Monday, November 17, 2008

Deeper and Deeper Goes The Greatest Half Marathon in the World - Ageo 2008

by Brett Larner
photos courtesy of TecNet

Everyone not wearing a hat will run under 70 minutes.

The Ageo City Half Marathon is the best-kept secret in Japanese distance running. On the surface it is nothing more than a local race in a small town, just one of a half dozen half marathons to choose from near Tokyo on the same day. Like most others it has scoring categories for age groups, gender, Rikuren-registered runners, and a category for university student runners. What sets Ageo apart is that the students come. All of them.

Ageo is six weeks before the Hakone Ekiden, a championship event for universities in eastern Japan's Kanto region and the country's most popular and prestigious race. After a grueling ekiden season university coaches know who their star runners are. These athletes' places on their schools' 10-member Hakone teams are secure, but the second-tier runners must still demonstrate that they are worthier of being in Hakone than teammates who may have peaked earlier in the season. Located deep in the heart of Kanto, Ageo and its secret half marathon provide coaches already holding a handful of diamonds with the ideal setting in which to pan through their rosters in search of gold. The result is the most competitive half marathon in the world.

Yuichi Tokuchi of Chuo Univ. wins the 2008 Ageo City Half Marathon.

The conditions at this year's race on Nov. 16 were cool and misty, with light rain until just minutes before the start of the race. Chuo University's Yuichi Tokuchi led from start to finish, running alone to win in a PB of 1:02:50. 2nd placer Yuichi Suematsu of Komazawa University and 3rd placer Yuki Kawauchi of Gakushuin University both clocked 1:03:22. Relatively pedestrian times, especially in Ageo where winning times in recent years have typically been in the 61-minute range, but digging deeper you find something else entirely.

10th place: 1:03:53
25th place: 1:04:20
50th place: 1:04:45
100th place: 1:05:28
200th place: 1:06:43
300th place: 1:08:09
400th place: 1:09:48
500th place: 1:12:59

408 runners under 70 minutes, even without the usual presence of the professional Team Honda's B-squad. This year the women's race, ordinarily at the most amateur of levels, was also competitive, with Juntendo University's Eriko Noguchi winning in 1:12:44 and Yuki Takeshima of Kokushikan University coming 2nd in 1:13:56. Two other women finished under 1:17.

Anyone can enter Ageo. If you have run it and are fast enough to be with or near the university runners it is hard to describe. It's the Wild West. It's Pamplona. Go out hard and you're with the bulls. Start more conservatively and you will be disoriented the entire time, passing dozens of students at a time who, being young student guys, went out too hard and have faded. Results are enigmatic, unpredictable, even laughable. Last year I ran with a cold and finished 501st in 1:14:58. This year, still recovering from injury, I ran 1:13:17 and finished 509th. For any coaches or athletes out there with times under 70 or even 75 minutes, travelling internationally for a half marathon may be a tall order, but if you are ever going to do it this is the race to run. There is nothing else like it, anywhere. Feel free to contact me for any assistance.

Complete results are available here. Select the second option from the pull-down menu and enter the number of results you would like to see. My report on the 2007 Ageo City Half Marathon is available here.

Update: TecNet added net times to the results. 4 more guys made it under 1:10 on net time, for a grand total of 412.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

5 comments:

ezmiles said...

Wow, that is an amazingly deep field. Do they have a lot of foreign runners in this race (elite and non-elite)? I would love to try running this race someday. - Steve

electron1661 said...

That is insane. I've never heard of a race with that many people under 70 minutes for a half. Are the university runners still in season for this race?

Brett Larner said...

Hi. An Ethiopian, Gebretsadik Bekele, won Ageo in 2006 and 2007, but he ran for Honda at the time. I was the top foreigner this time. As I wrote, it's a pretty small, local race so they don't have invited foreign elites, but it's certainly possible to enter if you are from outside the country. I can help with that if you like.

University men in the Tokyo area continue until Jan. 2-3, which is when the Hakone Ekiden takes place. Women wrap up in Dec., and as far as I know men in western Japan with the Biwako Univ. Ekiden last month.

runsweeney said...

Hi Brett,

I saw this post on CoolRunning Notice Board in Australia. Found your blog to be really informative - thanks very much. Can you please tell me the M40 / M45 / M50 results?
Cheers
David

Brett Larner said...

Hi David. There are only 10-year age groups at Ageo. The winner in the 40's ran 1:10:30 while the 50's winner did 1:17:44, both net times. However, these categories don't include JAAF-registered athletes who are scored in a separate category, so the actual best times for those ages groups may be faster.