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National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, a National Record Shot, Kawauchi's 2014 Marathon Debut and More - Weekend Preview

by Brett Larner

Three races fill out a busy weekend across Japan.  The biggest is the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, bumped from its regular home in mid-March by this year's World Half Marathon Championships and serving as the last selection race for the men's and women's teams in Copenhagen.  Corporate-league Kenyans Jacob Wanjuki (Team Aichi Seiko) and Daniel Gitau (Team Fujitsu) for the top group of some of Japan's best current half-marathoners, including sub-62 men Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei), Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei), Tomoya Onishi (Team Asahi Kasei).  For the last few years it has taken a run into the all-time Japanese top ten to be the first Japanese man across the line at the Corporate Championships, and with Komazawa University junior Kenta Murayama having run an all-time #3 1:00:50 to make the Copenhagen team two weeks ago in Marugame it's a good bet that the best of the corporate system will be looking to go one better.  Click here for a complete men's entry list.

For the fourth year the women's race is split between a 10 km and half marathon.  Leading the half are two sub-70 women, last year's 3rd-placer Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) and 2012 winner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), but there is plenty of competition just behind.  Kenyan Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) and up-and-coming women Sakiko Matsumi (Team Daiichi Seimei), Chieko Kido (Canon AC Kyushu), Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko), Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) and Shiho Takechi (Team Yamada Denki) all have solid shots at both the win and the World Half team.  Takechi's teammate Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki), the road 10 km collegiate national record holder, is the favorite to win the 10 km division.  Click here for women's half marathon and 10 km entry lists.

Speaking of collegiate national records, the Kumanichi 30 km Road Race hosts what should end up being the weekend's most exciting race.  Last year Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University's captain Keita Shitara set the 30 km collegiate record of 1:29:55 in a thrilling four-way battle won by Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) in 1:29:31.  This year nine of the best university runners are lining up at Kumanichi to try to better that.  Toyo's Yuma Hattori and Ryu Takaku go up against Komazawa University captain Shinobu Kubota and his 2013 National University Half Marathon champion teammate Shogo Nakamura, 2012 National University Half Marathon winner Toshikatsu Ebina (Teikyo Univ.), 2012 Hakone Ekiden winner Nittai University ace Takumi Honda and others, with another half dozen or so corporate league runners there as sparring partners.  Kawauchi will also be there but rather than defending his Kumanichi title has opted to open his 2014 marathon season in the event's accompanying amateur-level marathon where he will be looking to better the 2:19:30 course record set last year by fellow civil servant runner Shota Jige (Kumamoto Pref. Gov't).

West of Tokyo there's one other elite-level 30 km race on the schedule, one of Japan's most popular road races, the Ome 30 km and 10 km Road Race.  With heavy snow currently falling in Tokyo and scheduled to last into Saturday it's a question mark whether Ome will go off, but if so it will see the 30 km debut of 5000 m collegiate record holder Kensuke Takezawa (Team Sumitomo Denko), finally taking long-awaited steps toward a marathon debut.  The Fujitsu and Konica Minolta corporate teams are again sending several of their top young members to run Ome in pursuit of the invitation to run April's Boston Marathon available to the Ome winner, with Komazawa University graduate Hiromitsu Kakuage and teammate Takuya Noguchi (both Team Konica Minolta) looking like the favorites to challenge Takezawa.  Independent Eri Okubo (Miki House) leads the small women's 30 km division.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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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.

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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
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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
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              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …