Skip to main content

Fujiwara Aiming for 2:06 in Berlin as Fall Marathon Season Gets Underway

by Brett Larner

This weekend marks the real beginning of the fall marathon season. With no major domestic women's marathon on the fall calendar and a relatively wide window in which to qualify for next summer's World Championships, a larger than usual number of Japanese marathoners are lining up overseas.

First and foremost, 2010 Tokyo Marathon winner Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) will be running tomorrow's Berlin Marathon as he aims to fulfill his post-Tokyo promise of delivering Japan its fourth 2:06. Fujiwara holds the Japanese collegiate and debut marathon records thanks to his 2:08:12 run at the 2003 Biwako Mainichi Marathon. For the next six years he suffered a continuous series of overtraining-induced injuries, but his Tokyo win signals that he is back to full capactiy. Fujiwara's coaches Kiyoshi Akimoto and Yosuke Osawa told JRN that he plans to go through halfway in 1:03:15 and then if all goes well to take a shot at the Japanese national record of 2:06:16. Also in Berlin are 2009 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon winner Akinori Shibutani (Team Kurosaki Harima) and, in the women's race, 2006 Vienna Marathon winner Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya). Morimoto, holder of the third-fastest PB in the field, is an exception to the rule on Tenmaya, a team notorious for its runners having an exceptional debut and then never approaching the same level. Morimoto has been free of both elements, relatively stable in the 2:24-2:26 range. She has not had the greatest year so far but a modest improvement in Berlin could be enough to put her up front.

Minoru Okuda, Ayumi Nakayama and Maki Suzawa in Toronto.

The same day as Berlin, three Japanese athletes will compete in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Fujiwara's junior teammate both at Chuo University and at Honda, Minoru Okuda, will run his marathon debut in Toronto. A solid half-marathoner in the mid-62 range and former Hakone Ekiden stage winner, Okuda is aiming for a 2:12. The Yamada Denki women's team has sent its two best runners to join Okuda, 2:28 woman Ayumi Nakayama and, in her marathon debut, 2009 Miyazaki Women's Half Marathon winner Maki Suzawa. Nakayama, in her fifth marathon, will be shooting for a PB while Suzawa, whose half marathon PB is two minutes faster than Nakayama's, hopes for a solid sub-2:30 debut. Meeting these goals gives either athete a shot for top five.

A few weeks later Morimoto's teammate Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) will be taking on the Chicago Marathon. Sakamoto is perhaps the most extreme example of the Tenmaya curse. With a 2:21:51 debut at the 2003 Osaka International Women's Marathon and her 4th-place finish later the same year at the Paris World Championships she was hailed as one of the top hopes for the next generation. Since then, with each passing year her times have slowed to the point of a 2:40:43 being her best mark in 2009. It's hard to see her lining up in a high-level race like Chicago if she is not ready for a major return to form, but history is against her.

Also in October, expect to see a number of Japanese elites at the Amsterdam Marathon. Rikuren officials have told JRN that this year officials will shift their federation program to send marathoners to compete abroad from the Beijing Marathon to Amsterdam in hopes of producing higher-quality times on a faster course with better conditions.

Following Amsterdam, the next Japanese athlete to the take the stage is Ottawa Marathon course record holder and two-time Tokyo Marathon runner-up Arata Fujiwara in November's New York City Marathon. A rare independent runner in Japan's corporate team-centered distance running world, Fujiwara hopes to become one of the few men to have broken 2:09 on the difficult New York course. His 2:09:34 course record on the equally challenging Ottawa course in May, Fujiwara's first time attempting a hilly marathon and the fastest of the year by a Japanese man thus far, has given him the confidence to go for something big in New York. A 2:08 seems realistic, but whether it will be enough for the win over a field which includes world record holder Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and 2009 World Championships gold medalist Abel Kirui (Kenya) remains to be seen. Strong showings by both Fujiwaras in Berlin and New York will no doubt cause confusion abroad.

Later in November four Japanese marathoners will represent the nation at the Asian Games in Guanzhou, China. Teammates Yuri Kano and Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) should be favorites in the women's marathon, where Shimahara is the defending silver medalist. Kano's lackluster performance in last week's Philadelphia Half Marathon and Shimahara's withdrawal from the same race due to fatigue raise questions about their fitness at this stage, but both have demonstrated the ability to return to form in short order. Second Wind runners typically dominate the Honolulu Marathon in December, so it would not be a tremendous surprise to see one of the pair resurface in Hawaii a few weeks after the Asian Games. In the men's race, the second- and third-fastest men of the year, Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) and Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN), should be in the hunt for medals. Sato is a remarkably consistent 2:09-2:10 man while Kitaoka had a good 2:10:51 debut at March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon.

The Japanese season wraps up with the Fukuoka International Marathon and Hofu Yomiuri Marathon in December. Look for details on the elite fields for these two races to surface in mid-November.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner

Comments

Anonymous said…
Hello, thanks for the wonderful summary.

Any idea what Atsushi Sato has been up to?
Brett Larner said…
My pleasure. No, I haven't seen Sato's name since Tokyo in February.

Most-Read This Week

Kiplagat, Ichiyama, Tadese and Shitara Lead Marugame Half Elite Field

The Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon is always one of Japan's deepest races of the year on the men's side, its 2012 running setting a world record for the most men under 64 minutes in a single half marathon in history. On the women's side the field is always smaller but still home to the 1:07:26 Japanese national record set by Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) back in 2006.

Edna Kiplagat (Kenya), Sara Hall (U.S.A.) and Betsy Saina (Kenya) lead the women's international field, two-time defending champ Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) giving Marugame a miss this year. Fresh off a 1:09:14 PB at last month's Sanyo Ladies Half, Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) leads a trio of Japanese women with recent sub-1:10 times, something that has become a puzzling rarity lately. Fukushi is also back, her recent best of 1:12:04 a long way from her best days.

Speaking of which, world record holder Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) will be looking to break 60 minutes for the first time since 2015. His toughest…

Kawauchi Outruns 103 Teams to Win Yashio Isshu Ekiden

2017 London World Championships marathon 9th-placer Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) gave local club and high school runners something to remember when he ran Sunday's Yashio Shinai Isshu Ekiden solo against 103 six-runner teams. Kawauchi spent most of the 20.0 km race in 2nd, briefly taking the lead at the end of the 3.9 km Second Stage before falling behind after a Third Stage course record run by Kotaro Minowa (Matsudo T&F Assoc.).

Down 13 seconds, Kawauchi came back to split a time 14 seconds faster for the 2.7 km Fifth Stage than its fastest ekiden runner, Yusei Otsuki (Kasukabe H.S. A). Now ahead of Matsudo and out front alone, Kawauchi saved his biggest running for last, dropping a 2:40 final km to split 14 seconds under the 12:34 course record for the 4.0 km anchor stage. Desperate to catch him, Matsudo anchor Shunsuke Matsui went 6 seconds under the old record to become its official new holder but couldn't match Kawauchi's closing speed.

Kawauchi's…

Cheboitibin, Kiprono and Sonoda Top Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Elite Entries

With just over two weeks to go the organizers of the Feb. 4 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon have released their elite field for this year's race. With its history as an elite men-only race Beppu-Oita's women's field is still tiny given its status as an IAAF silver label race, but this year promises a good race between two local 2:32 women, 2016 winner Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) and Yuka Takemoto (Canon AC Kyushu), that should see the 2:39:57 course record fall. Defending champ Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) also returns with a 2:38:43 PB from last fall that puts her range of the course record as well.

The men's race is heavier-duty, with a spot in the MGC Race Tokyo Olympic Trials available to the top Japanese man under 2:11:00 and to up to five others if they clear 2:10. Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) and Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) are the only Japanese men in the field to have run those kinds of times in the last couple of years, and with support from 2:09~2:10 men