Monday, December 31, 2007

The Hakone Ekiden: A Brief History and Preview

by Brett Larner

What are the world`s great races? Great in the sense of history, atmosphere and something intangible which can`t be bought by PR-savvy race directors with bottomless checkbooks. Races like Comrades and Boston come to mind first. Comparatively unknown outside Japan but standing alongside these races is the Hakone Ekiden.

The Hakone Ekiden is the East Japan university men`s championship, a 10-stage, 217.9 km relay race from central Tokyo to the mountain resort town of Hakone and back, held every year on Jan. 2 and 3. The ekiden began in 1920 and has continued uninterrupted apart from a hiatus during World War II. In post-war years Hakone was quickly reinitiated despite the shortage of young men to run; during those years university athletes from other sports were enlisted to run in order to help the tradition continue.

The Hakone Ekiden has grown over the decades into a central position within the Japanese distance running world. In the last 20 years it has expanded beyond the core of distance running fans to become a cultural phenomenon. The entire race is broadcast on nationwide television, and people tune in. Most Japanese people return to their hometowns for the New Year holiday, and it has become a part of the New Year tradition for families to watch Hakone together. It is hard to imagine tens of millions of people raptly watching six hours of distance running on television for several days in a row, but that is exactly what people do, so much so that the Hakone Ekiden has the largest share of television viewership of any event or program in the entire Japanese broadcast year. This is to say nothing of the millions of people who line the course to cheer the university student runners. It is something like all of the American college bowl football games combined, but even bigger.

Extensive corporate sponsorship makes the Hakone Ekiden possible. As with major American professional team sport championships, corporate sponsors produce special commercials which are only shown during the Hakone broadcast. The event`s title sponsor is Sapporo beer. Again, for someone from North America it is difficult to imagine a beer company being the title sponsor of a college sports event in which most of the athletes are underage, but that is how it is. Sapporo even produces a limited-edition series of cans which feature Hakone Ekiden teams` running singlet designs.

What is more, the Superbowl of the professional running world, the Japanese corporate men`s championship ekiden or New Year Ekiden is held each year on Jan. 1, making for three straight days of televised ekidens. Of course the viewership for the New Year Ekiden is high, but it doesn`t attract the same following as Hakone. Watching the two races back to back it is easy to understand why not. While the New Year Ekiden features all the big names in professional Japanese men`s distance running along with world-class foreign runners based in Japan, runners who reliably deliver astounding performances, they are ultimately just that, professionals who are reliably doing their jobs. In the Hakone Ekiden the 200 student runners care and put themselves all the way out on the edge. They really, really care about the race, being in it and upholding the name and history of their schools. It is clear watching Hakone that every runner on the course has reached the goal of his life to date, and this is something beautiful to watch. This passion combined with inexperience leads to frequent dramatic, unexpected turns of events which are mostly absent in professional races; unknown runners having spectacular breakthroughs and much-heralded stars whose ambition exceeds their self-awareness getting caught up in the excitement, going too fast and falling apart. Standout runners of either type often become national celebrities. Hakone is a gripping, thrilling ride, so much so that one doesn`t want to miss anything, even for commercial or toilet breaks.

The huge popularity of the Hakone Ekiden in the last decade has recently been cited by Rikuren, the official Japanese track and field organization, and some other prominent members of Japan`s distance running community as a factor in the perceived decline in the international competitiveness of Japanese male runners. Young men work themselves incredibly hard in junior high school and high school to make it into the best running universities with the sole goal of running Hakone. The fact that Hakone is not a national competition means that these days the East Japan-area universities siphon much of the best talent away from other parts of Japan, stunting development elsewhere. Once in university, runners are so focused on making the Hakone team that they often have little knowledge of or interest in running at the world level. The intense training also means that many are injured or burned out by the time they finish school. Some continue within the professional corporate running world, but most simply stop. Thus, says the contemporary criticism, Hakone is distracting Japan`s men away from becoming world-class marathoners and making them work too hard at too young an age.

Regardless of whatever other factors there may be or whatever grains of truth are contained in such arguments, in the last few years Japan has seen its potentially best-ever generation of distance running men surface in the Hakone Ekiden. The first of these, Masato Imai of Juntendo University, performed truly superhuman feats in setting new stage records on the 874 m elevation gain uphill 5th stage for three years in a row. Imai graduated this past spring and will make his national professional debut with the Toyota Kyushu corporate team at the New Year Ekiden.

Another is the extremely talented Kensuke Takezawa of Waseda University. Takezawa was the only male university student to run a distance event at this past summer`s Osaka World Championships, ran Olympic-qualifying 5000 m and 10000 m performances in 2007, and also ran the pivotal leg of the winning Japanese team at this year`s International Chiba Ekiden. His powerfully efficient form and impassive race face are reminiscent of Waseda alumnus and marathon legend Toshihiko Seko.

Yuichiro Ueno of Chuo University has been a national star since high school and has competed internationally several times, but has so far not quite reached his full potential. Nevertheless, he has improved steadily this year, running particularly well on the first leg of the International Chiba Ekiden where he was 2nd. In August he ran an Olympic-standard 13:21.49 5000 m in Europe.

Tokai University has not one but two of the most talented runners, Hideaki Date and Yuki Sato. Date has set several national records and is notable for the perfection of his running form. He is perhaps the student most to watch when he moves up to the marathon. His teammate Sato, a teammate of Ueno`s at Saku Chosei High School, has the potential to be the greatest male distance runner Japan has produced. He has set stage records in both of his Hakone runs to date; his run on the 1st leg of the 2007 Hakone Ekiden was particularly incredible in that he suffered leg cramps in both legs but still set a new stage record and beat the next runner by a wide margin. In October he met the Olympic B-standard in setting a 10000 m PB of 27:51.65.

While all five of these runners are connected with major running powerhouse universities, Masato Kihara of the unheralded Chuo Gakuin University has quietly been demonstrating that he is at least the equal of his more famous rivals. Two years ago as an unknown 1st-year student, Kihara surgically took apart the rest of the field on the 1st stage with extremely impressive form and style. In the stage victory interview, Toshihiko Seko apologized to Kihara for not knowing who he was and promised that he would always remember thereafter. Kihara went on that year to run 1:01:50 in the Ageo City Half Marathon, the all-time 2nd best Japanese university record. This year he ran 58:40 in the Hakone-qualifying Yosenkai 20 km road race, the Japanese-born runner course record and faster than Hideaki Date`s 58:51 course record in the much flatter Takashimadaira 20 km road race.

These six runners, along with other talented current students such as Satoru Kitamura (Nittai University), Yuki Matsuoka (Juntendo University), Tomoya Onishi (Toyo University) and Koichi Sakai (Komazawa University), look poised to bring a renaissance to Japanese men`s marathoning. As the current generation of stars such as Toshinari Takaoka, Atsushi Fujita and Tsuyoshi Ogata edge toward retirement, this group of younger runners are likely to move up to the world stage and be strong factors in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Also worthy of mention alongside this new generation of Japanese aces is Yamanashi Gakuin University`s Kenyan runner Mekubo Mogusu. The supremely talented Mogusu is a nationally beloved figure in Japan for his spectacular overpace meltdowns on the 2nd leg of the last two Hakone Ekidens. Mogusu has been in Japan since high school when he was a rival and sometime conqueror of current half marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru. Despite being the same age and having similar backgrounds, the two runners have followed very different paths. While Wanjiru followed the demands of economics and went straight into the corporate running world from high school, Mogusu chose to enter university specifically for the honor of running Hakone.

As a 1st year student he tried to set a titanic stage record on the 23.2 km 2nd stage, going through 10 km in the mid-27’s and going from 13th to 1st place before fading in the hilly final few km to miss the stage record by 43 seconds. The following year Mogusu went out even harder, unrealistically trying to break the lead which Yuki Sato built for Hideaki Date. Mogusu`s 10 km split was about 10 seconds faster than in his 1st year, but he was unsurprisingly unable to maintain such a pace on the hills. He self-destructed and was retaken by several Japanese runners, much to the shock of the race announcers.

This year Mogusu has shown some maturation, breaking one hour for the half marathon three times, each time running completely alone, as well as a 57:01 course record in the hilly Yosenkai 20 km road race. His crowning achievement of the year was running 55:32 for the 19.7 km anchor leg of the All-Japan University Men`s Ekiden, breaking his own course record from last year by 59 seconds. In this run Mogusu showed progression in his development, holding back and going through 10 km in 28 minutes flat, then accelerating later in the race. Such development and results in 2007 make it look likely that he will finally achieve his goal of a stage record on Hakone`s 2nd leg. It will be exciting to see what happens when he gets opportunities to run against some of the world`s other top half marathoners instead of in solo performances as well as later when he makes the jump to the marathon.

The 2008 Hakone Ekiden is being cast by many commentators as a duel between Tokai University with its two aces Date and Sato, and Komazawa University which has no true stars but a very high average level among its top runners. Last year`s winner Juntendo University lost seven of the ten members on its winning team to graduation, most significantly Masato Imai. Juntendo was 5th in the Izumo Ekiden and 11th in the All-Japan University Men`s Ekiden, the two most important pre-Hakone races, suggesting that it is in a rebuilding phase and unlikely to be a factor.

Komazawa was the reigning king of Hakone from 1998 to 2005, finishing in the top two for that entire period including winning 2002-2005. 2006 and 2007 saw Komazawa in a similar rebuilding period to Juntendo as it finished 5th and 7th. This year its team appears to have reached maturity, winning All-Japan handily and, of this year`s Hakone teams, having the fastest median 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon times among its ten best runners. Komazawa has no true ace, but its star runner Koichi “Fat Thighs” Sakai has announced that he is in serious training for his debut marathon, next year`s Olympic team qualifying Biwako Mainichi Marathon, and is in fantastic shape for Hakone. All of this has led Toshihiko Seko among others to pick Komazawa for the win.

Tokai is close behind with a victory in Izumo, the 2nd-best 5000 m and 10000 m median times and 3rd-best median half marathon time. Last year Sato and Date ran the 1st and 2nd stages respectively, giving Tokai a lead which was only broken by Juntendo`s Imai on the uphill 5th stage. Tokai ran in 2nd place the rest of the race and was outkicked in the end by Nihon University. Komazawa was nowhere near, finishing 7th. Date is likely to run the 2nd ‘ace’ stage again this time. Sato, who holds the stage records on the 1st and 3rd stages, has said that he doesn`t care whether he is put on the 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th stage as he will run a new stage record on any of them, an indirect compliment to Imai. Date is remarkably solid and reliable, but Sato has had a mediocre year, doing almost nothing noteworthy during 2007 until October when he ran a winning anchor leg at the Izumo Ekiden and, more importantly, an Olympic B-standard 10000 m PB of 27:51.65. Date and Sato are far superior to any of Komazawa`s runners and, if both run well, will give Tokai a nearly insurmountable advantage. On the other hand, if either has a bad run then Komazawa will almost certainly overtake Tokai.

Perpetual runner-up Nihon University is another potential factor. Its team is relatively consistent but depends heavily upon the presence of a Kenyan ‘exchange student’ in its lineup. Its current Kenyan ringer is 2nd-year student Daniel Gitau. Gitau has performed decently to date, including the fastest student 10000 m time of the year in Japan, but does not give the impression that he is close to his potential yet.

Waseda University, the alma mater of marathon stars such as Toshihiko Seko and Atsushi Sato, was a dominant force in Hakone for many years but has fallen on hard times in the last ten years. It has gradually rebuilt and now with ace Kensuke Takezawa is a true presence. Unfortunately it appears that Takezawa will be sidelined with a recurrence of serious leg nerve troubles which have bothered him since high school.

An outside contender is Josai University. Josai is the most recent team to make the Hakone grade, having first taken part in 2004 after acquiring former Waseda star runner Seiji Kushibe as part of its coaching staff. The team has steadily improved and this year has been ranked in the top four teams based on pre-season performance.

The last and arguably most interesting team to consider is the East Japan University Select Team. This team is made up of the top members of university teams which failed to qualify for Hakone in October`s Yosenkai 20 km road race. One might expect such a team to be comparatively strong, but the Select Team usually finishes quite low in the field. This year, however, the combined time of the team`s members is three minutes faster than that of Yosenkai winners Chuo Gakuin University and its median 10000 m time is the fastest for any Select Team in Hakone history, so it looks possible for the Select Team to apply some pressure to the top teams.

Regardless of outcome, the Hakone Ekiden promises to deliver the most exciting racing of the Japanese running year. Check back on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 for detailed race reports.

© 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, December 28, 2007

Hakone Ekiden Preview on the Way

I am generally staying away from writing about my own running in Japan. That said, this morning I did my annual run up the Hakone Ekiden 5th stage, a 23.4 km course starting at sea level, peaking at 874 m after 19 km, then dropping 100 m or so to finish next to a lake in the mountains. It was an inspirational run and doubly exciting as preparations were underaway all along the course for the 84th Hakone Ekiden Jan. 2-3.

For those unfamiliar with the Hakone Ekiden, it is nominally the East Japan University Men`s championship race, featuring 19 schools and one all-star team running a 10-stage, 217.9 km course from Tokyo into the mountains and back over the course of 2 days. I say nominally in that Hakone has become the center of much of the Japanese running world, with the top Hakone schools attracting the best runners from throughout Japan, many of whom make this ekiden the focus of their lives and thus do not continue on as professionals after graduation. The level of public enthusiasm, television viewership and corporate sponsorship connected with Hakone are literally difficult to believe. There is even a superb Hakone Ekiden Museum next to the first day`s finish line / second day`s start line.

I will be writing and posting a preview of the 84th Hakone Ekiden as soon as I can. There is a huge number of interviews with this year`s ace runners, predictions about the race from Japanese distance running luminaries, even a very interesting series of interviews with low-ranking members of each Hakone team. I would love to be able to put up translations of all of these, especially the interviews with the unknown guys, but as this blog is not (yet) my full-time job it is impossible. Even if you can`t read Japanese I recommend taking a look at the interviews and team profiles which the Yomiuri newspaper has here:

The Hakone Ekiden official website is also a must:

As I said, I will put up a full preview as soon as possible, most likely on the 31st. I will also post reports on race day.

Takahashi Consults With Koide One Last Time; Heads to Kunming for Nagoya Prep

translated and edited by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) left Japan on Dec. 25 for a high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China as part of her preparation for trying to qualify for the Beijing Olympic marathon team at the Nagoya International Women`s Marathon on Mar. 9. In the early morning while on the way to Narita Airport, Takahashi discovered that her ticket was actually for Dec. 26, not Dec. 25. Fortunately, she was able to fly on the 25th. In the past Takahashi has always had trouble before her good races, so this may have been a good omen.

Shortly before Takahashi won the 2000 Nagoya International Women`s Marathon to qualify for the Sydney Olympics, she suffered food poisoning while at a training camp in Tokunoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture. Then in 2001 when leaving for a training camp in Boulder she was bitten on her right ankle by an unknown animal. Soon afterward she set a world record at the Berlin Marathon.

At Narita Airport, Takahashi for the first time told reporters her reasons for running in Nagoya, a race she has run and won twice, the last time being 8 years ago. "The last time I qualified for the Olympics was at Nagoya. I know the course and I have good luck there. If I had to choose between Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, I would run Nagoya because I like it the most. It`s also close to my hometown, so Nagoya is the best for my last Olympic attempt. To be honest, I made this decision in August."

Takahashi`s famed Sydney-era coach Yoshio Koide told a reporter, "Q-chan [Takahashi] contacted me while I was in Boulder. She sounded like she was feeling anxious so I asked her what was wrong. She showed me all her old training diaries and said, 'I tried to run these old workouts but they don't work well any more,' so I gave her a little advice. I told her that her age and muscles are different than they were 10 years ago. She seemed to have modified her training program a little bit on her own over the years, but....." Over dinner in Boulder, Koide convinced Takahashi to focus on March`s Nagoya as her target race to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. "I told her, 'Osaka is too close to think about. You should do Nagoya.'" When Takahashi returned from Boulder on Nov. 10, she told reporters at Narita Airport that she might do either Osaka or Nagoya, but in truth the decision had already been made in Boulder.

After returning from Boulder, Takahashi spent 3 weeks at another training camp in Tokunoshima where her training included a 40 km run. She also watched Noguchi`s victory in the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon on TV. "Noguchi said, 'There are only 2 spots left, so I`m on the edge of a cliff,' but after her victory I am closer to the edge than she was," she laughed.

Takahashi`s dog Lappy couldn`t go with her to Kunming, so she left it in a dog hotel. She herself will be spending New Year`s Eve in China. 2008 will be Takahashi`s Chinese zodiac year, leading her to say, "I think this will be my good luck year, so I hope good things will happen to me." Takahashi is returning to Japan in mid-January, making this her first long training camp in Kunming. To help feel at home she brought her own soy beans, canned sardines, buckwheat flour and mochi. Around the end of January she will go back to Kunming to continue preparing for Nagoya, with plans to return to Japan 10 days before the race.

"I don`t want to think about who else is running, I just want to do my best day to day. In Nagoya I want to run a race which will lead to the next one. I want to make next year the year that makes me glad I`ve kept running." When asked what she wanted for Christmas, Takahashi answered, "I want an injury-free body until March."

2007 As Seen By JRN Readers

JRN's most-read articles of 2007 by month:

Takayuki Matsumiya sets Japanese 5000 m national record. - July 29

Kano, Oshima and Ozaki finish in top 10 at NY Half-Marathon. - Aug. 6

'Perhaps the Japanese have Lydiard right.' - Sept. 4

Atsushi Sato sets new Japanese and Asian half-marathon record.Oct. 16

397 under 70 minutes: the 20th Ageo City Half-Marathon. - Nov. 20

The Hakone Ekiden: a brief history and preview. - Dec. 31

(c) 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tosa Named Athlete of the Year by Japanese National Track and Field Association

Photo of Tosa, Fukushi and Noguchi at the Rikuren Awards in Tokyo, Dec. 26, 2007.

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Rikuren, the JAAF, held its 1st annual Athletics Awards on Dec. 26 in Tokyo. In attendance were 3 women who each have a chance to win the gold medal in the Beijing Olympics women`s marathon.

Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) was named Athlete of the Year for her bronze medal performance in the women`s marathon at the World Championships, a run which has already secured Tosa a place on the Olympic team. "The home-country support I received from everyone during the Osaka World Championships truly pushed me to make the medals. I will do my best in Beijing to run a good race," Tosa told the audience with characteristic nervousness during her acceptance speech.

Also honored for her victory at the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon was Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), who is almost certain to be named to the team. Tosa commented, "I don`t know whether Noguchi is my rival or ally. She is the [Athens Olympics] gold medalist and I am the challenger," couching her competitiveness in a mild tone of voice.

The 3rd woman to be recognized at the awards ceremony was Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), who ran in both the women`s 5000 m and 10000 m at the World Championships. Fukushi will try to secure one ticket to Beijing when she runs her debut marathon at the Osaka International Women`s Marathon in January. "I want everyone to enjoy my race," Fukushi laughed.

Other athletes honored by Rikuren included World Championships men`s 400 m relay 5th place team members Naoki Tsukahara (Tokai University), Shingo Suetsugu (Team Mizuno), Shinji Takahira (Team Fujitsu) and Nobuharu Asahara (Team Osaka Gas). Men`s 400 m hurdler Dai Tamesue (Team APF) won a special award for outstanding social contributions for founding the Tokyo Street Track and Field organization to help children get involved in track and field.

The IAAF`s athletics awards are held in lavish settings in Monaco each year with top athletes appearing in formal dress. Rikuren`s awards were held with only 1 month`s planning in a relatively modest location, leading Tosa to joke, "Hmmn, I don`t know whether this ceremony is flamboyant or, uh, not so flamboyant....."

Update: 1/14/08: The IAAF reported this same story today.

Team Chugoku Denryoku to Battle Team Nissin Shokuhin in New Year Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

37 teams will compete Jan. 1st in the 52nd annual All-Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden, popularly known as the New Year Ekiden. The ekiden covers a 7-stage, 100 km course through Gunma Prefecture, starting and ending in Maebashi. Team Chugoku Denryoku will be trying for its 2nd straight victory and will face tough competition from Team Nissin Shokuhin, who will be looking for its 1st victory, and past champs Team Konica Minolta, who will be trying to return to the winner`s circle.

Team Chugoku Denryoku`s lineup includes Tsuyoshi Ogata, the 5th place finisher in this past summer`s World Championships marathon; Atsushi Sato, the Japanese half-marathon national record holder and 3rd-place finisher at the Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 2; and Shigeru Aburaya, who was 5th in the Athens Olympics marathon. Team Chugoku Denryoku does not have any foreign runners so it will likely have a comparatively slow 1st half and gain ground in the 2nd half of the race.

Team Nissin Shokuhin won November`s East Japan Ekiden for the 2nd year in a row. Its main weapon is Kenyan ace Ngatuny Gideon. Nissin`s roster also includes World Championships marathon 7th place finisher Toshinari Suwa, Kazuyoshi Tokumoto and other reliable workhorses.

Last year, Team Konica Minolta failed to win a 3rd straight victory. This year, both its aces Takayuki and Yuko Matsumiya are in peak shape and will form the leading edge of its attack. The average 10000 m time of its top 7 runners is 28:22.37, leaving little doubt that Konica Minolta will be one of the top contenders.

Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita`s Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu features Fukuoka International Marathon winner and half-marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru. This year Toyota Kyushu also features Juntendo University graduate and new member Masato Imai, who gained nationwide fame during the last 3 years for his incredible uphill running on the 5th stage of the Hakone Ekiden.

Team Kanebo includes Japanese marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka and will be another contender for one of the top spots in the field.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ritsumeikan Continues Dynasty at National University Women`s Ekiden

by Brett Larner

The Ritsumeikan University women`s ekiden team extended its national championship dynasty at the 5th All-Japan University Women`s Invitational Ekiden in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture on Dec. 24, defeating 19 other teams to win the event for the 5th time. Despite a strong challenge from Bukkyo University, who set new stage records on 3 of the 6 stages, Ritsumeikan once again prevailed over this 30.67 km course.

1st Stage: 5 km
All 20 runners on the first stage stayed together until the 2 km point when a few began to drift away from the back of the pack. At the 3 km point Ryoko Kisaki of Bukkyo broke away, dropping a 3:00 km between 3 and 4 km. Juntendo University`s Yuka Inatomi and Nihon University`s Kenyan 'exchange student' Ann Kingori followed, Kingori dropping Inatomi with 500 m to go. Neither was close to Kisaki, who was strong right to the finish in a new stage record time.

1. Bukkyo: 15:39 (Ryoko Kisaki, 4th yr., new stage record)
2. Nihon: 15:50 (Ann Kingori, 2nd yr.)
3. Juntendo: 15:52 (Yuka Inatomi, 4th yr.)

2nd Stage: 3 km
Nihon`s other Kenyan exchange student, Jemima Maina, went out aggressively to catch Bukkyo`s Chizuru Ideta but did not realize that Ideta herself was running new stage record pace. Maina faltered after 2 km and slowed dramatically, almost overtaken by the pack which enveloped Juntendo after 1.5 km. Ritsumeikan`s Kaori Onuma emerged from the pack before the handoff zone to take the 3rd position.

1. Bukkyo: 25:10 (Chizuru Ideta, 3rd yr.: 9:32 new stage record)
2. Nihon: 25:35 (Jemima Maina, 1st yr.: 9:45)
3. Ritsumeikan: 25:36 (Kaori Onuma, 1st yr.)

3rd Stage: 5.5 km
Ritsumeikan`s Kazue Kojima immediately passed Nihon`s Manami Takeuchi and began to advance on Bukkyo`s Yuika Mori, her rival since early high school days. At 2 km Meijo University`s Seika Nishikawa also overtook Takeuchi, eliminating Nihon from the top 3 slots. Kojima passed Mori at 4.1 km but Mori maintained contact and with 200 m to go sprinted back into the lead. Nevertheless, Kojima`s performance was good for a new stage record.

1. Bukkyo: 43:18 (Yuika Mori, 2nd yr.: 18:08)
2. Ritsumeikan: 43:19 (Kazue Kojima, 2nd yr.: 17:43 new stage record)
3. Meijo: 43:49 (Seika Nishikawa, 2nd yr.: 17:56)

4th Stage: 3.5 km
Bukkyo`s Rino Hakushi and Yukie Nakadomari of Ritsumeikan ran together for the 1st km, but with Nakadomari`s far superior PBs it was only a matter of time before she pulled away. Meijo`s Kaori Ito also advanced, significantly narrowing the gap between herself and 2nd place.

1. Ritsumeikan: 54:44 (Yukie Nakadomari, 3rd yr.: 11:25 stage best)
2. Bukkyo: 55:10 (Rino Hakushi, 3rd yr.: 11:52)
3. Meijo: 55:32 (Kaori Ito, 1st yr.: 11:43)

5th Stage: 6 km
Ritsumeikan`s 5th stage runner Akiko Matsunaga ran with special motivation. Ritsumeikan won October`s All-Japan University Women`s Ekiden with 5 of its 6 runners winning stage best honors. Matsunaga came 2nd on her leg in that race. She was determined to come away with the stage best title this time, but despite a solid run was outdone by Bukkyo`s Eriko Ogino who ran a new stage record. Mika Kawai of Meijo soldiered on in the 3rd position.

1. Ritsumeikan: 1:14:27 (Akiko Matsunaga, 3rd yr.: 19:43)
2. Bukkyo: 1:14:46 (Eriko Ogino, 2nd yr.: 19:37 new stage record)
3. Meijo: 1:15:28 (Mika Kawai, 2nd yr.: 19:56)

6th Stage: 7.67 km
Bukkyo`s anchor was star 1st-yr. recruit Kasumi Nishihara with a PB of 15:41. Nishihara had confidently predicted that if she was within 20 seconds of the leader she could win the anchor leg, making for Bukkyo`s 1st national ekiden title. When Ogino delivered her the tasuki with only a 19-second margin the stage looked set for a dramatic finish as Ritsumeikan`s anchor Noriko Higuchi held a 5000 m PB over 20 seconds slower than Nishihara`s. Both runners went on to do the unexpected, with Higuchi far outrunning the uncomfortable-looking Nishihara to widen the gap to 39 seconds. Meijo`s anchor Eri Sato managed to move a few steps closer to Nishihara but nowhere near to being in range of 2nd place. Tokyo Nogyo University`s Mariko Sase surprised all with a stage-best run to take 4th place away from a rebounding Juntendo.

1. Ritsumeikan: 1:39:33 (Noriko Higuchi, 4th yr.: 25:06)
2. Bukkyo: 1:40:12 (Kasumi Nishihara, 1st yr.: 25:26)
3. Meijo: 1:40:52 (Eri Sato, 3rd yr.: 25:24)
stage best: Mariko Sase, 3rd yr., Tokyo Nogyo: 25:04

Complete results will be added when the race website is updated.

Note: The race website linked above includes video interviews with runners from the top 12 schools in the ekiden.

© 2007 Brett Larner
All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Nittadai 10000m: Akaba Runs Olympic A-Standard PB, Fukushi Cancels to Avoid Media

Hot on the heels of recovering from childbirth to defeat Catherine Ndereba in the International Chiba Ekiden last month and finish 2nd to 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui on the 10 km anchor leg of last week`s All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden, Yukiko Akaba of Team Hokuren ran 31:23.27 in the women`s 10000 m at the Nittadai Track and Field Meet in Yokohama on Dec. 23 to meet the Beijing Olympics A standard of 31:45:00. This performance broke Akaba`s PB by 30 seconds. "I ran within myself," commented Akaba after the race. "I will do it again next year at the Olympic Trials."

Kayoko Fukushi of Team Wacoal, who is scheduled to run the Osaka International Marathon in January next year, was entered in the 10000 m at the Nittadai meet but did not run. Team Wacoal coach Tadayuki Nagayama stated that Fukushi did not attend the meet in order to avoid the stress of being bothered by news media in the wake of her announcement on Dec. 18 that she will debut in the marathon in Osaka. Nagayama went on to say that Fukushi has not really trained specifically for the marathon yet, only having run one 30 km practice run so far, and that while they will do what they can in the month remaining before the marathon people should not get their hopes up.

'Japanese Training System in Fukuoka'

A discussion on about Japanese training methods, jitsugyodan and otherwise.

'Kimwei Sets Course Record to Win Sanyo Road Race'

A Japanese article with a photo of the finish and some different info from the IAAF article is here.

10 Japanese Races Receive IAAF 'Silver' Ranking

translated by Brett Larner

On Dec. 20 in London the IAAF released its worldwide ranking of marathons and other road races, with labels including 'Gold' and 'Silver.' 10 races in Japan including the Hokkaido Marathon and the 30000 runner-strong Tokyo Marathon received the 'Silver' ranking, but no domestic races received the highest 'Gold' ranking.

Other 'Silver'-ranked races included the Fukuoka International Marathon, Biwako Mainichi Marathon, Tokyo International Women`s Marathon, Osaka International Women`s Marathon, Nagoya International Women`s Marathon, Nagano Marathon, the 30 km Ome Marathon, and the Marugame Half-Marathon.

12 races worldwide including the London Marathon received the 'Gold' rating. 3 races in Asia including the Beijing Marathon received a 'Gold' label. Japan`s top races were held back from the 'Gold' ranking because they do not feature both elite men`s and women`s fields and are not broadcast internationally on television.

Monday, December 24, 2007

150 Santas Race in Kyoto

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

150 people dressed as Santa Claus ran The Santa Claus Marathon along the Kamogawa in Kyoto on Dec. 23. Runners ranging from children to seniors wore white beards and red coats to celebrate Christmas in the old capitol.

The race began 5 years ago for people who enjoy this sort of thing, quickly becoming a regular event. Its growing popularity attracts runners from Kanto and Shikoku in addition to locals. Runners in costumes such as Christmas trees and snowmen as well as people with dogs dressed as reindeer also took part. Race staff said, "We are very happy that everybody enjoyed the run this year."

Translator`s note: Merry Christmas.

Ritsumeikan Uji Girls and Sendai Ikuei Boys Return to the Top in All-Japan High School Ekiden (updated)

by Brett Larner

Hometown team Ritsumeikan Uji capped a strong season by winning the girls` division of the All-Japan High School ekiden for the first time in 7 years, while powerhouse Sendai Ikuei scored its seventh victory in the boys` race, returning to the top after last year`s loss to Sera. The two races were held back-to-back on the streets of Kyoto on Dec. 23 and broadcast live and commercial-free on national television. Each race featured the 47 prefectural champion high schools, the girls covering a hilly half-marathon course divided into 5 stages and the boys an even hillier full marathon course divided into 7 stages. Conditions at the start of the girls` race were 10 degrees with light rain and no wind, but the weather soon broke and the day became warm, sunny and breezy.

Girls` Race
The girls` race was billed as a battle between defending champions Suma Gakuen of Hyogo Prefecture and local high school Ritsumeikan Uji. Ritsumeikan had the faster qualification time leading into the race, 1:07:17 to Suma`s 1:07:58, with Okayama Prefecture`s Kojokan close behind in 1:08:03. Perennially dominant Sendai Ikuei of Miyazaki Prefecture were handicapped by the sidelining of their star runner Megumi Kinukawa with a back injury following her participation in the Osaka World Championships 10000 m and International Chiba Ekiden.

1st Stage: 6 km
A large pack of around 20 stayed together for the first 3 km, clocking steady splits of 3:12, 3:15 and 3:17. At 3.3 km, Toyokawa`s Wysela Wylim broke from the pack, followed closely by the field`s other Kenyan 'exchange student,' Felista Wanjugu of Aomori Yamada. The 2 runners dueled for the remainder of the leg, swerving dramatically to break contact, pushing each other and even tripping over each others` legs. Aya Nagata of Kobayashi was the only Japanese runner to try to follow the Kenyans, catching Wanjugu at the 5 km mark. Wanjugu responded by launching her final kick, quickly dropping Nagata and sprinting away from Wylim with 200 m to go. Wanjugu`s time of 19:09 was a 17-second improvement over last year`s performance.

1. Aomori Yamada: 19:09 (Felista Wanjugu, 2nd yr., stage best)
2. Toyokawa: 19:15 (Wysela Wylim, 1st yr.)
3. Kobayashi: 19:21 (Aya Nagata, 3rd yr.)

2nd Stage: 4.0975 km
In the first minute of the stage, Toyokawa`s Yukino Ninomiya flew by Aomori Yamada`s Mami Sato at an aggressive pace. Aomori Yamada continued to drop when Ritsumeikan Uji and Kobayashi passed shortly afterwards. Ritsumeikan`s Ikumi Natsuhara continued to accelerate, dropping Kobayashi and catching Ninomiya at the 2.45 km point. Ninomiya and Natsuhara staged a thrilling battle over the next 1.6 km, repeatedly passing each other before Natsuhara pulled away for good with 1 km to go. Kojokan`s Rei Ohara moved up in the later stages to take the 3rd position.

1. Ritsumeikan Uji: 32:08 (Ikumi Natsuhara, 2nd yr.: 12:42 stage best)
2. Toyokawa: 21:13 (Yukino Ninomiya, 2nd yr.: 12:58)
3. Kojokan: 32:42 (Rei Ohara, 2nd yr.: 13:00)

3rd Stage: 3 km
Ritsumeikan Uji`s Michi Numata initially opened a huge gap over Nanaka Izawa of Toyokawa but was unable to maintain her pace and fell apart, finishing just one step ahead of Izawa. Aika Tsutsumi of Kojokan had an excellent run, tying Izawa for stage best honors.

1. Ritsumeikan Uji: 41:57 (Michi Numata, 3rd yr., 9:49)
2. Toyokawa: 41:57 (Nanaka Izawa, 1st yr., 9:44 stage best)
3. Kojokan: 42:26 (Aika Tsutsumi, 1st yr., 9:44 stage best)

4th Stage: 3 km
Like Numata, Ritsumeikan Uji`s Aya Ito opened a huge lead over Toyokawa. Ito was able to keep it together, earning the stage best with an outstanding 9:06. Hojokan`s Mako Fukunaga caught Toyokawa`s Saki Oyaizu at the 2.5 km mark to move her team into 2nd place. Yu Mamizuka of Kamimura Gakuen likewise caught Toyokawa in the final sprint to capture 3rd.

1. Ritsumeikan Uji: 51:03 (Aya Ito, 1st yr., 9:06 stage best)
2. Kojokan: 52:07 (Mako Fukunaga, 3rd yr., 9:41)
3. Kamimura Gakuen: 52:09 (Yu Mamizuka, 2nd yr., 9:33)

5th Stage: 5 km
Ritsumeikan Uji`s captain Risa Takenaka ran the anchor leg, maintaining the lead which Ito built on the 4th stage to lead her school to its first victory in 7 years. Starting in 5th position, Kumamoto Chiharadai`s anchor Erika Ikeda ran a very impressive stage, advancing steadily and catching Kojokan`s Ami Kudo just after the 2 km point. Kudo followed just behind until the last km when Ikeda launched her last attack, capturing both 2nd place and the stage best time. Kudo held on for 3rd, followed closely by Yukari Abe of Sendai Ikuei who was only 1 second off Ikeda`s stage best time. Sendai Ikuei had reported before the race that in Megumi Kinukawa`s absence they would be happy with a 1:08 finish time. They were no doubt pleased with their 1:08:33. Defending champions Suma Gakuen were never a factor, finishing 5th in 1:08:47.

An emotional Coach Ogino of Ritsumeikan Uji told reporters after the race that he had spent many sleepless nights in the weeks leading up to All-Japan trying to devise a winning strategy and was overjoyed to bring the victory to the city of Kyoto.

1. Ritsumeikan Uji: 1:07:06 (Risa Takenaka, 3rd yr.: 16:03)
2. Kumamoto Chiharadai: 1:08:16 (Erika Ikeda, 1st yr.: 16:02 stage best)
3. Kojokan: 1:08:25 (Ami Kudo, 2nd yr.: 16:18)

Boys` Race
The boys` race featured a stacked field. Defending champions Sera of Hiroshima Prefecture were back, along with Hyogo Prefecture`s Nishiwaki Kogyo who included the current national high school champion runner Yuki Yagi. Also in the field were Nagano Prefecture`s Saku Chosei which despite having produced current university ace runners Yuichiro Ueno and Yuki Sato has never won All-Japan, and 6-time winners Sendai Ikuei. Sendai Ikuei, whose success has largely been fueled by the presence of Kenyan ringers such as Daniel Njenga and Samuel Wanjiru, were the heavy favorites.

1st Stage: 10 km
The pack went out incredibly hard from the gun, so quickly that the two Kenyan aces on the 1st stage, Sera`s Bitan Karoki and Yamanashi Gakuin Daifuzoku`s Ondiba Cosmas, couldn`t move into the lead until several hundred meters had passed. Cosmas ran right on Karoki`s heels, the two passing the 1 km point running flat-out in 2:45. Incredibly, the large pack of Japanese runners were right behind, hitting the first km in a suicidal 2:47. After entering the hills at 4 km, the Kenyans went through 5 km in 14:23. The Japanese pack led by Yusuke Mita of Toyokawa Kogyo were still close in 14:46. Yagi was the first casualty as Mita increased the pace, dropping from the pack of 7 runners at 6 km. At around the same time, Cosmas made a move on Karoki but was quickly countered. At 7.5 km Karoki counterattacked, dropping Cosmas for good. Karoki, who as a 1st-year high school student has a 5000 m PB of 13:38, continued to run with impressive abandon, dropping a 2:47 9th km and finishing the stage in 29:19. Mita continued to control the Japanese pack, repeatedly attacking and counterattacking and almost catching the struggling Cosmas.

1. Sera: 29:19 (Bitan Karoki, 1st yr. stage best)
2. Yamanashi Gakuin Daifukuzo: 29:37 (Ondiba Cosmas, 3rd yr.)
3. Toyokawa Kogyo: 29:44 (Yusuke Mita, 3rd yr.)

2nd Stage: 3 km
Sera`s Satohiro Yamasaki ran 2:40 for the 1st km and hung on to keep the lead. Behind him, Saku Chosei`s Takayuki Nagase quickly caught Toyokawa Kogyo rookie Shinji Mizuno, the two then working together to catch Yamanashi Gakuin Fuzoku`s Yuta Anamizu. Anamizu was overtaken by several other runners and continued to plummet. Nagase pulled away slightly, and in the sprint finish Mizuno was overtaken at the line by Kurashiki`s Shinya Kamiyamada.

1. Sera: 38:01 (Satohiro Yamasaki, 2nd yr.: 8:42)
2. Saku Chosei: 38:23 (Takayuki Nagase, 3rd yr.: 8:37)
3. Kurashiki: 38:24 (Shinya Kamiyamada, 3rd yr.: 8:32)
stage best: Takahiro Gunji, Nasu Takuyo, 1st yr.: 8:28

3rd Stage: 8.1075 km
Along with the 1st stage, the 3rd stage features most team`s ace runners. The stage record was set in 2004 by Samuel Wanjiru during his student days at Sendai Ikuei. Toyokawa`s Tomohiro Hayakawa immediately overtook Kurashiki`s Shinichi Takase and continued to advance on the 2 runners ahead. Saku Chosei`s Hirofumi Sasaki caught Sera`s Akihiro Kuroki at the 1.52 km point, with Hayakawa following suit at 2.48 km.

While this action was happening up front, Sendai Ikuei`s Kenyan runner Paul Kuira was advancing from his 10th place position at the start of the leg. Kuira had been injured and was on reserve status; he was only added to the team`s active roster the day before All-Japan. A phone call from Samuel Wanjiru that night gave Kuira confidence, and he lived up to expectations. Kuira caught Kuroki at 2.60 km to move into 3rd, Hayakawa at 3.15 km to pick up 2nd, and Sasaki at 4.42 km to take the lead. Kuira earned not only the stage best title but also tied for 2nd on the ekiden`s all-time list for number of people passed.

1. Sendai Ikuei: 1:02:05 (Paul Kuira, 2nd yr.: 23:14 stage best)
2. Saku Chosei: 1:02:28 (Hirofumi Sasaki, 2nd yr.: 24:05)
3. Toyokawa: 1:02:36 (Tomohiro Hayakawa, 2nd yr.: 24:12)

4th Stage: 8.0875 km
During the 1st half of the 4th stage, the leading 3 runners more or less maintained position. At 5.5 km, Takuya Sakai of Kyushu Gakuin moved up from the trailing pack to catch Toyokawa`s Himiyasu Nagasaka. Nagasaka attacked with 1 km to go and opened a gap, but approaching the end of the stage Sakai came back and ended beating Nagasaka by 3 seconds. Saku Chosei`s Kenta Chiba also put on a strong final km but was unable to catch Sendai Ikuei`s Ryohei Kawakami.

1. Sendai Ikuei: 1:26:10 (Ryohei Kawakami, 3rd yr.: 24:05)
2. Saku Chosei: 1:26:23 (Kenta Chiba, 2nd yr.: 23:55)
3. Kyushu Gakuin: 1:27:06 (Takuya Sakai, 3rd yr.: 24:09)
stage best: Yusuke Sato, Tomisato, 2nd yr.: 23:53

5th Stage: 3 km
On the 5th stage, Sendai Ikuei`s Takashi Saito struggled, barely holding on to his lead over Saku Chosei`s Tsubasa Fujii. Toyokawa`s Hirotaka Kojima hung behind Kyushu Gakuin`s Kento Kamimura, outkicking him in the last stretch to retake 3rd.

1. Sendai Ikuei: 1:34:58 (Takashi Saito, 2nd yr.: 8:48)
2. Saku Chosei: 1:35:02 (Tsubasa Fujii, 2nd yr.: 8:39)
3. Toyokawa: 1:35:49 (Hirotaka Kojima, 3rd yr.: 8:40)
stage best: Takahiro Niki, Nishiwaki Kogyo, 2nd yr.: 8:38

6th Stage: 5 km
Saku Chosei`s Kenta Sasaki came out swinging, catching Sendai Ikuei`s Yuki Munakata in the 1st km. The 2 ran together for the next 3 km, occasionally moving a step ahead or behind. With 950 m to go Munakata launched a furious long spurt, opening up a 10 m gap on Sasaki. Sasaki was not finished, though, coming back in the final meters to reach the handoff zone just a step behind in a stage best time.

1. Sendai Ikuei: 1:49:22 (Yuki Munakata, 3rd yr.: 14:24)
2. Saku Chosei: 1:49:22 (Kenta Sasaki, 2nd yr.: 14:20 stage best)
3. Toyokawa: 1:50:56 (Sho Masaki, 1st yr.: 15:07)

7th Stage: 5 km
With Sendai Ikuei and Saku Chosei starting only a step apart the stage was set for a dramatic anchor leg. Sendai Ikuei anchor Takamitsu Hashimoto, running his final ekiden as a high schooler, was forced to try to hold off Saku Chosei anchor Naohiro Domoto who had not only the motivation of bringing home Saku Chosei`s 1st All-Japan win but also a slightly faster 5000 m PB, 14:16 to Hashimoto`s 14:18. The rivals ran lockstep, passing 1 km in 2:46 and continuing on together all the way to the final lap of the track. With 350 m to go Hashimoto opened a slight gap. Coming off the final corner into the home stretch Domoto managed to pull even a final time, but Hashimoto was the stronger this day and finished half a stride ahead.

Behind the 2 leaders, 3 teams caught Toyokawa anchor Masaya Hiwada to form a pack of 4 battling for 3rd place. Nishiwaki Kogyo`s Kota Shinjo dropped the others at 2.3 km, continuing on to the finish without challenge in the stage`s best time. Hiwada almost held on to 4th, but in a replay of the top 2 teams` finish Saitama Sakae anchor Kento Tabe caught Hiwada coming off the final corner. In this case (sai) outleaned Hiwada at the tape to steal 4th. Defending champions Sera finished far down the field in 10th place.

For many of the top runners in the field it was their final run as high school students. It will be interesting to see which universities and jitsugyodan teams recruit this new crop of talent.

1. Sendai Ikuei: 2:03:55 (Takamitsu Hashimoto, 3rd yr.: 14:33)
2. Saku Chosei: 2:03:55 (Naohiro Domoto 3rd yr.: 14:33)
3. Nishiwaki Kogyo: 2:05:29 (Kota Shinjo, 2nd yr.: 14:26 stage best)

© 2007 Brett Larner
All rights reserved

Friday, December 21, 2007

3177 Run the Mita Masters Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

The 19th running of the Mita International Masters Half Marathon took place on Dec. 16 in Mita, Hyogo Prefecture with sponsorship from Yomiuri Newspapers Osaka, Yomiuri Television and Hochi Newspapers. 3177 runners entered the race, up 134 from last year. An estimated 12000 spectators lined the course to cheer in support.

The Rikuren-certified 21.0975 km course commenced at Ari Prefectural High School`s sports grounds. Race director and Mita mayor Hideaki Takeuchi greeted runners with an opening speech before the race began, telling them, "This is the most important event of the year in Mita. Please have a good time in our city while you run."

Weather conditions just before the start were a chilly 5.5 degrees with light rain, but the rain abated in time for the starting gun.

Breaking from the lead pack at the 5 km point, Yasukaza Miyasato from Izumi ran away with the victory, winning in 1:07:47. It was Miyasato`s first win in Mita. Miyasato trains 20-30 km per day while working as a member of Japan`s Ground Self-Defence Forces. He commented after the race, "I didn`t think I would have such a big gap over second place out there today, but the cheers and support I received from the spectators helped me run well."

In the women`s race, the runner who had won for the last 5 years straight was unable to participate due to injury, leaving the field wide open and unpredictable. Junko Suzuki of Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture won for the first time. "In the first half my body was very cold, but after 10 km I was able to get going and run the way I wanted."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Parents Cheer Children`s All-Out Running at Mukou Sports Circle Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

The annual Mukou Sports Circle Ekiden took place Dec. 16 at Koyo Elementary School in Mukou, Kyoto. 150 people including baseball players, soccer players and other children from the local sports circle along with local residents who took up sports while living in Mukou ran the full marathon-length 42.195 km race.

The ekiden began in 1992 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Japan Sports Circle. Since then the city has staged the race as a way to bring together Mukou Sports Circle members from different sports to help foster a feeling of camaraderie.

The race started at 9:30 a.m. The 3 teams consisted of 50 members each with team members running a half lap of the 140 m course at a time. Finishing runners tagged the next team member, shouting encouragement to each other along with parents and teammates lining the course. The shouts of support urged the runners on to fast finishing times.

(1) Yellow Team: 2:31:15
(2) Red Team: 2:34:33
(3) Blue Team: 2:36:27

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fukushi to Debut at Osaka, Shibui Abandons Olympic Quest

translated and edited by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

On Dec. 18, the organizers of the Beijing Olympics-qualifying Osaka International Women`s Marathon announced the field for next`s month`s competition. The biggest news is the inclusion of 15 km world record and Japanese 3000 m, 5000 m, and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal). Fukushi will be running her debut marathon not as part of the invited field but as an independent runner. The word `finally` is the first to come to mind. Until now Fukushi has avoided speaking directly about her marathon plans, only making vague comments such as, "There are many options to go to the Olympics," which sounded as though she had the marathon tucked away in the back of her mind.

The person with the most complicated reaction to this news is probably Mizuki Noguchi. Fukushi and Noguchi first raced each other on the road at last year`s Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon. Fukushi executed a stellar debut in the half, defeating Noguchi soundly and breaking Noguchi`s half marathon national record with a 1:07:26. This race forced Noguchi to admit that Fukushi`s speed and strength are on a different level. If Fukushi earns a ticket to Beijing in the marathon it is entirely possible that we will see two Japanese runners battling for the gold medal. Sydney Olympic marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi likely chose to attempt to qualify for Beijing at the Nagoya International Women`s Marathon after hearing rumors that Fukushi would run Osaka.

Fukushi decided on Osaka because it is a fast course on which she can demonstrate her speed. To qualify for the Beijing Olympic team it will probably be necessary for the Osaka and Nagoya winners to aim for the course records as Noguchi did in the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon last month. However, if Fukushi goes out at an aggressive pace there is the ever-present danger that she will slow dramatically in the race`s later stages. Fukushi has a long-lasting knee injury which renders her chances somewhat unpredictable, so it will be interesting to see what strategy Team Wacoal coach Tadayuki Nagayama has devised. How she will run after the 30 km point remains to be seen.

Fukushi herself commented, "Looking at the Beijing Olympics, I decided to run my debut marathon. I haven`t trained properly yet, so while I`m kind of looking forward to it I`m pretty nervous too." Nagayama added, "We decided to tackle this the same way we have approached Fukushi`s challenges on the track. We entered as an independent runner rather than as an elite to show that she is aware that she is new to the marathon and is not resting upon her past achievements. This is also our team`s will."

By contrast, Japanese 10000 m national record and former marathon national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) has abandoned her plans to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in the wake of her disastrous run at last month`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon. Shibui`s coach Hideo Suzuki commented to reporters, "Even if she runs again [in Osaka or Nagoya] she won`t be selected. There`s no chance she will try to qualify in the 10000 m either." Shibui`s Beijing Olympic quest is thus over. This was her third time to attempt to qualify for the Olympics and World Championships but she was once again unable to run well.

At the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon, Shibui was so upset by her 7th place finish that she left the stadium without saying anything to reporters or others. Suzuki reprimanded her, telling her that it is more important to be gracious in loss than in victory. Shibui returned to the stadium for the award ceremony and admitted her loss. "Coach Suzuki said it was too hot today but this had nothing to do with the heat. I lost because I wasn`t good enough."

Official Measurement of the Tokushima Marathon Course (with video)

translated by Brett Larner

In Tokushima city this morning, official course measurement of next April`s Tokushima Marathon took place. The Tokushima Marathon is sponsored by the prefectural government with the goal of promoting sports as a means to better health for prefectural citizens.

Course measurement took place early in the morning when there was no traffic on the roads. A staff made up of Rikuren authorities, prefectural track association officials and students worked together to measure the course from the start in Tokushima Central Park to its finish at the Tokushima City Track. Workers used a wire 50 m in length, making chalk marks on the pavement to indicate the beginning and ending of each 50 m segment. Staff carefully followed all course certification regulations such as maintaining a uniform 30 cm distance from the curb while measuring around curves and corners.

The course measurement will be continued and rechecked tomorrow.

Translator`s note: Click on the Windows Media tab in the linked site above for video of a news report on the course measurement.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2008 Tokyo International Women`s Marathon to be the Last

translated by Brett Larner

Tokyo International Women`s Marathon main sponsor Asahi Newspapers announced on Dec. 17 that the 30th edition of the race to be held next year on Nov. 16 will be its final running. With the shift in the Tokyo metropolitan government`s support to the mass-participation Tokyo Marathon, the Tokyo Police Department is now unwilling to issue road closure permits for 2 marathons. A spokesperson from the JAAF commented, "There is nothing we can do to stop the race from being cancelled." With an eye to the future, "We are looking at other locations and opportunities for a new women-only marathon."

The Tokyo International Women`s Marathon was founded in 1979 as the world`s first women-only marathon. 50 women ran in the first running and very few finished, leading many commentators of the time to hold the view that it was too soon for women`s marathoning. Nevertheless, the Tokyo International Marathon was one of the triggers for the women`s marathon being added to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and as such is an important part of the foundation of women`s marathoning.

At this year`s 29th edition of the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon, Athens Olympics gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) ran a course record time of 2:21:37 to win. 2 further races remain to determine the women`s marathon team for the Beijing Olympics.

The JAAF`s Keisuke Sawagi said, "The Tokyo International Women`s Marathon played an important role in the history of women`s marathoning, but the times have changed." Yuko Arimori countered, "I hope a way can be found to adapt this event to suit the era. The Tokyo International Women`s Marathon has been crucial in the development of athletes from around the world."

On the same day that the cancellation of the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon was released, the JAAF announced that in 2009 the mass-participation Tokyo Marathon will move to Mar. 22 due to the Tokyo metropolitan government`s concerns about weather conditions and other factors. Both this year`s inaugural Tokyo Marathon and next year`s running were scheduled for mid-February.

The Tokyo Marathon also serves as a selection race for Olympic and World Championship men`s teams. Toshihiko Seko commented, "The end of March is too late for a selection race. Most of the top talent will skip Tokyo and run one of the earlier selection races." Nevertheless, the JAAF decided to move the race to March rather than to an earlier date as had been proposed.

The JAAF also announced that the selections for the Beijing Olympic team will take place at the National Track and Field Championships in Todoroki, Kanagawa Prefecture from June 26 to 29. Athletes who win their events and break the Olympic A-standard in the meet will be selected for the Olympic team. Kenyan athletes who reside in Japan are currently not be allowed to take part, but discussion on this point are underway.

Translator`s note: Putting these two stories together, it seems possible that these moves are being made to enable the Tokyo Marathon to join the World Marathon Majors. Tokyo has been in discussion with the WMM since the marathon was still in planning and invited the race directors of all 5 majors to attend the first running. The main obstacle to Tokyo`s inclusion is the absence of an elite women`s field; the Tokyo Marathon absorbed the elite men`s Tokyo International Marathon and the elimination of the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon could be read as leading to a similar absorption with the aim of overcoming this obstacle. Race Results Weekly`s article on this topic quotes Tokyo International Women`s Marathon elite athlete coordinator Wataru Ogushi as denying that this is the case, but it is hard to see the Tokyo Marathon having any serious ambitions as an international event without an elite women`s field. There are many pros and cons to each aspect of these stories, not only the elimination of a respected women`s race or the impact of the date change upon the many long-standing marathons, elite and amateur, already held in Japan in March, but also the ramifications of the Tokyo Marathon becoming a significant world event.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fujioka Girls Score First Victory at National Junior High School Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

At the 15th All-Japan Junior High School Ekiden in Yamaguchi`s Seminar Park, Fujioka Junior High School (Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture) ran 40:40 in the girls` race to earn its 1st win in this ekiden. Fujioka`s boys` team finished 9th.

The event hosted both 47 boys` and girls` teams with 1 host prefectural all-star team in each gender division making for a total 96 entries. The boys` course covered 18 km in 6 stages while the girls` course was made up of 5 stages totalling 12 km.

The Fujioka girls` 1st stage runner, Saeko Yuda (3rd year), handed off to Marina Oishi (3rd year) in 2nd place just 2 seconds down from the top spot. Oishi took the lead and Fujioka maintained the top position all the way until anchor Kaede Yamazaki (3rd year) crossed the finish line.

Running with the memory of last year`s race in which they finished 2nd by just 4 seconds, Fujioka defeated its demons. 3rd stage runner Kana Furuya (1st year) enthusiastically smiled, "This was the best! I love being on this team." 4th stage runner Mei Niimura (2nd year) earned fastest stage time honors by widening the lead over 2nd place to 25 seconds. Niimura told reporters, "I ran with the plan to sprint the last 500 m. I`m so happy that it worked."

1st stage (3 km): Saeko Yuda: 9:58
2nd stage (2 km): Marina Oishi: 6:51
3rd stage (2 km): Kana Furuya: 6:45
4th stage (2 km): Mei Niimura: 6:49 (stage best time)
5th stage (3 km): Kaede Yamazaki: 10:17

1st stage (3 km): Shoya Okuno: 9:46
2nd stage (3 km): Yuta Katsumata: 9:12 (stage best time)
3rd stage (3 km): Ryuta Furuya: 9:53
4th stage (3 km): Yu Araki: 9:30
5th stage (3 km): Tatsuya Ito: 10:12
6th stage (3 km): Tsubasa Tobita 9:46

Noguchi Plans for New World Record Before Olympics

translated by Brett Larner

Probable Beijing Olympics women`s marathon team member Mizuki Noguchi (29, Team Sysmex) will compete in the Kumamoto 30 km road race on Feb. 24 next year in an attempt to set a new world record at the distance. Her coach Nobuyuki Fujita (67) held a press conference today to announce the news, saying that, "Setting a world record would make a major impact leading into the Olympics." Noguchi is also scheduled to run in the All-Japan Interprefectural Women`s Ekiden on Jan. 13. She plans to leave on Dec. 27 for a training camp on Amami Oshima.

Translator`s note: Mizuki Noguchi set the current 30 km world record of 1:38:49 during the 2005 Berlin Marathon. Paula Radcliffe ran 1:36:36 for 30 km while setting the marathon world record at the 2003 London Marathon, but the IAAF apparently does not consider this 30 km mark or any of the other 30 km splits run by Radcliffe and Catherine Ndereba to be official world records. Takayuki Matsumiya set the men`s 30 km world record, 1:28:00, at the 2005 Kumamoto 30 km road race.

`Wanjiru, Kenya`s Next Marathon Great?`

`Team Mitsui-Sumitomo Win Again in Gifu` (updated)

Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo won despite missing Osaka World Championships women`s marathon bronze medalist Reiko Tosa who has been suffering from assorted injuries since Osaka. This bodes ill for her recovery leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Similarly, Team Kyocera was missing its star runner Yumiko Hara who performed poorly in Osaka due to a leg injury. Hara is scheduled to run the Osaka International Women`s Marathon next month to attempt to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, but her absence here raises questions about her current fitness.

It is also worth noting that despite most of the teams` best runners being Kenyan, foreign runners were limited to the 10 km third stage rather than being allowed to run the longest stage, the 11.6 km fifth stage. This type of restriction is also true in the men`s All Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden.

Complete results from the race website:
Some Japanese-language race reports with photos:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Team Nissin on the Track

by Brett Larner

Christmas came early this year.

For this morning`s Harriers practice we went over to Oda Field to do 4 x 5000 m with 5 min. recovery rather than training in Yoyogi Park as usual. Oda is the main public track in central Tokyo and there are usually some interesting people there working out. Today Keio University and Gakushuin University were both there along with a few high schools, clubs and individuals. One serious-looking woman I didn`t recognize was doing easy laps in a national team warmup uniform. About halfway through our workout one of the best professional teams in Japan, Nissin Shokuhin, showed up for some hard training.

Team Nissin includes some stellar talent on its roster. Toshinari Suwa is a 2:07 marathoner, was 6th in the Athens Olympics marathon and 7th in the Osaka World Championships marathon, and is a favorite to make the Beijing Olympics marathon team . Kazuyoshi Tokumoto was a legendary university runner and is considered one of the future stars of Japanese marathoning. Julius Gitahi ran the 5000 m for Kenya at the Sydney Olympics. Ngatuny Gideon was 4th at this year`s World Cross Country Championships. All of these runners plus the rest of Nissin`s squad and at least 4 coaches, several with video cameras, came to Oda Field. It seemed like a pretty serious day since the annual pro championship All-Japan Jitsugyodan Men`s Ekiden is just over 2 weeks away.

The team probably warmed up by running from Nissin`s headquarters in nearby Shinjuku, 15-20 min at a comfortable pace. After some easy individual strides, the 10 Japanese Nissin runners ran 3 x 2000 m with 400 m continuous recovery. Team captain Tokumoto led the first repeat in 70 seconds per lap, 2:55 / km pace, with the other members running single file behind. Suwa ran near the end of the line. The following two repeats were slightly faster, about 69 and 68 seconds per lap, making for about 2:50 / km pace on the final rep. After this the pack broke up and people did individual work.

While the Japanese team members were running together, Gideon ran his own workout. First he did 5 x 1000 m with 200 m continuous recovery. I heard a coach call off 2:43 for the first repeat; subsequent reps got faster, as low as 2:35. After a short recovery following the last rep, Gideon moved to 700 m repeats with 100 m recovery. I couldn`t clock or count these since I was still running but the pace seemed quite a bit faster. While he was doing his workout other people on the track were gradually forgetting their own as they stopped or slowed down to watch. A junior high school coach stopped filming her team to film Gideon. I heard many people admiring the pure beauty of his form.

After this part of the workout the Nissin team gathered together and seemed to be finished. Just before I left, though, Julius Gitahi appeared and started warming up, so it`s likely the team were in a rest period and were going to continue the workout. Nissin will run the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Men`s Ekiden on Jan. 1. Suwa will run the Biwako Mainichi Marathon in March to try to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

(c) 2007 Brett Larner

all rights reserved

Friday, December 14, 2007

All-Japan Professional Women`s Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner

The 27th running of the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden takes place this Sunday, Dec. 16. in Gifu Prefecture. 26 teams will race the marathon-length 6-stage course. Course record holders Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo (2:13:17, 2004) are fielding a strong team including Osaka World Championships marathon bronze medallist Reiko Tosa and former marathon national record holder Yoko Shibui and look set to retake the title from defending champions Team Shiseido who suffered a major blow early this year when their coach Manabu Kawagoe and much of the top talent on last year`s team left Shiseido to form the independent Second Wind AC.

The All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden has 3 regional qualification races, all full marathon distance courses. At the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden in Saitama Prefecture on Nov. 3, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo swept the field for the 8th straight year, winning in 2:13:09. Team Daiichi Seimei were 2nd in 2:15:03 and Team Hokuren 3rd in 2:15:06. Team Shiseido finished a relatively weak 5th in 2:18:00. The top 11 teams qualified for All-Japan.

In central Japan`s Awajishima Women`s Ekiden, also held on Nov. 3., Team Kyocera won in 2:15:29. Team Suzuki came in 2nd in 2:16:50 followed by Team Tenmaya in 2:18:15. 12 teams qualified for All-Japan. 13th place finishers Team Kojima Press were allowed to enter All-Japan after 12th place finishers Team Albirex withdrew their elligibility.

Western Japan`s Kyushu Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden in Kumamoto Prefecture on Oct. 28 saw Team Kyudenko come away with the victory in 2:18:31. Team Juhachi Ginko and Team Oki were the next 2 finishers in 2:20:42 and 2:21:24 respectively. Only these 3 teams qualified for All-Japan.

Besides Tosa and Shibui, several other ace runners are in the field and likely to put on strong performances. First and foremost is Team Wacoal`s Kayoko Fukushi. Fukushi jointly holds the record of 4 individual stage victories in All-Japan and is 3rd on the ekiden`s all-time record list for the number of runners passed on an individual leg, having passed 16 runners on the 3rd stage of the 2001 All-Japan. She is also the 15 km world record holder and 5000 m and 1/2 marathon national record holder. Fukushi is widely expected to become the next Japanese marathon star and has indicated that she will be trying for the marathon in the Beijing Olympics. After this ekiden she will announce which Olympic team selection race she will run.

Fresh from taking Kenya`s legendary Catherine Ndereba apart at the International Chiba Ekiden, Team Hokuren`s Yumiko Akaba will be another runner to watch. Akaba expects to run the 10000 m at the Beijing Olympics. Team Kyocera sports 2-time World Championships marathon runner Yumiko Hara. Veteran Hiromi Haruyama of defending champs Team Shiseido has one of the fastest marathon PBs in the field and is the team`s remaining ace post-Second Wind. Julia Mombi of All-Japan debutantes Team Aruze is another ace, having run well in several ekidens and 1/2 marathons this year. All-time Japanese top 5 marathoner Naoko Sakamoto is listed on the Team Tenmaya roster but may not run due to a leg injury. Should she sit the ekiden out, ace duties will fall to Tenmaya`s Mika Hikichi who defeated Yoko Shibui at November`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon.

Complete team listings can be found here. Race sponsor TBS has also generously put videos of the 3 qualification ekidens and of last year`s All-Japan on its website. TBS will be broadcasting the ekiden on Sunday beginning at 11:50 a.m. Japan time.

(c) 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Takahashi to Run Nagoya, Hara for Osaka

translated by Brett Larner

On Dec. 12, Sydney Olympics women`s marathon gold medallist and former women`s marathon world record holder Naoko Takahashi (35, Team Phiten) announced that she will attempt to qualify for the Beijing Olympics at the Nagoya International Marathon next March. Until now Takahashi had not announced whether she would try to make the Olympic team at January`s Osaka International Women`s Marathon or Nagoya.

Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) holds one of the three slots on the Beijing Olympic Team thanks to her bronze medal performance at this summer`s Osaka World Championships. The course record 2:21:37 victory by Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) at November`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon makes her an almost certainty for the second position on the team, leaving one space to be decided between Osaka and Nagoya.

On the same day as Takahashi`s announcement, Team Kyocera coach Kunio Omori, 63, announced that defending champion and Osaka World Championships women`s marathon competitor Yumiko Hara (25, Team Kyocera) will run in the Osaka International Women`s Marathon on Jan. 27 in a bid to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. Hara suffered an injury to her left thigh just prior to the World Championships and finished a disappointing 18th. She says that she wants to make up for this lackluster performance by making the Olympic team.

Japan`s queen of the track, Kayoko Fukushi, 25, has applied to run her debut marathon in Osaka but will not announce whether she will run Osaka or Nagoya until after the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden on Dec. 16. If Fukushi chooses to run Osaka, the race will become exactly the kind of high-pressure rivalry which two-time World Championships runner Hara loves.

A Japan Today article on Takahashi in Nagoya.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ekiden Team Sites

With the peak of the ekiden season coming I have been working on adding links to professional and university team sites. Check the `blog resources` tab to the right. More will be added soon, especially in the university section.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nakamori Wins Hofu Yomiuri Marathon (updated)

by Brett Larner

*Updated 12/11/07 with links to photos and many more detailed articles in Japanese.

Kazuya Nakamori of Team Otsuka Seiyaku ran 2:15:40 to win the 2007 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon yesterday, coming from behind in the final kilometer to stage an upset over breakaway leader Mitsuru Irifune of Team Kanebo.

An early pack of 24 led by Team Toyota`s Kazuki Enoki went through 5 km in a solid time of 15:31. Enoki maintained both lead and pace, passing 10 km in 31:04, 15 km in 46:42, and 20 km in 1:02:20. By the halfway point, 1:05:47, the lead pack had dwindled to 8 runners including Korean elite Hyon Je Yon who ran his PB of 2:10:37 while finishing 2nd in the 1999 Hofu.

Shortly after the halfway point, Enoki and Nakamori broke away from the other contenders, hitting 25 km in 1:18:17 compared to the remaining 6 leaders` 1:18:37. The pack broke apart between 25 and 30 km as Irifune, the younger brother of 2005 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner and Helsinki World Championships runner Satoshi Irifune, charged to catch back up to the leaders. Enoki dropped away, leaving Irifune and Nakamori together at 30 km in 1:34:32. Irifune`s Kanebo teammate Akinori Shibutani and amateur runner Toyokazu Yoshimura of the Osaka Track and Field Club also narrowed the gap, passing 30 km 11 seconds back in 1:34:43. A third Team Kanebo runner, Ryuichi Enokida, was 5th in 1:34:57.

Irifune continued his charge and broke free of Nakamori, opening a sizeable lead and going through 35 km in 1:50:46 to Nakamori`s 1:51:25. Enokida caught up to teammate Shibutani, the two passing 35 km together in 1:51:42 with Yoshimura behind in 1:51:47. Irifune maintained the overall lead at 40 km but was beginning to flag as his lead over Nakamori narrowed to 26 seconds, 2:08:10 to 2:08:36. Yoshimura passed the two Team Kanebo runners, 3rd through the mark in 2:09:44 with Enokida close behind in 2:09:52. Shibutani was dead on his feet, passing 40 km in 2:10:33.

In the final stretch Nakamori executed a superb surge, covering the last 2.195 km in 7:04 to finish in 2:15:40. Irifune was struggling and could not respond when Nakamori caught him, finishing 2nd in 2:16:03, an improvement on his 6th place finish last year and just 13 seconds off his PB. Yoshimura, Enokida and Shibutani maintained their positions and finished in 2:17:51, 2:18:00 and 2:18:41 respectively, Enokida`s time a PB by exactly 1 minute. Hyon Je Yon was the only of the 3 invited foreign elites to finish in the top 10, coming in 8th in 2:21:34.

(c) 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Marathon Woman Akemi Ozaki 2nd in JAL Honolulu Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

17,000 Japanese runners in a field of 28,000 took part in the 35th JAL Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 9. Ambesse Tolosa of Ethiopia won the men`s race for the 2nd year in a row with a time of 2:17:26, while Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia took the women`s title for the 1st time, winning in 2:33:07. Among Japanese runners, Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) was 2nd in the women`s race in 2:34:22 and Satoru Hori of Yamanashi Prefecture ran 2:29:12 to finish a strong 6th in the men`s race in his first appearance at this event.

Marathon-loving model Rie Hasegawa, 34, ran in the 3:30 range in her 8th time to challenge the Honolulu course. Hasegawa hoped to run a 3:15 but said afterwards, "With the hills and rain making for tough conditions in the first half I just couldn`t do it this time. I love running, though, so I plan to come back to Honlulu again next year."

At 90 years plus 5 months the oldest Japanese runner in the field, Tatsuo Okawara of Annaka, Gunma Prefecture completed the marathon in a time of 8:11:56. "There is nothing in my life to look back on with regret," Okawara smiled brightly. Having begun running at the age of 60, he believes, "Running with younger people keeps me feeling young and healthy too." Having experienced a severe injury to his right leg while serving in the army during World War II, Okawara said with feeling, "Compared to my war experience, the marathon is much easier."


The Honolulu Marathon website`s race writeup.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sakamoto Withdraws From Osaka Due to Leg Injury

translated by Brett Larner

On Dec. 9, Athens Olympics women`s marathon 7th place finisher Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) announced that she has cancelled plans to compete in January`s Osaka International Women`s Marathon.

Her team`s coach Yutaka Taketomi revealed that Sakamoto is recovering from a minor injury to her right leg which will take some time to heal. "At this point Osaka is impossible." Asked whether Sakamoto has plans to run in the final Beijing Olympic team selection race, March`s Nagoya International Women`s Marathon, Taketomi replied, "We`re not saying she is going to run, but we`ll be keeping it in sight as we work on coming back."

As far as her participation in the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden on Dec. 16, Sakamoto said, "We haven`t decided that I won`t run but I think it looks pretty tough. At the same time I have a responsibility to my team, so I don`t know yet." We will have to wait and see whether she can pull through.

Translator`s note: Naoko Sakamoto ran 2:21:51 in Osaka `03 and was 7th in the Athens Olympics. The 5th-fastest Japanese woman of all time, Sakamoto was a favorite to make the Beijing Olympic team. If she manages to still run Nagoya and qualify, Japan would likely be sending the same team it sent to Athens, namely Mizuki Noguchi, Reiko Tosa and Sakamoto. Her absence from the remaining two Olympic team selection races would represent a significant and unexpected complication to the process.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mizuki Noguchi to Run National Women`s Ekiden After 7-Year Absence

translated by Brett Larner

Athens Olympics women`s marathon gold medallist Mizuki Noguchi (29, Team Sysmex) confirmed on Dec. 5 that she will run for Mie Prefecture in next month`s 26th All-Japan Interprefectural Women`s Ekiden, sponsored by Japan Rikuren, The Kyoto Newspaper Group, and NHK. The ekiden will be held in Kyoto on Jan. 13. Noguchi is scheduled to run the 10 km anchor stage in her first appearance at this ekiden in 7 years.

Noguchi first appeared in the Interprefectural Women`s Ekiden at the 14th edition of the race in 1996 during her days as a student at Uji Yamada Vocational High School, competing for Mie Prefecture for 6 straight years. Under the ekiden`s old `Hometown Rule,` prefectural teams were allowed to field runners who lived elsewhere if such runners were originally from the prefecture. Runners who fell into this category were allowed to participate a maximum of 4 times. Since Noguchi had used up this elligibility she has not taken part in the Interprefectural Women`s Ekiden since she relocated her training base out of Mie. In this year`s event race officials eliminated the elligibility cap, clearing the way for Noguchi`s return.

Noguchi won November`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon, demonstrating her intent to become the first woman to defend an Olympic marathon title when she runs at the Beijing Olympics in August next year. Team Sysmex coach Nobuyuki Fujita described Noguchi`s return to the ekiden, saying "This is an important race. She wants to do something to give back to her hometown in return for all the support they have given her thoughout her career."

Hofu Yomiuri Marathon Preview

Translator`s note: Beyond the 3 elite men`s marathons used in the selection process for world-level events, Japan has a 2nd tier of elite men`s marathons which serve as development races for younger marathoners gaining experience. The most famous of these is February`s Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Betsudai, as this race is also known, sometimes acts as a 4th selection race along with Fukuoka, Tokyo and Biwako. The others, December`s Hofu Yomiuri Marathon and March`s Chunichi Toyohashi Marathon, are lesser-known outside Japan. This year`s Hofu takes place on Sunday, Dec. 9.

translated by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

On Nov. 21 the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon announced the elite field for its 38th running on Dec. 9. The field includes 7 domestic elites, 3 invited runners from Korea, and 451 open field entrants. The 42.195 km course begins at the Hofu Civic Track in Yamaguchi Prefecture and passes through most parts of the city of Hofu.

The domestic elite field includes 2 members of the recently Tokyo-relocated Team Kanebo who are looking for their first victories. Akinori Shibutani offers, "Hofu is my second hometown. I want to run a race that lives up to my supporters` expectations." Last year`s 6th place finisher Mitsuru Irifune also shows his fighting spirit, adding, "I want to finish as high up as possible."

Holding the fastest PB in the domestic field with a time of 2:12:08, Kazuya Nakamori (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) wants to win in his first appearance at this event. Other members of the moderately experienced field include Shinichiro Hasui (Team Shikoku Denryoku), Daisuke Fujimoto (Team Chudenko), and Toshiya Tanaka (Team Chugoku Denryoku).

Special guest invited runner Mara Yamauchi (U.K., Second Wind AC) has withdrawn from the race due to an injury.


38th Hofu Yomiuri Marathon Elite Field

Kazuya Nakamori (28, Team Otsuka Seiyaku): 2:12:08, `06 Nobeoka West Japan Marathon

"I want to respect how my toes feel." That`s why Kazuya Nakamori runs without socks. This has been his philosophy since he began running at Tokushima Higashi Technical High School in Tokushima Prefecture.

At Beppu-Oita in February, his custom shoes didn`t arrive in time for the race. He had to race with ordinary shoes and got severe blisters on his left foot after only 10 km. His form broke down after this and his right leg cramped up, forcing him to pull out of a race for the first time in his career. "You never know what`s going to happen." Nakamori experienced the fear of the marathon but he doesn`t have any regrets about running sockless. Instead he blames his own lack of preparation, and he has learned to be more careful about details before the race.

After that race, he wasn`t able to naturally put his full weight on his legs. As a result, he was not able to train consistently. He tried to reinforce his core strength and added one-legged squats to his exercise regimen. He has subsequently been able to do four 40 km long runs and has thus found the way ahead.

Nakamori won his first marathon, the 2005 Senshu International Shimin Marathon, with a time of 2:18:13. At the following year`s Nobeoka West Japan, he was only 1 second off the course record to finish third in 2:12:08. Since this time was 3 minutes better than his planned pace, Nakamori laughs "No one was more surprised than me." Hofu Yomiuri is his comeback from his injuries, and he says, "This is my trial to see whether I can go beyond the wall or not."

As a 2nd year high school student, Nakamori ran the 3rd leg of the All-Japan High School Ekiden. He planned to go to a university in the Kanto area* but had to give up this dream due to family circumstances. "I really don`t want to lose to a guy the same age who went to university." He is planning to show his real strength as a company runner with 10 years` experience.


Akinori Shibutani (30, Team Kanebo);: 2:13:51, `00 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

Asked about his goals, Akinori Shibutani nonchalantly replies, "The Beijing Olympics. There is still time."

The remaining selection marathons for the Beijing Olympics are February`s Tokyo and March`s Biwako Mainichi. There is still a chance, but no room for error. For the athletes running Hofu, this is the last chance for them to tune up their performances.

Shibutani hoped to run in the Osaka World Championships but failed in the selection race stage. "To succeed in the marathon you have to develop the little things piece by piece," he reflects. He swore to begin again. Having turned 30, it is hard for Shibutani to improve his speed. Instead he has focused on building his stamina to maintain a constant lap time. "One day is a model of one`s whole life," he says, explaining that in his practice he has done a large amount of fartlek training, raising and lowering pace to practice varying intensities. "My body is getting much stronger from this training."

Hailing from Toyonakashi in Osaka Prefecture, Shibutani ran in the All-Japan High School Ekiden while a student at Seifu High School in Osaka. His first marathon was the 2000 Beppu-Oita where he set the mark of 2:13:51 which remains his PB. Since then, he has stayed at the same level due to a persistent heel injury. "Why am I running the marathon?" he has often wondered, but he has received support and inspiration from his teammate at Kanebo, Japan national record holder Toshinari Takaoka. "Takaoka set the national record when he was 32. If I quit that`s the end. I want one more day in the sun."

Until last spring Hofu was Team Kanebo`s base. "This is the place where I learned the basics of being a company runner." Shibutani wants to break Hofu`s goal tape in a PB time to pay back the debt he owes to all those who have supported him.


Shinichiro Hasui (29, Team Shikoku Denryoku): 2:15:35, `07 Kochi Marathon

Team Shikoku Denryoku`s ace ekiden runner is also going to become an ace marathon runner.

Shinichiro Hasui started his running career at Jinsei Gakuen High School in Kagawa Prefecture. He explained that he joined Team Shikoku Denryoku in 1996 because, "I wanted to run and hand off the tasuki as part of an ekiden team." Since first joining Team Shikoku Denryoku he has run in the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden every year for 10 years. He ran his debut marathon at the 2001 Biwako Marathon, but "I was always focused on the ekiden."

His turning point was when he ran a 30 km road race. After finishing in a decent time of 1:31:41 he felt that he had finally understood what a long distance race is really like. Feeling that he might do well in the marathon, he became eager to change.

In February`s Kochi Marathon he was planning to run under 2:15 but he started too quickly and was out of energy after 20 km. Nevertheless, he won the race in a course record of 2:15:35. This run was unprofessional, but he says, "I learned a lot about pacing in the marathon. That was a precious experience." His coach Tadaaki Matsuura advised him, "If you can find a balance between speed and stamina then you can run a good marathon."

This spring, he sustained a hip joint injury. He restarted training in August, building up to a 2-hour long run and regaining his fitness. Hofu will be his 6th marathon, but the first time he has conciously focused on the marathon itself. He is aiming for a 2 minute PB, aiming to finish with a 2:13. "This will be a major test of whether I can move up to the next level as a marathon runner." Hasui thus stands at a crossroad as a professional runner.


Mitsuru Irifune (28, Team Kanebo): 2:15:50, `06 Nobeoka West Japan Marathon

He sits in a one-room apartment in Setagaya, Tokyo watching a video of a world-class race. Mitsuru Irifune planned to win last year`s Hofu, attacking between 20 and 25 km, but fell apart at the 29 km, finishing 2:55 behind the winner in 6th place. "The last stretch was much tougher than I thought. I have to try harder......." Studying the famously strong athletes` performances on the video, Irifune hopes to learn about timing his attack.

Entering the corporate running world as a track racer, Irifune has learned the hard way about the difficulty of making the transition to the marathon. He says that one of the important points he has learned is that whereas in a track race you can wait and move into the winning position on the last lap, in a marathon one`s patience must last longer, that a winner must hold onto the lead position without letting go.

The video which made a strong impression on Irifune was the 2005 Tokyo International Marathon. His Kanebo teammate Toshinari Takaoka pulled away from the pacemakers at the 24 km point and continued on to his 1st victory. "The pace and strength of the elites in that race was really unbelievable," says Irifune, acknowledging that Takaoka is a burning inspiration for him.

This fall he has redirected his training. After his coach Kunimitsu Ito gave him the advice, "If you can meet your target even once in practice it is enough," Irifune halved the quantity of his daily speed practice. He really wants to run more but has come to realize that "Giving a peak effort in marathon training is more important than a lot of only decent running."One year`s focus has made him into a "student of winning." The exam is coming soon.


Daisuke Fujimoto (32, Team Chudenko): 2:16:30, `06 Nagano Marathon

Toyokazu Yoshimura (33, Osaka T&F): 2:17:10, `02 Fukuoka International Marathon

Toshiya Tanaka (28, Team Chugoku Denryoku): 2:17:12, `06 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon


Foreign Runners:

Hyon Je Yon (36, Korea): 2:10:37, `99 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon

Chyon Unsan (28, China): 2:13:39, `04 Seoul Marathon

Shin Jyon Hun (25, Korea): 2:18:00, `07 Keishu International Marathon

Hofu`s 3 invited foreign runners arrived in Hofu on Dec. 6. The 3 athletes, including Korea`s Hyon Je Yon who set his PB of 2:10:37 while finishing 2nd at the 1999 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, arrived together at Fukuoka Airport in the morning and were jogging and doing warmup drills in Hofu by the afternoon. Hyon Je Yon reported, "I am feeling fantastic. I will be going for a PB and for the victory." China`s Chyon Unsan remarked, "Things look good. If the temperature on race day is this cool then I think we will all run well." Korea`s Shin Jyon Hun, who ran a full marathon in Korea in October, was confident. "I`m not tired at all. The race in October was only practice for Hofu Yomiuri. I`m ready to go."


*Translator`s note: All the universities which participate in the Hakone Ekiden are located in the Kanto area. As such, it is the elite region of Japanese university running.