translated by Brett Larner
At the 59th National High School Boys' Ekiden on Dec. 21 in Kyoto, Saku Chosei High School of Nagano Prefecture set the Japanese High School Record (excluding marks set by teams with foreign runners) [the original article phrases it this way] of 2:02:18 to take its first national victory. 1st stage runner Kenta Chiba and 4th stage runner Shota Hiraga both clocked stage second-best times to help their team become the best in the country, setting the pair up for equally impressive runs when they attempt to assist Nagano Prefecture in defending its national title at the Jan. 18 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima and beyond following their graduation from high school. We listened to the two runners discuss the National High School Ekiden, their strategy for the Interprefectural Ekiden, and their plans for the future.
Kenta Chiba (Minowa JHS)
Q: How did it feel to win your first national title?
Last time we clocked the same time as the winners but lost, so we've been training all year to run 2:02. Even during regionals and the prefectural meet that's what we were thinking about, so clearing our goal and winning feels pretty good.
Q: You had a great run on the 1st stage, just 2 seconds behind the leader in 2nd place.
Coach told me [I'd be running the 1st stage] about two weeks before the race. It put a lot of pressure on me, but I just kept practicing like always. It was pretty slow in the first half, but finishing order was more important than time so I didn't worry about it. I think I did a pretty good job of putting the team into a good position.
Q: You experienced the National Ekiden all 3 years of high school.
Last time and the time before that when the race was over I really felt like I could have done better on my stage. This time I ran the way I wanted to, and now I think I showed everyone what I can do.
Q: How would you sum up your high school career?
There were some pretty tough times, but being part of the group and doing my best and then winning in the end was all big. All this experience gives me a lot of confidence. I'm satisfied with how I spent my high school years and how I've grown.
Q: You're about to run your fourth-straight Interprefectural Ekiden.
I get to run with a lot of people I respect and admire, but more than that I want them to trust me to make a good contribution to the team's success. I haven't won a stage in a national ekiden yet, so along with helping Nagano win again I want to get a stage best title. I think I'm in better shape than last time, so I'm pretty confident.
Q: After graduating you're going to Komazawa University. What are your goals for the future?
There are a lot of strong guys there, so I'm going to try to stick with them even just a little. I want to be a Hakone Ekiden regular right from my first year. Down the road I want to run the Olympics and other international races too, but to start with I want to build a good record in university.
Shota Hiraga (Ako JHS)
Q: What was it like to be on a national champion team for the first time?
Reaching our #1 goal of winning and doing it with a 2:02 was great. We all remembered how bitter last year was and in our regular practices I think we kind of turned that feeling into the urge to attack.
Q: On the 4th stage you cut the gap to the leader down from 32 seconds to 8 seconds.
I was already looking ahead when I got the tasuki, so I was just thinking about trying to cut the lead down as much as I could. In the first half I ran right in my rhythm, but in the second half the last 6 km were really hard. It was too bad that I couldn't catch up but I think I did my part on the team.
Q: Last time you were injured and couldn't run.
I had knee troubles and a pulled muscle so I couldn't train steadily. This time I didn't have any injuries and could practice the way I should, and it made a huge difference. I spent time running the 1500 m [on the track], so my speed improved too.
Q: Looking back, what would you say about your 3 high school years?
It was a great experience, leaving home and living in the dorms. We'd get up at 5:10 every morning and run for an hour, then train again in the afternoon from 4:20 until 7:00. I wanted to be the best both on the track and in my studies, and I found out a lot about endurance and discipline. If you don't have it in your daily life you're not going to have it in races.
Q: What are you thinking about your first Interprefectural Ekiden?
Last year when Nagano won I watched on TV and really wanted to run too. I'm excited to get to be on the same team with great runners like Yuichiro Ueno and Yuki Sato. It's not going to be easy to win again, but I'm going to do what I can to help make it happen.
Q: You'll be going on to Waseda University after graduating. What goals do you have for your university years?
Waseda won the first half of Hakone last year, so it's a really high level environment where I can make a lot of progress. I want to improve both my speed and endurance and do my best in ekidens and on the track.