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Karemi Breaks Okukuma Half Marathon Course Record

As championship ekiden season wraps up Japan’s athletes have started the transition to the winter road season, with four decently competitive half marathons highlighting the first half of January.

At the hilly Okukuma Half Marathon, locally-based Africans Jeremiah Thuku Karemi (Toyota Kyushu) and Melaku Abera (Kurosaki Harima) duked it out one-on-one, Karemi through in a series of surges in the last 5 km before breaking away decisively with 1 km to go. Crossing the finish line in 1:01:48, Karemi took nearly two minutes off the course record with Abera just under 62 for 2nd.

2nd on the Hakone Ekiden’s Seventh Stage less than two weeks ago, Masanori Sumida (Nittai Univ.) outran corporate league competition Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) and Shohei Kurata (GMO) to take the top Japanese spot at 4th in 1:03:11. Spending most of the race behind a pack led by 2015 National Univeristy Half Marathon champion Tadashi Isshiki (GMO) and 2:07:39 marathoner Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu), Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) outkicked the entire group to take 7th overall in 1:03:28, his fastest time in five straight years racing Okukuma.

In the past Okukuma has only had a 5 km on offer for women, won this time in 16:35 by Tokai Prep Fukuoka high schooler Miyaka Sugata. This year the race added a women’s half marathon, Yomogi Akasaka of 2017 National University Women’s Ekiden champ Meijo University taking the inaugural title in 1:13:36. 42-year-old Mari Ozaki (Noritz) showed no signs of slowing down, taking 3rd in 1:14:43.

The women’s race was the highlight at the Oita City Half Marathon, where 22-year-old Seina Yamanaka (Ehime Ginko) took 1st in 1:14:45. Local high schoolers Rika Ichihara (Nippon Bunri Prep H.S.) and Shunsuke Sato (Tsurusaki Kogyo H.S.) topped the 10 km, Ichihara winning the girls’ race in 34:41 and Saito cracking 30 minutes to win the boys’ race in 29:59.

Usually held a week before Okukuma, the Takanezawa Half Marathon was hurt by windy conditions and the absence of 2018 Hakone Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University, whose B-team has made up most of Takanezawa’s elite field in recent years. Shun Yuzawa of 2017 Izumo Ekiden winner Tokai University took the top spot in 1:04:30, the only runner to break 66 minutes.

Better depth was to be found at Tokyo’s Hi-Tech Half Marathon, where independent Hideyuki Ikegami followed up his breakthrough 2:13:41 PB at November’s Osaka Marathon with a win in 1:04:39, his second time winning after outrunning Yuki Kawauchi in 2014. Another independent, Kaoru Nagao won the women’s race in 1:16:56. Osaka women’s winner Yumiko Kinoshita (SWAC) was 8th in only 1:20:46.

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Kawauchi Breaks Nobeyama Ultra Course Record

2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) won the longest race of his career to date Sunday in Nagano, taking over six minutes off the Yatsugatake Nobeyama Kogen 71 km Ultramarathon in 4:41:55.

A training run for next month’s Stockholm Marathon, Kawauchi set off solo at a steady pace around 3:45/km. Climbing from 1355 m to 1908 m as he approached 20 km he naturally slowed, but with over 1000 m of descent over the next 30 km he was soon back on track. Hitting the marathon split around 2:39, he was so far ahead of the 2nd placer that the announcer initially forget Kawauchi had already gone by and announced the next runner as the leader.

At 58 km Kawauchi was on track to clear 4:30:00, but hitting the uphills in the final 10 km and feeling the effects of the unfamiliar distance he slowed to almost 5:00/km. But with so much leeway to work with there was never any danger of the 4:48:13 course record slipping out of reach. Kawauchi stopped the clock in 4:41:55, please…

How it Happened

Ancient History I went to Wesleyan University, where the legend of four-time Boston Marathon champ and Wes alum Bill Rodgers hung heavy over the cross-country team. Inspired by Koichi Morishita and Young-Cho Hwang’s duel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I ran my first marathon in 1993, qualifying for Boston ’94 where Bill was kind enough to sign a star-struck 20-year-old me’s bib number at the expo.

Three years later I moved to Japan for grad school, and through a long string of coincidences I came across a teenaged kid named Yuki Kawauchi down at my neighborhood track. I never imagined he’d become what he is, but right from the start there was just something different about him. After his 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon he called me up and asked me to help him get into races abroad. He’d finished 3rd on the brutal downhill Sixth Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and given how he’d run the hills in the last 6 km at Tokyo ’11 I thought he’d do well at Boston or New York. “If M…

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …