translated by Brett Larner
On the 8th day of competition at the World Championships, August 17 in Moscow on a loop course starting and ending at Luzhniki Stadium, Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) ran 2:10:50 for 5th place. Faced with the impossible task of following the Africans' wild pace changes, he pushed on steadily at his own pace to continue Japan's eight-championship streak of finishing in the top eight. London Olympics champion Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) won in 2:09:51. Among the other Japanese team members, Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) was 14th in 2:14:29, Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) 17th in 2:15:25, and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't.) 18th in 2:15:35. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) was a DNF.
We talked to three prominent members of the Japanese running industry, former marathon great and current DeNA Running Club executive head coach Toshihiko Seko, Nippon Runners director and marathon broadcast announcer Tetsuhiko Kin, and Tsukuba University sports physiology department researcher Yasushi Enomoto, and asked for their impressions of the Moscow men's marathon.
In the marathon racing skill will get you the win, not your PB. -- Toshihiko Seko
I was really impressed with Nakamoto's racing approach. He had the experience from the Daegu World Championships and the London Olympics and was 6th in London, and I felt that he was running within himself, controlled and with a kind of dignity. I could sense that he had learned about himself inside-out, how to allot his pacing over the 42.195 km distance, how to use his body, how to use his soul. Right from the beginning he was up front and was clearly signaling that he was in it for a medal, but he still had some weakness at handling the changes of pace. If he can't overcome that then while he can certainly continue to shoot for the top eight I don't think he will have what it takes to go for a medal.
The other Japanese athletes didn't have the kind of races that would make them top-eight contenders. Kawauchi spent too much time running among the leaders too early and burned up too much of his energy. If he doesn't learn to take better care of his pacing like Nakamoto then he's going to keep ending up red-lining it. If you use energy unnecessarily like he did then you're just going to fade. Summer races are different from winter races and you can't get away with doing pointless things. Additionally, before the race Kawauchi himself was saying, "I'm not good in summertime races." You can't let yourself slip into making those kinds of classifications. Just having that sense that you have a weakness will make you lose your overall mental game. Whether it's summer or winter, it's still a marathon all the same.
If you look at the athlete who won, you can see that the marathon is not only about what kind of PB you have. If you compare him to the Ethiopian athletes there is a difference in their best times of over two minutes. Among the Japanese athletes as well, it was the same. Nakamoto had the slowest PB. It just shows that when it comes to the marathon, the way you develop your race is critical. Both of them kept themselves in good positions all the way. Racing skill will get you the win.
But that said, I want Japan's marathoners to keep improving their times. I don't think 2:08 is sufficient to compete internationally. We can't be satisfied with anything less than 2:06. If you're too far behind you can't ever get the kind of composure you need. You feel like you are just barely hanging on, and even in a slow race like this was it leaves you running from behind. Falling off a pace of 15:10 per 5 km is just unacceptable. So, in their winter races I want our marathoners to get as much experience as they can, to raise their games, and to seriously target competing against the rest of the world.
Proof that stability is the path to success. -- Tetsuhiko Kin
Nakamoto ran very well, to the point that you can legitimately feel that he's just a step away from a medal. He himself knew that he was strong in the heat and that he had the perseverance and fortitude to earn himself a medal if he could just take that step, so in that respect he has to be feeling some regret. There's still a gap in ability between him and the others up front, no doubt, but while you can't exactly be happy that he let it slip, the fact that he proved that even at this point in history Japanese runners are able to get close enough to brush a medal with their fingertips is indeed cause to be happy.
Nakamoto ran with the most composure of anyone there. More than the atmospheric temperature the strong sunlight was the key factor in making the conditions extremely hot, and he had carefully planned all the important details of his race right down to wearing a cap all the way to the finish. He had to think he had a chance. Rather than a high-speed race, this race developed as a survival race. The only thing that was disappointing was that he couldn't handle the final surge. It really felt like if he had one more chance he could finally get that medal. He has demonstrated that he has an extremely high aptitude for running the marathon's 42.195 km and I think he is right on the very cusp of becoming a medalist. It's only a question of whether he will be able to develop his closing speed. By showing his strength in a survival race like this, he proved that Japanese men can be part of the battle too.
Fujiwara, Maeda and Kawauchi didn't place well, but all of them showed perseverance in running down athletes who had gone out faster and faded. In that sense, overall it was roughly on the same level as last time in Daegu [where Japan won the team silver medal with Horibata, Nakamoto and Kawauchi scoring]. With regard to Horibata dropping out, that's very largely attributable to insufficient preparation time following his recovery from a stress fracture earlier this year.
Looking at the win, in terms of time the Ethiopian athletes were probably better, but in this kind of race your competitive instincts and drive are crucial and so in the end it was the Olympic champion who won. He understands very well how to win. He demonstrated that the deciding factor in a summer race is not speed but strength. If Japanese athletes take that to heart, plan for that kind of race and bring their best running, I think they will be right there for the medals.
At this point winter season marathons are often 2:04~2:05 races, but if our athletes can show stability in their running no matter what the circumstances or conditions, then, like the winner this time, Kiprotich, they will have a real shot at winning too. You might feel that speed and stability are mutually exclusive, but Nakamoto proved this time that stability is the path to success, and that was a great result for Japanese athletes to get out of these Championships.
We saw the true merits of the Japanese athlete. -- Yasushi Enomoto
This race showed the absolute best of the Japanese athlete. We carefully considered what to do if it was hot, what to do if it was cold, gathered as much information as we could about as many different past races as we could, stuck right to the flow of the race, and that all contributed to the good results we saw.
I think the best part of 5th-place finisher Nakamoto's race was how he handled the elevation in pace between 10 and 15 km. That's true of Kawauchi too, but when the pace increased Nakamoto went straight into a good position near the front of the pack and kept himself there for the rest of the race. The key factor was the pace increases, and as Nakamoto handled those well I think his 5th-place finish flowed from that.
If you're too anxious before the race then you can't bring out the best of what you have to offer, so it wasn't just a question of how much Nakamoto trained. He thoroughly understood himself and his own racing style, and he showed up on the starting line giving off an aura of self-confidence. When the pace increased you could see his inner composure, and when the lead group's pace slowed between 20 and 30 km the perseverance and patience he showed that are unique to Japanese athletes were crucial to the final outcome. Nakamoto said, "I can push through the second half," and that self-confidence helped him survive the final stages.
Temperatures at the start were reported as 24.4 degrees, and it's typically said that you can push the pace as long as it's under 25. When I saw how slow the race went out I had the impression that it must have been significantly hotter than that, that the athletes were feeling heat beyond just the atmospheric temperature. Heat is also determined by a sum total including humidity, sunlight and wind, and I plan to thoroughly study the data from this race to help develop counter-measures for the future.
We've identified some overlooked factors in handling the heat of a summer marathon, but with the late Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya) having run 2:06 in the hot Beijing summer Olympics marathon pessimism has arisen about Japanese athletes' ability to excel versus such a high-speed world standard even in difficult conditions. But with foreign athletes having struggled in this race, it allows us to revise our view and realize that they are not going to be unfailingly strong in a summer marathon. A pace of 3:05/km like in this race allows Japanese athletes to utilize their strength to advantage. I think it demonstrated that in a 2:09~2:10 race we can certainly be competitive.
In relation to the topic of coping with the summer marathon, in Japan there is an accumulation of knowledge of proper counter-measures for the heat. For example, this time our athletes wore lightweight caps with mesh affixed to the sides and rear and freely shared knowhow and participated in research on the ideal method for taking drinks at aid stations. If our athletes can approach 3 min/km pace in summer marathons, near the kinds of times they run in winter marathons, then I think their chances of winning medals will increase. Nakamoto's performance indicated this clearly.
On the other hand, the subject of how to deal with world-class races at under 3 min/km is the next challenge facing us. But looking at a range of research, I believe Japanese athletes can be competitive. We have incredible depth in our long-distance running, and with the ability for our athletes to continue training in the type of environment provided by the jitsugyodan corporate team system with which we are blessed, we'll be able to tackle the challenge. We definitely have a chance. Like Nakamoto did this time, being right there with the best in the world is the best habit we could get into.