Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tanaka and Yoshimura Headline Copenhagen Marathon

by Brett Larner

The Copenhagen Marathon is one of Europe's fastest-growing marathons, moving from a field of less than 3000 in 2006 to over 10000 this year. For the first time the 2009 race will feature invited runners. Rather than try to stack the field with as many sub-2:10 runners as possible, elite coordinator Gavin Doyle has sought to do something different and put the race's focus on giving a chance to athletes right on the borderline between amateur and professional. The first two runners to be invited and the favorites in both the women's and men's races are Kobe-based Chihiro Tanaka and Osaka native Toyokazu Yoshimura.

Chihiro Tanaka wins the 2003 Hokkaido Marathon.



Chihiro Tanaka
Born: Nov. 13, 1969 in Hyogo, Japan
Marathon PB: 2:29:30 (Nagoya International Women’s Marathon 2002)
Other PBs: 5000m: 16:14.50 10000m: 33:32 Half-marathon: 1:12:00

Other key marathon performances:
2:33:30 (winner, Hokkaido Marathon 1997)
2:34:11 (winner, Hokkaido Marathon 2003)
2:37:03 (Tokyo International Women’s Marathon 2008)
2:38:08 (Nagoya International Women’s Marathon 2009)

Chihiro Tanaka is one of the great originals of Japanese distance running. Her PB of 2:29:30 stands as the best performance ever by an amateur Japanese runner, male or female, and is all the more remarkable in that it was the first and, until this past January, only sub-2:30 by a Japanese mother.

A talented 800 m runner and long-distance relay specialist in her school days, Tanaka bowed to pressure from her parents not to become a professional, instead taking a regular job. Later in life she discovered the marathon and was transformed. Working with her high school era coach, Tanaka went from a 3:19:49 debut at the 1994 Honolulu Marathon to a 2:33:30 victory at the 1997 Hokkaido Marathon. Her win made Tanaka a national name as it was almost unprecedented for an amateur to come out on top of one of Japan’s major marathons.

From 1998 to 2000 Tanaka took time off to have her first child and returned stronger than ever. She finished 2nd in the 2001 Nagano Marathon in 2:32:05, then in 2002 had the run of her life, clocking her best time of 2:29:30 and finishing 4th in Nagoya, one of the most competitive women’s marathons in the world. Far from through, she won Hokkaido again in 2003. Then it was time for her second child.

Three years later Tanaka was back for Phase III of her marathon career. These days she runs six marathons a year, but her quality is undiminished. In November 2008 she ran 2:37:03 to finish 10th in the world class Tokyo International Women’s Marathon. Three weeks later she won the Naha Marathon, and after only two weeks more she won her second-straight Kakogawa Marathon. She put in a strong 2:38:08 at March’s Nagoya International Women’s Marathon to begin her 2009 season and followed with a 2:41:21 8th place finish at the Nagano Marathon on Apr. 19.

The Copenhagen Marathon will be Tanaka’s second time racing in Europe and she is confident of her chances for both a win and for her best time in recent years. As she nears her 40th birthday Tanaka’s running continues to lead the way for women marathoners both in Japan and worldwide.

Toyokazu Yoshimura wins the 2007 Gold Coast Marathon.


Toyokazu Yoshimura
Born: Dec. 6, 1974 in Osaka, Japan
Marathon PB: 2:16:58 (2009 Lake Biwa Marathon)
Other PBs: 5000m: 14:24 (2006) 10000m: 30:39 (2008) half-marathon: 1:05:12 (2005)

Other key marathon performances:
2:20:07 (winner, 2007 Gold Coast Marathon, Australia)
2:17:10 (2002 Fukuoka International Marathon)
2:17:51 (2007 Hofu Marathon)
2:18:44 (2008 Hofu Marathon)

A father of two children with a full-time job, Toyokazu Yoshimura runs to and from work each day and trains alone but has brought himself to a level of which even the runners on Japan’s legendary corporate professional running teams are envious.

In junior high school Yoshimura was the best in his hometown of Osaka and a nationally competitive student runner. He was expected to do great things in high school and beyond, but undiagnosed anemia from training 30 to 40 km a day stalled his performances. Iron treatments helped him recover but it was too late for Yoshimura to find a place on a professional team or a good university squad. He quit running and went to vocational school to become a physical therapist.

Some time later, a former high school teammate asked Yoshimura to join a training group he was putting together. Yoshimura agreed, and he soon ran found himself doing his first marathon. It was a failure. He started far too fast, broke down at 30 km, and failed to crack 3 hours. He improved to the 2:40’s in his subsequent attempts and stayed at that level for several years.

At age 24 Yoshimura changed jobs, leaving his training group and training alone. He began running the 14 km to work and then back home each day, a significant increase in mileage which led to the 2:30’s in his next marathon. A month later he ran in the 2:20’s. Just under a year after that he ran 2:19 at the Tokyo International Marathon and began to attract attention. Coaches of several professional teams took an interest in his training methods and invited him along on their teams’ intensive training camps. He was invited to several of Japan’s top elite marathons, including Tokyo International and Hofu, and won the 2007 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia. On Mar. 1 this year he ran 2:16:58 in difficult conditions at the elite Lake Biwa Marathon to break his 6 1/2 year old PB, finishing 12th behind the likes of former world record holder Paul Tergat and defeating professional runners with best times in the 2:08 range.

The Copenhagen Marathon will be Yoshimura’s first time racing in Europe. “My goal is to win,” he says. “Everyone cheering along the course will give me the energy I need to give it everything I have all the way from the start to the finish. I can’t wait.”

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

6 comments:

Brett Larner said...

Greetings, JRN reporting live from Copenhagen. One of my goals with this blog is to find or make new opportunities for Japanese runners to race overseas along with the inverse. The Copenhagen Marathon is the first thing so far to bear fruition. Tanaka and Yoshimura just arrived here in Copenhagen along with their families and are getting settled in before we have dinner. This might be a relatively minor first step but it's nice to see things starting to happen.

dennis said...

Chihiro Tanaka is not doing well compare to other runners. Let's focus on the track team. Who is Rikuren gonna select for 10000 meters in Berlin?

Brett Larner said...

Thanks, Dennis, you have a way with words.

Simon said...

Fascinating reading on these two runners and quite inspirational. Are they far ahead of other leading recreational runners in Japan? Is there usually a large gap between the slower corporate/university runners and the recreational club types in marathons?

Brett Larner said...

Simon--

Yes, they are quite a ways ahead. If you averaged the kinds of times the top Japanese amateurs run you'd probably see something around 2:41-2:43 for women and 2:21-2:23 for the men. For pros I would guess the numbers would be more like 2:30-2:33 and 2:12-2:15.

Looking at Tanaka, no other Japanese woman I know of has broken 2:30, and there are only a handful who can or have recently broken 2:40. Usually people that good are doing it for a living.

Sub-2:20 for a man is not unheard of, i.e. the guy who ran with a wig in Tokyo this spring ran 2:19 something in Fukuoka last year, but it's very unusual. 2:16 is probably one of a kind, but Yoshimura thinks he can get down to 2:13.

If they'd been pros with all the extra time, support and opportunities that entails, Tanaka and Yoshimura may well have been faster, but in both cases they have unique psychological approaches which may not have translated well into a more formal environment.

salma said...

I look forward to reading what you're planning on next, because your blog is a nice read, you're writing with passion. Thanks a lot.



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