When it comes to running, I admit, I’m just a rookie. In fact, I ran my first half-marathon just this August: The Goto Yuyake Marathon held on the beautiful island of Fukue, Nagasaki. Despite a 5 PM start it was still bloody hot. It was my first marathon and an experience I’ll never forget. The scenery was grand the support from the friendly locals lining the route was inspiring and touching. I finished within my target time: just seconds over two hours.
With this first marathon under my belt, I, like runners around me, became addicted. The next race on the calendar was on my hometown ground: The Fukuoka City Marathon. It started and ended in none other than the spiffy Fukuoka Dome. There would be thousands of participants, many of them very serious runners. I was a bit nervous. Race day came and it was a sunny and hot September morning (about 27 C). Compared to Goto everything was on a huge scale. With 5,000 runners lining up for the just the half-marathon alone, it took me four and a half minutes just to reach the official starting line after the pistol was fired. But even that was kind of cool – “wow – the big leagues” I naively thought. An hour and fifty-five minutes later I hobbled back into the Dome crossing the finished line and immediately collapsing. Statistically, my finish wasn’t much to brag about, but I was under two hours. I was satisfied with myself, but I wasn’t very impressed with the marathon, and this is why I’m writing this.
My complaint is primarily with the course, which amounted to a two-hour tour of Fukuoka’s smelliest and least attractive areas. The start was OK as we left Fukuoka Dome and ran along lovely Yokatopia-doria. But then the course turned into what could be described as either “The Fukuoka Smell-a-thon” or a “Tour of Fukuoka’s Ugliest Sites”. After running under a dark and dirty elevated highway we emerged only to trot through an industrial zone with huge natural gas tanks. “Things will get better” I thought. Wrong! “Something smells fishy”. Yup, now we were panting alongside the largest fresh fish market in Western Japan. It’s now over 27 degrees and “hmmmm, I think that’s eel guts I smell”. Just when I thought the worst was over, those sadistic course planners stuck it to us again. Now we were huffing and puffing in front of Nagahama-dori, inhaling the pungent stench of evaporating tonkotsu ramen broth. Alas, Tenjin was in sight, but noooo, we weren’t headed uptown, instead we were corralled under highways again and then treated to an extended tour of Fukuoka’s warehouse district’s back lanes. I don’t know what they store down there, but wheeew, it sure isn’t roses! The path back to the Dome was much the same, but we were desensitized and just focused on crossing the goal line.
Has it not crossed the organizers’ minds that runners breath heavily? That many participants come from outside the city and having them run through the grimmest areas might result in unfavorable impressions? Could the dismal spectator turnout be related to the inhospitable route? After the race I called the organizers and they acknowledged that the course wasn’t ideal. They claimed their route had to be approved by the police. Each year the marathon has been moved closer and closer to the sea, and away from the public. Apparently the police assume the public won’t tolerate even a few hours of inconvenience once a year to allow the race to run through a better part of town. It’s also the police that impose the current limit of 5,000 runners, and maximum running time of two hours. Kibishii! This event has the potential to involve thousands more people ﾐ both runners and spectators. Why not make the most of it? How about closing down a main street like Watanabe-dori for just one afternoon a year for a “super marathon”. After the marathon the street could be turned into a mall. Everyone knows Fukuoka loves a festival! Let the people of Fukuoka enjoy their streets! For better, and in this case for the worst, Fukuoka is becoming a big city. Sweeping an event like the marathon under the carpet – or in this case into the sea – is not a positive direction.
Canadian / Publisher & Born Again Runner
Illustrations by Shirley Waisman
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn72, Dec. 2004)