Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Fujiwaras - Tokyo Marathon 2010

by Brett Larner

What a day. With 6 degree temperatures at the start, strong winds, rain turning to snow as temperatures fell, and a tsunami warning for the waterfront finish area, this year's Tokyo Marathon had the worst conditions in the event's four-year history. That is saying quite a bit after the cold rain in 2007 and the gale-force winds last year. Times were never on the table as runners fought simply to survive.

Injury-plagued debut marathon national record holder Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) staged a major comeback, gutting it out over a pack of nine with a surge at 2:52/km over the last 2.195 km to win the men's race in 2:12:19, the first Japanese man to win Tokyo. 2008 Tokyo runner-up Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), no relation, won out a great sprint finish for 2nd against half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and amateur Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't). Time aside, the day was a big one for Masakazu Fujiwara. One of the best university runners Japan has ever produced with the debut and university marathon record of 2:08:12 and a World University Games half marathon gold medal to his name, Fujiwara has struggled with overtraining-induced injuries throughout his pro career. Tokyo was only his 2nd marathon in the 7 years since his record-setting debut, and his win was a sign that at age 28 he may finally be ready to live up to the potential he showed years ago. At the post-race press conference Fujiwara told reporters, "After joining Honda I trained too hard for five years and was always injured. I've learned self-control recently and that is very significant. I think this is the new start of my marathon career. I think 2:06 is possible." Fujiwara will likely be named to the Japanese team for this November's Asian Games on the strength of his Tokyo run.

Russian Alevtina Biktimirova broke the women's field with a surge just before 12 km, dropping 30 seconds off her 5 km split and building a lead which was never threatened even as she slowed dramatically in the final stages. Biktimirova took her first Tokyo win in 2:34:39 as the top Japanese women fell apart in the wet snow, defending champion Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) and the retiring Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) both dropping out after alternating the lead in the chase pack. Ozaki was last seen staggering near 35 km and then talking to medical personnel. In their absence amateur Maki Kono (AC Kita) was the first Japanese finisher, 4th behind Ethiopian Robe Guta and Romanian Nuta Olaru. "I ran with the intent of setting a new PB," commented Biktimirova at the post-race press conference. "That's why I went out fast. However, because it was cold, I realized that it wasn't possible to run a PB today, so in the last half of the race I changed my goal to just winning the race.”

The men's race went out slightly off pace in the cold and rain at 3:02-3:03/km until the 15 km turnaround at Shinagawa, but even this was too much for some as contenders including Tokyo 2008 and 2009 3rd place finishers Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) and Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) fell away. Rounding the post, the leaders ran straight into a headwind that lasted until the Asakusa turnaround just before 28 km. The pace dropped to 3:12/km but still runners lost contact, and around 26 km the rain turned to wet snow.

Rounding into the tailwind at 28 km, 2009 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon winner Akinori Shibutani (Team Yanagawa Denki) made a sudden, bold move with a push down to 3:00/km pace. Nobody made an immediate move to follow, the pack instead spending the next 4 km reeling him back in. Masakazu Fujiwara made the next move at 33 km. He opened a gap but at 34 km abruptly slowed and went to the rear of the pack. From there the pace slowed and the pack of nine began to wait for someone to make the next move. Kawauchi and first-time marathoner Joseph Mwaniki (Team Konica Minolta) took turns leading but nobody stepped up as the group ran over the bridges from 36 to 40 km.

Finally, at 40 km Masakazu Fujiwara took the reins and launched an attack going through the water station. Sato, Kawauchi and Mwaniki went after him but could not match strides. Arata Fujiwara was at the back of the pack and seemed to be caught off guard but shot up the inside of the pack in pursuit. As Masakazu Fujiwara built an unbreakable lead over the final two km, Arata Fujiwara waited until the downhill with one km to go to break away from Sato and Kawauchi. Only one second separated the trio from each other at the goal, with 15 seconds splitting the two Fujiwaras.

Arata Fujiwara and Sato's runs were good steps in the right direction even though each fell short of his goal, but Kawauchi's performance was the sensation of this year's Tokyo Marathon after Masakazu Fujiwara's return. A young self-training office worker in the Saitama Prefectural Government, Kawauchi's time of 2:12:36 was a PB by 5 minutes despite the conditions and a pre-race goal of 2:14. Looking at some of the people he beat and came close to beating it's quite possible he will get under 2:10 soon, something that would be noteworthy indeed.

2010 Tokyo Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results and splits
1. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:12:19
2. Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:34
3. Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:35
4. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:36 - PB
5. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:46
6. Joseph Mwaniki (Kenya/Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:53 - debut
7. Rachid Kisri (Morocco) - 2:12:59
8. Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:04 - debut
9. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:13:16
10. Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:15 - debut

1. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:34:39
2. Robe Guta (Ethiopia) - 2:36:29
3. Nuta Olaru (Romania) - 2:36:42
4. Maki Kono (AC Kita) - 2:39:01
5. Jing Yang (China) - 2:41:04
6. Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido) - 2:43:01 - debut
7. Wakana Hanado (Team Nanchiku) - 2:44:03 - PB
8. Julia Mumbi (Kenya/Team Universal Entertainment) - 2:45:11
9. Yoshimi Kasezawa (Hadano Sports Park AC) - 2:47:03
10. Noriko Hirao (First Dream AC) - 2:47:32

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Fujita Takes Kumanichi 30 km

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) ran 1:29:46 to win the Kumanichi 30 km Feb. 28 in Kumamoto, Kyushu. 2nd was Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta) in 1:30:10, with Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) 3rd. Fujita led from the start, varying his pace to throw his competitors off and putting in a long spurt at 24 km to dispatch Kurosaki and Ugachi. In the women's race Chiharu Matsuo (Team Kyudenko) took her 2nd straight title, running 1:50:18.

Fujita plans to go for a fast time at December's Fukuoka International Marathon with an aim toward making the London Olympics in 2 years. "Today's 30 km was for the marathon," Fujita told reporters, "so I ran it as if I still had to run 12 km more once I finished. Everything checked out well."

2010 Kumanichi 30 km - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 1:29:46
2. Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:30:10 - PB
3. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:30:14 - debut
4. Kazuyoshi Shimosato (Team Komori Corp.) - 1:30:36
5. Hiroshi Yamada (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:30:38
6. Shingo Mishima (Team Toyota) - 1:30:45
7. Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) - 1:30:58
8. Takeshi Kumamoto (Team Toyota) - 1:31:19
9. Shuji Yoshikawa (Team Kyudenko) - 1:31:58
10. Kazuki Ikenaga (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:32:05

1. Chiharu Matsuo (Team Kyudenko) - 1:50:10
2. Kasumi Oyagi (Team Panasonic) - 1:51:17
3. Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:55:09

Sugiyama, Saijo Win Inuyama Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

complete results will be added when available

8674 people from 34 prefectures ran the 32nd Inuyama Half Marathon on Feb. 28. In the men's race Yoshinori Sugimoto (26, Team Aichi Seiko) beat out the tough field of university runners to take his first win in 1:04:07. Hiromitsu Kakuage (19, Komazawa Univ.) was the top university runner, 2nd in 1:04:14. In 3rd was two-time defending Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University member Shogo Otsu (21). Yukina Saijo (Team Sekisui Kagaku) took her first win in the women's half marathon, running 1:13:06.

Watch the Tokyo Marathon Online

Nihon TV's broadcast of this year's Tokyo Marathon begins at 9:00 a.m. today. Overseas viewers should be able to watch live online thanks to Keyhole TV, available here.

This year's weather looks likely to be the worst in Tokyo's short 4-year history. Current conditions indicate 6 degrees, winds from the east, and moderate to heavy rain until 12:00 p.m.

Today's theme:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

University Runners Kojima and Yoroizaka Top Fukuoka XC

by Brett Larner

University runners outdid the pros in both senior races at the 2010 Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet on Feb. 27 as Ritsumeikan University fourth-year Kazue Kojima took the women's 6 km and Meiji University second-year Tetsuya Yoroizaka won a great battle against Tokai University first-year Akinobu Murasawa in the men's 10 km. All three athletes sealed their places on the Japanese team for this year's World Cross Country Championships.

Kojima was patient during the early surges of the senior women's 6 km, letting others including Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku), Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex) and Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) take turns in the lead. Not until Freya Murray (GBR) opened a considerable gap on the final 2 km lap did Kojima really go into action, dropping Niiya and her own teammate Risa Takenaka as she chased down the British runner. Kojima pulled into the lead on the hills before the final corner, but even though Murray regained some ground in her last sprint Kojima was able to hold her off to take the win and a place on the World Cross Country team in her last major race before graduating. Kojima will join Niiya at Team Toyota Jidoshoki in April.

Despite still being a junior, in the senior men's 10 km Murasawa continued to show the aggression he has displayed throughout his strong first year of university. He did his fair share of leading, kept himself abreast of anyone else who moved to the front, was patient in overtaking breakaway leaders such as fellow Saku Chosei H.S. grad Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), steeplechaser Hiroyoshi Umegae (Team NTN) and defending champ Joseph Kiptoo Birech (Kenya). The surprise was that Meiji's Yoroizaka, the top Japanese finisher in this year's Chiba Cross Country Meet, was right there with him and even put in a few surges into the lead. The race wasn't over until the final stretch, when Yoroizaka successfully outkicked Murasawa for the win. Umegae and Sato both outran Birech to round out the top five.

In the junior men's 8 km Murasawa was again eclipsed. Kenyan Steven Njeri (Fukuoka Daiichi H.S.), fresh from a 28:50 win on the roads at the Karatsu 10 km, opened a huge lead on the pack early on in the race. It was up to Chiba Cross Country junior winner Kazuto Nishiike (Suma Gakuen H.S.) to chase him down, which he nearly did. Nishiike came in just 3 seconds behind Njeri and succeeded in clipping Murasawa's time from last year's meet by 1 second to assure his place in the junior race at Worlds. In the junior women's 6 km two-time defending National High School Ekiden champion Toyokawa H.S. blew the competition off the course, sweeping the top three spots with Chiba winner Nanaka Izawa again taking the overall win.

2010 Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet - Top Finishers
Senior Men's 10 km
1. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) - 29:04
2. Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) - 29:06
3. Hiroyoshi Umegae (Team NTN) - 29:11
4. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 29:15
5. Joseph Kiptoo Birech (Kenya) - 29:18

Senior Women's 6 km
1. Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 19:32
2. Freya Murray (GBR) - 19:33
3. Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 19:40
4. Risa Takenaka (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 19:45
5. Yuko Shimizu (Sekisui Kagaku) - 19:46

Junior Men's 8 km
1. Steven Njeri (Fukuoka Daiichi H.S.) - 23:20
2. Kazuto Nishiike (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 23:23
3. Keita Shitara (*** H.S.) - 23:32

Junior Women's 6 km
1. Nanaka Izawa (Toyokawa H.S.) - 19:50
2. Yuka Ando (Toyokawa H.S.) - 19:51
3. Minori Suzuki (Toyokawa H.S.) - 19:52

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Fujita, Iwamizu Headline Kumanichi 30 km

by Brett Larner

The Tokyo Marathon may be the biggest race happening in Japan on Feb. 28, but three other elite races also fall the same day. The most major of these is the Kumanichi 30 km Road Race in Kumamoto, Kyushu. The world's most competitive race at this distance, Kumanichi was until the last fall the site of the men's 30 km world record. In the field for this year's race are former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), steeplechase national record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu), 2009 Ome 30 km winner Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta), Komazawa University ace Tsuyoshi Ugachi and New Year Ekiden winner Team Nissin Shokuhin member Bene Zama. The elite women's field is limited to three and is led by Chiharu Matsuo (Team Kyudenko).

Further north in Aichi, the Inuyama Half Marathon has an interesting matchup between pro and university runners. Three members of 2009 and 2010 Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University's squad, two-time anchor Ryo Takami, Yu Chiba and Shogo Otsu, lead the university side, while four members of Team Toyota Boshoku hope to follow up on teammate Yusei Nakao's win last year. The elite women's field is split between the 10 km and half marathon distances but features nationally-competitive runners in each. An elite entry list has not been released for the 59th Kashima Yutoku Half Marathon, but the race, one of Japan's oldest, is perpetually one of the country's most competitive half marathons. JRN will bring you complete results for all three races.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Brief Word From World Record Holder Yoshihisa Hosaka to JRN Readers

Tokyo Marathon 2010 Preview - Watch Live Online

by Brett Larner

Update: With 2 1/2 hours to go until the start the weather and forecast are terrible. 6 degrees, wind, and moderate to heavy rain.

The 2010 Tokyo Marathon takes place this Sunday, Feb. 28. With a potentially dramatic men's race lined up it's a shame that media coverage of this year's race has to have taken a back seat to the Winter Olympics, but the unfortunate timing does nothing to diminish what could be a course record year if the storm front threatening the Tokyo area passes in time. Both men's and women's defending champions Salim Kipsang (Kenya) and Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) return but neither stands an unbreakable chance of repeating.

Kipsang's PB of 2:07:29 puts him towards the top of the field, but he will have plenty of competition at that level. Six other men in the field have run under 2:08 within roughly the last two years. Rachid Kisri (Morocco) will wear bib #1 thanks to his 2:06:48 PB at last year's Paris Marathon, but with no other times under 2:11 to his name it remains to be seen whether he can repeat this lucky run. Veteran William Kiplagat (Kenya) is the only other man with a 2:06 PB. The fact that he is 37 and his PB came in 1999 may cause many to write him off, but with a 2:07:05 in Frankfurt last year he may still have the capacity to surprise. Kenyan Charles Kamathi and Ethiopians Gudisa Shentema and Teferi Wodajo all hold recent 2:07 times and should be up front in the later stages of the race.

The presence of half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) is a big part of what makes this year's Tokyo of particular interest. Sato's PB of 2:07:13 is still relatively fresh, but his psyche took major damage following a pre-race breakdown and then last-place finish at the Beijing Olympics. He has been building his way back to competitiveness piece by piece, beating Athens Olympics silver medalist Meb Keflezighi (U.S.A.) at last year's London Marathon, finishing 6th at the Berlin World Championships, then running a sensational stage-best 1:03:11 for 22.3 km at last month's New Year Ekiden, equivalent to 59:47 for the half marathon. Last year Sato indicated that he wanted to race overseas as much as possible as he builds toward the London Olympics, so it is a little tough to know what to make of his decision to run Tokyo this spring. Is it a sign that something is wrong and he lacks confidence in facing down a major, or is it a sign that he is ready for something big and wants to do it where the home crowd will see every minute? At the pre-race press conference Sato said he is planning to go for the win at next year's London Marathon and wants to win this year's Tokyo Marathon as a step toward that ambitious goal, which is itself a step toward the London Olympics.

2008 Tokyo Marathon runner-up Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) is the other major Japanese contender. Fujiwara's 2:08:40 breakthrough in Tokyo two years ago will by now be well-known to JRN readers. Fujiwara tells JRN his training for this year's Tokyo has been outstanding and his motivation for another major breakthrough is high, but his record makes it impossible to call his potential to follow through. With five marathons behind him he has had two successes and three major failures. Even his recent racing is difficult to read: at the New Year Ekiden he was fourth on the same stage as Sato in an excellent 1:03:26, but three weeks later he finished 29th on the anchor leg of the National Interprefectural Ekiden. Fujiwara is an all-or-nothing runner, so if he is on he will going for something big. Speaking at the press conference Fujiwara said he plans to try out what he has learned from his many failures and that his focus is on running a fast time.

Other Japanese men to watch include Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota), Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) and Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki). Takahashi made the race in Tokyo last year by leading the definitive breakaway, ultimately finishing 3rd. He has not been strong this ekiden season but could pull it together in Tokyo. Adachi won his marathon debut at the 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, beating Moroccan Kisri, but has not followed up with an improvement on his mark of 2:11:59. What puts him into the noteworthy category is his under-control win at the Karatsu 10 Miler two weeks ago. Kobayashi is a veteran who has continued to slowly improve. He isn't likely to be in contention for the win, but at age 33 he is aiming for his first sub-2:10 and has said he hopes to give Sato and Fujiwara a race.

Also in the field are tough young first-timers Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku). Kitamura, who holds a 10000 m PB of 28:00.22 from age 21, will no doubt be looking to outdo the 2:12:59 debut mark by Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) earlier this month by as wide a margin as possible. Okamoto has shown remarkable improvement over his first two pro years and under the guidance of Sato's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi (Team Chugoku Denryoku) is likely to perform well in his debut.

At the other end of the spectrum, 60+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka will be running just three weeks after setting his latest record of 2:38:12 in Beppu-Oita. Hosaka sends this message to JRN readers: "This time in Tokyo I'll be trying to improve my record further. Please give me a cheer if you see me out there!"

Turning to the women's race, the small but well-balanced field should provide plenty of competition for defending champion Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment). With strong winds throughout the race last year Nasukawa's time of 2:25:38 does not give a true indication of the quality of her run, but her underperfoming runs later in the year in Hokkaido and Chicago did not live up to her potential. She has indicated that her race plan is for a new PB.

Nasukawa easily beat Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) in Tokyo last year but the Russia's solid record of 2:25 performances means on a good day she is sure to be there. Robe Guta (Ethiopia) won the Seoul Marathon last year just one second faster than Nasukawa's Tokyo-winning time and is likely to be her biggest competition. Julia Mumbi (Kenya) and veteran Nuta Olaru (Romania) have strong sub-2:30 credentials and should factor into a more conservative race. Teenager Jing Yang (China) rounds out the international elite women's field.

After Nasukawa, the next best Japanese runner is Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC), the older sister of 2009 Berlin World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). The elder Ozaki is a steady second-tier Japanese woman coming off a strong fall season which saw her set her PB of 2:27:23 in the heat of August's Hokkaido Marathon and then go on to win the Athens Classic Marathon. Tokyo this year will be her final race before retiring, and she has trained with a focus on breaking the course record currently held by Nasukawa. Ozaki's coach Manabu Kawagoe told JRN earlier today that her altitude training in Albuquerque went very well but that she is experiencing balance issues which make him concerned about the later stages of the race.

Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) is a teammate of the younger Ozaki, and with few marathons under her belt but added motivation from her teammate's World Championships medal she is no doubt looking to improve on her PB of 2:29:07. Also looking for improvement is Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC), a former teammate of Akemi Ozaki's. Worth a watch is debutante Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido), who holds a half marathon PB of 1:10:03.

The Tokyo Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on Nihon TV beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Feb. 28. International viewers should be able to watch live online for free using the Keyhole TV software available here. English commentary on JRNLive will not be available as editors Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin are each running Tokyo again this year. To help with watching the race, the field listings below include bib numbers.

2010 Tokyo Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete field listing
1. Rachid Kisri (Morocco) - 2:06:48 (Paris '09)
2. William Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:06:50 (Amsterdam '99)
11. Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:13 (Fukuoka '07)
3. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:07:29 (Berlin '07)
4. Charles Kamathi (Kenya) - 2:07:33 (Rotterdam '08)
5. Gudisa Shentema (Ethiopia) - 2:07:34 (Paris '08)
6. Teferi Wodajo (Ethiopia) - 2:07:45 (Amsterdam '09)
17. Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:52 (Biwako '01)
110. Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) - 2:07:52 (Fukuoka '03)
102. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:08:12 (Biwako '03)
12. Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:08:40 (Tokyo '08)
119. Erick Wainaina (Lights AC) - 2:08:43 (Tokyo Int'l '02)
13. Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:54 (Biwako '08)
101. Kazutoshi Takatsuka (Team Komori Corp.) - 2:08:56 (Biwako '04)
7. Julius Gitahi (Kenya) - 2:08:57 (Tokyo '08)
8. Aleksey Sokolov (Russia) - 2:09:07 (Dublin '07)
120. Shinichi Watanabe (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 2:09:32 (Berlin '04)
14. Kurao Umeki (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:09:52 (Berlin '03)
15. Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:10:38 (Beppu-Oita '09)
16. Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Tokyo '09)
18. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:59 (Beppu-Oita '08)
9. Nicholas Kiprono (Uganda) - debut - 1:00:25 (half)
147. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - debut - 1:02:16 (half)
148. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - debut - 1:02:26 (half)

24. Nuta Olaru (Romania) - 2:24:33 (Chicago '04)
22. Robe Guta (Ethiopia) - 2:24:35 (Hamburg '06)
21. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:25:12 (Frankfurt '05)
31. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) - 2:25:38 (Tokyo '09)
23. Julia Mumbi (Kenya) - 2:26:00 (Osaka '08)
32. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:27:23 (Hokkaido '09)
33. Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:29:07 (Osaka '08)
34. Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC) - 2:30:58 (Nagoya '08)
201. Yuka Ezaki (Fukuoka T&F Assoc.) - 2:34:51 (Nagoya '09)
202. Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:35:51 (Nagoya '09)
25. Jing Yang (China) - 2:36:28 (Beijing '09)
233. Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido) - debut - 1:10:03 (half)

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Watch the Fukuoka International XC Meet Online

by Brett Larner

The 24th Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet takes place Saturday, Feb. 27. The second of Japan's two selection races for its World Cross Country Championships team, this year's entry list promises a great matchup in the senior men's 10 km race. Three of the leaders of Japan's upcoming 18-25 generation, university 10000 m national record holder Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B), 1500 m and 5000 m double national champion Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) and all-time Japanese #3 over 10000 m Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), are scheduled to start. Takezawa and Ueno are current teammates, while Ueno and Sato were teammates at 2008 national champions Saku Chosei high school, the only school in Japan which includes cross country as a core part of its training. Should all three make it to the line it will be a chance to see them race head-to-head. Also in the field is last year's Tokyo Marathon runner-up and Berlin World Championships marathon team member Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko). 2005 World Championships marathon bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) has withdrawn due to injury.

In the 6 km senior women's race, 10000 m junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) is slated to run her first race since her DNF at last summer's National Championships. A superbly talented runner in high school, Kinukawa has been cursed by illness and injury since graduating two years ago. With many tapping her as the next big star in Japanese women's running during her high school days, people will be watching to see whether she is on the way back. Her main competition for a spot on the World XC team will be 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) who came 2nd at the Chiba International Cross Country Meet earlier this month.

The Fukuoka Meet will be broadcast nationwide on TBS from 3:30 to 4:54 p.m on Feb. 27. Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free using the Keyhole TV software available here. Live English commentary will be available on our Twitter feed JRNLive.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tokyo Marathon Expo Kicks Off

translated by Brett Larner

The leadup to the Feb. 28 Tokyo Marathon kicked off Feb. 25 with the official opening of the Tokyo Marathon Expo 2010 at the Tokyo Big Sight convention center. Along with the bib number pickup center for those running Sunday's race, 96 companies and organization are represented at the expo, which will continue through Feb. 27.

Presiding over the opening ceremonies at 9:45 were Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara and Mexico City Olympics marathon silver medalist Kenji Kimihara. During his opening remarks Ishihara brought up the example of comedian Kunihiro Matsumura, who suffered a heart attack while trying to run last year's Tokyo Marathon, as he urged runners, "Take it easy out there." Going on, Ishihara commented, "Through negotiations with the police we have been able to increase the field size this year from 30000 to 35000, but even so the applications this year were 10 times that number. People have come to recognize the good feeling of accomplishment you get from running. Even everyone who finishes just under the cutoff time can share in that feeling of accomplishment. This is the time when we are truly all one."

Among the first group of people to enter the expo was Niigata University student Konomi Miyamura, 19, who came down from Niigata to run her first marathon at Tokyo. "When I saw Big Sight I started to get really excited because I could feel that this is really going to happen!" she said as she picked up her bib number. "This is my first experience with the marathon so my goal is to make it all the way to the finish."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Veteran Kobayashi Hopes for First Sub-2:10 at Tokyo Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Veteran Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) has set himself an ambitious goal for the Feb. 28 Tokyo Marathon. Last year Kobayashi celebrated his 33rd birthday. His objective now is to join the sub-2:10 club. Accomplishing this after age 30 is an extremely tough task, and only one Japanese runner over age 33 has ever broken 2:10 for the first time, Sydney Olympian Shinji Kawashima (Team Asahi Kasei) at the 2003 Biwako Mainichi Marathon at age 33 and 9 months. In February last year Kobayashi ran a PB of 2:10:38 at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Now this 30-something runner is ready to break the magic barrier in the heart of the big city.

At heart Kobayashi feels free and pure. With 13 marathons to his name he has straightforward feelings about Sunday's race. "I haven't thought about it in terms of my age. I want to run the World Championships next year [in Daegu, Korea]. In order to get there I want to run a fast time this year. That's all I'm thinking about," he said of his goals with conviction. He doesn't think going sub-2:10 over age 33 is an especially big deal, either, considering the fact that he has shown continued growth over his career. Nine years ago he won his marathon debut at the Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon in 2:12:07. Two years ago he was 7th at the Tokyo Marathon in 2:11:02, then last year came his 2:10:38 PB.

Kobayashi's coach at Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki, Jun Kuroki, explained the importance of setting achievable goals on his runner's continued physical and mental development and the satisfaction he has thereby found in his running. "By focusing just on breaking his own times and succeeding Kobayashi has become a more confident athlete. Not just in the marathon, but also in ekidens he has developed into a tough competitor."

When Kobayashi ran his PB at Beppu-Oita last year he was 2nd overall and the top Japanese finisher, putting him into the final list of contenders for the Berlin World Championships team. Although he was not selected, Kobayashi said of the experience, "Coming so close to running with the Rising Sun on my uniform I've become really motivated to get there next time." Having begun specific marathon training in November, Kobayashi has completed five 40 km runs in preparation for Tokyo.

In Tokyo Kobayashi will face two sub-2:10 men who did make the Berlin team, Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Nagasaki native Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon). "This is the first time I'll have raced against Atsushi," said Kobayashi. "I want to see how tough he really is. I've known Fujiwara since high school and I've lost to him twice out of the two marathons we've raced, so I don't want to lose again. Sub-2:10 is another checkpoint along the way." With his ambitions burning strong, this late-blooming runner is ready to tackle the next step toward achieving his dreams.

Team JAL Ground Service to Disband at End of March

translated by Brett Larner

On Feb. 23 the management of Team JAL Ground Service announced that due to economic difficulties at parent sponsor Japan Airlines the team will disband at the end of March. The team was founded in 1992. Last fall team member Ryosuke Fukuyama ran on the Japanese national team at the World Half Marathon, finishing 25th. Team JAL Service had always maintained a focus on the ekiden, finishing 11th at this year's New Year Ekiden championships.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Arata Fujiwara Returns - Tokyo Marathon Week Part One

by Brett Larner

It's Tokyo Marathon week on JRN. Our coverage this week will be dedicated to the fourth edition of Japan's largest marathon, to be held this Sunday. Each day we will give you a look at some of the elites in both the men's and women's races, talk to people behind the scenes, and give you a full race preview including instructions on how to watch the race online.

We start the week off with an original JRN interview with Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon). Fujiwara shot to attention two years ago in Tokyo, running as an unknown but finishing 2nd in an impressive 2:08:40. It was a PB by nearly 30 minutes but 5 seconds short of what he needed to make the Beijing Olympics. Later in the year he had better luck as he qualified for last summer's World Championships marathon in Berlin. The World Championships didn't go as Fujiwara hoped but this Sunday he returns to Tokyo ready to take on the solid overseas field and Japan's top man on the roads, half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku).

Since we first started JRN in 2007 we've received steady requests for more information on elite Japanese runners' training, more insight into their psychology, and deeper glimpses into their personalities than the usual scripted pre- and post-race comments. Fujiwara recently sat down with JRN and gave us all that. What's more, he has agreed to an exclusive JRN interview the day after Tokyo to talk openly and honestly about his race and the training for it, whether he wins or loses. Send JRN your questions for Fujiwara and we will get you the answers. It is an unprecedented opportunity for people worldwide to communicate with a current top elite Japanese runner.

In his pre-race interview, Fujiwara talked to us in detail about his 2008 Tokyo run and the training that got him there, the significance he attaches to rhythm and the physical sense of the self, samurai philosophy, and what is wrong with current Japanese training methods. Below are some edited highlights of the interview. The complete interview in three parts makes up the first issue of our new JRNPremium subscription series. Click here to subscribe and get the full Fujiwara interview along with upcoming exclusive in-depth interviews including legendary marathon anti-hero Takeyuki Nakayama, Japan's first Kenyan student runner Stephen Mayaka, top female marathoner Kiyoko Shimahara, and one of the men responsible for bringing the world Samuel Wanjiru, Tsutomu Akiyama. You won't find better running content anywhere, and that's a promise.

Fujiwara on the 2008 Tokyo Marathon
It wasn’t my first marathon, but I feel like that’s the race where my marathon career really started. I probably shouldn’t say this, but some time before the race I printed up the elite athlete list and checked them all out online. I was thinking, “Yep, I can beat this guy, and this guy, and this guy,” and checked them off the list one by one. The only ones who survived were Julius Gitahi, Viktor Rothlin, Abel Kirui, Daniel Njenga and of course me. Leaving myself as the only Japanese…maybe that’s a bit arrogant. (laughs)

Rothlin was the one controlling the pace. It was obvious he was in charge because he didn’t make any unnecessary moves at all. It looked like he was moving around a lot, sometimes up front, sometimes further back, but actually his pace was completely consistent and it was everyone else who was moving around. I thought, “Wow, he’s really good,” and I tried to follow along and pick up some of his skill. When it was down to just three of us he was the one I was focused on.

When I got to 41 km the placings were pretty much set in the top three, but to tell the truth I still didn’t know I was running alone. I thought Gitahi had come back up behind me. I didn’t realize he wasn’t there until the very last right-hand corner. Up until then I was thinking, “Be my guest, Gitahi. Bon appétit.” I didn’t think I had any chance of getting away from an Olympic track runner and I wanted him to be gentle when he crushed me on the last stretch. I was in a state of almost Zen-like ambivalent passivity. When I finished with a fast time, the first thing I thought was, “Now I’m free! I can go anywhere I want!”

on Japanese training methods
Japanese marathon training only focuses on quantity, on doing over 1000 km a month for the marathon, but I don’t think that’s the only way and I want to change the situation. If 1000 km a month is everything then you only need a strong body to succeed, but there is nothing there to hone the racing instinct. What you might get when you come out of 1000 km a month of training is that you don’t feel as tired after the race, but that’s all you get out of it. It does nothing to develop speed and racing sense. Post-race fatigue isn’t the reason for racing.

on rhythm, balance and proprioception
Rhythm is something from inside. I believe it is all about form, that is to say posture and motion, the orbit lines you trace in the air when you move, and timing. All these complex factors are connected to one another and together they make up form, good or bad. It’s really hard to show this with numbers, so we can only call it ‘rhythm.’ You can only measure it with your body. When I'm racing and I look around the pack I can see who has got a good rhythm, who is looking bad, even who is running at a rhythm I can sync with. I try to look for that kind of person, someone who has a rhythm I can borrow, and run with them.

The most important thing is the balance between physical strength and inner sensitivity. Ideally you would gain physical strength without losing the sharp sensitivity, but that’s very difficult. I think junior high school and high school students are really good on the physical sensitivity side of things. They don’t have any strength or stamina yet, so all they have is the physical sense of themselves.

on racing Tokyo this year and the future
I think this is a fast course, so I’d like to go with a high pace. I think a 2:06 is coming soon. I’d like to go after one of the top races like London too. I’m not sure if I could get through a race that goes out on 2:04 or 2:05 pace but I’d like to try. The average pace for a 2:05 would be 2:59 per km. I think I can do that. It doesn’t seem like something impossible.

Click here to read the full interview with Arata Fujiwara, and send us your questions for his post-race interview following Sunday's Tokyo Marathon.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mara Yamauchi and Takashi Ota Win Ome 30 km Road Race

by Brett Larner

Mara Yamauchi (GBR) continued her return from the injuries that kept her out of last summer's World Championships and the fall marathon season win a 1:43:24 win at the classic 2010 Ome 30 km Road Race in the mountains west of Tokyo on Feb. 21. Yamauchi pulled away from veteran Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) just before 15 km and steadily lengthened her lead over the hills in the middle section of the course. Up by 48 seconds at 25 km, Yamauchi ran 17:30 for the final 5 km to Ominami's 17:07, finally winning by a margin of just 25 seconds. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind A.C.) ran most of the race in 4th place behind little-known Saori Makishima (Canon A.C. Kyushu) but had a strong last 5 km to take 3rd. Makishima went on to DNF. Yamauchi's win adds to her three titles in Ome's 10 km over the last four years.

The men's 30 km was a blowout as 2006 Ome winner Takashi Ota (Team Konica Minolta) frontran his way to a repeat victory in 1:31:54. With at least three of the other invited athletes sitting the race out, nobody even attempted to go with Ota. Four runners ran together in a chase pack behind Ota, among them American Patrick Rizzo. The pack stayed together through 25 km but when the pace accelerated on the flat final 5 km Yusuke Kitaoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) emerged to take 2nd in 1:34:36. Rizzo was just 9 seconds back in 1:34:45. Down by one minute at 25 km, Kenji Onaka (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) had a strong finish as he overtook Ryotaro Nitta (Team Konica Minolta) for 5th.

In the women's 10 km, Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon) took her first win after two runner-up placings, outrunning a pack of four to finish in 33:40. Eisuke Shioda (Kugayama H.S.) won the men's 10 km in 30:50.

2010 Ome 30 km - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Mara Yamauchi (GBR) - 1:43:24
2. Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 1:43:49
3. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind A.C.) - 1:49:14
4. Mizuho Kishi (Team Yamada Denki) - 1:52:15
5. Chie Asami (Hachioji H.S.) - 2:01:34

1. Takashi Ota (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:31:54
2. Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:34:36
3. Patrick Rizzo (U.S.A.) - 1:34:45
4. Koji Sato (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 1:35:07
5. Kenji Onaka (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 1:35:38

10 km - Top Finishers
1. Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 33:40
2. Megumi Kanetomo (Team Yamada Denki) - 33:52
3. Misato Yamaguchi (Team Yamada Denki) - 33:55

1. Eisuke Shioda (Kugayama H.S.) - 30:50
2. Akira Kasahara (Takuichi H.S.) - 31:00
3. Toshiya Suzuki (Takuichi H.S.) - 31:04

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Tanui Upsets Formbook to Clinch National Title'

Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) unexpectedly beat sub-27 men Josephat Ndamibri (Team Komori Corp.) and Martin Mathathi (Team Suzuki) and sub-hour man Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) for the stage best on the New Year Ekiden 2nd Stage last month.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Takaoka Talks About Ome, the Marathon and Fate

translated and edited by Brett Larner

For more interviews like this one, subscribe to JRN's Premium series of original in-depth and one-on-one interviews with the most interesting athletes and coaches in Japan. The first issue, available now, features 2:08 marathoner Arata Fujiwara talking about his training and racing philosophies, the 2008 Tokyo Marathon that made him famous, and his impending return to Tokyo next weekend. Click here for more information.

Feb. 21, 2010 is the date for the 44th Ome 30 km road race. As usual, the day before the race Ome will host a public discussion with some of the country's top runners. This year's guest is marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka. Takaoka, who retired in 2009, is now a coach with his former sponsor Team Kanebo and hopes to help lead and develop the abilities of the next generation of Olympic athletes. We talked to him about Ome, the pleasure of running, and the essence of the marathon.

Ome: You're going to be speaking at the Ome 30 km Talk Show. I'm sure all your fans are eagerly looking forward to it.

Takaoka: Since we're in the midst of a running boom, I want to help communicate the pleasure of running to the audience. People are running now to keep their weight down and for health, so I think the public image of long distance running has improved. When people look at runners now, even those who have been training in the same place for a long time and haven't changed anything they're doing, they say, "That runner is really trying." I think that's a great thing. It used to be the case that if you wanted to look good when you're running there wasn't a lot of choice in clothes and gear. What there was wasn't very cool, so runners had the image of being a sweaty mess. That's not the case now, is it? Designs have improved a lot so even when it's tough it looks like you're having a good time. (laughs) I think the main reason this trend has grown so strongly is because of the increase in popularity of jogging.

You've had strangely bad luck with the Ome 30 km. The first time you were supposed to run it, in 2003, you got injured beforehand and had to pull out. The second time, in 2008, the race was cancelled because of heavy snow. Looking back at it now, what memories do you have of Ome?

I guess I was fated never to run it, huh. (laughs) It's pretty common that if you run well at a race once you're going to feel like it's a lucky course. Even if you're not feeling good you definitely want to run it again. I think I had the same kind of superstitious feeling, but in my case it was the exact opposite. When it snowed the second time I was going to run that's what I was thinking. (laughs) I was pretty unlucky the first time too, though. That time I had actually already shown up in Ome before I decided to cancel. Something just wasn't feeling right in my legs, and that was when I was aiming for the Athens Olympics so I thought that if I ran it might end up a big minus. So, the Talk Show will really be my third time at Ome. (laughs) Well, I guess what that really means for me is that this race has a special attraction for me. It was the race I always wanted to do but never got to.

Ome is a 30 km race. The nuance is similar to a full marathon, but in terms of pacing and other details what do you have to pay attention to in approaching this distance?

Without question, I think the full marathon is something totally different. Among those who run there are a lot of people who can handle 30 km but can't run a marathon. In my case, to help make the transition from track running to the marathon I did the 30 km race in Kumamoto [the Kumanichi 30 km Road Race]. I think in general that's a good way to look at a 30 km race. Half marathons are also something different, but just in terms of the distance the 30 km gives you a taste of a lot of the challenges so I think it's a good event.

Ome is one of the major races in Kanto, so [as someone from Kyoto] I've always thought, "Someone who has run Ome is amazing." The first time I seriously thought about doing it was after I won western Japan's Kumanichi 30 km. I thought it would be great if I won eastern Japan's Ome 30 too. Those are the only two 30 km races around these days, so I'd like to see them both continue like this without changing their distance. Most runners thinking about a time goal usually run Kumanichi, but those who can run well on Ome's ups and downs can gain a lot of confidence. For myself, I chose to run Ome in 2003 because the course was more like the Athens Olympics marathon course. The hills are very similar and have the same kind of steady up, then steady down feeling.

Ome has been cancelled before because of heavy snow, so you should always plan for the possibility of cold rain or snow when looking at doing a winter race. What points do you have to be careful of when running in bad conditions?

Well, to start with you have to be completely prepared. Spread your cream, wear your gloves, and do all your normal warmups. Do enough exercises, then do a little running to get your body warm. I think it's better to run short and fast in warmup. In my racing days I got injured a lot, so I was always careful to do dynamic exercises to flex all my joints before I raced. I didn't have a specific routine that I always did, I just did whatever stretches it felt like I needed in a given situation.

Even amateurs can be concerned with setting a time goal in a marathon, can't they?

Of course. There are those who just want to finish and those who want to break 4 hours. Even people with goals like that are doing their best. I think you can give it all no matter what level you are. If you meet your goal the joy you feel afterwards will give you the motivation to go after your next goal and to keep aiming higher.

Looking at amateur runners, what does it make you think?

I can tell that they really love running. Someone who really loves it will get a run in even after a busy day at work, you know? When I go to an amateur race I can't believe how much passion I see. It looks like a lot of fun. I think for most of them their first impression of running when they started was probably, "I like this!" or "This is fun!" As you keep doing it it's important not to lose that emotion. There were a lot of races when I couldn't run the times I wanted, but I always looked to the example of the amateurs who do it for love to find the inspiration to start over again from the beginning.

Can you give us a message for everyone who is going to run Ome this year?

Enjoy it, because it's a beautiful thing that you are there that day ready and able to run. Run the kind of race that will make you want to come back again next year. To be honest over this kind of distance there is a good chance of injury and accidents, so be aware of that and promise yourself not to do too much. Having the courage to stop is important too. In my retirement race [at last year's Tokyo Marathon] it was really important for me to finish, but along the way I realized I had to stop, so I did it. Enjoy your run enough that you want to do it again next year, and keep that thought in mind as you do it.

When you were young you played baseball. What made you change to track and field?

I played baseball, but that was because I completely loved it as a sport, not because I was any good at it. (laughs) Then when I was in 5th and 6th grade a won a little track race in my town. As a kid of course it's a lot more fun if you win. My name was in the local news, and that made me incredibly happy. That's what got me started. At that point it was a lot of fun, but bit by bit I ran in bigger races further away from home and I couldn't win them. It taught me that I wasn't really that fast. (laughs) When I was in junior high school I had a teacher, Koichi Toda, who made a big impact on me. He taught me a lot of the techinical aspects of the sport and that proper training is absolutely essential, answering all my questions like, "What do we have to warm up for?" and covering everything from A to Z. Mr. Toda had finished 2nd at Nationals in high school and also made Nationals in university. He was a hurdler, not a distance runner, but he had real accomplishments and knew what he was talking about. He was very strict but he taught me much of what I know.

You were a bit of a late bloomer. You didn't really become a top runner until you were in university.

That's right. I was injured a lot in high school and didn't really have any impressive accomplishments, so I didn't even think about trying to get into one of the Kanto universities so I could run the Hakone Ekiden. At that time I didn't think I was the kind of guy who could race for 20 km. That's why I went to a university in Kansai [Ryukoku Univ.]

To be honest, in high school and the first part of university I skipped practice a lot. Partway through university, though, I started to realize that my running was meaningless if I kept going that way. If you're supposed to run for an hour and you only do 40 minutes then you've wasted that other 20 minutes anyway. Finding a way to get the absolute most out of the time I spent seemed like a better way to go. I started to think a lot about how to get better results through training more efficiently.

I think it was also a very fortunate thing that, being a student in Kansai, I didn't have to run the really long distances that the guys in Kanto had to. My coach in those days thought that way. "Since we're in Kansai we're going to nothing but speedwork." Doing that kind of training I developed speed on the track, an efficient last kick, and my times started to progress. That got me more interested and I started working harder. Then when I was a senior I broke the 5000 m Japanese national record.....Nobody was more stunned than me. (laughs) It was kind of a fluke that I got that record, but after that one thought started burning in my mind: "I want to make the Olympics." I thought that I could succeed as a marathoner and that I could be the best in Japan. After that I made the progress I needed to run the Asian Games, the World Championships and the Olympics. It all went quite quickly, going from having no dreams to having concrete goals to achieving those goals.

You currently have the 3000 m, 10000 m and marathon national records. Were these all things you were specifically targeting?

Yes, those were marks on which I was absolutely focused. I wanted fast times, so I went overseas to race and I was very happy to get them in that kind of environment. But the 5000 m record I set in university was the source of a lot of pressure once I joined a pro team. I trained specifically to break it but couldn't do it, and what I was feeling at that time was the strain of trying to meet a tough time goal you've set for yourself. In the marathon as well, there are very few people who can honestly say they are targeting the win. People who win without aiming for it are far more common, I believe. The "I've got to win one more time," or "I've got to turn out one more PB," way of thinking makes running a very difficult experience.

Even though I had the 5000 m national record, inside myself I felt that it was the hardest record to break. My 10000 m record looks like it's on the verge of going, but the 5000 m record I set has already been broken. I think the reason the better record was broken first was because it wasn't an easy time to break. My 10000 m record is much softer, so everyone is just aiming for a time goal when they race. But since they're aiming for a time they can't get it. 3 seconds off, 5 seconds off, there are quite a few guys who have come close. Someone who can aim for a specific time and hit it is the real thing. Haile [Gebrselassie] can do that, but most Kenyans just run off feeling.

You didn't do your first marathon until you were 30, at Fukuoka in 2001. What was your motivation for wanting to move up from the track to the marathon at that point?

In my heart I always planned things in terms of a span of four years. That's the time from one Olympics to the next. The Sydney Olympics were when I was 30, and after that I planned to shift to the marathon. I'd long had the desire to compete in the marathon, so to become a marathoner I chose to train under Coach Ito [former Team Kanebo head coach and marathon great].

When I was young I was injured a lot so I never had the chance to do the proper training for a marathon. Rather, I spent a long time honing my speed on the track so when the time came for the marathon I viewed it from the angle of running it as a futuristic high-speed race. This was before people were running 2:03, 4, 5, when the world record was just under 2:06, but Coach Ito told me that we absolutely had to approach it thinking in terms of 2:05 or 2:06. I think that kind of mindset helped me get there.

You made the Olympics twice, in Atlanta and Sydney, but in the end you only ran on the track.

Fate didn't have the marathon in store for me, I guess. At the qualification race I had a lot of pressure to "Aim for the win." I had already run the marathon record, so everyone told me, "You've already won." Hearing that kind of thing all the time, I put other kinds of pressure on myself, maybe. The first time I went to the Olympics, in Atlanta, I got a real taste of the atmosphere and I thought, "Well, even though ultimately it's the same as other track races, the preparation you need to be competitive in the Olympics is different. There's no way around that."

When Sydney came around, I went there about 10 times before the Olympics. Not just for a few days at a time, but for long periods like a month or so at a time. In Japan doing that is just a given, but overseas it can be pretty inconvenient because there aren't that many Japanese restaurants around and things like that. But, when it came time for the main event I knew downtown Sydney's atmosphere so well that it felt like I was just going to Tokyo to race. (laughs) I think that's why I had a good result there [7th in the 10000 m].

For Athens, in order to be able to say concretely that I wanted to run I wanted to see the course under the same conditions that people would be facing at the Olympics. I went in the summer a year before and ran part of the course and whatnot.....Well, there was a lot construction work going on. (laughs) That's how far I went to get my race visualization sharp, but unfortunately I didn't make it.

What is your basic message?

"If you dream it, you can make it happen." In 1995 I was trying my best, practicing hard but not getting any better. The Olympics were the next year and missing them was not an option, but to a large degree I had already given up. Somebody who was supporting me told me those words, and when I thought about them I realized that I did have a dream. Whenever I was in the most difficult situation those words would come to my lips and help me to struggle on. In the end, having a dream and goals got me to where I am.

Toshinari Takaoka
Born 1970 in Kyoto. Attended Rakunan H.S. and Ryukoku Univ. before joining Team Kanebo where he is now a coach. At the 1994 Asian Games he won the 5000 m and 10000 m, then ran on the track at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, finishing 7th in the 10000 m in Sydney. Moving to the marathon after Sydney, he ran his first marathon at the 2001 Fukuoka International Marathon. At the 2002 Chicago Marathon he ran the Japanese national record of 2:06:16, finishing 3rd after leading most of the race at world record pace. In addition to the marathon national record Takaoka holds the national records for 3000 m (7:41.87) and 10000 m (27:35.09).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ndambiri 7th in RAK Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

Japanese 10000 m all-comers record holder Josephat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) ran the 4th Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon Feb. 19th in the U.A.E. In his first major half marathon in five years, Ndambiri, who last spring ran 26:57.36 for 10000 m and was 5th in the 2007 World Championships 10000 m, finished 7th overall in the competitive field in a PB of 1:01:08. Ndambiri ran the first half of the race with the leaders, covering 10 km on pace for a 59:30 before slowing to over 3 min/km between 15 and 20 km. Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya) won the race in 59:43, while Ethiopian-born Elvan Abeleygesse (Turkey), a double medalist on the track in the Beijing Olympics, took a no-surprise win in her half marathon debut, clocking 1:07:07.

For complete results click here. Ndambiri's splits are available here.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Takaoka Nominated for JOC Overseas Training Study Position

translated by Brett Larner

On Feb. 15 the Japan Olympic Committee announced that Rikuren has nominated men's marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka, 39, to a special position researching overseas training methods. Takaoka, who retired last March and is now a coach with Team Kanebo, must undergo a round of interviews with the JOC before being named to the position. According to a person involved in the proceedings, if Takaoka is accepted he will be sent to the United States to study American altitude training and coaching methods.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kobe Moves Ahead With Plans for Mass-Participation Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Having put the tragedy of the great Hanshin Earthquake behind it, Hyogo Prefecture announced on Feb. 15 that is going ahead with plans to hold a mass-participation marathon in Kobe. The first running of the new race, expected to have a field of 20,000, will take place sometime between Nov. 2011 and Jan. 2012. The exact course will be decided next year, but a start point at Hanshin Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team, and a finish line at Port Island in downtown Kobe were mentioned as possibilities.

In conjunction with the Kobe metropolitan government, an initial budget of 20,000,000 yen has been set for the marathon's organizing committee as it begins work. A member of the prefectural education committee commented, "With the legacy of the Hanshin Earthquake and an international flair, we want to make a race that strongly reflects Kobe's unique character."

Yumiko Hara to Join Koide Camp

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Two-time World Championships marathoner Yumiko Hara, 28, announced on Feb. 15 that in April she will be joining Team Universal Entertainment where she will be coached by Yoshio Koide (Sakura AC). Hara won the 2005 Nagoya International Women's Marathon in her debut, going on to finish 6th in the Helsinki World Championships marathon. She also ran in the 2007 Osaka World Championships marathon. She quit Team Kyocera in March last year, and, unsuccesful in securing a place with another team, returned home to her native Tochigi Prefecture. Now looking to revive her career, Hara stakes her future on Koide's guidance and is hopeful that the new training environment will help her to return to peak level.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ramaala, Tsegay Headline 65th Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon

by Brett Larner

On Feb. 15 the Biwako Mainichi Marathon, also called the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon for the convenience of non-Japanese speakers, announced the complete field for this year's 65th anniversary edition to be held Mar. 7. Biwako, as the race is universally abbreviated within Japan, survived a scare last year with the loss of main sponsor Rohm and comes to this year with a new sponsor, K-Opticom, a new course designed to be faster, and a renewal of its questionable IAAF Gold Label, the first in the country. Three of the top eleven men at the 2009 Berlin World Championships will line up at the start.

The biggest name in the field is 2004 New York City Marathon winner Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa). Still an aggressive racer at age 38, Ramaala faces a tough challenge from the man who will wear the #1 bib, Berlin World Championships 4th place finisher Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia). Also in contention are 2009 Chicago Marathon 4th place finisher Charles Munyeki (Keyna) and 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Adil Annani (Morocco), trading up for the higher-level race. Rounding out the diverse overseas field are 2009 Zurich Marathon winner Abraham Tadesse (Eritrea) and 2008 Debno Marathon winner Yuriy Hychun (Ukraine).

The elite Japanese field includes four athletes. Returning from last year are the Shimizu twins Masaya (Team Asahi Kasei) and Tomoya (Team Sagawa Express). Both brothers ran their PBs at Biwako, with Masaya qualifying for the Berlin team at last year's race. Joining Masaya is his teammate Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei), a 2007 World Championships team member. The last domestic runner is first-timer Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN). Kitaoka ran a half marathon PB of 1:02:17 at last year's National Jitsugyodan Half Marathon Championships and made the national team for the World Half Marathon, where he was the top Japanese finisher in 1:02:50. The Japanese men will be contending for a spot in this fall's Asian Games.

As in the recent Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, where Australian Jeff Hunt challenged for the win in his marathon debut, the top end of the general division contains a wealth of potential gold. Another Australian, Mark Tucker, is in the field, along with strong foreign runners Laban Kagika (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) and Steve Osaduik (Canada). Yuki Abe (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) and Shingo Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) may have a shot at the Asian Games berth, and 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathoner Kenjiro Jitsui (Team Nissin Shokuhin), still running well, has a shot for a top-ten finish.

The race will be broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free on NHK beginning at 12:15 p.m. on Mar. 7. NHK's online availability overseas on Keyhole TV is spotty, but JRNLive will offer live English-language commentary on the race.

2010 Biwako Mainichi Marathon Elite Field with bib numbers
click here for complete field listings
1. Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) - 2:06:30 (Paris '09)
2. Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa) - 2:06:55 (London '06)
3. Charles Munyeki (Kenya) - 2:07:06 (Chicago '09)
103. Kenjiro Jitsui (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:50 (Tokyo Int'l '96)
32. Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:09:23 (Biwako '08)
33. Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (Tokyo Int'l '04)
4. Abraham Tadesse (Eritrea) - 2:10:09 (Zurich '09)
102. Toshiya Katayama (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:10:12 (Biwako '05)
5. Adil Annani (Morocco) - 2:10:15 (Beppu-Oita '09)
101. Laban Kagika (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 2:10:24 (Fukuoka '01)
31. Masaya Shimizu (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:50 (Biwako '09)
6. Yuriy Hychun (Ukraine) - 2:10:59 (Debno '08)
105. Yuki Abe (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:13:47 (Biwako '07)
104. Mark Tucker (Australia) - 2:13:49 (Fukuoka '08)
107. Shingo Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:03 (Tokyo '08)
106. Yoshiyuki Suetsugu (Team Kanebo) - 2:14:31 (Nagano '08)
139. Steve Osaduik (Canada) - 2:16:49 (Victoria '06)
34. Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN) - debut - 1:02:17 (Jitsugyodan Half '09)

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Adachi Over Njui for First Karatsu 10-Miler Win in Tokyo Tune-Up

translated by Brett Larner

At the 50th anniversary Karatsu 10-Mile Road Race on Feb. 14, 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) took 1st in an excellent time of 47:01. Re-entering the track in a tight pack for a final lap at the end of the race, Adachi outkicked last year's runner-up Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) and Akihiko Tsumurai (Team Mazda) for his first Karatsu win.

First-time winner Adachi commented, "I ran with a margin to spare. 47 minutes was my target time," indicating that the run had gone according to plan. In the early stages Adachi was relaxed, looking around at the others up front. With 3 km to go he took charge, leading the pack all the way back to the track for the finish. Adachi plans to run the Feb. 28 Tokyo Marathon and ran Karatsu as a final tune-up. But even though it was a tune-up, Adachi says, "If I had a chance to win I wanted to go for it. This confirms that I've got the leg speed to finish hard in Tokyo."

Shino Saito (Team Shimamura) won the women's 10 km in 32:50. In the high school boys' 10 km, Steven Njeri (Fukuoka Daiichi H.S.) ran the event's all-time 2nd best time of 28:50 for the win. The winners in the new open men's 10 km and high school girls' 5 km were Katsuya Morokuma (Saga Pref.) and Hitomi Sakaguchi (Kyushu Girls' H.S.).

2010 Karatsu 10 Mile Road Race - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
Men's 10 Mile
1. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 47:01
2. Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) - 47:02
3. Akihiko Tsumurai (Team Mazda) - 47:02
4. Ryohei Nakano (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 47:08
5. Takayuki Hamaguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 47:13
6. Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) - 47:30
7. Naosato Yoshimura (Team Toyota) - 47:31
8. Yunari Yamaguchi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 47:43

Women's 10 km
1. Shino Saito (Team Shimamura) - 32:50
2. Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - 33:07
3. Rina Nomura (Team Uniqlo) - 33:17
4. Hitomi Nakamura (Team Panasonic) - 33:23
5. Megumi Miyazaki (Team Uniqlo) - 33:27
6. Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) - 33:28
7. Kumi Ogura (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 33:29
8. Misato Tanaka (Team Sysmex) - 33:35

High School Boys' 10 km
1. Steven Njeri (Kenya/Fukuoka Daiichi H.S.) - 28:50

2010 Chiba International Cross-Country - Results

by Brett Larner

Together with the Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet at the end of the month, the Chiba International Cross Country Meet makes up part of the selection process for the Japanese national teams for March's World Cross Country Championships in Poland. Cross country has never been a significant part of Japanese distance running, and this year many of the biggest names on the entry lists gave the meet a miss.

In the senior men's race, high schooler Bitan Karoki (Kenya/Sera H.S.) returned to take the win over a field of university and pro runners. Defending women's champion Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) likewise returned but finished only 17th.

Below are the top finishers in each of the meet's main divisions. The top two domestic runners in each category stand a good chance of being selected for the Worlds team, while those in 3rd and below will have to wait to see what happens in Fukuoka.

2010 Chiba International Cross Country Meet - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
Senior Men - 12 km
1. Bitan Karoki (Kenya/Sera H.S.) - 34:51
2. Martin Mukule (Kenya/Team Toyota) - 35:22
3. Charles Dirango (Kenya/Sera H.S.) - 35:23
4. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) - 35:31
5. Takuya Noguchi (Nittai Univ.) - 35:34
6. Kazuya Deguchi (Nittai Univ.) - 35:36
12. Hiroyuki Ono (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 36:04
18. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 36:14

Senior Men 4 km
1. Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Team Suzuki) - 11:14
2. Yasunori Murakami (Team Fujitsu) - 11:42
3. Ryotaro Nitta (Team Konica Minolta) - 11:42
4. Aoi Matsumoto (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 11:46
5. Hidehito Takamine (Team JAL Ground Service) - 11:47

Junior Men 8 km
1. Kazuto Nishiike (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 23:29
2. Sugeru Osako (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 23:34
3. Steven Karno (Kenya/Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 23:36
4. Shun Morozumi (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 23:39
5. Takumi Honda (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 23:41

Senior Women 6 km
1. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 19:39
2. Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 19:42
3. Risa Takenaka (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 19:50
4. Nanako Hayashi (Team Yamada Denki) - 19:58
5. Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 19:59
17. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 20:22
34. Seika Nishikawa (Meijo Univ.) - 20:49

Junior Women 5 km
1. Nanaka Izawa (Toyokawa H.S.) - 16:24
2. Chihiro Tanabe (Kamimura Gakuen H.S.) - 16:31
3. Akane Sueyoshi (Isahaya H.S.) - 16:32
4. Yuki Hidaka (Kitakyushu Civic H.S.) - 16:34
5. Yuka Ando (Toyokawa H.S.) - 16:34

Update: For more detailed coverage of the Chiba results check Ken Nakamura's report for the IAAF.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Shimoju Wins Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon

by Brett Larner

2008 Kumanichi 30 km winner Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) continues to edge upward in distance, taking a win at the 48th Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon on Feb. 14. Traditionally a development race for younger runners, this year Nobeoka stayed in character as first-timers took 7 of the top 10 places with relatively inexperienced men clocking PBs for the top 3 spots.

Shimoju ran the first 30 km tight in the first pack. When pacemaker Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) dropped out at 30 km after maintaining a steady pace of 3:07/km there were still six men in the lead pack. Shimoju immediately went into the lead, but it wasn't that he picked up the pace so much as that everyone else fell away. First-timer Norihiro Nomiya (Team Toyota) initially went with him but by 40 km was a minute behind. Shimoju finished hard to win easily in a new PB of 2:12:18 with a 1:34 margin of victory. Nomiya fell to 4th, the top debutant in 2:14:36. Nomiya was overtaken by Fumiyuki Watanabe (Team Asahi Kasei) and Takanori Ide (Team Kyudenko), both of whom recorded PBs in rounding out the top three.

2010 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon Top Finishers
click here for detailed results with splits
1. Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:18 - PB
2. Fumiyuki Watanabe (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:52 - PB
3. Takanori Ide (Team Kyudenko) - 2:14:11 - PB
4. Norihiro Nomiya (Team Toyota) - 2:14:36 - debut
5. Kenji Higashino (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:42 - debut
6. Yuki Mori (Team Sumco Techxiv) - 2:16:24 - debut
7. Kenichi Kawano (Teikyo Univ.) - 2:19:51 - debut
8. Masaya Fujita (Team JFE Steel) - 2:21:24 - debut
9. Takayuki Tagami (Team Kyudenko) - 2:21:39 - debut
10. Teppei Suegami (Team YKK) - 2:21:54 - debut

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Takezawa Takes 50th Himejijo 10 Miler

by Brett Larner

22 year old Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) returned to his home ground of Hyogo Prefecture on Feb. 11 to win the 50th anniversary Himejijo 10 Mile Road Race. As a high school student Takezawa had won the high school division of the 2005 Himejijo 10 Miler, but today's win marks the first victory on the roads of his pro career. As in January's Interprefectural Ekiden duel with half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), Takezawa stalked leader and course record holder Terukazu Omori (Team Shikoku Denryoku) throughout the race and beat him only in the last sprint. Both men clocked 47:33, over a minute off Omori's course record in cold and rainy conditions, with Toyo University grad Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Tokyo Denryoku) just 2 seconds behind. It was Omori's second year in a row to lose at the line in Himejijo after last year's three-way photo finish with Sato and that year's winner Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin).

2010 Himejijo 10 Mile Road Race - Top Finishers
click here for detailed results
1. Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) - 47:33
2. Terukazu Omori (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 47:33
3. Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Tokyo Denryoku) - 47:35
4. Yukio Fujimura (Team Sumitomo Denko) - 47:53
5. Tsukasa Morita (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 47:53
6. Shinichi Watanabe (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 47:55
7. Tomoya Shirayanagi (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 48:03
8. Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 48:03
9. Yoshiyuki Oseki (Team Aichi Seiko) - 48:04
10. Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 48:04

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"I'm Hoping That I Can Be That Next Chapter in the History Books" - Newmade Marathoner Jeff Hunt in His Own Words

by Brett Larner

Jeff Hunt ran the Australian marathon debut national record last Sunday at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, finishing 3rd in 2:11:00. With a race both patient and aggressive he won respect across Japan. Yesterday JRN featured Hunt's coach Ken Green talking about Hunt's performance and training from the coach's perspective. Today we bring you Jeff's own views and recollections.

Next week JRN will introduce its new JRNPremium subscription series of interviews with athletes, coaches, agents and others in the Japanese running world. The series begins with 2:08:40 marathoner Arata Fujiwara ahead of his return to the Tokyo Marathon later this month. Part two will be a follow-up interview with Fujiwara the day after Tokyo. For more information, click here.

JRN: How do you feel?

JH: Surprisingly, I’m physically very good. Emotionally, I’m very, very happy and pleased with the result.

What was your impression of the event? Beppu-Oita is notorious for its wind and the long, banked highway stretch. How did you feel about the course and conditions? Winner Jonathan Kipkorir said the winds were tough, but for much of the race it didn’t look to be too windy on the TV broadcast.

It is a fantastic event. I loved it. Who wouldn’t love it if they ran 2:11 and came 3rd on debut?? Derek Froude (Posso Sports) was the man for the job of getting me into the race. As far as Ken and I were concerned, the first hurdle was getting into the race. We weren’t worried about whether or not I was “invited,” I just wanted to get into the race and run. I wanted to race regardless of the support I did, or did not, get. Derek managed to score some accommodation with the organizers, which helped immensely, and for which I could hardly thank them, or him, enough. I also received some assistance from Athletics Australia for my flights over, again lessening the cost involved.

The organizers treated me the same as all the invited athletes, and made the trip so easy and relaxed. No special treatment after the race as they had already been very hospitable to begin with. I did not need to worry about anything. If I needed help, they’d provide it. The Japanese are very, very friendly people. Karla and Mako (our interpreters/chaperones) were very funny girls who made the trip fun for all.

The course itself is fantastic, rolling roads and a fantastic crowd. The course change for the wind side of things didn’t really matter this year. Brendan Reilly (a manager from US) said to myself, Martin Dent, and Brett Cartwright on the start line “Run fast today. The conditions may not be like this for another 10 years.” It was excellent conditions, perfect temperature and minimal wind. I barely felt it. It was the kind of conditions you should be able to run fast in.

You were a top steepler and XC guy for a long time, then last year moved up somewhat with solid 28:19 10000 m and 1:02:44 half marathon performances. Now with a strong marathon debut behind you where do you see things going? Is the marathon your main career goal or was this an experiment?

The Olympics have always been my dream. From the time I started running in high school, I wanted to go to the Olympics. I had no idea how to get there, but I knew I wanted to go. As well as I’ve performed in cross country, or as fast as I’ve run on the track, I think I should now refer to myself as a marathoner. I have only done one, but I really feel that I can make it my event. I’ve performed very well on track and over cross country, but the marathon, I feel, is my future and where I hold the most potential. Australia has a great history of marathon runners and we need someone to pick up where Mona and Deek [Steve Moneghetti and Rob de Castella] left off. I’m hoping that I can be that next chapter in the history books.

Next up, I will be running my first World Cross Country in Poland on 28th March. I’m sure that will be an experience, and I hope I perform there as well as I have here. I will still compete over cross country and on the track, it's just that now my focus has shifted to the roads. I don’t think there’ll be any more 1500m races for me, but a couple of tens and fives will be on order. My 5000m PB is way too slow.

How long have you been planning this marathon debut? What were your expectations going in? How carefully had you planned your strategy? Do you care to say anything specific about your training?

I had never planned on running a marathon. I have never had an interest until the last 6-12 months. I tried bargaining with Ken over the years on what I had to do before I would tackle one, but I ran out of bargaining chips, and had to concede. But, upon reflection of my training diary, it looks as though Ken has been priming me for a marathon for around 2-3 years.

Expectations were to run fast enough to make the Commonwealth Games team. After all, you never know what can happen to you at 30km. Our strategy was 3:06 per kilometre (31mins for every 10km), but most importantly to race the group I was in, and to not run alone. I seem to perform better when I “just race” and don’t worry about time.

There has been nothing spectacular about my training. I ran consistent 160-170km weeks for 8-9 months, with a few 180km+ weeks over the 5 weeks I spent at altitude. I learnt to run relaxed at pace, and that I think is the key to running fast, it feels effortless.

Your time, placing and the Australian marathon debut record were all great, but what really made your run noteworthy was the way you ran it. The guy who finished behind you, Atsushi Ikawa, was a 28:14 10000 m guy who was also debuting. He ran up in the front pack the whole time, made a few surges into the lead, and finished 4 seconds behind you. With very similar track credentials to him you instead sat patiently back in the 2nd pack, ran very steady 5 km splits, were over a minute behind the leaders at 30 km, then suddenly went from 3:08/km to 3:00. It’s a common enough strategy to take it easy for the first 30 km and then go hard, but it’s pretty rare to see it executed so well. I think the patience you showed and then the ferocity after 30 km really appealed to the Japanese audience. Again, how much of this was planned and how much of it was race-day momentum?

Ken and I had planned to close the last 10-12km solid, but how solid depended on what my body was feeling like at the time. We never set a pace to pick it up to, and if I was in the lead pack already, to leave it until much later.

I had actually been running in behind the 2nd group pacers. They had been hitting 3:07/3:08 like clockwork. They did an excellent job. I had to hold myself back at only 15km into the race. Ken had told me to be patient until 30km, but I wanted the pacers to go faster because I felt really, really good. I had believed from 15km in that I could catch the lead pack, and I really wanted to catch them. When I accelerated at 27km, I never thought that I could accelerate that much. Running that next 3km in not much over 9:00, then 30-35km in 15:03, I surprised even myself at how I could still be relaxed whilst upping the pace so much. I was just using the runners coming back as targets on my way up. Closing the last 100m was probably the hardest part, just because I was almost there but not quite.

To whatever extent your move was planned, how did you incorporate that into your training and preparation for the race?

It has been incorporated by just picking up the pace towards the end of my Sunday long run and Wednesday run. I also just tried to run everything with a relaxed technique and rhythm. Whenever I tried to run fast, I just made sure I was relaxed. You can’t run fast when you’re tense.

The sessions incorporated were just longer, such as Mona Fartlek (20mins fast/slow), 6 x Mile, and longish runs with 15-20mins in the middle at marathon pace. One thing that is very important, especially for the marathon, is that I have not missed a long run in something like 18months-2years. Even I have been surprised at that.

But as well as it was planned, I may not have been able to pull it off. Fortunately, I did, and executed it pretty well for a great result.

It doesn’t happen very often that someone so far back so late in the race catches the leaders. At what point did you think you could catch the lead pack? At what point did you know it was going to happen? Anything you want to say about your mindset between 36 km, when you passed 27:41 10000 m marathon debutant Yu Mitsuya, and 39 km when you caught the lead group, would be much appreciated. As soon as you passed Mitsuya you had a dedicated camera bike with you and the announcers were rapt. Did you pick up on the change in atmosphere or feel any more pressure from having the motorcycle there?

I started thinking I could catch the lead pack when we were only at 15km. I realised that the front guys were not running as fast as they were meant to, so I started thinking really positive. By 25km, I really wanted to catch them. By the time I had reach 35km, I knew that I would get there. It was a matter of how quick do I get there. I remember Geb's interview where he said the guys that caught him in Dubai caught him too quick to be able to kick again. So I was cautious to a degree.

I didn’t even notice that the motorbike was still with me. I was just focused solely on the lead pack that was now under 200m up the road. I was just driving, pushing my way forward with a determination that I don’t think that I have ever had. I made sure I held form, and just kept pushing. I never took my eyes off that lead pack. I kept the pace going, and then just slotted in behind them for a short recovery before the push for home.

You looked very strong, smooth and relaxed after passing Mitsuya. How did it feel in that section, both physically and in terms of knowing you were hitting the hardest part of you first marathon so well?

The entire race I felt magic. I was worried about “the wall” you apparently hit between 30-35km but it never came. I felt really really good even when running faster in the “hardest section” of a marathon. My fiancée put it well by saying it was “blissful ignorance” that had me feeling so good.

When you caught the leaders you tucked into the back of the pack. It didn’t look like anyone realized you were there for a while until Nakamoto, Ikawa and Njenga all looked back. Did you feel any reaction?

I did. I kind of smiled as if to say, “Yeah boys, I just caught you, and I’m feeling great” As I had approached them, I toyed with going straight past or tucking in. Ultimately I thought my best chance was to relax for a kilometre or two, and go with the kick.

Your 15:24 from 35 to 40 km after running 15:03 between 30 and 35 km disguises how fast you actually ran from 35 to 39 km since you slowed way down and stayed behind the pack between 39 and 40 km. What can you say about that decision to cut your momentum and tuck in? Did you have any thought of just trying to keep going by them?

If it had been my second marathon I would have just blown past them, and caught them by surprise. It may have worked well on Sunday, but I wasn’t willing to take that chance, because the wheels could have easily fallen off at 40km. After all, it was my debut. I knew that I could lift again if I had a rest, so I rested. Not to mention that having never run the course, or seen the closing stages, I could have suffered. I also had to respect the guys that have PBs in the 2:06/2:07 bracket.

During that km in the pack were you feeling tired and resting up? You seemed pretty alert, and the second Ethiopian Chala Lemi took off from the front row at 40.2 km and Kenyan Daniel Njenga went after him you cut to the right in the back row and went after him too. What do you remember about that moment?

No, I felt great. I was really settled and calm. I did, at one stage there, think, “I can’t believe I’m in the lead pack now.” But then that changed to thoughts of glory. I really thought I had a chance to win. I remember feeling the tension in the air between them all. Everyone seemed to be afraid not to go to early. I just knew whatever happened, I had to go with it.

2:07:31 marathoner Jonathan Kipkorir went with you and you passed Lemi together. At the same time 2:06:16 guy Njenga shot out into the lead. How did you feel being in a 2 km last dash against guys with credentials like that? You were just a stride or two from closing the gap to Njenga when Kipkorir caught him and they really started hitting it hard. Did you think you still had a shot? Njenga was looking back over his shoulder on the last lap of the track.

Njenga caught me a bit by surprise, and his acceleration was amazing. But I thought he’s going hard early, I may get him. In the end it was pretty close. A last 2km dash with guys who have previously ran under 2:08:00 was exhilarating. I never stopped thinking I had a chance to win until we reached the last 100m and I ran out of time. I never stopped fighting. Even though those guys had run pretty fast before, I never thought for a second that I couldn’t beat them.

The same day that you ran your 2:11:00 Nikki Chapple had a big win at the Marugame Half Marathon. There’s lots of talk about momentum in the States and loss of it here in Japan. How do you think Sunday reflects on the current state and direction of Australian distance running? What kind of impact do you expect your run to have on your teammates and training partners, on your domestic competition and fellow Australians? On you personally? Again, what do you see for the future?

Distance running in Australia is going mental. 4 years ago, before the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, we had, in some cases, less people qualified in event than there were spaces. It would seem that this time around, we will have more qualifiers than spots, which will make decisions for selectors nice and tough.

I’m already aware of the impact I had on my training partners. For once, they were actually happy to hear me go on and on about something. Haha. I think that the flow-on effect will be positive to all our athletes. My training is no secret, it is a tried and true method. They will see what I have been able to run, and see that the training is not revolutionary, but it works.

I think the effect on my competition will be to stop them from dismissing me before races begin. You never know how well I will perform. I am not a training machine, but I can pull it all together on race day. I will always fight to the death, and I like to think that I’m pretty good tactically.

This race has made me realise that yes I can be competitive internationally, just not on the track as I thought I would. The marathon is a tough event, and it takes its toll on your body. I got lucky by feeling good all the way, but I have to respect the distance each time, because there’s always the chance of a bad day.

Hopefully, I see many Australian national teams, with growing successes as I gain experience. I also think that because I didn’t start “proper” training until I was almost 20 years old it means that I will be able to have a long career like some of the greats.

Update: To cap off JRN's Jeff Hunt week, here's a video interview with him back in Australia courtesy of The Runner's Tribe.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved