The Ja­panese club that de­mands 100 marathons – with a smile!

For one Ja­panese run­ning club, 100 marathons must be com­pleted with a smile

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -

WHEN 75-YEAR-OLD Masami Yabuta fin­ished the Loch Ness Marathon in Septem­ber last year, he would have been en­ti­tled to cel­e­brate a stun­ning achieve­ment: 700 marathons. But nei­ther his age, nor his race to­tal, raised an eye­brow among his run­ning mates. Why? Well, fel­low club mem­ber Tomio Watan­abe, 72, had lined up for his 1,189th marathon, in­clud­ing 100 on con­sec­u­tive days in 2010 (he’s since reached the 1,200 mark), while Noriko Sakota, 71 has run an as­ton­ish­ing 1,115 marathons. Oth­ers present were com­plet­ing their 500th, 400th and 100th 26.2-miler. They are all mem­bers of the leg­endary Full Hyaku Run­ning Club, based in Hi­rat­suka, Ja­pan. Roughly trans­lated, Full Hyaku means to ‘run a marathon 100 times or more, and to do so hap­pily’, ex­plains Tsu­tomu Kaji, 46, a run­ner from Tokyo who or­gan­ised the trip and took part in the race. The club was formed in 1987 and now has more than 400 mem­bers, most of whom are in their sev­en­ties. With many mem­bers rack­ing up a marathon ev­ery week­end or even twice a week, it’s no sur­prise the club’s motto is ‘ko­dawari’, which means ‘re­lent­less de­vo­tion to an ac­tiv­ity’.

‘Ev­ery year I run 20 marathons to keep my good health and be fit enough to run,’ says Yabuta, who com­pleted the course in 4:51:53. He was one of 21 Full Hyaku club mem­bers who made the trip to Scot­land.

The Loch Ness event had been on the club’s to-do list for many years. ‘They first heard about it 15 years ago through a Ja­panese run­ning mag­a­zine,’ ex­plains Kaji. ‘They re­ally wanted to go but they were all work­ing and didn’t have the time to travel such a dis­tance. Now they are all re­tired.’ Hence club mem­bers' trips to marathons as far afield as Aus­tralia’s Gold Coast, Honolulu, Mex­ico, Bos­ton, Venice and Lis­bon.

‘Scot­land was al­ways a place I wanted to see,’ says Yabuta. ‘It was beau­ti­ful – so much green­ery, it was like be­ing in a park.’

Full Hyaku holds a ‘marathon tour­na­ment’ in Hi­rat­suka City Park ev­ery week. At least three club run­ners must par­tic­i­pate for the race to count to­wards a mem­ber’s to­tal but, says Kaji, that’s not dif­fi­cult, be­cause Ja­panese run­ners tend to run in groups rather than solo. All lev­els of run­ner are sup­ported by the Full Hyaku club, though its mem­bers are gen­er­ally to­wards the back half of a typ­i­cal race field, ow­ing to their ad­vanc­ing years.

Dis­tance run­ning has a strong her­itage in Ja­pan. It be­came a pop­u­lar recre­ational pur­suit after the Sec­ond World War, many years be­fore other na­tions showed much en­thu­si­asm for it. Eki­den – long-dis­tance re­lay rac­ing – be­gan in 1917 and is the coun­try’s most beloved sport (the main event on the Eki­den cal­en­dar – the two-day Hakone Eki­den – is watched on tele­vi­sion by a third of the pop­u­la­tion). The last decade has seen a new boom in marathon run­ning: the num­ber of fin­ish­ers in­creased al­most six­fold in the last 10 years and in 2015 there were more marathon fin­ish­ers in Ja­pan (pop­u­la­tion 127 mil­lion) than in the United States (320 mil­lion).

In a coun­try ob­sessed with dis­tance run­ning, is Full Hyaku con­sid­ered just an­other run­ning club? ‘No, says Kaji, ‘even in Ja­pan, the club is con­sid­ered out of the or­di­nary.’

JUST A NUM­BER Masami Yabuta ever so slightly cel­e­brates his 700th marathon and ( be­low) cross­ing the fin­ish line

MILES OF SMILES Mem­bers of the Full Hyaku run­ning club

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