translated by Brett Larner
It was announced this week that Kenichi Jiromaru, 25, assistant coach with Oita's Tomei H.S. ekiden team, will be joining the powerful Tokyo-based Nissin Shokuhin corporate team in April. Having once before quit the running world only to find rebirth in Oita, Jiromaru is a runner of a different color who hopes that joining this year's New Year Ekiden national champion team will help lead him to his ultimate goal of racing in the national uniform.
Jiromaru was born in Tottori Prefecture. After running the Hakone Ekiden all four years that he was a student at Komazawa University he was somewhat discouraged thinking, "There are a million guys my level." He decided to quit the sport. Jiromaru took a position working at a fabric maker but found that he couldn't stop thinking about running and left the job after only a year. At around the same time he received an offer from fellow Komazawa graduate Hiroshi Inoue, the ekiden team head coach at Tomei H.S. in Oita, to join him as an assistant coach. Jiromaru accepted and became part of the team's staff last April.
As a chaperone in the ekiden team's dormitory Jiromaru began to life the same lifestyle as the high school students. Chief among his duties was to act as training partner for the team's ace Ikuto Yufu, one of the best high school runners in Japan. Running the same workouts as Yufu and others on the Tomei team, Jiromaru says, "helped my patience and inner strength to mature." He improved upon his university-era 5000 m PB by over 28 seconds, clocking a new mark of 14:10.30.
His big break came at October's Kyushu One-Circuit Ekiden. Running on the roads amid some of the best pro runners Jiromaru found he had command of a newfound drive. In all four of the stages he ran he took the stage best title, bathing in the brilliance of his performances. At the Oita Godo Half Marathon and National Interprefectural Ekiden in January he was again on top of the competition. Offers from jitsugyodan teams were quick to follow.
Of his year in Oita Jiromaru says, "My work with all the runners at Tomei may be over, but what they taught me was that to be an athlete you have to be willing to chase after your dreams." Coach Inoue voiced his support, commenting, "He's taking this chance with a hungry spirit. I want him to spread his wings wide and fly."