Skip to main content

397 Under 70 Minutes: The 20th Ageo City Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

While the NCAA XC Championships were taking place an ocean away, the final qualification race for the de facto Japanese university championships was happening northwest of Tokyo at the Ageo City Half Marathon in Ageo, Saitama.

The Japanese university running world revolves around the legendary Hakone Ekiden, a ten-stage relay race held every year on Jan. 2 and 3rd. The top nineteen university teams in eastern Japan plus a compilation team of ace runners from schools which do not make the top nineteen race from downtown Tokyo to the mountaintop lakeside resort town of Hakone and back in front of hundreds of thousands of courseside spectators and the largest television audience of any event or program in Japan. If you are a young male runner in Japan then getting to run in Hakone is the absolute highlight of your life and something which anyone in Japan, runner or non-runner, will respect for the rest of your life.

The fall university season in Japan is built up of ekidens and qualification races geared to selecting teams and team members for Hakone. The final race in the series is the Ageo City Half Marathon, held each year on the third Sunday of November. Most universities which will be competing in Hakone send squads of ten to fifty runners to Ageo to make final selection for their Hakone A-squads. Ace runners usually don`t participate as they run for one of the Japanese national teams in the Chiba International Ekiden on Nov. 23 and are already assured a space on their schools` Hakone teams, but for the remaining runners it is a make or break situation. Their coaches will use the Ageo results to select the fittest runners for Hakone, so they have to run all-out against teammates and other schools alike. A professional jitsugyodan team or two usually show up, and the race is also open to the general public.

The course is flat and fast. Last year the top two went under 62 minutes, with second place finisher Masato Kihara, a sophomore at Chuo Gakuin University, running the all-time second Japanese university mark of 1:01:50. Team Honda`s Gebretsadik Bekele won in 1:01:26. This year Bekele repeated in a relatively slow 1:02:43. Second place was Shoji Akutsu of Nihon University in 1:03:06. Twenty-one universities sent full squads and another dozen-odd schools sent smaller numbers. The depth of the field was staggering:

10th place: 1:03:36
25th place: 1:04:08
50th place: 1:04:41
100th place: 1:05:23
200th place: 1:06:37
300th place: 1:08:13
400th place: 1:10:06
500th place: 1:14:49

Is there another half-marathon anywhere in the world with this depth?

My training partners and I had decided in the spring to run Ageo so that we could get pulled along to PBs. I came down with a bad cold three days before the race and only ran 1:14:58, good for 501st place. My friend Jason Lawrence ran under 68 for the first time and came in 286th. Full results are here. From the pull-down menu select the entry second from the top, above the 10 km option. Put in how many results you want to see and then click the grey box.

Some videos of this year`s race are also up. Witness the sight of hundreds and hundreds of young guys running around 3 min/km pace:

3 km point --- 10 km point --- 17 km point

The Ageo City Half Marathon is a recommended event for anyone who would like to experience what elite Japanese distance running is about and to run a fast time while doing it. Next month I will post a roundup of the fall university season and a more detailed history and preview of Hakone.


(c) 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Mark said…
absolutely unbelievable half-marathon times, never heard anything like it,

good luck in your upcoming marathon

Most-Read This Week

Kusu Runs Steeplechase World-Leading Time, Yabuta and Yoshimura Break National Records, Tanaka Just Misses Fukushi's NR - Kitami and Liege Highlights

Wednesday afternoon and evening saw the fourth meet in this year's five-part Hokuren Distance Challenge series, this time in the town of Kitami. The program included the little-raced 2000 m steeplechase as a tuneup for Monday's series-closing Abashiri meet, and in both the women's and men's races the national records went down. A top collegiate steepler while at Kyoto Sangyo University, Yui Yabuta (Otsuka Seiyaku) ran 6:27.74 to break the women's record. In the men's race 1500 m specialist Yasunari Kusu (Ami AC) surprised many by breaking the Japanese national record with a world-leading 5:31.82 despite little experience in the steeple.

The women's 3000 m in Kitami was more explicitly set up as a national record attempt, with four of the ten fastest Japanese women ever over the distance lined up to gun for the great Kayoko Fukushi's 8:44.40 record dating back to 2002. From the gun it was out at NR pace, with pacers Hellen Ekalale (Toyota Jidoshokki) an…

Lemeteki and Aoki Win Shibestu Half

Kenyan Razini Lemeteki (Takushoku Univ.) and relative unknown Nanami Aoki (Iwatani Sangyo) took the top spots in hot and sunny conditions at the Shibetsu Half Marathon in Hokkaido. With Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei) doing early frontrunning in the men's race only to fade to a 20th-place finish in 1:06:40 Lemeteki had little competition for the win in 1:03:25. 2017 Shibetsu winner Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota) was the top Japanese man at 2nd in 1:03:42, beating MGC Race Olympic marathon trials qualifiers Daichi Kamino (New Balance) and Naoki Okamoto (Chugoku Denryoku) - by 4 seconds and 11 seconds. Other MGC Race qualifiers Masato Imai (Toyota Jidoshokki), Yuji Iwata (MHPS) and Ryo Kiname (MHPS) all struggled, none of them breaking 66 minutes.

Aoki won the women's race easily in 1:15:12 by almost a minute over Mai Nagaoka (Sysmex). MGC Race qualifiers Reia Iwade (Under Armour) and Keiko Nogami (Juhachi Ginko) were listed to start but apparently did not run.
33rd Suffolkland Shibets…

Koike Runs Japan's Third Sub-10, Niiya Clears Doha 5000 m Standard - Weekend Track Highlights

Japanese athletes were busy on the track overseas this weekend. At Friday's Stumptown Twilight meet in Portland, indoor mile Asian record holder Nanami Arai (Honda) took 2nd in the men's 1500 m in 3:39.58, his second time this season breaking 3:40. It used to be a rarity to see a Japanese man clear 3:40, something that happened once every couple of years, but so far this season four Japanese men have done it a total of six times. If the distance had even a fraction of the prestige of the Hakone Ekiden, or of that it has in the U.S., there's no doubt there'd be more.

Speaking of distances with prestige, on the first day of London's Muller Anniversary Games Diamond League spectacular Yuki Koike (Sumitomo Denko) became the third Japanese man to join the sub-10 club, running 9.98 (+0.5 m/s) for 4th in the men's 100 m final. Koike also ran 2nd on the Japanese men's 4x100 m relay team, which clocked a season best 37.78 for 2nd despite featuring only two regulars…