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Want to run a marathon in Japan? This is not Tokyo or Osaka

by Paul Ryken

Would you like to run a marathon in Japan but don’t qualify for Tokyo and are not keen to join the crowds in Osaka? Well, come to Nagano. Framed by the snow-capped Japanese Alps and with on-course entertainment that puts many majors to shame, the Nagano Marathon makes for a unique race experience. Lace up your running shoes, and let’s get you on your way.

The Nagano Marathon takes you on a trip back in time. You start, finish and run past some of the iconic venues of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games. Although the event is predominantly targeted towards the Japanese market, foreign athletes are catered for. With our own registration area, and some course signage in English, the spectator support is exceptional, so you can’t go wrong.

The Nagano Marathon takes place in April and being held during that time, there is a high chance to see cherry trees blooming during the race, while the surrounding mountains are still covered in snow, adding to the special atmosphere of the race.

The weather (at least in 2023) was (almost) perfect marathon weather, with blue skies and temperatures of 11 degrees Celsius (as well as 39 per cent humidity) at 0830h, rising to a pleasant 16 degrees Celsius by 1230h. The only less-than-perfect aspect was the increasing northeasterly wind, which reached around 39 kilometres per hour by 1230h.

One highlight is running past the Zenko-ji Temple. Founded in 642, it is one of the first Buddhist temples in Japan and a key pilgrimage sight.

The Nagano Marathon has a point-to-point course, with a distance of about 10 km between the start and finish (as the crow flies). With an elevation gain/loss of 133 metres, the Nagano Marathon must be one of the world’s flattest marathons.

More on Nagano: The Great Runs guide to running in Nagano.

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