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The All-Japan Triathlon, Miyakojima

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If you happen to be in Okinawa’s Miyako Island this weekend, you’ll find it hard not to participate in the All-Japan ‘Strongman’ Triathlon. The deadline for entries is in January, but as anyone who has ever lived on Miyakojima will tell you, *everyone* gets to participate in one way or another. The true magic of this event is how the people of Miyako turn out to support the competitors. Everyone gets involved, whether it’s volunteering  or standing at a key point along the road to shout “Fighto, fighto!”

In fact, for the 33rd year running, the third Sunday of April, may be the best weekend to visit Miyako island. The weather is warm with little to no humidity, the sea beckons, and most importantly, the Strongman Triathlon creates a buzz like no other. In the weeks leading up to the event, competitors arrive to acclimatize and train for the event. They come from all corners of Japan and the globe.

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It’s a long day for the competitors (up at 4am, swim kicks off at 6am… and you may not get to the finish line until 8pm!) Family and friends supporting a competitor also have a busy day, zipping around the back-roads to get to the next key point for a surprise cheer. Colleagues who have braved the triathlon, all say hearing a familiar voice cheering meant so much more than they expected. In fact, the support from the crowd is what brings competitors back again and again, year after year.  It’s a great excuse for a party. Forget Hanami… here the “Triathlon-mi” is the picnic event of the year.

So, for spectators here’s the Japan-Local-Guide hack to having a great day at the Strongman event. Know that the winner generally arrives at the finish line at 3pm, but the mere mortals (badly needing support) and their cheerleaders keep going until 8pm (when the race officially finishes with a fireworks display). So, my advice is to relax in the morning, and plan an afternoon stroll, aiming to be at the finish line for 14:45. In the afternoon, Hirara is best navigated on foot, so put on a good pair of walking shoes, following the route wherever you can towards the City Track & Field Stadium. This way, you can meet the runners who have just begun the third leg of the race, and cheer them as you go. If you approach the stadium from the west you can watch the changeover from bike to marathon (at the carpark beside Miyakojima Kenristu Kogyo High School).

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Then, get yourself into the stadium, and wait in the central grass area for the best view. Eisa Drummers and Shisa will run the final lap of the stadium with the winner (and every new arrival after that).
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Having viewed that, you can wander back along the route in the direction of Shimozato-dori (the main street in Hirara) where there will be all kinds of parties and bands playing to cheer the runners (until dark). It’s a very social occasion. Should you have any energy left, head back to the stadium for 8pm for the closing ceremony fireworks. Otherwise, enjoy them from the top floor of whatever apartment you are near.

Residents should check out the route map (pink mailshot that comes in the door) not only to know what time the race may be passing near your home, but also where not to drive during the event.

For more details, check out:

http://www.miyakojima.net/strongman/

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