translated and edited by Brett Larner
The 43rd edition of the Ome Marathon* is scheduled to take place Feb. 15. Once again this year 20000 runners from across the country, amateurs and professionals alike, will come together to run Ome's early spring roads in the foothills of the mountains west of Tokyo. 15000 will run in Ome's main event, the 30 km road race, while another 5000 will run in the 10 km race. We interviewed some of the most interesting and well-known faces.
Satoshi Irifune - Team Kanebo
Satoshi Irifune is on his way to the world. Finishing 2nd overall at December's Fukuoka International Marathon in a PB time of 2:09:23, Irifune became the first man to book a seat on the marathon team for August's World Track and Field Championships in Berlin. "I want to peak at the World Championships, so this will help me get some idea of my current condition," he says of his upcoming Ome debut. "Racing to win will give me some hints about how I should run in the marathon."
Three and a half weeks after Fukuoka at the New Year Ekiden Irifune was only 13th on the 13.7 km 3rd stage. "To be honest, I was pretty exhausted," he admits. After the ekiden he adjusted his training to allow time to recover from the fatigue of running two races in such a short span, but he has now begun rebuilding himself in preparation for the World Championships. His coach Kunimitsu Ito, 54, who won back-to-back Ome titles in '85 and '86, evaluated Irifune's prospects, saying, "In order to succeed in the marathon it's crucial that he focus on his speed in the second half." He indicated that he has given Irifune strict directions to go for a fast time in Ome, not simply for the win.
The winner in Fukuoka was Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede, 22, who ran a PB time of 2:06:10. Irifune ran with Kebede until 30 km, but over the final 10 km he lost contact and a huge gap of 3 minutes, 13 seconds opened between 1st and 2nd. In order to safely preserve his position as top Japanese, Irifune explains, "I gave up on trying to reach my target time," but the road to being competitive at the world level will require his speed. "I think that I can only really say I'm targeting 2:06 in the marathon if I have the necessary workouts in hand, so with that in mind I want to take Ome in a dominating time." The early-spring Ome course will be the stage for Irifune's proud first step toward national representation.
Satoshi Irifune - Born Dec. 14, 1975 in Hioki, Kagoshima Prefecture. 176 cm, 59 kg. Married with one son and one daughter. After graduating from Kagoshima Shogyo H.S. he joined Team Kyocera in 1994, running the 10000 m in the 1999 World Championships in Seville, where he was 20th. He joined Team Kanebo in July, 2000, and was 20th in the marathon at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. He will run the marathon in this year's Berlin World Championships. PBs: 5000 m - 13:22.12 / 10000 m - 27:53.92 / half marathon - 1:01:36 / marathon - 2:09:23
Sota Kato - Waseda University
Revenge is in sight and his blood is already boiling. At this year's Hakone Ekiden Sota Kato's Waseda University ekiden team was relegated to the runner-up position for the second year in a row. "Next year I want to do my part to help win Hakone," Kato vows. "I want to start things off the right way with a good run in Ome." As the first race of a new season, Ome will give him a chance to wipe away the sweat of countless miles of daily practice.
"Being up in the mountains it's a hard course to run, so there is a lot of similarity to Hakone," evaluates Kato, recalling his 2007 run in Ome. That year as a university first-year he was 13th in the men's 30 km division in 1:36:52. After rounding the course's turnaround point and beginning the return run, Kato heard cheers of support from the runners still outbound. He remains thankful as he says, "Hearing that made me really happy right when I was feeling dead." While preparing for that year's Ome Kato was 2nd in the National University Half Marathon Championships and 5th in the World Student Games half marathon in Bangkok. Combined with his stage best title at the following year's Hakone Ekiden, Kato became a much more confident person.
This year Kato was unable to achieve his hopes. In his third time as Waseda's man for the Hakone Ekiden's downhill mountain running 6th stage, Kato recalls, "I wasn't feeling bad, but I got stomach cramps and couldn't speed up when I needed too." Starting the stage in 2nd place Kato was able to improve Waseda's position but finished 53 seconds slower than last year with a time of 1:00:08 for the 20.8 km leg, only the 7th best time of the day. On the 8th stage Waseda lost the lead Kato had captured to eventual winner Toyo University. Kato takes responsibility, saying, "I think if I'd been able to run the way I should have then we would have won." Just over a month later his hard feelings have anything but faded. The downhill specialist's motivation is clearly strong as he looks toward his upcoming Ome performance at the start of his final university season. "If I can run the uphills well then I'm pretty confident. Nobody is going to take me on the downhills."
Sota Kato - Born Feb. 1, 1988 in Seto, Aichi Prefecture. 170 cm, 59 kg. Lives with his parents and sister. Beginning track and field his first year at Hatayama J.H.S., Kato graduated from Aichi H.S. and entered Waseda Univ.'s Sports Department in 2006. He is Waseda's downhill specialist and has run the Hakone Ekiden 6th stage three times thus far, finishing 9th on the stage his first year, winning the stage in 2008, and coming in 7th this year. PBs: 5000 m - 13:59.34 / 10000 m - 29:43.63 / half marathon - 1:03:54 / 30 km - 1:36:52
Eri Okubo - Amino Vital AC
People used to call her 'Naoko the Second.' When she was a senior at Tokyo's Hachioji High School, Eri Okubo won the 10 km race at the 2002 Ome Marathon, the first high school student to win in 21 years. The same year she joined Team Toyota Jidoshokki, where, under the tutelage of head coach Yoshio Koide, 69, she moved to Boulder, Colorado to work as the training partner of Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi. "The training was very, very hard," recalls Okubo, "but I loved every day of it."
Sadly for this dreamlike life, reality is not always so sweet. Okubo's only good performance as a professional was a 3rd place finish in the 2006 Ome Marathon 30 km. A lingering injury to her left heel which began in the fall of her first year with Toyota Jidoshokki led to surgery. Following her recovery she was unable to return to her previous form and in August, 2006 Okubo quit the team. "I lost my motivation and couldn't be like a professional anymore," she says.
If one spirit abandons you another will always pick you up. In September of the same year Okubo talked to Susumu Nakajima, 59, coach to Mari Tanigawa among others, and joined his Amino Vital Athletic Club. She also became an instructor in Nakajima's 'Hi-Tec Sports Academy,' helping everyone from corporate CEOs to entry-level company workers improve their fitness, all the while keeping up with her own training. She began to get good results, including a 10th place finish at the 2007 Tokyo International Women's Marathon where Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) won in her own comeback race.
Okubo's first Ome Marathon in three years is a step toward a PB attempt at March's Tokyo Marathon. "Last time I ran 1:46, so this time I want to beat that," she says boldly. Her mentor Mari Tanigawa, the 'Star of the Civic Runners,' became a professional at age 28 when she joined Team Shiseido, going on to finish 3rd at the 1990 Tokyo International Women's Marathon and winning the next year. Okubo is still only 25. There is more than enough time for to become 'Mari the Second.'
Eri Okubo - Born June 2, 1983 in Hino, Tokyo. 164 cm, 48 kg. Lives with her parents and brother. Graduated from Hachioji H.S. in 2002 and joined Team Toyota Jidoshokki. Quit in 2006 and joined Amino Vital AC. Her marathon PB is 2:40:12 from the 2007 Tokyo International Women's Marathon.
*Translator's note: Despite its name, the Ome Marathon is in fact a 30 km road race which stands as one of the most respected races in the country. Last year's Ome was cancelled due to heavy snowfall.