by Brett Larner
With Japan's fiscal and academic year wrapping up at the end of March the majority of the country's corporate runners are in a holding pattern until track season gets underway in April. Collegiate runners dominate what's left of the season, with Sunday's National University Women's Half Marathon Championships, held in conjunction with the Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon and 10 km, marking the last major domestic race of the season. Winning times at the National Championships have been in the 71-minute range the last few years. The lack of a World University Games this year could bring down that leading edge, but if the record-setting depth at last week's National University Men's Half Marathon Championships was any indication the women's race should still be deeply competitive.
2013 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka University) and 2013 National University Track and Field Championships 1500 m winner Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa University) represent Japan's university men this weekend at the NYC Half Marathon, the third time top-level Japanese collegiates have run NYC through a relationship set up by JRN between NYC and Ageo. Ichida hopes to run sub-62 for the first time, with Yufu targeting a time better than his younger Komazawa teammate Kenta Murayama's 1:02:02 at last year's NYC Half. Look for more on Ichida and Yufu in New York on JRN over the next few days.
Further ahead, Ichida's twin brother Hiroshi Ichida (Daito Bunka University) and Yufu's teammate Shota Baba (Komazawa University) lead the four-man Japanese team for next weekend's World University Cross Country Championships in Entebbe, Uganda, with Daito Bunka's Fuyuka Kimura also featuring prominently on the women's team.
A week later, Murayama, now all-time Japanese #3 over the half marathon with a best of 1:00:50 at age 20, his Komazawa teammate and 2013 World University Games half marathon bronze medalist Shogo Nakamura, and Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin University), with a 1:01:39 best making him the fastest-ever Japanese 21-year-old, make up the lion's share of the Japanese men's team for the Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships. Another Komazawa grad, last year's 5000 m national champion Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu), and Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta), both sub-1:01:30 men, round out the team, but hopes are high throughout Japan that Murayama, freshly 21, will lead the way with a mark well under the current Japanese national record of 1:00:25. The all-corporate women's team is relatively weaker, with only Reia Iwade (Team Noritz) having cleared the 70-minute mark in her career to date, running a best of 1:09:45 at December's Sanyo Women's Half Marathon to make the Copenhagen team.
For those craving their Yuki Kawauchi fix, Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is lining up in half marathons both this weekend and next, running his home ground Saitama City Half Marathon this weekend and the Ogori Half Marathon a week later. Kawauchi's rival independent Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) will also line up in Saitama's 3 km race.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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