by Brett Larner
Japan's road season got into swing this weekend with two large road races and two competitive ekidens.
At the Fukuoka Prefecture Road Championships in Omuta, Kyushu, Yuya Konishi (Team Toyota Kyushu) won the 10-miler in 48:00, one of the fastest winning times on record at the race. The rest of the top ten went under 48:30 as well, making for an outstanding tight race. Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) won the women's 5 km for the second year in a row and took advantage of the ideal temperatures to set a course record of 15:51. Runner-up Yuka Miyazaki was 44 seconds behind. Local boy Yuki Koga (Omuta H.S.) won the high school 10 km in 31:29.
At the other end of the country, the Sapporo Half Marathon, not to be confused with July's Sapporo International Half Marathon, saw 12,003 finishers led by Toshiaki Nishizawa (Komazawa Univ.) in 1:05:07 and Mika Sawa (Bukkyo Univ.) in 1:16:10.
Across the world, Japan-trained Kenyans Martin Mathathi (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Lucy Wangui Kabuu had their second pair win in less than a month as they won the Great Edinburgh Run 10 km in 28:03 and 32:28. Mathathi's time was a course record despite rainy conditions.
Back in Japan, the high school ekiden season got rolling with the 31st Nihonkai Ekiden and 26th Kurayoshi Girls' Ekiden, both held in Kurayoshi, Tottori. Sera H.S. won the seven-stage, 42.195 boys' race in 2:04:28 on the strength of an outstanding 22:30 stage record run on the 8.0875 km Fourth Stage by Kenyan ace Charles Ndirangu, who came from behind to overtake frontrunning Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. and build a lead that was never cracked. Nishiwaki Kogyo's anchor came within two seconds of catching Sera at the finish but could not quite pull it off, surely a frustrating result for the team as its runners on the first three and final three stages all ran faster than Sera's and their Fourth Stage runner had the fastest time on the stage by a Japanese runner. Ndirangu looks set to follow in the footsteps of Sera alum Bitan Karoki as one of the most impressive Kenyans to have come out of the Japanese system in recent years.
The five-stage, 21.0975 km girls' race was even more dramatic. After a superb 18:56 stage record by Yuka Ando on the 6 km First Stage, Toyokawa H.S. led for the first three stages before its fourth stage runner suffered a major breakdown and was run down by defending national champion Kojokan H.S. and the always-strong Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. Kojokan's anchor on the 5 km Fifth Stage likewise suffered a breakdown to put Ritsumeikan Uji into first, but Toyokawa anchor Beatrice Murugi ran a stage record 15:58 to try to retake the lead from Ritsumeikan Uji's Nanako Kanno. In a dramatic photo finish Kanno just outleaned the Kenyan to hang on for the win, both Ritsumeikan Uji and Toyokawa clocking 1:09:16. Toyokawa held on to 3rd in 1:09:40.
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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