For those of you who enjoy running races in cooler temperatures, read on. The Nago Half Marathon is a race that I’ve been able to do twice now - once as a social run, with a friend, and the second time with a competitive goal in mind. Two different race strategies with two vastly different race results, but one thing remained the same: I finished each of these races determined to run it again.
The Nago Half Marathon has become one of my favorite races in Okinawa for various reasons:
1. The time of year in which this race is run is perfect for two reasons: a) the temperature is typically nice and cool and b) the cherry blossoms in the northern part of Okinawa are often still in bloom, greatly enhancing what is already a beautiful half marathon course.
2. The race route takes runners on a scenic tour with beautiful coastal and forest views - both times I have run the course I have immensely enjoyed the scenery! The added bonus of running in a less traffic-dense area is also a nice change.
3. If you're looking to challenge yourself and aim for a PR (personal record), this may just be the perfect course for you! With relatively fewer runners than other heavily-populated half marathon events, it's not too difficult to weave your way out of the crowd fairly quickly. And the course itself, is for the most part, nice and flat. Be mindful of your pace throughout the first 7 or 8 miles however, as you will climb up a bit of an incline when you run over a bridge in the latter half of the course. Once you reach the peak of the incline, it's all downhill and flat from there on. In fact, if you pace yourself well and think you can manage a negative split, this would be an ideal time to dig deep and start picking up the pace. My fastest miles in last year's race were during the final three miles of the course.
4. The atmosphere of this event is a huge drawing card for me - the race organizers and their crew of volunteers are extremely courteous and friendly, and the crowd support is wonderful. In true Okinawan spirit, many of the local people venture out of their homes for the morning to encourage and cheer on the runners. And because a large part of the course takes you through uninhabited areas, you get to enjoy the benefits of being motivated by supporters at the start and end of the race, but also by the peaceful and sometimes isolated landscapes throughout the race (time to draw yourself inwards and let your mind propel you forwards).
5. One final reason to look forward to the Nago Half Marathon, is that there is a fantastic restaurant nearby which serves the best post-race soba noodles! Ufuya is the name of the restaurant, and if you have never been there before I highly recommend it. Ufuya literally translates to "Big House," or so I've heard. And that's exactly what the restaurant Ufuya is - a large, traditional style house with lots of rooms to dine in. What makes it so unique and worth visiting however, is that it is set amidst a backdrop of beautiful man-made waterfalls. Once you're done eating, you can enjoy a hike up some steps which take you on a short trek through the greenery and surrounding waterfalls.
Keep in mind too, that the ambience and beauty of the place is not the only reason to visit Ufuya - the soba noodles (their specialty) are delicious! They also sell some of the best home-made "chou creme" on island; chou creme pastries are a French style pastry puff filled with a sweet and creamy custard filling. We usually buy three or four and take them home, although on busy days, the chou creme pastries often sell out very quickly. If that happens, there is one more enticing dessert that awaits you as you leave the restaurant. There is a little souvenir shop just down the path on the way to the carpark, and at one end of the store you can buy ice cream. Since there is also a vinegar distillery on the premises, one of the more popular soft-serve ice cream flavors to sample is the black sugar and vinegar (although the pineapple flavor is also very good and I would give it a thumbs-up too).
So if you are sold on doing this race, don’t forget - the faster you run, the greater the odds are of getting a table at Ufuya - it's a very popular establishment on regular days and twice as busy on race-day!