"Amateur Kawauchi 3rd" by Daisuke Yamaguchi, Nikkei Newspaper 2/28/11
translated and edited by Brett Larner
Update: Reader vilagoiberia sent me a link to this video of the last 6.5 km of Kawauchi's run.
Kawauchi with his bronze medal, after regaining consciousness. Click photo to enlarge.
He did it, he's on the national team. At the Feb. 27 Tokyo Marathon, Yuki Kawauchi, 23, an administrative worker at Saitama Prefectural Kasukabe High School, ran 2:08:37 to finish as the top Japanese man and 3rd overall. In so doing he secured a place on the Japanese national team for this summer's World Championships in Daegu, Korea, earning joyful respect and praise from those connected to him.
Kawauchi began working for the Saitama Prefectural Government in April, 2009, taking a job as an administrator at Kasukabe High School, a special government-run school for those wishing to complete a high school degree while working. On a normal day he works from lunchtime to 9 p.m., meaning that he does all of his training in a two-hour block in the morning before leaving for work. He runs 600 km a month, roughly half the workload of a corporate team runner. Due to the time and location restrictions his schedule imposes on him Kawauchi is unable to have regular training partners and does almost all his training alone, but, he adds, "I chose this lifestyle, and the discipline helps me keep focused. It suits me."
After finishing 4th at last year's Tokyo Marathon he was approached by a number of corporate teams with offers, but he turned them all down. He hasn't yet thought about the implications and logistics of having made the World Championships but says he has no intention of changing anything about his lifestyle. "Even in high school," he says, "I couldn't keep up with the workouts, so I dropped out of the Japanese system. I want to do things the way I like, and it works for me. I showed them that even as an amateur you can still get it done."
Of the pivotal moment in this year's Tokyo, just before the 39 km point when he caught up to national champion corporate team ace Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) and 2010 Hokkaido Marathon winner Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable), Kawauchi says, "I didn't want to be sneaky and just ride along behind them when I caught them, so I told myself, 'If you've come this far you've got to keep going. There's no other choice.'" His stunning surge away from the better-credentialed pair, both sub-28 and sub-62 runners, drew gasps from the race announcers and a slow-motion replay. It also left him receiving medical attention after he crossed the finish line. "This was my sixth marathon, and the fifth time I've ended up in the medical area," he smiles. "Every time I run it's with the mindset that if I die at this race it's OK."
The students at Kasukabe High School call Kawauchi "clerk" like they would anyone else. Feb. 28 is entry application day, meaning that Kawauchi is due back at work 8:15 Monday morning to handle the applications. "I brought a suit with me so that I can go straight there. It's important work that only comes once a year."
Toshio Matsuda, 59, principal of the school, said that Kawauchi was very unhappy after running badly on the Saitama team at January's National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden. Despite being known as the guy who was "too good to be an amateur" thanks to an excellent university career and finishing 4th at last year's Tokyo Marathon, Matsuda said Kawauchi told him, "I'm not good enough to make the national team." When he heard the good news about Kawauchi's 3rd place finish, Matsuda said, "I was astounded. I'm so happy. I recorded the video and I can't wait to watch it when I get home," as happy as if it were his own accomplishment.
Kawauchi also earned high praise from Saitama Governor Kiyoshi Ueda, who commented, "He is improving through his own hard work, without the blessings of a corporate team or anyone else. Kawauchi is the Rocky of the marathon world."
During this year's Tokyo Kawauchi used a drink made for him by Kasukabe High School's cafeteria nutritionist, Koji Nakayama, 28. "I couldn't be happier," Nakayama said. "It's the deepest satisfaction I've ever had." At last December's Fukuoka International Marathon Kawauchi became fatigued partway through the race. "It's because you didn't have a special drink," Nakayama told him. "I'll make you one." In his New Year's card to Nakayama Kawauchi wrote, "I'd like to take you up on that." Nakayama began working on the drink, the final result of which made use of orange juice, honey and lemon juice. Kawauchi reacted positively to the drink, saying, "It's great. It goes down so easily that I never get thirsty." While Kawauchi was training for Tokyo Nakayama gave him the recipe so that he could make it himself whenever he needed it. "Every time I drank it during the race I got some life back," he said.
Kawauchi's younger brother Koki, a high school senior, came down to Tokyo with Yuki to watch the race. "I didn't think he could go this far," he said with excitement. "I want him to give it all at Worlds."