Thursday, December 3, 2009

That New Government Man is Fukuoka-Bound Elite Runner Yuki Kawauchi

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The new man at the Saitama Prefectural Govenment offices since April wears a different mask when he's away from work: that of a top-level runner. Having already scaled the heights of one of Japanese racing's peaks, the Hakone Ekiden, Yuki Kawauchi, 22, will now take on its Everest: this week's Fukuoka International Marathon.

As a university student Kawauchi didn't go to one of the powerful Hakone schools but rather opted for the more academically-oriented Gakushuin University. He was twice chosen to be a member of the Hakone Ekiden's Kanto Regional University Select Team, finishing 3rd on the downhill 6th stage as a senior in the 2009 race. While many of his rivals were trying to get hired by professional jitsugyodan teams, Kawauchi again went a different road, that of prefectural government service.

The start to Kawauchi's running career came early when he ran a children's race as a first-year elementary school student. In junior high school and high school he naturally gravitated to running, but as a member of the powerful Kasukabe East H.S. team he was constantly worried about getting injured. With a trace of regret for the opportunities he might be passing up by choosing Gakushuin over a more competitive running school, Kawauchi told himself, "Let's just try to enjoy university."

Finding the Gakushuin University environment to be one of "not working yourself to death," Kawauchi quickly adapted and began to regularly turn out new PBs. As a second year he became the first-ever Gakushuin runner to make the Hakone Ekiden when he was tapped for the Select Team.

Kawauchi was approached by several jitsugyodan teams, but he felt pulled to a more public running life and couldn't find a reason to accept. "The thing that made me the happiest in university was beating the guys from the big schools. Now I want to show that becoming a company runner isn't the only way to still be a good runner after university," he says, adding with a wry smile, "even though they've been beating me so far."

These days Kawauchi has had to make changes to the daily schedule he's used since high school. His work starts at noon and goes until night, meaning he must do all his training in the morning and on weekends. It's a tough schedule which requires discipline but it has been paying off. In July he ran the first PB of his post-university career with a 13:59 for 5000 m, a time a jitsugydodan runner would be happy with. "It's tricky to put everything into both work and running," Kawauchi says, but it looks as though he has found the secret to this complicated balancing act.

His goal for Fukuoka this year is to break 2:15. "In the end I'd like to break 2:10," he admits, but beyond this he has one more big goal. "I want to run on the Saitama Prefecture team in the National Interprefectural Ekiden in January," he says. "I think it would be really cool for a Prefectural Government worker to be on the Prefectural team." With his eyes set on these goals, Yuki Kawauchi is keeping on with his running where others would have long since stopped.

Translator's note: A month after his excellent stage-3rd run on the 2009 Hakone Ekiden Sixth Stage (almost 1000 m downhill over about 21 km) Yuki Kawauchi ran a 2:19:26 debut marathon at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, most notable for the fact that he went through halfway in 1:12:28 and then had the fastest final 7.195 km in the field, faster than winner Adil Annani who was selected to Morocco's World Championships team on the strength of his performance. Five weeks later came Kawauchi's 1:03:13 half marathon PB at the Tachikawa Akishima Half Marathon, followed two weeks later by a 2:18:18 marathon PB at the Tokyo Marathon with an ambitious 1:05:03 first half. His 5000 m PB of 13:59.73 came July 12 in Abashiri, Hokkaido.

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