by Brett Larner
In his first marathon of 2017 and the last one he will run before turning 30 Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) made history as he won the 55th edition of the Ehime Marathon in 2:09:54, taking almost seven minutes off Ehime's 2:16:49 CR set in 1965.
Saying pre-race that he thought he was in shape to run 2:13, Kawauchi split 15:11 for the first 5 km off a slow opening km, 2:08:08 pace. Unexpectedly, he got company from Waseda University fourth-year and Ehime native Yohei Suzuki, a 1:02:16 half marathoner making his marathon debut before graduating next month. Kawauchi responded by upping the pace to 15:08 through the next 5 km, putting the pair on track for 2:07:55 at 10 km and holding on to sub-2:09 pace through 25 km. Suzuki lost touch near 20 km, hitting halfway in 1:04:30 to Kawauchi's 1:04:18, and from there it was a completely solo run to the end for both, with no pacers and no other competition in sight.
Ever since his solo 2:10:14 at the 2014 Kumamoto Castle Marathon Kawauchi has thought that he could solo a sub-2:10 if everything went right. Following Suzuki's departure and now completely on his own Kawauchi's splits and projected finishing time continued to slow, going to 2:09:13 at 30 km, 2:09:48 at 35 km and ticking over to 2:10:01 at 40 km. But with his characteristic finishing speed he had the sub-2:10 in hand, breaking the tape and a course record that had stood since the year his mother was born. His win marked the eleventh time in his career that he has gone under 2:10, something an elite group of fifteen men and only three non-African athletes, Olympic medalists Stefano Baldini (Italy) and Lee Bong Ju (South Korea), and now Kawauchi, have ever achieved.
With a resonant run in Fukuoka last December for 3rd in 2:09:11 Kawauchi was already in contention for the London World Championships team. Last weekend Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) won the second selection race, the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, in 2:09:32. Kawauchi's time in Ehime was 22 seconds slower, but having come in an amateur-level mass participation race without the amentities of Japan's elite marathon circuit, no pacers, no special drinks, no real competition, just one man and the road, it surely stands on equal footing even if it doesn't count in official selection.
After losing touch with Kawauchi Suzuki faded over the second half, but spurred on by his hometown crowds, which race announcers estimated at three times the usual size, he pushed on alone through the second-half darkness that comes in an overpaced marathon debut. Raising his fist in the air as he came to the finish line he took 2nd in 2:14:56, almost two minutes under the 52-year-old course record. A loss to an athlete of Kawauchi's ability was no shame, and you can only hope that Suzuki takes the pride and satisfaction he should in his run.
Behind him, Komazawa University rival Yoshiki Nakamura took 3rd in a 2:18:37 debut, a time good enough to win most years in Ehime. Amateur club runners Takehiko Gyoba and Takemaru Yamazaki both ran PBs for 4th and 5th, Gyoba getting under the 2:20 mark and Yamazaki just missing it. Kana Orino (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) ran down Anna Matsuda of local 2016 National University Women's Ekiden champion Matsuyama University to win the women's race in 2:42:36.
優勝は松尾さん pic.twitter.com/MVY2a7Kuh6— 佐護啓輔@ねぎま会 (@SAGOLAH) February 12, 2017
Also celebrating its 55th anniversary edition, the Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon saw its first back-to-back champion in over 30 years. With Rio Olympics marathoner Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) providing pacing, a lead group of five including the debuting trio of Shota Hattori (Team Honda), Yuichi Okutani (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Toshiki Sadakata (Team MHPS), Yosuke Chida (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) and defending champion Ryoichi Matsuo (Team Asahi Kasei) went through halfway in 1:04:51, well under the 2:11:05 course record pace.
When Sasaki stepped off at 25 km it was down to Hattori, Okutani and Matsuo, and Hattori was quick to take over. At 30 km he was 9 seconds ahead of Okutani and 38 seconds up on Matuso. At 35 km Okutani had come back to within 3 seconds with Matsuo falling to 50 seconds behind. But things can change quickly in a marathon. Hattori abruptly stalled just as Matsuo began to attack, and by 40 km Matsuo had overtaken him for second. Just over a kilometer later he overtook Okutani to go into the lead, widening the gap all the way to the finish. Matsuo won in 2:13:36, the first back-to-back Nobeoka winner since Chiaki Harumatsu in 1985-86. Hattori retook Okutani for 2nd in 2:14:19, Okutani 6 seconds back in 2:14:25, both reasonably successful debut times just ahead of Suzuki's performance in Ehime. Club runner Noriko Sato (First Dream AC) won the women's race in 2:51:11.
55th Ehime Marathon
Matsuyama, Ehime, 2/12/17
1. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:09:54 - CR
2. Yohei Suzuki (Waseda Univ.) - 2:14:56 - debut (CR)
3. Yoshiki Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.) - 2:18:37 - debut
4. Takehiko Gyoba (unattached) - 2:19:12 - PB
5. Takemaru Yamazaki (unattached) - 2:20:30 - PB
1. Kana Orino (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:42:36
2. Anna Matsuda (Matsuyama Univ.) - 2:45:04
55th Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon
Nobeoka, Miyazaki, 2/12/17
click here for complete results
1. Ryoichi Matsuo (Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:36
2. Shota Hattori (Honda) - 2:14:19 - debut
3. Yuichi Okutani (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:14:25 - debut
4. Yosuke Chida (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:15:10 - PB
5. Kenta Otani (JFE Steel) - 2:18:06
1. Noriko Sato (First Dream AC) - 2:51:11
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