Friday, October 30, 2009

Watch the National University Men's Ekiden Championships Live Online With First-Ever English Commentary - Preview

by Brett Larner

The 2009 National University Ekiden takes place this Sunday, Nov. 1. Twenty-five teams will line up in the eight-stage 106.8 km championships to try to take the crown away from three-time defending champion Komazawa University. TV Asahi will broadcast the ekiden live nationwide from 8:00 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. Japan time, and international viewers will be able to watch online by clicking here. For the first time ever, JRN will offer live English-language commentary on a major Japanese race broadcast. Click here to follow live raceday commentary via Twitter feed.

Komazawa is without a doubt the school to beat. By far the most dominant team in the country over the past ten years, Komazawa's poor performance at the 2009 Hakone Ekiden proved to be just a glitch as it returned in force earlier this month to win the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km where its top three runners broke one hour with several more less than 10 seconds off. Head coach Hiroaki Oyagi's priorities are squarely on Hakone, but he'll be looking to add a fourth straight national title to salve Komazawa's wounds from its 2009 Hakone meltdown.

Four schools, all of them seeded from 2008, offer potential challenges to Komazawa's hegemony. 2009 Hakone winner Toyo University returns most of its squad this year, led by second-year star Ryuji Kashiwabara. Toyo was 3rd at the Izumo Ekiden earlier this month and looks set to improve on its 4th place finish at Nationals last year. 2008 Nationals runner-up Waseda University narrowly lost out to Toyo in Izumo. Waseda is hurt by the graduation of the brilliant Kensuke Takezawa but appears able to make up the deficit through the continued development of its block of four powerful second-years, Yuki Yagi, Yusuke Mita, Yo Yazawa and Takuya Nakayama.

Nihon University pulled in another Izumo Ekiden win this year on the strength of its two Kenyans, Daniel Gitau and Benjamin Gando. The shorter stage distances in Izumo favor speed, but with the National Ekiden's individual legs approaching those of the Hakone Ekiden in length it becomes more difficult for an individual or two to carry the weight of an entire team. Last year Nihon won Izumo but only finished 6th at Nationals, a record it will no doubt try to avoid repeating this year. Izumo runner-up Yamanashi Gakuin University likewise beat out Toyo and Waseda thanks to Kenyan Cosmas Ondiba, but the team's Japanese members also made major contributions. Yamanashi Gakuin could well do better than last year's 3rd place mark at Nationals.

The top six teams at the National University Ekiden are seeded for the following year. The final seeded team this year, Chuo Gakuin University, got there thanks to its outstanding ace Masato Kihara. With Kihara's graduation the team is unlikely to repeat. Tokyo Nogyo University is the most likely bet to replace Chuo Gakuin in the seeded bracket after an excellent showing at the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km, but Izumo 5th placers Chuo University should also be in contention. Tokai University is in a rebuilding year and will not factor, but watch out for the team's first-rate first-year Akinobu Murasawa to make his mark on the national scene.

As mentioned above, the stage lengths at Nationals approach those of the Hakone Ekiden, ranging from 9.5 km to 19.7 km. This tends to favor schools in the Kanto region, who train for the half-marathon distance in preparation for Hakone, and work against those from other parts of the country. As a consequence it's very, very rare for a non-Kanto school to make the seeded positions. With two Kenyans Daiichi Kogyo University has the best chances, having finished 7th last year. Ritsumeikan University beat Daiichi Kogyo at the Izumo Ekiden and Kyoto Sangyo University gave another serious challenge, but it would be a major accomplishment for any of these schools to make the grade.

TV Asahi's ekiden website includes video highlights of the eight qualifying races for the 2009 National University Ekiden. Click here to watch the qualifier videos. TV Asahi's broadcast of Nationals will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Oct. 31, east coast U.S.A. time and 11:00 p.m. on the 31st London time.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Yuri Kano Leads Elite Japanese Runners’ Return to New York'

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/29/sports/global/29marathon.html

Yuri Kano's NYCM debut has gotten some mainstream attention in the U.S. Coming as it does just days before the regional qualifying ekidens for the national corporate ekiden championship events it is extremely rare for teams to allow their runners to compete in New York, and almost never their best runners. Kano's team Second Wind AC exists outside the corporate team circuit, a fact which gives her more latitude to compete overseas.

The New York City Marathon will be broadcast live online by Universal Sports. Universal's webcasts are usually blocked in Japan, but NYCM will apparently be available to view in Japan by clicking here.

'Pre-race Transcript From Yuri Kano, Salina Kosgei, and Jaouad Gharib'

http://www.nyrrmedia.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=152:pre-race-transcript-from-runners-yuri-kano-salina-kosgei-and-jaouad-gharib&catid=42:transcripts&Itemid=61

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"No Bridges, No Fun" - Speed, Beauty and Mystery at The Venice Marathon

by Brett Larner

Japan Running News was invited to the 2009 Venice Marathon to cover the race for Runners, Japan's largest running magazine, from a Japanese marathon tourism perspective. Below is an English translation of the first draft of the Runners article, along with photos by JRN's Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner. Click photos for full-sized versions. For a report on the course record-setting elite race click here. Special thanks to the Venice Marathon's Mara Carraro for extending the invitation and organizing JRN's trip, to Angelo Sagramora for local expertise and to the Copenhagen Marathon's Gavin Doyle for his part in making JRN's coverage possible.

“The Venice Marathon?” “Where can you run?” “Is it an aquathlon?” “An open-water swim?” These are the natural reactions to hearing the words ‘Venice Marathon,’ the image of running through the historic Italian city of canals sounding like something from a fantasy. But the race is very real, a spectacularly colorful course through the ultimate romantic location making the Venice Marathon one of the world’s most scenic and unusual.

On race day shuttle buses from major hotels around Venice and the mainland city of Mestre take runners out to the start in the village of Stra, deep in the Italian countryside. The marathon begins in front of the 300 year-old Villa Pisani and follows the winding Riviera del Brenta for 20 km, passing ancient farms and churches.

Great-grandmothers dressed in black stare from upper-floor windows in centuries-old villas while the snow-capped Alps loom in the distance.

Like Japan, Italy has a proud tradition of Olympic marathon gold medalists and competitive amateur clubs, a tradition clear in the number of runners wearing their club uniforms and in the thick, boisterous crowds lining the course and calling out, “Bravo! Bravo!” with characteristic Italian passion and oversized hand gestures. It’s a warm and loving atmosphere which leaves runners smiling and helps carry them along.

Passing through Mestre, just before 30 km runners enter San Giuliano Park, Europe’s largest. The first small hills on the course give athletes a glimpse of Venice across the water and bear them up onto Liberty Bridge, a perfectly flat and straight 4 km-long span. The church towers and the anticipation grow larger as the island approaches, and just past 37 km the bridge climbs and runners step into another world.

The last part of the Venice Marathon is like nothing else.

With world-famous cathedrals, museums, and homes of legendary artists, musicians and writers brushing their left arms and the Adriatic Sea literally lapping at their right feet runners have the privilege of Venice’s stunning waterfront flagstone walkway all to themselves.

In the final 3 km there are 13 stone bridges across canals, all with wooden ramps installed for the race. These are the most popular spots for spectators and give the marathon its slogan “No Bridges, No Fun.” The courseside cafes and windows are crowded with supporters roaring as each runner crests a bridge.

Most spectacularly, race organizers build a 180 m-long floating bridge across the famous Grand Canal, giving marathoners a 360’ view of the heart of Venice and its most famous site, the Piazza San Marco, a view unavailable to anyone else.

The race finishes near Venice’s southeastern-most tip, with ample food, drinks, massage services and changing facilities. Boats deliver runners’ bags to the goal line. Soak your tired legs in the Adriatic Sea to help bring them back to life before walking across one last bridge into the nearby Giardini Pubblici for a unique post-race pasta party. From there runners can make their way back through the city on foot to absorb the history and take their time with a gelato, espresso or some of Venice’s famous local seafood, or they can take a boat directly back to the Tronchetto transportation and hotel hub.

The day before the marathon, Venice hosts a 4 km family run in two locations along the marathon course. The family run gives marathoners a chance to share their experience with their children and spouses and has proved immensely popular, drawing almost twice as many entrants as the marathon itself, which due to the physical limitations of the last part of the marathon course and finish area is capped at only 6000. In 2010 the Venice Marathon will celebrate its 25th anniversary and race organizers hope to have Japanese runners amateur and professional alike join in the party for the first time. With ideal conditions and a course both fast and spectacular it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity for an inside view of one of the world’s greatest jewels.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2009 Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bukkyo Breaks Ritsumeikan For First National Title

by Brett Larner

It was a familiar story: clocking an unprecedented fourth-straight new stage record at the major national university women's championship Morinomiyako Ekiden, ace senior Kazue Kojima led Ritsumeikan University, except for 2005 when it was 2nd the national champion every year since 2003, to break its own course record by nearly two minutes. But there was something strange. TV cameras showed Ritsumeikan's women crying and devastated at the finish. What had gone wrong? The answer: cross-town rival Bukkyo University had beaten them by another margin of nearly two minutes to take its first-ever national title.

Bukkyo's performance was just a few degrees off perfection. First Stage runner Mai Ishibashi took a slow first half before taking off in the second half to win the leg by 2 seconds over Ritsumeikan's Hanae Tanaka. From there on every Bukkyo runner just went out hell-bent at 100% from the start, recklessly running stage-record pace and daring Ritsumeikan to try to keep up. Most faded, but three of the team's six members managed to hang on for new individual stage records.

The lone Bukkyo runner to miss winning her stage was the team's star Kasumi Nishikawa, who was up against Ritsumeikan's mighty Kojima on the Third Stage. Nishikawa inherited a 31-second lead and proceded to open the gap even further, but as she faded in the final kilometers the experienced Kojima, who has never lost an ekiden stage in her university career, ratched down her til-then steady pace and closed to within 10 seconds. Nishihara held her off by running just 5 seconds slower than Kojima's old course record, but Kojima was easily the stronger as she broke her own record by 25 seconds.

Bukkyo's remaining runners over the second half of the ekiden were extremely impressive, in particular Fifth Stage runner Chinami Mori who bettered the old record by 25 seconds over 4.0 km, and anchor Hikari Yoshimoto who ran the first km of the 8.0 km Sixth Stage in 3:03 and broke the stage record by nearly 40 seconds. Although the team will lose Nishihara and captain Yuika Mori to graduation in the spring, its strong contingent of first years suggests a good future over the next few seasons. Ritsumeikan had no real flaws in its performance, with two new stage records and four stage 2nd-best marks. Bukkyo was just better. Ritsumeikan will suffer from Kojima's graduation but having had strong recruitment last year will still be in position to continue its rivalry with new champion Bukkyo.

There were another 24 teams in this year's Morinomiyako Ekiden, but none was in the same class as Bukkyo and Ritsumeikan. 2005 winner Meijo University was 3rd again, a familiar position since its last win, with Josai Kokusai University 4th. Josai University, Kyoto Sangyo University and Tokyo Nogyo University had an exciting battle for 5th and 6th, the final two seeded places for next year's national ekiden. Tokyo Nogyo came up short thanks to outstanding anchor performances by Josai's Miki Yamada and Kyoto Sangyo's Misato Yamakawa. Tamagawa University and Nihon University were among the disappointments, finishing well outside the seeded bracket in 9th and 12th.

2009 Morinomiyako Ekiden - National University Women's Ekiden Championships

Top Team Results - 38.6 km, six stages
1. Bukkyo Univ. - 2:03:32 - new course record
2. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:05:13 - new course record
3. Meijo Univ. - 2:08:17
4. Josai Kokusai Univ. - 2:09:47
5. Josai Univ. - 2:10:02
6. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:10:15
----- top six seeded for 2010
7. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 2:10:40
8. Hakuho Univ. - 2:11:03
9. Tamagawa Univ. - 2:11:16
10. Juntendo Univ. - 2:11:17

Top Individual Results - click here for complete results
First Stage (6.0 km) - Mai Ishibashi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 19:21
Second Stage (6.6 km) - Yuika Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 20:51 - new stage record
Third Stage (9.1 km) - Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 29:15 - new stage record
Fourth Stage (4.9 km) - Shiho Takechi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:23
Fifth Stage (4.0 km) - Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 12:42 - new stage record
Machiko Iwakawa (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 12:55 - new stage record
Sixth Stage (8.0 km) - Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.) - 25:25 - new stage record

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, October 23, 2009

JRN On Location - Venice

JRN will be on location at the Oct. 25 Venice Marathon. Apologies in advance for any interruption to regular service.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Morinomiyako Ekiden Preview: Kojima and Nishihara - Watch Online

by Brett Larner

While the popularity and prestige of the Hakone Ekiden has concentrated Japan's university men's distance talent within the Tokyo-centered Kanto Region, women's university runners are more geographically dispersed. If there is one stronghold it must be the Kansai Region around Kyoto and Osaka, home of the dominant Ritsumeikan University women's team and their cross-town rivals Bukkyo University. The two schools meet again this weekend at the six-stage, 38.6 km Morinomiyako Ekiden, the first of the season's two national university women's ekidens.

Ritsumeikan is the three-time defending Morinomiyako champion and has qualified more than any other school in the field, running in the last twenty of Morinomiyako's twenty seven editions. Ritsumeikan's winning streak exactly coincides with the career of its ace runner Kazue Kojima. Kojima is the best university runner of her generation, a multiple national champion who has never lost an ekiden stage. Now a senior, she is preparing to lead Ritsumeikan on to a fourth title supported by talented younger teammates Michi Numata, Risa Takenaka and others. After a flat spring and summer Kojima comes to the Morinomiyako Ekiden having won the national university 10000 m title in September, but she isn't going to simply walk away with her crown untarnished. Also in the field is Bukkyo University star Kasumi Nishihara.

Nishihara has been on a steady upward trajectory over the last year. After an impressive ekiden season last year, in the spring she cracked Kojima's 5000 m PB, took World Championships marathoner and Ritsumeikan alumna Yuri Kano's 5000 m meet record away at the Kansai Regional University Track and Field Championships and won the Kyoto City Half Marathon. She then went on to win the gold medal in the half marathon at the summer's World University Games before beating Kojima out for silver in the World University Games 5000 m. She beat Kojima again to win the national university 5000 m in September. The list goes on and on, but the point is that she is ready to go. Bukkyo will be hard-pressed to bridge the 1:15 gap to Ritsumeikan from last year's Morinomiyako Ekiden, but Nishihara is no doubt focused on doing her part. In a perfect race the two would race head to head, but Ritsumeikan tends to put Kojima on the longest leg, at Morinomiyako the 9.1 km 3rd stage, wheres Bukkyo uses Nishihara almost exclusively as anchor.

If another team is going to be a factor it will likely be Meijo University. Last year Meijo was 3rd, only 39 seconds behind runner-up Bukkyo. Tamagawa University is the best bet for a contender from the Kanto Region thanks to the re-emergence of team leader Takumi Komiya from a year of injury. Question marks rest upon Nihon University and Josai University, which are heavily dependent on the strengths of their ringers Natsuko Goto and Yui Sakai. Goto has been strong all year, but the talented Sakai has struggled and been a non-factor since last winter.

The Morinomiyako Ekiden takes place Sunday, Oct. 25 in Sendai and will be broadcast live nationwide on Nihon TV from 11:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. Nihon TV will also show a special one-hour preview program on Saturday the 24th at 10:30 a.m. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through the site linked here.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Training for the Hakone Ekiden With Josai University

by Jason Lawrence

As the results of last Saturday's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km road race continue to reverberate, the inevitable questions about how Japanese runners train have resurfaced. In the summer of 2006 Kiwi runner Jason Lawrence had a rare opportunity to attend 2007 and 2008 Hakone Qualifier winner Josai University's summer gasshuku, an intensive training camp in the remoteness of northern Hokkaido. Josai is coached by former Hakone star Jun Hiratsuka and one hour run national record holder Seiji Kushibe. Among the runners Lawrence trained alongside at the camp was Yuta Takahashi, the 2nd place finisher at this year's Hakone Qualifier in 59:23. Lawrence, now the top runner in Singapore, shared his diary from the training camp with JRN.

Summer Training Camp Diary

August 6, 2006:

I flew up to Hokkaido to join the Josai University distance squad for their summer training camp. 12 days of just running - it's going to be tough. In the afternoon after my flight I went for an easy 10 miler with some of the guys who were just cruising and resting up for tomorrow. Most of them have already been here for 2 or 3 days. I was invited to the camp as Coach Kushibe is a friend of mine. It is very rare that an outsider like me gets the opportunity to join a camp like this as the preparation for the Hakone Ekiden is intense. I'm very fortunate to be here but unfortunate not to be in the same condition as these athletes are. They are super fit and I on the other hand have only a couple months of training under my belt after a long and nasty ITB injury.

Day 1: (AM) 60 min easy (PM) 5 km x 3 (5 min recovery jog)

The morning run was easier than I expected. Normally they run around 4 minute (per kilometre) pace and then a bit quicker for the last 30 minutes. Hokkaido reminds me of the countryside at home, New Zealand. Apparently there is only 1 convenience store in this small town but there are a few interesting local eateries. The town has provided each athlete with a lunch pass that we can use each day at one of the local restaurants– great score! This afternoon workout seems to be one of the camp's more enduring workouts. The pace was set last night at 15.40, 15.30, and the last one was at your own pace. This happened to be around 14.48 for some of the guys. On the second repeat we opened up with a 3 minute kilometre which was too quick for me right now so it was downhill from there. A few of the guys couldn't finish the last set and 2 others stopped after 2 sets. When you have 25 guys gunning for a 10-man team, training is tough. I was coughing a lot at the end because somehow, during the hottest part of the summer I picked up a cold. After a shower and a bath, I feel ok.

Day 2: (AM) 60 min free (PM) 25 km @ 3.30 pace

I felt pretty good this morning running with Coach Kushibe. But in the afternoon I wasn't ready to hit out another workout. I could only hold on to the pace for 10 km then went from 14 km to 15 km in 4 minutes, so I pulled the plug there. The rest of the guys picked up the pace and ran in the last 5 km in about 15.30. Coach had a few words to the aggressors for picking up the tempo. I guess this is why a few guys are out with injuries – if they don’t stick to the prescribed pace and instead push on to impress, things might go bad. Looking forward to 2 days of jogging - I will work on my ping pong and poker. This afternoon’s workout took place 5 miles away from where we were staying. We ran there and back.

Day 3: (AM) 60 min (PM) 60 min

This morning was the first time the pace felt hard. But I did have 2 days of workouts to recover from. In the afternoon I ran easy with one of the guys who are recovering from injury. We talked about how he has been lucky to join a distance squad and make his way through college with his running. I don’t know how tuition fees here stack up against the U.S but some of the fees for just sitting entrance exams are astronomical. The runner I talked to is a senior and with the help of his coach, has already picked up a position with a major telecommunications provider in central Tokyo. He will not become a professional runner as such, but will work a 9 to 5 job with other guys on his team who will train together before and after work.

Day 4: (AM) 60 min (PM) 60 min

Very similar to yesterday, but the pace this morning was faster. For the last 20 minutes we were cruising at 3.30/km pace or better. Yuta Takahashi ran with us this morning before heading overseas for World Juniors where he will run the 10,000 m. He has his own schedule since nobody else is competing over the summer. Who wants to anyway? Even in Hokkaido I walk in the shade as much as possible to beat the heat. That reminds me - we don’t have air conditioning in our rooms, we do however have an electric fan and it has taken a while to adjust the perfect setting to enable a good night’s sleep. After breakfast we drove for 5 hours to our next location. I got out for a jog and strides afterwards with a few of the guys.

Day 5: (AM) 60 min (PM) 1000 m x 10 @ 3 min pace (200 m recovery in about 50-60 seconds)

Once again, the pace was on this morning. But maybe just under 4 minute pace – I’m just not used to it right now. In the afternoon I went down to the track and ran with a couple of the guys doing speed work. I rested every third effort and managed to average under 3 minutes for (1000 m x 2) x 3 and then paced the guys for their last kilometre. I have bumped into several other university and professional runners since arriving at our second location.

Day 6: (AM) 60 min free (PM) 75 min

Morning run was free (at your own pace) because most of the guys ran a 15 km tempo on the road yesterday. The guys I ran with on the track yesterday had just spent some time doing big mileage at another camp and needed to brush up their speed. I think they were checking out professional teams they may join once they graduate. In the afternoon I ran with one of the massage therapists around the 15 km circuit that was used yesterday. An undulating course on nice smooth country roads. The sweet smell of cow shit must have upset a few runners. I also went for a swim after lunch with the injured list.

Day 7: (AM) 75 min (PM) 400 m x 15 @ sub-70 sec pace (200 m recovery jog)

Ran an undulating course this morning coming home quite hard, largely due to a media crew recording build up content for next year's Hakone Ekiden. In the morning we run no more than an hour together, after that it’s up to the individual to cool down or run further. This morning Seiji (Coach Kushibe) and I hunted out a grass course and talked a bit. We meet every morning at 6:00 am for a quick chat, stretches, and then depart as two groups in opposite directions. However, some guys are already outside at 5:30 am walking or warming up. Something I don’t get though is why we never run on trails or grass as a team. Hokkaido looking so green and all it just seems a waste and something a lot of the runners could benefit from. For the 400's we split up into 2 groups and ran the whole workout 200 m apart. It must have been interesting to watch. I skipped every third rep.

Day 8: (AM) 60 min (PM) 30 km @ 3.30 pace

Pace this morning was fine, everyone was aware of the following workout in the afternoon. 30 km at 3.30 pace isn't a big concern for these guys, but in light of the training load to date, it was always going to be a big task. I started the long run 5 minutes earlier with another guy who had taken yesterday off to let a minor injury heal. I led him out at about 3.45/km pace. At the 14 km mark on the foot of a hill I could hear the footsteps of 20 guys in red uniforms hunting me down. I had only planned to run to 20 km so I spent the next 6 km as pacemaker. It was a cool feeling even though I knew I had it easy. However, you must remember that this kind of training is over and above what I have ever done. We are talking more than 250 km a week - if I didn't adjust the workouts to my current level of fitness I wouldn't survive camp. In hindsight, I would have liked to have gone to 30 km. I had no problem maintaining the gap from 15-20 km. I assume I could have slipped into the pack and hung tough for the last 10 km.

The guys clocked 1 hour 45 minutes for the journey. The heat was intense early on; sweat dripping with every single step and shake of the hand. Everyone was together for 20 km then some started to drop. A process that makes the coach’s job of selecting a final 10 for Hakone a little bit easier.

Day 9: (AM) 60 min free (PM) 50 min free with some strides

The day before the final workout. Things were pretty relaxed and I ran with a minor hangover as a few of us celebrated a member’s 20th birthday (The age when alcohol and 'snack bars' enter a man's life). Then in the evening I ran alone summing up camp so far and tried to shake off some fatigue. What surprised me this morning was one of the managers – a short and round looking student, had no problem running almost 10 miles with the pack.

Day 10: (AM) 60 min (PM) 2 km x 5 in 6 min or less, 2 min recovery

Morning run was easy, boys are feeling camp is coming to an end. In the afternoon I knew I wasn't up for it and barely hung on to finish my 3rd rep. After that I ran with guys falling off the pack over the last few hundred metres of reps 4 and 5. These guys crank these workouts out like clock work and always have enough in reserve to bring the last one home faster. Front guys clocked about 5.50 for the 5th rep. No more workouts – it’s time for BBQ and beers.

Day 11: (AM) 60 min free

Final run with Seiji in Hokkaido. Last night the staff, seniors, and honorary guest runner hit the piss hard. After 10 days of hard core training, beers on the coach’s tab were thoroughly deserved all round. Unfortunately my wisdom teeth were killing me so I couldn't party hard. I just wasn't in the mood. A couple of karaoke numbers and then I was off to bed. A lot of guys went straight back to bed after morning stretches without going for a run. I on the other hand made sure Coach got out and paid for his party antics - 60 minutes around random farmland.

Camp Summary:

So, that's it - a standard summer training camp for teams aspiring to run Hakone. These guys mean serious business. I was concerned with the number of injured athletes and the coaches explained to me that sometimes these guys just push too hard too often. A lot of guys come to dinner most nights with ice strapped to various parts of their legs.

I imagine about half of these guys won't go on with their running after university. They are good enough to go professional, or at least win a few road races. I would like to say it would be a waste and if I had their talent I would continue running. But to be fair, although most are very talented and gifted runners, some have made their way on pure guts and determination.

For most team members if not all, "Hakone" is the pinnacle of their careers and it’s what they think about 24/7. If they won I'm sure they would roll over and die happily knowing they conquered the biggest and most meaningful foot race in Japan.

PS: The months after camp, I continued with the high mileage but nothing as extreme as what we ran in Hokkaido. I went on to run Personal best times for 5,000 m, 10 km, and 20 km on the road.

(c) 2009 Jason Lawrence
all rights reserved

Yokohama International Women's Marathon Announces Elite Field for Its First Edition

http://www.asahi.com/sports/spo/TKY200910210174.html

translated by Brett Larner

The first running of the new Yokohama International Women's Marathon, sponsored by the Asahi Newspaper Group and others, takes place Nov. 15. On Oct. 20 the event's organizing committee announced the lineup of the elite field of eleven. 2007 World Championships 6th place finisher Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), the Ominami twins Hiromi and Takami (Team Toyota Shatai) top the domestic contenders, while Beijing Olympics gold and silver medalists Constantina Dita (Romania) and Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) will be the main overseas competition.

The domestic field consists of five invited athletes. Shimahara, 3rd at last year's Chicago Marathon and 3rd in the 2006 Osaka International Women's Marathon, is an experienced veteran. In August she set the Hokkaido Marathon course record of 2:25:10, her PB. At age 32 she is at the peak of her powers. The Ominami twins, both past winners of the Rotterdam Marathon, will celebrate their 34th birthdays on race day. With their sponsor Toyota Shatai having maintained its support of their running after disbanding the rest of its running team this past spring the Ominamis are highly motivated to perform.

Six foreign athletes will make up the rest of the invited field. The 39 year old gold medalist Dita and all-time #2 woman Ndereba, 37, are the biggest stars. Joining them will be 2004 Tokyo International Women's Marathon winner Bruna Genovese (Italia) and 2005 Tokyo Int'l runner-up Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania).

The Yokohama International Women's Marathon picks up the reins from the Tokyo International Women's Marathon which had its final running last November. The race begins at Yokohama's Yamashita Park. Following a short 2.5 km loop through the surrounding neighborhood, runners will then complete three circuits of a 13.2 km loop through downtown Yokohama before finishing back in Yamashita Park. The race will be the first Rikuren-certified circuit course.

2009 Yokohama International Women's Marathon Elite Field
Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) - 2:18:47 (2001)
Constantina Dita (Romania) - 2:21:30 (2005)
Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 2:23:26 (2004)
Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 2:23:43 (2002)
Robe Guta (Ethiopia) - 2:24:35 (2006)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:25:10 (2009)
Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) - 2:25:15 (2005)
Bruna Genovese (Italy) - 2:25:28 (2006)
Inga Abitova (Russia) - 2:25:55 (2009)
Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:26:09 (2008)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - debut

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yokota Breaks 15 Year-Old 800 m National Record

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/091018/spg0910182237004-n1.htm
http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/091018/spg0910182238005-n1.htm

translated and edited by Brett Larner

At a track meet at Nittai University in Yokohama on Oct. 18, 21 year old Masato Yokota (Keio Univ.) set a new men's 800 m national record of 1:46.16. His time broke Yusei Ono's 15 year old record of 1:46.18 set in 1994. Having run in the 2007 World Championships and won June's National Championships, Yokota was already the #1-ranked middle-distance runner in Japan.

Unusually for a race in Japan, the Nittai 800 m featured a pacemaker for the first half. Yokota ran precisely according to his planned splits to smash his previous best of 1:47.04. "The pacemaker helped me get into a good rhythm over the first 400 m," commented Yokota. "After that I just tried to keep it. With 200 m to go I knew it was going to be close, so I had to struggle pretty hard. Next up I'm going to target 1:45."

Monday, October 19, 2009

University Men's Weekend in Review: NCAA Pre-Nats vs. Hakone Ekiden Qualifier

by Brett Larner

Click here for video of the 2009 Hakone Ekiden Qualifier.

Japan's Monday morning network news talk programs devoted lengthy segments to discussing the outstanding results from Saturday's university men's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km road race, which featured the 9th through 55th-ranked schools in the Kanto region. At the same time, American fan websites were buzzing with discussion of the results of Saturday's big university pre-National cross-country meets. How did the results compare between the top schools and runners in the two countries?

The first table below shows the top ten men, times and paces in the two 8 km NCAA Pre-National XC races, the 10 km Chile Pepper Invitational XC race, and the 20 km Kanto Regional Hakone Ekiden Qualifying Road Race. Click for full-sized version.


While the races in the U.S.A. were cross-country and thus suffered a disadvantage in terms of pace relative to a road race, the distance in the Hakone Qualifier was twice to 2.5 times as long with a hilly, twisting second half. The number of runners breaking 3:00/km pace in the American races ranged from five to nine, including Kenyan ringers in all three races. All ten runners in the top ten broke 3:00 pace in the Hakone Qualifier, and all ten were Japanese. Most notably, Tokai University freshman winner Akinobu Murasawa's pace over 20 km would have been good enough to win the NCAA Pre-National Blue Race and Chile Pepper Invitational outright and place 2nd in the Pre-National White Race. His time for his final 8 km, 23:26, would have taken the winner of the White Race, Stanford's Chris Derrick, by one second. All of this as a freshman in Murasawa's first-ever race longer than 10 km.

Turning to the team results, the second table shows the average pace per km of the top five men for the top ten teams in each of the four races. Teams are listed by time/pace rather than official place to negate differences in scoring. Click for full-sized version.


As mentioned above, the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier did not include the eight top-ranked schools in the Kanto region as they are already seeded for the Hakone Ekiden. Winners Komazawa University tied the winners of the NCAA Pre-National White Race, Stanford University, and Chile Pepper Invitational, Oklahoma State University, at 2:59/km. Pre-National Blue Race winners Oregon averaged only 3:01/km. While all the top ten teams in the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier averaged 3:02/km or better, a total of only nine teams between the three American races managed 3:02. Beyond the differences in terrain and distance mentioned above, it is also worth noting that while the American teams field seven runners with five scorers, the Japanese teams field squads of twelve with the top ten scoring in the team results.

Update: Running Times magazine published an interesting response to this article. Read it here.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Bai and Mugo Take Beijing Marathon Titles'

http://www.iaaf.org/LRR09/news/newsid=54705.html

Japanese men in Beijing:

8. Masashi Hayashi - 2:12:39
11. Tomonori Onitsuka - 2:13:00
12. Masaki Shimoju - 2:13:08
14. Koichi Sakai - 2:14:29

Click here for complete results.

'Another Sizzling Debut - 2:06:18 by Yegon in Amsterdam to Break Gebrselassie's Course Record'

http://www.iaaf.org/LRR09/news/newsid=54710.html

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Hakone Ekiden Trials From the Inside

by Christian Sommer

Swiss runner Christian Sommer is a graduate student at Tokyo University, the only school with a graduate team elligible to run in the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km qualification race. Sommer made Tokyo's team this year and ran the Oct. 17 Yosenkai, finishing as one of the squad's scorers. It was an extremely rare event for a foreign runner to appear in the Yosenkai race, all the more so in that Sommer is not a Kenyan brought in as a ringer. Sommer wrote an account of his race for JRN.

On October 17 I was given the unique opportunity and big honor to run the Hakone Ekiden Trials. This is a brief report of what happened in the Tokyo University Grad School team on race day from a foreigner's persepctive.

Our team meets two hours before the start at the park entrance and so do many other teams. Approaching the meeting point, I feel overwhelmed by the atmosphere: each team, on top of the twelve participating runners, brings a large support group wearing the school's colors and carrying large flags - flags which remind me of historic Asian war movies. We enter the park and walk to the preparation area close to the starting point, where spectators, bands, and cheerleaders are already lining up. We prepare our singlets and do an individual warmup. For me that's already quite an event. With TV cameras everywhere I feel like a star runner, but the warm-up pace and the form of the real superstars quickly reminds me of my true level.

40 minutes before the start the organizers make sure that all the runners are present with their numbers attached appropriately. Our star runner can't be found. He almost made the Select Team last year and apparently he is completely focused right now, such that he even forgot the final call. He eventually shows up and we're all good to go. I enjoy a few strides in front of the amazing crowds.

Start minus 10: We line up at the starting point (an airfield). Each team gets one lane and there's enough space for the roughly 50 teams. As we order by increasing times, I'm towards the back of our lane. Some small talk, and we wish each other luck.

Start minus 3: Complete silence, everybody is focusing, incredible tension.

Start minus 1: It gets noisy due to the sound of hundreds of hands nervously hitting equally many legs into their correct shape.

Excitement's loads off, I have to hold back quite a bit in order not to waste too much energy in this early phase of the race. I check my watch after 1k but it still shows 00:00 - I must have forgotten to unlock it before the start! That makes it a bit hard to pace but nevertheless I'm lucky to find my rhythm quite quickly. We run two laps on a large airfield, passing the huge crowd of spectators twice, which is quite amazing. As expected, I'm already way behind the top group but fortunately there are dozens of runners around my pace as well. That's one of the great aspects of these races: pick any pace up to the second between sub-3 minutes per kilometer to roughly 3:50 and you will run in a pack together with runners at your level. These peers are very motivating and allow a competitive male to perform at his very best.

We leave the park and run through the city of Tachikawa, the crowds stay to cheer for the slower runners, and I get many encouraging comments from spectators. I can feel their pride that the foreigner is much slower than most of the Japanese. The large crowds and the TV coverage make me realize again that I'm part of something very special and leave me with my share of pride as well.

Sommer in motion.

Half-way point in 36:04, I'm about one minute behind schedule but moving smoothly and given that I just arrived from the other side of the Pacific on Friday and given that I was injured from January to May that's probably the best I can hope for. In the third quarter I keep the pace and pass some very exhausted runners.

The last part consists of two rather hilly loops in the Tachikawa park. The crowds push me towards the finish line and having so many runners around me helps me not to slow down and to keep it together. 1:12:31, the race is over, I'm exhausted, not really satisfied with the time but quite happy with how I ran. I rank 465th out of 549 finishers and 8th out of 12 within my team.

We gather again at a different spot in the park and wait for the officials to announce the results. We're surrounded by thousands of spectators and the inner circle with the fast teams is really packed. TV cameras all around document the emotional reactions of happily qualified and surprisingly disqualified teams. As expected we're neither of both.

Next is the Hanseikai: each runner tells his afterthoughts in front of the team. We line up in finishing order and give a short speech consisting of the individual time and reflections of how we did during the race and we express our sincere gratitude towards the support crew. The further behind, the more self-criticism is appropriate. I imagine how this must feel in a team that just missed qualifying because a few athletes couldn't deliver their very best on race day. Together with some more speeches by coaches and supporters this easily takes more than an hour. After that we head for a celebration with beers and Okonomiyaki.

I enjoyed the race very much and I was again deeply impressed by the level of Japanese university runners. The event as a whole will remain as a wonderful and very special memory of my studies in Tokyo and I'm very grateful to everyone who made it possible. Ask any native Japanese about the Hakone Ekiden and you will know why.

(c) 2009 Christian Sommer
all rights reserved

Toyo's Kawahara Takes Takashimadaira 20 km

by Brett Larner



In the wake of yesterday's stunning Hakone Ekiden qualifier 20 km road race, three seeded Hakone schools, defending champion Toyo University, 2008 winner Komazawa University and Meiji University, sent their B-squads to run the Takashimadaira 20 km Road Race as a mid-season tuneup. Toyo's now-graduated Tomoya Onishi (Team Asahi Kasei) won Takashimadaira the last two years in an hour flat, and Tokai University's great Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku) set the course record for the four-loop criterion race the year before. This year the absence of a single big name coupled with unusually hot and sunny conditions, minus Takashimadaira's usual wind, meant relatively conservative times.

A large group of university runners ran together through 12 km before Toyo's Katsuya Honda broke away, pursued by teammate Kentaro Kami and Komazawa's Yoshihiro Tetsuka. Takanori Kawahara of Toyo hung back with Meiji's Junpei Tahara until after 15 km, when he made a move to take a definitive lead. Tahara formed a chase pack of four with teammate Todai Kogama, Tetsuka and Honda but the group was unable to regain contact. Kawahara took the win in 1:01:13, the slowest at Takashimadaira in years. Tahara was 2nd in 1:01:24, dropping the other three in the chase pack over the final km.

2009 Takashimadaira 20 km Road Race - Top Finishers
1. Takanori Kawahara (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:13
2. Junpei Tahara (Meiji Univ.) - 1:01:24
3. Yoshihiro Tetsuka (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:27
4. Katsuya Honda (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:31
5. Todai Kogama (Meiji Univ.) - 1:01:32
6. Kentaro Kami (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:43
7. Takashi Chiba (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:52
8. Katsunari Aoki (Meiji Univ.) - 1:02:09

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 17, 2009

First-Year Murasawa Leads 11 Under an Hour at Hakone Ekiden Qualifier

by Brett Larner

Click here for an explanation of scoring for the Hakone Ekiden qualifying race.



Aided by ideally cool, cloudy and windless conditions, Tokai University first-year Akinobu Murasawa, the star runner of 2008 national high school champion Saku Chosei H.S., served notice to the big guns at the Oct. 17 Hakone Ekiden-qualifying Yosenkai 20 km road race with a 59:08 win, just 28 seconds shy of the best mark ever recorded at the race by a Japanese athlete. Running in his first university road race and his first-ever longer than 10 km, Murasawa took down defending champ Kazuki Tomaru (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) and two other ace seniors, Yuta Takahashi (Josai Univ.) and Takuya Fukatsu (Komazawa Univ.), over the final five kilometers to seal his win. In a race which rarely sees more than one or two runners break the hour mark, eleven athletes succeeded this year with another two just a second off from joining them. It may well have been the most competitive race in Yosenkai history. Beyond the fast times up front, 311 men ran the equivalent of a sub-70 minute half marathon.

The large lead pack remained together through 14 kilometers, clocking 5 km splits of 14:50 and 14:55 along the way. Tomaru did most of the leading work before attempting to make a break just before 15 km, running another 14:50 split, but Murasawa and Takahashi were not to be shaken and remained one second behind. Murasawa, the lone first-year in the crowd of senior aces, then blew the race apart with a 14:32 over the hilly final 5 km, simply out of the others' league. Murasawa's time for the final 8 km was 23:26. Takahashi ran a solid 14:47 last 5 km for 2nd with Komazawa ace Takuya Fukatsu biding his time in the chase pack before closing in 14:48 for 3rd. Tomaru didn't have the gas to keep up his breakaway and faded to 4th with a 14:54 split but still came in ahead of his winning time from last year.

Komazawa took the overall team win thanks not only to Fukatsu's solid run but also to seniors Yusuke Takabayashi and Tsuyoshi Ugachi, both of whom ran in Monday's Izumo Ekiden but remarkably were among the sub-hour men today. Komazawa's fourth man was first-year Wataru Ueno, a graduate of Sendai Ikuei H.S. and Murasawa's arch-rival.

Jobu Univ. head coach and Olympian Katsuhiko Hanada talks to the press while fellow Waseda graduates Yasuyuki Watanabe and Toshihiko Seko wait to talk to him.

2nd through 4th place were a repeat of last year's finishing order. Tokyo Nogyo University took 2nd, with sophomore Kenta Matsubara following Tomaru under the hour and junior Hideaki Tamura finishing 12th in 1:00:01. Jobu University repeated its stunning 3rd place finish last year when it was in only its 5th year of existence, but this time with a difference. Last year Jobu's top finisher ran 1:01:11, far from the leaders, but its tenth scoring member was 39 seconds behind in 1:01:50. This year Jobu's tenth scorer ran 1:01:51, but junior Yusuke Hasegawa was 5th in 59:30 and three others broke 61. The team and its coach Katsuhiko Hanada seem to have taken the jump they needed to continue up the ladder. The ten fastest finishers from schools which did not qualify for Hakone, who will be chosen to make up the Kanto Region Select Team, had an aggregate time of 10:05:56, close behind Tokyo Nogyo and well ahead of Jobu. Nittai University, which was stripped of the seeding it earned with a 3rd place finish at the 2009 Hakone Ekiden following a scandal involving alleged drug use by a pole vaulter at the school, was 4th despite none of its runners breaking an hour. The team's ace senior Takahiro Mori was only 23rd in 1:00:20.

Aoyama Gakuin University poses for photographers after the race.

The biggest surprise of the day came in Aoyama Gakuin University taking 8th to seal the final purely time-based Hakone slot. Last year Aoyama made Hakone for the first time in 30 years but only through the grace of three extra spots being added in honor of the Hakone Ekiden's 85th anniversary. This year they did it fair and square, the 8th-fastest team in the field led by senior Tasuku Arai's surprise 11th place finish in 59:58.

Tokai University, Asia University and Hosei University picked up the bottom three Hakone spots through the point system which takes into account the performances of the schools' entire track and field teams at May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. Tokai and Asia were the 9th and 10th fastest teams on time alone and thus would have qualified even without the unfair handicap. Hosei, which fell victim to the point system last year, was 12th on time but will return to Hakone thanks to its handicap. Getting the shaft this year is Takushoku University, which was 11th on time but as a small school without a strong overall track and field program had a miniscule handicap and was bumped down to 14th when points were factored in.

Juntendo University runners in shock.

The biggest loser of the day, however, was 2007 Hakone Ekiden winner Juntendo University. Like Aoyama Gakuin, last year Juntendo barely made the cut thanks to three extra spots being available. This year it was not to be. The team finished 15th overall on time, and despite having the largest handicap advantage in the field advanced only to 13th place following the handicapping. The result broke Juntendo's 52-year Hakone streak. Juntendo assistant coach Yoshiki Otsuka told JRN, "We're stunned. The men just didn't bring it to the race today. Based on practice we thought they had progressed from last year, but they didn't run this like it was an important race. We've had problems with influenza this season but the main problem was just weakness. The best we can hope for is that one or two guys will make the select team." For the rest of the team, having failed to qualify for either next month's National University Ekiden Championships or the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, their season is now over.

Rikuren director and former Juntendo University head coach Keisuke Sawaki somberly answers questions.












2009 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Road Race - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Akinobu Murasawa (1st yr, Tokai Univ.) - 59:08
2. Yuta Takahashi (4th yr, Josai Univ.) - 59:23
3. Takuya Fukatsu (4th yr, Komazawa Univ.) - 59:27
4. Kazuki Tomaru (4th yr, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:29
5. Yusuke Hasegawa (3rd yr, Jobu Univ.) - 59:30
6. Koji Gokaya (4th yr, Senshu Univ.) - 59:31
7. Nobuyuki Yamanaka (4th yr, Asia Univ.) - 59:35
8. Yusuke Takabayashi (4th yr, Komazawa Univ.) - 59:36
9. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (4th yr, Komazawa Univ.) - 59:37
10. Kenta Matsubara (2nd yr, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:50
11. Tasuku Arai (4th yr, Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 59:58
12. Hideyuki Tamura (3rd yr, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 1:00:01
13. Ryota Nakamura (3rd yr, Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:01
14. Masaki Ito (2nd yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:04
15. Yasuo Ishida (4th yr, Jobu Univ.) - 1:00:07

Top Team Results
top eleven teams qualify for 2010 Hakone Ekiden
9th place and higher receive a time handicap indicated in parentheses
click here for complete results



1. Komazawa Univ. - 10:03:39
2. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 10:05:02
-- Kanto Regional Select Team - 10:05:56
3. Jobu Univ. - 10:08:55
4. Nittai Univ. - 10:11:01
5. Teikyo Univ. - 10:11:20
6. Josai Univ. - 10:11:36
7. Senshu Univ. - 10:11:42
8. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 10:12:32
-----
9. Tokai Univ. - 10:13:06 (10:09:21)
10. Asia Univ. - 10:15:40 (10:14:35)
11. Hosei Univ. - 10:18:08 (10:14:58)
-----
12. Kokushikan Univ. - 10:20:01 (10:16:31)
13. Juntendo Univ. - 10:20:35 (10:16:45)
14. Takushoku Univ. - 10:17:52 (10:17:32)

Keio University's captain apologizes to the team after they miss the Hakone cut.

2009 Hakone Ekiden Field and Rankings
1. Toyo Univ.
2. Waseda Univ.
3. Daito Bunka Univ.
4. Chuo Gakuin Univ.
5. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.
6. Nihon Univ.
7. Meiji Univ.
8. Chuo Univ.
-----
9. Komazawa Univ.
10. Tokyo Nogyo Univ.
11. Kanto Regional Select Team
12. Jobu Univ.
13. Nittai Univ.
14. Teikyo Univ.
15. Josai Univ.
16. Senshu Univ.
17. Aoyama Gakuin Univ.
-----
18. Tokai Univ.
19. Asia Univ.
20. Hosei Univ.

2009 Kanto Regional Select Team
preliminary roster including alternates
14. Masaki Ito (2nd yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:04
19. Takuji Morimoto (4th yr, Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:00:12
30. Makoto Ozeki (4th yr, Soka Univ.) - 1:00:24
35. Aritaka Kajiwara (2nd yr, Shoin Univ.) - 1:00:34
37. Shota Yamada (4th yr, Juntendo Univ.) - 1:00:39
39. Kenta Iinuma (4th yr, Heisei Kokusai Univ.) - 1:00:44
43. Hiroaki Sano (4th yr, Reitaku Univ.) - 1:00:47
46. Yohei Nishiyama (3rd yr, Takushoku Univ.) - 1:00:48
47. Kohei Ogino (2nd yr, Kokugakuin Univ.) - 1:00:49
57. Tatsuki Sakuma (4th yr, Heisei Kokusai Univ.) - 1:00:55
-----
58. Masahiro Sunaga (4th yr, Soka Univ.) - 1:00:56
69. Norimasa Nishina (3rd yr, Kokugakuin Univ.) - 1:01:05
73. Jo Fukuda (1st yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:08
74. Takahiro Kitawara (4th yr, Kanto Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:08
81. Kazunori Someya (4th yr, Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:01:14
82. Reo Hirakawa (3rd yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:15

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hakone Ekiden Qualifier and Takashimadaira Road Race Preview - Watch Online

by Brett Larner

Watch the 2009 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai online on Nihon TV on Oct. 17 from 3:30-5:00 p.m. Click here for more info.


As the American NCAA cross-country season chugs along, the home of the world's most competitive university men's distance running, Japan's Kanto region, gets into full swing this weekend with two major 20 km races, the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race on Oct. 17 and the Takashimadaira Road Race on Oct. 18.

Each year at the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, the Kanto region's university men's ekiden championships and an event with mass popularity on the scale of the World Series or Superbowl, the top ten teams out of the field of twenty score seeded positions for the following year's Hakone. The remaining ten teams must battle it out with all the other Kanto universities at October's Yosenkai 20 km road race to earn the honor of a place in Hakone.

At the Yosenkai teams can field up to twelve runners meeting tough qualification standards, with the cumulative time of the team's top ten finishers determining the overall placing. In most years the fastest six teams earn guaranteed Hakone spots. The three remaining spots are determined using a calculation taking into account both the Yosenkai finishing times and points earned by schools' entire track and field teams at May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships, a somewhat unfair crutch which props up large schools having weak years in their distance programs and penalizes smaller schools whose distance squads give it all to make the dream of Hakone come true. The top ten finishers from schools which do not qualify for Hakone are also picked to form a Kanto Region Select Team which competes in Hakone against the nineteen full university teams.

The last two years of the Hakone Ekiden have been chaotic, leading to highly competitive Yosenkai races. In the 2008 Hakone three schools, two of them major forces, DNF'd. In 2009 two-time Yosenkai winner Josai University DNF'd, Komazawa University suffered the humiliation of becoming the first defending champion in Hakone history to finish outside the seeded bracket, and 3rd place Hakone finisher Nittai University was stripped of its seeded spot after an absurd mid-spring scandal involving a Nittai pole vaulter who was suspected of marijuana use. In 2009 the Kanto Region Select Team finished in the top ten at Hakone, meaning only nine schools were seeded for 2010. Nittai's loss of its spot means eleven places are now up for grabs at this year's Yosenkai.

The winning individual time at the Yosenkai is typically under the hour mark, and with big guns Nittai and Komazawa in the field along with some aces from other schools it's a sure bet that this year will again be fast. Looking at the field in this year's Yosenkai, sixteen schools out of the forty-seven entered have realistic chances of picking up one of the eleven spots. Josai University has won the last two Yosenkai editions by peaking for the race and then underperforming in Hakone. It's a safe bet that Josai will again be going to Hakone, but with Nittai and Komazawa in the field a third win will be very tough. Nittai University must be viewed as the favorite, its 3rd place finish in Hakone and the extra motivation its runners have to make up for the shame of the springtime scandal putting it above the rest of the field. Komazawa University is more of a question mark. The most powerful ekiden school in Japan, Komazawa suffered a meltdown at this year's Hakone. The team again ran poorly in Monday's Izumo Ekiden, but in retrospect it's clear that head coach Hiroaki Oyagi chose to run primarily his C-squad in Izumo, saving most of his best prospects including ace first-year Wataru Ueno for the Hakone qualifier. Whether the team is back to its normal self will be seen tomorrow.

Beyond these three schools the field is more even among the real contenders. Tokai University fields two outstanding first-years, last year's high school national champion Akinobu Murasawa and the talented Tsubasa Hayakawa, and should figure among the top placers. Tokyo Nogyo University, Senshu University, Kanagawa University and Asia University are also solid bets to qualify comfortably. Newcomers Jobu University stunned the ekiden scene last year by being the first school to have all ten scorers finish in only its fifth year of existence as a team. The inspiration for the movie "The Wind is Blowing Strong" which opens in two weeks, it's hopeful that Jobu will continue to build on the momentum of having made its Hakone debut in January.

On the chopping block this year is 2007 Hakone winner Juntendo University, a titan which fell from grace following the graduation of most of its 2007 squad. Juntendo barely limped into the 2009 Hakone Ekiden thanks to a combination of points from the Kanto T&F Championships and three extra spots made available in honor of Hakone's 85th anniversary. This year even with the Kanto Championships points the school is unlikely to make the grade.

Of special interest this year is the Tokyo University Graduate School team, for whatever reason the only graduate school allowed to compete. It is very rare for non-Japanese athletes to appear in the Yosenkai, even more so than in the Hakone Ekiden itself since the teams which can afford Kenyan ringers are usually good enough that they get seeded and don't have to run the Yosenkai. This year Swiss graduate student Christian Sommer made Tokyo's team and will run the Yosenkai, possibly the first-ever white runner to appear. It's unlikely he will factor into the action, but the rarity of his appearance in the elite field makes his run particularly noteworthy.

The day after the Yosenkai, the Takashimadaira 20 km Road Race offers a chance for seeded schools to do a mid-season tuneup. 2009 Hakone University winner Toyo University turns out in force each year, and it is likely the team's ace Ryuji Kashiwabara will lead the way. Daito Bunka University is another seeded school with strong Takashimadaira representation. Komazawa and Tokai also usually field some of their best runners, but with both schools lining up the day before they are not likely to be present this time. JRN will be onhand to cover both the Yosenkai and Takashimadaira races.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

'Vietnam, Japan Share Honors in Half Marathon'

http://www.thanhniennews.com/sports/?catid=5&newsid=53080

Winner Takayuki Nishida (1:09:34) was the subject of an interviewed published on JRN in July. Former marathon great Mari Tanigawa was 3rd in the women's race in 1:26:49.

Bringing Back the Classic pt. II: Fujita Sets the NR in 2000

JRN reader Juan Jose Martinez recently posted video highlights of Atsushi Fujita's national record 2:06:51 win at the 2000 Fukuoka International Marathon on his website. Fujita, who at the time had already broken Toshihiko Seko's long-standing university marathon record, outran several Olympic medalists to set the then-national record. His time after the 35 km point remains the fastest finish ever run in Fukuoka, faster than the marks set by Haile Gebrselassie, Samuel Wanjiru, Tsegay Kebede, Jaouad Gharib, Deriba Merga or anyone else. Click here to watch the classic video.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gitau Delivers Another Izumo Ekiden Win - Updated

by Brett Larner

Daniel Gitau in another stage-record win. Click photo for full-sized version.






Running in his final Izumo Ekiden on Oct. 12, Kenyan senior Daniel Gitau delivered Nihon University the win for the second year in a row. Last year Gitau started the 10.2 km anchor stage 1:29 behind the lead and won by a margin of 14 seconds. The only sub-28 minute 10000 m runner in the field, this year he confidently predicted before the race that if he was within two minutes of the leader at the start of the anchor stage he would again take first. He was clearly thinking of his Japanese rivals and not of another Kenyan.

Nihon University first-year Kenyan Benjamin Gando made his ekiden debut on the first stage, putting Nihon into 3rd. The rest of the Nihon team kept the school toward the front of the field, with only fifth stage runner Kentaro Ikeya slipping back to 5th. Things looked set for an easy ride for Gitau except that Yamanashi Gakuin University's Kota Otani delivered a stage-best run to put Kenyan anchor Cosmas Ondiba out front on the final leg 41 seconds ahead of Gitau, a formidable margin.

Gitau worked hard in the first half of the stage, passing three teams to move into 2nd but making little headway against the younger Ondiba. He inched forward between 5 and 7 km, then abruptly began to eat up Ondiba's margin. Suddenly, there he was. Ondiba repeatedly surged to try to break the tired Gitau but couldn't do it. Gitau pulled away with just under two kilometers to go to break his own stage record by 11 seconds, completing the 10.2 km stage in 28:17 and giving Nihon University a 2:10:07 win for the 44 km distance. Ondiba held on to 2nd, bringing Yamanashi Gakuin in in 2:10:26. 2009 Hakone Ekiden winners Toyo University fought off a strong Waseda University squad for 3rd in 2:11:19.

Among the noteworthy points of this year's Izumo Ekiden:

  • Kyushu-based Daiichi Kogyo University's Kiragu Njuguna stepped up to the A-Kenyan spot on the team following the graduation of the talented Kibet Kipngegon by running a 20-second record on the first stage. Izumo is one of the few ekidens without restrictions on foreigners and Daiichi Kogyo makes full use of its advantage by having two Kenyans on the squad, the main reason it finishes in the top four most years. New first-year Wanjohi Karuiru was only 5th on the fourth stage, meaning Daiichi Kogyo had to settle for 7th overall.
  • The sensational Ryuji Kashiwabara, a second-year at 2009 Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University, was 2nd again this year on the first stage, beating Nihon University's Benjamin Gando and tying the old course record held by 2009 double 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno. Ueno set the old record as a senior, and considering the pressure Kashiwabara is under after the best first year in recent memory it looks as though he is more than capable of delivering in his second year. Kashiwabara has taken some criticism for talking like a foreigner, avoiding the usual platitudes in interviews about helping the team and being glad to be the top Japanese finisher. He was clearly not glad to have been beaten by Njuguna and did not smile in his interview as he said he and his coach had set a goal of at least 22:49, one second better than Ueno's stage record, and that missing it by a second meant his run was not good enough. This kind of attitude is a missing ingredient among most Japanese runners and combined with Kashiwabara's growing abilities marks him again as the man to watch in coming years.
  • Fielding a squad of mostly newcomers, Toyo rolled on with Kashiwabara's momentum, fourth leg runner Ryohei Kawakami taking the stage best, fifth stage runner Hirotoshi Sato taking 2nd on his leg, and anchor Ryo Takami, who brought the Hakone squad in to the win, outkicking Waseda' University's formidable first-year Shota Hiraga for 3rd. Toyo looks in good shape this early in the season to be in position for a Hakone defense in January.
  • Waseda surprised by debuting a squad featuring two members of last year's high school national champions Saku Chosei. For the second year in a row Waseda has pulled off a recruiting coup. All of its squad were within the top five on their stages with the exception of Takuya Nakayama, son of former 10000 m and marathon national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama, who was making his university debut after not making Waseda's A-team last year. Nakayama began the fifth stage with a 24 second lead and widened it to nearly a minute, looking smooth and powerful. He never seemed to struggle or fade, but it became apparent that he was losing ground to Yamanashi Gakuin's Kato Otani and Toyo's Hirotoshi Sato, and he eventually surrendered to both and dropped Waseda down to 3rd. Waseda still seems to have work to do to regain its status as a legendary winner, but with two years of solid recruiting work in hand it looks as though it will weather the loss of its ace Kensuke Takezawa to graduation and be a power at least in the 2010-2011 season.
  • If you're a talented high school boy in Japan you want to go to a university in the Kanto region in order to have a chance to run the Hakone Ekiden. Universities in other parts of the country are markedly weaker, their best runners relatively unknown compared to those at Waseda, Toyo and Komazawa. Izumo represents one of the only chances for these guys to take a shot at the Hakone schools. Daiichi Kogyo University is always a factor thanks to its pair of Kenyan ringers, but Kyoto Sangyo University turned a lot of heads for most of this year's Izumo after second stage runner Kazuki Hayashi set a new stage record and clipped Hakone winner Toyo's Kenji Yamamoto to put Kyoto Sangyo into the lead, surely the sweetest moment in his career to date. Kyoto Sangyo's squad was solid throughout, only anchor Masashi Okuno slipping as he finished 14th on the final stage. Kyoto-based Ritsumeikan University followed the opposite trajectory, 13th on the first stage but working its way up to 6th by race's end to finish as the top non-Kanto school.
  • How the mighty have fallen. In the last two years there has been a dramatic upheaval among the Kanto schools, with 2005-2008 Izumo winners Tokai University and old-time powerhouse Juntendo University not even making this year's race. The fearsome Komazawa University, which nearly won Izumo last year and went on to take the national title in November before disintegrating in January while attempting to defend its 2008 Hakone title, was simply atrocious. Third leg ace Tsuyoshi Ugachi took the stage best, but no other runner on the team finished better than 9th as the school stumped in to a lowly 10th. By contrast, schools considered outside the usual power bases, such as Toyo, Daito Bunka, and Chuo Gakuin, continue to improve and threaten the old order.
The men's university ekiden season continues Oct. 17-18 with two 20 km road races in Tokyo, the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier for schools which finished outside the top 10 at the 2009 Hakone, and the Takashimadaira Road Race the following day for seeded schools who want a solid tuneup.

2009 Izumo Ekiden - Top Stage Results
Click here for a complete breakdown of stage and overall results.

1st Stage - 8.0 km
1. Kiragu Njuguna (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 22:30 - New Stage Record
2. Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) - 22:50 - New Stage Record
3. Benjamin Gando (Nihon Univ.) - 23:02

2nd Stage - 5.8 km
1. Kazuki Hayashi (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 16:19 - New Stage Record
2. Takatoshi Miura (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 16:23
3. Aoi Matsumoto (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 16:24

3rd Stage - 7.9 km
1. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) - 22:48
2. Takahiro Ozaki (Waseda Univ.) - 23:07
3. Takahito Watanabe (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 23:09

4th Stage - 6.2 km
1. Ryohei Kawakami (Toyo Univ.) - 18:33
2. Hiroaki Sasaki (Waseda Univ.) - 18:34
3. Kosuke Tsuji (Chuo Univ.) - 18:39

5th Stage - 6.4 km
1. Kota Otani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 18:59
2. Hirotoshi Sato (Toyo Univ.) - 19:05
2. Yasushi Takahashi (Chuo Univ.) - 19:05

6th Stage - 10.2 km
1. Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) - 28:17 - New Stage Record
2. Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 29:17
3. Takuya Ishikawa (Meiji Univ.) - 29:47

2009 Izumo Ekiden - Team Results
1. Nihon Univ. - 2:10:07
2. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 2:10:26
3. Toyo Univ. - 2:11:19
4. Waseda Univ. - 2:11:22
5. Chuo Univ. - 2:12:24
6. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:12:35
7. Daiichi Kogyo Univ. - 2:12:50
8. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:13:26
9. Daito Bunka Univ. - 2:13:46
10. Komazawa Univ. - 2:13:51
11. Chuo Gakuin Univ. - 2:13:54
12. Meiji Univ. - 2:14:25
13. Ivy League Alumni Select Team - 2:15:10
14. Nippon Bunri Univ. - 2:16:24
15. Aichi Kogyo Univ. - 2:18:17
16. Hokuriku Select Team - 2:21:33
17. Chugoku/Shikoku Select Team - 2:21:41
18. Kurume Univ. - 2:22:09
19. Hokkaido Select Team - 2:22:21
20. Tohoku Select Team - 2:22:57
21. Hiroshima Univ. of Economics - 2:25:52

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, October 12, 2009

No Fireworks Overseas

by Brett Larner

Mizuho Nasukawa at 40 km in Chicago. Photo by Dr. Helmut Winter.










2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze), a former training partner of the great Naoko Takahashi, made her overseas marathon debut Oct. 11 at the Chicago Marathon. Nasukawa ran patiently in the lead pack of seven throughout the slow early stages of the race, but when the pace picked up at 33 km she was the second runner to fall off following the early departure of American record holder Deena Kastor. Nasukawa was eventually reeled back in by Kastor and finished 7th in 2:29:22, an improvement on her PW 2:34:17 at August's Hokkaido Marathon but equally far from the potential she showed when she won Tokyo in 2:25:38. Click here for complete results from the 2009 Chicago Marathon.

The young Japanese teams at the World Half Marathon in Birmingham, U.K. on Oct. 11 likewise failed to make an impact. The reliable Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) once more had the top Japanese result, finishing 12th in the women's race in 1:10:19 with young teammates Ryoko Kizaki and Remi Nakazato just behind in 1:10:32 and 1:10:40. Women's team leader Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) had a showing in keeping with her performance at August's World Championships marathon, finishing 4th on the Japanese team and 26th overall in 1:12:20. Her Hokuren teammate Philes Ongori fared better, running a PB of 1:07:38 to take 2nd. Team Uniqlo's Danielle Filomena Cheyech also cracked the top 10, landing 8th in 1:09:44.

On the men's side, national record holder and team leader Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) was, like Akaba, 4th on the team, 32nd overall in 1:03:25. Yukihiro Kitaoka was the top Japanese man, 21st overall in 1:02:50. Click here for complete results from the 2009 World Half Marathon Championships.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Watch the Izumo Ekiden Live - Preview

by Brett Larner

Japan's ekiden season begins each year with the university men's Izumo Ekiden, a 44 km six-stage course pitting the Kanto-region Hakone Ekiden schools against the best the rest of the country has to offer and a team made up of Ivy League alumni. With individual stages ranging from 5.0 to 10.2 km Izumo is completely different in character from other university ekidens, with less emphasis on strategy and endurance and more on pure speed.

This was clear at last year's Izumo when Kenyan Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) made up a 1:29 deficit on leaders Komazawa university over the 10.2 km anchor stage to steal the win with a stage-record 28:28. Gitau returns to lead Nihon, but despite the graduation of top Japanese member Takuma Sasaya Nihon must be viewed as the favorite once again, particularly if it fields but Gitau and first-year Benjamin Gando. It is unusual for a Japanese race to allow a team to field two foreign runners, but at last year's Izumo 4th-placers Daiichi Kogyo University were the top non-Kanto school thanks largely to its Kenyans Kibet Kipngeno and Kiragu Njuguna. Should Nihon follow suit this year they will be tough to beat.

Last year's runner-up Komazawa University returns with almost the same squad as last year. 2009 Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University, now led by ace Ryuji Kashiwabara, likewise retains the majority of its lineup, with the significant loss of team leader Tomoya Onishi to graduation. On a good day either school could be in contention. Likewise for Waseda University which despite the graduation of the superbly talented Kensuke Takezawa holds a major advantage in its group of four strong second-years, among them Takuya Nakayama, the son of former 10000 m and marathon national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama. If the quartet has continued to develop they could easily make up for Takezawa's loss. Look out also for first-timers Meiji University, who won June's National University Ekiden qualifying meet.

Apart from the emphasis on speed, the other interesting feature of Izumo is the presence of universities from outside Kanto, schools which rarely have a chance to battle the Hakone kings. Daiichi Kogyo University is a perpetual contender to become the first non-Kanto school to win Izumo, and Ritsumeikan University and Kyoto Sangyo University together hold some of the best runners who choose not to attend Kanto-area universities. The unfamiliar faces add an element of unpredictability to the race.

The Izumo Ekiden will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji TV from 1:00 to 3:25 p.m. Japan time on Oct. 12. International viewers should be able to watch live online for free using the Keyhole TV software.

2009 Izumo Ekiden - Entered Schools
1. Nihon Univ. (Tokyo)
2. Komazawa Univ. (Tokyo)
3. Daiichi Kogyo Univ. (Kagoshima)
4. Hokkaido Select Team (Hokkaido)
5. Tohoku Select Team (Tohoku)
6. Toyo Univ. (Tokyo)
7. Waseda Univ. (Tokyo)
8. Daito Bunka Univ. (Saitama)
9. Chuo Gakuin Univ. (Chiba)
10. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. (Yamanashi)
11. Meiji Univ. (Tokyo)
12. Chuo Univ. (Tokyo)
13. Hokuriku Select Team (Hokuriku)
14. Aichi Kogyo Univ. (Aichi)
15. Ritsumeikan Univ. (Kyoto)
16. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. (Kyoto)
17. Hiroshima Univ. of Economics (Hiroshima)
18. Chugoku-Shikoku Select Team (Chugoku/Shikoku)
19. Nippon Bunri Univ. (Oita)
20. Kurume Univ. (Fukuoka)
21. Ivy League Alumni Select Team (U.S.A.)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Wanjiru on Top of World'

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chicagomarathon/chi-09-marathon-oct09,0,1847967.column

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tokyo Winner Nasukawa Debuts in Chicago

by Brett Larner

Mizuho Nasukawa wins the 2009 Tokyo Marathon in 2:25:38.

2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) makes her overseas marathon debut this weekend at the Chicago Marathon. Nasukawa is the top marathon protege of Yoshio Koide, the coach who led Naoko Takahashi to Olympic gold and the world's first sub-2:20 women's marathon. A career track runner with two Asian Games bronze medals from 2002 to her name, Nasukawa made a tentative move to the marathon in 2004 and 2005, her best result of that time being a 2:29:49 fourth place finish at the 2004 Osaka International Women's Marathon.

Following this move Nasukawa returned to the track, recording her 5000 m PB of 15:23.00 in 2006 and experimenting with steeplechase, but her resume remained largely a blank until March's Tokyo Marathon. In Tokyo she ran a race which should have put her on the list for the Berlin World Championships, recording a sizeable PB of 2:25:38 in extremely windy conditions to win over the likes of Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) and Shitaye Gemechu (Ethiopia). It was a very, very impressive performance which looked to be a sign that the 29 year old Nasukawa would become a major player in Japanese marathoning.

After Tokyo Nasukawa practically vanished. She said that she planned to run the 5000 m at the World Championships, but at June's National Championships, the main selection race for Berlin, her name appeared only the entry list for the steeplechase and she did not actually start. Her first public appearance after Tokyo came at the August 30 Hokkaido Marathon. Nasukawa was expected to challenge hot-weather specialist Kiyoko Shimahara for the win but never attempted to follow Shimahara's course-record pace, instead running a slow and steady 2:34:17 for 7th and looking utterly spent at the finish. Shortly afterwards came the news of her Chicago appearance, raising the question of whether Hokkaido had been a training run or a genuine failure.

In the absence of her Hokkaido run she could have been called a top three contender in Chicago on the strength of her Tokyo win, but with no other result to go on in the last six months than her PW in Hokkaido Nasukawa's chances of success don't look very favorable. It is unlikely she would go to the trouble of running Chicago rather than a domestic race such as next month's Yokohama International Women's Marathon if she were not in competitive shape, but if Nasukawa's expression at the Hokkaido finish line was any indication things have not been going according to plan.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A New Hope in the Marathon: Ryo Yamamoto

http://www.kobe-np.co.jp/news/sports/0002409811.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

A new hope has taken wing from deep in the heart of the distance running kingdom of Hyogo Prefecture. He is Kobe native Ryo Yamamoto, at age 25 a third-year member of Team Sagawa Express. In his debut marathon at August's Hokkaido Marathon Yamamoto was the top Japanese finisher, showing great promise of being able to take on the world as he came close to running down winner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult). We talked to him about race, his background, and his plans and dreams for the future.

Your time was 2:12:10. It was a brilliant performance.
Right when I finished I was pretty crushed that the win got away from me, but now that some time has passed I think it's great that I was able to run with some power in my first marathon. They say a marathon starts at 35 km so I tried to hold off [on speeding up] and that's why I was able to run the last part way harder than I expected.

You beat Athens Olympics marathon 6th place finisher Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin).
I was pretty confident about being able to compete with some of the top people because I got in all the right workouts. I've only seen the very tip of the marathon world so far, but even with just a little experience I was able to act so it helps me set my sights on getting out there and going after the world.

You must have learned a lot at Chuo University.
My second year I fell in a race and smacked my knee. I went back into full training way too quickly and it didn't heal, so I ended up not making the Hakone Ekiden that season. After this failure I realized that to get results I needed to be mentally strong and focused and not to lose sight of who I was and what I wanted.

Why did you join Team Sagawa Express?
I was impressed when Sagawa's Tomoya Shimizu won the 2006 Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, and I thought the team had a good atmosphere. I thought that if I ran there it would help me become a strong marathoner.

What are your aspirations for after this?
I want to help lead the team both when we're running and out of practice so that we have a shot at finishing on the podium at the New Year Ekiden. After that over the winter I want to run a fast marathon for myself. My strengths are the fact that I never get injured and that I'm really tenacious. I think that by finding the things that are hard in training and focusing on those it helps me to respond to anything in a race.

Ryo Yamamoto - Born May 18, 1984 in Kobe. 173 cm, 60 kg. Finished 5th in the National Championships 3000 m as a 3rd year at West Kobe J.H.S. After graduating from Nagata H.S. attended Chuo Univ. where he ran the Hakone Ekiden three times. Advanced rapidly through the field in the 2009 Hokkaido Marathon during the second half of the race, finishing 7 seconds behind winner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult), clocking a debut time of 2:12:10.