translated and edited by Brett Larner
Two-time defending Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University's ekiden squad arrived in Yamakoshi, Niigata on Aug. 24 for a 5-day late-summer gasshuku intensive training camp. The 60 Toyo athletes attending the camp include the team's 12-member A-squad featuring captain Hikaru Tominaga and astounding Hakone Fifth Stage uphill specialist Ryuji Kashiwabara. On the first day of the camp 13 members of the team ran a rigorous speed workout. According to assistant coach Hisashi Sato, Toyo runners will average 30-40 km a day at the camp on the rugged and hilly roads around Yamakoshi. Tominaga commented, "The gasshuku in Yamakoshi is critical to our preparations and we can't afford to slack off here. The training is tough but knowing that it's all for Hakone keeps us motivated to give it everything we have."
Six years ago student volunteers from Toyo went to Yamakoshi in the aftermath of a serious earthquake to help with relief efforts, creating a strong bond between the town and the school. In 2008 the ekiden team held its first gasshuku in Yamakoshi the summer before its first Hakone win. Since then Toyo's ekiden squad has become a source of great local pride, with town residents supporting them as if they were native born and bred. Gasshuku leader Hisako Nagashima said, "Seeing how the people of Yamakoshi held together through disaster and emerged stronger and closer to each other has been a great inspiration for the Toyo runners. 'Yamakoshi Soul' is now the team's motto for its Hakone training."