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Arata Fujiwara Evaluates the 2010 Tokyo Marathon

interview by Brett Larner

Running in miserable conditions this past Sunday, 2:08 marathoner Arata Fujiwara of Team JR Higashi Nihon came 2nd at the Tokyo Marathon for the second time in his career. The next day, a badly limping Fujiwara generously met with JRN at a favorite bar of his to talk about the race, what went wrong and right, his training and the future. Some highlights of the interview are included below. Click here to read the complete interview.

Congratulations on your first marathon in the 2:10’s.
(laughs) Thanks, yeah, I broke through the wall. This time I was more focused on peaking properly than on getting my body stronger. My training this year was solid and consistent, but rather than saying, “I need more stamina, so let’s work on that,” or, “I don’t have enough speed so I need more speedwork,” I focused on keeping an overall good feeling and peaking properly.

When you got up yesterday and saw the weather what changed in your plans?
I didn’t have much time to get ready for the cold but I did what I could. I went to an outdoors shop and bought a waterproof backpack lining, then cut out squares and sewed them on to the front and back of my singlet under the bib numbers. I didn’t really want to cut up a windbreaker for that, so I just bought a bag. It worked really well.

Compared to your other marathons it seemed that you were running more under control the whole time.
That’s right. At first I was watching Atsushi Sato, but it made me nervous and tighten up. While I was up near the front in the first 10 km I was watching him but it felt like his back was watching me. (laughs) So I moved somewhere where I couldn’t see him, back at the very rear of the pack in 20th or 30th. I didn’t want to see him. (laughs)

Just before 21 km you were running wide of the pack and looking very relaxed.
Yes, that was when I was feeling the most relaxed and comfortable. I was thinking, “Oh man, this is comfortable. I feel great today!” But then when I looked at the time and saw how slow we were going it kind of killed my enthusiasm. “It’s comfortable because we’re going really slow!” (laughs)

Around 26 km the rain changed to snow. What did you think when it started snowing?
“Nobody told me it was going to snow today!” (laughs) When I had checked the weather it said rain but nothing about it changing to snow. I was prepared for cold rain, but it was a little different when it became snow. I was thinking, “Hey, hey, hey, what is this?” It was quite a shock.

When Shibutani took off at 28 km what did you think?
Well, I didn’t really think Shibutani was the kind of runner who could run away from us, so I thought he was going way too hard. Sometimes when things get difficult you go faster, and the way he took off that’s how it seemed. The pack seemed to have the consensus not to go with him but just to spend some time gradually reeling him back in without working too hard. Somehow you just instinctively know, “This guy’s not going to be able to keep that up.” If you react to those fake surges every time you just waste energy, so I stayed at the back of the pack where it’s easiest to run and observed what was going on.

From 30.5 km to Tsukuda Bridge at 36 km the race was very tense. You were constantly looking around at the other runners.
I kept wondering, “Who’s got the most left?” My legs were in bad shape, so actually everybody else looked good. (laughs) I thought I might finish last out of that pack and I was trying to figure out which place I would come in. My mind was a bit fuzzy at that point so when I was looking around I couldn’t count the numbers very well. I had to concentrate on counting, “1, 2, 3, 4…” Rachid Kisri was the one I was most concerned about. A veteran like that, at that age, running a 2:06, someone like that has a lot of skill at running the marathon. I kept wondering, “How is Kisri reacting?” and kept an eye on him. He was always looking for the best way to position himself in the pack, and I thought following him would be the best way to save energy.

At the 35 km water station you almost fell twice. What was going on?
At 35 km my legs were getting bad, but this was more about my mind not working right at that stage. I had completely forgotten that the elite water stations were every 5 km. When I saw it I thought, “Oh, a water station.” My drink was on the second table so it came pretty quickly and I had to react. It was pretty hard to move fast enough and I lost my balance and almost fell. This time I barely got any of my drinks. My hands were so cold that I couldn’t pick up the bottles, and then I started forgetting that the water stations were coming.

With the weather this year people like Kensuke Takahashi and Julius Gitahi started losing contact with the lead pack after only about 3 km. Was there anyone you were surprised not to see in the pack in those late stages?
The only person who surprised me was HIM. Yuki Kawauchi. [an amateur runner] More than being surprised that someone wasn’t there, I was surprised that he WAS there. At first I was thinking, “Hey, it’s Kawauchi. Hmmn, I wonder how long this kid’s going to last?” (laughs) Then he was there until the very end! He has a lot of guts in the marathon. He was the biggest surprise.

Masakazu Fujiwara was feeling great this time. Were you surprised by that?
At the New Year Ekiden this year he ran 1:03:40 or 1:03:50 [for 22.3 km]. I only beat him by about 10 seconds, so I knew that he was coming into Tokyo in good shape. He hasn’t been able to run properly for seven years because of injuries, but he’s still a great runner so I knew I should look out for him and in the end he beat me. Right when I was drinking at 40 km and feeling the worst he attacked, so for a minute there I thought it was over. Nobody else really tried to chase him, so I decided, “OK, let’s just work with what we have,” and then tried to go after him. It was a pretty dangerous moment, but I bet on the side of my legs surviving. After finishing I had a little regret that I should have gone with him earlier.

Passing somebody like Sato with a km to go, you must have felt some stress about staying ahead of him the whole way.
I don’t think the last spurt in a marathon is about how much speed you have so much as how much endurance you have. I don’t have the kind of 5000 m speed Sato does, but in the marathon not having that kind of top-end speed isn’t really a disadvantage. Everyone says, “Fujiwara doesn’t have any speed, he just runs marathons,” but I think, “Well, that’s OK, isn’t it?”

You didn’t manage to win this one, but do you feel satisfied with your run? What will you take away from it?
Of course I’m really disappointed I didn’t win, especially to someone else named Fujiwara. But my legs really hurt this time, like to the point where I didn’t know if I was going to crash or not, so I think finishing 2nd in that kind of condition was the best I could hope for. On that point, I’m pretty happy, but at the same time now I wish I could have gone with Masakazu. Next time.

Click here to read the rest of Fujiwara's post-race interview along with other JRN exclusives.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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