translated and edited by Brett Larner
The 47th edition of the Ome 30 km and 10 km Road Race is just around the corner on Feb. 17. Once again this year runners will pour in from across the country to take part, with 15000 entered for the 30 km and 5000 for the accompanying 10 km division. We profile five people from among the elites and amateurs who will pass through the early-spring streets of Ome this Sunday.
Ryuji Kashiwabara (23, Team Fujitsu) - Men's 30 km
The star of the Hakone Ekiden from 2009 to 2012, Kashiwabara is targeting an ambitious time of 1:30:30 in his 30 km debut. Earning the nickname "the God of the Mountain" through his heroics on Hakone's uphill Fifth Stage, Kashiwabara is now ready to take on the next stage of his career. Until now he has never run as far as 30 km in a race. "I want to take some chances in the race and try different things," he said. "I want to make it something that is going to help me build toward bigger things. Coach says I should go for 1:30:30, so that's the time I'll be shooting for."
With 85.8 m elevation difference and constant, rolling ups and downs the Ome course is a difficult one. Running it as a training run before his win at the 1981 Boston Marathon, Toshihiko Seko ran the fastest time ever in Ome, 1:29:32. Next in the record books is 1980 winner Randy Thomas' 1:30:44. If Kashiwabara runs as planned it will be the biggest men's result in over 30 years.
Kashiwabara's coach at the Fujitsu team, Tadashi Fukushima, 48, says that they have established a long-term plan to prepare Kashiwabara to run the marathon at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. "His first year [with Fujitsu] he will run 30 km. He will make his marathon debut in or after his second year. The tough ups and downs in Ome are made for Kashiwabara." His run in two weeks will be the first step in that plan.
At the New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships Kashiwabara finished only 4th on the 12.5 km Sixth Stage, but he showed great strength in starting out fast right from the beginning of the stage. As a student at Toyo University he won Hakone's Fifth Stage, 23.4 km with 864 m of climb, all four years, three in course records. If he can bring the same talent and power that commanded the attention of the entire nation to Ome there is no doubt that the world-class level will have drawn one step closer. "I'm not right on the edge of making my marathon debut yet," Kashiwabara said, "but I plan to get there before Rio. I have to find the secret of being competitive in flat races." Looking to upgrade from his "God of the Mountain" moniker, the Ome 30 km will be Kashiwabara's runway to the stars.
Masaki Ito (23, Team Konica Minolta) - Men's 30 km
Right now Ito is on a roll in the best shape of his life. In his New Year Ekiden debut on Jan. 1 he won the 15.8 km Fifth Stage to help lead the Konica Minolta team to its first national title in five years. A month later on Feb. 3 he ran a PB of 1:02:00 at the Marugame Half Marathon, 7th overall and the third Japanese man in the field. "The New Year Ekiden was good, but in Marugame I wanted to run 61," he says unhappily. "Missing it by one second is like an itch I can't scratch."
Nevertheless, Ito has grown through the good examples of some noteworthy role models. Running both for Kokushikan University and the Kanto Region Select Team, he ran the Hakone Ekiden three times, twice on its ace Second Stage. Last spring after graduating he joined the Konica Minolta corporate team, where he now trains alongside 5000 m and 30 km national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya, 32, and 2012 World Half Marathon Championships national team member Tsuyoshi Ugachi, 25. Watching some of the best athletes in the country train, Ito says, "I've been studying their running form." He has paid close attention to both their arm carriage and leg motion. Applying what he has learned to his own running, he has already seen results. "Compared to how I've run up to now," he says, "I have a lot less pain in my calves."
Ito's goal in Ome is the win. He is also burning with the desire to beat Kashiwabara, who was the same class year as him in college. Last year Ito ran 1:31:20 at the Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, showing that he has the potential. "I want to be internationally competitive on the track and on the roads," he says. "To help me get there I am totally focused on winning. I don't want to lose to either Kashiwabara or my other teammates." His first step on the road to follow the greatness of Matsumiya and Ugachi will come in Ome.
Kota Shinozaki (29, Tokyo Police Department) - Men's 30 km
Shinozaki wants to make it to the world level one more time. A policeman with great ambitions, he will return to Ome again this year. Running the 30 km last year with bib number 110 [the Japanese equivalent of 911, the police emergency phone number], Shinozaki finished 3rd to earn an invitation to run the Boston Marathon. Making his marathon debut there in 30 degree temperatures he ran 2:25:45 for 17th. "It was my first time racing overseas and my first marathon," he recalls. "I had never experienced the buildup to a marathon or the excitement right before the race before, and I want to feel that feeling again."
After graduating from Aoyama Gakuin University, thinking, "I want to do work that will help give the public a feeling of peace and safety," Shinozaki joined the Tokyo Police Department. He normally works in eight hours a day in a police station in Fuchu, but once or twice a week he must pull additional patrol duty. "I never know when it's going to be or what's going to happen, so it's always interesting," he says. After patrol duty, he always gets in one hour of running without fail. Including workouts with the Police Department team his normal monthly training is from 700 to 800 km. "In long-distance running it's important to keep training regularly," he says, having found a successful way to balance his work and training schedules.
Shinozaki's goal in Ome is to run close to the same time as last year's winner Hideaki Tamura (Team JR Higashi Nihon), 1:33. Having received a leave of absence from work duties with the rest of the Police Department team to focus on the New Year Ekiden, Shinozaki was given a special extension on his leave and he has been training specifically for Ome since mid-January. "Since they were kind enough to open up my work schedule and give me this leave to train I really want to come out of it with great results," he says. Bound by the need to repay his gratitude, Shinozaki is ready for the attack come Sunday.
Asami Kato (22, Team Panasonic) - Women's 30 km
Last year's women's winner Kato returns to the site of her big breakthrough. Having won May's Sendai International Half Marathon, she made last year's Japanese national team for the World Half Marathon Championships in Bulgaria in October where she finished 12th and helped the Japanese women win team bronze. "Winning in Ome last year showed me that I'm capable of racing with confidence," she says.
Now she wants to repeat last year's pattern in the marathon. Aiming for August's Moscow World Championships, Kato will make her marathon debut at the Mar. 10 Nagoya International Women's Marathon. Beginning in mid-January she trained for a month at altitude in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Running primarily on cross-country surfaces at 2000 m elevation she put in 1000 km before returning to Japan on Feb. 14. "I'm still jet-lagged, but give it a day or two and I'll be fine," she says confidently. "It won't affect the race. The first half of Ome is mostly uphill and the second half downhill. It's a tough course, but my only goal is to win again this year," she says. If she does, she will join 1988-89 winner Misako Fujii (Team Konica) as only the second woman in Ome's 47 years to win two straight races.
To help get a feel for the atmosphere of a national team selection marathon Kato ran as a pacer at November's Yokohama International Marathon. Assigned the task of splitting 16:55-17:00 per 5 km, she had no trouble doing the job. "I could feel that the level of tension was different from other races, and that was a big plus," she says. Yokohama was a hop, Ome will be a step, and in Nagoya she will take the jump up to the world level. With any luck she will be in flight come August.
Kanako Uemura (25, Ome City Hall) - Women's 10 km
In Ome City Hall there is a civil servant runner who can boast of national-level achievements. As a student at Kumagaya Joshi H.S. in Saitama, Uemura finished 5th in the 800 m final at the 2005 National High School Championships behind future Beijing Olympian Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki). After entering Saitama University she continued to compete on the track, but after graduating she retired from racing to take a job at Ome City Hall, a place totally unconnected to her life up that point.
What drew her to Ome was the Okutama Keikoku Ekiden. Running with some friends from university, she was inspired by the feeling of warmth from the crowds cheering along the streets and decided to look for work in the town. Comparing Ome to Fukaya, Saitama, where she was born and raised, Uemura smiles, "Even though it's part of Tokyo there is an incredible amount of nature. The first time I ever saw fireflies was in Ome."
Having come to Ome through its local ekiden, Uemura continued running as a hobby. On weekends she trains back at Saitama University with ten of her former teammates from her university days. Almost none of them have experience with long distance. "Back in the day we were always focused on times and there are a lot of tough memories, but now we are really having fun with our running," she says. Like "The Original," Yuki Kawauchi (25, Saitama Pref.), she is enjoying her running life above all else.
Before the race Uemura will be working as a volunteer to help with bib number pickup. After picking up her own number she be lining up on race day. "Running in Ome you can feel the real connection between people," she says. "It's a race you can truly enjoy." Having worked at Ome City Hall for three years, this will be her third time running. Ome's early-spring starting gun has come to be the moment she looks forward to the most each year.