Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kagoshima Bank Launches New Women's Team


translated and edited by Brett Larner

Kyushu-based Kagoshima Bank announced on Mar. 27 that it will begin sponsoring a new professional women's track and field team beginning in April. The new Team Kagoshima Ginko's starting lineup will feature six athletes aged 18-29, four who graduated from high school in March and two experienced professional runners. Kagoshima Bank director Fumiharu Nagata told members of the press, "We want to do our part to help support talented athletes who wish to remain in their hometowns after graduating from high school and to help strengthen the local sports world."

Team Kagoshima Ginko's head coach will be Yoshinobu Uchida, a man with experience guiding long distance athletes since his student days. Uchida will be assisted by Natsuko Tatesako, while Kenji Arimura, a former captain of Kagoshima Tsugyo High School's track and field team, has been named program director. Team members attending the press conference included Momoe Niita and Miho Imamura. The coaching staff's stated goal in its first season is to qualify the team for October's Kyushu Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden.

The bank's athletes will have to work regular hours like the other employees, with practice sessions scheduled in the morning and evening each day before and after work. Arimura commented, "We'll have a bit of a handicap with regard to how much time we have available for training, but we're going to do everything we can to inspire the people of Kagoshima Prefecture." Nagata also revealed that the team has also looked at recruiting athletes from the imminently-disbanding Team Oki, but, he said, "We want the team to have runners from Kagoshima Prefecture at its core, so we declined to hire them."

Translator's note: Team Kagoshima Ginko will be the second new jitsugyodan women's team to start up in Kyushu next month, joining the previously-announced Team Canon Materials Oita in counterbalancing the loss of Team Oki.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Niihara and Miyauchi Twins Go To Team Kyocera


translated by Brett Larner

Team Kyocera announced on Mar. 27 that following the departure of head coach Kunio Omori at the end of the month Yasunori Niihara (53), currently of Team Oki, will take over as the team's head coach. Niihara is a native of Kagoshima Prefecture and graduated from Juntendo University. He served as head coach of Team YKK and elsewhere before being hired by Team Oki in 2008. Team Oki will disband at the end of March, freeing up the team's aces, identical twin sisters Hiroko and Yoko Miyauchi to follow Niihara to Team Kyocera where they will replace departing runners Yumiko Hara and Kiyomi Ogawa.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Junior Women Score Bronze Medal at World XC

by Brett Larner

Click here for a gallery of photos from the 2009 World Cross Country Championships.

Once again, Japan's junior women's squad led the way at the 2009 World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan, scoring the overall team bronze medal while the Japanese teams in the other three races came up empty-handed. Junior woman Nanaka Izawa had the strongest individual finish of the day, 17th, followed closely by scoring members Erika Ikeda, Asami Kato and Aki Otagiri, and by 5th runner Chitose Shibata.

The senior men's and women's squads had modest improvements over last year, the men finishing 11th despite missing ace Yuta Takahashi, and the women 8th, led by Yuko Shimizu's strong 18th place finish. Only the junior men showed a decline, the three members of 2008 National High School Ekiden champions Saku Chosei H.S. and aces Wataru Ueno, Kazuto Nishiike and Yutaro Fukushi coming in only 8th after last year's 4th place finish. Star runner Akinobu Murasawa led the junior men's race in its earliest stages but finished a disappointing 27th.

Complete results for the Japanese teams are listed below. Click each division header for overall results.

2009 World Cross Country Championships - Amman, Jordan
Junior Women 6 km - 3rd
Nanaka Izawa - 21:27 (17th)
Erika Ikeda - 21:30 (18th)
Asami Kato - 21:33 (20th)
Aki Otagiri - 21:40 (21st)
Chitose Shibata - 21:47 (22nd)
Emi Kameyama - 22:51 (36th)

Junior Men 8 km - 8th
Akinobu Murasawa - 24:46 (27th)
Wataru Ueno - 25:30 (40th)
Shota Hattori - 25:32 (42nd)
Kazuto Nishiike - 25:39 (44th)
Kenta Chiba - 25:44 (45th)
Yutaro Fukushi - 26:38 (73rd)

Senior Women 8 km - 8th
Yuko Shimizu - 28:02 (18th)
Kazuka Wakatsuki - 28:54 (45th)
Korei Omata - 28:56 (48th)
Chisa Nishio - 29:05 (54th)
Yuki Numata - 29:48 (68th)
Tomoka Inadomi - 30:07 (72nd)

Senior Men 12 km - 11th
Suehiro Ishikawa - 37:11 (47th)
Seigo Ikegami - 37:38 (59th)
Hiroyoshi Umegae - 37:47 (64th)
Naoki Okamoto - 38:02 (76th)
Makoto Fukui - 38:43 (94th)
Yuta Takahashi - DNS

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ueno 3rd in Stanford Invitational 5000 m

by Brett Larner

I missed this result at the time. Thanks to Jason Lawrence for pointing it out.

Former Chuo University Hakone Ekiden star Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) continued his comeback from serious illness throughout 2008, beginning his spring track season at the Stanford University Invitational in California on Mar. 27. Ueno was 3rd in the men's 5000 m A-heat, clocking 13:39.42. His time was far off his PB of 13:21.49 from 2007 but represented a step forward in his recovery as he works toward June's National Track and Field Championships and August's World Championships in Berlin. Complete Stanford results are available here.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Nittai University Marijuana Investigation Uncovers Counterfeit Money


translated by Brett Larner

On Mar. 26 the Kanagawa Prefectural Police announced that a search of track and field training facilities at Nihon Taiku [Nittai] University in Yokohama's Aoba Ward on Mar. 2 as part of an investigation of suspected marijuana violations had uncovered a cache of counterfeit money. Police are investigating the origin of the counterfeit bills. Nittai University's men's ekiden team have won the Hakone Ekiden nine times, and the school counts among its alumni world-class marathoners Hiromi Taniguchi and Yuko Arimori.

Kanagawa Prefectural Police officers found three types of counterfeit bills in denominations of 1000, 5000 and 10000 yen along with incomplete one-sided bills. The bills appeared to have been produced using a color photocopier but will be subject to a detailed examination. Police are questioning the residents of the room in which the money was discovered to find out more details of their production and planned use.

The counterfeit bills were found Mar. 2 during a search of a room in Nittai University's training facilities occupied by a third-year pole vaulter on the school's track and field team on suspicion of violations of Japan's marijuana restriction laws. The bills were found among the belongings of the student's roommate, a second-year triple jumper. An assistant coach with the school's team turned the bills, sealed in a plastic bag, over to Kanagawa Prefectural Police officials. Nittai University president Takushiro Ochiai told police, "[The second-year student] said, 'I didn't mean to do anything bad,' and, 'It was just for fun.'"

The third-year student who was the subject of the original investigation has been expelled from the university but not arrested. Searches of his room have not yielded his supply of marijuana. Police did discover stalks from four marijuana plants and an apparent smoking apparatus but have not yet located the smokable portion of the plants necessary to charge the student with a crime under Japanese law.

Along with the pole-vaulter's expulsion, track and field director Takashi Ishii, head coach Masahiko Mizuno and assistant coach Fumiaki Kobayashi resigned their positions on Mar. 5 to take responsibility for the failure of their leadership. The entire track and field team was suspended for 5 days, and the 46 members of the pole vaulting and triple jump squads have been suspended indefinitely. The second-year student accused of counterfeiting money has likewise been suspended from the university pending the outcome of the investigation.

Nittai University owns 31 training facilities outside the main campus. 863 student athletes make use of the facilities. In response to the current situation, the university will now allow coaches to enter and search students' rooms in the training facilities without permission. An official with the university commented, "It's possible that we were too lax in the past." From now on the university will keep a vigilant eye over its students' activities.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hara, Ogawa and Coach Omori Quit Team Kyocera


translated and edited by Brett Larner

Kunio Omori, 64, head coach of women's jitsugyodan powerhouse Team Kyocera, announced on Mar. 26 that he is leaving the team at the end of the month along with 2005 and 2007 World Championships marathoner Yumiko Hara and 2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon 5th place finisher Kiyomi Ogawa. The trio's future plans are as yet uncertain, but they intend to look for a new sponsor and to continue on in athletics.

Omori has been head coach of Team Kyocera since 1998, coaching team member Miho Sato (nee Sugimori) to the women's 800 m national record and on to the Athens Olympics. Prior to that he was head coach of Saitama Sakae High School where he lead the women's team to three straight National High School Ekiden Championship titles beginning in 1995. Omori commented, "After eleven years as head of Team Kyocera it is time for me to move on. I would still like to help athletes who are interested in my advice, but everything ahead is a blank page."

Hara, 27, a native of Tochigi Prefecture, graduated from Utsunoimya Bunsei Girls High School in 2000 and entered Team Kyocera. She won the 2005 Nagoya International Women's Marathon in her debut, finishing 6th overall and as the top Japanese runner in the Helsinki World Championships later the same year. She also ran in the 2007 Osaka World Championships marathon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nittai University Coaching Staff Resigns After Track Athlete Expelled for Pot


translated by Brett Larner

On Mar. 23 Nihon Taiku [Nittai] University announced that Track and Field director Takashi Ishii, head coach Masahiko Mizuno and assistant coach Fumiaki Kobayashi had resigned their positions to take personal responsibility following the expulsion of a student on the men's team over suspicion of violating Japan's anti-marijuana laws.

According to a press release from the university, Ishii, Mizuno and Kobayashi resigned from their positions of leadership on Mar. 5. The press released stated that further details could not be discussed "due to the case still being under investigation," but did mention that the team's training camp facilities had been searched by police on Mar. 2. The student has not been arrested because there are doubts about his alleged cultivation and use of marijuana. On Mar. 3 Rikuren released an 'Offical Policy Pertaining to Drugs' which stated, "The use of illegal drugs is strictly forbidden."

'Tokyo 2009'


Invited American elite runner Justin Young wrote up his experience at this year's Tokyo Marathon.

'Japan's Passion for Sport in the Heart of the City Energizes 2009 Tokyo Marathon'


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Man in the Wig Speaks

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Osaka-based amateur runner Nobuaki Takata (32, Hirakata Masters AC) came to national attention on Mar. 22 when he ran the Tokyo Marathon wearing a comedy wig featuring an oversized forehead and eyebrows and curly black hair. And he ran well. Qualified for Tokyo's elite division after running 2:19:31 at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, Takata came to the race having finished 9th at the Feb. 7 Hong Kong Marathon in 2:23:31 and having won the Mar. 1 Sasayama Marathon in 2:20:59. He ran with the lead pack for the first 5 km before relaxing his pace, eventually finishing next to women's winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) in 2:25:38.

Takata returned home to find himself a sensation. His entertaining blog How to Run a Marathon Under 2:20 - Jogging is All You Need went from 92 hits the day before the race to over 100,000 hits the next. On Mar. 25 Takata added his account of his run, translated below along with some earlier blog entries and photos and video from the Tokyo Marathon.

Mar. 17 - Massage Machine
My legs are really heavy today, so I guess I'm working harder than I thought. On days like this I get out my leg massage machine and pretty soon my legs are feeling right. I have another problem, though. I can't concentrate at work because I can't stop thinking about the Tokyo Marathon.....

Should I run wearing the wig?

The Tokyo Marathon is supposed to be a big festival so the wig would fit right in, but I'm not going to do it. I'm entered in the elite division and the race organizers probably wouldn't be happy about it since they picked me. If I was running in the general division I'd definitely do it with the wig. But wait, what's that?

Wig: "Please take me!! Wear me in Tokyo!!"
Me: "Sorry. Not this time."
Wig: "It's been SIX YEARS since you wore me for the Kyoto Half!! Come on!!"
Me: "Maybe in the Hokkaido Marathon."
Wig: "No, wait, don't put me back in the closet!! Nooooo......."

Mar. 21 - One Day Until X-Day
It's the day before X-Day. A week ago I made a reservation at a 'traditional(?) B&B' and I just got there. It's pretty much the way the guests' comments on the website said it was. Reminds me of when I was a student.....

When I was putting away my stuff I had a big surprise when I opened one of my bags.

Me: "What the.....What are YOU doing here?!?!"
Wig: "Hahaha, here I am!!"
Me: "But I told you you couldn't come!!"
Wig: "Please!! Let's run the Tokyo Marathon together!! I'm begging you!!"
Me: "If we run here together it'll be the last time!!"
Wig: "I don't care. Please!!"
Me: "You're that serious, huh? Well....."

So, it's settled. I'm running with the wig.

Mar. 22 - X-Day
X-Day is here.

It's 5 minutes before the start and we're lining up. I've got the wig in my hands.

2 minutes to go. They've let the general division people move up behind us, so it's time to put the wig on!! I've never really been nervous doing this before, but I'm sweating now.

Start - a rocket dash.

Wig status:
Fit - OK
Wind resistance - No problem
Positioning - Perfect

Let's go!!

My first goal is 5 km. I'll try to hang with the lead pack until there.

5 km - 15:01
I reached my first checkpoint. My legs are burning, though, so it's time to let go and go after goal #2. I wonder how I'm going to get all the way to the finish with my legs feeling like this. I have to switch back to my own pace and run my own race from here on out.

10 km - 32:11
A TV broadcast truck just came up next to me. "Hey, maybe they're following me to show the wig on TV!" I thought, but then [national record holder] Takaoka went by me. The TV truck kept going with him and left the wig and I all alone again.....

Hit halfway just under 1:10.

33 km
I caught up to Takaoka, who had slowed down a lot. I thought it might help if I said something, so I called out, "Hey, only 10 km to go!!" I heard later that he dropped out right after that. I wonder if he dropped out because I said that? 10 km is a long way. Maybe it was a mistake to say it. Sorry.

After that the headwind got really strong. The wig started to come off a bunch of times.

Wig: "I'm sorry to be making this harder for you. Please, don't worry about me. Just leave me and go on without me....."
Me: "Shut up, you idiot!! The Tokyo Marathon doesn't mean anything if we don't finish together!!"

I couldn't move my legs anymore and the headwind kept getting stronger. With one km to go I was totally broken and didn't want to keep going. Then, running well, the first woman came along.

Man, she was really, really cute.

I was reborn. All of a sudden I had the energy to start running hard again all the way to the finish. I wasn't planning on getting in her way at all, but as we came up to the finish the course marshalls starting waving me to the left, then to the right, and so I was zig-zagging around her getting in all the pictures and TV coverage. I really apologize for all of that.

Click photo for another video of Takata's finish complete with honorific bow.

Finish time: 2:25:38

That completes my goals for this marathon season. Thanks and good job to everyone else who ran with me. To everyone who's going to run a marathon next season, let's do our best!!

Still in Shock From Car Accident, Mogusu Has No Plans to Restart His Running


translated and edited by Brett Larner

Hakone Ekiden star Mekubo Mogusu (22) and Yamanashi Gakuin University head coach Masahito Ueda held a press conference at the school's Kofu campus on Mar. 13 to discuss the details of the car accident in which Mogusu was involved last month in his native Kenya. On Feb. 9 Mogusu was driving to a practice ground when he struck an oncoming vehicle head-on while pulling out to pass a parked car. Mogusu and fellow runners Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) and Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) were uninjured, but Team Aidem coach Sho Kimura (26), riding in the front passenger seat, struck his head hard and fell unconscious. Kimura is now in a hospital in Wakayama Prefecture where he has regained consciousness and is able to respond to his name.

Mogusu is still suffering from the shock of the accident and is unable to train. Scheduled to join Team Aidem next month following his graduation, he apologized at the press conference, saying, "I can't even think about running right now. Coach Kimura recovering even a day earlier means more to me than that. I am truly sorry."

Yukiko Akaba Aiming for 2:22 in Second Marathon


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."

Yoshimi Ozaki to Run Berlin Half Marathon


translated and edited by Brett Larner

2009 Berlin World Championships marathoner and 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon winner Yoshimi Ozaki (27, Team Daiichi Seimei) returned to Japan from a month-long training camp in New Zealand, arriving at Tokyo's Narita Airport on Mar. 18. The first two weeks of the training camp were as part of Rikuren's first national marathon training camp program while the second part was sponsored by her team Daiichi Seimei. "I did a lot of work on the roads," Ozaki told reporters. "It went much better than we expected."

As part of her preparations for the World Championships Ozaki plans to run the Berlin Half Marathon on Apr. 5. In May Rikuren is planning a training camp in Boulder, U.S.A. for the members of the World Championships marathon team. Ozaki had originally planned to take part but has now withdrawn. "In June I'm going to Boulder to train with Team Daiichi Seimei," she said in explaining the decision.

'Ryan Hall: One Month Until Boston'


Marathon legend Toshihiko Seko visits American star Ryan Hall at Hall's training base in Mammoth Lakes, California. The first of a few articles I didn't put up last week in the buildup to the Tokyo Marathon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rikuren Announces Provisional World Championships Marathon Team Lineup


translated and edited by Brett Larner

At a general meeting in Tokyo on Mar. 23 Rikuren announced the provisional lineups of the men's and women's national teams for August's World Championships marathon in Berlin. Four members of each of the five-person teams have now been officially named. The top Japanese finishers in each of the major selection races, men Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo), Masaya Shimizu (Team Asahi Kasei) and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) and women Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) were already pre-selected for the team. Added to the official roster for the men is Fukuoka International Marathon 3rd place finisher Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) and for the women Tokyo International Women's Marathon runner-up Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC).

Other athletes have until Apr. 30 to make a bid for the fifth spot on each team by running in a major overseas race. On the women's side, the 2nd place finisher from January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) is already under consideration. Her rival for the national team spot is Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya), who plans to run April's London Marathon.

Beijing Olympics marathoner Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) is also scheduled to run London. If he breaks 2:10 he will be named to the last position on the men's team. Should he fail, the choice for the spot will be between Tokyo Marathon 3rd place finisher Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) and the runner-up from February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki). After finishing 4th in Fukuoka and 6th in Tokyo, 2007 World Championships team member Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) will not be considered despite having broken 2:10 in Fukuoka.

Translator's note: Tomo Morimoto has broken Yukiko Akaba's Osaka time of 2:25:40 twice, most recently last spring. She is likely to do it again in London, and her chances of being selected must be buoyed by the fact that the head of the women's national team is also her coach, Yutaka Taketomi. Similarly, the director of the men's team is Atsushi Sato's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi. It is quite a coincidence that the positive rule change allowing results from overseas races to count in national team selection and benefitting their top runners came into effect shortly after Taketomi and Sakaguchi became Rikuren's women's and men's marathon directors in December.

The article does not mention that Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) is also running the London Marathon and stands a chance of breaking Akaba's time as well. It seems reasonable to think that if Okunaga beats Morimoto she would be named to the team instead, but this will remain to be seen. Yuri Kano is running London as well. Her selection being already finalized is somewhat surprising given the possibility of scenarios in which both Morimoto and Okunaga beat her in London or, however unlikely, they beat her time from the Tokyo International Women's Marathon as well. The exclusion of the results from the world-class women's race in this year's Tokyo Marathon, where Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) beat Akaba's time despite difficult conditions, remains puzzling in light of the inclusion of results from London, Boston or elsewhere. Profiles of the confirmed and possible team members are listed below.

Berlin Team Members - Men
click photos for detailed profiles

Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo)
Qualification Mark:
2:09:23 - PB (2nd, Fukuoka 2008)
Other Major Results:
2:09:40 (5th, Tokyo 2008)
2:09:58 (1st, Beppu-Oita 2005)
2:17:22 (20th, Helsinki World Champs 2005)

Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon)
Qualification Mark:
2:09:47 (3rd, Fukuoka 2008)
Other Major Results:
2:08:40 - PB (2nd, Tokyo 2008)

Masaya Shimizu (Team Asahi Kasei)
Qualification Mark:
2:10:50 - PB (4th, Biwako 2009)
Other Major Results:
2:13:06 (1st, Nobeoka 2008)

Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko)
Qualification Mark:
2:11:01 - debut (2nd, Tokyo 2009)
Other Major Results:
10000 m PB: 27:55.17 (2007)
17th, Osaka World Champs 10000 m 2007

In Contention

Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki)
Qualification Mark:

2:10:38 - PB (2nd, Beppu-Oita 2009)
Other Major Results:
2:12:07 (1st, Nobeoka 1999)

Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota)
Qualification Mark:
2:11:25 - PB (3rd, Tokyo 2009)
Other Major Results:
2:11:52 (6th, Fukuoka 2007)

Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku)
Qualification Mark:
pending London 4/26/09
Other Major Results:
2:07:13 - PB (3rd, Fukuoka 2007)
2:08:36 (4th, Biwako 2004)
2:08:50 (5th, Biwako 2003)
2:09:50 (4th, Biwako 2000 - former university NR)

Kurao Umeki (Team Chugoku Denryoku)
Qualification Mark:
pending Boston 4/20/09
Other Major Results:
2:09:52 - PB (7th, Berlin 2003)
2:11:00 (6th, Tokyo 2008)
2:13:43 (3rd, Berlin 2006)

Berlin Team Members - Women
click photos for detailed profiles

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei)
Qualification Mark:
2:23:30 - PB (1st, Tokyo Int'l 2008)
Other Major Results:
2:26:19 (2nd, Nagoya 2008)

Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo)
Qualification Mark:
2:23:42 (1st, Osaka 2009)
Other Major Results:
2:19:41 - PB (1st, Berlin 2004, former NR)
2:21:22 (3rd, Chicago 2002)
2:23:11 (1st, Osaka 2001, former debut WR)
2:26:33 (4th, Edmonton World Champs 2001)

Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC)
Qualification Mark:
2:24:27 - PB (2nd, Tokyo Int'l 2008)
Other Major Results:
2:24:43 (3rd, Osaka 2007)
2:26:39 (3rd, Nagoya 2008)
2:30:43 (1st, Hokkaido 2007)

Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido)
Qualification Mark:
2:28:13 - debut (1st, Nagoya 2009)
Other Major Results:
National Champion, 5000 m (2000)
Seville World Champs 5000 m (1999)

In Contention

Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren)
Qualification Mark:

2:25:40 - debut (2nd, Osaka 2009)
Other Major Results:
1:08:11 - CR (1st, National Corporate Half Marathon 2008)
1:11:39 (10th, World Half Marathon 2008)

Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya)
Qualification Mark:
pending London 4/26/09
Other Major Results:
2:24:33 - PB (1st, Vienna 2006)
2:25:34 (2nd, Osaka 2008)

Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko)
Qualification Mark:
pending London 4/26/09
Other Major Results:
2:27:16 - PB (6th, Osaka 2009)
2:27:52 (7th, Osaka 2008)

Tomoe Yokoyama (Team Toto)
Qualification Mark:
pending Boston 4/20/09
Other Major Results:
2:34:37 - debut (Nagoya 2000)
1:47:01 (1st, Ome 30 km 2009)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kipsang Takes Tokyo - Nasukawa and Maeda Bring New Blood

by Brett Larner

Sammy Korir leads the pack at 30 km. Photo by Christian Sommer.

Nearly gale-force winds throughout the race, including a headwind from 28 km to the finish, kept times slow, but Kenya's Salim Kipsang persevered to take the 2009 Tokyo Marathon in 2:10:27.
Despite a PB of only 2:11:52, little-known Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) made the first big move of the race with an attack after 30 km. Kipsang and Sammy Korir (Kenya) came after Takahashi, and the three ran as a group over the next 5 km. Lost alone in no-man's land between the breakaway trio and the remnants of the lead pack was first-time marathoner Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), a 2007 World Championships 10000 m runner.

Losing ground after a water station mishap at 35 km, Kipsang came back to pass Korir and Takahashi at 37 km, pushing on to the finish. Maeda came on strong in the last stage of the race, likewise passing Korir and Takahashi and closing with a 7:14 split for the final 2.195 km, the fastest of any runner in the field, to finish as the top Japanese runner in 2:11:01. Maeda's performance, spectacular considering the conditions, earns him a spot on the Japanese men's marathon team for this summer's World Championships in Berlin. Takahashi held off Korir for 3rd, clocking a PB despite the conditions and putting himself into position as a possibility for the 5th position on the World Championships team.

In the women's race Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze), running her first marathon in 4 years, ran 2:25:38 to win overall. Her time was a PB by 4 minutes and, like Maeda and Kipsang's, stellar given the conditions, but since the women's race in Tokyo was not a selection for Berlin she will not be named to the World Championships team barring seemingly reasonable inclusion of Tokyo among the races in the 'overseas major marathons' category introduced to this year's World Championships selection process for the first time. Nasukawa's time was 2 seconds faster than that of Osaka International Women's Marathon runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), the current provisional 5th team member. In interviews after the race Nasukawa said she intends to run the 5000 m in the World Championships. Nasukawa's teammate Yukari Sahaku came 2nd in a PB of 2:28:55, a triumph for both Team Aruze and its head coach Yoshio Koide.

In her final race before retiring, Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) was 3rd in the women's race in 2:29:19 despite a fall early on which left blood streaming down her right leg for the rest of the race. Nevertheless, Tosa held on, even outkicking Russian Alevtina Biktimirova in the final kilometer. Fellow women's veteran Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido) ran her last marathon in 2:35:39. Men's national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo), also in his last run, dropped out at 32 km with difficulties from a calf injury he sustained in February. Beijing Olympic marathoner Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) likewise dropped out after falling behind the lead pack within the first few kilometers. It was a tough day all around for the Japanese veterans as men Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) and women Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) and Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) finished well down in the field. 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult/Kenya) fell apart after 30 km and ran a dismal 2:21:46. Although he failed to make the World Championships team, half-marathon ace Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) had his first decent result in three attempts at the marathon, running 2:14:43 to break the PB of his father Takayuki, a four-time national record holder in the marathon.

Personally speaking, Tokyo this year was my 23rd marathon. The 2007 Tokyo Marathon had the worst conditions I had previously run in, but today was close. Based on the top runners' splits and my own perception of the conditions, I would estimate that the wind cost at least 3 minutes, particularly over the final 7 km. Kipsang, Maeda, Nasukawa and Takahashi's performances are exceptional given the conditions.

2009 Tokyo Marathon - Top Finishers
1. Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:10:27
2. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:11:01 - debut
3. Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 - PB
4. Sammy Korir (Kenya) - 2:11:57
5. Kenta Oshima (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:12:54 - PB
6. Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:12
7. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:13:27
8. Asnake Roro (Ethiopia) - 2:13:40
9. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:13:53 - PB
10. Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:14:00

1. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) - 2:25:38 - PB
2. Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) - 2:28:55 - PB
3. Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:29:19
4. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:29:33
5. Shitaye Gemechu (Ethiopia) - 2:29:59
6. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:31:57
7. Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 2:32:11
8. Luminita Talpos (Romania) - 2:32:22
9. Pamela Chepchumba (Kenya) - 2:32:40
10. Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido) - 2:35:39

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Race Day in Tokyo

It's about 2 1/2 hours til the start of the Tokyo Marathon. I don't think it's going to be a fast day - it's 14 degrees C and cloudy, but winds are about 35 km/hr and from the south so on the course there will be a headwind from 8 to 15 km and again most of the way from ~27.5 km to the end. There's supposed to be a storm later in the day, but before that it's going to get warmer and windier.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tomescu, Mota, Taniguchi and More in Tokyo as Guest Runners

by Brett Larner

Once again this year, the Tokyo Marathon has invited an all-star lineup of major international names current and historic to take part in the event's 10 km and marathon divisions as special guest runners. A listing of this year's scheduled guests:

Keizo Yamada - 1953 Boston Marathon winner and 1953 Olympics marathoner
Kenji Kimihara - 1968 Olympics marathon silver medalist and 1966 Boston Marathon winner
Hideki Kita - 1981 Tokyo International Marathon winner and 1980 Olympics track runner
Hiromi Taniguchi - 1991 World Championships marathon gold medalist and 1992 Olympics marathoner
Eriko Asai - 1988 Olympics and 1987 World Championships marathoner
Mari Tanigawa - 1991 Tokyo International Women's Marathon winner

10 km
Constantina Tomescu-Dita (Romania) - 2008 Olympics marathon gold medalist
Rosa Mota (Portugal) - 1988 Olympics marathon gold medalist
Kaori Icho - 2004 and 2008 Olympics freestyle wrestling 63 kg. gold medalist
Chiharu Icho - 2004 and 2008 Olympics freestyle wrestling 48 kg. silver medalist
Tomohiro Matsunaga - 2008 Olympics freestyle wrestling 55 kg. silver medalist
Seiko Yamamoto - 4-time World Championships freestyle wrestling winner
Miyu Yamamoto - 3-time World Championships freestyle wrestling winner
Junichi Miyashita - 2008 Olympics 400 m swim relay bronze medalist

Click here for more detailed information.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Gitahi and Chen Withdraw From Tokyo Marathon

by Brett Larner

The Tokyo Marathon office reported on Mar. 20 that last year's 3rd place finisher Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin/Kenya) has withdrawn from tomorrow's race with an unspecified injury. Women's invited elite Rong Chen (China) has also withdrawn after sustaining an injury while training on Mar. 18.

The following general elite division runners have also withdrawn:

James Mwangi (Team NTN/Kenya)
Toshiya Katayama (Team NTT Nishi Nihon)
Naoki Mishiro (Team Fujitsu)
Manabu Nishida (Team NTT Nishi Nihon)
Masatoshi Ibata (Team Aisan Kogyo)
Tsuyoshi Igarashi (Team JR Higashi Nihon)
Kazuyoshi Tokumoto (Team Nissin Shokuhin)

Yuka Aikawa (Team Acom)
Rei Miura (Team Otsuka Seiyaku)
Atsuko Higo (eAthletes Tochigi AC)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Watch the Tokyo Marathon Online

The 2009 Tokyo Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji TV beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Mar. 22. Coverage of the elite men's and women's races will go until approximately noon, with extended coverage continuing until 4:25 p.m. International viewers should be able to watch online through one of the sites listed here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tokyo Marathon - Women's Preview (updated)

by Brett Larner

Updated 3/21/09 to reflect athlete withdrawals.

In an effort to bring the Tokyo Marathon into line with IAAF Gold Label status criteria, this year's third running is the first to feature a full international invited elite women's field. Although the women's race is not included among the selection races for the Berlin World Championships, the substantial prize money this year has attracted a competitive field both domestic and foreign rivaling that of many of the world's best events.

The overseas field is truly international, with four women from four nations, and well-matched with all but one of the women having run their best times within the last two years and less than 1 minute 20 seconds separating their times. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) was 2nd in both Boston and Chicago last year, the former with a memorable sprint finish in a time only 15 seconds off her best despite the challenging course. She weakened in Honolulu in December but should be a solid challenger in Tokyo. Pamela Chepchumba began marathoning after returning from a 2-year suspension in 2005, running consistenly under 2:30 for the last 3 years. Shitaye Gemechu (Ethiopia) is the only invited foreign woman without a recent marathon win, but despite a long marathon history she has a fresh PB from last year's Paris Marathon. Luminita Talpos (Romania) won last year's Vienna Marathon. She was in very poor form at February's Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon and her fitness may be something of a question mark.

The Japanese field most prominently features the final runs of two of the country's all-time greats, Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido). Two-time World Championships medalist Tosa had the only DNF of her career at last summer's Beijing Olympics after a foot injury. Shortly afterwards she announced that she would retire in the spring, hoping to have a baby. Tosa said recently that she doesn't know if she can break 2:30 in Tokyo, but her 1:10:58 at Marugame in February, not far off her PB of 10 years ago, suggests she may just be trying to downplay expectations.

Hiroyama is one-of-a-kind, having won the 2006 Nagoya International Women's Marathon at age 37 in a strong 2:23:26. Since turning 40 last year she has dealt with constant injury problems and reports having lost fitness. She won February's Kaiyo Marathon in 2:37:19 as a training run for Tokyo, but whether she can muster herself for one last fast run is doubtful. Fans would love to see a last-run battle between Tosa and Hiroyama, unlikely as that may be.

Also on board is a third veteran, Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai). Ominami won the 2007 Rotterdam Marathon, previously won by her identical twin sister Takami, but since then has run poorly. Her attempt to make the Berlin team at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon resulted in a 2:32:30 far back from the leaders. She will need a return to her previous form to be up front in the later stages.

More likely to be in contention is heat specialist Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), a former teammate of Hiroyama. Shimahara was 3rd in Chicago last year behind Biktimirova, but turned things around with a win over the Russian in Honolulu in December. Known for consistency and reliability, Shimahara told JRN earlier in the week that she is in excellent shape and thinks 1st is in reach. At the same time, her times have slipped somewhat in the last 2 years and, like Ominami, she would need a minor comeback to meet this goal.

Rounding out the elite field are teammates Mizuho Nasukawa and Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) and debutante Ikuyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo). Nasukawa and Sahaku are coached by Yoshio Koide. Neither has significant marathon experience, but Nasukawa in particular has run well in ekidens this season and may be due for a breakthrough. Yamashita, a teammate of Tosa and Osaka winner Yoko Shibui, is something of a half marathon specialist and will be hoping for a noteworthy debut within the prize money.

The closely-matched overseas field, in theory in reach of at least the four experienced Japanese women, suggests an exciting, tactical race may be in the works. The chance of Tosa and Hiroyama making it one for the ages makes this year's Tokyo Marathon something to really look forward to. The 2009 Tokyo Marathon will be broadcast nationwide on Fuji TV beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Mar. 22. International viewers should be able to watch online through one of the sites listed here. The complete field for the 2009 Tokyo Marathon is available here.

2009 Tokyo Marathon - Top Elite Women
Listed times are best times within the last two years.

Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:25:27
Pamela Chepchumba (Kenya) - 2:25:36
Shitaye Gemechu (Ethiopia) - 2:26:10
Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 2:26:37
Luminita Talpos (Romania) - 2:26:43
Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido) - 2:28:55
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:30:19
Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:30:55
Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) - 2:31:50
Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) - 2:30:15 (2005)
Ikuyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - debut

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tokyo Marathon - Men's Preview (updated)

by Brett Larner

Updated 3/21/09 to reflect athlete withdrawals.

The 2009 Tokyo Marathon is the first marathon in Japan to publicly announce significant prize money, the first A-level marathon to host both elite men's and women's fields, and the final domestic selection race for the 2009 World Championships men's marathon team.

On paper the men's race has attracted a respectable field, with four runners posting best times under 2:07 and ten under 2:09. The reality is that almost all are aging veterans, with only four runners in the field having broken 2:10 within the last two years. The chance may be there for a first-timer or little-known name to step up for the win.

Among the overseas entrants, most eyes will be on Sammy Korir (Kenya). Korir is the third-fastest man ever in the marathon with a PB of 2:04:56 from Berlin 2003. A past winner of the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, he ran the 2007 Tokyo Marathon but dropped out near 16 km, sitting out the rest of the year with injuries. In 2008 he returned soon after his 36th birthday with a 2:08:01 and 2:07:32 just over two months apart but then cancelled a planned run in the Chicago Marathon after another injury. Now 37, if Korir is back to his fitness of a year ago he may be the man to beat. If both are fit, the most likely to challenge him is Salim Kipsang (Kenya). Kipsang was 3rd in the 2007 Berlin Marathon but has not run a marathon since then. A comeback performance could put him up front.

A sentimental crowd favorite is 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult/Kenya). Njenga is one of the greatest marathoners of all time but has slipped in the last few years, his 2:09:45 win in Tokyo two years ago being his last time under 2:10. Like Korir and Kipsang he would need a significant return to form to be in contention. Likewise for Dmytro Baranovskyy, well-liked in Japan for his 2005 Fukuoka International Marathon win and his PB run against Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) in Fukuoka in 2006 but having performed poorly in recent years.

Turning to the Japanese athletes, with a World Championships berth and possibly two at stake the race will be a competitive one. The top domestic finisher is guaranteed a place on the Berlin team, while the runner-up has a chance of being selected if he beats the 2:09:47 mark set by 2008 Fukuoka International Marathon 3rd place finisher Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon). Heading up the field are five familiar faces.

Beijing Olympian Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), the 2005 World Championships bronze medalist will be trying for his fourth-straight World Championships marathon along with his teammate Kurao Umeki. Umeki is unlikely to figure into the action, but while Ogata is a shrewd and experienced competitor he has not broken 2:10 since 2004 and will be hard-pressed to make the cut.

Quietly in the background is Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei). Sato was 2nd in the 2007 Tokyo Marathon and ran 2:09:59 in both of his marathons last year, making him the most stable man in the field. Sato was the third Japanese runner in Fukuoka in December and needs to improve on his time to have a chance of not been condemned to the World Championships team alternate position again. If the race is fast it is doubtful that he could contend, but in a more conservative race watch for him to finish hard.

The other two big domestic names are something of a dream matchup, national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) and the previous national record holder and only Japanese man to run 2:06 within Japan, Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu). Every marathon fan in the country wants to see one more big run from the 38 year old Takaoka, but with his performances having declined in the last two years and having sustained an injury in February which prevented him from fully training for Tokyo Takaoka has announced that barring a finish as the top Japanese he will retire after Tokyo. Regrettably it looks as though it would take a Hollywood ending for him to come through.

Fujita is at the other end of the spectrum. Something of a men's version of Yoko Shibui (Team Sumitomo Kaijo), Fujita has never really followed through on the promise of his national record run in 2000. He has, however, completely remade himself in the last year. He has a new, more positive personality, new track PBs, and he is thinking big. He is talking about winning. He is talking about the national record. He may well fall flat on his face again, but if he makes a comeback anything like Shibui did in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon then Fujita will be the one dictating the terms of the race.

New faces constantly crop up in the Japanese distance running world. Two people to watch out for are Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko). Nakao has run two marathons unsuccessfully, but in the last year he has improved dramatically over the half marathon including a 5th place finish in the 2008 World Half Marathon Championships. The son of four-time national record setter Takayuki Nakao, there are high hopes that he will deliver a big performance. Hopes are also high for 2007 World Championships 10000 m runner Maeda, who has relatively little in the way of long-distance road experience but whose goal of a sub-2:09:30 would put him in the all-time Japanese debut marathon top four. As in last year's Tokyo Marathon, where Arata Fujiwara came from complete anonymity to finish 2nd in 2:08:40, almost any of a few dozen others in the general elite division could likewise surprise. Fujiwara's JR teammate Ryota Komano, the 2008 Hakone Ekiden 5th stage winner, could be the one to do it.

The 2009 Tokyo Marathon will be broadcast nationwide on Fuji TV beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Mar. 22. International viewers should be able to watch online through one of the sites listed here. The complete field for the 2009 Tokyo Marathon is available here.

2009 Tokyo Marathon - Top Elite Men
Listed times are best times within the last two years.

Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:07:29
Sammy Korir (Kenya) - 2:07:32
Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult/Kenya) - 2:09:45
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:59
Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:10:23
Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:10:51
Kurao Umeki (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:00
Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) - 2:11:21
Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:47
Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:52
Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo) - 2:12:21
Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:28
Asnake Roro (Ethiopia) - 2:12:39
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:26
Justin Young (U.S.A.) - 2:13:54
Moges Taye (Ethiopia) - 2:14:24
Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 2:23:29
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - debut
Ryota Komano (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - debut

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

A Mature New Atsushi Fujita, Resurrected and Loving Life - Tokyo Marathon


translated and edited by Brett Larner

At age 32, former men's marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) will be running the Tokyo Marathon for the first time in a bid to make the national team for August's World Championships in Berlin. Long since having lost his record, he doesn't want to end up in obscurity. "My goal isn't just to be the top Japanese finisher," he says with a champion's resolve. "I'm going to make the World Championships team by taking down all the strong international guys and winning."

When Fujita was 24 he set the previous national record of 2:06:51 at the 2000 Fukuoka International Marathon, becoming and remaining the only Japanese man to run 2:06 within the country. Coming in the wake of the disastrous showing by the Japanese men's team in the Sydney Olympics he was hailed as the new national star, but at the following year's Edmonton World Championships he couldn't put himself together and finished only 12th. Ever since then, he reflects, he has always "felt too negative" and not really brought his full will to selection races, falling away from the world stage.

In his last marathon, the 2007 Fukuoka International Marathon, Fujita had muscle spasms on the inside of his thighs and finished 8th while trying to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, falling just meters from the finish. Shortly afterwards in early 2008 his mother passed away from a brain tumor at age 54. Feeling lost, he left his longtime training base with his Komazawa University-era coach Hiroaki Oyagi and quit running. "Running became meaningless. I couldn't see what I was doing it for anymore," he relates.

After a time Fujita returned to Team Fujitsu's home office in Chiba, moving into the company dormitory to live with the other runners on the company's ekiden team. Gradually things began to change for him. "Coming back into that kind of group environment after being alone for so long helped me to cut down the stress I felt. I started to have fun again. I started to think I could do it again." Instead of focusing on his own marathoning as he had for years, Fujita turned to the ekiden. He began running workouts with the team, showing leadership to the younger runners by leading workouts and giving them advice when they needed it. Teammates and competitors alike were taken aback by the friendly, humorous and positive new personality he began to display.

Washing away his somber and stoic former self, Fujita led the team to its first New Year Ekiden win in 9 years, narrowly clipped for the stage best time by Keita Akiba (Team Komori Corp.) but easily outdistancing the other runners on the stage. "Damnit, you're fast, man!" he laughed right after finishing, clapping the obviously delighted Akiba on the back. But this was not his only achievement of the year. In the lead up to the New Year Ekiden he beat 5000 m national record holder and 30 km world record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta), star rookie Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and other competitive men to take the stage best title in the East Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden. More significantly, he broke his ancient 5000 m PB with a new time of 13:54.65 and broke 28:30 for 10000 m for the first time in 5 years, clocking 28:25.67. Giving credit where credit is due, Fujita says, "Coming back to the ekiden has given me new direction. But now that ekiden season is over I'm ready for the marathon."

Along with his new outlook on life Fujita has taken a new approach to marathoning by avoiding the high-volume overtraining for which he had become notorious, focusing instead on speed. "I have a completely different mindset than before. I threw out everything I thought I knew about the marathon and started over," he says. To help himself prepare to deliver the kind of speed necessary to defeat today's world-class marathoners he has started regular weightlifting for the first time. "Strengthening my torso has reduced the instability in my form. And I've gotten a lot bigger," he laughs. "I used to always wear a medium-sized uniform, but this year I've had to go up to a large!" Of the effects of age he says, "I feel it in some ways, but I've been able to compensate for it in others. I'm making up for what I'm losing with age through efficiency and experience." Late in his career, the whole country waits to see this resurrected star's new style as he goes for his third World Championships.

Atsushi Fujita - Born Nov. 6, 1976 in Fukushima Pref. 166 cm, 52 kg. Graduated from Komazawa Univ. and runs for Team Fujitsu. Finished 6th in 1999 World Championships marathon and 12th in 2001. Set the previous national record of 2:06:51 in winning the 2000 Fukuoka International Marathon. Most recent marathon win was the 2007 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thoroughbred Nakao's Tokyo Run Born From the Seeds of Failure


translated and edited by Brett Larner

Yusei Nakao (25, Team Toyota Boshoku) keeps a notebook of his failures. In it is written the memory of his greatest loss, his second attempt at the marathon at last year's Biwako Mainichi Marathon. Running as a general division entrant, Nakao began to develop blisters from his shoes after only 5 km. He thought partway through the race of dropping out but told himself, "If you don't finish then you won't be able to next time either." Slogging his way on through the full 42.195 km, he finished 124th. Nakao keeps the memory alive as a warning to himself. "It's still paying me dividends," he says, marking that day as the true start of his career as a marathon runner.

For Nakao, bitterness is as important as sweetness in shaping his life and training as a professional runner. "I play the game by clearing little goals one by one. I'm careful about meals and getting enough sleep, and I try to absolutely never miss even a single workout." With this attention to detail, last year marked Nakao's big step up in the half marathon.

Just 2 months after his failure in Biwako Nakao was the top Japanese finisher and 2nd overall in May's Sendai International Half Marathon, earning a spot on the national team for the World Half Marathon Championships in Brazil with a 1:02:00 PB run. He finished 5th overall in Brazil, the top Japanese finisher. Placing so well and clocking a time just seconds off his PB while facing the pressure of his first time running on a national team gave Nakao tremendous self-confidence.

"Do you want to become stronger? No matter how strong the athlete, if you do not face hardship you cannot be come stronger." In his first year of university Nakao had the chance to go on a week-long training camp with Team Kanebo, where marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka told him these words. Believing in their meaning, a year later Nakao opted to try to make a new start for himself in Tokyo, quitting university to join a professional jitsugyodan team. "What Takaoka told me is important to me even now," says Nakao.

A major source of pressure in Nakao's life has always been his father's legacy. Takayuki Nakao (70), was the first Japanese man to break 2:20 in the marathon. His father's name was a heavy burden on the younger Nakao until he became a professional, but now he says, "It makes me proud." Showing his father his improvement is one of his great motivations. "I beat his 5000 m time when I was in high school and his 10000 m time when I turned pro," smiles Nakao. "If I can break his marathon time it would be the best." Takayuki Nakao laughs in return, countering with, "Well, he might break my marathon time, but I set the national record four times. I don't think he's going to be able to match that!"

As he gets ready for Tokyo, Yusei Nakao says, "My goal is ride the stream hard right to the top. No matter who else I'll be facing, if I don't believe I can win then I won't. I'm really happy to get the chance to run with great athletes like Takaoka and Ogata, but I want to run my own race. I'm in better shape than I expected. I'm ready. In February I ran 900 km. That might not really be very much, but I had a good result in the half marathon [Nakao won the Feb. 22 Inuyama Half Marathon] so I think I can just ride the same wave. I just need to polish up my speed and then I'll be feeling even better. If I can give it 100% then I think a good time will follow." Beyond that, if Nakao can surpass his father's best time the momentum may well carry him straight on to the World Championships.

Yusei Nakao - Born Feb. 28, 1984 in Aichi Pref. 168 cm, 53 kg. Played soccer through junior high school, then switched to running in high school. Attended Teikyo University but quit in May his 2nd year to join Team JR Higashi Nihon. In 2006 he switched to Team Toyota Boshoku. In May, 2008 he was 2nd in the Sendai International Half Marathon, then finished 5th in October's World Half Marathon Championships. In February, 2009 he won the Inuyama Half Marathon.

Kyushu Boys Tomoyuki Sato and Kazuhiro Maeda Tackle Tokyo


translated by Brett Larner

Among the top runners at this year's Tokyo Marathon are two hailing from the Kyushu region, Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko).

28 year old Tomoyuki Sato was born in Fukuoka. At the first Tokyo Marathon in 2007 he was the top Japanese finisher and 2nd overall, earning himself a spot on the team for the 2007 Osaka World Championships where he was 13th in the marathon. "I always wanted to do the marathon," Sato says of his decision 10 years ago to join the powerful Team Asahi Kasei straight out of high school. April will mark the start of his eleventh year with the team.

Departing from the 'Kyushu Boy' stereotype, Sato is soft-spoken and comes across as gentle and calm. Throughout the interview he is critical of himself, dropping phrases like "I completely failed," and "I'm not trying hard enough," in passing. His coach Takeshi Soh, however, thinks that everyone who has seen Sato training knows his preparations this season have been perfect. Sato may try to hide it, but beneath his soft exterior is a core of pure strength. Knowing he has trained well gives him unshakeable self-confidence.

Answering many questions and talking at length, Sato never shows his inner emotions, but things change when the subject turns to his teammate Masaya Shimizu having qualified earlier this month for the Berlin World Championships marathon team. "Well, I'm not going to be left behind while he gets to go, now am I," he says firmly. It's the first time in the interview his true feelings have slipped out, an 'Aha! Gotcha!' moment. In 10 years Sato has never truly fully wielded the essential fighting spirit he keeps hidden within so well, but in the Tokyo Marathon this time his accumulated experience and self-confidence will serve as weapons at his disposal as he attacks in the later stages of the race.

The other Kyushu runner in the race is Saga Prefecture's Kazuhiro Maeda, 27. A noteworthy runner since junior high school, Maeda joined Team Kyudenko after graduating from high school. He was the first athlete Kyudenko head coach Kenji Ayabe recruited when Ayabe took over the company's men's team. The dynamic between the two is hillarious, Coach Ayabe laughing and smiling as the talkative Maeda cracks jokes throughout the interview and calls him 'Daddy.' Ayabe believes this unusually casual atmosphere between coach and athlete has played a big role in Maeda's remarkable development during his time as a professional jitsugyodan runner.

The Tokyo Marathon will be Maeda's first time tackling the distance. "I'm about 50-50 nervous and looking forward to it," he laughs with a little bit of almost childlike excitement. It's a selection race so of course thoughts of a fast time and even of winning have crossed his mind, but when he speaks of his personal goal Maeda says he wants the Tokyo Marathon to be something he can look back at and say, "That was a good race."

These two Kyushu Boys may be almost the same age and may have had similar career paths, going straight from high school to jitsugyodan teams, but they could not be more different in character. Both are also equally different from the stereotypical Kyushu Boy, but when it comes to holding inner traits like 'Power,' 'Solidity,' and 'Perseverence,' each scores full marks. When it's time for race day both Sato and Maeda are sure to be seen giving it their all up front in the lead pack.

Translator's note: Tomoyuki Sato was the alternate for the 2007 World Championships and ran after team leader Wataru Okutani (Team Subaru) withdrew due to emergency surgery. Sato set his PB of 2:09:43 at the 2004 Tokyo International Marathon and ran 2:09:59 in both of his marathons last year, finishing 7th in Biwako and 4th in Fukuoka. He was the 3rd Japanese finisher in Fukuoka, giving him little chance of being selected for the Berlin team unless he marks a significant improvement in Tokyo.

Umeki Has Everything in Order for Tokyo Marathon


translated by Brett Larner

One more domestic selection race for August's World Championships in Berlin remains, the Mar. 22 Tokyo Marathon. Team Chugoku Denryoku Olympian Tsuyoshi Ogata may be bathing in the spotlight, but his teammate Kurao Umeki, who finished 6th last year in Tokyo, will also be lining up for his 15th marathon. At age 33 Umeki is trying to capture the prize which has thus far eluded his grasp, a place on the national team.

Umeki debuted at the 2000 Tokyo International Marathon. In 2003 he set his PB of 2:09:52 at the Berlin Marathon and was 3rd in Berlin in 2006, but he has never been able to put together a good performance in a national team selection race. In the 2007 Biwako Mainichi Marathon he dropped out of the race. "I think I've been too focused..." he trails off. At last year's Tokyo Marathon he ran his best-ever time within Japan, 2:11:00, but he fell behind the leaders in the later stages of the race, finishing as the 4th Japanese runner and missing his chance for the Olympic team.

Assessing himself, Umeki is critical. "Up until now I've always just trained to be able to cover 42.195 km. This time I wanted to practice racing too." With this in mind, Umeki ran February's Ome Marathon 30 km road race. He finished 2nd with a strong time and a sharpened sense of racing, feeling that everything is in order as he looks toward Tokyo. "If it comes down to the last 5 km [and the lead pack is still together], I'll be able to clock a good time this year," he says.

In Tokyo Umeki will be against not only Ogata but also the last two national record holders, Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) and Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), along with countless other talented runners domestic and foreign. It's been ten years since he became a professional runner, and last summer he also became a father. As this veteran tries again to take a place on the world stage, he reaffirms, "The only way I know how to live my life is through the marathon."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reiko Tosa's "Homemade" Training for Tokyo Finale


translated by Brett Larner

"I'm kind of in a slump right now, you know. I haven't been feeling very good and I've been a bit mean to my husband," joked marathoner Reiko Tosa (32, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) in early March. To help put her in the right state of mind as she gets ready to race the Tokyo Marathon Tosa is training in her hometown of Matsuyama, but it's not going the way she expected. She just can't seem to get back into good shape. At the end of February she ran as a guest runner in a 30 km race in Chiba, but her time was more than 8 minutes slower than her best.

At the start of her preparations for the Tokyo Marathon, Tosa's husband Keiichi Murai (35) told her, "Remember how you felt in the good times, and let's try to go after that feeling." For Tosa herself, however, in her heart all she can feel is the difference between her current condition and when she was competing at the international level. It brings her down.

It's been 10 years since Tosa entered the jitsugyodan professional running scene, her vision focused on 'The World.' Before a marathon she always trained in high-altitude locations such as Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A., and Kunming, China. Whenever she felt stressed a trainer was there to help soothe her tired muscles.

Things are different now. The one organizing her training these days is her husband, himself a former jitsugyodan long-distance runner, and his number one goal is to get her safely to the start line. He has been careful not to lay any thoughtless stress or suprise workouts on Tosa. "I'm only running about 70% the volume I used to," she reveals. When she goes running now she spends most of the time thinking about what's on the menu for dinner.

Murai only has time to watch Tosa's workouts on weekends, but during the week her mother Hinako (60) helps out by taking splits and handing Tosa her drink bottle. When Tosa needs a massage she asks Murai. "This is really a homemade marathon," says Murai.

There is talk about failure. Last month, Tosa and Murai went for a test run of the Tokyo Marathon course. With 7 km to go they somehow went off course, something they had never considered beforehand could happen. Rather than let the mishap get to her, Tosa laughs it off.

In Tokyo Tosa will leave the road of her life thus far as a professional athlete, but she is not calling it her 'Last Run.' She's already thinking about a future comeback as a 'mama-san' runner. "When I see other people who have had a baby and come back," she says, "it makes me think I could too." She is grateful to Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo's management for promising to give her a new contract if she chooses to return.

Tosa's hometown of Matsuyama was where she ran her first marathon in her third year of university. It's where she is most comfortable and an environment which helps her to figure out what she's capable of doing in Tokyo. "It goes without saying that I want to win," she admits, "but I don't know if I can break 2:30. I'm way fatter than usual....."

Regardless of her words, when race day comes around Tosa will no doubt show the persistence and sheer toughness for which she is famous. It's in her blood, and it's who she is.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tokyo-Bound Maeda Shooting for Sub-2:10 Debut


translated by Brett Larner

2007 Osaka World Championships men's 10000 m runner Kazuhiro Maeda (27, Team Kyudenko) is about to tackle 42.195 km for the first time. Maeda hopes to make the Berlin World Championships marathon team when he runs the Mar. 22 Tokyo Marathon. Only six Japanese men have ever broken 2:10 in their debut, but Maeda hopes to add his name to this exclusive list as he books his ticket out into the world.

It's a highly anticipated debut. Maeda has been up against the world's best on the track, but for Berlin he is targeting the marathon. "That's what I want to go for this time," he nods. To make the team he'll have to take at least the top Japanese position in Tokyo, a flashy debut to be sure. "I want to break 2:10," he says enthusiastically, "and if things go well, under [2 hours] 9:30." Of all the Japanese marathoners in history, only six have run under 2:10. A 2:09:30 would put him in 4th on the all-time Japanese debut list, ahead of national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo).

The barrier is pretty high. Nevertheless, the road to Berlin leads that way and to follow Maeda will have to run that kind of time. At last December's Fukuoka International Marathon, top Japanese finisher Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) was 2nd overall in 2:09:23, securing the first spot on the World Championships team. 3rd place finisher Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) followed close behind in 2:09:47. A 2:09:30 would give Maeda a realistic chance of being named to one of the open places on the team ahead of Fujiwara.

Maeda ran the 10000 m in the 2007 World Championships. He failed to make the Beijing Olympics team, but last year he ran new PBs for both 1500 m and 5000 m. Satisfied with his improvement and having polished his speed, he is ready for the next challenge. "I've found out what I'm made of over 5000 m and 10000 m, so the reasons I had inside for not running [the marathon] have all disappeared," he explains.

The Japanese marathon world has high hopes for this speed runner. In one step he could move to its leading edge. "I haven't done a marathon before so I don't know what's going to happen, but I've got the will to succeed and I think that at the end I'll be able to use my speed," he says. Fueled by his belief in his own potential, Maeda will run for the win.

Ogata Wants World Champs Spot in Tokyo Marathon


translated and edited by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics marathoner Tsuyoshi Ogata (35, Team Chugoku Denryoku) held a press conference in Hiroshima on Mar. 10 to talk about his plans for the Mar. 22 Tokyo Marathon, where he will try to earn a place on his fourth-straight World Championships team. "I want to make this [World Championships] team clearly and without any ambiguity," he said, revealing that he still has the ambition to think about winning.

The Tokyo Marathon will be Ogata's first race since finishing 13th in the Beijing Olympics marathon. Discussing his condition, Ogata showed some uncertainty as he admitted, "Things haven't been going smoothly, but I feel like it's coming together now. I'll be ready just in time, but you never know what's going to happen." Nevertheless, he was determined as he said, "I'm running this because I want to win. I want it to be a race I can live with, and even at my worst I'll be competing for the win."

Translator's note: Tsuyoshi Ogata's performances in world-level competitions have been as follows:

2008 Beijing Olympics - 13th, 2:13:26
2007 Osaka World Championships - 5th, 2:17:42
2005 Helsinki World Championships - 3rd, 2:11:16
2003 Paris World Championships - 12th, 2:10:39

He set his PB of 2:08:37 at the 2003 Fukuoka International Marathon.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Takaoka Announces Retirement Following Tokyo Marathon


translated by Brett Larner

Japanese men's 3000 m, 10000 m and marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (38, Team Kanebo) held a press conference on Mar. 16 to announce that he will retire from professional running following the Mar. 22 Tokyo Marathon. On Apr. 1 he will join Team Kanebo's coaching staff.

The impetus for Takaoka's retirement came on Feb. 4 when he seriously strained the muscle in his left calf while training in Yamaguchi Prefecture for the Tokyo Marathon. "I felt that I'm no longer able to do ideal training for a serious marathon," Takaoka told reporters at the press conference in explaining his decision to retire. "I understood that it would be better if I made this race my last. I made the choice myself and I can accept it."

Takaoka is a native of Kyoto. He attended Rakunan High School and Ryukoku University before joining Team Kanebo in 1993. He ran track events at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics, placing 7th in the 5000 m in Atlanta and 7th again in the 10000 m in Sydney. He set the Japanese national record of 2:06:16 at the 2002 Chicago Marathon but did not make the Athens or Beijing Olympic teams.

Takaoka reflected on his career. "Since I started in junior high school I have been a runner for 26 years. There are dreams of mine which didn't come true, but I have always given everything to be competitive at the world level. I still think about 'Being in the Olympic Marathon,' but I know that I was able to set my [marathon] record because I stayed focused on getting as fast as I could on the track until I was 31."

As a selection race for the World Championships marathon, the top Japanese finisher in Tokyo will be named to the national team. "If I were chosen for the team I would be delighted to wear the national uniform one more time," Takaoka admitted, but in light of the injury he revealed at the press conference it looks as though it will be difficult for him to come out on top this time.

Update: Another article with some other quotes can be found here.

Tokyo Marathon Week on JRN

by Brett Larner

The 3rd annual Tokyo Marathon is this Sunday, Mar. 22. This year's race features continued refinements geared to help make Tokyo into a truly world-class event, including the addition of an elite women's field and a public prize purse. It is also the final domestic selection race for the men's World Championships marathon team and will host a competitive field of many of Japan's best male marathoners. JRN will be dedicating most of the week to coverage of the event and its athletes.

To kick things off, take a tour of the Tokyo Marathon course. Click here for a high-speed video tour, or here for a Google Earth view.

A demo video of Otsuka Seiyaku's Virtual Tokyo Marathon 2009 game.

Sponsor Otsuka Seiyaku has put together a Virtual Tokyo Marathon 2009 game as a promotion for its Double Amino-Value sports drink, the official drink of the Tokyo Marathon. Players can select an avatar which will run an animated version of the course and earn points according to data players input about their own training. Click here to sign up for the Virtual Tokyo Marathon 2009.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved