interview by Tatsuo Terada
translated by Brett Larner
Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - PBs:
5000 m: 13:42.67 (2007)
10000 m: 27:53.55 (2010)
half: 1:01:47 (2009)
marathon: 2:09:03 (2011)
Daegu World Championships marathoner Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) never attracted much attention as a contender. In university he turned some heads for running in the 28:20`s for 10000 m, but he never won a Hakone Ekiden stage or a national title. After heading to the corporate team ranks he couldn't quite manage to break 28 minutes, and the Japanese national team remained out of reach. Once reaching his 30`s Oda made the jump to the marathon finishing February's Tokyo Marathon in 2:09:03, 4th overall and the 2nd Japanese finisher. His time put him at all time #3 on the Japanese marathon debut lists and finally scored him a place on the Daegu team. Coming in his eighth year as a corporate runner, what changes did Oda go through in his transformation to a marathoner, and what changes led to his 2:09:03 in particular?
Some people might point out that it's relatively "late" for someone to run their marathon debut in their 30's, but although that`s what you did you have said clearly, "I don't think that's true." For years as a corporate runner you worked on improving your 10000 m time. It looked as though you had stalled from 2005 to 2008, but you've said, "Those years were not a waste."
I've been able to get my body to the point where it's capable of handling serious marathon training, but the only thing about it is that it took me until my 30's. I hear people say that was probably a bit late all the time, but it doesn't affect me in the slightest. They say your body is at its strongest around age 25 but I don't think that's true either. For me it's only been in the last two or three years that I've become able to train really seriously. The glue is finally starting to take, and now is when I'm at my best.
Personally I don't think of the 10000 m and the marathon as separate things in particular either. I trained well, got the results, and so I knew my body was ready for the marathon. At the same time, looking at my marathon training, it increased my stamina base. Working on my speed on top of that base let me finally break 28 minutes last fall. If your training is solid some people can use that to get the results in the marathon, others to run 27 minutes. I think everyone's different that way.
I don't think the stagnation I had in the 10000 m was a waste. I think the years when I couldn't put out the times helped me develop my perseverance. Because I endured that period of time and I reached a point where I could really train well and that's why I am where I am now. I used the time to find out what worked best for me, and I think that's how I've come so far.
Your period of stagnation in the 10000 m was long, but from there you've suddenly broken out with a 27-minute PB and making the World Championships marathon team. That in itself shows some of your personal traits, but what other things in your career as an athlete have led up to this? Could you look back on your student years?
When I was at [Kanto Gakuin] university coach Moriyuki Nakata believed in setting down a solid foundation of mileage, so we did a lot of 30 km runs and slow distance training. I don't mean to say that we didn't do intervals, but it wasn't like after I entered the corporate team and we hit them hard all the time. I think the reason I was able to run in the 28:20's on that kind of training was that coach would add speedwork before important races. At the time I wasn't conscious that it wasn't enough speed training; I thought more, "If I do this training then it'll be fine." As far as speed went, I thought that when it came to the race if I could just keep going until the end then I could be competitive. I started feeling that way the fall or winter of my senior year of high school.
In university you won the Division 2 5000 m and 10000 m at the Kanto Regionals meet but couldn't manage to take a national title. It was the same later in 2003 when you first joined Team Toyota. Nevertheless, in your first and second years at Toyota you ran 10000 m PBs. Your second year there you broke the 2004 Athens Olympics B-standard, finishing as 3rd Japanese at the Hyogo Relay Carnival just behind big names Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) and Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku). It looked as though you had gotten to the point where a national team spot was in reach.
When I joined the corporate leagues I started doing lots of race pace intervals beginning at the start of spring, and I think that's why my 10000 m time improved. Even so, the next year when I ran 28:03.92 I didn't think I was capable of running a time at that level. At that stage I was just thinking of things in terms of working my way up the ladder and getting stronger, not to the point where I was seriously thinking about the Olympics or World Championships. I ran the National Championships every year to try to make the national team, but I didn't really believe I was strong enough to do it. I didn't think I was ready to go for it until 2008 or 2009. That was when I started doing the training that made me feel, "This will get me there."
But from 2005 your 10000 m time slipped a bit. It wasn't much, but it was enough to put the national team a little out of range. You also had some injury problems.
If I thought about it now I'd say I was "just doing the training." I had some Achilles pain and I don't think I was really consciously aiming for anything. It wasn't that I had given up on trying to keep getting better. I wanted to make the 2005 Helsinki and 2007 Osaka World Championships, but my training and my race results weren't matching up. Even when I ran trial races to see what I could do, when it came to the main event I couldn't run well.
I started having Achilles pain my third year at Toyota, 2005. I was stepping up my training each year, and as the fatigue accumulated the pain started to come out. Even when it hurt I kept on with the planned training and never really took any long period of time off, but in the winter of '05-'06 I finally got to the point where I couldn't train for two months. That's when I couldn't run in the New Year Ekiden. After that I had planned to run in the 2010 Tokyo Marathon, but after the New Year Ekiden that year I had pain in my Achilles and hip so my first marathon was a season late.
Even when you weren't in contention for the national team you stayed focused on moving up the ladder, and that must have been a source of competitive confidence. When your 10000 m times were flat from 2005-2007 you must have been impatient to make progress. In these circumstances at the National Championships 10000 m you finished 7th, 9th and 5th those years. That showed your persistence.
I've run in the National Championships every year since I joined Toyota. It's the most important selection race for the Olympics and World Championships, so if I hadn't run it I wouldn't have had any chance to make the national team. The point when I can't run them is the point when my upward progress is finished. That's why every year I've at least broken the qualification time to get into Nationals. No matter how bad my condition was, I've always had that as my minimum goal for the season.
It's the same even in years when there isn't an Olympics or World Championships. Even if it's not a selection race, the result is still the result. If you clear the qualification time it carries over to the next season, so in terms of helping to build confidence I think it's meaningful to go for that time no matter what. Even this year when I was confirmed for the marathon team I ran track in the spring and ran in the National Championships as usual [8th in the 10000 m].
When you were recovering from your Achilles troubles what were doing with regard to nutrition and supplements?
I became very careful about having a solid balance in my diet. I have breakfast at home and lunch at work, but I eat dinner at the dining hall as soon as possible after practice because there's a wide variety of food and I can choose a balanced menu. It's not really something drastic, but sometimes my hemoglobin count falls so I have to take measures to deal with that. I don't like it but I force myself to eat liver, and I take iron supplements too.
I started taking WGH Pro [Wheget Gluten Hydrolysate] two or three years ago. After exercising your glutamine level falls, and I knew that WGH Pro was an optimal aid in helping to replenish it. After 2008 I started increasing both the quality and quantity of my training, and as I've done intensive summer training and marathon-specific work I think WGH Pro has had an effect. On days when I'm doing key workouts I take it both after the session and before going to bed, and on easy days I take it just before bed. Recently they've improved the taste so it's easier to swallow.