translated and edited by Brett Larner
In the wake of the accident at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the Mar. 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters, the TEPCO Group corporation suspended its men's ekiden team indefinitely, sending team members to Fukushima to help with recovery efforts. Even in such difficult circumstances, for some the situation has not meant the end of their running. Earlier this week it was annoucned that team leader Yoshihiro Wakamatsu had left TEPCO to join Tokyo-based 2010 national champions Team Nissin Shokuhin. With TEPCO not renewing its corporate league registration for the 2011-2012 season, another team member, Tomohiro Shiiya, 24, has chosen to follow a similar path to Tokyo Marathon hero Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) and run as a full-time-working amateur registered with the Tokyo Track and Field Association.
As a member of TEPCO's ekiden team Shiiya ran the ace Fourth Stage at the New Year Ekiden national championships in both of his first two seasons as a pro. At the April 23 Hyogo Relay Carnival he appeared in the Asics Challenge 10000 m, catching spectators' eyes as he ran clad in an ordinary singlet and shorts with no team logo. Although he didn't run in the Grand Prix heat against athletes shooting for this summer's World Championships, Shiiya's goal was to beat the corporate league runners and university men for the top Japanese finisher position. He ran an aggressive, frontrunning performance, and although he couldn't achieve his goal he ran a strong 28:58.33. His competitors could feel the energy he brought to the race, shaking his hand afterwards and telling him, "You did great, man."
Shiiya's run at the Hyogo Relay Carnival was the first by a TEPCO athlete since the team's suspension last month. The company has chosen to allow runners to race on an individual basis, but the winds of public opinion may be more severe. Some have said, "This isn't the kind of time when you should be racing." With no resolution to the nuclear accident in sight it's important to remain conscious of how the situation looks to the general public. Nevertheless, even though he can no longer run in the ekidens he had been targeting, Shiiya says he wants to keep racing because, "I love running. I still want to test myself and see how far I can go."
Needless to say, the demands of post-disaster work have impacted Shiiya's training and life as an athlete. Where TEPCO ekiden runners previously worked until 2:30 p.m. to have time to train they now work a full-time schedule, and the work itself has become more demanding, wider-ranging and more stressful. Shiiya now gets off work at 7 p.m. and then heads out for training, but it is not something he can do every day. In order to keep up his training volume he has become a running commuter like countless other amateurs, running the 5 km from home along the side of the road to work. However, since he is no longer registered as a corporate runner he is restricted from entering many races and this has made it difficult for him to choose his next competition and to set goals for the future.
Including two new members who had already signed contracts to join the team this spring, TEPCO's ekiden team includes 15 athletes. A person associated with the team commented, "There are people on the team who still want to run, to do their best and race, if they let the team get going again. I want to say that it's important for them to keep that feeling alive, but....." Fully aware that there is no end to the current situation in sight, no date when the team could reasonably be expected to be reactivated, his words trail off.
Born Sept. 27, 1986 in Chiba. Graduated from Tokyo Nogyo University before joining Team TEPCO. Following team's post-disaster suspension began to run as an independent amateur.
5000 m: 14:07.68 (Nittai Univ. TT, 4/18/10)
10000 m: 28:40.76 (Hyogo Relay Carnival, 4/24/10)
half-marathon: 1:02:59 (Tachikawa Akishima, 3/8/09)