translated by Brett Larner
The Sanyo Women's Road Race in Okayama will celebrate its 30th running on Dec. 23. Consisting of the Yuko Arimori Cup Half-Marathon and the Kinue Hitomi 10 km, Sanyo is an important domestic event for women looking to put themselves into the ring for an Olympic or World Championships team.
Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) is the best there is in today's Japanese women's marathon world. Her record in 2011 was scintillating. In her fifth marathon she won January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, then followed up with a 2:24:09 PB in London. Missing a medal by only 21 seconds, Akaba then finished 5th at August's World Championships, the top woman on the Japanese team. Having spent the last three years on the transition from the track to the marathon, in her mind Akaba can look at her progression with some satisfaction. "I'm picking up experiences and assimilating them one by one," she says. "Even the races where I couldn't get the results I wanted." She thinks back to the 2009 World Championships where she ran into trouble and finished only 31st, and the 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon where she ended up dropping out after leading the first half of the race at near course record pace. Such failures could easily have broken her spirit, but the fact that she has used each experience to move on to the next step shows the strength deep inside Akaba's core.
"Whenever I think of my daughter's smiling face it gives me a lot of power," says the 32-year-old mother. Akaba gave birth to her daughter Yuna, 5, in 2006. Following the birth Akaba's times improved dramatically, and she ran the 5000 m and the 10000 m at the Beijing Olympics. A mother's strength brought into play.
Akaba has a debt to pay to the streets of Okayama. In her first Sanyo appearance in 2005 she ran the 10 km. Encountering injury problems, she finished a heartbreaking 10th. "I have only unhappy memories of it," she admits. Since then, together with her husband/coach Shuhei, 32, like a two-person tripod, her career has grown, both her speed and stamina dramatically evolving to a higher class. Her half-marathon best of 1:08:11 makes her the all-time third-best Japanese woman over that distance. Now the favorite, there is no comparison to six years ago.
The Sanyo Half will finish off an excellent year. "My goal is to win in a time as close as I can get to the course record [1:09:20]," Akaba says. For this runner aiming for the podium at the London Olympics, it will also be the stage for the start of her assault on the world's best.
Translator's note: Akaba ran poorly at last weekend's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships, finishing only 21st out of 33 on the 10.9 km Third Stage. In Sanyo she will face strong competition from Japan-resident Kenyan Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko) and former half-marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), who is still the all-time second-best Japanese half-marathoner.