YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Roughly 5,000 runners gathered at Yokota on Sunday for a distinctly Japanese-style road race known as an ekiden.

Dating back to its early 20th-century Japan origins, an ekiden is a relay in which teams of runners complete different legs of a race. This is the 24th year Yokota has hosted an ekiden on base.

Approximately 950 four-person teams ran in Sunday’s 45 kilometer race, organized by the Yokota Striders Running Club. Besides the main ekiden, there was a kid’s two-kilometer race and a five-kilometer fun run.

Runners came from all across the Kanto Plain, with some teams even dressing up in costumes.

"The Japanese community is really big into running and it’s great that we can support them here on base," said Lora Kerr, a member of the Striders.

Planning the ekiden began nearly six month ago, explained Abigail Smith, president of the Striders. Smith said that in addition to the 150 Striders who helped organize the event more than 300 other volunteers pitched in.

All that hard work "really gives you an appreciation for how much goes into all the races you go to during the year," said Striders member Amber Fagan.

Ekiden races are held all over the world, but its popularity is unsurpassed in Japan.

The country’s first race was sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1917. It was staged over three days between the old Japanese capital of Kyoto and the modern capital of Tokyo — a distance of about 315 miles — to celebrate the anniversary of the capital’s relocation.

For more information about the Yokota Ekiden and the Striders head to

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