Tuesday, March 28, 2017

“The Miracle in Fukuoka” - Real Talk From Yuki Kawauchi on “Taking on the World” (pt. 1)

http://sports.yahoo.co.jp/column/detail/201701120002-spnavi

translated by Brett Larner

Ahead of his nomination to the London World Championships Marathon team, Sportsnavi published a three-part series of writings by Yuki Kawauchi on what it took for him to make the team, his hopes for London, and his views on the future of Japanese marathoning.  With his place on the London team announced on Mar. 17, JRN will publish an English translation of the complete series over the next three days. See Sportsnavi's original version linked above for more photos.


The Fukuoka International Marathon was held on Dec. 4 last year. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) took part despite nursing injuries he had sustained in training. Falling rain contributed to less than ideal conditions during the race, but from the very early stages Kawauchi mixed it up with the international invited field and stayed among the leaders. As the other Japanese athletes fell away, Kawauchi held out to the very end to take 3rd in 2:09:11, the first Japanese man across the finish line and putting himself into contention for the right to run in this summer’s London World Championships.

We asked Kawauchi to talk about his race in Fukuoka, his thoughts about the World Championships, and his views on the current state of Japanese long distance. In a three-part series of articles we give you his reply. In Part One he looks back on his to-the-limit run in Fukuoka.

A calf injury three weeks out – On the edge every day.

Three weeks before [the Fukuoka International Marathon]  I hurt my right calf while doing a long run. When I picked up the pace it felt like my calf was going to tear off, and even when I just walked it throbbed with pain. Because of that I couldn’t do the final tune-up workouts I’d been planning, and for the three weeks before the race I was really uneasy and irritated. Every day, everyone around me, even my family, kept saying, “This is your last chance to make a Japanese national team. Stop being such an obstinate freak, give up on Fukuoka and run Tokyo or Lake Biwa instead.” At the same time there were people encouraging me and telling me, “We’re going to Fukuoka to cheer for you, so don’t let us down!” I was really on the edge of losing my mind every day from all of that.

I took the two days after I got hurt completely off and then told myself, “OK, let’s at least try not to lose what fitness you have.” I started doing long jogs, keeping the pace slower than usual so that the pain wouldn’t be that bad. That was the situation I was in, not really in a condition to do the [Nov. 20]  Ageo City Half Marathon which I was supposed to run two weeks out [from Fukuoka]. I knew that if I overdid it the injury would get worse, so I talked to the Ageo organizers before the race and got permission to start at the very back and just jog it. In that way I kept myself from doing any training that would force me to run fast, and the pain that made it feel like something was really wrong went away.

A sprained ankle right before the race – begging for divine intervention.

One by one I started doing workouts that came to me intuitively like received wisdom from somewhere, something in my head telling me, “You should do this,” and as a result of that my training load went way up. I did two 50 km jogs and totaled about 220 km for the week. I usually do about 140 km a week, so doing that kind of long distance gradually gave me back my self-confidence and physical strength.

But even so, since I couldn’t race the Ageo City Half Marathon the way I always do I was still worried about whether I could sustain speed, and the stress of whether I should run Fukuoka or not remained unchanged. So I made a final decision and told myself, “If you can run for 20 km at the second pack pace of 3:04 / km a week out from the race, you can do Fukuoka as planned.” Keeping everything, my wake up time, breakfast and whatnot, strictly according to the same timetable as race day, with the help of friends I ran 20 km at Saitama’s Lake Saiko. The outcome was that even though it was pretty close to my limit I managed to run 1:01:14 (3:03 / km), and I made the decision to run [Fukuoka] in the second group.

But bad luck tends to bring more bad luck. After getting to Fukuoka on Friday I went for a shakeout run after the press conference. I sprained my left ankle on some steps and was back to it hurting just to walk. The night before the race I was almost crying, begging the race organizers, “Don’t you have any painkillers that will pass anti-doping?” I ended up just getting some ice at the hotel and spent hours icing my left ankle. The whole time I was icing I was berating myself, “After everything you’ve gone through, working through the calf injury, getting yourself back into a position to be able to go out there and fight, why this, why now?” Then the tears really did start coming out at my own stupidity for spraining my ankle.

In that kind of situation there was nothing else I could do, so I said, “Please, God, Buddha, whoever, for tomorrow’s race please don’t let this pain get worse. If you hold off on this ankle I will endure whatever other suffering you want me to,” and prayed for divine (Buddhistic?) intervention. Those were the circumstances in which I went to the starting line, and thanks to a string of good luck I was able to end up on the podium with a 2:09. All things considered, once I finished all I could think was that a miracle really had happened out there.

The trinity that worked the “miracle.”

Looking at it now, if I had to analyze the factors involved in that “miracle” I would identify three key points. To begin with, the first point was that we were blessed with good weather and temperatures. The initial weather forecast predicted that it would be 18 degrees Celsius and sunny, but as the race approached that changed to rain, and at the start the temperature was below the forecast at only 13 degrees. In addition, during the race the rain started again, and at the 25 km point the temperature briefly fell to 9 degrees. I’ve always been good in cold and rainy races, like at the 2010 Tokyo Marathon when I took 5 minutes off my PB [and ran]  2:12:36, so my spirits steadily picked up from the hopeless state of mind I was in right after the start. I’d been feeling pain in my ankle, but the cold helped numb it to the point that I stopped caring about it and got so deeply into “the zone” that I didn’t even notice the 15 km drink tables.


The second point was that the pacers for the first group were kind enough to blow their jobs. Thanks to point #1, although there were three pacers in the first group who were supposed to run 3:00 / km until 30 km, they couldn’t even do it for the first 5 km. The second group that I was originally supposed to have been running in would have been about a minute behind the first group at halfway, but since the first group’s 3:00 / km pace never materialized the pace of the second group became that of the first group and I went through halfway with a time difference of zero seconds behind the leaders. This was a very nice miscalculation that I’d never anticipated.

The third point was that I had the experience of having run the Fukuoka International Marathon six times previously. I knew where the hills on the Fukuoka International Marathon course were and I knew precisely how steep they were. In addition, three years ago I had the experience of taking the lead after the pacemakers dropped out at halfway, qualifying myself to represent Japan at the Incheon Asian Games. So, as long as I got through halfway without too much trouble I wasn’t afraid at all of dying at the end even if I made a play. The opposite, really. When I saw my split at halfway I knew that if I didn’t hold myself back I could definitely go sub-2:10. That gave me a big boost and I told myself, “If the pace looks like it’s going to slow down let’s take charge and get rid of some of the competition.”

A foundation built on overseas racing and ultra long-distance training.

In addition, I think there were two long-term reasons the “miracle” could occur. The first of these points is that I have been competing in a large number of overseas marathons. Since 2012 when I failed to make the London Olympics I’ve been competing all around the world with international athletes including Kenyans and Ethiopians. In particular, in 2016 after starting the year at the Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon in January I ran five marathons in a row overseas before doing Fukuoka International, and repeatedly won or made the podium against foreign competition.


I was 2nd at Wanjinshi, Taiwan in March, I won Zurich, Switzerland in April, at Gold Coast, Australia in July I was 2nd in the fastest time by a Japanese man in 2016, 2:09:01, in September in Berlin, Germany I ran 2:11:03, the fastest time by a Japanese man in the [five overseas]  2016 World Marathon Majors (WMM), and in November in Porto, Portugal I was 2nd again. Among these were races where the pacemakers dropped out after only 6 km and some where there weren’t any pacers to begin with. I knew from experience that when the conditions are bad pacemakers are useless, and that was a big plus in terms of being competitive in Fukuoka International when it didn’t go like a typical Japanese selection race where the goal is to try to run a pretty little set of perfect splits for the first 30 km.

The second point is that I had increased my long distance jogs. I’ve always done 4 to 6-hour trail runs, but last summer I started doing a lot more of them. Using the Shin-Etsu Trail I ran longer than 45 km two days in a row and jogged more than 40 km three times in a single week. In the fall I even started doing ultra long-distance jogs on flat ground. In October I ran 100 km mostly along the Tone River from Shibukawa, Gunma to my house in about 7 1/2 hours. Leading up to Fukuoka I did a lot of 50 km jogs which I hadn’t usually done in the past.

The effects of ultra long-distance and the monthly mileage problem.

There are those who look at that kind of ultra long-distance jogging and say, “Running slowly is meaningless no matter how much you do,” but I think the people who make that kind of criticism have probably never done it themselves. If you actually experience the feeling you get after about three hours, the “I can endure this fatigue in my legs, but if I lose it mentally I’ll immediately want to quit” one that’s similar to the light-headed sensation at the end of the marathon, the numbness of hands and feet and loss of concentration that come after that, the feeling that your stamina is evaporating from the core of your body, and the overpowering sense of euphoria you get after going over the wall, I don’t think you can call it “meaningless.”

The confidence that is built by doing ultra long-distance jogging, the knowledge in the second half when things are getting tough that “I’ve run 50 km and 100 km so I know for sure that my stamina isn’t going to break in the second half. The internationals running next to me haven’t done 100 km so I know that my legs are the ones that are still going to keep moving when things get down and dirty,” has really helped a person like me who tends to get discouraged easily.


For someone who only trains once a day like I have ever since I was at Gakushuin University, I feel that adding ultra long-distance jogging trail runs on my days off work has been effective in improving my physical and mental ability to hold it together in the second half of the marathon. However, since the runners on many teams are obligated to do group morning runs in addition to their regular training sessions, in terms of both the time and physical demands I think it would be hard for them to add the same kind of ultra long-distance jogging that I have. By doing morning runs every day they usually exceed 1000 km a month, but in my case I’m typically averaging about 600 km a month. When you consider that runners belonging to teams are doing 12 km a day on average in their morning runs, my monthly mileage is going to be at least 360 km less since I don’t do them. That means a physical margin of over 4320 km a year compared to other athletes, and I think that’s why ultra long-distance jogging has had such a major impact on me.

Conversely, if someone who is already doing over 1000 km a month kept doing their morning runs and tried to add ultra long-distance jogging to that, I think they would destroy their legs with stress fractures and whatnot. Old-school marathoners might get mad and say it’s a “soft way of thinking,” but I’m pretty sure the human body has a mileage limit. Working within that limit I think all you can do is choose between doing multiple short runs or longer single runs.

Look for Part Two, "Bringing All My Experience Into Play in London," tomorrow and Part Three, "The Lessons of the Past Are Not Outdated," on Thursday.

Fukuoka photos © 2016 Dr. Helmut Winter, all rights reserved
ankle photo © 2016 Yuki Kawauchi, all rights reserved
Porto photo © 2016 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
trail photo © 2015 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Hakone Ekiden Last-Placer Kokushikan University Ups Its Game With Addition of Its First-Ever Kenyan Runner

http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/feature/hakone/20170327-OHT1T50120.html

translated by Brett Larner

Having finished last at the 2017 Hakone Ekiden in 20th place, Kokushikan University announced on Mar. 26 that it is bringing in its first-ever foreign student runner.  Kenyan Paul Gitonga, 20, is expected to join the team around April 10.

In the thin oxygen at 2000 m altitude in Kenya Gitonga has run 14:10 for 5000 m and sub-29 for road 10 km, and with an 800 m best of 1:49 he has speed as well.  While in Japan in February to take Kokushikan's entrance examination he ran a 5000 m time trial in 14:20 despite inadequate preparation.  Head coach Masami Soeda, 39, commented, "He's suited to the roads and could run the marathon."  Gitonga is expected to factor heavily into Kokushikan qualifying for Hakone for the second-straight year and could even be what the team needs to make the seeded top-ten bracket for the first time in 28 years.

Translator's note: Kenyan James Mwangi, a 2:08:38 marathoner, has served as assistant coach at Kokushikan University since last year.

Monday, March 27, 2017

World Cross Country Championships - Japanese Results

Kampala, Uganda, 3/26/17
click here for complete results

U20 Women
1. Letesenbet Gidey (Ethiopia) - 18:34
2. Hawi Feysa (Ethiopia) - 18:57
3. Celliphine Chepteek Chespol (Kenya) - 19:02
-----
15. Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Japan) - 20:24
17. Yuka Sarumida (Japan) - 20:28
19. Hayaka Suzuki (Japan) - 20:40
22. Rika Kaseda (Japan) - 20:51
31. Wakana Kabasawa (Japan) - 21:20
49. Hikari Onishi (Japan) - 22:05

U20 Men
1. Jacob Kiplimo (Uganda) - 22:40
2. Amdework Walelegn (Ethiopia) - 22:43
3. Richard Yator Kimunyan (Kenya) - 22:52
-----
27. Kazuya Nishiyama (Japan) - 25:15
37. Yoji Sakai (Japan) - 25:41
42. Ryunosuke Chigira (Japan) - 25:51
51. Sodai Shimizu (Japan) - 26:11
78. Keita Yoshida (Japan) - 27:23

Senior Women
1. Irene Chepet Cheptai (Kenya) - 31:57
2. Alice Aprot Nawowuna (Kenya) - 32:01
3. Lilian Kasait Rengeruk (Kenya) - 32:11
-----
24. Yuka Hori (Japan) - 34:54
40. Mao Ichiyama (Japan) - 35:52
59. Fumika Sasaki (Japan) - 37:02
78. Kaori Morita (Japan) - 38:24

Senior Men
1. Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor (Kenya) - 28:24
2. Leonard Kiplimo Barsoton (Kenya) - 28:36
3. Abadi Hadis (Ethiopia) - 28:43
-----
63. Yuma Higashi (Japan) - 31:31
71. Kosei Yamaguchi (Japan) - 31:49
89. Yamato Otsuka (Japan) - 32:28
104. Haruki Ono (Japan) - 33:31
110. Shota Maeda (Japan) - 34:07

Friday, March 24, 2017

Can Yuka Ando's "Ninja Running" Bring the Gold Medal Back to Japan at the Tokyo Olympics?

http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/column/20170314-OHT1T50078.html

an editorial by Yuji Hosono
translated by Brett Larner



After running 2:21:36 for 2nd at the Mar. 12 Nagoya Women's Marathon to become the all-time 4th-fastest Japanese woman, the name of 22-year-old Cinderella girl Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) is now synonymous with the slightly incongruous term "ninja running."  Her lower arms hanging loosely, barely moving, gaining forward propulsion through the strength of her legs, a unique form on display throughout her duel with Rio Olympics silver medalist Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain).  It just may be enough to bring the Olympic women's marathon gold medal back to Japan for the first time since Mizuki Noguchi in Athens in 2004.

Ando's ninja running first caught my eye about a year ago at the May, 2016 Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon.  I had the impression that it seemed to be between Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), who was expected to medal in the Rio Olympics and Ando, who two months earlier had been the top Japanese woman at 10th overall at March's Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships. As soon as the race began I was surprised.  No matter how you looked at Ando's form it seemed like she was only using her legs to drive her running, but even so it was a great performance with only a 3-second difference with Fukushi at the end.  Having already seen the diamond shine when it was still in the rough, I felt more satisfaction than surprise at how fast she ran in Nagoya.

Ando was never good at running with coordinated upper and lower body movement.  Her form came about as the result of trial and error.  Former world record holder and 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoki Takahashi, 44, gave an analysis of Ando's form, saying, "It's unique, but it is highly specialized for the marathon. There is less vertical movement and better motion efficiency, reducing the likelihood of failure in the second half."

"The marathon starts at 30 km."  As a condition for being able to compete at the world level, the JAAF has emphasized the "negative split," running the second half faster than the first half.  In Nagoya Ando ran the first half in 1:10:21 and the second half somewhat slower in 1:11:15.  JAAF director Mitsugi Ogata evaluated her run by saying, "I would like to interpret it as her way of negative splitting, in the sense that she kept the pace necessary to compete during the second half."  This was equivalent to the holy grail of being lauded for "taking on the world."

Although Ando's form can be called a pitch-based method, it is by no means a mainstream one.  She no doubt must have had it corrected many times ever since she was a student.  After passing through two teams following her graduation from Toyokawa High School, she met coach Masayuki Satouchi, 40, at her third and current team.  At the Suzuki Hamamatsu AC, marathon development is the main priority.  Coach Satouchi embraced Ando's ninja running and set about extending its potential, saying, "Ando is a natural talent.  When she was envisioning the marathon she was conscious of efficient form.  Everybody has their own way of running."  Ando seeks to improve even further, saying, "This is not the finished product. Overall I want to refine my form to maximize the degree to which I can bring out my full potential."  At the London World Championships and on to the Tokyo Olympics, Ando intends to travel the road to the gold medal.

New Marathon Star Yuka Ando Must Take the Rest She Needs and Avoid the Impossible - An Editorial

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2017/03/15/kiji/20170314s00056000173000c.html

an editorial by Kenji Fujiyama
translated by Brett Larner

At the Mar. 12 Nagoya Women's Marathon, fresh new 22-year-old star Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) gave a straight up head to head challenge to Rio de Janeiro Olympics silver medalist Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) on the way to finishing 2nd in 2:21:36 and becoming the fourth-fastest Japanese woman ever.  Debuting marathoners usually avoid taking on the impossible and keep to their own pace, but Ando stayed with Kirwa determinedly, saying, "To win you have to go with it.  Who cares what happens in the second half."  These days there are a lot of athletes running with the weak motivation of targeting the "top Japanese" position from the start, but even after coming in at all-time Japanese #4, when Ando said, "I still showed weakness.  I want to refine what I'm doing even more so that I can truly take on the world," many people felt a kind of glow about her that we haven't see for a long, long time.

Nevertheless, although August's London World Championships have started looking like something to get excited about, perhaps the best advice that could be given to Ando at this point is, "Have the courage not to overdo it." Fully recovering from the fatigue of this race and rebuilding her body from scratch in prep for the World Championships will take a fair amount of time. Even if you run the same 42.195 km in training the damage to the body in a race is completely different.  And this was her first marathon.  Even if she thinks that she has fully recovered, there's a good chance that once she starts up training again she won't be able to move like she imagines.

In the Olympic and World Championships of the past, more top athletes tended to go for the teams in January's Osaka International or oven the previous November's Tokyo International than in Nagoya.  It's true that on the old Nagoya course wind tended to be an issue in making it difficult to run fast times, but with only five months between Nagoya in March and the Olympics or World Championships in August there was little time to fully prepare perfectly.

Looking at the facts, 2007 winner Yasuko Hashimoto finished 23rd at the Osaka World Championships.  2008 winner Yurika Nakamura was 13th at the Beijing Olympics, 2009 winner Yoshiko Fujinaga 14th at the Berlin World Championships, 2012 runner-up Yoshimi Ozaki was 19th at the London Olympics, 2013 winner Ryoko Kizaki was 4th at the Moscow World Championshiops, 2015 runner-up Sairi Maeda was 13th at the Beijing World Championships, and 2016 runner-up Tomomi Tanaka was 19th at the Rio Olympics.  Not exactly a track record of success in Nagoya being connected success at international championships.  The only exception is 2000 winner Naoko Takahashi's gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, but in that case the Olympics were held a month later than usual in September due to being held in the southern hemisphere.

Right now after her first marathon is the most important time for Ando in determining the future course of her career as an athlete.  Of all the things she must do, the first is to recover completely.  She absolutely cannot afford for her train to leave the station before everyone is on board.  If it doesn't look like she is going to make it in just five months, she must have the courage to dare to bow out.  It might be said that thinking that way could bring bad luck, but at long last a true world-class talent has appeared again and you have to hope that it is cultivated carefully.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Japanese Team Rosters for Kampala World Cross Country Championships

by Brett Larner


The World Cross Country Championships take place this Sunday, March 26 in Kampala, Uganda.  Perpetual team medal contenders, the Japanese junior women's squad is the strongest part of the Japanese roster, featuring four women with 3000 m bests under 9:10 led by 8:58.86 runner Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu of 2016 National High School Ekiden champion Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.  The Japanese national team for the 2017 World Cross Country Championships:

Senior Men's 10 km
Kosei Yamaguchi (Team Aisan Kogyo) - 28:34.19
Shota Maeda (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 28:59.86
Yuma Higashi (Team Kyudenko) - 29:14.78
Haruki Ono (Kanagawa Univ.) - 29:18.49
Yamato Otsuka (Kanagawa Univ.) - 29:22.18

Senior Women's 10 km
Mao Ichiyama (Team Wacoal) - 32:15.73
Kaori Morita (Team Panasonic) - 32:27
Yuki Hori (Team Panasonic) - 32:40
Fumika Sasaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 33:37

Junior Men's 8 km
Keita Yoshida (Sera H.S.) - 13:50.67
Ryo Saito (Akita Kogyo H.S.) - 13:53.75
Kazuya Nishiyama (Tokyo Nogyo Prep Daini H.S.) - 13:54.16
Ryunosuke Chigira (Tokyo Nogyo Prep Daini H.S.) - 14:07.42
Sodai Shimizu (Rakunan H.S.) - 14:12.57
Yoji Sakai (Suma Gakuen H.S.)

Junior Women's 6 km
Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 8:58.86
Rika Kaseda (Narita H.S.) - 9:05.64
Yuka Sarumida (Toyokawa H.S.) - 9:07.07
Wakana Kabasawa (Tokiwa H.S.) - 9:08.54
Hikari Onishi (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 9:18.74
Hayaka Suzuki (Tokiha Gakuen Kikugawa H.S.) - 9:22.77

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Seko and Kawauchi Spar at London World Championships Team Meeting

https://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20170320-00000067-dal-spo
https://www.daily.co.jp/general/2017/03/21/0010019282.shtml

translated and edited by Brett Larner

In preparation for August's London World Championships, the members of the men's and women's marathon teams attended a team meeting in Tokyo on Mar. 20.  Having announced that this year's World Championships would be his last time contending for a national team, Yuki Kawauchi (30, Saitama Pref. Gov't) displayed extraordinary resolve as he said, "As a representative of Japan in London I fully intend to burn it all."

JAAF Long Distance and Marathon Development Project Leader Toshihiko Seko, 60, gave a 30-minute speech in front of the athletes and their coaches, bemoaning a sense of crisis as he said, "If things keep going this way marathoning is going to die out."  Quoting the words of his legendary mentor, the late Kiyoshi Nakamura, Seko told them, "Do not be like scissors or a razor, easily chipped and blunted.  I wish for you to become an athlete strong like a katana.  The athlete burns white hot and brilliant red like steel, and the coach beats and tempers the steel like a swordsmith.  In this way an athlete can become like the finest Japanese katana."

Women's team member Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and the others listened intently and busily took notes, but Kawauchi, who is self-coached, frowned and said, "To be honest, that'd be pretty tricky.  Since I'd have to be hitting myself and all."  Seko frowned back and said to the others, "Yes, well, in his case he can play both roles."

From start to finish, the two strong personalities of Japanese athletics were on different wavelengths.  Believing heat to be his weak point Kawauchi has decided to stop running on national teams because of the expected temperatures beyond 30 degrees at the 2019 Doha World Championships and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  Seko commented bluntly, "You think too much about being weak in heat.  You're going to summon the god of weakness.  I'd like you to continue until the Tokyo Olympics."

On the way out of the press conference Seko called out, "Kawauchi, you shouldn't say that you're not good in heat!"  Kawauchi replied coolly, "The heat in London won't be a problem."  Seko said, "Not London, Tokyo.  I'm talking about Tokyo," making clear his hopes of seeing Kawauchi in the Olympics. Frustration flashed across Kawauchi's face, and emphasizing his words with strong hand gestures he answered, "Not everyone is aiming for Tokyo.  London is everything!"  Backing off under the force of Kawauchi's reply, Seko bowed and said quietly, "I'm sorry.  You have taught me well."  The almost surreal exchange drew laughs of amazement throughout the venue.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Weekend Half Marathon Roundup

by Brett Larner
Murayama photo courtesy NYRR

The last main racing weekend of the Japanese calendar, this weekend saw high-level half marathon performances at home and abroad.

At the United Airlines NYC Half MarathonKenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), twin brother of 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), ran 1:00:57 for 5th, the best time ever by a Japanese man on U.S. soil and the second-best ever run outside Japan. Collegiate runners Rintaro Takeda (Waseda Univ.) and Kenta Ueda (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) were 22nd and 25th. London World Championships marathon alternate Misato Horie (Team Noritz) ran 1:12:45 for 13th in the women's race.

Japan-based Kenyans Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) and Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi) took both titles at the Matsue Ladies Road Race, Kimanzi winning the half marathon in 1:10:09 and Obare the 10 km division in 33:14. With Matsue serving as the National University Women's Half Marathon Championships and the selection race for the Japanese women's team for this summer's World University Games, Saki Fukui (Josai Univ.) took the top Japanese position at 2nd overall behind Kimanzi in 1:11:12.  Kanade Furuya of 2016 national champion Matsuyama University was 3rd in 1:11:12 and Kasumi Yamaguchi (Daito Bunka Univ.) 4th in 1:11:17 to join Fukui on the World University Games roster.

Ethiopian teammates Kassa Mekashaw and Abiyot Abinet (both Team Yachiyo Kogyo) dominated an unexpectedly competitive first edition of the new Niigata Half Marathon, outrunning Kenyan Alex Mwangi (Team YKK) and top Japanese man Ryo Ishita (SDF Academy) to go 1-2.  Mekashaw got the win in a PB of 1:01:16.

In Oregon, U.S.-based Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) won the Shamrock Run Portland half marathon in 1:04:12 in a tuneup for his marathon debut at next month's Boston Marathon. Osako's wife Ayumi also ran the Shamrock Run's 5 km in 24:22 and his younger brother Junya the 15 km in 49:25.

Back in Japan, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran the first race of his buildup to the London World Championships, setting a course record of 1:05:03 at his hometown Kuki Half Marathon.  With the course passing his old junior high school, Kawauchi ran the race wearing his uniform from those days.

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Kawauchi Sets Hometown Kuki Half Marathon Course Record Wearing Junior High School-Era Uniform

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2017/03/19/kiji/20170319s00056000211000c.html
https://www.daily.co.jp/general/2017/03/19/0010014104.shtml

translated and edited by Brett Larner
photo by Tsukasa Kawarai

Fresh from being named to the London World Championships men's marathon team on Friday, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran the first race of his London buildup Sunday at the Kuki Half Marathon, winning by a massive margin in a course record 1:05:03.  The site of his unofficial half-marathon-in-a-suit world record in its first edition last year, the Kuki Half Marathon is Kawauchi's hometown race.  With a course change sending the race past his alma mater Washinomiya J.H.S. this year, Kawauchi ran wearing his junior high school-era uniform.  "It was a headwind the whole way," he laughed about his time, almost three minutes slower than his PB.  "Now isn't the time to push it. I feel good."

Having declared that the World Championships will be his last time competing on the Japanese national team, Kawauchi looked ahead to the main event five months distant.  "The fact that I'm going there means I intend to medal," he said with determination.  "As I was running today the people of my hometown were calling out, 'Congratulations on London!'  The support was greater than I could have imagined.  That means I have to do it right.  I have to try to live up to those expectations.  There's no room for believing my chances of medalling are zero."

In preparation, he announced that along with several half marathons and June's Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon he will run the Czech Republic's Prague Marathon in May, Sweden's Stockholm Marathon in June, and Australia's Gold Coast Marathon in July.  "In Prague I'll be aiming for a PB, and in Stockholm and Gold Coast sub-2:10," he said.  "When London's over I want to take a break for a while, so until then it's attack attack attack."  Facing his last world-level challenge, Kawauchi remains one-of-a-kind in his approach. Miracles can't happen without pushing yourself beyond your limits.

photo © 2017 Tsukasa Kawarai
all rights reserved

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Murayama Runs Fastest-Ever Japanese Time on U.S. Soil at United Airlines NYC Half



by Brett Larner
photo courtesy of NYRR

Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei) ran the fastest time ever by a Japanese man on U.S. soil to take 5th in the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon in 1:00:57.  The first alumnus of the Japan Running News-New York Road Runners program to bring top collegiate talent from November's Ageo City Half Marathon to New York to return as a pro, Murayama asserted himself from the gun, ensuring the race got off to an honest start as he led the first 5 km in 14:24.  "The last time I was here the first 5 km was close to 15:00," he told JRN post-race.  "If it starts too slow it affects how you feel later in the race and keeps too many people up front.  I wanted to run comfortably.  I figured that 14:20 would be about right.  It didn't feel too fast, but when I looked around almost nobody was left."

Remaining up front after just the first 2 km were the eventual top six including Murayama, 2017 Marugame Half winner Callum Hawkins (Great Britain), Rio Olympics marathon silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia), defending champ Stephen Sambu (Kenya), Teshome Mekonen (Ethiopia) and Chris Derrick (U.S.A.).  Hawkins challenged Murayama on the steep uphill just past 5 km, but Murayama, a veteran of the Hakone Ekiden's Fifth Stage, maintained his position.  Running the toughest 5 km of the course in 14:22 Murayama still led at 10 km, but as the pack exited Central Park onto the faster 2nd half Hawkins and Lilesa surged to the front.

Murayama and Derrick fell away, with Sambu trailing the top three and Mekonen struggling to hang on.  As the race rolled on it came down to a sprint finish with Lilesa getting away from Hawkins in characteristic Ethiopian style to win in 1:00:04.  Hawkins was next in 1:00:08, just off his winning time from Marugame last month.  Mekonen rounded out the podium 20 seconds later. Murayama closed hard after 20 km, bearing down on defending champ Sambu in the home straight but coming up just short, Sambu 4th in 1:00:55 and Murayama 5th in 1:00:57.  The seventh-fastest Japanese time ever, Murayama took 51 seconds off the fastest Japanese time on U.S. soil, and by breaking 1:01:00 he become just the second Japanese man ever to go sub-61 outside Japan and the second in history to run sub-61 twice in his career.

This year's two collegiate invitees from the Ageo City Half Marathon, Rintaro Takeda (Waseda Univ.) and Kenta Ueda (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), both struggled relative to their strong 1:01:59 and 1:02:01 top two performances in Ageo last November.  Takeda ran the early part of the race on sub-63 pace, but after exiting Central Park where the pace typically accelerates he slowed progressively, eventually finishing in 1:05:09.  Ueda, coached by his father Masahito Ueda, was in immediate trouble and limped in to a 1:06:13 finish with a possible stress fracture in his shin.  In the women's race, freshly named alternate for the London World Championships marathon squad after a 2:25:44 runner-up finish in Osaka in January, Misato Horie (Team Noritz) ran 1:12:44. Molly Huddle (U.S.A.) outkicked Emily Sisson (U.S.A.) for the win in 1:08:21 with Diane Nukuri (Burundi) just missing a PB in 1:09:13 for 3rd.

12th United Airlines NYC Half Marathon
New York, 3/19/17

Men
1. Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) - 1:00:04
2. Callum Hawkins (Great Britain) - 1:00:08
3. Teshome Mekonen (Ethiopia) - 1:00:28
4. Stephen Sambu (Kenya) - 1:00:55
5. Kenta Murayama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:00:57
6. Chris Derrick (U.S.A.) - 1:01:12 - PB
7. Noah Droddy (U.S.A.) - 1:01:48 - PB
8. Diego Estrada (U.S.A.) - 1:01:54
9. Juan Luis Barrios (Mexico) - 1:02:23
10. Jonny Mellor (Great Britain) - 1:02:23 - PB
-----
22. Rintaro Takeda (Japan/Waseda Univ.) - 1:05:09
25. Kenta Ueda (Japan/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:06:13

Women
1. Molly Huddle (U.S.A.) - 1:08:19
2. Emily Sisson (U.S.A.) - 1:08:21 - debut
3. Diane Nukuri (Burundi) - 1:09:13
4. Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 1:09:37
5. Amy Cragg (U.S.A.) - 1:09:38
6. Sarah Lahti (Sweden) - 1:09:58 - NR
7. Desi Linden (U.S.A.) - 1:11:05
8. Rachel Cliff (Canada) - 1:12:07 - debut
9. Caroline Rotich (Kenya) - 1:12:09
10. Kellys Arias (Colombia) - 1:12:12
-----
13. Misato Horie (Japan/Noritz) - 1:12:45

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, March 17, 2017

JAAF Announces Marathon Teams for London World Championships

by Brett Larner

In a livestreamed press conference in Tokyo on Mar. 17 the JAAF announced the women's and men's marathon teams for this summer's London World Championships.  With four selection races each for the three spots on the women's and men's teams the JAAF went with the best balance they could have achieved between quality and fairness.

Making the grade on the women's team were Nagoya Women's Marathon 2nd and 3rd-placers Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), all three with PBs under 2:24.  Osaka runner-up Misato Horie (Team Noritz) was named alternate.

On the men's side, the team consists of Fukuoka International Marathon 3rd-placer Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Tokyo Marathon 8th-placer Hiroto Inoue (Team MHPS).  All three have broken 2:09.  10th in Tokyo, Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) was chosen as alternate.

Detailed profiles of all eight athletes:

Women

Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC)
Age: 23
PB: 2:21:36 (2nd, 2017 Nagoya Women's Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 2nd, 2017 Nagoya Women's Marathon, 2:21:36
  • 4th, 2016 Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri 10000 m, 31:58.71
  • 10th, 2016 Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships, 1:10:34
  • 1st, 2016 National Women's Ekiden 1st Stage (6.0 km), 19:19
  • 4th, 2015 Sanyo Ladies Half Marathon, 1:09:51


Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya)
Age: 29
PB: 2:23:23 (1st, 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon)
Qualifying Time: 2:24:22 (1st, 2017 Osaka International Women's Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 1st, 2017 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2:24:22
  • 14th, 2015 Beijing World Championships Marathon, 2:32:37
  • 2nd, 2015 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2:26:39
  • 76th, 2012 London Olympics Marathon, 2:40:06
  • 1st, 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2:23:23


Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC)
Age: 23
PB: 2:23:47 (3rd, 2017 Nagoya Women's Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 3rd, 2017 Nagoya Women's Marathon, 2:23:47
  • 5th, 2016 Valencia Half Marathon, 1:11:07
  • 4th, 2016 Nagoya Women's Marathon, 2:24:32
  • 8th, 2015 Valencia Half Marathon, 1:10:31
  • 2nd, 2015 Marugame International Half Marathon, 1:10:59


Alternate: Misato Horie (Noritz)
Age: 30
PB: 2:25:44 (2nd, 2017 Osaka International Women's Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 2nd, 2017 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2:25:44
  • 11th, 2016 Usti nad Labem Half Marathon, 1:14:05
  • 1st, 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon, 2:26:40 - CR
  • 2nd, 2016 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2:28:20
  • 1st, 2014 Shibetsu Half Marathon, 1:14:37


Men

Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't)
Age: 30
PB: 2:08:14 (4th, 2013 Seoul International Marathon)
Qualifying Time: 2:09:11 (3rd, 2016 Fukuoka International Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 1st, 2017 Ehime Marathon, 2:09:54 - CR
  • 3rd, 2016 Fukuoka International Marathon, 2:09:11
  • 2nd, 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon, 2:09:01
  • 1st, 2016 Okinoshima Ultra 50 km, 2:44:07 - NR
  • 1st, 2016 Zurich Marathon, 2:12:04


Hiroto Inoue (MHPS)
Age: 24
PB: 2:08:22 (8th, 2017 Tokyo Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 8th, 2017 Tokyo Marathon, 2:08:22
  • 9th, 2016 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, 2:12:56
  • 1st, 2014 Kanto Region University Half Marathon Championships, 1:04:07
  • 36th, 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships, 1:02:25
  • 3rd, 2014 Marugame International Half Marathon, 1:01:39


Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki)
Age: 34
PB: 2:08:35 (2nd, 2013 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon)
Qualifying Time: 2:09:32 (1st, 2017 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 1st, 2017 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2:09:32
  • 5th, 2013 Moscow World Championships Marathon, 2:10:50
  • 2nd, 2013 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2:08:35
  • 6th, 2012 London Olympics Marathon, 2:11:16
  • 4th, 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, 2:08:53


Alternate: Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta)
Age: 31
PB: 2:09:12 (10th, 2017 Tokyo Marathon)

Career Highlights:
  • 10th, 2017 Tokyo Marathon, 2:09:12
  • 4th, 2016 New York City Marathon, 2:11:49
  • 1st 2016 New Year Ekiden 5th Stage (15.8 km), 46:58
  • 3rd, 2014 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2:11:48
  • 28th, 2013 Marugame International Half Marathon, 1:02:43

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Breaking Down the London World Championships Selection Standings

by Brett Larner

The press conference announcing the Japanese women's and men's teams for August's London World Championships is set for this Friday.  It's a complicated selection process with four separate domestic races each to choose the three women and three men who will represent Japan in London. Essentially, any woman who had run under 2:22:30 or man under 2:07:00 within the selection window and took the top spot at one of the selection races would be on the team.

Barring that, the JAAF would consider a pool of ten for each team, the top woman at last August's Hokkaido Marathon and the top three domestic women from November's Saitama International Marathon, January's Osaka International Women's Marathon and March's Nagoya Women's Marathon, and for men the top Japanese man at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon and the top three from December's Fukuoka International Marathon, February's Tokyo Marathon and March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.

Runners in the pool would be evaluated on a range of criteria including finishing time, place, competitiveness versus the winners and their strategy within the race.  The criteria leave wiggle room for the JAAF to play favorites to some degree, a fact that drew intense media and public scrutiny after a highly controversial decision in naming the 2015 Beijing World Championships women's team.

Women
  • Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:21:36 (2nd, Nagoya Women's 2017)
  • Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:23:47 (3rd, Nagoya Women's 2017)
  • Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) - 2:24:22 (1st, Osaka Int'l 2017)
  • Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL) - 2:32:33 (1st, Hokkaido 2016)
  • Mizuho Nasukawa (Universal Entertainment) - 2:33:16 (5th, Saitama 2016)

Looking at the top end of the contenders for the women's team, it looks pretty clear that there is only one possible lineup the JAAF might name.  Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) is on the team for sure after clearing the 2:22:30 qualifying standard for 2nd in Nagoya in her debut.  Her Suzuki teammate Mao Kiyota is very likely in after a 2:23:47 for 3rd in just her second career marathon, running most of the race solo after going with Ando and winner Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) for the first 10 km or so.  Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) won Osaka in 2:24:22, the third-fastest time among the ten contenders, and with past Olympic and World Championships experience her chances of being picked are at least as good as Kiyota's.

There's no real scenario in which the JAAF would pick Hokkaido winner Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL), who also ran all three of the other selection races without taking the top Japanese spot in any, and even less chance that the top Japanese woman from Saitama, Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) will make it.  Altogether it looks like the women's team will be made up of two talented young rising stars and one experienced veteran, a good mix as the Japanese women look to return to the medals after coming up short last time around.

Men
  • Hiroto Inoue (MHPS) - 2:08:22 (8th, Tokyo 2017)
  • Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:09:11 (3rd, Fukuoka Int'l 2016)
  • Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki) - 2:09:32 (1st, Beppu-Oita 2017)
  • Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta) - 2:09:12 (10th, Tokyo 2017)
  • Yuta Shitara (Honda) - 2:09:27 (11th, Tokyo 2017)
  • Satoru Sasaki (Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:10 (4th, Lake Biwa 2017)

Although women had a 3:18 margin off the 2:19:12 national record to score auto-selection for the London team, at 2:07:00 Japanese men had to run within 44 seconds of the 2:06:16 national record to make it.  Although more than one took a serious stab at doing it, needless to say none did.  Had the men's standard been been based off an equitable margin to the women's five men would have broken it, with Hiroto Inoue (Team MHPS), Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) and Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) all taking the top Japanese spots in their races.  Instead, facing a much harder standard, they are left entirely at the mercy of JAAF politics, and there's more than one possible way it could go.

Inoue looks set, running most of Tokyo at national record pace in his second marathon and taking the top Japanese spot at 8th overall in 2:08:22.  By just about any objective criteria Kawauchi is next in line, having run a brutally aggressive race for 3rd in 2:09:11 in Fukuoka to finish just seconds behind defending World Championships silver medalist Yemane Tsegaye (Ethiopia) and former world record holder Patrick Makau (Kenya).  The third spot is harder to call.

Nakamoto won Beppu-Oita in 2:09:32 with a smart run that saw him up front for most of the race, and as Japan's best championships marathoner of the modern era he'd be an equally smart choice for the team.  But Beppu-Oita was only a second-tier selection event with a weaker field than the other three events, and in Tokyo both Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Team Honda) were faster.

There's no chance that the top Japanese man at Lake Biwa, Rio Olympian Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) will make it, but there's a case to be made for Yamamoto over Nakamoto. Off a conservative first half in the second Japanese pack Yamamoto ran 20 seconds faster than Nakamoto and is still on the way up in his career, having been just seconds out of 3rd place at November's New York City Marathon.  Nakamoto needed a comeback run after a few bad years in order to win Beppu-Oita, and there's not much doubt London could be the end of his career.

There's even a plausible scenario in which they could choose Shitara over both Yamamoto and Nakamoto.  In his marathon debut in Tokyo Shitara was fearless and bold, suicidal, some might say, going through halfway in 1:01:55 and despite dying late still coming in faster than Nakamoto's winning time. Although the JAAF said they were looking for negative splits this time they've always loved frontrunning and Shitara earned high praise immediately post-race.  1991 Tokyo World Championships gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi publicly called for Shitara to be put on the London team, and, in a twist, said Yamamoto should also be on instead of Kawauchi.

That doesn't sound likely, but it's an indication of how much wiggle room there is within the JAAF's methodology that it could be a possibility.  Whatever the final decision, it goes public tomorrow.  Live streaming of the announcement starts at 5:00 p.m. Japan time on Mar. 17.

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Olympic Medalist Kirwa Over Fastest-Ever Japanese First-Timer Ando at Nagoya Women's Marathon

by Brett Larner


Rio Olympics silver medalist, two-time defending champion and course record holder Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) brought the race of her career to the Nagoya Women's Marathon.  And she needed to in order to win.

Despite a fall at the start Kirwa was out strong, accompanied by the star first-timer of last year's Nagoya, Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), her debuting teammate Yuka Ando, and the likewise debuting Hisami Ishii (Team Yamada Denki).  The 5 km split of 16:51 put them on track for 2:22:12, just under the JAAF's London World Championships auto-selection standard of 2:22:30, but when the pacers took it up to 16:25 for the next 5 km the pace got too hot for Kiyota and Ishii.

Kiyota made a few brave attempts to get back on board but quickly lost touch for good.  Ando, 10th at last year's Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships, stayed right with Kirwa, both looking strong as they went through halfway in 1:10:21 exactly 30 seconds off Ando's half marathon best. As the kilometers went by it was clear something big was on the way. A surge from Kirwa before 28 km but still together at 30 km in 1:40:41, 2:21:37 pace, PB and CR pace for Kirwa and a time only three Japanese women had ever cleared in the cards for Ando.

Kirwa surged again near 33 km and opened a small gap that grew to 7 seconds by 35 km and 18 seconds at 40 km.  Sailing in to the finish, Kirwa took almost 30 seconds off her best and nearly a minute off her own course record as she crossed the line in 2:21:17.  In 33 years of Nagoya history she became the first woman to win it three times, her 2015-2017 sweep including two course records a very tough challenge for any future winners to ever top.


Ando couldn't match Kirwa over the closing kilometers but never faltered, coming in to incredible home ground fanfare as she broke Kirwa's old course record in 2:21:36.  The fastest-ever debut by a Japanese woman and one of the fastest in world history, Ando's time put her at all-time Japanese #4, the first time since 2007 a Japanese woman has run under 2:22, setting her atop modern Japanese women's marathoning like a beacon shining out to show the rest of the women the way back.

Kiyota spent almost the entire race alone but stayed focused and cut almost a minute off her debut time from last year, taking 3rd in 2:23:47.  With Ando a lock for the London team and Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) having run 2:24:22 there's a very good chance Kiyota will make it to London too, a major coup for the non-corporate league Suzuki Hamamatsu AC club team if it comes true.

Early lead group fellow traveller Ishii faded back into the second group, overtaken by Sayaka Kuwahara (Team Sekisui Kagaku) for 4th but holding on for a quality 2:27:35 debut in 5th.  Kuwahara was one of only two top ten finishers not to have a banner day.  Besides the top three and Ishii, both 6th and 7th placers Miharu Shimokado (Team Shimamura) and Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL) ran new bests and 2017 National Corporate Half Marathon champion Ai Utsunomiya (Team Miyazaki Ginko) showed potential with a 2:28:52 debut.  40-year-old Australian Sinead Diver took over 2 1/2 minutes off her best with a 2:21:37 for 10th.  All told it was another big day for Nagoya, the top elite women's marathon in the world last year, and a sign that things are going in the right direction for Japanese women's long distance three years out from the big day.


Nagoya Women's Marathon
Nagoya, 3/12/19
click here for complete results

1. Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:21:17 - PB
2. Yuka Ando (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:21:36 - debut
3. Mao Kiyota (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:23:47 - PB
4. Sayaka Kuwahara (Japan/Sekisui Kagaku) - 2:26:09
5. Hisami Ishii (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:27:35 - debut
6. Miharu Shimokado (Japan/Shimamura) - 2:27:54 - PB
7. Kaori Yoshida (Japan/Team RxL) - 2:28:24 - PB
8. Ai Utsunomiya (Japan/Miyazaki Ginko) - 2:28:52 - debut
9. Shiho Takechi (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:30:10
10. Sinead Diver (Australia) - 2:31:37 - PB
11. Fatuma Sado (Ethiopia) - 2:32:00
12. Keiko Nogami (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) - 2:32:01
13. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/Memolead) - 2:32:12
14. Asami Kato (Japan/Panasonic) - 2:32:36
15. Yui Okada (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:32:45
16. Eri Hayakawa (Japan/Toto) - 2:34:27
17. Alessandra Aguilar (Spain) - 2:34:42
18. Cassie Fien (Australia) - 2:36:11
19. Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/Y.W.C.) - 2:36:44
20. Mei Matsuyama (Japan/Noritz) - 2:37:04
21. Eriko Kushima (Japan/Noritz) - 2:37:21
22. Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:39:15
23. Sakie Arai (Japan/Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 2:40:52
24. Ruka Nakamura (Japan/Kojima Press) - 2:40:54
25. Yurie Doi (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:41:27
-----
DNF - Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (U.S.A.)
DNF - Kate Coburn (Australia)
DNF - Reia Iwade (Japan/Noritz)
DNF - Monica Jepkoech (Kenya)
DNF - Yoko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren)

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Hwang, Morishita and I, Then and Now



19-year-old me watched Young-cho Hwang and Koichi Morishita race up Montjuic at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and said, "That's what I want to do." A year later I did my first marathon.

Today I ran up Montjuic with them over the same 4 km that changed my life 25 years ago.  They were my original inspiration in wanting to run marathons and Morishita in particular was the person who first sparked my interest in and respect for Japanese distance running. I'll always be grateful to them for what they showed me as a teenager and for sharing the day with me today.


Postscript: At dinner that night Morishita decided he wanted to run the first 11.5 km loop of the Barcelona Marathon the next morning.  We ran it together with Jose Esteban Montiel, a Spanish Olympian who finished 32nd in '92 and was doing his last marathon.  Morishita set the pace, going through 10 km in 44:49 before surging for the last km and a half.  Montiel and I stayed together on sub-3:10 pace until 25 km before he slowed down, the two of us ultimately finishing 3 minutes apart.  '92 bronze medalist Stephan Freigang of Germany went out with the 2:45 pace group, finishing in 3:03:43.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Barcelona Welcomes Back 1992 Olympic Marathon Medalists

(l to r) Koichi Morishita (Japan), Yuko Arimori (Japan), Valentina Yegorova (Russia), Young-cho Hwang (South Korea), Lorraine Moller (New Zealand) and Stephan Freigang (Germany)

In the 25th anniversary year of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the organizers of the Zurich Barcelona Marathon invited all six marathon medalists back as guests of honor for Sunday's race.  JRN travelled to Barcelona with men's gold medalist Young-cho Hwang (South Korea), men's silver medalist Koichi Morishita (Japan) and women's silver medalist Yuko Arimori (Japan).

Bronze medalist Moller, gold medalist Yegorova, and silver medalist Arimori in the Olympic Stadium.
Gold medalist Hwang, silver medalist Morishita and bronze medalist Freigang at the Hwang monument in front of the Olympic Stadium.

Yegorova and Arimori watch themselves battle to gold and silver 25 years removed.

Hwang reflects on becoming one of his country's legends.



The six medalists reunited, Hwang with son Yuchan. All six will run Saturday's Breakfast Run over the final 4 km of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics marathon course, the climb up Montjuic. Freigang is the only one of the six who will also run Sunday's Zurich Barcelona Marathon.


Japan's last men's Olympic marathon medalist and first women's Olympic marathon medalist, together again in the place where their names entered history.

all photos © 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, March 6, 2017

'91 World Championships Gold Medalist Taniguchi Calls For Tokyo Marathon Top 3 to Be on London Team

http://www.sanspo.com/smp/sports/news/20170306/ath17030605000001-s.html

an editorial by Hiromi Taniguchi1991 Tokyo World Championships marathon gold medalist and two-time Olympic marathoner
translated by Brett Larner

Yesterday's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon was a pretty unremarkable race. Akinobu Murasawa and the other young athletes ran at 3:00/km pace in the lead group to 20 km, but at that point there were only 21 people left in the group and it looked like the more inexperienced athletes started to feel afraid somewhere along the way.  Tadashi Isshiki was the same way.  I think the pressure probably did him in before he even started running.  You have to value the experience level of Satoru Sasaki, who fell off pace midway but came back to take the top Japanese position, but in terms of his time it's tough to consider him.

For the World Championships team, why not select the top three Japanese men from the Tokyo Marathon, Hiroto Inoue, Hiroyuki Yamamoto and Yuta Shitara?  It was fantastic how right from the start they ran fast and competitively, and you can feel optimistic about their tactics too.  All three are between their mid-20s and age 30.  From the point of view of looking toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, these young athletes are very suitable.

Translator's note: Yamamoto is older than London team contender Yuki Kawauchi, in addition to having run more slowly than Kawauchi's Fukuoka performance and having placed lower in terms of overall position, Japanese finisher position, and distance from winner.  He also did not run a fast early pace like Inoue and Shitara as Taniguchi claims, instead hanging back in the Japanese pack behind designated pacer Yuki Sato for much of the race. Yamamoto has a chance of being named instead of Beppu-Oita winner Kentaro Nakamoto, but while it's understandable that Taniguchi would want to see Shitara on the team none of the arguments he puts forward justifies Yamamoto's selection over Kawauchi in order to make that happen.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Suzuki 1:01:36 CR to Win National University Half Marathon Title

by Brett Larner
video by Ekiden News


Quickly rising to the top of university men's distance running this season with a 58:43 3rd-place finish at October's Hakone Ekiden qualifier 20 km and a 1:07:17 win on the 23.2 km Hakone Ekiden Second Stage, Kengo Suzuki (Kanagawa Univ.) ran the biggest race of his career to date with a course record-breaking 1:01:36 win at the 2017 National University Men's Half Marathon Championships in western Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park.

1:01:25 man Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) took the race out at sub-61 pace, but after a 29:08 split at 10 km Suzuki got down to work.  Pushing the second half and pulling away alone, he became the first man to break 62 minutes at the National University Half, the deepest half marathon in the world with 265 finishers sub-66 in 2015.  Suzuki's finishing time of 1:01:36 made him the 7th-fastest Japanese-born university man ever over the half marathon distance.



Kudo held on to 2nd in 1:02:15, leading teammates Kei Katanishi and Fuminori Shimo to take 2nd through 4th.  Taisei Hashizume of 2017 Hakone Ekiden champ Aoyama Gakuin University took 5th in a PB of 1:02:46.  Being the primary selection race for Japan's 2017 World University Games half marathon team, National University Half top three Suzuki, Kudo and Katanishi were named team members, with Shimo named alternate. Having swept the medals at the 2015 Games, expectations are high for this year's team.  In the more immediate future, Suzuki will be part of a JAAF marathon development camp later this month in New Zealand.


Further south in Kumamoto, London World Championships marathon team hopeful Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) celebrated his 30th birthday at the Kanaguri Half Tamana Half Marathon.  A large lead pack running right on 3:00 / km stayed together almost the entire race, six or seven men still in contention with 1 km to go.  In the final sprint the Koichi Morishita-coached Yuki Oshikawa (Team Toyota Kyushu) got the win in 1:03:18 a step ahead of Komazawa graduate Kohei Futaoka (Team Chudenko).  Kawauchi was 3rd in 1:03:19, his best time since the November, 2015 Ageo City Half Marathon. Coming as the first race of his 30s and just hours before the near-confirmation of his place on the London World Championships marathon team, it was the best birthday present he could have asked for.


The 10 km races in Tamana saw stellar high school performances on both sides.  In the women's race two high schoolers broke 33 minutes, with Miku Moribayashi (Isahaya H.S.) getting the win in her debut over the 10 km distance in 32:54 over pros Yuka Miyazaki (Team Kyudenko) and Yuma Adachi (Team Kyocera) and fellow high schooler Yuko Matsumoto (Omuta H.S.).  Kosei Tanaka (Kobayashi H.S.) won the high school boys' race in 29:50, runner-up Takaki Iwamuro (Omuta H.S.) also going sub-30 in 29:52.

20th National University Men's Half Marathon Championships
Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, 3/5/17

1. Kengo Suzuki (Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:01:36 - CR, PB
2. Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:15
3. Kei Katanishi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:34
4. Fuminori Shimo (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:36 - PB
5. Taisei Hashizume (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:46 - PB
6. Kazuto Kawabata (Tokai Univ.) - 1:02:47
7. Sho Nagato (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:52
8. Shuji Yamamoto (Toyo Univ.) - 1:02:56 - PB
9. Homare Morita (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:02
10. Ryoji Tatezawa (Tokai Univ.) - 1:03:14 - debut
11. Riki Nakanishi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:17 - PB
12. Issei Iwasa (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:03:19 - PB
13. Fuuma Kato (Asia Univ.) - 1:03:22 - PB
14. Akira Aizawa (Toyo Univ.) - 1:03:33
15. Kazuya Azegami (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:03:34 - PB
16. Junnosuke Matsuo (Tokai Univ.) - 1:03:36
17. Shun Yuzawa (Tokai Univ.) - 1:03:40
18. Akira Akasaki (Takushoku Univ.) - 1:03:41 - PB
19. Chihaya Kasuga (Tokai Univ.) - 1:03:42
20. Yuji Onoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:42 - PB
21. Noriki Kumagai (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:46 - PB
22. Ryuya Kajitani (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:48 - PB
23. Kazuma Kubo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:48 - PB
24. Noritoshi Hara (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 1:03:49
25. Shoma Yamamoto (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 1:03:50 - PB


68th Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon
Tamana, Kumamoto, 3/5/17

Men's Half Marathon
1. Yuki Oshikawa (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:03:18
2. Kohei Futaoka (Chudenko) - 1:03:18 - PB
3. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 1:03:19
4. Naoya Takahashi (Yasukawa Denki) - 1:03:22
5. Hiroki Horiai (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:32 - PB

Women's 10 km
1. Miku Moribayashi (Isahaya H.S.) - 32:54 - debut
2. Yuka Miyazaki (Kyudenko) - 32:56
3. Yuma Adachi (Kyocera) - 32:58 - PB
4. Yuko Matsumoto (Omuta H.S.) - 32:58 - debut
5. Eijia Miyagi (Oita Tomei H.S.) - 33:05 - PB

High School Boys' 10 km
1. Kosei Tanaka (Kobayashi H.S.) - 29:50 - PB
2. Takaki Iwamuro (Omuta H.S.) - 29:52
3. Taiju Ando (Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S.) - 30:00 - PB

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Chebii Over Kipruto at Lake Biwa, Sasaki Shuts Down London Selection in 4th

by Brett Larner

Two-time Madrid Marathon champ Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii (Kenya) scored his first Japanese win, outkicking 2013 winner and Daegu World Championships silver medalist Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) on the last lap of the track to win the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon in 2:09:06.


In most ways it was a pretty garden-variety race, pacers taking it through 30 km right around 3:00 / km with most of the bigger overseas and a massive but steadily dwindling pack of Japanese men in tow.  After the next-generation breakthrough in Tokyo last week hopes were high with a large number of current and past Hakone Ekiden stars in the field for their first or second marathons the same would happen here.  It was almost a foregone conclusion that somebody would be running under 2:09 in pursuit of a place on the London World Championships team, the consensus seeming to be that it would take better than Yuki Kawauchi's 2:09:11 from Fukuoka to be sure of making it.

The first real action didn't happen until between halfway, split in 1:03:19, and 25 km.  With 18 people in the front pack at halfway not including the pacers, by 25 km it was down to Chebii and Kipruto with Beijing World Championships bronze medalist Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda), debuting former Hakone star Akinobu Murasawa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and second-timer Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) a short way back.  Approaching their departure at 30 km the pacers threw down a 14:53 5 km split that dropped everyone but Kipruto.  It looked over, Kipruto rolling strong 2 seconds off CR pace, Chebii struggling, Murasawa smooth and powerful and overtaking Mutai for 3rd.  But, you know, it was a marathon.

Up front, Kipruto abruptly slowed as soon as the pacers were gone, Chebii catching back up and the pair running side by side until the very end. Miyawaki disappeared.  Murasawa suddenly stalled, his face turning red as he looked down at his feet in alarm.  Heavily hyped in the media to take the top Japanese spot after a 2:11:45 debut in Tokyo last year, Tadashi Isshiki of Hakone Ekiden champ Aoyama Gakuin University collapsed at 30 km and dropped out.  2015 Tokyo winner Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia) and 2015 Beppu-Oita winner Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea) also went out, if not down.


As all the young dudes faded, three veterans showed them all that experience counts.  Running in a small chase pack, Rio Olympians Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) and Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) and 2014 Asian Games silver medalist Kohei Matsumura (Team MHPS) all began to eat up the ground to Murasawa.  Sasaki, the top Japanese finisher in Rio, pulled away from the other two and flew past Murasawa into 4th, Mutai not far ahead and drawing closer.

Onto the track still side by side, Chebii waited until the start of the back straight to put Kipruto away. Kicking for the win, he crossed the line in 2:09:06.  Kipruto was next in 2:09:15, joining an exclusive club with his tenth career sub-2:10.  Mutai held on to 3rd, going sub-2:10 for the first time, just, in 2:09:59.  Sasaki ran out of the ground he needed to catch him, 4th in 2:10:10 with not a trace of happiness on his face.  Matsumura and Ishikawa came down to a sprint finish in the home straight, Matsumura getting 5th by a step in 2:11:04.

Chebii expressed great happiness at his win but at 2:09:06 it was the fourth year in a row that Lake Biwa has seen a 2:09-level winning time, the last person to break 2:09 there being this year's runner-up Kipruto back in 2013. With Tokyo a week earlier and growing in stature into one of the world's very top-level races Lake Biwa is in an increasingly difficult position.


Sasaki's run was solid and praiseworthy in and of itself, but in terms of the Japanese selection circus he had good reason not to find the good in what he had done.  With all four selection races now wrapped up and the ten contenders for the team down, the top end of the standings look like this:

  • Hiroto Inoue (Team MHPS) - 2:08:22, Tokyo Marathon, 8th
  • Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:09:11, Fukuoka Int'l Marathon, 3rd
  • Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:09:32, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 1st
  • Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:12, Tokyo Marathon, 10th
  • Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:10, Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, 4th

Inoue is in, and he deserves it.  There's basically no scenario in which Sasaki will be named to the team and there's equally no scenario in which the JAAF could honestly keep Kawauchi off, good news for Kawauchi on his 30th birthday.  It essentially comes down to a decision between Nakamoto and Yamamoto, and while there's a good case to be made for either, Nakamoto, Japan's best championships marathoner, is almost sure to get the third spot. A simple and straightforward selection process like in the U.S.A. has its merits, but fans will be on pins and needles until the team lineup announcement following next weekend's Nagoya Women's Marathon.

Isshiki's DNF was probably the biggest disappointment for the fans.  Apart from a fluke 2:10 debut by the now-retired Takehiro Deki his third year of university, Aoyama Gakuin head coach Susumu Hara has only showed aptitude for taking young runners to the 2:11~2:13 level so far.  That hasn't stopped him from contending that his runners deserve priority in national team selection because, well, they are Aoyama Gakuin runners.  With three-straight Hakone Ekiden wins and triple crown titles at all three major university ekidens last season Hara is without a doubt the best university coach in the business, but no matter how much he may hype himself up in the media, if he wants to talk marathon, until one of his runners drops a real one that's all he is, a very good college coach and a very good self-publicist.

One other observation.  Tucked back in the field, American Tyler Andrews took 22nd in 2:16:07.  As of this writing the two fastest American men's marathon times, two fastest American women's marathon times, and the fastest American women's half marathon time of 2017 have all been run in Japan.  At the same time, Yamamoto was a near-miss for 3rd at November's New York City Marathon with a best-ever Japanese placing of 4th, and top-level Japanese talents Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), Misato Horie (Team Noritz), Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) and others are set to run on the roads in big races in the U.S. this spring.  The Japanese system gets a lot of things right and has its share of shortcomings, and the same is true of the U.S.A.  The more exchange between the two that we see, the closer both countries can come to bridging the gap to the best.

Lake Biwa wasn't the only high-level marathon in Japan today.  At the third running of the Shizuoka Marathon, Suzuki Hamamatsu AC teammates Michael Githae and Tadashi Suzuki pushed each other into unknown territory for an amateur-level race.  Echoing Kawauchi's 2:09:54 win at last month's Ehime Marathon, defending champ Githae pulled away from Suzuki over the last 5 km to win in a course record and PB of 2:11:40.  Suzuki was 2nd in 2:12:09, a large PB and a time that would have been good enough for 9th in Lake Biwa.


At the second edition of the Kagoshima Marathon, local club runner Yusuke Tobimatsu (Kagoshima Josai AC), co-front-runner with Kawauchi in Fukuoka through 25 km, outran the Koichi Morishita-coached Daichi Kato (Team Toyota Kyushu), Kazuya Deguchi of 2017 New Year Ekiden champion team Asahi Kasei and other corporate league competition to win in a course record and PB of 2:15:32.  With a progression from his 2:20 debut in Kagoshima last year to 2:16:49 in Fukuoka to a negative split 2:15:32 win today Tobimatsu has put himself into position as arguably the second-most interesting amateur runner active in Japan.

72nd Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
Otsu, Shiga, 3/5/17
click here for complete results

1. Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii (Kenya) - 2:09:06
2. Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) - 2:09:15
3. Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda) - 2:09:59 - PB
4. Satoru Sasaki (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:10
5. Kohei Matsumura (Japan/MHPS) - 2:11:04
6. Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan/Honda) - 2:11:05
7. Hayato Sonoda (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:11:32
8. Shoya Osaki (Japan/Chudenko) - 2:12:07 - PB
9. Yihuniligh Adane (Ethiopia) - 2:12:33
10. Daisuke Uekado (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:58 - PB
11. Yoshiki Takenouchi (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:13:33 - debut
12. Taiki Yoshimura (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:14:07
13. Hiroyuki Sasaki (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:16 - PB
14. Keita Baba (Japan/Honda) - 2:14:36 - debut
15. Norikazu Kato (Japan/Yakult) - 2:14:41
16. Shohei Otsuka (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 2:15:10 - debut
17. Hiroshi Ichida (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:15 - debut
18. Kenji Yamamoto (Japan/Mazda) - 2:15:19 - debut
19. Shuji Matsuo (Japan/Chudenko) - 2:15:22 - debut
20. Kazuya Namera (Japan/Subatru) - 2:15:45 - PB
21. Akinori Iida (Japan/Honda) - 2:15:50
22. Tyler Andrews (U.S.A.) - 2:16:07
23. Hideaki Tamura (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:16:08
24. Takuya Fujikawa (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:16:24 - debut
25. Chihiro Miyawaki (Japan/Toyota) - 2:16:51
26. Josh Harris (Australia) - 2:17:08 - PB
27. Thomas Frazer (Ireland) - 2:17:34 - PB
28. Akinobu Murasawa (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:17:51 - debut
29. Ryuji Okada (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:18:04 - debut
30. Yuya Asaka (Japan/Takada SDF Base) - 2:18:30 - debut
-----
47. Koji Hayasaka (Ishinomaki RC) - 2:21:23
56. El Hassan El Abbassi (Bahrain) - 2:22:59 - debut
60. Hiroyuki Horibata (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:23:58
72. Takayuki Matsumiya (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 2:25:31
-----
DNF - Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea)
DNF - Tadashi Isshiki (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.)
DNF - Mourad Maroufit (Morocco)
DNF - Reiri Nakashima (Japan/Tokai Univ.)
DNF - Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia)
DNF - Byron Piedra (Ecuador)
DNF - John Tello (Colombia)


3rd Shizuoka Marathon
Shizuoka, 3/5/17

Men
1. Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:11:40 - CR, PB
2. Tadashi Suzuki (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:12:09 - PB
3. Shunpei Oda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:17:01 - debut


2nd Kagoshima Marathon
Kagoshima, 3/5/17

Men
1. Yusuke Tobimatsu (Kagoshima Josai AC) - 2:15:32 - CR, PB
2. Daichi Kato (Toyota Kyushu) - 2:16:55 - PB
3. Takahiro Nakamura (Kyocera Kagoshima) - 2:17:51

Women
1. Emi Sakihama (Nantic) - 2:48:22 - PB
2. Kazumi Sakaguchi (unattached) - 2:54:16
3. Hisayo Matsumoto (unattached) - 2:57:20

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved