Not only were there race aid stations, but people brought out little portable coolers with popsicles, Coke, Aquarius, orange slices, brown sugar and ice. The little cups of Coke and popsicles were my favorite. I grabbed a piece of ice thinking I could suck on it but it was the size of my palm, so I used it to cool my arms off. There was live music along the way too! For a second I thought I was running Rock-n-Roll Okinawa. From rock bands to the little Okinawan farmer banging on a tin bucket; the beat really helped me shuffle along.
Usually I dread miles 8-9 during a race but those miles flew by as they were pretty much all downhill. I like going downhill. Downhill is where I’m a Viking. I have heard horror stories of this hill and that people have injured themselves running down it in the past. There are also human obstacles to avoid as everyone stops (sometimes right in front of you) to take pictures. I can’t blame them though; the view along this downhill stretch was phenomenal! I’ll just let this photo speak for itself.
“Running downhill is fun! I can run downhill forever!” That was my internal monologue until I hit miles 10-12. I felt like my legs just wouldn’t budge. These miles were flat and so hot. There was no breeze and no shade. I ended up walk/running those miles. There weren’t as many aid stations on the last stretch and I had foolishly drank all the water I had in my pack as I blew past the earlier aid stations. I was dehydrated and hating life but then I saw the last (or what I thought was the last) kilometer sign! (It was not the last sign. This race is a tad bit longer; I crossed the finish line with 13.4 on my watch.) I forced my legs to quit whining and move faster. A fellow runner noticed my increase in pace and started cheering, loudly. That was the last boost I needed to sprint my booty over the finish line. He was my angel in active wear.
After I finished I made my way to have my timing chip removed, along the way I was handed sparkling lemon water (heaven) and an awesome clay medal. Finally, I had my finishers’ certificate printed out. Since it was the 15th race, they had prizes for random finishing numbers. I was two off from winning. Maybe I shouldn’t have sprinted the last half mile. There were food vendors with the usual Japanese fair food but I opted to find a Family Mart on my way home because Family Mart is the best. I hobbled back to the shuttle bus and waited in line, in a dusty field, with the noon sun beating down, for what seemed like too much time before getting on the bus. My seat buddy ended up getting sick on the bus and vomited. Thankfully, my sympathy does not cross into the vomit realm.
The crowd support and other runners make this race as great as it is. There are always people running in costumes and various groups along the way cheering you on. I ended up running alongside a group of local firefighters for a few miles towards the end. They were running in turnouts! I know what it feels like to wear turnouts and I know how hot I already was not wearing them. They would stop along the sides to take pictures with children and had a banner on their backs telling people to check the batteries in their smoke detectors. Watching them was a nice mental break when my brain just wanted to stop moving.
I enjoyed this race and would recommend it to a friend. I’ve heard people call it the toughest Half Marathon on island- I’d have to agree with that.