OSAKA (Xinhua) – More than 420 people took part in the 34th Osaka International Women’s Marathon on Jan 25, and about 6,000 people ran the Osaka Half Marathon on the same day.
“Running has become a fashion in Japan,” said Umematsu, a 32-year-old office worker who arrived from Tokyo to run the Women’s Marathon in Osaka.
Umematsu has been taking part in marathons for four years. At first it was for losing weight. But soon she fell in love with the sport for it makes her feel “refreshed and exuberant” every time she finished running.
Okabe, 42, took part in the race for the same reason as Umematsu. Having been running for six years, she has participated in about 20 marathon races in different parts of Japan.
“I have joined a group spontaneously set up by about 100 runners. We pooled money to hire a professional coach to give us guidance,” she said.
From Sapporo in the north to Naha in the south, cities across Japan hold over 200 marathons a year on top of numerous other long-distance running races.
Most of the races are quite new. Two of the largest ones, Tokyo Marathon and Osaka Marathon, were introduced in 2007 and 2011 respectively.
For some marathoners, the greatest obstacle to face is no longer the 42.195km course itself but getting the chance to set foot on it. For last October’s Osaka Marathon, 145,000 people signed up but only 30,000 of them were chosen to run by drawing lots.
Cities are also eager to organise the marathons so as to get an economic influx and boost regional recognition.
Around the Yanmar Nagai Stadium in southern Osaka city, where the women’s marathon started and finished recently, dozens of booths were set up, with vendors hawking their wares.
People waited in long lines to bathe their feet in thermal spring water that had been transported here from neighbouring Hyogo prefecture in big tank trucks. It was like a carnival for them.
For big marathon races such as the Tokyo Marathon, which has over 35,000 runners, the economic benefits for the city have been estimated to reach billions of yens a year, including expenditures on meals and accommodation by runners and spectators from all over Japan and other countries.
“The running boom is just getting started,” said Umematsu.