Winter is here and what better way to spite its dreary days than by looking forward to the warm, dry days of spring? That is what I did last year and what I intend on doing this year! "How can I do this too?" you ask. Well, I will tell you: by joining in the annual Tohoku Food Marathon and Festival, that's how!
Training for the Tohoku Food Marathon and Festival is a fantastic way to keep your spirits and fitness high during the winter months. By now, it is common knowledge that exercise has many mental and physical benefits; however, if you are anything like me, it is difficult to find the motivation to fit in a training session. That's where the Tohoku Food Marathon and Festival comes in! Motivate yourself to train by thinking of all the delicious food and sake you will enjoy while running through a beautiful park!
The festival-which is usually held on the last weekend of April-showcases specialty foods from all over Tohoku. It is held at beautiful Naganuma Futopia Park in Tome, Miyagi. There are countless booths with cooked food, pickled or fresh vegetables and sake, sake, so much sake! There is certainly something there that will fulfill your Tohoku taste bud dreams. The Food Festival and the Sake Festival both take place on Saturday and Sunday. Last year, those who participated in the race also got free food tickets when they finished (in addition to other gifts mentioned below). On the Saturday evening before the marathon, there is also an event called the Tohoku Food Night.
All around the park, they have scores of tulips and a quaint windmill as well. There is a paved walking path that takes you completely around the lake and swamp. This walking path is where the marathon runners make their trek; it offers fantastic views of the lake, flowering hillsides and even some late cherry blossom trees still in bloom. As someone who hates running, these wonderful vistas were enough to distract me from the monotony of my 21km goal. In some cases, the view was so breathtaking that I stopped to take a photo (this was the only reason I stopped, not because I needed a break from running!). At each water station along the path, there was also a Tohoku specialty food that the runners could try too. One stop even had sake! Among the items I sampled were soba, pickled peaches, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and miso soup. I steered clear of the sake (though I tried some after the race).
There are several race options throughout the weekend. On Saturday--new this year!--is the team relay marathon. You can run with a team of 4 to 8 members. Each member runs two kilometers. The team with the most laps around the park after three hours wins! Registration fee for the relay marathon race is 3,500 yen for each runner. On Sunday, there is a full marathon (registration is 8,000 yen per runner), a half marathon (6,000 yen per runner) and a race for kids as well. The time limit for the full marathon is six hours and three hours for the half marathon. For participating in the race, runners are given a t-shirt, if you complete the race, you receive a set of stamps to use at the festival, a finisher certificate, lots of piping hot onigiri and a rice bowl (see the pictures).
This food and fitness filled weekend is a perfect way to welcome spring and keep yourself fit and motivated through Tohoku's snowy winter. Even if you are a beginner runner (like me!) I recommend you give it a try. The path is easy and the time limit is not too strict, and you get to try all sorts of delicious foods along the way!