translated by Brett Larner
On Oct. 26, teams from across the country will run the 26th Morinomiyako Ekiden, the National University Women's Ekiden Championships, on a six-stage, 38.6 km course stretching from the Miyagi Track and Field Grounds to Sendai City Hall. Three teams from the Tohoku [northeastern] region of Japan will represent all northern girls. Along with the Tohoku Regional University Select Team will be Fukushima University, making its third consecutive and tenth total appearance, and Fukushi University, competing for the second consecutive and sixth total time. Running on Fukushi's team for the first time are captain Shoko Mori (fourth year) and ace recruit Makiko Ishiyama (first year).
Shoko Mori - Fourth Year
Going to the Morinomiyako Ekiden for the first time as a senior and as captain, Mori's enthusiasm and focus are at a peak. "We're representing all of Tohoku," she says. "I have no insecurity at all. I'll be fast." Keeping command of herself and setting the tempo for the whole team are her main goals.
Mori has gone from the very bottom to an elite height. After continuously improving her best times since entering university, Mori fell into a slump in February and March this year. "I couldn't run at all, and had become one of the slowest people on the team. Every day I was afraid that coach was going to say, "Please give up your position as captain." Entering her senior year in April with a broken spirit, Mori thought to herself, "I have to pull myself together and get back to normal." She forced herself to grind away through the workouts, and soon saw the light come shining. In April she ran a 5000 m PB during a time trial. In August she improved her mark again. "At this time last year," Mori recalls, "I was having stomach pains from all the stress, but this year everything's OK. The only thing left is to kill whichever stage I'm given in the ekiden." Mori's rivals have been given fair notice.
Last year as anchor Mori had to run the 6th stage wearing a white tasuki [after earlier runners ran their stages too slowly and missed the cutoff time to pass the team's tasuki]. "This year I want the team to be like a meteor on the first half," says head coach Hironobu Ozaki (39), indicating that this year he plans to use his stronger runners early on. Mori agrees, saying, "I don't want to leave the younger runners with bad memories." Having rebuilt herself into a capable leader, Mori will soon pass the tasuki on to her juniors.
Shoko Mori - Born Feb. 3, 1987 in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture. 153 cm, 37.5 kg, blood type O, youngest of three children. Competed on the softball and ekiden teams while at Iwanuma J.H.S. Gave up softball to focus on distance running in high school. H.S. team finished 9th in the Miyagi Prefectural High School Ekiden Championships during her second year, qualifying for the Tohoku Regional Championships. At this year's National University Women's Half Marathon Mori was the only runner from Tohoku.
Makiko Ishiyama - First Year
With a 5000 m PB in the 16-minute range, first-year Ishiyama is Fukushi University's ace. 5th in the National High School 1500 m, Fukushi's rookie comes to her first Morinomiyako Ekiden with a sparkling reputation and dying to run.
Tohoku's qualification race for the Morinomiyako Ekiden took place in late September. Fukushi University earned its second straight appearance in the ekiden, but Ishiyama was not there. She began suffering inflammation in her left knee in practice and withdrew shortly before the race. Afterwards, Ishiyama's dreams for her big university debut burned even hotter. "This team can win even without me," she says, "but I'm still sorry to have brought them shame by not being able to run."
The star first-year returned to training after a very short interval with no signs of any lingering injury. In team practices she has been competing with captain Mori and other top runners to lead the workouts. In the Morinomiyako Ekiden she will likely be given one of the early stages. "It's a lot of responsibility and pressure," Ishiyama admits, "but that's not something I can let get to me." The pressure comes partly from running to support the senior runners. "Shoko and some of the other senior runners can get pretty scary during workouts and races, but that's the only time. I'm really thankful to all of them for their leadership and want to show my gratitude through my performance in the race."
Before running Ishiyama always follows a ritual of hitting herself over her heart with her right fist to get herself mentally ready to go, an act which has earned her the reputation of being a 'traditionalist.' "I'm ready right now and will bring it all to the race," she says in closing. On Oct. 26 she will need to fully charge her self-confidence as she presents herself to the nation in her first Morinomiyako Ekiden.
Makiko Ishiyama - Born Nov. 11, 1989 in Yamagata Prefecture. 156 cm, 47 kg, blood type O, oldest of three children. Ran in the National Junior High School Ekiden Championships while still playing on her junior high school's basketball team. Focused on track and field upon entering high school and made the National High School Ekiden Championships her second and third year.