SAITAMA–A 71-year-old woman in Saitama Prefecture will run the Marathon Des Sables ultramarathon, one of the world’s most grueling sporting challenges, becoming this year’s oldest runner and the oldest Japanese ever.
Participants in the Marathon Des Sables run about 240 kilometers across the desert sands of the Sahara, where the temperature exceeds 40 C during daytime, over a seven-day period. The marathon will start March 30 with 956 runners participating.
Noriko Iida, a housewife from Niiza, has been putting many kilometers of training in. While Iida’s friends have told her they are concerned about her running the event, She said she isn’t worried. “I just want to find my limits. The marathon isn’t my goal, for me it’s just a transition point,” she explained.
Iida was born in Iwate Prefecture. As a youth she was unable to take part in sports events because she suffered osteomyelitis –an inflammatory bone disease–on her right thigh when she was a fourth-grade primary school student.
However, when Iida was 49 and teaching at a Tokyo primary school, she was invited by a coworker to join a fun run at Tama Lake and ran its eight-kilometer course.
“I felt a great sense of achievement when I completed the run. It was so fascinating to me,” Iida said.
Two years later, she ran a marathon for the first time, which she says she found quite easy.
Since retiring as a teacher, Iida has been competing in tough events in Japan such as a 71.5-kilometer mountain race and a 100-kilometer ultramarathon, as well as normal marathons. She has run as many as 40 such races in one year.
Iida decided to take part in the African event 18 months ago when Kumi Murakami, an instructor at a sports gym Iida used to go to, asked her to join it together.
“Running a marathon is tough and painful, but such feelings and pain have made me who I am. Marathons are my life,” Iida said.
This year, Iida and Murakami, 58, are the only Japanese women to have entered the event.
Iida’s 74-year-old husband said, “I don’t worry about her because she will prepare for the event very well as usual.”