Thursday, January 2, 2014

Shitara Twins Lead Toyo University to Hakone Ekiden Day One Win

by Brett Larner
photos by Kazuyuki Sugimatsu

click here for Hakone Ekiden Day Two results and report

After losing to Nittai University in tough conditions last year, Hakone Ekiden course record holder Toyo University took a big step toward a return to the top, winning Day One of the 90th Hakone Ekiden in 5:27:13, the second-fastest time ever for the five stage, 108.0 km Day One Course behind only Toyo's own 5:24:45 course record.  Critical to the team's success were sub-28 / sub-62 identical twin seniors Keita and Yuta Shitara, each of who won his stage in its all-time 4th-fastest mark.  Rival Komazawa University, on a quest to become just the fourth school to complete the triple crown after winning this season's Izumo Ekiden and National University Ekiden Championships, was only 59 seconds behind in 5:28:12 to become the second-fastest team ever on the Day One course and leaving plenty of room for it to challenge Toyo for the overall win on the return trip tomorrow.  Pre-race contender Waseda University was a distant 3rd in 5:32:22 ahead of defending champion Nittai, 4th in 5:33:45 and earning a place in the Day One all-time top ten.

First Stage - 21.4 km

Opening the 50th anniversary year of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the first Hakone Ekiden since the announcement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where today's university men are likely to make up the brunt of the home soil long distance squad, the First Stage was a watershed moment that showed the shape of things to come over the next six years. Waseda captain Suguru Osako, winner of the First Stage in 2011 and 2012, went out with a 2:49 km.  When he and other past stage winners like course record holder Yuki Sato (then Tokai Univ.) have opened with that kind of split in the past they have typically been alone or with one or two remoras tagging along and the rest of the field sticking to 3:00/km on the nose.  This time the entire field of 23 went with him, causing race announcers to bemoan the slow pack start without thinking about what the splits were telling them.  It took 3 km before they realized what was happening: all 23 university guys had by mutual consensus decided to run sub-60 minute half marathon pace for 21.4 km, damn the outcome.  Weaker runners fell off one by one, but with a 14:09 split at 5 km, 1:00:34 pace for the stage versus its 1:01:06 course record and 59:42 half marathon pace, fifteen remained in the pack with the stragglers still running faster than the lead group has in almost all previous years.

10 km came and went in 28:36, a 10000 m PB for most of the ten men left by that point, and with the pace having slowed to slightly behind CR level Aoyama Gakuin University first-year Tadashi Isshiki took over with a surge that shook it down to seven including the four favorites, Osako, last year's First Stage winner Masaya Taguchi (Toyo Univ.), 2013 National University Ekiden Second Stage winner Hideto Yamanaka (Nittai Univ.) and 2013 National University Half Marathon champion and 2013 Izumo Ekiden / 2013 National University Ekiden double First Stage winner Shogo Nakamura (Komazawa University). The group of seven hit 15 km in 43:21, 1:00:58 half marathon pace, before Taguchi attacked on an uphill onto a bridge at 16 km.  Isshiki and Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.) immediately fell off, followed shortly by Osako, then Kei Fumimoto (Meiji Univ.).  On the downhill coming off the bridge Yamanaka went to work, dropping Taguchi to make it a one-on-one against Nakamura.

With 2 km to go Nakamura surged hard, but Yamanaka quickly reeled him in and pulled away again, alone in front in 57:35 at 20 km.  He handed off at stage's end in 1:01:24, the third-fastest mark ever, with Nakamura twelve second back and Taguchi another nine. Only four men had ever broken 62 minutes on the 21.4 km First Stage before, and the new trio's times all equated to sub-61 for the half marathon.  Fumimoto just missed joining them, 4th in 1:02:02 but beating Osako's 2012 solo stage-winning time.  Osako, 5th in 1:02:14, was only 11 seconds slower than 2012 but nearly a minute behind winner Yamanaka, showing the degree to which the game has upped itself.

Second Stage - 23.2 km

Defending champion Nittai's Takumi Honda went out fast on the Second Stage, splitting 14:16, or 1:00:12 half marathon pace, at 5 km.  Behind him Komazawa's Kenta Murayama, setter of stage records at both Izumo and Nationals this fall, blazed a 14:02 opening 5 km to catch up, on track for a 59:13 half marathon and to break the course record of 1:06:04, set by sub-60 half marathoner Mekubo Mogusu (then Yamanashi Gakuin University), by 57 seconds. After Murayama passed Honda, Komazawa head coach Hiroaki Oyagi frantically tried to get Murayama to calm down, but the junior kept pushing ahead.

Behind them, Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) and Shuho Dairokuno (Meiji Univ.) both caught up to Toyo's Yuma Hattori to make it a trio in pursuit of the two leaders.  Further back, Kenyans Duncan Muthee (Takushoku Univ.) and Enoch Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), the latter the 2013 Kanto Region 1500 m, 5000 m and 10000 m champion, both started far back in the field and passed a half dozen before Omwamba abruptly pulled up, hopping on his left foot before lying down on the side of the road holding his right calf.  YGU head coach Masahito Ueda was quickly at his side and, after talking it over with Omwamba, gave race officials the OK to wave the red flag that signified Omwamba's and YGU's withdrawal from the race, a major upset with YGU favored to factor into the midst of the top ten. Omwamba was quickly given medical attention and later reported to have suffered a stress fracture.

Hattori, Takada and Dairokuno worked together to catch Nittai's Honda for 2nd, quickly dropping him.  Ahead of them, Murayama was running strong until hitting the first of the Second Stage's uphills between 14 and 15 km.  There he started have leg cramps, repeatedly hitting first his right thigh and then his left as he tightened up and slowed.  In the group chasing him Hattori attacked, wearing down Dairokuno by 16.5 km as Murayama came into sight.  With the gap down to Murayama down to 30 seconds Takada surged at 19.5 km, but Hattori hung on and returned fire, opening 3 seconds on Takada and closing to 26 seconds behind Murayama.  Dairokuno hung on to 4th for Meiji 45 seconds back, while another 42 seconds behind him Aoyama Gakuin's Daichi Kamino overtook Honda for 5th, with Muthee bringing Takushoku up from 17th to 7th.

Takada clocked the fastest time on the stage, 1:08:18, leaving Komazawa coach Oyagi to blast Murayama in a post-race interview for not listening to him and going out too fast.  At the rear of the field, 23rd-place Kokushikan University went over the ten-minute mark behind Murayama, meaning the humiliation of a white-sash start at only the second handoff of the day.  Kanagawa University and Senshu University, running 21st and 22nd, escaped the same fate by just seconds.

Third Stage - 21.5 km

Komazawa 1500 m and 10000 m record holder Ikuto Yufu started 26 seconds up on last year's Third Stage winner Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.), but it was a margin that couldn't last.  Just before 10 km Shitara went by to put Toyo ahead for the first time.  His 10 km split of 28:30, 1:00:08 half marathon pace, put him 21 seconds ahead of the course record, but despite slowing in the second half he finished up 1:21 ahead of Yufu in 1:02:13, the fourth-fastest time ever for the Third Stage.  Yufu held on to 2nd for Komazawa, with Waseda, Meiji and Aoyama Gakuin holding steady in 3rd, 4th and 5th.  Meiji's Genki Yagisawa, holder of a 13:28.79 best for 5000 m, surprisingly ran the second-fastest time on the stage despite not being able to advance the team's standing.  Nittai dropped to 7th when Takushoku's Hiroto Kanemori outkicked Nittai's Yuta Katsumata after the pair ran most of the stage together.

Fourth Stage - 18.5 km

Hakone's shortest stage was a holding pattern as nothing changed in the place standings among the top eight, the focus simply on getting the Fifth Stage runners into the best position possible to tackle that stage's nearly 900 m of climb.  Star first-year Keisuke Nakatani did his part for Komazawa, cutting Toyo's lead down from 55 to 21 seconds with the second-fastest time ever on the Fourth Stage.  Waseda's top first-year recruit Kazuma Taira also did what he could, cutting 12 seconds off Toyo's lead.  Which is not to say that Toyo's Norihisa Imai had a bad day; both he and Taira also made the all-time top ten on Fourth Stage time.  Shohei Hayakawa (Teikyo Univ.) just missed joining them, moving Teikyo up from 14th to 11th, right on the edge of the ten-deep seeded bracket for the 2015 Hakone Ekiden.

Fifth Stage - 23.4 km, 864 m elevation gain

The Fifth Stage has been the deciding factor in the overall Hakone victory for most of the last ten years, Toyo's three titles between 2009 and 2012 coming thanks to its supreme uphill specialist, course record holder Ryuji Kashiwabara.  Since Kashiwabara's graduation Toyo has finished 2nd every time at Hakone, Izumo and Nationals, and faced with this specter head coach Toshiyuki Sakai this year made a bold move that surprised many, putting his best runner, captain Keita Shitara, the identical twin of Third Stage runner Yuta Shitara, on Fifth to contend against Shota Baba (Komazawa Univ.), last year's Fifth Stage winner Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.), 2013 National University 5000 m and 10000 m champion Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Nihon Univ.) and the mountain itself.  Shitara responded, opening fast to increase the narrow 21-second lead over Baba before settling into the climb after 5 km.  On the hills Baba began to close, but as the slope steepened Shitara moved away again, 40 seconds ahead at the peak of the mountain and pushing the downhill and flat in the final 3 km to reach the finish line 59 seconds ahead.  Like his brother, Shitara's time of 1:19:16 was the fourth-best ever on the Fifth Stage, a performance that gave Toyo the momentum to go for the win tomorrow and break its post-Kashiwabara runner-up slump.

Baba also turned in a rare sub-1:20, running 1:19:54 to give Komazawa it's fastest-ever Day One time.  Waseda's Hiromu Takahashi held on to 3rd, but with only the 12th-fastest time on the stage he effectively knocked Waseda out of contention on Day Two.  Further back, Hattori was again in top-class form as he started fast, pushed it on the hills to go from 7th to 4th, and kicked it at the end for a final time of 1:19:17, one second slower than Shitara but the fifth-best ever.  Meiji's Ken Yokote was Hattori's mirror image, dropping from 4th to 7th, while Kitonyi, only the second African to ever run the Fifth Stage was likewise a bust, falling from 8th to 10th.  Deeper down the field, Shintaro Miwa (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) was one of the unsung heroes of the day, running 1:19:56 to move TNU up from 20th to 14th.

Day Two

With more than five minutes separating Komazawa and Waseda, Day Two and the overall title are pretty well down to a one-on-one between Day One winner Toyo and Izumo and National champion Komazawa.  Both teams lost their Sixth Stage downhill specialists to graduation in 2013, leaving a large question mark over what will happen at the start of the day tomorrow.  59 seconds is a margin that can certainly disappear on just one stage, particularly a technically challenging one like the Sixth Stage with over 800 m descent.

Beyond that, on paper the advantage marginally goes to Toyo.

Coaches have until one hour before the start of the first stage of the day to declare alternates.  Toyo can get away with running its declared lineup and be competitive, but it has the option of subbing in any of the four alternates to maximize its potential results based on today's race.  Komazawa's options are somewhat more limited.  Kubota will all but certainly sub in for Someya on Ninth Stage, with Sonota or Kurokawa possible subs on Sixth for Nishizawa.  Based on the numbers any of Komazawa's remaining three alternates would diminish its chances.  If the best five from each team start it will be very, very close, largely dependent on whether Hattori, the younger brother of Toyo's Second Stage runner Yuma Hattori, and Otsu can counter Kubota.  Going by half marathon best times, Komazawa will be 28 seconds faster than Toyo over the 109.9 km of Day Two.  Factor in Toyo's 59 second margin of victory on Day One and they win overall by 31 seconds.  Both teams have extremely high and special motivation for the win, so it may go down to the very end. Let's hope so.

But one of the things that sets the ekiden apart as a form of racing and a large part of what has made it so popular as a spectator sport in Japan is that it is not just about what happens at the very front.  Particularly at Hakone, there are a multitude of other things going on that made the race multi-dimensional and engrossing.  At Hakone the seeded bracket makes for a nested series of races going on within the overall race as teams not in contention for the overall win try to get a position that will guarantee them a place at the 2015 Hakone Ekiden and allow them to run October's Izumo Ekiden instead of the Yosenkai 20 km Hakone qualifier a week later.  This year ten seeded places are up for grabs, and there are seven teams in contention for the bottom six slots in the bracket. Hosei University is the odd man out after Day One, 34 seconds behind 10th-place Nihon and 46 behind Tokai in 9th.  Teikyo University in 12th and Chuo Gakuin University in 13th are not far behind and could get into the action, but look for Hosei to go after Tokai and Nihon with everything they have.

The race for 10th will be even more interesting since Hosei was the first team to finish more than 10 minutes behind winner Toyo.  All teams in that position, including the DNF'd Yamanashi Gakuin University which is allowed to run without its results being counted, start Day Two together 10 minutes after Toyo with a time handicap added to its overall time throughout Day Two.  Hosei finished Day One 10:33 behind Toyo, and so it will start Day Two 10:00 behind them and carry a 33-second handicap.  Since Nihon finished Day One 9:59 behind Toyo, this means Hosei will start one second behind Nihon but have a deficit of 32 seconds against them.  In other words, Hosei must physically beat Nihon by 33 seconds by the end of the day in order to end up one second ahead of them and make the seeded bracket in 10th place.  This sounds more confusing than it is in practice, but taken all together it makes Day Two of Hakone just as compelling as Day One, even in years when it is a one-sided blowout for a single team up front.

JRN's live coverage of Day Two of the Hakone Ekiden starts at 7:00 a.m. Japan time with the race getting underway at 8:00 a.m.  Follow us on Twitter @JRNLive for the complete breakdown.  Broadcaster NTV's live map showing the positions of all runners in real time is very helpful for following the action, with live splits and results also available here.  Check back on JRN post-race for complete results and reports on the final outcome of the biggest race in the sport.

90th Hakone Ekiden Day One
Tokyo-Hakone, 1/2/14
23 teams, 5 stages, 108.0 km
click here for complete results

Team Results
1. Toyo University - 5:27:13
2. Komazawa University - 5:28:12 - all-time #2
3. Waseda University - 5:32:22
4. Nittai University - 5:33:45 - all-time #10
5. Aoyama Gakuin University - 5:35:04
6. Takushoku University - 5:35:52
7. Meiji University - 5:36:01
8. Daito Bunka University - 5:36:31
9. Tokai University - 5:37:00
10. Nihon University - 5:37:12
----- all teams more than 10 min behind winner start Day Two together with time handicap
11. Hosei University - 5:37:46
12. Teikyo University - 5:39:23
13. Chuo Gakuin University - 5:40:18
14. Tokyo Nogyo University - 5:41:39
15. Kanagawa University - 5:41:56
16. Jobu University - 5:41:59
17. Chuo University - 5:42:27
18. Koku Gakuin University - 5:42:36
19. Juntendo University - 5:43:30
20. Josai University - 5:44:27
21. Senshu University - 5:47:57
22. Kokushikan University - 5:55:47
DNF - Yamanashi Gakuin University

Top Stage Performances
First Stage (21.4 km)
1. Hideto Yamanaka (Nittai Univ.) - 1:01:25 - all-time #3
2. Shogo Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:36 - all-time #5
3. Masaya Taguchi (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:46 - all-time #7
4. Kei Fumimoto (Meiji Univ.) - 1:02:02 - all-time #8
5. Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 1:02:14

Second Stage (23.2 km)
1. Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) - 1:08:18
2. Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:08:27
3. Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 1:08:43
4. Duncan Muthee (Takushoku Univ.) - 1:08:44
5. Shuho Dairokuno (Meiji Univ.) - 1:09:15
DNF - Enoch Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.)

Third Stage (21.5 km)
1. Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 1:02:13 - all-time #4
2. Genki Yagisawa (Meiji Univ.) - 1:03:27
3. Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:34
4. Keita Shioya (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:55
5. Rintaro Takeda (Waseda Univ.) - 1:04:00

Fourth Stage (18.5 km)
1. Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.) - 54:41 - all-time #2
2. Kazuma Taira (Waseda Univ.) - 55:03 - all-time #6
3. Norihisa Imai (Toyo Univ.) - 55:15 - all-time #10
4. Shohei Hayakawa (Teikyo Univ.) - 55:23
5. Shin Kimura (Meiji Univ.) - 55:36

Fifth Stage (23.4 km, 864 m climb)
1. Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 1:19:16 - all-time #4
2. Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.) - 1:19:17- all-time #5
3. Shota Baba (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:19:54 - all-time #10
4. Shintaro Miwa (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 1:19:56
5. Shota Miyagami (Tokai Univ.) - 1:20:06

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2014 Kazuyuki Sugimatsu
all rights reserved


TokyoRacer said...

Well, maybe Omwamba has a stress fracture, but it sure looked like a torn calf muscle to me. Because exactly the same thing happened to me. One of those tears that are not bad enough to make you fall down immediately. You think it's just a cramp, so you slow but keep running, and it gets worse and worse (you're tearing it more) and after another km you can't run at all. He was pointing to his calf. In any case, too bad - you hate to see that happen, especially in an ekiden!

Brett Larner said...

I've had some questions on email about why there are a few gun starts with a small number of runners on a few stages. The answer:

If teams fall more than a pre-determined amount of time behind the leaders they have to start the
next stage at a particular time, usually with a white or other colored sash to show that they did not pass on the original one. The time difference between when they start and when the preceding runner comes in is then added to the running time.

The cutoff at the end of the Second Stage was 10 minutes, so at exactly 10:00 after leader Komazawa came through the last remaining team, Kokushikan, started the Third Stage (along with YGU which had been eliminated by Omwamba's DNF but allowed the honor of still completing the remaining stages without their times being counted). Kokushikan's second man came in at 12:10, so Kokushikan carried a 2:10 time handicap that was added to its total time at the end of the day.

The cutoff at the end of Day One was also 10:00, so every team that was further behind than that (11th~22nd place plus YGU, as it turned out) started Day Two at 10:00 behind leader Toyo and had the time handicap added to its running results. Most of the stages on Day Two have a 20-minute cutoff, so you had up to 7 teams starting at once on one of the later stages. It's down to the second, so even though two teams' runners were right there their next guys had to start on the gun.

Next to a DNF getting white sashed is the worst thing that can happen to a team in an ekiden because the continuity of the tasuki is broken, the piece of cloth that holds the sweat that symbolizes the efforts of the teammates that came before you is stopped and doesn't make it to the finish line. That's why you see the guys coming in who don't get to hand off crying and lying on the ground in devastation afterwards. They're not joking around or acting. Ultimately it's an issue of road closure permits and not all ekidens have it, but the white sash start rule definitely adds something to the event. If nothing else it creates an emphasis on excellence: if you don't measure up as a team you're going to wear a mark that shows that fact to everybody, and that's a shame they all want to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Your comment explains a lot. Over the past week, I have been finding myself being drawn into watching and learning about Ekidens. They are a form of racing that is quite uncommon to see in my country. I think that Ekidens provide the necessary structure in which running transforms itself from the stereotypical solo event into a team sport that attracts fans (much like the Tour de France). This is very unique and fascinating.