translated and edited by Brett Larner
Running along the banks of the late-fall Yoshino River and carried on by a wind of applause, 32-year-old Masahi Shirotake was the first of the 5799 finishers to break the goal tape at the Nov. 6 Tokushima Marathon, winning for the second-straight year and achieving a new course record of 2:24:49. Headed back toward the finish in the later stages of the race he looked forward to being greeted by the traditional awaodori dancers at the finish line. "The cheers from all the spectators were neverending and with a warmth that you can only find here," said Shirotake after the race. "It really feels great to run the Tokushima Marathon."
Shirotake was born in Konan, Kochi prefecture. In junior high school and high school he was a 1500 m runner, but he could never advance beyond the city-level qualifiers. After entering the elite Tokyo University's engineering department he began playing tennis, but, he laughed, "No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get any better." After finishing graduate school at Tokyo University he took a job with the Shikoku Denryoku power company, "so that I could work in an area with abundant nature like Kori, Shikoku." Initially having difficulty meeting people after moving to the area, Shirotake spend most of his days off from work out running alone to explore the area. At the Aichi Marathon he ran much faster than he expected and, deciding to focus on the full marathon, joined a local running club.
Once his goal was fixed he set out with characteristic determination and concentration to make it happen. "I wanted to improve time even just a little bit," he said of the increase in his training volume to 700 km a month. This year he has run four marathons. He set a PB in February and just two months later he was on the victory stand of an overseas marathon in New Zealand, showing the toughness lurking within him.
This year's Tokushima Marathon asked runners to write their hopes and prayers for the victims of March's disasters on their bib numbers. Shirotake wrote, "Let's keep looking upward as we walk on." "My message wasn't just to my friends in the disaster-hit areas, but to everyone in Japan," he said. "If we all stick together then we can reach our goal of reconstruction and recovery," he explained. Drawing strength from this message written across his chest, Shirotake succeeded in winning Tokushima for the second time.
Already busy with balancing the demands of both work and training for the marathon, Shirotake celebrated the birth of his second child in July. "I'm not usually able to help much with raising the children, so from the bottom of my heart I want to thank my family for their support in letting me run here. I can't wait to tell them that I won," he said, the gold medal held tight in his hand full of special meaning.