Community Sports

Bellingham group travels to Japan for run in sister city

Siblings share a lot — experiences, clothes, friends and much more. Sister cities don’t always follow the same pattern, but a group of Bellingham residents is headed to Tateyama, Japan, to share and experience one of Bellingham’s seven sister cities.

With such a prevalent running culture in Bellingham, it only makes sense that this trip is centered around the Tateyama Marathon. This part of a marathon exchange program Bellingham has set up with Tateyama will allow the group of six runners making the trans-oceanic journey to experience Tateyama’s culture and learn more about Bellingham’s sister city.

“We came together as runners because we love that, but we also love traveling and seeing new culture and immersing ourselves in that,” Sabrina Romano, director of the race exchange for Bellingham, said in a phone interview. “Runners can get along with any other runner because you can always talk about running. That gives us a way to build a connection.”

Romano, a 24-year-old Bellingham resident, and fellow Bellinghamsters Sam Schell, Brad and Sandra Hubbard, and Twila and Doug Wiebe make the trip Wednesday, Jan. 21. A celebration and send-off for the group is set for 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at Fairhaven Runners and Walkers. Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville will be in attendance and speak at the send-off.

Tateyama has a full schedule for the group once they arrive.

“They pick us up, have host families for us who house and feed us, and they have a running program for us for a couple days when we’re there,” Romano said. “They take us around the city. The hosts take us to wherever we want to go, it’s really accommodating. Then after the race, they bought us a bus ticket to wherever we want to go.”

For just the price of a plane ticket, the group gets to run in the Japanese city’s marathon and experience its city life.

But the race is more than a cultural experience for one of the runners. This will be Sandra Hubbard’s first full marathon.

The 62-year-old former teacher at Harmony Elementary in the Mount Baker School District has run half marathons before, so the biggest change has been an increase in mileage, she said.

“I’ve never done more than 13 miles before, so the long runs were important,” Hubbard said in a phone interview. “I was fortunate because my mom lives south of Tucson, Ariz. and for three weeks I was there. That was nice for training.”

The Hubbards heard about the program through the Greater Bellingham Running Club. They were aware of it for a few years, but were one of the first to respond with interest after an email was sent out asking people to participate.

Sandra is most excited about meeting their host family, she said.

“The woman is an English teacher at the high school and is into yoga, which I did for years,” she added. “Their son is on the tennis team in high school, and I played tennis in high school. I feel like I have a lot of common ground with them.”

The host families often attend the marathon and cheer on the Bellingham runners in the race, Hubbard said.

Runners from another of Bellingham’s and Tateyama’s sister cities will also be in the Tateyama Marthon. Port Stephens, Australia, is sending a group of runners, Romano said.

In the past, runners from sister cities who want to come to Bellingham have run in the Bellingham Bay Marathon, but Romano hopes to expand the program.

“We thought about doing Ski to Sea or Ragnar,” Romano said. “They might want to do the Trail Half, too. We have a couple of different options for them.”

Bellingham residents can get involved in the Sister Cities Association and the marathon exchange by visiting or calling Romano at 360-595-4614.

The race in Tateyama is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 25, and it should feel like home to the runners from Bellingham.

“They have the same weather we do, so it will be cold, windy and wet,” Romano said.

Maybe these two sister cities share more than running.