translated and edited by Brett Larner
In the backdrop to west of Boulder, Colorado are the Rocky Mountains. Looking at the line of snow tens of thousands of years old painted red by the post-workout evening light, the surge of unexpected feeling is almost enough to bring tears to the eye. "I can train hard again now," says 2004 Olympic marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex). "It's good to be back."
The last time Noguchi put on a show of bravado in the marathon was at the Nov. 2007 Tokyo International Women's Marathon, where she set the course record of 2:21:37. Overcoming a blank slate of four years, two months, Noguchi is now once again ready to stand on the start line and face the full 42.195 km. This Sunday, Jan. 29 she will race the Osaka International Women's Marathon in search of a ticket to the London Olympics.
Noguchi pulled out from her planned Olympic title defense at the Beijing Olympics after suffering an injury to her left thigh. Recovery from that injury took her two years and five months. Thinking herself ready to return, Noguchi began racing again in October, 2010, but only two months later she suffered a stress fracture in her left ankle. "You want to move, but you can't. To a marathon runner not being able to run is the worst pain there is," said Noguchi. Her doctor ordered her to take a prolonged break, and walking and monotonous physical therapy became the staples of Noguchi's daily routine. The always-optimistic and positive Noguchi became dejected and morose, thinking, "That's it, it's over," and constantly complaining to her friends.
But even when her spirits were down she didn't give up. Constantly pushing her in the back were her coach Hisakazu Hirose, her devoted support crew, and the endless letters of encouragement from her fans. "Not being able to run only made me want to run more," she said. "I understood that I really love to run." Soon she was sinking herself into rigorously severe training on a daily basis, and the results are clear now as she appears renewed.
Last year Noguchi was 5th at both a road race in Holland in November and a half-marathon in Okayama in December. Rather than rousing forgotten fears, Noguchi takes a positive outlook on the results. "[Including an ekiden in October] I've gotten to the point where I can race three times in two months. Compared to the misery of not being able to run that's totally fine." Asked about whether her training has been productive, Noguchi's face lights up and her talk becomes more passionate. "It's not a question of whether or not I'm near my old form. I'm there. I'm going to be running full-strength, like it hasn't been four years, and I'm going to reach my goal of a place at the London Olympics." With such words of confidence flowing from her, it's clear that Noguchi truly believes she is fully back.