Twenty-one Japanese pensioners – the oldest of whom is 80 – are about to achieve their dream of taking part in the iconic Baxters Loch Ness Marathon after spending the past 15 years limbering up.
Seasoned runners from the Full Hyaku Club will finally be able to find the time to travel to Scotland and complete the 26.2 mile course around the world famous loch because they are now retired.
But they have certainly not been idle while waiting to make the trip from the Land of the Rising Sun - most of the Tokyo-based club members run marathons every weekend.
The oldest member of the contingent is 80-year-old Shigeru Asano, while Hitoshi Ishimori is the baby of the group at the tender age of 61.
Full Hyaku Club member Tsutomu Kaji says his team mates cannot wait to arrive in the Highland capital of Inverness on September 25, and get under starter’s orders for the marathon event.
He adds, “They first heard about the Loch Ness Marathon 15 years ago trough a Japanese marathon magazine and they really wanted to go. But they were all working and just didn’t have the time to travel such a distance.
“Now they are all retired so they all have time to run. They have waited so long to be able to take part, and they are very excited. They are so looking forward to arriving in Scotland and seeing Loch Ness.”
Full Hyaku translates as to run a marathon 100 times or more, and to do so happily. All members must have run at least 100 marathons, and tend to run 26.2 miles every weekend.
There are about 400 members of the club – most of them are in their 70s – and one even held a world record for continuously running over the course of 100 days. The club supports runners of all abilities, but especially those who are middle or back of the pack marathoners.
Distance running has an incredible heritage in Japan. It took off after the Second World War – decades before other nations caught on - during the rebuilding process.
It was commonplace for companies to set up running teams to raise morale amongst their workforce, and as many running events were sponsored by newspapers, it resulted in huge amounts of coverage which captured the public’s imagination.
Although Kenya and Ethiopia are now considered home to some of the world’s best marathon runners, Japan produced many world class athletes and dominated during the 60s and 70s.
However, even in a nation obsessed with distance running, members of the Full Hyaku Club are considered to be legendary.
“I am sure to have so many older marathon runners will be unusual at the Loch Ness Marathon, but even here in Japan the club is out of the ordinary,” adds Kaji.
Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running race director Malcolm Sutherland says the organising team is looking forward to welcoming the Japanese contingent.
“We have had one or two runners from Japan over the years – last year we welcomed 81-year-old Koichi Kitabake – but this is by far the biggest group that we have seen,” says Malcolm.
“The club has an incredible pedigree – they are clearly very passionate about running - and we are honoured that they have kept the Loch Ness Marathon in mind after all these years.
“I think they are truly inspirational. From the very first year we held the marathon, we wanted this to be an inclusive event. Whether you are going to run in under three hours or take over seven; whether it is your 100th marathon or first; whether you are 18 or 80 – everyone will be made to feel welcome and we will celebrate everyone’s achievements.”
The Baxters Loch Ness Marathon and Festival of Running also comprises the River Ness 10K, 10K Corporate Challenge and River Ness 5K as well the Wee Nessie fun run for pre-school children.
Guaranteed places are available for the marathon until 1 July, with charity, club and overseas places available thereafter. Entry for the 10K, 10K Corporate Challenge, 5K and Wee Nessie will remain open until September.
The finish line is based around the Event Village at the Bught Park in Inverness, where runners and spectators can enjoy the Baxters Food and Drink Fayre, a Sports Expo, live music and activities for children.
The lead charity partner of the event is Macmillan Cancer Support, and there are five lead affiliate charities - Alzheimer Scotland, Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland, Highland Hospice, MND Scotland and MS Society Scotland. There are also 20 other affiliate charities partnering with the event.
Find out more about the day at www.lochnessmarathon.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/lochnessmarathon and on Twitter @nessmarathon