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A 'Good Enough' Mentality Can Never Win

originally published in Nikkei Newspaper, 8/25/08

by Takeyuki Nakayama

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Most of the runners who competed in the Olympic marathon prepared for a slow summer race, but Wanjiru and the other leaders turned it into a high-speed winter-style marathon. Wanjiru's early 5 km splits were 14:52, then 14:34. The next 5 km the split lengthened to 15:11, but after that the pace increased again to 14:33. His strategy was simply to push the pace as much as possible to drop his rivals. The two Japanese runners in the field couldn't respond to this race approach at all. While watching I predicted that the pace would slow to the 16 minute range for 5k, but Wanjiru actually kept his fast 15 minute splits until the end, illustrating that to today's top runners it doesn't matter whether it is winter or summer, they are willing to go fast in any race.

Japanese runners nowadays never run this kind of race. They are always preoccupied with worries about what will happen if they try to run an early fast pace, about whether they will be able to keep it up or even finish, about what kind of criticism they will get afterwards. They always pick the safer route of running a defensive, passive race, but with this idea of letting someone else make the race and just following along you cannot compete against world-class runners anymore. You have to make your own race. Moreover, you have to be capable of making your own race, of being good enough. In this sense, we need to change our thinking and review our training methods from the bottom up. After all, the world's best runners are looking somewhere else - at the top, at the gold medal, and nothing else. Because they have to make a living by running the marathon, they are running to live.

Japanese runners think it is sufficient just to try hard enough to make a nice, pleasantly long 'good enough' lifestyle, which results in them only running defensive races. In university or as jitsugyodan they are content to have good results in ekidens and are satisfied with securing their position within their team's hierarchy. When I coach my team I can feel it. Coaches should be stricter with their runners to keep them from becoming lazy. Present Japanese runners cannot stand hardship. Kenyan runners living in Japan often tell me this, saying, "Japanese people are soft." If I were asked to point out what Wanjiru learned in Japan, I would say it was probably patience. Our Japanese characteristics were stolen by him.

Translator's note: Takeyuki Nakayama is a former Japanese national record holder at 10000 m and the marathon. He finished 4th in both the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Olympic marathons. He has been a lifelong vocal opponent of Rikuren, jitsugyodan teams, ekidens, and most other major aspects of the Japanese running system.

Comments

Roberto said…
Well said by Nakayama. His comments, of course, could apply to middle- and long distance runners from many nations.

Look at the 800 and 1500 ... the times being run in those events are slower than they were 25 years ago.
Christian said…
I think the comments can be applied to a much more general setting, namely, not to runners only, but to the majority of the workforce in developed countries having a good enough mentality. In sports it might be just much more visible.
Brett Larner said…
While Nakayama is basically right, the sad thing about it is that if there is one male Japanese marathoner since Takaoka who runs with the kind of aggression Nakayama is calling for it is Sato. He was the one making the race against Wanjiru and Merga in the middle-late stages of Fukuoka last year and even tried to drop them at 30 km.

I have pretty high hopes for Masato Kihara in a few years. So far he doesn't seem afraid to go after big names and is good enough to pull it off. We'll see what he does at the World 1/2 in October. Kensuke Takezawa has potential too if he is ever back in one piece.
Anonymous said…
As someone who has been following the ups and downs of the Japanese marathoners, I can't agree more with Mr. Nakayama. The Japanese marathoners have exemplied the character traits of the Japanese people: bravery, patience and perseverance. I still enjoy watching the taped 1992 Barcelona Olympic Mens marathon, in which Moroshita, Nakayama and Tanaguchi (despite the fall) pushed the pace with such courage. It prompted the Australian commentator Peter Donovan to comment on Moroshita's running saying, 'This is brave running.' Marathon is no different from soccer. It's not enough to 'play not to lose'. You have to 'play to win'. Pushing the pace bravely is the Japanese way of doing things. Don't lose this.
nobby415 said…
Brett:

This is real cool. One correction, on your comment section, though. It was Atsushi Sato who ran against Wanjiru and Merga in 2007 Fukuoka. Takaoka is retired now.
Brett Larner said…
Nobby--

That's what I said.

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