translated by Brett Larner
A twelve-year blank behind her, she is back in the world where what matters most is the passing of the tasuki from one to another. 36-year-old Saori Abe of Miyazaki ran in the Nov. 3 East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships for the Nihon Chemicon women's team. "I may be the oldest one on the team but I'm running with the spirit of a newcomer," she said after the race, the beads of sweat running down her face welcome and refreshing.
Abe is a native of Tahara, Aichi. After graduating from Seisho H.S. she joined the Yutaka Giken corporate team in Hamamatsu in 1995, where she ran in the National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships. In April, 2000 she married Honda Hamamatsu runner Nobuharu Abe, 41, and quit the team to focus on her work at the company. However, in those days women continuing to work after getting married was not yet a common part of the corporate culture, and, unable to receive permission from the company, she was left with no choice but to retire her position.
Despite this, she continued running. In the evenings she would train with her husband at a nearby track. She took on the full marathon, winning the 2002 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia in 2:37:48. Even as an amateur, she had found a way to go on.
Early this year on an otherwise ordinary day, Abe's phone rang. It was a call from Nihon Chemicon head coach Yuji Mori, who was looking for a road-ready runner to take over a spot on the six-woman team made available by a retiring team member. Mori had previously been at the Hamamatsu-based Suzuki team and at that time had seen Abe train. "She was bright, cheerful, and focused," he said, recalling his impressions of her. Mori had not forgotten Abe, and now on the phone he was offering her the chance for a comeback.
Seizing the chance to step back out into the sunshine, Abe left her husband behind in Hamamatsu and in April went north alone to Nihon Chemicon's base in Miyazaki. Training together with women up to 18 years younger than her, Abe accumulated mileage of 1200 km a month. "She has a wealth of experience to share, and the other athletes love her," beamed Mori.
The first big target was the ekiden on the 3rd. A week before the race Abe strained her back, but with Chemicon having only the absolute minimum number of runners necessary for the ekiden, six, there were no alternates. She had to run. Dealing with the pain, she ran 10:35 for the 3.1 km Second Stage. "The pain was no excuse," she said. "I wasn't strong enough." The team finished in last place, 12th of 12, but still qualified for December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships. Despite the disappointment in her words, there was still a break in the clouds somewhere on the horizon.
Abe is now deep into her second career as an athlete. "In terms of my age, I know that there's not that much ahead of me," she said, "but I want to make the most of the time I have while I can." At the Dec. 16 National Championships on Nihon Chemicon's home ground in Miyagi, she is ready to give it all.