Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Toyo University Takes Eight Minutes Off Hakone Ekiden Course Record In Historic Win

by Brett Larner

click here for Day One report and results
click here for a breakdown of records set at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden

Toyo University anchor Takashi Saito ten seconds from history at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden. All photos by Julie Setagaya. Click photo for more.

Toyo University brought in the New Year with inspiration, reaching up beyond themselves to take the Hakone Ekiden to another level in its 88th running. Last year we called Waseda University and Toyo the two best university teams ever assembled, Waseda’s first-ever sub-11 hour clocking for the two-day, ten-stage, 217.9 km Hakone course a historic achievement. Like the Kenyan marathoners of 2011, this year Toyo redefined what was possible, refusing to settle back and run conservatively, attacking each stage to take an incredible 8:15 off Waseda’s 2011 Hakone course record, running 10:51:36 to become the first school ever to average under 3:00/km for the entire course, its ten men averaging 2:59.4 per km, an average of 1:03:05 for a half marathon for all ten men on the team. Only ten American men, all pros, ran that fast for a half marathon in all of 2011.  Six Toyo men won their stages, two of them in record times. Runner-up Komazawa University very nearly became the third school to ever break 11 hours with a school record of 11:00:38, but even so it was over nine minutes behind Toyo, so far as to be a distant afterthought. 3rd and 4th place Meiji University and Waseda ran times good enough to win most Hakone runnings but were both more than ten minutes away from Toyo. How was it possible?

Yuta Shitara on the way to the Seventh Stage record.

Toyo led Day One all the way from the Second Stage, its first-year Masaya Taguchi winning the Fourth Stage and its star senior Ryuji Kashiwabara taking 29 seconds off his own 864 m climb Fifth Stage record to give Toyo an incredible 5:05 Day One course record. With an all but unbreakable lead Toyo could easily have run Day Two safely, but instead head coach Toshiyuki Sakai told the Toyo men to give it everything, to go for the Day Two course record, and every runner Toyo fielded responded, four of them winning their stages. Sixth Stage runner Takanori Ichikawa won the 20.8 km, 800m downhill stage in 59:16, missing the all-time top ten by one second. Sophomore Yuta Shitara, 2nd at November’s Ageo City Half Marathon in 1:02:35, incredibly took away 27:38 runner Yuki Sato’s record on the 21.3 km Seventh Stage, clocking 1:02:32 and earning JRN’s pick for Hakone MVP. Eighth Stage runner Kento Otsu, 3rd in Ageo in 1:02:43, came painfully close to taking the 15-year-old record on his stage, Hakone’s oldest, missing by 7 seconds but still running 1:04:12 for a hilly 21.5 km. By 3 km into Otsu’s run guest commentator Toshihiko Seko could only splutter about how in ekidens when you had a lead you were supposed to run conservatively and then speed up near the end, not go out at course record pace on every stage. His words perfectly described the difference between today’s Japanese and Kenyan marathoners. With Toyo head coach Sakai among the youngest on the Kanto circuit you’d like to think that that’s not a coincidence, that Sakai is aware of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Tanaka gets water and advice from Coach Sakai. Photo by Ekiden Mania.

The only flaw in Toyo’s day came on the Ninth Stage, where last year’s stage winner Takaaki Tanaka cramped up and finished only 6th on his stage. Anchor Takashi Saito, not one of the team’s major powers, needed a big run to break the 3:00/km barrier, and he came through with a 1:09:45 for 23.1 km, the all-time fifth-best mark on the stage. Toyo took Day Two in 5:26:51, breaking Komazawa’s Day Two course record by 1:56. Combined with its Day One record Toyo took a full 8:15 off the total Hakone record. Team captain Kashiwabara, a native of Iwaki, Fukushima, said in an interview that he partially blamed himself for Toyo’s 21-second loss to Waseda last year since he underperformed on the specialty Fifth Stage, but as a team the Toyo men vowed to work together to bring their best, 21 seconds being just over 2 seconds each between the ten of them. Somehow, through teamwork, camaraderie and a sense of positivity and enjoyment notably different from teams like Komazawa and Waseda, Toyo’s runners translated that into an improvement of just over 2 seconds per kilometer each. Even without the advatantage Kashiwabara gave them, an edge they lose with his graduation this spring, they could have won with a course record. This, truly, was the best university team ever assembled.

What happened further back is almost not relevant, despite great efforts from most of the teams. Six schools besides Toyo set overall school records, with Komazawa moving up to all-time #3 and Meiji #4 despite a controlled anchor run from injured 27:44.30 collegiate 10000 m record holder Tetsuya Yoroizaka. Beyond the top four, 5th place Aoyama Gakuin University and 6th place Josai University both scored their best-ever placings, Juntendo University and Yamanashi Gakuin University both returned to the seeded top ten, and Chuo University and Koku Gakuin University both held on to their seeded positions despite great confusion caused by thirteen teams starting in the ten-minute handicap start on Day Two.

Komazawa’s Shinobu Kubota deserves credit for breaking Toyo’s streak of stage wins, the only man to beat a Toyo runner after the Third Stage with an all-time fifth-best 1:09:06 for the 23.2 km Ninth Stage. Kanagawa University’s Shun Suzuki had what is sure to become a classic Hakone finish, falling just before the Ninth Stage handoff while trying to beat the 20-minute white sash cutoff, just getting up and handing off as the gun went. Chuo anchor Junichi Shioya also gets props for a gutsy run that saw him almost falling down with one km to go, then repeatedly surging to try to beat Aoyama Gakuin and Juntendo anchors Ryotaro Otani and Kazuma Ozawa, ultimately losing but still finishing 2nd overall on time.

But what will remain is the image of Toyo’s fearlessness, its willingness to risk what it had in pursuit of something more instead of settling back and saying, “This is good enough.” And to let themselves feel good about doing a good job. If Kashiwabara and the other graduating members of his generation take this attitude with them to the corporate world and on to the marathon, Japan may just see a return to past days of success and beyond. For the Hakone Ekiden, the world’s biggest, most-watched distance race, does Toyo’s 2012 run represent a mark like Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record, something that will be untouched for a long, long time? Not likely. Kashiwabara constituted roughly a three-minute advantage for Toyo. Take that away and spread it out over ten men and with a normal Fifth Stage runner it would take each man averaging less than one second per km faster than Toyo this year to break its mark, even less if nobody had a bad day like Tanaka. Not easy, but not out of range. Looking at how quickly Komazawa and Meiji came up this year to approach Waseda and Toyo’s performances last year you have to feel that other teams will see this the way they should, to look at Toyo’s aggressive pursuit of being the best and say, “We can do that too.”

For everyone who didn't see this year's Hakone Ekiden in person, on TV, or online from overseas, there's only one thing to say.

2012 Hakone Ekiden Day Two
Hakone-Tokyo, 1/3/12
five stages, 109.9 km
click here for complete results

Top Stage Performances
Sixth Stage (20.8 km)
1. Takanori Ichikawa (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 59:16 (all-time #11)
2. Tatsuya Sato (2nd yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:25
3. Shuhei Shirota (2nd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 59:34

Seventh Stage (21.3 km)
1. Yuta Shitara (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:02:32 - CR
2. Wataru Ueno (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:29 (all-time #7)
3. Hiroyuki Sasaki (3rd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 1:03:37 (all-time #10)

Eighth Stage (21.5 km)
1. Kento Otsu (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:12 (all-time #2)
2. Fuminori Shikata (2nd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 1:05:23
3. Yuki Arimura (1st yr., Meiji Univ.) - 1:05:25

Ninth Stage (23.2 km)
1. Shinobu Kubota (2nd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:09:06 (all-time #5)
2. Yuki Maeda (3rd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 1:10:41
3. Katsunori Watanabe (4th yr., Teikyo Univ.) - 1:10:57

Tenth Stage (23.1 km)
1. Takashi Saito (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:09:45 (all-time #5)
2. Junichi Shioya (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 1:10:33
3. Kazuma Ozawa (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:10:57

Overall Team Results
ten stages, 217.9 km
1. Toyo University - 10:51:36 - CR (8:15 off old record)
2. Komazawa University - 11:00:38 (school record, all-time #3)
3. Meiji University - 11:02:50 (school record, all-time #4)
4. Waseda University - 11:03:10
5. Aoyama Gakuin University - 11:08:46 (school record)
6. Josai University - 11:10:17 (school record)
7. Juntendo University - 11:11:15
8. Chuo University - 11:11:17
9. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 11:12:38
10. Koku Gakuin University - 11:13:42
-----top ten schools seeded for 2013
11. Kokushikan University - 11:16:47 (school record)
12. Tokai University - 11:17:14
13. Teikyo University - 11:18:58
14. Takushoku University - 11:20:21
15. Kanagawa University - 11:20:22
16. Jobu University - 11:20:43 (school record)
17. Kanto Region University Select Team - 11:21:36
18. Chuo Gakuin University - 11:21:41
19. Nittai University - 11:22:26
20. Tokyo Nogyo University - 11:44:16

Day Two Team Results
five stages, 109.9 km
1. Toyo University - 5:26:51 - CR
2. Komazawa University - 5:29:10
3. Meiji University - 5:32:44 (school record, all-time #9)
4. Waseda University - 5:33:18
5. Juntendo University - 5:34:02
6. Chuo University - 5:34:11
7. Aoyama Gakuin University - 5:34:48 (school record)
8. Teikyo University - 5:37:04
9. Takushoku University - 5:37:32
10. Josai University - 5:38:00
11. Tokyo Nogyo University - 5:38:14 (school record)
12. Koku Gakuin University - 5:38:40
13. Kokushikan University - 5:38:53 (school record)
14. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 5:39:27
15. Chuo Gakuin University - 5:39:45
16. Jobu University - 5:41:10 (school record)
17. Kanagawa University - 5:41:57
18. Tokai University - 5:42:20
19. Nittai University - 5:45:38
20. Kanto Region University Select Team - 5:46:28

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2012 Julie Setagaya except Tanaka/Sakai photo (c) 2012 Kazuyuki Sugimatsu
all rights reserved

11 comments:

Colin said...

Thanks for the great previews, reports, and the twitter commentary, Brett. I've never followed Hakone before, but found this really interesting. There's no way that it would have been comprehensible without your commentary.

Brett Larner said...

My pleasure, Colin.

Toyo's ten men at Hakone this year, their stage lengths and times followed by a simple flat conversion of their pace to a half-marathon. Following that, for comparison, the top ten American half-marathoners of 2011.

Toyo Univ. 2012
1st-Hiroyuki Uno 1:02:34 (21.4k) -> 1:01:41 half
2nd-Keita Shitara 1:08:04 (23.2k) -> 1:01:54 half
3rd-Kenji Yamamoto 1:02:43 (21.5k) -> 1:01:33 half
4th-Masaya Taguchi 54:45 (18.5k) -> 1:02:26 half
5th-Ryuji Kashiwabara 1:16:39 (23.4k w/864m climb) -> 1:09:06 half uphill
6th-Takanori Ichikawa 59:16 (20.8k w/~800m descent) -> 1:00:07 half downhill
7th-Yuta Shitara 1:02:32 (21.3k) -> 1:01:56 half
8th-Kento Otsu 1:04:12 (21.5k) -> 1:03:00 half
9th-Takaaki Tanaka 1:11:06 (23.2k) -> 1:04:39 half
10th-Takashi Saito 1:09:45 (23.1k) -> 1:03:42 half

American Men 2011
Galen Rupp 1:00:30 NYC Half
Mo Trafeh 1:01:39 Zhuhai Half
Bobby Curtis 1:01:53 R'n'R Philly Half
Meb Keflezighi 1:02:17 R'n'R San Jose Half
Ryan Hall 1:02:20 Houston Half
Patrick Smyth 1:02:32 Houston Half
Fernando Cabada Jr. 1:02:32 Gary Bjorklund Half
Chris Barnicle 1:02:45 Philly Half
Fasil Bizuneh 1:02:47 Houston Half
Jason Lehmkuhle 1:02:49 Houston Half

Phil said...

Fantastic as always, Brett. Thanks for your coverage and commentary.

An amazing race with lots of the drama: Aoyama Gakuin's Deki in Stage 2 as he relentlessly moved up the pack;
Yamamoto and Yazawa duelling in Stage 3; Kashiwabara's triumphant run up the mountain for one last time.

It was good to see Kokugakudai keep their seed ranking (I will forever be a fan after Terada's thrilling finish last year). Chuo's Shioya showed so much heart at the finish in trying to spurt past his group even though his legs had already given out. More heart is what the NY's day Jitsugyodan race is lacking; good to see that it seems to be thriving in the college ranks.

I look forward to watching the もう一つの箱根駅伝 this Sunday on Nittele!

Brett Larner said...

Thanks, Phil. Yamamoto vs. Yazawa was my personal favorite part. Kashiwabara won MVP again for his CR, but I think Yuta Shitara getting the 7th Stg record is bigger news. No real surprise that Kashiwabara is stronger than when he was a sophomore or that Cosmas was able to get the 3rd Stg record as a senior, but Yuta Shitara as a sophomore taking away Yuki Sato's junior-year record? We never would have imagined it.

Actually, it's interesting to look at the results from Ageo and Hakone side by side. Cosmas Ondiba won Ageo and set the 3rd Stg. record in Hakone. Yuta Shitara was 2nd in Ageo and set the 7th Stg. record. Kento Otsu was 3rd in Ageo and missed the 8th Stg. record by 7 seconds.

Dan said...

Fantastic coverage, Brett! I totally agree with your point about how refreshing it was to see a team not settle for good-enough. A great run by Toyo.

Brett Larner said...

Two interesting things about Toyo's preparations for Hakone came out of the "Mo Hitotsu no Hakone Ekiden" documentary yesterday.

-Coach Sakai said that everyone always focuses on 3 min pace as a target in Hakone, but he told the Toyo runners to think in terms of a number starting with 2:**.

-9th stage runner Tanaka, one of the seniors Toyo loses this year, said that they couldn't have won '09 and '10 without Ryuji Kashiwabara, and that since Toyo lost last year by 21 seconds and Nationals by 32 seconds with Kashiwabara winning his stage both times it meant that everyone else on the team had to do more. This time, Kashiwabara's last university ekiden, he said, "We all wanted to work together and give Ryuji the win."

Anonymous said...

I heard that the top runner of the first day has the advantage of starting the race 5 minutes earlier than the rest on the second day of the race. Is this true? What time does the race start on both days?

Brett Larner said...

No, that's not true. The first team to finish the Fifth Stage starts first on Day Two. The remaining teams start Day Two in the order they finished with the same margin with which they finished Day One, up to a time limit of ten minutes. Any schools more than ten minutes behind the leader at the end of Day One start Day Two together ten minutes after the first team, with the difference added onto their running time.

So for example, if school B finishes Day One 3:45 behind school A they will start Day Two 3:45 after school A. If school C finishes Day One 10:30 behind school A they will start Day Two 10:00 behind school A, with 0:30 added to their running time to make up the missing 30 seconds. If school D finishes Day One 15:00 behind school A they will start Day Two 10:00 behind school A, together with school C but with 5:00 added to their running time instead of school C's 0:30. It's just an issue of road closure time limits. There is no bonus time given to the first team to finish Day One.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation, Brett. That friend also told me that the runner must reach the next station to pass his sash to his team-mate within 10 minutes. But when I looked up wikipedia, it says "within 20 minutes." I am confused.

Brett Larner said...

I think 20 minutes is right, although I'd have to look it up to be sure. It varies based on the ekiden and stage but I think that's right for Hakone.

Brett Larner said...

I was just playing with Toyo's numbers some more for some other work. If you take out the two mountain stages Toyo's average time drops to 2:58/km, an average of 1:02:38 for the eight remaining guys. Only seven Americans on the list above beat that time.