The Japanese club that demands 100 marathons – with a smile!
For one Japanese running club, 100 marathons must be completed with a smile
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