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Shitara Runs Down Defending Champ Nagano to Give Saitama 2018 National Men's Ekiden Title

Half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara lived up to his pre-race words, running down everyone who stood between him and the finish line to bring Saitama Prefecture its second-ever national title at the 2018 National Men's Ekiden.

Defending champ Nagano, whose win last year gave it a record seven wins in the National Men's Ekiden's 21-year history, was the favorite for the win, its roster packed with members of 2017 National High School Ekiden winner Saku Chosei H.S. and 2017 Izumo Ekiden winner Tokai University. Shitara was unfazed, saying pre-race that he'd run down anyone within 50 seconds of him on the 13.0 km anchor stage.

Nagano started strong, taking 2nd on the opening leg behind a nearly record-setting run from Ryuto Igawa (Kumamoto). Hoping for its first-ever top-three finish Ibaraki was unexpectedly strong, 5th on the leadoff leg, overtaking Nagano on the Second Stage and then advancing to 1st on the Third Stage thanks to a strong run from 2018 Hakone Ekiden Second Stage winner Homare Morita.

Ibaraki held on to 1st on the Fourth Stage, but on next one, the longest high school stage at 8.5 km, it fell victim to Nagano's Yuhi Nakaya, star member of Saku Chosei H.S. with a 5000 m best of 13:47.22. Nakaya and Nagano's sixth runner Haruta Koshi needed to open a lead of around a minute over Saitama to give anchor Hayato Seki a chance of holding Shitara off, but it wasn't to be.

Behind them, Saitama had spent most of the race hovering around 5th after a slow start. 45 seconds behind after Nakaya's stage-winning run, Saitama's sixth runner Shura Shinoki turned it around with a stage-winning 8:50 for the 3.0 km junior high school stage, taking advantage of a weak run from Koshi to pull with 13 seconds of the lead.

That was all Shitara needed, running down Seki and the intervening teams by 2.5 km and then dropping Seki effortlessly at 5.0 km to solo his way to the win in 2:19:10, one second slower than Nagano's winning time last year but still the 4th-fastest winning time in history. Last year Shitara won the 13.0 km anchor stage in 37:43 ahead of an ambitious debut at the Tokyo Marathon. A year older now with a half marathon national record, a 10000 m PB and two sub-2:10 marathons behind him, this year Shitara covered the same course in 37:12. After one last tuneup at the Marugame Half in two weeks Shitara will return to Tokyo, where he plans to take Toshinari Takaoka's 2:06:16 national record and the million-dollar bonus on offer for it.

Struggling after 10 k m, Seki still managed a quality run to keep 2nd for Nagano in 2:19:56, Chiba coming through in 2:20:34 for its best-ever placing at 3rd. Last year's runner-up Fukuoka was 4th in 2:20:55, powered in part by a brilliant Second Stage course record run by 1500 m, 3000 m and 5000 m junior high school national record holder Kosuke Ishida. 2018 Hakone Ekiden First Stage winner Kazuya Nishiyama, a first-year at Toyo University, had another brilliant run to mark him as the inheritor of Shitara's legacy at Toyo, taking the second-fastest anchor time to outkick Yamaguchi and give Gunma 5th overall. Just back, Kanagawa marked its best-ever placing at 7th, with longtime leader Ibaraki dropping to 8th just 1 second ahead of Fukushima. Tokyo rounded out the top ten thanks to a superb finish from 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi.

With championship ekiden season now wrapped up, like Shitara Japan's top-level men now turn their focus to the half marathon, where places on the 2018 World Half Marathon Championships team are still up for grabs in Marugame and the National Corporate Half Marathon, and the marathon, where the attention is on qualifying for the MGC Race, Japan's new 2020 Olympic Trials for its marathon squad. Along with Suguru Osako (NOP), Shitara looks right now like one of the best bets to make that high-pressure team.

23rd National Men's Ekiden

Hiroshima, 1/21/18
47 teams, 7 stages, 48.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Saitama - 2:19:10
2. Nagano - 2:19:56
3. Chiba - 2:20:34
4. Fukuoka - 2:20:55
5. Gunma - 2:20:59
6. Yamaguchi - 2:21:01
7. Kanagawa - 2:21:09
8. Ibaraki - 2:21:24
9. Fukushima - 2:21:25
10. Tokyo - 2:21:51

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (7.0 km, H.S.)
1. Ryuto Igawa (Kumamoto) - 19:56
2. Sakito Matsuzaki (Nagano) - 20:00
3. Reito Hanzawa (Fukushima) - 20:01

Second Stage (3.0 km, J.H.S.)
1. Kosuke Ishida (Fukuoka) - 8:14 - CR
2. Hiroki Wakabayashi (Wakayama) - 8:28
3. Takanobu Igarashi (Ibaraki) - 8:31
3. Masaya Tsurukawa (Kumamoto) - 8:31

Third Stage (8.5 km, univ/pro)
1. Kazuki Tamura (Yamaguchi) - 23:43
2. Kazuya Shiojiri (Gunma) - 23:49
3. Hiroki Matsueda (Chiba) - 24:09

Fourth Stage (5.0 km, H.S.)
1. Keita Honma (Nagano) - 14:26
2. Kiyoto Suzuki (Ibaraki) - 14:30
2. Shinya Kojima (Osaka) - 14:30

Fifth Stage (8.5 km, H.S.)
1. Yuhi Nakaya (Nagano) - 24:37
2. Takuro Miura (Hyogo) - 24:52
3. Issei Sato (Chiba) - 25:02
3. Koki Kamata (Kanagawa) - 25:02

Sixth Stage (3.0 km, J.H.S.)
1. Shura Shinoki (Saitama) - 8:50
2. Hibiki Yoshida (Shizuoka) - 8:53
2. Keita Sato (Kyoto) - 8:53

Seventh Stage (13.0 km, univ/pro)
1. Yuta Shitara (Saitama) - 37:12
2. Kazuya Nishiyama (Gunma) - 38:01
3. Naoya Takahashi (Fukuoka) - 38:08

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


TokyoRacer said…
Yes, that Ishida kid was a joy to watch. Beautiful form, smooth as silk, just flying past the other runners, who were no slouches. Remember that name.

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