Friday, February 29, 2008

Nagoya International Women's Marathon Announces Elite Field

The organizing committee of the 2008 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, sponsored in part by Rikuren and the Chunichi Newspapers Group, announced the names of the 20 invited elite runners for this year's Olympic selection edition of the race. The field of 325, including 305 individual entrants, will start the 42.195 course at 12:15 p.m.

The domestic elite field includes 2000 Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten), 2006 Nagoya winner Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido), 2004 Athens Olympics marathon team member Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya), and 8-time Nagoya competitor Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) along with 11 others. The foreign elite field of 5 is led by Kenya's Joice Kirui.

Invited Domestic Elites
Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten), 35, PB: 2:19:46
Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya), 27, PB: 2:21:51
Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido), 39, PB: 2:22:56
Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), 32, PB: 2:23:43
Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera), 26, PB: 2:23:48
Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), 29, PB: 2:24:42
Yasuko Hashimoto (Team Sega Sammy), 32, PB: 2:25:21
Chika Horie (Team Aruze), 27, PB: 2:26:11
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), 31, PB: 2:26:14
Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon), 27, PB: 2:29:48
Ayumi Hayashi (Team Juhachi Ginko), 25, PB: 2:29:59
Yuko Manabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku), 29, PB: 2:30:34
Akane Taira (Team Panasonic), 25, PB: 1:09:17 (half marathon)
Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya), 21, PB: 1:10:03 (half marathon)

Overseas Invited Elites
Joice Kirui (Kenya), 33, PB: 2:26:52
Lidiya Vasilevskaya (Russia), 34, PB: 2:29:23
Lyudmila Korchagina (Canada), 36, PB: 2:29:42
Margaret Torotich (Kenya), 28, PB: 2:31:23
Natallia Kulesh (Belarus), 29, PB: 2:34:50

Click here for more details on the elite field.

Translator's note: JRN's Mika Tokairin will be running Nagoya as an individual entrant just 3 weeks after running a PB in the Tokyo Marathon. がんばれ!

Naoko Takahashi Returns From High Ground Ready for Nagoya

In the leadup to the final selection race for the Beijing Olympics Japanese women's marathon team, the Mar. 9 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) returned to Japan on Feb. 27 after 2 months at her high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China.

Takahashi, 35, failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics 4 years ago. This last chance to make the Beijing Olympics will be everything for her. Speaking to reporters at Tokyo's Narita Airport, Takahashi said of her training in Kunming, "Everyday, I did exactly what I needed to do. I feel ready now. My goal is to run my own race."

While at the training camp Takahashi might have gotten discouraged when she ran into problems, but, she explained, "I try to live by my motto, 'Your dreams will come true if you don't give up.' The only thing I am thinking about is winning.' With such clear focus she was able to work through any challenges she faced.

"I don't know how many times I did 30 and 40 km runs." While at her main camp in Kunming, located at 1900 m elevation, she ran up to 70 km per day. She also ran at altitudes as high as 3200 m in the mountains near Kunming. "I'm the one who most wants to see the answer to the doubts about my training."

Takahashi's 'last chance' will take place on the Nagoya course where she has won both of her previous runs. But she knows it will not be easy this time. "It looks like everyone will be in Nagoya. It wouldn't be strange to talk about winning, but my goal is to run my own race."

After returning to Japan from high-altitude training before both the 2005 and 2006 Tokyo International Women's Marathons, Takahashi hurt her legs. "I tend to be accident-prone, but this time my heart is strong and I am going to be careful to avoid a cold or any more little accidents." Will we see the Q-chan we all hope for? Only 10 crucial days remain.

Translator's note: There is a huge quantity of press right now about Q-chan's training in Kunming. I will try to make time to translate some of the more informative articles. Here is a 3-part series about her, in Japanese, with some photos:

Shimizu Scores a Perfect Victory at Team Asahi Kasei's Home Ground Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Cutting through the strong headwind without struggle to run away to the goal line, Masaya Shimizu's 4th marathon was his 1st perfect race. "I ran 120% today. Knowing I won by running perfectly is the best feeling I've ever had," the laurel-crowned king of the Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon said with a shaky voice.

Shimizu, 27, took a potential disaster and reshaped it into a tool with which to forge his dream race. At the drink station just after the pace makers dropped out at 30 km, he was unable to grab his special drink. "Some dumbass put my bottle too far back on the table to reach. I missed it and didn't have any choice except to just go without it." Instead, he put on a spurt which caught most of the other leaders off guard, breaking up the pack and reducing it from 10 runners to 4.

Shimizu led the pack into the biting headwind. "I didn't want to get into a sprint finish situation," he said afterwards. "Even if it meant being the one blocking the wind for everyone else I wanted to lead so I could try to get away from the others." His strategy worked, as the pack was down to 2 runners at the 39 km point. He broke free of the last runner at 41 km and finished in the clear. "I won because I was strong and ran aggressively the whole way. This gives me a lot of confidence."

At the Fukuoka International Marathon last December, Shimizu fell out of the lead pack after only 10 km, eventually finishing 11th. At his other marathons he also lost contact with the leaders before the 30 km point. "Shimizu was always an elite runner all through high school and university, so he has a lot of pride. He's never really been able to put together a marathon that went according to plan before, though, so I hope that this win will help him to get it together," commented Team Asahi Kasei coach Takeshi So. Shimizu agreed, "My next goal will be to win one of the selection races for the next World Championships so I can wear the national uniform."

Shimizu received one more source of motivation. After winning, he waited at the finish line for Muneyuki Ojima, his Asahi Kasei teammate and a graduate of the same high school in Hyogo Prefecture from which Shimizu later graduated. "Ojima has always treated me like a brother. I planned not only to win today but also to see him thrown into the air* when he finished his final marathon." When Ojima came to the finish line, Shimizu led the group of Asahi Kasei runners who celebrated the older runner's last run.

This was Team Asahi Kasei's 1st Nobeoka win in 5 years. From here, victory in Nobeoka will be a springboard to the world. Shimizu nods, "I feel that I've earned the right." The winds have changed and will now be blowing him on toward his next goal.

An earlier report on Nobeoka is here.

*Translator's note: Winning Japanese runners and their coaches are usually surrounded by teammates and thrown into the air 3 times after finishing.

Masaki Shimoju Wins Kumanichi 30km Road Race

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Feb. 24 individual entrant Masaki Shimojo (Team Konica Minolta) won the 52nd Kumanichi 30 km Road Race in Kumamoto in 1:30:33. He became only the 3rd individual entrant to ever win the event, the last being Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) 2 years ago. Only 2 women were entered in the race, but winner Miho Notagashira (Team Wacoal) set a new course record by 13 seconds, running 1:44:00.

Although windy conditions prevented a predicted 1:29 finish time, the men's race yielded the first dead heat finish in years. It started with a slow pace. At the 10 km point, Kodai Tanabe (Team Mazda) broke from the lead pack and opened a gap, but at the halfway point it looked likely that the finish time would be in the 1:33 range. The chase pack retook Tabe at the 18 km point and the 8 runners in the pack stayed together for the rest of the way, picking up the pace. With 1 km to go, Kazuyuki Maeda (Team Konica Minolta) launched his last spurt; it looked as though it would be enough for him to seal the win, but in the final meters Shimojo slipped by his teammate Maeda to take the win. Maeda was 1 second behind in 2nd, with Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) another 2 seconds back in 3rd. Tanabe finished 16th.

Shimojo's victory as an individual entrant marks him as a new force on the jitsugyodan scene. He has been known as a speed runner since his high school days and as a student at Toyo University, but along with other young jitsugyodan runners such as Koda, his success here after moving up from university is sure to act as inspiration to his juniors. Komazawa University's Hideyuki Anzai also had an excellent run, finishing 5th in 1:30:40.

In the women's race, Notagashira ran alone right from the start in her 1st appearance at Kumanichi in 2 years. 2nd place belonged to Chiyuki Mochizuki (Team Yamada Denki). After the race Notagashira commented, "I was aiming for a 1:43, but the headwinds in the first half were pretty strong so I couldn't do it. I'm really disappointed with this result." Notagashira's time at the turnaround was 51 seconds slower than 2 years ago. She ran the race with her coach Yukio Mihara acting as pacemaker. Mihara told reporters, "I told her to run smart and use the runners around her to block the wind, but even though she was able to pick up her pace in the 2nd half it wasn't good enough to meet our target time." Notagashira was 7th on the 1st stage of last December's All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden, a result with which she was satisfied. She has a tendency to be inconsistent in her races, however, and considered her Kumanichi course record a bad performance. "Next up will be the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Half Marathon in March where I'll be running against Mizuki Noguchi. I'll be shooting for one of the top positions," Notagashira predicted.

2nd place finisher Mochizuki has been suffering from liver problems since last fall. "To be honest, I was just happy to finish," she said of her performance, 4 minutes slower than last year's time. "If all goes well I'll be running the Beijing Marathon in September."

Makoto Kojo (SDF Track Club North Kumamoto) had the best performance by a Kumamoto prefectural resident, 40th in 1:39:00. "I really wanted to break 1:40 this year," Kojo commented at the awards ceremony. He was 1 minute behind pace at the halfway point, but ran well and was on track at 25 km. Koda was unable to run the final 5 km with the speed he hoped, but he still managed to break 1:40 and finish 3 minutes faster than his result from his previous Kumanichi best. Kojo ran in high school and university but since beginning work has found it difficult to make time to train, sometimes missing a week of practice at a time but often running early in the morning or late at night to get his workouts in. He has run in the Kyushu Ekiden for the last 3 years. Kojo, 28, became a father last August. "I love running," he said, "I'd like to keep running until she's old enough to understand how hard I try. I think that'll be at least until I'm 35."

Conditions at the start were 4.5 degrees, with 0.7 m/s NNE winds and 67% humidity.

Click here for complete results with splits. Men's results are linked on top, women's results below.

'Fukuoka Cross Country - Preview'

'Wanjiru to Buy Mother a Tractor From Winnings'

Wanjiru's time was apparently 1:00:33. Although this article doesn't mention it, Wanjiru has elsewhere been reported to be slated to run another half marathon in The Hague, where he set the world record last year, prior to running London.

Sorry for not posting this week.....

Sorry, I've been really busy this week with planning my trip over to run Around the Bay and Boston. I have a stack of articles I've been working on which I hope to put up tomorrow. Topics include:

-Kumanichi 30k report
-Biwako Mainichi Marathon and Olympic selection scenarios
-Q-chan back from Kunming
-Noguchi goes to Kunming
-Mekubo Mogusu
-Kensuke Takezawa

I'll also have up reports on the 3/1 Fukuoka International Cross Country meet and 3/2 Biwako as soon as I can, although Ken Nakamura will probably beat me to it.

Next week I'll be making my debut as one of the participants on the Runnerville Weekly podcast, apparently alongside the likes of Amby Burfoot, Mary Wittenberg, the Letsrun Johnson brothers, etc. Yoroshiku.

Also, if you read this blog semi-regularly then please take a minute to answer the polls I'm putting up. Thanks. Prices listed are for one year's worth of monthly interviews.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Team Asahi Kasei's Masaya Shimizu Takes First-Ever Victory in Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Masaya Shimizu of Team Asahi Kasei won the Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon on a windy Feb. 24 in a time of 2:13:06. It was his 4th full marathon and first time winning at the distance.

18 seconds behind Shimizu was Team Kyudenko's Tomonori Onitsuka, with Kentaro Nakamoto of Team Yasukawa Denki 3rd in his marathon debut. Team Asahi Kasei's Muneyuki Ojima, running his final marathon, was 9th.

Shimizu launched a spurt at 30 km, breaking up the lead pack and turning the event into a match race against Onitsuka. Attacking at 41 km, he managed to break contact with Onitsuka and run away to his first victory. Both runners were slightly off their PB times.

Conditions at the start were 6.4 degrees with 35% humidity and NNW winds at 6.1 m/s.

Translator's note: Team Asahi Kasei continues its strong showing in the marathon this year. Asahi Kasei runner Tomoya Adachi ran 2:11:59 to win the Feb. 3 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in his debut, and teammate Hiroyuki Horibata was 9th in the Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 17, likewise debuting in 2:11:47.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Team Asahi Kasei's Fumiyuki Watanabe Ready for Great Leap Forward at Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

His heart races when he thinks about his long-delayed first time at 42.195 km. "I've got nothing to lose. I'm going to run aggressively." Fumiyuki Watanabe is finally set for his big run.

With this decision, the strength of the rivalries inside Team Asahi Kasei has weakened. At 24 it has been 2 years since Watanabe entered Team Asahi Kasei, but this month he has lost out to his juniors. On Feb. 3, Tomoya Adachi, 2 years Watanabe's junior, won the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in 2:11:59. On Feb. 17, Hiroyuki Horibata, 3 years younger than Watanabe, ran 2:11:47 to finish 9th at the Tokyo Marathon. Both were debut marathons. "I can't give in either," he says.

Watanabe was scheduled to run Nobeoka last year but had to withdraw 1 month before the race due to injuries to his left leg. Nevertheless, his motivation remained. "I really underestimated what marathon training would do to me. I didn't care about what the right thing to do was on weekends when we weren't training and didn't think about taking care of myself." He learned from these mistakes and has come back strong.

Watanabe did many of his 40 km runs and other marathon training together with Mitsuru Kubota, 2 years his senior when both were students at Kochi Kogyo High School and Toyo University. They ran the All-Japan High School Ekiden and Hakone Ekiden together, then Watanabe watched Kubota run the Biwako Mainichi Marathon in March last year to qualify for the Osaka World Championships and a chance for the Beijing Olympics. "There is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone close to you reach the world level. Kubota really motivated me to work hard and to stay close to him in training." Watanabe ran 40 km training runs 9 times, most of the time right on the planned training pace.

Beyond just "The World," in Nobeoka Watanabe wants to show his great mentor that he has matured. The source of Watanabe's inspiration for this race is Sydney Olympics marathon finisher and Toyo University coach Shinji Kawashima, who always told his runners, "Look higher," and encouraged Watanabe to join Team Asahi Kasei. "I want run a race which will make my coach who never, ever gave up say, 'You gave it everything.'"

Watanabe will stand on the start line full of thanks to the coaches and older runners who helped get him there. "I'm not ready to say that I will make the Olympics or World Championships yet, but I want to run the kind of race which will give me the right to say that." One more runner is set to fly from the streets of Nobeoka to join the ranks of the famous runners who got their start here.

Atsushi Sato to Go For 10,000 m National Record, Ogata and Date Head to New Zealand Training Camp

translated by Brett Larner

Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) left for New Zealand on Feb. 21 to attend a Rikuren-sponsored training camp where he will begin preparations for this summer's Beijing Olympics. Membership on the Olympic marathon team will be announced Mar. 10, but, Ogata says, "To have good results in summer races this is the most important time to train hard. I'm just going ahead with preparations without worrying about the selection."

Ogata was 5th at last summer's Osaka World Championships. His Chugoku Denryoku teammate Atsushi Sato was the top Japanese finisher at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, meaning that he will probably also be selected for the team. The 3rd and final chance for runners to qualify will be the Biwako Mainichi Marathon on Mar. 2., so Ogata's fate will not be decided until after that race. "I'm not worrying about it," he said. "I'll be training as usual." Tokai University star runner Hideaki Date, who will be joining Team Chugoku Denryoku in April, left together with Ogata for New Zealand, departing from Hiroshima Airport on Mar. 21. 5000 m national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and others are also attending the training camp and are scheduled to return to Japan on Mar. 8.

Sato will not be going to New Zealand, instead remaining in Japan to do speed training in preparation for an attempt to break the 10,000 m national record of 27:35.09. Date, who is planning to accompany Sato to the U.S. in April, commented, "I want to have a good start to my new jitsugyodan career, so I'm going to work hard in these training camps and come back strong."

Photo: Tsuyoshi Ogata, 34, (L) and Hideaki Date, 22, (R) leave Hiroshima Airport for a national training camp in New Zealand. They look remarkably like elementary school students in this picture.

Yuriko Kobayashi: "I Want to Lead Our Team" at Yokohama International Women's Ekiden

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The Yokohama International Women's Ekiden takes place this Sunday, Feb. 24. The 42.195 km course consists of 6 stages through the streets of downtown Yokohama. The Japanese team met the press at a pre-race conference on Feb. 22.

A victory here would be Japan's first Yokohama win in 3 years. Team member and 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi, 19, (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), said, "I'm the youngest person here but I want to lead our team to win. I don't want to let us down. I want to learn about international running culture from the foreign runners too." Kobayashi brushed aside questions about her conflict with Rikuren over being banned from jitsugyodan races for enrolling in university after joining a jitsugyodan team. "I'm leaving that to the coaches. I don't let it distract me."

Beijing Olympics 10,000 m qualifier, anchor of the winning Japanese team at last fall's International Chiba Ekiden and proud 'Mama Runner' Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) said, "Whatever the race, I'm happy to run on a national team. I was sick over the New Year's holidays but was at our training camp on Tokunoshima until the 18th and felt much better. I will run well."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fujita and Kisaki Headline, Ono Returns From Disaster in Kyoto City Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

On Feb. 20 the elite field for the 15th Kyoto City Half Marathon on Mar. 9 was announced. Headlining the men's field is former full marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), while last year's winner Ryoko Kisaki (Bukkyo University) is back to defend her title in the women's race. Facing Fujita will be Helsinki World Championships men's marathon competitor and Kyoto Sangyo University graduate Michitaka Hosokawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and top Japanese finisher at the 2006 World Road Running Championships Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko).

Also entered in the men's race are a number of Hakone Ekiden star runners including Soji Ikeda (Komazawa University, 2008 Hakone winners) who was 2nd on the 1st stage, East Japan Intercollegiate 10,000 m 2nd place finisher Hiroyuki Ono (Juntendo Univesity), Hakone Ekiden 3rd place finisher Chuo Gakuin University's ace Masato Kihara, and 7th place finisher Chuo University's star Yuichiro Ueno.

Apart from Kisaki, the women's race includes last year's 2nd place finisher Tomomi Hamasaki (Meijo University) and 4th place finisher Noriko Higuchi (Ritsumeikan University), National Intercollegiate 5000 and 10000 m competitor Yui Sakai (Josai University) and 5th place finisher in last summer's Universiad 5000 m Seika Nishikawa (Meijo University).

The race starts at 9:00 a.m. in front of Heian Jingu in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto.

Translator's note: Hiroyuki Ono is the runner who repeatedly collapsed just before the end of the last stage on the first day of this year's Hakone Ekiden. Ono was forced to retire from the race with less than 500 m to go and eliminated his school, defending champions Juntendo University, from the race. Kyoto will be his first major race since then.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kinukawa, Hayakari, Aburaya and More to Run Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Rikuren released the entry lists today for this year's Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet to be held Mar. 1 in Fukuoka's Uminonakamichi Seaside Park. The women's 6 km race features 64 entrants including 3000 m steeplechase national record holder Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC), last year's winner Megumi Kinukawa (Sendai Ikuei High School) and 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki).

The men's 10 km race will see a field of 128 starring Athens Olympics men's marathon 5th place finisher Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Chiba International Cross Country 12 km 3rd place finisher Makoto Tobimatsu (Team Yasukawa Denki). Also appearing are Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu) and Yuki Sato (Tokai University).

The meet is a qualifying event for the World Cross Country Championships to be held Mar. 30 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and will be used to select the Japanese national team.

'Fukuoka and Kum-ok Win Asian Marathon Title in Hong Kong'

Tokyo Marathon Post-Race Quotes

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Click names for photos from the post-race press conference.

"I'm very happy to have won in the land of the marathon, Japan. Setting a PB by a minute was also not bad. The secret of why I always race well in Japan is that I use made-in-Japan shoes."
--Viktor Rothlin, winner, 2:07:23 (PB, NR)

"This was my first race after being injured. My time was so-so. The cheering along the course was fantastic, though. Thank you to everyone who supported me."
--Claudia Dreher, women's winner, 2:35:35

"The pacemakers were fast but I just wanted to go with them as far as I could even though everything after 30 km was a new world for me. When I was training for this race I tried a lot of different things, but I've figured out what works the best for me and what doesn't. In practice I also visualized running in the Olympics and that helped me to run this fast. Before the race I thought I might have a chance to be the top Japanese runner today, but to be honest I was lucky. I'll be overjoyed if I'm selected for the Olympics and will do my best."
--Arata Fujiwara, 2nd place and 1st Japanese, 2:08:40 (PB)

"Fujiwara was an absolute no-name. He ran a perfect race and his time was very, very respectable."
--Keisuke Sawaki, Rikuren official

"I'm very disappointed by the half-baked race I ran today."
--Toshinari Suwa, pre-race favorite; 4th place and 2nd Japanese, 2:09:16

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Arata Fujiwara: An Unknown Contender for Beijing

by Brett Larner

Arata Fujiwara, 26, came from the obscurity of professional running with the undistinguished JR East Japan team to finish 2nd overall and in the top Japanese position at the Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 17. His finish time of 2:08:40 was a major PB; more impressive than the time itself was the way in which Fujiwara overcame severe leg cramping in the final few kilometeres to hold off Olympian Julius Gitahi of Kenya. Fujiwara's result puts him into good position as a contender for the Beijing Olympic marathon team, yet he is almost completely unknown.

Born Sept. 12, 1981 in Nishi Sonogi, Nagasaki Prefecture, Fujiwara attended Isahaya High School, one of the stronger running high schools in Japan. He went on to Takushoku University, a relatively minor school which in its better years qualifies for one of the bottom slots in the Hakone Ekiden. Fujiwara ran Hakone twice, finishing 10th on the 1st stage as a 1st year student in 2001, and 4th on the 4th stage as a 3rd year student in 2003.

This video shows Fujiwara, wearing an orange singlet and tasuki, running Hakone in 2001.

Fujiwara joined the JR East Japan jitsugyodan running team after graduating from Takushoku in 2004. He spent some time in development and running in the corporate ekiden scene before beginning to break through in 2006. In March of that year he ran 1:02:17 in the Jitsugyodan Half Marathon championships, still his current PB. As a result of this performance he was invited to run the 2006 Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. He followed up with a 1:02:29 at the Marugame Half Marathon in February, 2007, then a month later moved on to his marathon debut at the 2007 Biwako Mainichi Marathon. Biwako was a disaster as Fujiwara fell apart after 30 km to finish in 2:38:37.

Fujiwara bounced back quickly from Biwako, clocking a 28:57.28 PB for 10,000 m in April and a 13:49.70 PB for 5000 m in June. Later in the year he improved both times to 28:52.84 and 13:41.35. At the New Year Ekiden corporate team championships on January 1st, 2008, Fujiwara was 8th on the 22 km 'ace' 2nd stage, running 1:04:01. Following the New Year Ekiden he went to a training camp on Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture to prepare for the Tokyo Marathon. His training period for Tokyo was short but included two 40 km runs which were effective in getting him ready. In his normal training, Fujiwara works at JR from 9 am to 2 pm, then trains in the afternoon and evening. One of his coaches at JR described Fujiwara as a gifted natural runner who is able to improve in short periods of time through highly focused training. While at the training camp on Amami, Fujiwara met baseball legend Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi but was so nervous that he could only stammer a hello. He said afterward that he hoped to have a long, successful career like Shimoyanagi.

Fujiwara was completely unheralded as a contender for the Olympic team coming into Tokyo. In the 1st half of the race he ran in the large pack without being noticed as commentators focused on the more famous runners such as Toshinari Suwa and Satoshi Irifune. At the corner just before the halfway mark, Fujiwara moved up to run next to the pacemakers. He showed impressive power and energy in his form but failed to attract commentators' attention. He remained near the front as the pack whittled down over the following 9 km.

When Satoshi Irifune made the 1st definitive move of the race just after the 30 km point, Fujiwara was among the last to react. Over the next 2 km the pack reassembled, only to break open again when eventual winner Viktor Rothlin of Switzerland took off near the 32 km mark. This time Fujiwara was the 1st to respond, staying right behind Rothlin and then running abreast as Kenyan Julius Gitahi, an Olympic 5000 m runner who like Fujiwara was running only his 2nd marathon, struggled to bridge the gap. The remaining leaders, including pre-race favorites Suwa, Irifune, Kurao Umeki and defending champion Daniel Njenga of Kenya, quickly fell away.

Rothlin, Fujiwara and Gitahi ran together for the next few km, Fujiwara and Gitahi repeatedly trading places behind Rothlin. As the Swiss runner began to pull away, Fujiwara also dropped Gitahi on the 1st of the course's uphills just before the 36 km mark. Fujiwara looked solid, energetic and efficient, while Gitahi's pitch dropped and he began to look behind him. The race seemed settled, with only the finish times remaining a question. It was clear that all 3 runners were on track for large PBs.

Without warning, Fujiwara leapt into the air and his body went rigid. He staggered and almost fell, slowing to a stop for a split second. He said later that he had suffered from sudden leg cramps. "It was bad," Fujiwara commented in a post-race interview, "bad enough that I thought I was going to have to drop out." With Gitahi bearing down on him Fujiwara sprang back into action. His stride and speed were unchanged, but over and over during the following 3 km he staggered as though he had twisted an ankle. Gitahi came closer, almost drawing even with Fujiwara just before the 40 km mark, but Fujiwara was able to keep himself together and kick during the final stretch, opening a 17-second margin over Gitahi to finish in 2:08:40. He was ecstatic as he crossed the line but collapsed within seconds, stunned and overjoyed in his post-race interview and at the award ceremony.

Fujiwara is the latest of many Japanese runners to mark breakthrough runs in the 2:08 range, but few have done it from such complete anonymity and none has done it as a 30-minute PB. His time puts him on the short list for the Beijing Olympics but is not quite enough to guarantee him a slot. Atsushi Sato is the only runner to date who will almost certainly be selected, having run 2:07:13 at December's Fukuoka International Marathon. Tsuyoshi Ogata ran an excellent race to finish 5th in conditions of extreme heat and humidity at last summer's World Championships marathon in Osaka, marking him as another semifinalist for the Beijing team.

All that remains is the final Olympic selection race, next month's Biwako Mainichi Marathon. Given the history of that race it is entirely possible that the winner of Biwako will run a time better than Fujiwara's 2:08:40. If this happens it will come down to a decision between Ogata, the veteran with extensive international championship credentials, and Fujiwara, the breakthrough newcomer with nothing to show but potential. If the top Biwako time is only comparable to Fujiwara's the Japanese Olympic selection committee will face an even more uncomfortable decision. In Fujiwara's favor, Keisuke Sawaki, a notoriously critical high-ranking member of Rikuren, was uncharacteristically full of unreserved praise for Fujiwara immediately following Fujiwara's finish. Regardless of the outcome of Rikuren's selection for the Olympic team, Fujiwara's run in Tokyo will remain an inspiring and memorable example of a nobody putting everything he has into his one chance to go to the top. Let's hope he makes it.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tokyo Marathon Award Ceremony Photos

Top three finishers Julius Gitahi (L, 3rd place), Viktor Rothlin (C, 1st place) and Arata Fujiwara (R, 2nd place).

Winner Rothlin, Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara, and runner-up Fujiwara.

Top seven finishers, L-R: Viktor Rothlin, Arata Fujiwara, Julius Gitahi, Toshinari Suwa, Satoshi Irifune, Kurao Umeki and Seiji Kobayashi.

all photos (c) 2008 Mika Tokairin

all rights reserved

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rothlin Wins Tokyo Marathon in Swiss NR 2:07:23

by Brett Larner

Osaka World Championships bronze medalist Viktor Rothlin of Switzerland won the 2008 Tokyo Marathon in a Swiss national record of 2:07:23, aggressively frontrunning the later stages of the race to break apart the rest of the pack. Unknown individual entrant Arata Fujiwara of Team JR East Japan overcame severe leg cramps which almost forced him to stop in the last 6 km to run a massive PB of 2:08:40, finishing 2nd and putting his name on the shortlist for the Beijing Olympic team. Kenyan Olympian Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) had a strong second marathon, running 2:08:57 to take 3rd place. His teammate Toshinari Suwa, the pre-race favorite to be top Japanese, conformed to his history and failed to take the top Japanese slot, settling for 4th in 2:09:16. Rounding out the top 5 was Helsinki World Championships marathoner Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo), who ran a PB of 2:09:40. All 5 runners broke last year's winning of time 2:09:45, set by Kenyan Daniel Njenga. Njenga had a disappointing run, finishing 13th in 2:14:11.

A complete list of top finishers is available here.
The IAAF's account of the race is here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Toshihiko Seko: Man of Many Talents

Marathon great Toshihiko Seko at the Tokyo Marathon expo.

Singing 'Minnie the Moocher' in Japanese.

Drumming with his band, the Pankies.

Singing 'Omatsuri Mambo' and more.

'The World-Famous Seko' Wows Celebrity Runners With His Comedy Stylings During Tokyo Marathon Training Session (updated)

translated and edited by Brett Larner

13 comedians and announcers from Nihon Television are scheduled to run in the 2008 Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 17. Legendary marathoner Toshihiko Seko (51) oversaw the group's training at a practice session at Tokyo's Yumenoshima track on Jan. 29, overwhelming the entertainers with his wit and humor.

The group included 6 pretty young female announcers and 5 well-known comedians, but the one who made the biggest impression with his jokes was 'The World-Famous Seko.' Talking about Nihon Television's plans for a 7-hour broadcast of Tokyo, Seko commented, "They have too much free time. It's boring. This isn't the Hakone Ekiden!" After comedian Cunning Takeyama lost a 10,000 m time trial to all the female announcers, Seko told him, "You're no good because your name is Cunning. But then again, I only got into university through cunning....." When lovely announcer Maki Mori said, "I want to practice with Seko some more!" Seko quickly rejoined, "I wouldn't mind doing something a little more than just practicing!" Comedian Kunikazu Katsumata begged, "Mr. Seko, please start a new career as 'The God of Comedy!'"

During the 10,000 m time trial, comedian Sumiko Nishioka (33), who plays a dominatrix character in her standup routines, dropped out after 3 laps of the track (1200 m). Nevertheless, she snarled "I'm the only really serious one here. I'm going to beat all these cute little announcers!"

Tokyo Marathon supporter Mayor Shintaro Ishihara met with many of the celebrity runners on Feb. 15. Shocked by the obvious lack of fitness in some of the entertainers, Ishihara told them, "Take it easy out there, really. A television show isn't something worth dying for."

Also entered in Tokyo is Miyazaki Prefecture Governor and former comedian Hideo Higashikokubaru (50). After awarding prizes at the end of the spring Sumo tournament, the Governor ran the later part of the Tokyo course from Shinagawa to Odaiba on Jan. 27 as part of his preparation. Higashikokubara's blog said that he hasn't practiced enough for Tokyo and that he is worried. "This was my first run in 10 days. My knees didn't feel very good." This will be his first full marathon as Governor.

Translator's note: Seko was renowned and feared in his competitive days for his stoic, impassive race persona. As with last year, he is scheduled to sing at the Tokyo Marathon expo with his jazz group the Pankies.

Team Chugoku Denryoku's Umeki 'Running for Beijing' in Tokyo Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

The invited domestic elites who will try for a spot on the Beijing Olympic team at this year's Tokyo Marathon assembled in Tokyo for a press conference on Feb. 15. Among the well-known runners is Kurao Umeki of Team Chugoku Denryoku. "First of all," commented Umeki, "I want to run strong. The ticket to Beijing is going to be settled in the 2nd half of this race."

Umeki has worked hard this season, running the Berlin Marathon in September, the Nagoya Half Marathon in November, and the New Year Ekiden and Yamaguchi Ekiden in January, along with training camps in Okinawa and Kunming, China. "I've done a lot of long, slow, careful preparation," Umeki said with confidence. "I'll be coming to the start line well-prepared."

At age 32, Umeki has run 14 marathons and is one of the veterans in the domestic field. He holds a PB of 2:09:52, but the fastest of his domestic marathons was only 2:14:50. "A fast time in a domestic race means more. I'll be relaxed but looking for it this time."

Athens Olympics marathoner Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Helsinki World Championships marathon entrant Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) also weighed in with their hopes for Tokyo. "I will run a fast race," predicted Suwa. Irifune, who was 3rd in last year's inaugural Tokyo Marathon, commented, "I will be aiming to race the hilly section after 35 km. I'm only thinking about the win."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Komazawa's Hakone Ekiden Ace Shingo Sato to Debut at Tokyo Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

A member of Komazawa University's Hakone Ekiden team during 3 straight years of victory, Shingo Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) will be trying to make the Beijing Olympics on the Japanese men's marathon team when he runs his debut marathon at the Feb. 17 Tokyo Marathon, sponsored in part by the Yomiuri Newspapers Group.

It has been 2 years since Sato, 24, joined the jitsugyodan running world. He went to Komazawa with the intent to run hard in the Hakone Ekiden and then to move up to the marathon. As a high school student he saw Komazawa alumnus Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) set the then-national record in the marathon. Watching this electrifying performance, Sato became fixed on attending the same university as Fujita and then following the older runner into the marathon.

While at Komazawa, Sato ran in the Hakone Ekiden all 4 of his student years. He earned stage best honors on the 3rd leg as a 2nd-year student and ran the highly competitive ace 2nd leg during his 3rd and 4th years. Komazawa didn't win in his 4th year, so, as Sato says with regret, "I didn't graduate with a perfect record." After becoming a jitsugyodan runner he continued to develop into one of the most promising of Japan's next generation of runners.

"He can handle long distances without getting injured," said Team Nissin coach Teruoki Shirouzu, adding that Sato's training has been exceptional. In his 2 years since joining Nissin, Sato has recorded new PBs in 5000 m, 10,000 m and 1/2 marathon. His coaches planned for him to run his debut marathon in his 3rd year of professional running but decided to move the schedule up by a year to give Sato a chance to run in this Olympic selection race.

When a student at Komazawa, Sato ran 1100 km in one month during summer training. "Training like that for 4 years laid the foundation for me to run a marathon as a professional," says Sato. Although he has done a lot of slower running in preparation for this race, sometimes in the 2 hour, 30 minutes to 3 hour range for 40 km, he has carefully built up the strength necessary to run well the first time he tackles 42.195 km. "Even if it gets tough and I fall off the lead pack, I will focus on catching whoever is ahead of me near the end." Having studied the race carefully, Sato will run hard and never give up.

IAAF Athlete Biographies

The IAAF has a good database available with a listing of PBs by many Japanese runners. I've added a link to it in the 'Blog Resources' section on the right.

'Rothlin Ready for Tokyo Marathon Challenge'

An interview with Osaka World Championships bronze medalist Viktor Rothlin about his upcoming race at Sunday's Tokyo Marathon.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tokyo Marathon Preview: Japanese Men's Olympic Marathon Selection pt. 2

by Brett Larner

Click here for a photo of four of the Tokyo Marathon's main contenders.

The 2nd of the three selection races for the Japanese men's marathon team at the Beijing Olympics takes place this Sunday, Feb. 17 at the 2008 Tokyo Marathon. With none of the three places on the team sealed for certain the situation is wide open, but a seasoned veteran looks poised to take one of the spots.

The Standings
Japanese runners first had a chance to secure a slot on the Beijing team at last summer's World Championships in Osaka. Any Japanese runner who earned a medal in the marathon would be guaranteed a Beijing spot. Helsinki World Championships bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata ran a brilliant race, running conservatively in the heat then attacking in the final kilometers to catch the pack of bronze medal contenders. Unfortunately for Ogata, Swiss runner Viktor Rothlin and Eritrean marathoner Yared Asmerom had something left and were able to kick away, consigning Ogata to 5th place. Nevertheless, it was a strong performance in hot conditions by an experienced veteran in a championship race, making it possible for Ogata to be selected on the strength of this race alone.

The 1st open selection race took place in December at the Fukuoka International Marathon. Atsushi Sato ran an outstanding PB of 2:07:13, running aggressively in the front and pushing the pace against Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru and Ethiopean Deriba Merga before fading slightly in the final few kilometers to finish 3rd overall. Because Sato did not win Fukuoka he was not automatically assigned a spot on the Beijing team, but his excellent time, the all-time 4th-fastest by a Japanese runner, makes it extremely likely that he will be chosen.

Fukuoka's 4th place overall and 2nd Japanese finisher Yuko Matsumiya also had a good turn with his 2:09:40, the only other sub-2:10 by a Japanese runner in 2007. In the unlikely event of weak Japanese showings in both the Tokyo Marathon and March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon, Matsumiya has a chance of being selected. More distantly, World Championships 6th place finisher Satoshi Osaki, who earned a bronze medal in hot conditions at the 2006 Asian Games, also has the potential to be selected based on his history of good results in hot championship events. Realistically, however, of these four athletes only Sato can rest on his performance with any assurance of being selected.

The Tokyo Marathon Domestic Field

By far the favorite among the Japanese runners is Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin). Suwa ran 2:07:55 at the 2003 Fukuoka International Marathon to beat national record holder Toshinari Takaoka by 4 seconds and thereby make the Athens Olympics, where he was 6th. After a couple of mediocre years including a 7th place finish at the 2005 London Marathon, Suwa had a return to form with a 2:08:52 at the 2006 Fukuoka which qualified him for last summer's Osaka World Championships. In Osaka he finished 7th overall. Both his PB and best time within Tokyo's qualification window far outshine any of the other Japanese competitors, only one of whom has broken 2:11 within the qualification period. In fact, Suwa has the 3rd fastest PB in the field behind Kenyans Daniel Njenga and Abel Kirui as well as the 3rd fastest qualification time after Kirui and Osaka World Championships bronze medalist Viktor Rothlin of Switzerland.

It looks very solid for Suwa if he has even a decent race, but at the same time his history is working against him. Suwa has never been the top Japanese finisher in any of his major races. He was 2nd behind Tomoaki Kunichika in the 2003 Fukuoka, 2nd Japanese behind Shigeru Aburaya in Athens, 2nd Japanese behind Wataru Okutani in the 2006 Fukuoka, and 3rd Japanese behind Ogata and Osaki in Osaka last summer. Suwa has been training and racing well this winter and must be viewed as the overwhelming Japanese favorite, but he has always been vulnerable to unexpected domestic competition, most likely this time to come from one of the group of young runners moving up from fast half marathons to their first marathon in Tokyo. More on this group below.

The only domestic runner with any forseeable possibility of challenging Suwa is Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo). Irifune won the 2005 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in a PB of 2:09:58, qualifying for the Helsinki World Championships where he ran a somewhat nondescript race. He was 4th in the 2006 Tokyo International Marathon and 3rd in last year's inaugural Tokyo Marathon, but does not seem capable of going much below 2:10. It would likely take a very good day for Irifune along with a bad day for Suwa in order for Irifune to make the Beijing team.

Four other domestic runners have PBs in the 2:08 range, Koji Shimizu, Takayuki Nishida, Suwa's teammate Kenjiro Jitsui, and Kazutoshi Takatsuka, but all four ran their best races years ago and seem to be past their prime. While it is possible that some of the B-level runners such as Kurao Umeki, Kenichi Kita, or Kazushi Hara may have a breakthrough performance, it is equally possible and maybe more likely that a challenger will come up from the ranks of the debut marathoners.

Of these, the runners most to watch are Naotaka Takahashi, Arata Fujiwara, and Shingo Sato. Another teammate of Suwa, Sato in particular is feeling strong after taking motivation from his fellow Komazawa University alumnus, former Japanese marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita. While not a first-time marathoner, Takashi Ota (Team Konica Minolta) had a breakthrough 1:30:48 run at the 2006 Ome Marathon 30 km and has been running very strongly this winter. He is a good candidate for a major breakthrough.

Suwa's teammate Kazuyoshi Tokumoto has long been a hope for the next generation of Japanese distance runners after his memorable years as a student runner, but in his debut marathon at last year's Tokyo Tokumoto ran a mediocre 2:15:55. After January's New Year Ekiden he reported severe physical problems which may prevent him from realizing his potential in the marathon. Nevertheless, he is entered again for this year's Tokyo and carries many hopes.

The Foreign Field
Last year's champion Daniel Njenga of Kenya, a longtime resident of Japan who runs for Team Yakult, is back to defend his title. Njenga has the fastest PB in the field, 2:06:16, but will face very tough competition from Suwa, fellow Kenyan Abel Kirui and Swiss Viktor Rothlin. Kirui will probably be the man to beat, coming to Tokyo with a 2nd place 2:06:51 at last fall's Berlin Marathon behind Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie's world record run, along with pacemaking Gebrselassie's 2:04:53 at the Dubai Marathon last month. Rothlin ran the Swiss national record of 2:08:20 at the Zurich Marathon last spring before going on to win a bronze medal at the World Championships. These three runners, along with Suwa, will most likely form the top group.

Tanzanian Samson Ramadhani is another contender. While the young Ramadhani has a PB of 2:08:01 and won last year's Biwako Mainichi Marathon with an incredible sprint finish against Kenya's William Kiplagat, he frequently fades in the latter stages of his marathons and thus remains somewhat unpredictable. Kenyan Julius Gitahi is another darkhorse. Gitahi is an Olympic track runner who has lived in Japan for many years and now runs for Team Nissin Shokuhin. He won his debut marathon at last summer's Hokkaido Marathon, running 2:17:26 in intense heat and humidity.

Three veterans round out the foreign field. Two-time Olympic marathon medalist Erick Wainaina of Kenya, 2005 Boston Marathon winner Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia, and two-time Olympic marathon 4th-place finisher Jon Brown will also be running. Brown is originally from the U.K. but has lived and trained in Canada for many years and now competes for Canada. If he has a good race he may be able to break the Canadian national record of 2:10:09, set by Jerome Drayton at the 1975 Fukuoka International Marathon.

A complete listing of the Tokyo Marathon elite field is available here.
The IAAF's Tokyo preview is here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mika Hikichi and Koichiro Fukuoka to Run Asian Marathon Championships on Feb. 17

Noguchi Withdraws From Kumamoto 30 km

translated by Brett Larner

The Kumamoto 30 km Road Race reported on Feb. 12 that Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) has withdrawn from this year's race, to be held Feb. 24 in Kumamoto.

Noguchi won November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon in a course record time, almost certainly securing a spot on the Beijing Olympic team. She is now training in Kunming, China to prepare for a 30 km world record attempt in Kumamoto.

Team Sysmex coach Nobuyuki Fujita commented, "We entered Kumamoto specifically as a world record attempt, but Mizuki's training since the Interprefectural Ekiden in January hasn't been good enough to get up to that level. Instead, she's switched the focus of her training to the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Half Marathon in March and the Sendai Half Marathon in May."

Takaoka Wins Himejijo 10 Miler (updated)

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Japanese men's national marathon record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) won the Himejijo 10 Mile Road Race in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture on Feb. 11, running a time of 47:40. Takaoka accelerated with 1.5 km to go, passing Takashi Toyota (Team Sanyo Tokusho Seiko) with 1 km left to take the lead for good. Kenji Noguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku) took 2nd in 47:44, with Toyota 1 second back in 3rd. The 6th place finisher in last summer's Osaka World Championships marathon, Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon), was 4th in 47:46.

"It's been a long time since I won something," Takaoka smiled after the race. He was scheduled to run last weekend's Ome Marathon 30 km road race until the race was cancelled due to heavy snow, but was able to negotiate a last-minute entry for Himejijo. At last December's Fukuoka International Marathon Takaoka finished a disappointing 10th and did not qualify for the Beijing Olympics. "This win has brought my confidence back," a happy Takaoka commented during his victory interview. "I can go back to practicing confidently and then go on to my next marathon. Beijing is impossible. 4 years from now will also be impossible. But I still want to taste both the difficulty and the attraction of the marathon." In the fast-approaching spring, Takaoka will run an overseas marathon free of pressure and free to do as he pleases.

Kotaro Fujioka (Josuikan H.S., Hiroshima) won the high school boys' division in 51:38. The remaining 3 divisions, each 5 km in length, all saw strong performances. Yayoi Nishiyama (Team Wacoal, Suma Gakuen H.S.) won the 15+ women's class in 16:18, while Yoshitaka Ogawa (Tatsuno Nishi J.H.S.) won the junior high school boys' category in 15:24 and Risa Yokoe (Inami Kita J.H.S.) won the junior high schools girls' division in 16:55.

Himejijo 10 Mile Road Race Results
1. Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo): 47:40
2. Kenji Noguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku): 47:44
3. Takashi Toyota (Team Sanyo Tokusho Seiko): 47:45
4. Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon): 47:46
5. Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokusho Seiko): 47:48
6. J. Young (U.K.): 47:49
7. Toshiya Katayama (Team NTT Nishi Nihon): 47:54
8. Shuichi Fujii (Team Nissin Shokuhin): 47:58
9. Sohei Wada (Team Shikoku Denryoku): 48:01
10. Toshihiro Iwasa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku): 48:01

Translator's note: Could Takaoka be running Boston or London? Having selected the hilly Ome 30 km as his tuneup race, it looks possible that Takaoka may be considering Boston. It would certainly make for a memorable race to see the aging national record holder turn up and have one more good run.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Kojima Runs 1111th Full Marathon; "Next up is my 1234th!"

translated by Brett Larner

Giichi Kojima, 65, of Iwatsuki, Saitama Prefecture recently ran his 1111th marathon, the Japanese national record and all-time world #2 ranking. "When I hit my 70's and 80's I still want to be running. My next target is my 1234th marathon," he laughs.

Mr. Kojima ran his first marathon in Feb., 1983 when he was 40 years old. Just under 25 years later, at a race in Fukushima on Nov. 11 he ran 7:01:11 to finish his 1111th marathon. To pull off this perfect match between date and race number he had to run about one marathon a week throughout 2007. The weather was bad on race day, "On the way there I didn't want to do it, but I forced myself to so I could get the record."

Mr. Kojima's best time of 3:07:37 came in 1985. As he has gotten older, "I used to pass people, but now I'm the one being passed." He is not slacking off in his training however, as he runs 10-20 km a day and races around 40 marathons a year. He says the marathon is "Tough, but it's a battle with myself." He sometimes travels to overseas marathons. "I enjoy meeting so many different people through running. The best part, though, is the beer after the race."

Naoko Takahashi in Kunming: Running On to Her Beijing Dream (with photos)

Click link above for photos of Takahashi training in China.

translated by Brett Larner

"Your dream will come true if you don't give up." This is what Naoko Takahashi (35, Team Phiten) wants to tell people through her running. Takahashi, the Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist, has been in high-altitude training in Kunming, China since last year in preparation for the Mar. 9 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, sponsored in part by the Chunichi Newspapers Group.

Takahashi failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics 4 years ago, but "Beijing is my last challenge." She is completely focused on making the last slot for the Beijing Olympic team. Kuming rests at an altitude of 1900 m. It is the Chinese New Year now and in Kunming the atmosphere has the merry feeling of a festival, but Takahashi's mood is deadly serious and concentrated on the next month of training.

"Captain Naoko" daily follows her self-designed training program "Q's Boot Camp" to strengthen her entire body. As usual, she has been eating and drinking 3 times as much as a normal person. Her beloved toy poodle Lappy is still in Japan, but she says, "Of course, we're always together...," unzipping her vest to show off her custom t-shirt printed with Lappy's picture.

photo caption 1: Q-chan is always smiley, but once her training starts her face changes into race mode. Kunming, Yunan Province, China.
photo caption 2: Early morning jogging while listening to her favorite music on headphones. On the right is Team Q trainer Ko Nishimura. Anning, Yunan Province, China.
photo caption 3: Working out with her self-designed weight training program "Q's Boot Camp." Kunming, Yunan Province, China.
photo caption 4: Eating enough for 3 people at breakfast after morning training. Kunming, Yunan Province, China.
photo caption 5: Always together, Q-chan shows her t-shirt printed with pictures of her dog Lappy. Kunming, Yunan Province, China.

Tokyo Marathon Increases Supplies of Sports Drink, Bananas and Food

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Tokyo Marathon 2008 sponsor Otsuka Seiyaku announced that it will be increasing the amount of its sports drink Amino Value which will be available to support the 30,000 runners at this week's race. Otsuka Seiyaku supplied 230,000 cups of Amino Value at last year's race, but in response to requests from runners it will be supplying 280,000 cups at this year's event. The drink will be offered in its double-strength format, containing 4000 mg of amino acids rather than the standard 2000 mg format.

Sports drink, water and other assistance for runners will be available at 10 stations, including the start, goal, and 8 locations along the course. A map showing the locations of the aid stations is available here.

The Tokyo Marathon also announced that it is increasing the number of bananas available along the course to 60,000, an increase of 18,000 from last year's 1st running. In last year's event, 42,000 bananas were available for the 26,000 runners in the full marathon event. According to the organizers, "Last year, many runners were out of energy due to the cold weather, and the faster people who usually don't eat during a marathon took food. As a consequence, the slower runners who needed food more couldn't get any, especially in the later stages of the course."

In response to criticism following last year's race, the number of raisins available along the course has also been significantly increased from 10,000 to 400,000, and the number of pastries such as anpan and cream buns have been increased from 12,000 to 20,000. 6000 ningyoyaki, a local baked specialty in Asakusa, will also be available along the Asakusa section of the course.

This year 27,500 runners are entered in the full marathon event, which runs from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offices to Tokyo Big Sight.

Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon Announces Elite Field

translated by Brett Larner

On Feb. 7 the organizing committee of the 46th Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon, sponsored by Kyushu Rikuren, Nobeoka City and the Nishi Nihon Newspaper Group, held a press conference at Nobeoka City Hall in Miyazaki Prefecture to announce the elite field for this year's race, to be held on Feb. 24. The invited field includes 24 athletes, 7 more than last year, with total entries standing at 356 runners, also up from last year.

The elite field includes several members of local team Asahi Kasei. Muneyuki Ojima, the fastest man in the field with a PB of 2:08:43, will be running his final race before retiring. Also appearing from Asahi Kasei are Fumiyuki Watanabe, who was injured and had to withdraw from last year's race, and Masaya Shimizu. These athletes will all be spurred on by the extra motivation of having watched their teammate Tomoya Adachi win the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon on Feb. 3.

Well-known runners from jitsugyodan teams across the country are also entered, with potential contenders including Tomonori Onitsuka (Team Kyudenko), Takuro Yamashita (Team Fujitsu), Yuki Mori (Team Sumco Techxiv), Tatsumi Morimasa (Team Chugoku Denryoku), and Tomoya Shiroyanagi (Team Toyota Boshoku).

Other noteworthy entrants include 2000 Sydney Olympic marathoner and Toyo University head coach Shinji Kawashima, and Team Nishitetsu's Hirokazu So, the son of Team Asahi Kasei's coach Takeshi So.

Takeshi So's identical twin brother Shigeru So will be one of the guest commentators for the race's TV broadcast. Also appearing as a commentator will be Miyazaki Prefectural Governor Hideo Higashikokubaru, who is running the Tokyo Marathon the week before Nobeoka.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Murasawa Wins Junior Men's Race at Chiba International Cross Country Meet

translated by Brett Larner

At the Chiba International Cross Country meet in Showa no Mori, Chiba on Feb. 10, 2nd year Saku Chosei High School student Akinobu Murasawa won the junior men's 8 km race in a time of 24:17.

In the men's 12 km event Makoto Tobimatsu (Team Yasukawa Denki) was the top Japanese finisher, 3rd overall in 36:12. Hakone Ekiden star Yuki Sato (Tokai University) was a disappointing 28th, while Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) did not start.

Kazuka Wakatsuki (Team Toto) was the top Japanese finisher in the women's 6 km race, also 3rd overall in 20:20.

Along with the Fukuoka International Cross Country meet on Mar. 1, this race was one of the selection events for the World Cross Country Championships to be held on Mar. 30 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Complete results from all the meet's races are available here.
The IAAF's report on the meet is here. Their preview, with some good athlete profiles, is here.

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Winner Tomoya Adachi Honored by His High School (with video)

Oita-born Tomoya Adachi, 22, who won last weekend's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in a debut time of 2:11:59, was honored in a ceremony at his alma mater high school in Oita on Feb. 8. Translation coming soon.

'Ngatunyi Takes Prisons Title' and Mogusu 5th in Ras Al Kaimah

Gideon Ngatuny is based in Tokyo, where he runs for the Nissin Shokuhin jitsugyodan team. He has been dominant on the ekiden circuit since coming to Japan in 2006. Speaking of this spring's World Cross Country Championships, Ngatuny said after today's victory, "I will certainly be on the team to Edinburgh and I can assure Bekele and Tedesse that they must prepare well to beat me."

Meanwhile, Mekubo Mogusu, a 3rd-year Kenyan 'exchange student' at Yamanashi Gakuin University who ran three solo sub-60 minute half marathons in Japan last year, had his major international debut at the Ras Al Kaimah Half Marathon. He ran a solid if somewhat disappointing 1:00:35 to finish 5th, with the top four runners all breaking one hour.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Brother's Sister's Daughter

Nothing really to do with elite Japanese distance running, but it was an interesting day today. I went out to Ome in the morning for the 2nd time this week to run trails in the mountains above the town. Monday the snow was pretty thick but today was pure ice. Skates would have been better. Former Josai University ekiden runner Eiji Kobayashi came with me this time. Somehow neither of us fell. I found someone's cell phone in the snow about 7 km up the mountain.

Tonight I went to Superdeluxe for the first time since last summer to see Brother's Sister's Daughter, kind of a bizarre supergroup. L-R: Kramer (bass), Han Bennink (snare), Samm Bennett (kit), Mike Watt (bass and vox). Photo courtesy of Mika Tokairin.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tokyo Marathon Examines Adding Elite Women's Field in 2009

translated by Brett Larner

The official meeting of the Tokyo Marathon organizing committee opened Jan. 28 at the Tokyo metropolitan government's office complex. At the top of the agenda was ratification of the Mar. 22 date for next year's race. Another major topic of discussion was the addition of an elite women's race to the existing elite men's component of the event.

Because next year will see a World Championships (Berlin), The Tokyo Marathon committee, "...would like to see [top] men and women together in the same race." Rikuren [JAAF] said it will consider all points of view in making its decision on approving the plan.

In its first 2 years, the Tokyo Marathon has been held in February. Because of concerns about top athletes' ability to recover from a March selection race in time for a summer championship event, the committee discussed further possible date changes as well as potential course changes for the Tokyo Marathon's 4th running in 2010. The last topic of discussion was the addition of large cash prizes to make the Tokyo Marathon Japan's first big money race.

Last year, 30,000 people started the Tokyo Marathon. In view of the disruption caused to Tokyo's traffic by such a large number of runners, the Tokyo Police Department made the decision late last year to only issue road closure permits for one marathon from now on. As a result, this year's 30th anniversary Tokyo International Women's Marathon will be that event's final running.

Translator's note: This article seems to confirm previous speculation about the likely consequences of the demise of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon. It remains to be seen whether Tokyo will attempt to become a part of the World Marathon Majors.

Reiko Tosa to Appear At Matsue Ladies Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

On Feb. 6 the organizing committee of the 29th Matsue Ladies Half Marathon released the names of the invited field for this year's event. Appearing at the race is Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), who will be running the women's marathon at this summer's Beijing Olympics. The winner of January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, Mara Yamauchi (Second Wind AC; U.K.), and 2nd place finisher in the 2006 Tokyo International Women's Marathon Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) are also entered. Yamauchi and Ozaki will be racing in the half marathon, while Tosa will be appearing as a guest runner in the girls' 10 km event.

The race will take place in Matsue on Mar. 16 in front of Matsue Castle and includes 4 events: a nationally-certified official half marathon and 10 km, a 10 km for girls aged 16 or older, a 2.5 km elementary school girls' and boys' race, and a childrens' 1 km.

Yamauchi was 2nd in last year's half marathon. She recorded a PB of 2:25:10 in the Osaka International Women's Marathon and will be representing the U.K. at this summer's Beijing Olympics. Tosa is appearing in Matsue for the 4th straight year after qualifying for the Beijing Olympics by winning a bronze medal at last summer's World Championships. Ozaki was 4th at last year's Tokyo International Women's Marathon.

This year's race is also the 11th Japan Student Women's Half Marathon championships. 2 runners from Matsue will be competing. Entry for any of the events is open until Feb. 15. For more information please call race headquarters at 0852-22-7607.

Translator's note: Reiko Tosa has still not raced since qualifying for the Beijing Olympics last summer. She suffered health problems throughout the fall, but has a history of recovering from setbacks in time for major events.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yoichi Watanabe: Better Running Through a Better Body

translated by Brett Larner

At the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon on Feb. 3, individual runner Yoichi Watanabe (27, Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) ran 2:15:17 to finish 6th overall. Despite falling and sustaining some injuries during the race, Watanabe was able to sail on to a sizeable PB.

"The course is completely flat so it is easy to run a PB," Watanabe said of his performance in only his 2nd marathon. His accident happened at the 19 km aid station. Colliding with a foreign runner ahead of him, he fell and suffered cuts on his thighs and hip. Although it was very painful, despite having broken his concentration Watanabe was able to relax and run a PB of over 10 minutes.

Watanabe is originally from Kirishima in Kagoshima Prefecture. At Shonan High School he was a no-name runner. When he went on to become a jitsugyodan athlete Watanabe weighed less than 50 kg despite being 1 m, 70 cm tall. When practicing he frequently suffered from severe fatigue, often vomiting. With insufficient training as a result, he ran his debut marathon at the 2003 Nobeoka West Japan Marathon where he recorded a time of 2:25:22 to finish 13th.

Watanabe was unsatisfied with such a result. With a game plan of "building my body through running," he began a program which included weight training and careful attention to nutrition.
His weight increased to 52 kg, and, "from this 1 point, he can go to have a successful next 2 years," commented his coach Jun Kuroki. Since last fall he has done 7 training runs of 40 km within the span of 3 months.

Having reached 10 years as a jitsugyodan runner, Watanabe finally achieved a milestone performance. His goal is to duel with Osaka World Championships men's marathon 5th place finisher Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku): "I'd really like to beat Mr. Ogata some time." Achieving such a dream is now within sight.

Looking Forward to Running With Naoko! Hara and Kano Join Nagoya Field

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Feb. 5, two of the top contenders for the Beijing Olympic women's marathon team, both of whom withdrew from last month's Osaka International Women's Marathon, were added to the field for the final Olympic selection race, the Nagoya International Women's Marathon on Mar. 9.

Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) ran in the women's marathon at last summer's World Championships. She withdrew from Osaka, where she was the defending champion, the day before the race after coming down with a cold. Hara won her debut marathon at the 2005 Nagoya to qualify for the 2005 World Championships. She will be keen to qualify for the Olympics here as well.

Also joining the Nagoya field after withdrawing from Osaka is Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), the winner of last summer's Hokkaido Marathon. Kano retired from this year's Osaka after only 17 km due to pain in her left leg, but her Olympic dream was not finished. She did not want to wait four more years for another chance.

Sydney Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) is also scheduled to run Nagoya. While waiting for her plane to Second Wind's training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Kano told reporters, "I probably won't have another chance to run with Takahashi. I'm so excited for it!"

photo caption: Yuri Kano leaving from Narita Airport for a training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Strong Tailwind Spurs Q-chan On: Takahashi to Put Her Whole Running Life on the Line in Nagoya

translated by Brett Larner

The winds of chance are blowing strongly. At the Osaka International Women's Marathon on Jan. 27, Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) failed spectacularly in her highly-anticipated debut marathon. Speaking about this race from her high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China, Takahashi said, "Regardless of what happened in Osaka, I will be running to win in Nagoya with the kind of time nobody will be able to criticize." The Nagoya International Women's Marathon on Mar. 9 is the last of the selection races for the Beijing Olympics team, and is open to question whether Takahashi's feeling about her race are the same in the wake of Osaka.

Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), winner of the bronze medal in the women's marathon at last summer's World Championships, has already been selected for the Beijing team. Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) is very likely to be chosen for on the strength of her course-record victory at November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, leaving just one more spot. If Fukushi had run a fast time in Osaka then all the spots would have been filled before Nagoya. This scenario did not come to pass. The top Japanese runner in Osaka, 2nd place finisher Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya), ran only 2:25:34 to leave a big chance for Takahashi and the other Nagoya runners.

After spending much of last year doing altitude training in Boulder, Colorado, Takahashi briefly returned to Japan for meetings in Tokyo and Osaka before heading to Kunming. She originally planned to come back to Japan for a short time in January but later raised the pitch of her Nagoya preparations by deciding to remain in Kunming to train without interruption.

Takahashi turns 36 in May, a seasoned veteran who could not qualify for the Athens Olympics. "There is only one thing waiting for me. This will be my last Olympics." The world awaits the final climax of this great runner's career.

A Profile of Local Boy Beppu-Oita Winner Tomoya Adachi

translated by Brett Larner

Nothing is sweeter than a hometown win! At the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon on Feb. 3, Tomoya Adachi (22, Team Asahi Kasei) of Oita was the first runner back to the Oita Civic Track, winning his debut marathon in a time of 2:11:59. Moving up from the chase pack as an individual entrant rather than as one of the invited elites, Adachi overtook leader Elijah Mutai (Kenya) just before the 39 km point, maintaining the lead unchallenged all the way to the goal line. Yoichi Watanabe (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) was 6th in 2:15:17 and Tomokazu Sakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) was 9th in 2:17:00. Running in his team's last event before it is disbanded later this year, Tokio Yamazaki of Team Toshiba LSI finished well in 10th place. Mutai dropped out of the race at the 40 km point. Conditions at the start were 10.5 degrees and 68% humidity, with 1.5 m/s NW winds.

After breaking the goal tape, Adachi crossed the line with his arms halfheartedly raised partway in the air. He looked charmingly inexperienced. "I wanted to do something a bit more flamboyant, but I was so tired I could barely finish. I'm really happy just to have reached the goal," the previously unknown 22 year-old runner laughed, scratching his head in embarassment.

Adachi's persistence in the race paid off. He ran in the chase pack behind Mutai with Daniel Mwangi (Team JAL Ground Service) and Masahiko Takeyasu (Team Chudenko) until the 35 km point, looking for a chance to come from behind. "I stayed comfortable until the 35 km. Looking around me at that point I thought it looked pretty tough, and I realized that if I didn't go after the leader right then I wouldn't be able to catch him." Finding another gear, Adachi increased his pace to go after Mutai, catching him just before 39 km and feeling the thrill of taking the lead.

It was a moment he had dreamed about. Adachi first went out to cheer the Beppu-Oita runners with his father Kazuyoshi when he was in the 6th grade. Every year until he graduated from high school he watched the race courseside, always dreaming of running it some day. Last year in November he finally made the decision to run the race he loved. "I can't tell you how great it feels to have won the race I've always wanted to run." Adachi credits his hometown friends, family and fans with giving him the energy along the course to keep moving toward the lead.

Adachi's win was a revival of Team Asahi Kasei's somewhat tarnished history. Adachi's team Asahi Kasei was 27th in this year's New Year Ekiden, the worst in its history, and the team has lately felt like there was no way to recover its past strength. No Team Asahi Kasei runner had won Betsudai since Kazutaka Enoki's victory in 2000. Adachi broke the slump, becoming the 10th Asahi Kasei runner to claim the title. Asahi Kasei head coach Takeshi So was pleased. "He's never been an athlete who really put himself into his running, so this win was big. I hope that will change now. I hope this win will help revive the image of 'Team Asahi Kasei = Marathon.'"

Having broken through the barriers, the way before Adachi is now open. He has a chance to step up to be one of the leaders of his team and to take his own running to the next level. "The next podium I want to be standing on is the world's." Looking straight ahead at the road before him, Adachi's face is full of confidence.

Translator's note: I'm not sure why this article was published in the baseball section of the newspaper's website. Television commentators on race day mentioned that Adachi has the reputation of being something of a running geek, extremely knowledgeable about many runners worldwide and keeping detailed track of their performances.

Japanese Marathon Record Holder Takaoka to Run Himejijo Road Race

translated by Brett Larner

Japanese national full marathon record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) will be running in the 10 mile (16.093 km) Himejijo Road Race on Feb. 11 in Himeji, sponsored in part by the Kobe Newspaper Group. Takaoka joined the Himejijo lineup on Feb. 4 following the cancellation of the Ome Marathon 30 km due to heavy snowfall. Takaoka had planned to run Ome as part of his preparation for a spring marathon.

Originally from Kitsugawa in Kyoto Prefecture, Takaoka ran track events in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics, finishing 7th in the men's 10000 m in Sydney. At the 2002 Chicago Marathon he set the Japanese national record of 2:06:16. He also holds the national record for 3000 m and 10000 m. Takaoka attempted to qualify for the Beijing Olympics at last December's Fukuoka International Marathon but finished 10th. Many have wondered where he would go next.

Also scheduled to run Himejijo are Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) who was 6th in last summer's World Championships men's marathon, and 2005 Helsinki World Championships men's marathon competitor Michitaka Hosokawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku, Akashi Minami High School, Kyoto Sangyo University). Takaoka's addition to lineup adds dramatically to the event's excitement.

Wanjiru and Yamauchi

Two articles on interesting Japan-based non-Japanese runners:

'Wanjiru takes overwhelming 59:26 Half Marathon win in Granollers'

'Triumphant Mara Yamauchi emerges as a genuine threat to Paula Radcliffe'

Monday, February 4, 2008

Tokyo Marathon 2007 Through Foreign Runners' Eyes

With less than two weeks to go until the 2nd mass-participation Tokyo Marathon I will be focusing on articles about this race and its impact. First is an article by JRN's Mika Tokairin which appeared in the May 2007 issue of Japan's largest running magazine, Runners. This issue of Runners was dedicated exclusively to coverage of the first Tokyo Marathon; one article sought the opinions of non-Japanese participants.

by Mika Tokairin
translated by Brett Larner
photo by Robin Orlansky

Among 30,000 runners, 1200 foreigners ran through the streets of Tokyo. What did the first Tokyo Marathon look like through their eyes? How did it compare to marathons overseas? What is the running culture like in their countries? We interviewed three foreign runners to find the answers.

Bob Poulson was born in New York and has worked in Tokyo as a copywriter for over 30 years. He is the founder of Tokyo’s international running club Namban Rengo. He frequently runs marathons, road races and ekidens.

Dayan Reuvena is from Israel. She is a graduate student studying Japan’s marathon culture at Tsukuba University’s graduate school. Her point of view of capturing the marathon as a social phenomenon is unique. While she is unhappy about the unpopularity of running in Israel, she enjoys the running life in Japan.

Brett Larner is originally from Winnipeg, Canada. He is a professional musician who plays the Japanese koto. He has raced in Japan, America, Australia and Canada and for the last 2 years has consistently run marathons at the 2:30 level. His best time of 2:34:43 was achieved at last year’s Beppu-Oita Marathon.


To start off with, how were your performances this time?

Bob Poulson: This was my 6th marathon. My time was 3:13:35. I was happy with my performance.
Brett Larner: I ran 2:37:57 and was 78th overall. I wanted to run 2:29 but given the conditions I’m happy.
Dayan Reuvena: I’ll be the fun-runner for today. (laughter) I ran 4:39. As a fun-runner I don’t know the seconds. (laughter) I ran with a camera in my pocket and stopped to take pictures.

Having run the Tokyo Marathon, what were your overall impressions?

Poulson: It was a great event; the whole atmosphere was terrific. I was really looking forward to the course. Running through Tokyo with 30,000 people was an incredible, awesome experience.
Reuvena: Not only all the spectators, but the volunteers on the side were cheering also. In this weather, in Tokyo? Unbelievable. Last year I analyzed the Paris Marathon on video. In the last 2 km before the goal there were no people cheering the runners. The Athens Olympic marathon was the same way. In the Tokyo Marathon, in this weather, I just couldn’t believe the number of spectators. That was a perfect expression of the Japanese marathon spirit.
Larner: I’ve run two marathons in Canada, nine in the U.S. including three Bostons and one New York, and seven in Japan including Tokyo. I also volunteered as part of the start crew in the 1997 Boston Marathon. Overall I had a very favorable impression of Tokyo. The organization was much better than I expected. Races like Boston and New York started off as small events and have built up to having tens of thousands of people running, and they’ve been able to make adjustments to their organization along the way. With Tokyo trying to jump right in to doing 30,000 people from nothing I was prepared for a lot more problems than actually popped up.

What did you think of the course design?

Larner: Before the race my biggest feeling about the Tokyo course relative to Boston and New York was that in both of those races you start in a fairly remote location and run into the heart of the city, physically and metaphysically. You’re running into huge crowds of people and being welcomed by tens of thousands of people at the finish. Tokyo seemed the opposite. You were starting off in the heart of the city with great fanfare and then it was “Goodbye!” as you run out into an ugly, desolate wasteland by the bay. I thought the design was a bit cold, like it was saying “Go away!” instead of “Welcome to our city.”
Reuvena: We are foreigners living in Tokyo, but from the point of view of foreigners coming to Japan for the first time what Brett said is really true.
Larner: I ran the second half of the course twice in practice before the actual race. When I saw the finish in practice I thought there would be no spectators out there and that the last three km would be soul-crushing. Right when you need the crowd support you are in the middle of nowhere. But in the race I was surprised and really impressed and happy that there were big crowds in the last six km, even with the terrible weather.
Reuvena: I wanted to be surprised so I didn’t look at the course map before running. I had no idea what to expect. (laughter)
Poulson: The good thing about the course was the doubling back twice. That was really a lot of fun. Not only could you see the leaders if you were up far enough, but you could see all of your friends and yell to them, not just once but twice.
Reuvena: Brett was too fast so I didn’t see him, but I was able to see all the others from our club.
Poulson: It also gives you a feeling of how incredibly big the race is. After I turned around in Shinagawa and ran five km back to Hibiya I looked over and the other side of the road was still packed with people ten km behind me.
Reuvena: That’s where Bob and I saw each other and then when I came back, ten km behind me it was still packed. It’s different to see the number 30,000 and to actually experience that many runners.
Larner: I think London has a short stretch like that, but Boston and New York don’t have any turnarounds.
Poulson: Neither do Rotterdam, Chicago, or the other big races on TV.
Reuvena: This is a great unique point of the Tokyo Marathon.

What were your favorite points along the course?

Poulson: My top 3 were Ginza, Shinjuku and Asakusa, especially the women doing traditional dance in front of Sensoji Temple. I felt sorry for them because it was so cold and raining and they were out there in these light kimono. The cheerleaders, dancers, musicians and other courseside entertainment were all great.
Reuvena: For me the start, Asakusa and in Shiba Park the big temple. I don’t remember the name. Was that Zojoji? The big daiko drum group there was fantastic!
Larner: The start in Shinjuku was excellent. Having the start line in the center of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building complex’s circular overhead walkway was world class. Compared to running it twice in practice, the last six km after Tsukiji were one of the highlights of the course for me, too. I thought all those hills would be terrible, especially that highway overpass in the last km, but when I actually ran it they were fun. If they keep this course I think that’s going to become one of the signature parts of the Tokyo course, the same way that the hills in Boston and the Midtown bridge in New York are famous spots. For the elite race, I think the Tsukuda Bridge hill at 36 km is going to be a major race point, like the way Sato Tomoyuki dropped Irifune Satoshi there this time. There’s going to be a lot of great racing there.

How did you feel about the availability of English-language support?

Reuvena: I saw no signs in English at the finish, nothing.
Larner: People coming from overseas would have had no idea how to make the train connections to get back into Tokyo.
Poulson: The starting blocks were alphabetized, so it was no problem to understand.
Larner: I thought the expo was pretty English-friendly.
Reuvena: I don’t think there was enough English. When I went to the expo I saw one helpless guy, a real tourist with a big suitcase; he had no idea where to go, where to enter. When he tried to enter they asked him, “Where’s your ticket?” in Japanese. Most foreign entrants didn’t know to bring the tickets because they weren’t included in the overseas entry packages. If you come all the way from abroad you can’t remember such small details. It should be clear enough that when people come, they can easily understand everything.
Larner: When you got your starting package they had pretty good English-language materials prepared, like English versions of the course map and directions.
Reuvena: I thought it was not enough. I would expect them to give those who apply who are tourists all the Tokyo Marathon stickers, information and other things the applicants in Japan got, but there was nothing for those who applied as tourists.

We’ve heard a bit about your impressions of Tokyo, but we’d like to hear about the running situation in your countries. Dayan, can you tell us a bit about Israel?

Reuvena: If I start talking about the marathon in Israel I’ll go on for hours. (laughter) There is just one full marathon in Israel. It averages about 300 people. 10 km and half marathon races are quite popular but that’s where it stops. The average person has no awareness of the marathon; there’s no TV coverage. It’s a very small group of people who run everything, so when I go to all the 10 km races and half marathons I meet the same people. (laughter)
Poulson: In America you see more joggers than in Japan. There’s an established culture of running for fun and health, and so the level is much lower than here. One other big difference between running in America and running in Japan is that in America there are more races that you can enter on the day, even big races. You don’t have to apply months beforehand. There are a lot more charity races also.
Larner: In Canada there’s a lot of interest in running at the fun-run level, everything from short road races to full marathons, but almost everything is at an amateur level. Few of the big races have any kind of real elite field, Canadian or foreign, and there is very little support available for Canadian elite runners. Jeff Schiebler, who was Canada’s best distance runner in at least 10 years, came to Japan to run as a jitsugyodan corporate runner for NEC to train at a world-class level. Even though Canada had marathoners who met the IOC’s qualifying standards for Athens, the Canadian Olympic Committee changed their standards to be far more strict, actually at the national record level, and so Canada did not send marathoners to Athens. It’s sad that for such a popular civic sport they seem to want to keep it at a low level. The shoe company Brooks is trying to launch a 5-year jitsugyodan-type program to give Canadian distance runners the opportunity to compete on the international level but they’re going up against a brick wall.
Reuvena: Maybe Japan is special. The Japanese marathon population is so huge, both at the civic and elite level, and spectators; every aspect is unbelievable. The level of running among civic runners in every age group is so high it’s crazy.
Poulson: You can say that again.
Reuvena: And all the media. The amazing thing is that people sitting at home who have never run a marathon in their life enjoy watching a marathon. That’s unheard of.
Poulson: Yeah, it’s unthinkable anywhere else.
Larner: One of the things I like about living in Japan is that from fall until spring we can watch marathons and ekidens on TV almost every weekend. People respect running here; the average person knows about distance running and cares. It’s like heaven.
Reuvena: Not only because of the running; they respect the value that running holds, like perseverance, patience, and dedication, the human drama. You don’t have that in any other country. It doesn’t exist. That’s the heart of my marathon research. One interesting example of the respect for running is that as part of my research I gave a questionnaire about marathon knowledge to twenty-five Japanese people and twenty-five people from different countries. Not runners, just average people. One question was “What is the distance of the marathon?” Every single one of the Japanese people immediately answered “42.195 km.” Not even one of the foreigners could name the correct distance. One of these people was an exchange student from Greece, the birthplace of the marathon! (laughter)

In conclusion, do you think the Tokyo Marathon will become a world-class event like Boston and New York?

Larner: The Tokyo Marathon was successful enough that the people who did come from overseas are going to go back home and tell people, “This is a good event.” I think it’s going to build up over time through word of mouth.
Reuvena: For civic runners, it was a great event. All the sightseeing spots along the course, the traffic stopped for runners, these were things the average runner here has never had the opportunity for before. The race has a lot of potential.
Larner: I think it’s pretty clear that Tokyo is positioning itself to become part of the World Marathon Majors. Even though the Tokyo Marathon needs to make some changes it deserves to become part of that series. We all love Tokyo as a city. I think it’s up there with London, Berlin and New York as a great world city, and as an event the marathon should be as well. Of course I’m not talking about next year, more like a time span of 5-10 years.
Poulson: The potential for this race is very high. It needs to take everyone’s ideas of what it should be into account. For myself, I want to run it again next year. I think the competition to get in through the entry lottery will keep getting tougher.

(c) 2007 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved