Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lake Biwa, Tachikawa and Tamana Ahead With Worlds Places at Stake

by Brett Larner

The end of the Japanese road season approaches with three big races on Sunday.  First is the last of the domestic selection races for Japan's World Championships marathon team, the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  With 2:05:13 man Vincent Kipruto (Kenya), 30 km world record holder Peter Kirui (Kenya) and 2012 Houston Marathon winner Tariku Jufar (Ethiopia) in the field Wilson Kipsang's 2:06:13 course record may be in reach, or at least the 2:06:50 winning time last weekend in Tokyo.  For the Japanese men the Federation has set a 2:07:59 hoop for a guaranteed place on the Moscow team, and the men have been jumping.  The main candidates for the team so far are:
  1. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:08:00 - PB (4th, Tokyo)
  2. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:15 - PB (1st, Beppu-Oita)
  3. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:08:24 - PB (2nd, Fukuoka)
  4. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:08:35 - PB (2nd, Beppu-Oita)
Given the recent upward trajectory in Japanese men's marathoning there's not much doubt that one Japanese man will get close to that kind of time, but, with London Olympics 6th-placer Nakamoto seemingly in a vulnerable position the question is how many.  Last year five Japanese men in Lake Biwa broke 2:10, two of them sub-2:09. This year there at least four good candidates.  London Olympian Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express), 2:08:44 in Lake Biwa last year, looks fit after a good run at the Marugame Half.  Tomoyuki Morita (Team Kanebo) debuted in 2:09:12 in Lake Biwa, right up there on the all-time Japanese debut list and with the potential for more. In just his second marathon at age 23 Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) ran most of last October's Chicago Marathon with Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein (U.S.A.), fading to 2:10:40 in the final kilometers but showing promise of a coming breakthrough.  Maybe the most interesting is 2012 National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University ace Shinobu Kubota, holder of a 1:01:38 half marathon and going for the 2:08:12 collegiate and debut marathon records.

The holder of those records, 2010 Tokyo Marathon winner Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda), is also on the entry list along with plenty of 2:09 men, 61-minute half marathoners and aging stars, making Lake Biwa the strongest of the 2012-13 domestic Japanese fields and its outcome unpredictable.  Click here for a detailed field listing, and click here for details on watching NHK's live commercial-free broadcast.  JRN will cover the race live via Twitter starting at noon Japan time.

While Kubota is racing Lake Biwa many of the other top Hakone Ekiden runners will be lining up in Tachikawa, Tokyo for the National University Men's Half Marathon Championships.  Although Tachikawa is the qualification race for the World University Games half marathon team, most of the best collegiates have traditionally skipped it in favor of going for the WUG track events later in the season.  Not so this year.  The entry list includes defending national university champion Toshikatsu Ebina (Teikyo Univ.), 2013 Hakone Ekiden stage winners Masaya Taguchi (Toyo Univ.), Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.), 2012 National University Ekiden Fifth Stage winner Yuki Arimura (Meiji Univ.), 2012 Izumo Ekiden Third Stage winner Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), 2013 World Cross-Country Championships team members Takumi Honda (Nittai Univ.) and Keigo Yano (Nittai Univ.), and other top-level men including Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), Duncan Muthee (Takushoku Univ.) and Shuhei Yamamoto (Waseda Univ.) all going for places on the Kazan team.  With a field of this quality it may well take a sub-62 to get the win.

Last year that was what Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei) did at the Tamana Half Marathon, soloing a 1:01:25 course record to briefly break into the Japanese all-time top ten.  This year World Championships marathon contender Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) makes it the next stop on his tour of the nation's races, facing Fukatsu's teammate Yoshikazu Kawazoe (Team Asahi Kasei) as his main competition.  The 10 km in Tamana is the only noteworthy women's race of the weekend, with defending champion Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) going for a record fifth win against 2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal), 15:32 collegiate Sairi Maeda (Bukkyo Univ.) and many more.  Look for start list updates on all three races as Sunday draws closer.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Junior Women Carry Japan's Hopes for World Cross Medal'

http://www.iaaf.org/news/news/junior-women-carry-japans-hopes-for-world-cro

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Maeda to Kawauchi: "Stop Making Fun of Corporate Runners"

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20130225-00000081-spnannex-spo
http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2013/02/26/kiji/K20130226005277520.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Kazuhiro Maeda (31, Team Kyudenko) ran a personal best 2:08:00 at Sunday's Tokyo Marathon to finish 4th overall as the first Japanese man in the race.  He missed the federation's sub-2:08 time standard for a guaranteed place on the World Championships team by just one second, but his ticket to August's Championships in Moscow is all but in his hand.  The driving force behind his aggressive run: pure anger.

Recently the "anti-corporate runners" Yuki Kawauchi (25, Saitama Pref. Gov't) and Arata Fujiwara (31, Miki House AC) have dominated the Japanese marathon world.  Kawauchi's words in particular have been radical to the extreme, such as, "I don't want to lose to ekiden runners who do marathons in their spare time."  At the 2011 Fukuoka International Marathon, after beating Maeda in 2:09:57 Kawauchi said, "It's pretty sad that this kind of time was good enough to be the top Japanese man.  I shouldn't be selected for the Olympics off a time like this."  Winning the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon earlier this month Kawauchi said, "I don't want to run an ugly, boring race, just trying to be the top Japanese man the way people have done for years now."  Two years ago in Beppu-Oita Maeda was the top Japanese man after running a relatively passive race.

Each time he read Kawauchi's words in the news, the fire inside Maeda started burning hotter and hotter.  "I'm putting everything I have into this too," he said.  "Stop making fun of corporate runners and talking about us like we're some kind of joke."  Having won Beppu-Oita, Kawauchi is more or less definitely on the World Championships team.  In Tokyo Maeda beat Kawauchi's time by 15 seconds.  "I don't know whether I'm going to be on the team, but if I am then I'll be running ahead of him," he said, promising a bitter race against his rival on the big stage.  "If I don't beat him he'll just go shooting his mouth off again.  I want to leave him with nothing to say."  At the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon Maeda finished 39th.  "I ran badly that time, but this year I'm going all the way," he said, his pride on the line.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Takezawa to Leave S&B Team: "I Want to Find My Own Path Forward"

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2013/02/24/kiji/K20130224005268200.html
http://dena.jp/press/2013/02/post-125.php

translated and edited by Brett Larner

With Team S&B's longstanding sponsorship set to be eliminated at the end of next month due to a streamlining of operations, Kensuke Takezawa, 26, announced that he will not join the rest of the team in moving to new sponsor DeNA.  His plans remain undecided.

A 2008 Beijing Olympics track team member, Takezawa commented, "My path forward is something that I ultimately want to find by myself, under my own strength, and for this reason I've decided not to move with the team.  I need to re-examine myself and carefully consider the best course of action."

The new DeNA team will become an official entity on April 1.  Previous announcements had said that all athletes and staff from the S&B team would transfer together.

Kensuke Takezawa: Born Oct. 11, 1986 in Hyogo.
3000 m: 7:49.26     5000 m: 13:19.00     10000 m: 27:45.59     half-marathon: 1:02:26
2010 national champion, 10000 m
2008 Beijing Olympics 5000 m and 10000 m
2007 Osaka World Championships 10000 m
collegiate record holder, 5000 m

Team DeNA Roster
Supervising Head Coach
Toshihiko Seko - 1980, 1984, 1988 Olympics marathon team member

Head Coach
Hiroshi Tako - 1992 World Half Marathon team member

Assistant Coach
Tomoaki Kunichika - 2004 Athens Olympics marathon team member

Athletes
Yuichiro Ueno - 2009 Berlin World Championships 5000 m
Noriaki Takahashi - 2010 Tokyo Championships 10000 m winner
Yuta Takahashi - 2006 Jr. National Championships 5000 m winner
Bitan Karoki - 2012 London Olympics 10000 m 5th place
Yusuke Hasegawa - 2008 National University 1500 m winner
Takaya Iwasaki - new member - Nittai Univ.
Kensuke Gotoda - new member - Komazawa Univ.
Yukiho Aihara - new member - Aoyama Gakuin Univ.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ogura 2nd, Kawabata 3rd at Asian Marathon Championships

http://news.biglobe.ne.jp/sports/0224/jj_130224_3766698655.html

translated by Brett Larner

At the Asian Marathon Championships held Feb. 24 at the Hong Kong Marathon, Kumi Ogura (Team Shikoku Denryoku) finished 2nd in 2:35:02 in her marathon debut.  Kenzo Kawabata (Team Daisan Kogyo) took 3rd in the men's race in 2:22:22.

Katakawa and Kikuchi Set Course Records in Yutoku and Inuyama

62nd Kashima Yutoku Road Race
Kashima, Saga, 2/24/13
click here for complete results

Men's Half Marathon
1. Kiragu Njuguna (Kenya/Hiramatsu Hospital) - 1:04:00
2. Koji Kaneko (Team Kurosaki Harima) - 1:04:17
3. Yuki Matsumura (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:04:25
4. Shohei Nakayama (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:45
5. Tsubasa Akagi (Team Nishitetsu) - 1:04:50

Women's Half Marathon
1. Mayumi Watanabe (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 1:14:51
2. Natsumi Nakamura (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 1:15:59
3. Shiho Suetsugu (Nagasaki Univ) - 1:18:13

Men's 10 km
1. Junji Katakawa (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 29:23 - CR
2. Yuzo Hiratsuka (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 29:50
3. Shuhei Kitsukawa (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 30:13

Women's 10 km
1. Sakurako Fukuuchi (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 33:28
2. Chikako Mori (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 33:51
3. Eri Tayama (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 34:10
4. Eri Utsunomiya (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 34:18
5. Mari Tayama (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 34:25

35th Yomiuri Inuyama Half Marathon
Inuyama, Aichi, 2/24/13
click here for top results

Men's Half Marathon
1. Hiroaki Inoue (Team Toenec) - 1:04:09
2. Yuya Taguchi (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:04:14
3. Genta Yodogawa (Tokai Univ.) - 1:04:34
4. Yukio Fujimura (Team Sumitomo Denko) - 1:04:37
5. Kimiyasu Nagasaka (Team Chuo Hatsujo) - 1:04:40
6. Kosuke Hosokawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:04:43
7. Takaaki Tanaka (Team NTN) - 1:04:45
8. Shota Baba (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:04:45
9. Shusei Suzuki (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:04:48
10. Koji Sasanuma (Team NTN) - 1:04:57

Women's Half Marathon
1. Yuka Yamazaki (Team Kojima Press) - 1:16:19
2. Mayu Hosono (Team Hitachi) - 1:17:28
3. Miki Oka (Team Kojima Press) - 1:17:52

Men's 10 km
1. Satoshi Abe (Team Toenec) - 30:19
2. Daiki Yoshioka (Aichi Kogyo Prep H.S.) - 31:09
3. Taishi Tsuruta (Chukyo Prep H.S.) - 31:09

Women's 10 km
1. Risa Kikuchi (Team Hitachi) - 33:18 - CR
2. Asuka Takaki (Team Kojima Press) - 34:26
3. Mayumi Sorayama (Team Kojima Press) - 34:29
4. Azusa Kusanagi (Team Kojima Press) - 34:38
5. Chika Nakama (Team Aichi Denki) - 34:48

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Kimetto Gets Tokyo Marathon CR

by Brett Larner

video by naoki620

On a cold and moderately windy day, pre-race favorite Dennis Kipruto Kimetto (Kenya) lived up to expectations to bring the Tokyo Marathon into the World Marathon Majors with a 2:06:50 course record, holding off defending champion Michael Kipkorir Kipyego (Kenya) over the final kilometers after taking the lead at 34 km.

The group of pacers taking the lead men through 30 km were far off the target splits of 14:50-55 per 5 km, never breaking 15:00 and immediately eliminating 2:05 from possibility. At 30 km James Kwambai (Kenya) took over, initiating a surge that turned into a 5 km split of 14:20 once Kimetto went to work at 34 km.  Kipyego came close to catching up back up in the final 5 km but could not manage to close the final 3 seconds before losing ground in the final kilometer.

2009 Tokyo runner-up Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), who ran a 2:08:38 PB in Tokyo last year, was the only Japanese man to go with Kwambai's push, moving up to 4th in the home straight as he kicked hard to try to get the sub-2:08 time requirement for guaranteed 2013 World Championships team membership.  Although he crossed the line with 2:07:58 on the clock his final time came out an agonizing 2:08:00, just short but putting him in first in team contention standings as he became the third Japanese man this month to run 2:08 for the second time in his career.

5000 m and 30 km national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) was the second Japanese man across line, like Maeda recording a second-straight PB at Tokyo with a new best of 2:09:14 for 9th and finally surpassing his identical twin brother Yuko Matsumiya (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) as a marathoner.  Along with two strong debuts, every Japanese man in the top 25 ran a PB, suggesting that whatever problems there were with the times up front being slower than expected were not due to any wind.

In the women's race former Team Daiichi Seimei runner Azusa Nojiri (Hiratsuka Lease) went out at 2:21 pace to get some screen time for her new private sponsor before fading away just past 15 km and ultimately finishing 9th in 2:31:15. Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) and Caroline Cheptonui Kilel (Kenya) made short work of running her down, with last year's runner-up Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) catching up after a more conservative start.  Kilel abruptly disappeared late in the race to leave Kebede alone on track for the 2:25:28 course record and its hefty bonus.

Kebede appeared to have it down, but, celebrating in the final few hundred meters, she crossed the line just short in 2:25:34.  Esayias was 2nd again in 2:26:01, 1 second off her time last year, with veteran Irina Mikitenko (Germany) 3rd in 2:26:41.  In her final marathon before retiring 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) took the top Japanese position, 5th overall in 2:28:30.

2013 Tokyo Marathon
Tokyo, 2/24/13
click here for complete results

Men
1. Dennis Kipruto Kimetto (Kenya) - 2:06:50 - CR
2. Michael Kipkorir Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:06:58 (CR)
3. Bernard Kiprop Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:07:53
4. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:08:00 - PB
5. James Kipsang Kwambai (Kenya) - 2:08:02
6. Gilbert Kipruto Kirwa (Kenya) - 2:08:17
7. Feyisa Bekele (Ethiopia) - 2:09:05
8. Dino Sefir (Ethiopia) - 2:09:13
9. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:14 - PB
10. Jonathan Kiplimo Maiyo (Kenya) 2:10:18
11. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:29 - PB
12. Gideon Kipkemoi Kipketer (Kenya) - 2:10:41
13. Soji Ikeda (Team Yakult) - 2:10:59 - debut
14. Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:11:01 - PB
15. Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:11:15 - PB
16. Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:28 - PB
17. Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:11:53 - PB
18. Ahmed Baday (Morocco) - 2:12:53
19. Hiroki Tanaka (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:09 - PB
20. Norihide Fujimori (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:11 - PB
21. Ryotaro Niita (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:14:09 - debut
22. Essa Ismael Rashed (Qatar) - 2:14:10
23. Makoto Harada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:40 - PB
24. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:14:41 - PB
25. Yuya Shiokawa (Team Subaru) - 2:14:49 - PB
-----
26. Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) - 2:15:08
31. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:16:31 - debut
34. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 2:17:24
Sho Matsumoto (Dream AC) - 2:21:40
-----
DNF - Daniel Njenga (Kenya/Team Yakult)
DNF - Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo)
DNF - Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku)

Women
1. Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:25:34
2. Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) - 2:26:01
3. Irina Mikitenko (Germany) - 2:26:41
4. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:26:51
5. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:28:30
6. Helalia Johannes (Namibia) - 2:29:20
7. Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - 2:30:20 - debut
8. Nastassia Staravoitava (Belarus) - 2:30:45
9. Azusa Nojiri (Hiratsuka Lease) - 2:31:15
10. Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) - 2:31:28 - PB
11. Shoko Shimizu (Team Aichi Denki) - 2:32:43 - PB
12. Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 2:33:21 - debut
13. Bezunesh Bekele (Ethiopia) - 2:34:19
14. Saki Tabata (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:37:40 - PB
15. Noriko Hirao (First Dream AC) - 2:38:50 - PB
16. Rina Yamazaki (Team Panasonic) - 2:39:48
17. Mitsuko Hirose (Tokyo Wings AC) - 2:42:20
18. Ikue Tabata (Komono RC ) - 2:42:37 - PB
19. Amanda Rice (U.S.A.) - 2:42:44
20. Ryo Kawahara (Dream AC) - 2:44:24 - PB
21. Caroline Cheptonui Kilel (Kenya) - 2:47:08
22. Yuka Aoyama (Crest AC) - 2:47:22 - PB
23. Eri Suzuki (Noshiro Yamamoto T&F Assoc.) - 2:48:32 - PB
24. Shiho Asanuma (Kushiro Chiho T&F Assoc.) - 2:50:42 - PB
25. Toshiko Yoshikawa (NRF AC) - 2:51:00
-----
66. Yoshiko Fujinaga (Isahaya T&F Assoc.) - 3:05:58
-----
DNF - Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia)
DNF - Noriko Matsuoka (Second Wind AC)
DNF - Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine)

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ndirangu and Niiya Top Fukuoka XC

by Bret Larner

Sera H.S. grad Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) followed up his win two weeks ago at the Chiba International Cross-Country Meet with another win Feb. 23 at the Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet, narrowly outrunning #1-ranked Japanese collegiate Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) in the senior men's 10 km, 29:47 to 29:50 with Australian 10000 m national record holder Ben St. Lawrence 3rd in 30:21.  With Fukuoka a selection race for Japan's World Cross-Country teams, Osako and 4th and 5th place finishers Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Wataru Ueno (Komazawa Univ.) threw their hats into the ring for team consideration.  The top Japanese man from Chiba, Keigo Yano of 2013 Hakone Ekiden champion Nittai University, was 6th as Ueno just got him at the line.

In the senior women's 6 km race London Olympian Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) took yet another Fukuoka title by a sweeping margin, clocking 20:00 to runner-up Ayumi Hagiwara's 20:37.  Mai Ishibashi (Team Denso) was 3rd in 20:40 to get into consideration for the Worlds team, with the top Japanese woman in Chiba, Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) 4th in 20:44 over Chiba runner-up Susan Wairimu (Kenya/Team Denso).

Chiba's top two junior men repeated their placings in the 8 km, Jeremiah Karemi of 2012 National High School Ekiden champion Toyokawa H.S. taking the win in 24:02 over Hakone champ Nittai's Hideto Yamanaka in 24:27.  Kazuki Takahashi (Omagari Kogyo H.S.) led Chiba 4th-placer Tatsuya Hayashi (Ishin H.S.) and national champion Toyokawa's Tadashi Isshiki across the line in 24:40 to round out the top five, all three likely names for the Worlds team.

Chiba junior women's winner Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima Joshi H.S.) faltered in the Fukuoka junior women's 6 km, finishing only 5th.  Winning in a close sprint finish was relative unknown Azusa Sumi (Toyokawa H.S.) in 20:28 with Saki Yoshimizu (Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S.) a step behind in 20:29.    Chiba 4th-placer Yui Fukuda (Suma Gakuen H.S.) got into Worlds consideration as she took 3rd in 20:31.

Ryo Nishiyama (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) and Miina Kato (Hakuho Joshi H.S.) took the junior 4 km races, Nishiyama in 12:53 and Kato in 14:18.

2013 Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet
Fukuoka, 2/23/13
click here for complete results

Senior Men's 10 km
1. Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 29:47
2. Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 29:50
3. Ben St. Lawrence (Australia) - 30:21
4. Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 30:26
5. Wataru Ueno (Komazawa Univ.) - 30:35
6. Keigo Yano (Nittai Univ.) - 30:35
7. Hiroyuki Ono (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 30:39
8. Minato Oishi (Team Toyota) - 30:42
9. Hiroyoshi Umegae (Team NTN) - 30:51
10. Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.) - 30:55

Senior Women's 6 km
1. Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) - 20:00
2. Ayumi Hagiwara (Team Uniqlo) - 20:37
3. Mai Ishibashi (Team Denso) - 20:40
4. Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:44
5. Susan Wairimu (Kenya/Team Denso) - 20:45
6. Miho Ihara (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 20:45
7. Kaho Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:48
8. Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) - 20:53
9. Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:55
10. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 20:58

Junior Men's 8 km
1. Jeremiah Karemi (Kenya/Toyokawa H.S.) - 24:02
2. Hideto Yamanaka (Nittai Univ.) - 24:27
3. Kazuki Takahashi (Omagari Kogyo H.S.) - 24:40
4. Tatsuya Hayashi (Ishin H.S.) - 24:40
5. Tadashi Isshiki (Toyokawa H.S) - 24:40
6. Koki Yoshimura (Team NTN) - 24:44
7. Yusuke Nishiyama (Iga Hakuo H.S.) - 24:47
8. Ryoichi Yoshida (Omuta H.S.) - 24:47
9. Hazuma Hattori (Toyokawa H.S.) - 24:48
10. Soma Ishikawa (Sano Nittai Prep H.S.) - 24:56

Junior Women's 6 km
1. Azusa Sumi (Toyokawa H.S.) - 20:28
2. Saki Yoshimizu (Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S.) - 20:29
3. Yui Fukuda (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 20:31
4. Nanami Aoki (Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 20:31
5. Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima Joshi H.S.) - 20:39
6. Maki Izumida (Hakuho Joshi H.S.) - 20:44
7. Mizuki Matsuda (Osaku Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 20:45
8. Kotona Ota (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 20:48
9. Shoko Sonoda (Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S.) - 20:51
10. Megumi Aoba (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) - 20:56

Junior Men's 4 km
1. Ryo Nishiyama (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) - 12:53
2. Shota Sugiyama (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 12:55
3. Atsushi Fujiwara (Kurashiki H.S.) - 12:57
4. Koki Mori (Kurashiki H.S.) - 12:59
5. Takatoshi Tanigawa (Toyokawa H.S.) - 13:00

Junior Women's 4 km
1. Miina Kato (Hakuho Joshi H.S.) - 14:18
2. Arisa Yamamoto (Tottori Chuo Ikuei H.S.) - 14:26
3. Honami Maeda (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 14:27
4. Aoi Nakajima (Tokoha Gakuen Kikugawa H.S.) - 14:30
5. Chihiro Maeda (Kagoshima Joshi H.S.) - 14:30

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, February 22, 2013

Six Races Ahead on a Busy Weekend

by Brett Larner

Six noteworthy races are on the schedule for this weekend.  First among them is Saturday's Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet, the second of two chances for Japanese athletes to pick up places on the national team for next month's World Cross-Country Championships.  Highlights of the main races will be shown on TBS beginning at 3:30 p.m., the only cross-country race in Japan with a TV broadcast.

All five Japanese men in the top ten in the senior race at the Chiba International Cross-Country Meet return, led by Keigo YanoTakumi Honda and Shota Hattori of 2013 Hakone Ekiden winners Nittai University.  Top competition for the additional places on the Worlds team includes #1-ranked Japanese collegiate Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.), 27:44.30 man Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei), Ikuto Yufu and Kenta Murayama of 2012 National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University, Murayama's twin brother Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and many more. The international field consists of Chiba winner Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/ Team JFE Steel), Titus Kihara (Kenya/Nara Sangyo Univ.) and Ben St. Lawrence (Australia).

Already probable names for the senior women's team, Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), Ayuko Suzuki (Nagoya Univ.) and Miho Ihara (Team Shikoku Denryoku) all return for Fukuoka to face defending champion and London Olympian Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.), Chiba runner-up Susan Wairimu (Kenya/Team Denso) and Lara Tamsett (Australia).  Along with Niiya, Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) is a good bet for a Worlds spot, fresh off a 1:09:32 half marathon best in Marugame.

Junior men's winner Jeremiah Karemi (Kenya/Toyokawa H.S.) leads almost all of the Chiba ten back to Fukuoka along with large contingents from 2012 National High School Ekiden top two Toyokawa H.S. and Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.  Likewise in the junior women's race virtually all the top ten Chiba finishers return, led by winner Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima Joshi H.S.) looking to make it a double.

Across the water on Sunday, the Hong Kong Marathon hosts this year's Asian Marathon Championships.  Representing Japan are 2:13:40 man Kenzo Kawabata (Team Aisan Kogyo) and, in her marathon debut, 1:10:51 half marathoner Kumi Ogura (Team Shikoku Denryoku).  Yesterday Ogura was also announced for the Mar. 10 Nagoya Women's Marathon.  Whether she has switched to the Championships or whether it will be a full-length training run for Nagoya remains to be seen.

Back in Japan, the Fuji TV-broadcast Tokyo Marathon makes a relatively fanfare-free entry into the World Marathon Majors on Sunday. Nearly 48 hours out from the start there has been an almost total absence of English-language news about Tokyo this week, odd for an event of its nominal stature, but whatever the reason for that might be this year's race has a good international field including sub-2:05 men Dennis Kipruto (Kenya), James Kwambai (Kenya), Dino Sefir (Ethiopia) and Jonathan Maiyo (Kenya), and sub-2:23 women Irina Mikitenko (Germany), Bezunesh Bekele (Ethiopia), Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) and Caroline Cheptonui Kilel (Kenya).

For Japanese men Tokyo counts toward World Championships team selection, and, following the withdrawal of 2:07:48 man Arata Fujiwara (Miki House), the best contenders include Koichi Morishita-coached former Hakone Ekiden mountain stage star Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) and recent Tokyo sub-2:10 runners Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota).  Showing promise on the list of first-timers are 61-minute half marathoners Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) and Ryotaro Nitta (Team Konica Minolta), with a high-profile but less-promising debut from 10000 m Olympian Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin).

Although the three domestic women-only marathons and the other five World Marathon Majors are on the list of women's selection races for the Worlds team, Tokyo is not considered for Japanese women, meaning that any Japanese women running Tokyo do so at the cost of a chance to run at the World Championships.  It seems strange that there is a situation in place at an IAAF gold label World Marathon Major which discourages the host country's own women from entering, and the result is pretty clear.  2009 World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) and London track Olympian Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) have both announced that they are retiring at Tokyo, and the only other sub-2:30 Japanese women in the field, Azusa Nojiri, Yoshiko Fujinaga and Noriko Matsuoka, are all athletes who retired or left the corporate leagues for the independent and club-team worlds.  Ozaki and Yoshikawa aside, Nojiri is probably the most interesting among them as she attempts to pursue a Fujiwara-style independent sponsor route.  First-time marathoner Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon) may be the lone exception, but overall it's a peculiar state of affairs for a race seeking validation as a major international event.

Along with the cross-country and marathon action, three high-level half-marathons add to the mix.  Two of the three Japanese London Olympics men's marathoners, Fujiwara and Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express), have won the Inuyama Half Marathon in the past. The main name on this year's entry list comes in the women's race, where 2011 World Championships marathon team member Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) is scheduled to run as a tune-up for April's London Marathon.  The Kashima Yutoku Road Race, including a half marathon and 10 km, and the relatively new Fukaya City Half Marathon both host solid fields of collegiate runners each year and should feature deep results.  Look for complete results from all six races as the weekend transpires.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nagoya Women's Marathon Announces Elite Field

by Brett Larner

In its second year as a mass-participation women-only marathon the Mar. 10 Nagoya Women's Marathon released its elite field on Feb. 21.  For Japanese women it is the last chance to make the 2013 World Championships in a domestic race, with Boston and London remaining within in the qualifying window.  National record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) tops the list after having pulled out of the Osaka International Women's Marathon for the second year in a row.  She made a comeback to the marathon in Nagoya last year after her Osaka pullout.  Will she start in Nagoya this year?  Place your bets now.  London Olympians Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) and Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu), both winners of other domestic women's marathons, and last year's Tokyo Marathon 4th-placer Eri Okubo (Second Wind AC) round out the top end of the domestic field.

The overseas field is strong.  Kenyan Georgina Rono looks like the favorite for the win with a 2:21:39 in Frankfurt last year, several minutes ahead of countrywoman Margaret Agai and Ethiopian Genet Getaneh.  Latvian veteran Jelena Prokopcuka is in the upper echelon on paper but will need a perfect day to contend in the top pack.  Multiple World Cross-Country Championships medalist Worknesh Kidane (Ethiopia) is also in the field.  Interesting debutantes overseas and domestic alike include 2010 Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon winner Nicole Chapple (Australia), 2008 World Cross-Country Championships silver medalist Mestawet Tufa (Ethiopia) and, in the general division, two-time Ome 30 km winner Asami Kato (Team Panasonic).

The Nagoya Women's Marathon will once again be broadcast live.  Check back closer to race date for online viewing details.  JRN will cover the race live via Twitter @JRNLive.

2013 Nagoya Women's Marathon Elite Field
Nagoya, 3/10/13
click here for complete field listing

11. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 2:19:12 (Berlin 2005)
1. Georgina Rono (Kenya) - 2:21:39 (Frankfurt 2012)
2. Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) - 2:22:56 (Osaka Women's 2005)
12. Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 2:23:23 (Osaka Women's 2012)
3. Margaret Agai (Kenya) - 2:24:17 (Shanghai 2012)
4. Genet Getaneh (Ethiopia) - 2:25:38 (Amsterdam 2012)
13. Eri Okubo (Second Wind AC) - 2:26:08 (Tokyo 2012)
14. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:26:23 (Nagoya Women's 2012)
15. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 2:26:32 (Yokohama Women's Nov. 2011)
16. Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:26:58 (Yokohama Women's Feb. 2011)
5. Yuliya Ruban (Ukraine) - 2:27:10 (Torino 2011)
6. Werknesh Kidane (Ethiopia) - 2:27:15 (Dubai 2011)
17. Eri Hayakawa (Team Toto) - 2:28:11 (Honolulu 2004)
7. Berhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:29:22 (Valencia 2012)
18. Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:29:25 (Tokyo 2012)
19. Misato Horie (Team Noritz) - 2:31:39 (Nagoya Women's 2012)
21. Kumi Ogura (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - debuting at Feb. 24 Asian Marathon Championships

Debut
8. Nicole Chapple (Australia) - 1:08:37 (Marugame Half 2010)
9. Mestawet Tufa (Ethiopia) - 1:08:48 (New Delhi 2010)
20. Shino Saito (Team Shimamura) - 1:10:51 (National Corporate Half 2010)
Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) - 1:11:21 (Sendai 2012)

Pacers
57. Yuka Hakoyama (Team Wacoal)
58. Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya)
59. Mariya Konovalova (Russia)
60. Alina Prokopeva (Russia)

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Federation Announces Japanese Entrants for Asian Marathon Championships

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2013/02/20/kiji/K20130220005238180.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Feb. 20 Rikuren, the Japanese federation, announced the Japanese entrants for the Feb. 24 Asian Marathon Championships to be held in conjunction with the 2013 Hong Kong Marathon.  Kenzo Kawabata (Team Aisan Kogyo) will compete in the men's division with Kumi Ogura (Team Shikoku Denryoku) representing the women.  Kawabata, 28, set his best of 2:13:40 at the 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  Ogura, 27, ran a half marathon best of 1:10:51 earlier this month at the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Beijing Olympics Marathoner Satoshi Osaki to Retire After Lake Biwa

http://www.iza.ne.jp/news/newsarticle/sports/other/631195/

translated by Brett Larner

2008 Beijing Olympics men's marathon team member Satoshi Osaki (36, Team NTT Nishi Nihon), has announced that he plans to retire following the Mar. 3 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  Following his retirement from competition he will continue on as a coach with NTT.

A native of Osaka, Osaki attended Yamanashi Gakuin University.  He placed 6th at the 2007 World Championships and followed up with a 2:08:36 for 3rd overall and the top Japanese position at Lake Biwa in 2008 to make the Beijing team, but shortly before the Olympics he was forced to withdraw with hip problems.

London Olympian Mika Yoshikawa to Retire After Tokyo Debut

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20130220-1087812.html

translated by Brett Larner

2012 London Olympian and 10000 m national champion  Mika Yoshikawa (28, Team Panasonic) will retire from competition to get married following her marathon debut at the Feb. 24 Tokyo Marathon according to a statement released by her team management on Feb. 20.  In the statement Yoshikawa said, "With my marriage coming up I've decided to retire from my career as an athlete.  Achieving my big dream of standing on the Olympic stage was the most, most important page in the story of my life."  Her future plans, she said, are, "to start a family."  Yoshikawa finished 16th in the London Olympics 10000 m and 13th in her 5000 m heat.

Arata Fujiwara Withdraws from Tokyo

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20130219-00000569-san-spo

translated by Brett Larner

The Tokyo Marathon organizers announced Feb. 19 that invited athlete Arata Fujiwara (31, Miki House) has withdrawn due to inflammation of the hamstrings in his right leg.  He has been experiencing pain in that area since last month.  To improve his chances of making it to Tokyo he pulled out of the Feb. 3 Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon and adjusted his training volume to a level he could handle while undergoing recovery, but he did not return to a condition that would let him be ready to race in time. "My condition is not good at all.  There's no point in running it just to run it," Fujiwara commented on his decision to withdraw.

Last year Fujiwara ran 2:07:48 to finish 2nd overall as the top Japanese man, earning a place on the London Olympic team.  Without training seriously he jumped into December's Fukuoka International Marathon, finishing 4th in 2:09:31.  His goal this time was to run 2:06 and earn a place on the World Championships team.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Like Seeing Myself on the Other Side" - Brendan Martin on the Ome 30 km


interview by Brett Larner
race photos by Mika Tokairin

mattress photo by Brendan Martin

Hansons team member Brendan Martin ran the Ome 30 km on Feb. 17 off his 4th American placing at last year's Boston Marathon as part of a longstanding relationship between Ome and the BAA.  Having been on the U.S. team at October's Izumo Ekiden where he ran the alternates' 5000 m on the track, Ome was Martin's second race in Japan. Starting conservatively and steadily moving up through the field, he finished 8th in 1:36:07. A day later JRN caught up with him at Cafe Barney in Shibuya to talk about his experience.

This was your second time racing over here.  What were your impressions this time?

I was honored to compete with some of the best runners in Japan.  I stuck out like a sore thumb.  The course was very, very challenging, very tough.  It has a lot of unique character and I feel like there was a big component of running the course correctly.   It's not like going to Chicago and blasting a fast marathon.  You actually have to have a plan instead of just going at a pace.

I knew it was going to be mostly uphill on the way out and mostly downhill on the way back but I didn't realize to what extent.  I was careful not to go out over my head because I knew that it would be a death march on the way back if I wasn't careful early on.  I kept thinking, "Am I going out too slow?"  And then shortly after the turnaround I was thinking, "I didn't go out too slow, that was perfect," because of the uphills followed right by the steep downhills.  I think my splits were 32:30, 32:00 and 31:30, so I kind of picked it up a little.  On the downhill my legs started to feel like jello.  My breathing was fine, it was just that my legs were hamburger meat.  They are destroyed today, as sore as after I ran Boston last spring.

At 1 km you were leading the second pack with a big lead group ahead of you, and by the finish you were up to 8th.  It looked like you ran a pretty smart race in that respect.  How did that play out?  Were you running guys down constantly or reeling them in later in the race?

I think I played it out as well as I was hoping to.  Keith [Hanson] said I went from 18th to 14th to 8th for each 10 km, so I'm happy with how I executed that.  I don't think I could have done much different that would have made me run better.  There was one guy early on who I was running behind.  I felt a little guilty about drafting off of him as much as I did, but he seemed pretty intent on leading that pack so that helped me zone out on the way out.  I kept waiting and waiting.

I thought they were going to fall back sooner and I started to get worried because people weren't falling back as quick as I thought they were, but then in the last 5 or 10 km I picked up a lot of spots because guys were coming back fast.  I was working very hard the last 10 km.  On the way back there was one guy in particular I battled for a really long time.  He actually broke me on one of the flatter stretches with somewhere around 5 km to go.  He opened up a gap on me, caught a guy ahead of him and was battling with that guy and I thought, "Oh well, they're gone."  Then with maybe 3 km to go I started pressing really hard and actually caught both of them.  I knew that I had to go around them right away or else I probably wasn't going to beat them.

It was cool enough at the start that I wore gloves and arm warmers, but right around halfway I chucked them.  I don't why I did this, but I threw them into the parking lot of the noodle place we went while we were doing the course tour, as if I was going to go back there and get them.  I was thinking about making a tweet like, "Trying to help Brooks Running infiltrate the Japanese market by donating $60 worth of merchandise along the course."  Let them know how nice it is.  I've seen as much Brooks stuff as I've seen Americans cars while I was here.  Seeing an American-made car is like a unicorn here.

It goes without saying that Ome, a 15,000-runner mass-participation race plus a 10 km, was a different kind of event from Izumo.  How did you feel about it as an event in terms of the organization?

Organizationally they did a great job.  No detail was left unattended to.  There were officials lining the entire course. Everything was so airtight.  Nothing was going to go wrong.  I was pretty impressed in that sense.   My hosts were absolutely incredible, almost too generous. They made you feel so, so welcome.  They were treating me like I was a star and that was very, very nice.  The event as a whole was awesome and I definitely want to come back.

There were people cheering along the entire course.  I didn't expect people to be on the course the whole way up into the mountains, but there were people cheering for me the entire way.  That was pretty cool.  A positive surprise.

The only thing that was any sort of detriment was when we were coming back and passing the biggest part of the bell curve of the race, people were overflowing into our half of the street.  At certain points I'd be running head-on with a guy running up the hill towards me and I was thinking, "Oh boy....."  The officials were trying to get them over but there were so many.

You didn't run into any posts wrapped in mattresses?

All the posts were wrapped in mattresses.  I got a kick out of that.  All of them.  It was crazy. I know that for maybe the Tour de France they do that, but those people are on bikes!

This was a 30 km PB?

Yeah, I've never run a 30 km before.  From my coaches' perspective they were very happy with how I ran, and I'm happy with how I ran, so to me it was a successful race.  I've had two races that myself and my coaches were very happy with, both times I went to Japan. The first time in Izumo I was training for a long road race, just stepped onto the track not really aiming for a track race and then ending up setting a 5 km PR.  I feel like going and doing that helped me a lot for this one because I knew what to expect.  I was more in tune with what was going to happen with the sleep and that kind of stuff.  "I'm going to be jet-lagged, I'm going to feel bad most of the time walking around during the day, but I'm going to run OK, it's going to be OK."  Even if for nothing else than confidence it was good to already have that experience.

Japanese really like 30 km as a distance.  There are quite a few 30 km races around, but they're unusual in North America.  I think it was Tom Derderian who said that he thought things would be a lot better off if people were less focused on doing marathons and were doing more 30 km races as their bread and butter, peaking for the odd marathon.  Mika Tokairin said from a marathoner's standpoint the great thing about a 30 km is that it's long enough to really be satisfying but ends right before it gets really hard.  How would you compare the two distances?

I'd agree except that 30 km is shorter so you're running a little faster.  That makes it challenging in the sense that it's longer than a half marathon but you're running pretty close to half marathon pace for a long time.  A marathon feels a little bit more relaxed, like you don't have quite as much urgency as in a 30 km where you're relaxing, relaxing, relaxing and then all of a sudden it's, "Wait, I've only got 6 km to go?  I'd better start moving."  In a marathon you can keep being patient and people are going to blow up so bad that you don't even have to go hunt them down.  I could feel both sides, half marathon and marathon, the mix of the two different elements.

I think 30 km is a good distance to be a bread-and-butter long race.  While the Ome course certainly beats it out of you, a flatter 30 km would be a much quicker recovery than a full marathon because you're not going glycogen depleted and running through a wall or anything like that, so you could do more of them.  It's kind of its own monster because you don't have the fueling issues that you do with a marathon.  A lot of the nutrition stuff comes into play right at 20 miles for most people, and in a 30 km you approach that and then "Oh, done," and that's it.

Did you do any specific training this time or was it off what you were already doing?

We talked about doing a little bit of specific training because of the unique nature of the course, but it's been snowing so much in Michigan that the very hilly dirt roads we normally use for our Boston prep would have been dangerous to work out on so I did a lot of my workouts on a rolling, snow-covered bike path loop at this place called Stony Creek Metropark, a 6-mile loop with tasteful hills.  Nothing outrageous, just rolling the whole way.  We talked about doing downhill repeats, uphill repeats, stuff like that, but it never really happened because it seemed like it was snowing every single night.

It was hard to gauge what kind of shape I was in, just running through muck with lots of clothes on in a freezing cold snowy winter.  All of a sudden I get out here and I'm wearing shorts for the first time in months and I actually felt a lot better than I thought I would.  I was a little nervous because I had nothing to gauge my fitness off, so I was pretty pleased with how my fitness came around despite all of that.

You were picked to run Ome based on Boston last year. The relationship between Ome and the BAA goes way back.  How do you feel about being part of that lineage of Americans coming over?

When I was going into Boston I was really hoping I would do well enough that I could come to this race.  I was very proud to get picked for it.  In my mind that was an achievement in itself, an honor.  I think I was the 4th American in Boston, so that put me close enough to the top Americans.  Someone like Jason Hartmann who can get a lot of money to run a different marathon is going to turn it down, so it came to me and I was pretty excited.

I had lunch with Kota Shinozaki the day before Ome and it was cool to hear he was so excited about the race because he was hoping to get to go to Boston.  To see it the other way around was really cool, like seeing myself on the other side.

Everybody here knows about Boston, but I wonder how many of the Americans running Boston know anything about Ome.  You knew about it prior to Boston, that you had the possibility of getting to go?

I had heard that you get to do a really cool race in Japan if you do well, but I didn't know any details.  I found out more right before Boston.  Here I think Ome advertises that you get to go to Boston if you run well.  I can't read the poster but I remember seeing "something something something Boston something something."  I made it my Facebook profile picture.

It's not usually a situation where the top Japanese guys would go from Ome to Boston, but this year the upper contingent was pretty solid with three guys from the New Year Ekiden champion team and the university star Ryuji Kashiwabara in the top four.  I'm not sure how that will play out with the Boston invite.

Shinozaki actually went to Boston last year.  This year he finished 15th, so that says something to me about how good the competition was this year, the fact that last year he placed high enough here to get to go and this year I'm pretty sure 15th is not going to get him there.

How would you compare the two courses?  Did you feel that there was some affinity between them?

It beats the hell out of you in a similar way, but the one difference is that Boston is mostly downhill the first half, mostly uphill the second half and then finishes with a gradual downhill, whereas here it's mostly uphill then mostly downhill with one sneaky climb somewhere around 23 km or 24 km.  In the same way that you have to prepare your quads to take a beating for Boston you've got to do the same thing for this race.  I definitely think there's a parallel.  If you're well-prepared for one you're probably well-prepared for the other.

Toshihiko Seko ran the 1:29:32 course record in 1981 as a training run for Boston and then went and won there two months later.

He was obviously monster-fit to run 1:29 at Ome, but it's got to be a pretty tough turnaround to then jump back into marathon prep.  It's impressive that he could just get right back on the horse.  I think I'm going to take some days off, like maybe 7 to 14 days off with no running.  It's kind of a rest period now after the race, my coach said.

When did you join the Hansons?

Late August, 2011, so a year and a half on the team, roughly.  It's been great running with them.  I feel like they've helped me a lot, like we're really building a foundation and then taking the steps to slowly and systematically become a good marathoner.

Looking at it from the outside over the years it seemed like it was the first modern American group to be on some level doing things with a Japanese model in terms of one company sponsoring a group of guys all working together.  It seems like there is some similarity there.

I think it's definitely been instrumental in developing U.S. depth, just like how Japan has so much depth.  We didn't have quite as much and now it's quickly on the rise because more teams like ours are springing up.  As early as my freshman year of college Hansons was the one I always wanted to be on because it was the original in my mind.  It was a pretty big honor to get to be on the team.  When I was a freshman in college that would be my wildest running dream.  It's not always the case in the life that you actually get to do what you considered your ultimate goal.  I feel very lucky to be doing that.

What's in the near future for you?

We do just one block at a time so we're probably going to wait a bit before we figure it out for sure, but I definitely want to run a marathon this year.  I'm trying to plant the seed early in my coach's head of Fukuoka so that I can weasel my way into doing that.  "Come on, coach, I ran PRs in both my Japan races.  You should send me to Fukuoka for a marathon." That's a pretty big undertaking to get them to let me do that, so I could very much see myself doing Chicago or Twin Cities or New York City or something like that.  But if I could do whatever I want I'd probably do that marathon in December.  It would be so much fun. If I could run the actual ekiden I wouldn't be opposed to doing Izumo again.  I was pretty jealous that I didn't get to run it.  The only thing is that it conflicts a little bit with the marathon because that's the Chicago Marathon weekend, so I have to figure out what they're thinking.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

race photos (c) 2013 Mika Tokairin / mattress photo (c) 2013 Brendan Martin
all rights reserved

1200 Attend Nittai University's Hakone Ekiden Victory Banquet

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20130218-1087016.html

translated by Brett Larner

2013 Hakone Ekiden winners Nittai University held a banquet at Tokyo's Hotel New Otani on Feb. 18 to celebrate their first Hakone title in 30 years.  More than 1200 guests and dignitaries attended the banquet, including former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, 75, holder of an honorary doctorate from Nittai.  A lifelong Hakone Ekiden fan, Prime Minister Mori praised team captain and Fifth Stage winner Shota Hattori, telling the banquet attendees,  "On TV he looks so strong and powerful, but seeing him in person he is an adorable little munchkin, that Hattori."  Hattori, looking nervous onstage up to that point, laughed and relaxed.

The members of Hattori's last Hakone-winning team from 30 years ago were also in attendance and gathered onstage for a commemorative photo.  Among them were 1991 Tokyo World Championships marathon gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi, 51, and other familiar faces from long ago.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Course Records at Chunichi Hamanako Ekiden

by Brett Larner

In what was really and truly probably the last noteworthy ekiden of the season, course records fell Feb. 17 in two of the three divisions at the 37th Chunichi Hamanako Isshu Ekiden at Lake Hamana in Shizuoka.  Despite the absence of aces Martin Mathathi and Yusei Nakao, the Suzuki Hamamatsu AC team had no trouble winning the 53.5 km men's race, clocking 2:42:49 to runner-up Teikyo University's 2:44:15.  Suzuki men took three of the five stages, with 2010-11 steeplechase national champion Tsuyoshi Takeda setting a course record of 29:12 for the 9.6 km Fourth Stage.

In the six-stage, 42.0 km high school boys' race, 2012 National High School Ekiden runner-up Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. ran 2:07:38 to set a new overall course record thanks to four of its runners scoring stage bests.  Fourth man Yuki Hirota, running the same 9.6 km course as Takeda in the men's race, set a new high school division record of 28:44, almost 30 seconds better than Takeda's mark.  Toyokawa Kogyo H.S., in the midst of a corporal punishment scandal, managed 2nd overall in 2:09:58.

The Suzuki Hamamatsu AC women took four of five stages in the 20.6 km women's race to set a new overall course record of 1:07:02.  Behind them, 2012 National High School Ekiden champion Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. and runner-up Toyokawa H.S. went 2-3 in 1:08:02 and 1:09:46.  Ritsumeikan Uji's Nanami Aoki was the only runner to beat one of the Suzuki women, taking the 4.6 km Second Stage in 15:37.

37th Chunichi Hamanako Isshu Ekiden
Lake Hamana, Shizuoka, 2/17/13

Men
10 teams, 5 stages, 53.5 km
click here for complete results

1. Suzuki Hamamatsu AC - 2:42:49
2. Teikyo Univ. A - 2:44:15
3. Teikyo Univ. C - 2:45:07
4. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. A - 2:48:05
5. Meiji Univ. - 2:48:26

First Stage - 11.5 km - Kazuma Tashiro (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. A) - 35:18
Second Stage - 8.4 km - Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 26:09
Third Stage - 13.0 km - Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 38:46
Fourth Stage - 9.6 km - Tsuyoshi Takeda (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 29:12 - CR
Fifth Stage - 11.0 km - Tsukasa Koyama (Teikyo Univ. A) - 33:00

High School Boys
37 teams, 6 stages, 42.0 km
click here for complete results

1. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. - 2:07:38 - CR
2. Toyokawa Kogyo H.S. - 2:09:58
3. Aichi H.S. A - 2:10:34
4. Sera H.S. - 2:11:10
5. Tokyo Nogyo Prep #3 H.S. - 2:12:09

First Stage - 8.4 km - Kazuki Takeshita (Tokyo Nogyo Prep #3 H.S.) - 26:39
Second Stage - 3.9 km - Keisuke Nakatani (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 11:09
Third Stage - 9.1 km - Seiji Makiura (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 27:20
Fourth Stage - 9.6 km - Yuki Hirota (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 28:44 - CR
Fifth Stage - 4.0 km - Hiroshi Matsuura (Aichi H.S. A) - 12:13
Sixth Stage - 7.0 km - Tatsuya Taniike (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 21:26

Women
28 teams, 5 stages, 20.6 km

1. Suzuki Hamamatsu AC - 1:07:02 - CR
2. Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. - 1:08:02
3. Toyokawa H.S. - 1:09:46
4. Bukkyo Univ. A - 1:09:57
5. Tokoha Kikugawa H.S. - 1:10:13

First Stage - 5.0 km - Miki Sakakibara (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 15:44
Second Stage - 8.4 km - Nanami Aoki (Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 15:37
Third Stage - 4.0 km - Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 13:00
Fourth Stage - 3.0 km - Yuki Sakata (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 9:58
Fifth Stage - 4.0 km - Misaki Sango (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 12:34

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Kawauchi Challenges Kashiwabara to Race Him Next Year in Ome

http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20130218-OHT1T00017.htm
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20130218-OHT1T00024.htm

translated and edited by Brett Larner
Kashiwabara photo by Mika Tokairin



Will the two biggest stars of Japanese long distance clash in Ome?  After winning Kumamoto's Feb. 17 Kumanichi 30 km in a course-record 1:29:31, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) said that he hopes to run Tokyo's Ome 30 km next year, setting up a potential duel with the Hakone Ekiden's most famous runner, uphill specialist Ryuji Kashiwabara (Team Fujitsu). Kashiwabara, who won the nearly 900 m-uphill Fifth Stage at Hakone four times, three in course records, made his debut at this year's Ome 30 km just after Kawauchi's win at Kumanichi, finishing 3rd in 1:31:49 after leading through 22 km.  "I want to try again next year," Kashiwabara said.  "I can't wait," said Kawauchi.  The God of Mountain vs. the Civil Servant Runner bringing the thrills to the hills.

Kumanichi was proof of Kawauchi's star status.  Launching his fourth surge at 28 km with bared and gritting teeth he was the first man across the line.  In complete control of a four-way battle and emerging victorious, he lived up to pre-race goals and expectations.  And the fans along the course loved it.  "You're #1 in Japan!" people shouted, their jaws dropping when they saw him and the crowds pressing onto the course to get closer, young and old, men and women, boys and girls alike.  There was no doubt Kawauchi fever had hit Kumamoto.

"You used to be able to say that I didn't have any speed, but having broken 3:00/km pace here I think I've cracked that nut," Kawauchi said with a wide smile.  "2:06 is in sight."  Just two weeks after setting a 2:08:15 course record at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon he became the all-time sixth-fastest Japanese man over 30 km, and having broken the legendary Toshihiko Seko's marathon best in Beppu-Oita, here at Kumanichi Kawauchi took Seko's 30 km best by 1 second.  It's well-known that he operates at the outer limits of common sense, but there is no denying that his strength is now the greatest on the circuit.

But it's not just about his strength.  At Kumanichi 180,000 fans packed the course, 30,000 more than last year.  "It's all because Yuki ran here," said one of the race organizers.  His popularity made such an impact that Kumanichi organizers are already planning to put in an offer to get him back next year.  "I have invitations from over 100 races," Kawauchi says.  "Many of them say that if I can't run this year then next year is OK too."  His schedule for the next year is already all but full.

Among his goals for next year is a head-to-head showdown in Ome with the God of the Mountain, Kashiwabara.  Along the crowded street leading to the Ome finish line, the noise of the crowd and camera shutters swelled to its greatest peak when Kashiwabara came through in 3rd.  He was unusually quick to say he plans to return to Ome.  At the post-race press-conference he matter-of-factly told the media corps of over thirty that he intends to run Ome again next year.  "Today wasn't a matter of the course not suiting me," he said.  "I want to come back next year and go for the win again if I can.  There were so many people cheering along the course.  It was a lot of fun to run here."

Before the Ome start Kashiwabara heard news that Kawauchi had just won Kumanichi. He and eventual Ome winner Masaki Ito (Team Konica Minolta), both the same class year in college, talked about it before the start.  Their motivation going up a notch, all they could say was, "Unbelievable."  Kashiwabara led Ome on course record pace through 22 km, but, he said afterward, "my legs turned into sticks after 22 km."  Ito and his teammate Tomohiro Tanigawa (Team Konica Minolta) pulled away on the downhill and flat of the final 8 km to leave Kashiwabara in 3rd.  "I'm pretty unhappy to get beaten by somebody the same age as me," Kashiwabara told reporters.

Kashiwabara hopes to run the marathon at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.  Aiming to clear the first checkpoint toward that goal, "going at 3:00/km pace," he entered the 30 km at Ome, the longest distance of his career so far.  But just past the halfway point of the marathon distance he could no longer hold on to the pace.  "I couldn't push the second half like Kawauchi can.  I don't have that kind of toughness," he said, feeling the sting of disappointment at not living up to his own expectations.

Kawauchi ran Ome in 2007, finishing only 10th in 1:36:27, but its course remains one of his favorites.  "There's no chance I could beat Kashiwabara on the uphills, but on the downhills I can take him," he said, already laying out his strategy for the difficult undulations of the Ome course.  Of Kashiwabara's performance Kawauchi said, "He got too caught up in trying to lead and blew it.  I think it was a good experience for him.  I can't wait to race him next year."  Kashiwabara modestly said, "I don't really deserve to be compared to him.  I'm really flattered that somebody as great as him would say something like that about me."  With a glint of competitive spirit flashing in his eyes he added, "But I'd like to see how much I can take him by.  If I don't have any injuries over the next year then I want to come back stronger next time.  My job will be to get the win and to give everyone who comes to watch something to remember."

At the Hakone Ekiden Kashiwabara was the biggest star the event has seen thanks to his uphill heroics.  Kawauchi ran Hakone twice on the Kanto Region Select Team while a student at Gakushuin University, both times on the ~900 m downhill Sixth Stage where he was 6th in 2007 and a strong 3rd in 2009.  The Ome course has a maximum elevation difference of 85.8 m, with an abundance of rolling ups and downs.  The uphill specialist vs. the downhill specialist on a celebrated and hilly course.  Bound to pull in the fans, it should be one of the biggest showdowns in Japanese racing history.  And one that will give them both the confidence to take on the best in the world.

photo (c) 2013 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Shitara Sets Collegiate National Record, Ito and Kawauchi Blaze Fast 30 km Times in Ome and Kumamoto


by Brett Larner
Ome photos by Mika Tokairin

Kumanichi screencap by Applepie

Cold and clear weather helped bring fast times at both of Japan's major 30 km road races on Feb. 17.  At the 57th Kumanichi 30 km Road Race in Kumamoto, the site of the former 1:28:00 world record set by Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta in 2005) and a race which joined forces with the new mass-partipation Kumamoto-jo Marathon last year to ensure its own survival, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) did the seemingly impossible and fulfilled his pre-race promise of a win around 1:29:30.  Despite a spectacular 2:08:15 marathon PB two weeks ago at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, Kawauchi took apart a top-notch field and outkicked the fresh 22-year-old Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) by 3 seconds for the win in 1:29:31, a new PB by 36 seconds and a record on the hillier new course introduced last year by 30 seconds. Kawauchi's time was the sixth-best in Kumanichi history, but considering the tougher course his run was right up there with the best of them.

Maruyama led eight-straight men making their debuts, 2nd in an excellent 1:29:34 but his pride no doubt stung.  3rd and 4th saw a close race between two 21-year-olds, all-time #3 Japanese half marathoner Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) and Toyo University ace Keita Shitara.  Both broke 90 minutes with corporate-league runner Miyawaki coming out ahead in 1:29:51 and Shitara's 1:29:55 a new collegiate national record.  Kenyan Daniel Gitau (Team Fujitsu), who pre-race predicted he would run near the world record, struggled to a 7th-place finish in 1:31:37 in his own debut.

The women's race was also thick with debuting athletes.  Winner Yuko Mizuguchi (Team Denso) more than lived up to her goal of a sub-1:45, just off last year's course record with a mark of 1:43:46.  Expect to see her make her marathon debut in the near future.  Runner-up Kana Orino (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) was a surprise in 1:45:50, outrunning corporate runner Risa Takemura (Team Kyudenko) who fell short of her 1:45 goal in 1:47:05. Although the IUAU, the Japanese university federation, does not currently list a women's 30 km record, Orino's performance was of sufficient quality that it will likely be added to the list.  In the Kumamoto-jo Marathon, both of last year's winners took 4 minutes off their course records to take repeat titles, men's winner Shota Jige running 2:19:30 and women's winner Kazumi Sakaguchi 2:52:17.

In the mountains of Western Tokyo Masaki Ito of 2013 New Year Ekiden national champion Team Konica Minolta lived up to his own pre-race words and faced down former Hakone Ekiden uphill star Ryuji Kashiwabara (Team Fujitsu) to win the 47th Ome 30 km Road Race in 1:30:21 ahead of a mixed elite and mass-participation field of 15000.  It was the fastest time ever in Ome after the great Toshihiko Seko's 1:29:32 set just before his 1981 Boston Marathon victory, and one that continued a phenomenal 2013 for Ito who won his stage at the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden and set a half marathon best of 1:02:00 two weeks ago in Marugame.

Kashiwabara, the heavy favorite for the win among fans pre-race in his debut, did the leading through the mostly uphill first half, but on the rolling downhills of the second half Ito and teammate Tomohiro Tanigawa (Team Konica Minolta), pulled away to knock Kashiwabara down to 3rd.  Kashiwabara's former Toyo University teammate Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta), took 4th just behind him to make it three Konica runners in the top four, all three off PBs at the Marugame Half.

American Brendan Martin, an alternate for the U.S. team at last October's Izumo Ekiden, started conservatively in the second pack but steadily worked his way up through the field to take 8th in 1:36:07. High schooler Hoshiki Tani (Kokugakuin Prep Kugayama H.S.) ran 1:39:56 for 23rd, surely a record of some sort, just outkicking 2003 Ome winner and 2:08 Olympic marathoner Kenjiro Jitsui, now 44 and a coach with Team Nissin Shokuhin, who took 24th in a quality 1:40:00.

In the women's race defending champion Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) became only the second woman in Ome history to make it two in a row as she soloed a 1:44:23 win, over two minutes ahead of runner-up Yuka Yano (Canon AC Kyushu) despite returning to Japan on Thursday from a month of altitude training in the U.S.  Last year's 10 km winner Kazumi Hashimoto (Team Hokuren) took 3rd in 1:49:19 in her 30 km debut.  Look for Kato to make her marathon debut next month at the Nagoya Women's Marathon.  Further back, the unstoppable 46-year-old Yoshimi Hoshino (eAthletes Shizuoka AC) ran 1:53:05 for 6th, a world record for the fastest 30 km ever by a woman over age 43. 2002 Rotterdam Marathon winner Takami Ominami (Yutic AC) was 9th in 1:59:06.

In the women's 10 km, local high schooler Shiho Yahagi (Hachioji H.S.) outran a pack of corporate-league women for the win in 33:22, the best-ever in Ome by a high schooler. 2011 winner Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon) was 2nd in 33:34 with 30 km winner Kato's teammate Yukari Abe (Team Panasonic) 3rd in 33:41.  Keijiro Mogi (Takushoku Prep #1 H.S.) won the men's 10 km in 30:36.

47th Ome 30 km and 10 km Road Race
Ome, Tokyo, 2/17/13
click here for complete results

Men's 30 km
1. Masaki Ito (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:30:21 - PB
2. Tomohiro Tanigawa (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:31:09 - debut
3. Ryuji Kashiwabara (Team Fujitsu) - 1:31:49 - debut
4. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:32:20 - debut
5. Shingo Sato (Team Yachiyo Kogyo) - 1:35:19
6. Keita Seguchi (Team Sumitomo Denko) - 1:35:30
7. Norihiro Murayama (Team Yachiyo Kogyo) - 1:36:02
8. Brendan Martin (U.S.A.) - 1:36:07
-----
23. Hoshiki Tani (Kokugakuin Prep Kugayama H.S.) - 1:39:56
24. Kenjiro Jitsui (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:40:00

Women's 30 km
1. Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) - 1:44:23
2. Yuka Yano (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:46:24
3. Kazumi Hashimoto (Team Hokuren) - 1:49:19 - debut
-----
6. Yoshimi Hoshino (eAthletes Shizuoka AC) - 1:53:05 - 44+ WR
9. Takami Ominami (Yutic AC) - 1:59:06

Women's 10 km
1. Shiho Yahagi (Hachijoji H.S.) - 33:22
2. Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 33:34
3. Yukari Abe (Team Panasonic) - 33:41
4. Yuri Umemura (Team Panasonic) - 33:48
5. Yuri Karasawa (Josui Civic H.S.) - 34:38

Men's 10 km
1. Keijiro Mogi (Takushoku Prep #1 H.S.) - 30:36
2. Keisuke Yokota (Takushoku Prep #1 H.S.) - 30:45
3. Takeshi Okada (Koku Gakuin Prep Kugayama H.S.) - 31:16

57th Kumanichi 30 km Road Race and 2nd Kumamoto-jo Marathon
Kumamoto, 2/17/13
click here for complete results

Men's 30 km
1. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 1:29:31 - PB
2. Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:29:34 - debut
3. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 1:29:51 - debut
4. Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 1:29:55 - debut, NUR
5. Ryota Matoba (Team Komori Corp.) - 1:31:04 - debut
6. Kazuki Tomaru (Team Toyota) - 1:31:12 - debut
7. Daniel Gitau (Kenya/Team Fujitsu) - 1:31:37 - debut
8. Hayato Sonoda (Team Kurosaki Harima) - 1:32:00 - debut
9. Kensuke Gotoda (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:32:48 - debut
10. Kentaro Masuda (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 1:33:40

Women's 30 km
1. Yuko Mizuguchi (Team Denso) - 1:43:46 - debut
2. Kana Orino (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 1:45:40 - debut, pending NUR
3. Risa Takemura (Team Kyudenko) - 1:47:05 - debut
4. Shizuka Kudo (Team Higo Ginko) - 1:47:21 - debut
5. Seika Iwamura (Team Higo Ginko) - 1:51:06

Men's Marathon
1. Shota Jige - 2:19:30 - CR
2. Takayuki Hirano - 2:21:00
3. Hiroki Ashida - 2:23:37

Women's Marathon
1. Kazumi Sakaguchi - 2:52:17 - CR
2. Toshie Kawatsu - 2:57:51
3. Yuko Yoshida - 2:59:16

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2013 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved

2009 World Championships Silver Medalist Ozaki to Retire

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20130217-00000003-mai-spo

translated by Brett Larner

2009 World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (31, Team Daiichi Seimei) announced Feb. 16 that she will retire from competitive running following the Feb. 24 Tokyo Marathon.  Ozaki realized her dream of making the Olympics, finishing 19th at last summer's London Olympics.  After that, she said, "I didn't have any goals left in the marathon."  She plans to leave the Daiichi Seimei team to take some time off.

Ozaki joined Daiichi Seimei in 2000 after graduating from Soyo H.S. in Kanagawa.  She began running marathons in 2008, and in her second shot at the distance she won the 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon in what remained her PB, 2:23:30.  Of her nine marathons she won twice and finished 2nd four times, earning a reputation for consistency.  In addition to the Olympics she ran in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships.  While at Daiichi Seimei she was part of two National Corporate Women's Ekiden champion teams in 2002 and 2011.

Ozaki will remain with the Daiichi Seimei company and will make guest appearances at amateur running events.  Head coach Sachiko Yamashita commented, "She is taking a complete break, but if she gets the desire to compete back there is a chance she'll return."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ome 30 km Road Race Ready to Ring in Spring

http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/event/sports/news/20130204-OHT1T00222.htm
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/feature/sports/20090121-834932/news/20130212-OHT1T00189.htm
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/feature/sports/20090121-834932/news/20130214-OHT1T00117.htm
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20130214-OHT1T00245.htm
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20130215-OHT1T00216.htm

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.