This is crazy, I thought. My heavy feet pounded against the road. It was pouring rain and the cold air clung to my damp running attire. Who comes on holiday to Japan and decides to run a 42.2 km race in the cold?
I was in pain. Sore, cold, damp and slightly limping, yet regret had never clawed its way into my mind. It was a privilege to complete the Nagoya Women’s Marathon as my first marathon and be offered the opportunity to see what my body can do.
I didn’t know much about the city of Nagoya before visiting this March, nor was I very well informed about the Nagoya Women’s Marathon. I learnt that it is regarded as the largest women’s marathon in the world. It’s also a beginner-friendly marathon, allowing participants 7 hours to complete the race.
Of the 22,000 women who ran this year, only 3,000 were from outside Japan. I strongly believe that this race deserves to be more widely known on an international level for the importance of what it represents – strong women coming together to push their limits.
The respect, honor, warmth and hospitality at the centre of Japanese culture were captured in this iconic race.
Supporters gathered at every point along the route to cheer us on – despite the rain and cold. Runners took time and effort to hand their rubbish directly to volunteers. Men showed floods of emotion as they cheered from the sidelines in eccentric outfits with encouraging hand-made signs.
I watched literal cries of joy and pride as onlookers recognized runners. I experienced the genuine warmth of strangers as I reached the last 3 kilometres, the smile and euphoria long gone from my face. They cheered me on with shouts of “you can do it!” and “almost there!”. Along the route, I found constant entertainment, support and provision. Crossing the finish line was like nothing I had ever felt before.
It was a breath-taking experience. Literally and figuratively.
It was made all the richer because of three inspiring women: Martha Morales (Mexico), Stacy Conley (USA) and Daniella Morales (Mexico).
Although we’d just met, there was such a sense of camaraderie and support between the four of us that it felt as though I were running with old friends. What a privilege it was to experience the kind of human connection that transcends nationalities, traditions, language and seemingly vast differences. Instead, it celebrates coming together and allows us to be victorious as one.
We all finished the race and celebrated as comrades. It was a heart-warming experience because of the people I was surrounded by.
Don’t get me wrong. There were at least 5 occasions along the way when I contemplated tapping out. As a first-time marathon runner, this experience was one of the toughest things I’ve ever challenged myself to do. Still, the pain is necessary. There’s power in the pain. And you let that power drive you. I saw and shared in that with all the powerful women running alongside me. I will always remember this as one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life.
This race was about something so much bigger than personal achievement. It was about celebrating in alignment with other empowered women.
People run marathons in record times all around the world every day. I didn’t break a record or overcome wildly unassailable obstacles in order to finish, or even take part in, this marathon. But that’s exactly the thing. This race wasn’t limited to celebrating what I could do on an individual level. It was so much more for me.
Being one of 22, 000 women running in the world’s biggest women-only marathon was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Taking to the streets with women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and fitness levels was a proud and empowering feeling. The sense of support and emotion contained within the running space as well as that of the supporters lining the track was beautiful a beautiful feeling.
Returning to South Africa, I now advocate for the Nagoya Women’s Marathon. The organisation, hospitality and energy of this race reflects the eloquence of Japanese culture. The marathon celebrates strong, dedicated women coming together to challenge themselves, stereotypes and the historical culture of marathon running.