Japanese man runs marathon for 27th time

KAANAPALI – Japan resident Masaaki Iwasaki laughed when he recalled an article he had read about the JTB Maui Marathon in a running magazine more than a quarter-century ago.

Seeing the photos of people running across the island, he remembered thinking, “Oh gosh, I want to run with the Sugar Train,” he said Saturday.

Although he did not run with Maui’s historic train, Iwasaki’s dream of running on the island came true for the 27th time in a row Sunday. The 52-year-old from Saitama Prefecture completed the 26.2-mile course in 3 hours, 8 minutes and 11 seconds, finishing 15th overall, and first in his age division.

“Marathon is part of my life,” Iwasaki said through interpreter Shoko Fox. “Also I’m not good with team (sports) so individual performance keeps me going.”

And performed he has.

Since Iwasaki was 25 years old he has run a marathon every single month, including a 100K – or 62-mile ultra marathon. He has conquered races such as the New York City Marathon, the Honolulu Marathon and the Ishigaki Marathon in Okinawa, Japan.

“He eat, run, sleep like Forrest Gump,” said Fox, who also serves as Japanese coordinator for the Maui Marathon.

The marathon is celebrating its 43rd year and features a separate half-mile race. The marathon begins at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center and leads participants to Kuihelani Highway and onto Honoapiilani Highway. In the final five miles, racers run down Front Street and back onto the highway before they finish at the entrance of Whalers Village.

Iwasaki said: “It’s nice, but it’s not the sightseeing and beauty of the island” that pushes him to return every year.

“It’s like home because I get to know the people at the hotel so all the workers know me,” he said.

The marathon also hosted the 13th annual “Run Forrest Run” Bubba Gump’s Front Street Mile, the Hard Rock Cafe 10K and the Maui Tacos 5K.

When Iwasaki made his first visit to the Valley Isle, he had little training for the rigorous and hilly course.

When asked how much he prepared, he smiled, pinched his fingers together and said “small.”

“No coaching, no training; just ran around home,” he said. At the marathon, “it was really enjoyable, and people cheering me and the Hawaii people at the aid station were nice.

“But middle way on the coast – that was a (struggling) part of the race.”

At about 5 feet, 5 inches tall and no more than 150 pounds, Iwasaki did not play many sports growing up. That trend continued as he got older, as he described his occupation as a “sorry man’s job,” or a 9-to-5 cubicle-type workplace.

“This is his summer vacation every year,” Fox said of Iwasaki.

Calling back to mind his struggles at his first Maui Marathon, Iwasaki mentioned a catchphrase that was marketed for the event.

“It said: ‘You’ll run with whales,’ and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and then I saw the whale,” he said. “That was very special for me.”

As Iwasaki became a mainstay at the marathon, so did the assortment of costumes that he began wearing about 10 years ago. For this year’s event, he wore a white swan costume.

“People know him by his costume,” Fox said. “He owns a lot of different costumes, but doesn’t want to say any of them; it’s a surprise.”

Despite the sweltering heat of West Maui, Iwasaki does not mind the extra clothing and attention. He said he even wears costumes for the 100K runs.

“Standing out with people, I get more cheering,” he said. “Of course it’s hot, but it’s the people cheering that makes me feel good.”

Iwasaki was one of nearly 700 people who traveled from Japan to compete in this year’s race, Fox said. About 3,000 people participated in the Maui Marathon, she said.

Iwasaki, who finished a few minutes ahead of his target time, said that he no longer pays attention to his times too much, but credits his “consistent lifestyle” for the sheer number of marathons he has finished.

“We already took care of his entry for next year,” Fox said with a smile.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.