Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Where Runners With the Highest Ambitions Come Together" - Fujiwara in Iten Ahead of Tokyo Marathon

text and photos by Tsukasa Kawarai
translated and edited by Brett Larner

2012 London Olympian Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) has had some of his greatest races at the Tokyo Marathon, finishing 2nd three times: an explosive 2:08:40 breakthrough there in 2008, 2:12:34 in sleet and strong wind in 2010, and his 2:07:48 PB in 2012 to make the London team. He has also done some of his worst marathons there, running 2:29:21 in 2011, dropping out in 2013, 2:30:58 in 2014, 2:19:40 in 2015 and 2:20:23 last year. The blindfolded-shot-in-the-dark quality of Fujiwara’s history in Tokyo has always made him unpredictable but entertaining. In preparation for this year’s Tokyo Marathon Fujiwara trained in Kenya for nearly two months. Tsukasa Kawarai spent time at Fujiwara’s training camp in January, and ahead of Sunday’s race he wrote a report for JRN on what he saw of Fujiwara’s preparations.


Starting in mid-December last year Arata Fujiwara trained in Iten, Kenya for about two months. It was his second time to train in Iten, his goal this time to build up a solid base in preparation for the Tokyo Marathon. Fujiwara injured his knee in June last year while training for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. The injury that kept him from doing the kind of running he wanted for several months, but he came to Iten to make a full recovery from that setback.

It takes several weeks to adapt to high altitude training at 2400 m. Being the dry season it hardly ever rained in Iten, meaning very dry conditions. In the rough terrain around Iten, a passing car leaves you completely covered with dust. Amid this kind of tough environment, Fujiwara worked hard alongside the Kenyans.


In Iten Fujiwara chose locals Edwin Kiprop and Benerd Koech, a different athlete from Tokyo Marathon invited elite Bernard Koech, as his training partners. He ran together with them and in a larger training group during interval workouts at Kamariny Stadium and for long runs.


I accompanied Fujiwara to Kamariny Stadium for a high-quality interval session of 600 m x 15 led by Kenyan runners. With weeks of that kind of training behind him in Iten he looked to me like the Fujiwara of old, when he was in his best shape.


Fujiwara wasn’t the only one training at Kamariny Stadium. Many Olympians regularly do tough workouts there, a daily fact of life that makes Iten “The Home of Champions.” At the same time that Fujiwara was doing his interval workout, Wilson Kipsang was also training with a group in prep for Tokyo. Paul Chelimo was there from the U.S.A. too with a group of his own. “This is where runners with the highest ambitions from here and abroad come together,” Fujiwara said.

After the workout Fujiwara chatted with Kipsang. They both ran the London Olympics marathon. Both of them will run the Tokyo Marathon deadly focused on making this year’s London World Championships. To run again in the city of London.

The Tokyo Marathon has changed its course this year to what is being called a “high-speed course.” The late-stage hills of the old course are gone, and the expectation is that people will be slowing down less in the second half. With highly-developed racing intuition born from long experience I expect to see Fujiwara run an aggressive race and a long-overdue sub-2:10.


text and photos © 2017 Tsukasa Kawarai
all rights reserved

'Andrew Bumbalough Goes to Tokyo For Good Vibes...and His Marathon Debut'

http://www.bowermantc.com/btc-news/2017/2/19/andrew-bumbalough-goes-to-tokyo-for-good-vibesand-his-marathon-debut

Monday, February 20, 2017

3000 m JHS National Record Holder Hayashida Runs 7:51 Road 3 km Course Record

http://www.ktn.co.jp/news/20170219116552/

translated and edited by Brett Larner


On the final day of the three-day Nagasaki Intraprefecture Ekiden on Feb. 19, the Seihi-Saikai municipal team scored its first overall win in three years. Seihi-Saikai led both of the first two days of the race before leading the way to the finish line on day three.  The city of Nagasaki team was 2nd,  with the Omura-Higashi Sonogi municipal team 3rd.

3000 m junior high school national record holder Hiroto Hayashida, a third-year at Sakuragahara J.H.S., ran the 3.0 km Seventh Stage for Omura-Higashi Sonogi.  Having set a new 3.0 km course record at last month's National Men's Ekiden, Hayashida did it again as he passed three people en route to a new course record of 7:51, an amazing 31 seconds off the old record.

"This was the last ekiden I'll run as a junior high school student," Hayashida commented post-race. "I wanted to maintain the flow that our team had going and do everything I could to keep us within range of the podium."  The runner-up on the same stage, the Shimabara Hanto team's Kaito Takeshita, was also under the old record by 7 seconds in 8:15.

Weekend Marathon Breakdown

By Brett Larner

Sunday was a break in the elite Japanese marathon calendar, but there were at least seven quality amateur marathons across the country, two with over 10,000 finishers ranking them among the world’s largest full marathons. Winning times were as fast as 2:20:32 for men and 2:38:51 for women, with one race featuring a rare European winner. A nationwide breakdown of the Feb. 19 marathons:

Kyoto Marathon, Kyoto
Total finishers: 15,714
Men: 1. Kosuke Murasashi 2:20:32
Women: 1.Yuria Ikuno 2:45:15

Kumamoto Castle Marathon, Kumamoto
Total finishers: 10,944
Men: 1. Haruki Okayama 2:22:45
Women: Chigusa Yoshimatsu 2:56:20

Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka
Total finishers: 9,434
Men: 1. Shuji Tsukamoto 2:22:31
Women: 1. Marie Imada 2:38:51

Okinawa MarathonOkinawa
Total finishers: 8,303
Men: 1. Thomas Frazer (Ireland) 2:27:09
Women: 1. Eri Suzuki 2:47:40

Senshu International Marathon, Osaka
Total finishers: 4,505
Men: 1. Mitsutaka Imura 2:22:53
Women: 1. Mitsuko Ino 2:44:21

Kaifugawa Furu Marathon, Tokushima
Total finishers: 1,584
Men: 1. Takumi Matsumoto 2:26:10
Women: 1. Chika Niki 2:48:25

Kochi Ryoma Marathon, Kochi
Finisher totals not available yet.
Men: 1. Daisuke Ikemoto 2:28:06
Women: 1. Chiho Matoba 2:58:51

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ueno, Arai Win in Kumamoto, Cheboitibin and Utsunomiya Take Ome

by Brett Larner


Both of the world's two main 30 km races took place in Japan today.  In the morning, to the south in Kumamoto the Kumanichi Road Race held its 61st edition, the first since last year's powerful earthquakes caused heavy damage in the area.  2009 double 1500 m and 5000 m champion Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) went out fast, close to 30 km national record pace at 10 km in 29:27 and still on track for a 1:28 time at 20 km in 59:11.  Over the last 10 km Ueno slowed dramatically, taking 31:06 to reach the finish line in 1:30:17, but even so his margin of victory over runner-up Ryu Takaku (Team Yakult) was more than a minute.

The women's race was closer, with last year's 4th-placer Sakie Arai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) outrunning corporate leaguers Rie Uchida (Otsuka Seiyaku) and Yoko Miyauchi (Team Hokuren) by just 8 seconds to win in a PB of 1:46:29 just three weeks after running a PB of 2:34:40 at the Osaka International Women's Marathon.  In the associated mass-participation marathon division another collegiate runner, Tokyo Nogyo University fourth-year Haruki Okayama won the men's race in 2:22:45 with local Chigusa Yoshimatsu taking the women's title in 2:56:20.


Just after Kumanichi finished, the 51st edition of the Ome Road Race began in Tokyo's western hills. Almost all of the fan attention was on the debuting Daichi Kamino (Team Konica Minolta), a major star of the Hakone Ekiden thanks to his hill running prowess before his graduation last year.  Sparring mostly with last year's top two Yuki Oshikawa (Team Toyota Kyushu) and Michael Githae (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and with Githae's fellow Kenyan Ezekiel Cheboitibin (Team Toho Refining), Kamino was patient on the uphill first half before springing into action after rounding the turnaround point and starting the trip back down.  Oshikawa quickly lost touch, but after 20 km Kamino had trouble sustaining his attack and began to drop back from Cheboitibin and Githae.  It was soon clear that he wasn't coming back, and in the final kilometers Cheboitibin pulled away to become the first Kenyan winner in Ome history as he crossed the finish line in 1:30:49.

5th last year in the women's race, Ami Utsunomiya (Canon AC Kyushu) led the entire race to win in a PB of 1:46:24.  Track star Azusa Sumi (Team Universal Entertainment) was a non-factor in her debut, 43 seconds behind Utsunomiya at 5 km and dropping out soon afterward.  Sumi's teammate Mai Shinozuka had better luck in the women's 10 km, winning in 33:53, with Yutaro Takeda (Tokyo Jitsugyo H.S.) joining her on the podium as he won the high school boys' 10 km in 30:57.

61st Kumanichi Road Race
Kumamoto, 2/19/17

Men's 30 km
1. Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) - 1:30:17
2. Ryu Takaku (Yakult) - 1:31:18
3. Keisuke Sago (Yasukawa Denki) - 1:31:39
4. Shoya Okuno (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:31:49
5. Shota Yamaguchi (Fujitsu) - 1:31:59

Women's 30 km
1. Sakie Arai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 1:46:29
2. Rie Uchida (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:46:37

Men's Marathon
1. Haruki Okayama (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 2:22:45

Women's Marathon
1. Chigusa Yoshimatsu (Kumamoto T&F Assoc.) - 2:56:20


51st Ome Road Race
Ome, Tokyo, 2/19/17
click here for complete results

Men's 30 km 
1. Ezekiel Cheboitibin (Kenya/Toho Refining) - 1:30:49
2. Michael Gitahe (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:30:55
3. Daichi Kamino (Konica Minolta) - 1:31:33
4. Yuki Oshikawa (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:31:38
5. Hiroki Sugawa (DeNA RC) - 1:33:50
-----
12. Zach Hine (U.S.A.) - 1:37:20

Women's 30 km
1. Ami Utsunomiya (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:46:24
-----
DNF - Azusa Sumi (Univ. Ent.)

High School Boys' 10 km
1. Yutaro Takeda (Tokyo Jitsugyo H.S.) - 30:57

Women's 10 km
1. Mai Shinozuka (Univ. Ent.) - 33:53
2. Mao Komoto (Hachioji H.S.) - 34:43
3. Saki Yoshimizu (Univ. Ent.) - 34:56

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Kampala 2017: Kenya Names Team for World X-Country Championships'

http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1446534/kampala-2017-kenya-names-team-world-country-championships

The Tokyo-based Leonard Barsoton (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) are regulars on the Yoyogi Park XC loop when they are in town.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

'Tokyo 2020: The Heat Factor'

https://sportifycities.com/tokyo-2020-heat-factor/

An interesting read on the issues facing athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held October 10~24 rather than at the peak of summer heat and humidity as the 2020 Games will be.

A Flatter Course for the Post-Truth Era - Running the New Tokyo Marathon Course

by Brett Larner

For its first ten years as a mass participation event the Tokyo Marathon had a good course, downhill through the first 10 km, mostly flat for the next 25 km, its unique cross shape minimizing the effect of wind from any direction but the east.  But its last 6 km were unpopular with everyone, elite and amateur alike, drab, with sparse crowds, a series of bridges and hills almost exactly once every kilometer from 36 km to the end, and a finish line hidden away like an embarrassment on the docks behind an isolated convention center on an island in the bay.  Every year the elite race took a hit over the hills in the last 6 km, and it wasn't much fun for the masses either.

Last March the Tokyo Marathon organizers announced with fanfare a new course aimed at eliminating these problems and making it faster.  Billed as a flat speed course, the new configuration reshuffled much of the old course but cut the depressing last 6 km and replaced it with a new mid-race foray into uncharted land east of the Sumida River.  A week and a day out from Tokyo's eleventh running, JRN set out to find the new lay of the land.


The new course keeps the start in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and follows the old course through the downhills to 7 km.


At 7 km, just before the old course reached its most scenic segment along the outer perimeter of the Imperial Palace, the new course turns left and heads toward Kanda Station for 1.5 km.


At 8.5 km a righthand turn leads to Nihonbashi, a once-historic bridge and neighborhood now buried under the shadows of highway overpasses built for the 1964 Olympics.


The bridge itself is still there, and while surfaced with cobblestones and representing the first real addition of up-and-down to the course it's a privilege to run across it, something until now reserved only for the twenty-odd men on the anchor stage of the legendary Hakone Ekiden.


At 10 km the course rejoins its former self.  Where the old course headed through Ginza just after halfway before turning right to head to the Asakusa turnaround, the new course meets it from the opposite direction to turn left before following the same route to Asakusa.  In years past the Ginza/Nihonbashi section of the course, roughly halfway through 25 km, often saw the first action in the race up front.  That section will now come much earlier, just past 10 km.


The old course made an out-and-back up to Asakusa, breaching 30 km en route before making it back to Ginza.  The new course makes the pilgrimage to Asakusa but on the way back just after 16 km diverts to cross the Sumida and head out through territory previously reserved only for sumo wrestlers to a 180' turnaround at 20.5 km.  The Monzen-Nakacho neighborhood surrounding the turnaround point is a highlight of the new course.


Just over 8 km out and back from the Kuramaebashi bridge on the River Sumida, this is the section that is supposed to be a flattened improvement over the time-and-soul-destroying last 6 km of the old course.  The problem is, it's not flatter.  Just like the old course's series of bridges and bumps every kilometer over its terminal 6, the new course has six bridges and bumps on the way to the turnaround.  Then you have to run them again.  With the exception of the return trip up Kuramaebashi near 24 km none of them is especially demanding, but there are twelve of them, not six, packed into 8 km versus the old 6 km format.  According to a nonscientific look at GPS data, their combined climb is around 15 m greater than for the hilly part of the former course.  It's not much, but it's enough to call any claim of this course being flatter a misrepresentation.

The question is, will it be faster?  The hills on the old course weren't terrible but came at the worst possible time.  From the Nihonbashi intersection just before 29 km on the return trip all the way to the finish, the new course is almost totally flat.  Describing this section as flatter and faster would be accurate, as would saying that overall the course has shifted its hills from the end of the race to the middle.  Will that make it faster?  Maybe.  With few corners and only a 180' turnaround at Shinagawa Station just after 35 km there's nothing to stop someone who handles the mid-race hills well from getting into a rhythm that carries them to a very fast time.  Nothing except wind, which could be more of an issue on this course than the old one if it blows from the north or south.


Right after 41 km the course makes a right and then, with 1 km to go, a quick left.  For almost a kilometer runners will go straight ahead down a fashionable, tree-lined boulevard, worlds away from the old finish in quality and appropriateness for the event's stature.  The entire last kilometer is surfaced with brick and cobblestone, a rarity in Tokyo, but as a relatively new installation they are smooth and flat and shouldn't present any problems. More of a potential problem are the tall buildings lining both sides of the road. If there's any wind at all they will turn the last kilometer into a wind tunnel.


At the end of the last kilometer straightway runners explode into wide open space between the Imperial Palace and the Marunouchi red brick side of Tokyo Station.  It's very nice and scenic, but to maximize the effect the Tokyo Marathon organizers have opted to make runners take a sharp left with 100 m or less to go to the finish line.  That may make for prettier pictures at the finish line, but as an elite event it's dropping the ball.  Runners won't be visible from the finish until almost literally the very last moment, and if there's any kind of exciting head-to-head race at the end it will be interrupted by the last-second turn.  It's not a perfect course yet, but on net the changes look to be a good step in the right direction.  How it plays out in action and whether the changes are going to result in the outcomes the organizers are hoping for remains to be seen next Sunday.

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved