translated by Brett Larner
6098 people completed the May 26 Kurobe Meisui Half Marathon. First among them was the race's star invited athlete, civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi (26, Saitama Pref. Gov't), who set a new course record of 1:03:58 in taking the win. In 26-degree temperatures Kawauchi ran head-to-head against locally-based corporate team YKK's ace, Naohiro Yamada, 28. Suddenly taking off at the 13 km point, Kawauchi shot away from Yamada and ran all-out for the final 8 km to secure the win and record.
The race was Kawauchi's fifth half marathon this month, but despite the accumulated fatigue and the 26-degree heat he obliterated the 1:04:46 record set in 2010 by YKK's Tetsuo Nishikawa. "It was really hot out there," Kawauchi said afterward. "I drank at every water station." After finishing he poured cups of water over his head, thirstily gulping down Kurobe's famous local spring water.
YKK's "assassin" Yamada was thoroughly beaten. "At this kind of race, the local corporate team will usually put in one or two of its best ekiden runners," Kawauchi said. "YKK was playing for real this time, putting their best runner in." Last year Kawauchi finished 2nd to YKK's Nishikawa in Kurobe, and from long before this year's race he was itching for payback. At the 2007 Hakone Ekiden Kawauchi and Yamada were teammates on the Kanto Region University Select Team, Kawauchi representing Gakushuin University and Yamada running for Yamanashi Gakuin University. Lining up against each other this year in Kurobe it was a head-to-head race from the start.
The decisive move came at the 13 km water station. "After 12 km I could see that his upper body was starting to weave, so I took advantage of an uphill at the water station to hit him hard," Kawauchi said of his race-making surge. Instantly opening a lead, he kept up the attack and ran full-speed the rest of the way. "Nobody heckled me this time*, and I really appreciated hearing all the enthusiastic cheering from the people along the course. Once I had the lead I never looked back."
In the last 23 days Kawauchi has run five half marathons including Kurobe. "After my marathons in March and April I had a minor injury, but that's all sorted out now and there aren't any lingering problems. The Federation is leaving me alone and letting me do what I want, so that's nice too."
Having used his serial half marathons to develop his speed, next month Kawauchi will jump back into marathons starting with the June 2 Chitose JAL International Marathon. "Thanks to the athletes from YKK I was able to run a good time here in Kurobe," he said. "More than worrying about time, my goal next month will be to get comfortable with the marathon distance again." Everything is geared toward August's Moscow World Championships, where Kawauchi will run the marathon for the Japanese national team.
After finishing Kurobe Kawauchi was taken to the medical tent suffering from overheating, but once he recovered he was inundated with crowds of fans outside the entrance to the tent. Smiling, he posed for pictures and shook fans' hands, thanking them for their support. "I'm a much stronger athlete for having run this race," he told them. "I will definitely be back in Kurobe every year that my schedule lets me." Even as he stands on the brink of racing the best in the world Kawauchi is still thinking of the local races and people who helped him get there.
*Translator's note: Kawauchi has been heckled by a few people along the course in several recent races where he has underperformed.