translated by Brett Larner
Translator's note: This article came out a few days ago and covers the Tokyo Marathon two weeks ago, but I've been a fan of Okutani since Helsinki in '05 and didn't know he had run Tokyo. I had always hoped he would make it back.
Going his own way separate from the professional running world, Wataru Okutani (35, Team Subaru) ran his final race at last month's Tokyo Marathon. It has been nearly three years since Okutani's life as a professional runner came to a sudden halt. Okutani was the leader of the 2007 World Championships Japanese marathon team when he fell seriously ill and was forced to withdraw from the team. "With this race finished I can say with a free and clear heart that it's over," said Okutani. He now plans to dedicate himself to coaching the next generation of athletes.
As a student at Hyogo's Nishiwake Kogyo H.S., Okutani was a part of the school's National High School Ekiden Championships-winning squad. As a professional runner with Team Subaru he ran the Helsinki World Championships in 2005. He set his PB of 2:08:49 at the 2006 Fukuoka International Marathon to qualify for the 2007 Osaka World Championships, but in the spring of 2007 a ruptured colon led to complications which required major internal surgery and forced him to withdraw from the team. The effects of the surgery forced Okutani onto a restricted diet and led to chronic problems with anemia and diarrhea, leading him to retire last spring and become part of Subaru's coaching staff.
With this sudden end to his career, even in the depths of his forced retirement Okutani had a feeling of unfinished business and a lingering hope: "I want to cross the finish line in a marathon one more time." Along with 300,000 others he applied for the Tokyo Marathon general division lottery, and when he got in his chance had arrived.
On race day Okutani was not feeling well, and with the heavy rain and cold temperatures he faced considerable challenges. At 25 km his muscles began to seize up. Knowing that his wife and their pair of 2 year old twins were watching along with many of his friends, Okutani stayed on his feet and, although he was in great pain and had to walk repeatedly, made it to the finish line in 4:11:16. "I know that with my health the way it is now doing something this hard was dangerous," he gasped after finishing, "but finally, I'm satisfied."
The finish line behind him, Okutani is now focused on the future. "You can say that Japanese men's marathoning has gotten weaker, but I want to help bring up the next generation to be strong and confident in doing things in their own style." As a runner who stuck it out and made it through his own hard work, Okutani and his experience will be a leading role model for tomorrow's world-class runners.