translated and edited by Brett Larner
Japan's toughest mother, Beijing Olympics track runner Yukiko Akaba (29, Team Hokuren), is staking everything on Berlin. Having placed 2nd in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon in her first attempt at the distance, Akaba is now on the provisional list for the August 15-23 Berlin World Championships women's marathon team. At a press conference in Sapporo on Mar. 17, Akaba told members of the media that if she is not chosen for the World Championships team she will instead run the Sept. 20 Berlin Marathon. In either case, her goal in her second marathon is a time of 2:22, a mark which would put her into the all-time Japanese women's top ten. Following her Osaka run, Akaba said at the time, "I'm not thinking about anything but the marathon now. I'm certain I will run [on the national team]."
At last year's Beijing Olympics Akaba became the Japanese athletics world's first runner to also be a mother, but after suffering food poisoning she finished a disappointing 20th in the 10000 m and failed to advance to the final in the 5000 m. "Getting into the top eight in the track world is tough, but as a Japanese runner I can medal in the marathon," she said of the new phase of her career. Osaka winner Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) was named to one of the three guaranteed places on the World Championships team. Akaba's 2nd place finish in a strong 2:25:40 puts her into one of the two open spots, but her position will not be secure until the end of the spring overseas major marathon season at the end of April.
In the leadup to her debut in Osaka Akaba was unable to do the kind of training she wanted thanks to the demands of the ekiden season and some trouble with her right leg in November. Since Osaka her training has been completely focused upon the marathon. In Osaka she was unable to cope with Shibui's assault after 30 km, so to improve her stamina and finishing speed Akaba travelled to Tokunoshima island on Feb. 25 for a three-week training camp. On Tokunoshima she averaged over 200 km per week and completed a 40 km training run on Mar. 14. On May 10 Akaba plans to run the Sendai International Half Marathon as her first race of the season, followed by the 5000 m and 10000 m at June's National Track and Field Championships. Akaba's husband and coach Shuhei (29) commented, "We're not even thinking about running track events at the World Championships. We believe she's going to be picked for the marathon, but if she isn't then we're also looking at the Berlin Marathon. Sendai is just for keeping focus." One way or another, Akaba's current preparations will bear fruit in Berlin.
Looking ahead to London, Shuhei also revealed that they are examining high-altitude locations in the Mt. Ontake area and in the United States for establishing a training base next year. The current women's national record in the marathon is 2:19:12, held by Noguchi Mizuki (Team Sysmex). Only eight Japanese women have broken 2:23. Utterly focused on the road to London, Akaba says, "My husband, my daughter Yuna and I want to win a medal in London together as a family. The next step is to run 2:22 in my second marathon."