Skip to main content

National Men's Ekiden Wraps Up Championship Ekiden Season This Sunday

by Brett Larner

This Sunday's 19th National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima brings Japan's 2013-2014 national championship ekiden to a close with one of the most entertaining races of them all. Teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures made up of junior high school, high school, university and pro runners race over 7 stages and 48 km, one of the few chances of the year to see the best of the corporate league's New Year Ekiden men duel with the university circuit's Hakone Ekiden stars and often the first glimpse of upcoming stars running young.  It's all broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free on NHK starting at 12:30 p.m.  As usual, JRN will cover the race live on Twitter @JRNLive.

This year university runners seem to outweigh the pros, with many of the Hakone stage winners and upper-echelon men taking the top positions on a number of teams.  That may in part be due to this year's World Half Marathon Championships being held in March and the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, usually held mid-March, being bumped back to mid-February as a consequence.  The new Okukuma Half Marathon, of which more later, could also be playing a role.

Whatever the reason, defending champion Hyogo returns with a quality lineup led by London Olympics marathoner Ryo Yamamoto (Team SGH Group Sagawa) and Hosei University ace Kazuto Nishiike.  Nishiike suffered a minor injury at the end of December and was unable to run Hakone, but if he is not ready to start in Hiroshima team alternate Keisuke Nakatani of Hakone runner-up Komazawa University, the only Komazawa man to win his stage at Hakone, is a more than suitable replacement.  High school powerhouse Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. also fields two members, giving Hyogo a good shot at a title defense.

Fukushima fields an exceptionally strong team including 5000 m national champion Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu) and Toyo member Norihisa Imai.  With a 5000 m best of 14:01.63 its leading runner Masaki Takamoto (Gakuho Ishikawa H.S.) is one of the fastest on the First Stage, so look for Fukushima to be in the action from the early going.

Yamanashi's team is stacked with four members of 2013 national champion Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. including sub-14 high schoolers Ryotaro Ichitani and Kenta Ueda, but its chances will be largely up to sub-28:40 collegiate Kazuma Tashiro (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and late-career pro Norio Kamijo.  Nagano is likewise stacked with four members of National High School Ekiden 5th-placer Saku Chosei H.S., former 1500 m and 5000 m national champion and Saku Chosei alum Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) and Hakone Ninth Stage winner Keigo Yano (Nittai Univ.).  Following the same pattern, Hiroshima's team features four people from High School Ekiden 4th-place Sera H.S. backing former collegiate 10000 m national record holder Tetsuya Yoroizaka and New Year Ekiden ace Fourth Stage 4th-place Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku), a lineup that should be enough for it to be near the front of the race.

One of Hyogo's strongest challengers could be last year's 4th-placer Saitama, which includes Hakone Fifth Stage top two Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.) as its two main members and Third Stage winner Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) as alternate.  Much depends on how its high school men perform, and with 14:06.73 man Kazuki Takeshita (Tokyo Nogyo Prep #3 H.S.) on board they could have that angle covered.

Saitama's most famous runner, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is giving the National Men's Ekiden a pass in favor of the new Okukuma Road Race half marathon the same day in Kumamoto.  Having just started last year, Okukuma is already establishing itself as a top drawer-race.  Alongside Kawauchi the field includes defending winner Hayato Ideue, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage runner-up Masato Imai, Seventh Stage winner Ryuji Watanabe and 2013 Tamana Half Marathon winner Daichi Kato (all four of Team Toyota Kyushu), members of most of the top ten teams at Hakone, and a few dozen other elite university and corporate league men.  Imai, Watanabe and Kato have all beaten Kawauchi in half marathons in the last year, and with an unexpected loss behind him last weekend at the Tanigawa Mari Half Kawauchi will no doubt be going for payback.  Ideue's 1:04:31 course record from last year should fall by a wide margin.

Although the women's national championship ekiden season wrapped up last weekend with the National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto, across Kyushu from Kumamoto there's one more for the road as the Kita-Kyushu Invitational Women's Ekiden celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Kita-Kyushu gives some of the country's top high schools the chance to take a shot at top pro and university teams, with the 32.8 km event's longest stage divided into two for the high schoolers.  2013 winner Ritsumeikan Uji H.S., which became the first high school in event history to beat every corporate league team as it set the course record last year, returns to take on the two best corporate teams it outran, Tenmaya and Kyudenko. Last weekend London Olympics marathoner Risa Shigetomo won the National Women's Ekiden's 10 km anchor stage in 31:50 with Kyudenko anchor Misaki Kato 4th in 32:28.  Their rematch here should be one of the day's highlights.

Check back over the weekend for coverage of these and other road action.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

How it Happened

Ancient History I went to Wesleyan University, where the legend of four-time Boston Marathon champ and Wes alum Bill Rodgers hung heavy over the cross-country team. Inspired by Koichi Morishita and Young-Cho Hwang’s duel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I ran my first marathon in 1993, qualifying for Boston ’94 where Bill was kind enough to sign a star-struck 20-year-old me’s bib number at the expo.

Three years later I moved to Japan for grad school, and through a long string of coincidences I came across a teenaged kid named Yuki Kawauchi down at my neighborhood track. I never imagined he’d become what he is, but right from the start there was just something different about him. After his 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon he called me up and asked me to help him get into races abroad. He’d finished 3rd on the brutal downhill Sixth Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and given how he’d run the hills in the last 6 km at Tokyo ’11 I thought he’d do well at Boston or New York. “If M…

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …

Guinness Certifies Kawauchi's World Record 78 Career Sub-2:20 Marathons After Half Marathon in Panda Costume

Known as the Civil Servant Runner, Saitama Prefectural Government employee Yuki Kawauchi's career record of 78 sub-2:20 marathons was officially recognized as the Guinness World Record at a ceremony in his hometown of Kuki, Saitama on Mar. 25.  Raised in Kuki, Kawauchi began working for the Saitama Prefectural Government after graduating from university. Running while working full-time as a civil servant, he has qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic trial race.

Earlier this month on the 18th Kawauchi ran Taiwan's Wan Jin Shi Marathon, winning in 2:14:12. His 78th time running faster than 2 hours and 20 minutes, his achievement was certified as the official Guinness World Record. He actually broke the previous record on Jan. 1 at the Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon in the U.S.A. with his 76th sub-2:20 but followed up with two performances, one in February and the other last week, before Guinness could ratify the record.

The official recognition ceremony took place Mar. 2…