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Arata Fujiwara Returns - Tokyo Marathon Week Part One

by Brett Larner

It's Tokyo Marathon week on JRN. Our coverage this week will be dedicated to the fourth edition of Japan's largest marathon, to be held this Sunday. Each day we will give you a look at some of the elites in both the men's and women's races, talk to people behind the scenes, and give you a full race preview including instructions on how to watch the race online.

We start the week off with an original JRN interview with Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon). Fujiwara shot to attention two years ago in Tokyo, running as an unknown but finishing 2nd in an impressive 2:08:40. It was a PB by nearly 30 minutes but 5 seconds short of what he needed to make the Beijing Olympics. Later in the year he had better luck as he qualified for last summer's World Championships marathon in Berlin. The World Championships didn't go as Fujiwara hoped but this Sunday he returns to Tokyo ready to take on the solid overseas field and Japan's top man on the roads, half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku).

Since we first started JRN in 2007 we've received steady requests for more information on elite Japanese runners' training, more insight into their psychology, and deeper glimpses into their personalities than the usual scripted pre- and post-race comments. Fujiwara recently sat down with JRN and gave us all that. What's more, he has agreed to an exclusive JRN interview the day after Tokyo to talk openly and honestly about his race and the training for it, whether he wins or loses. Send JRN your questions for Fujiwara and we will get you the answers. It is an unprecedented opportunity for people worldwide to communicate with a current top elite Japanese runner.

In his pre-race interview, Fujiwara talked to us in detail about his 2008 Tokyo run and the training that got him there, the significance he attaches to rhythm and the physical sense of the self, samurai philosophy, and what is wrong with current Japanese training methods. Below are some edited highlights of the interview. The complete interview in three parts makes up the first issue of our new JRNPremium subscription series. Click here to subscribe and get the full Fujiwara interview along with upcoming exclusive in-depth interviews including legendary marathon anti-hero Takeyuki Nakayama, Japan's first Kenyan student runner Stephen Mayaka, top female marathoner Kiyoko Shimahara, and one of the men responsible for bringing the world Samuel Wanjiru, Tsutomu Akiyama. You won't find better running content anywhere, and that's a promise.

Fujiwara on the 2008 Tokyo Marathon
It wasn’t my first marathon, but I feel like that’s the race where my marathon career really started. I probably shouldn’t say this, but some time before the race I printed up the elite athlete list and checked them all out online. I was thinking, “Yep, I can beat this guy, and this guy, and this guy,” and checked them off the list one by one. The only ones who survived were Julius Gitahi, Viktor Rothlin, Abel Kirui, Daniel Njenga and of course me. Leaving myself as the only Japanese…maybe that’s a bit arrogant. (laughs)

Rothlin was the one controlling the pace. It was obvious he was in charge because he didn’t make any unnecessary moves at all. It looked like he was moving around a lot, sometimes up front, sometimes further back, but actually his pace was completely consistent and it was everyone else who was moving around. I thought, “Wow, he’s really good,” and I tried to follow along and pick up some of his skill. When it was down to just three of us he was the one I was focused on.

When I got to 41 km the placings were pretty much set in the top three, but to tell the truth I still didn’t know I was running alone. I thought Gitahi had come back up behind me. I didn’t realize he wasn’t there until the very last right-hand corner. Up until then I was thinking, “Be my guest, Gitahi. Bon appétit.” I didn’t think I had any chance of getting away from an Olympic track runner and I wanted him to be gentle when he crushed me on the last stretch. I was in a state of almost Zen-like ambivalent passivity. When I finished with a fast time, the first thing I thought was, “Now I’m free! I can go anywhere I want!”

on Japanese training methods
Japanese marathon training only focuses on quantity, on doing over 1000 km a month for the marathon, but I don’t think that’s the only way and I want to change the situation. If 1000 km a month is everything then you only need a strong body to succeed, but there is nothing there to hone the racing instinct. What you might get when you come out of 1000 km a month of training is that you don’t feel as tired after the race, but that’s all you get out of it. It does nothing to develop speed and racing sense. Post-race fatigue isn’t the reason for racing.

on rhythm, balance and proprioception
Rhythm is something from inside. I believe it is all about form, that is to say posture and motion, the orbit lines you trace in the air when you move, and timing. All these complex factors are connected to one another and together they make up form, good or bad. It’s really hard to show this with numbers, so we can only call it ‘rhythm.’ You can only measure it with your body. When I'm racing and I look around the pack I can see who has got a good rhythm, who is looking bad, even who is running at a rhythm I can sync with. I try to look for that kind of person, someone who has a rhythm I can borrow, and run with them.

The most important thing is the balance between physical strength and inner sensitivity. Ideally you would gain physical strength without losing the sharp sensitivity, but that’s very difficult. I think junior high school and high school students are really good on the physical sensitivity side of things. They don’t have any strength or stamina yet, so all they have is the physical sense of themselves.

on racing Tokyo this year and the future
I think this is a fast course, so I’d like to go with a high pace. I think a 2:06 is coming soon. I’d like to go after one of the top races like London too. I’m not sure if I could get through a race that goes out on 2:04 or 2:05 pace but I’d like to try. The average pace for a 2:05 would be 2:59 per km. I think I can do that. It doesn’t seem like something impossible.

Click here to read the full interview with Arata Fujiwara, and send us your questions for his post-race interview following Sunday's Tokyo Marathon.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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