translated and edited by Brett Larner
University runners aiming for the Hakone Ekiden spend their harsh summers building a base of around 40 km a day. They have a saying about the importance of their summer training camps: "Those who win the summer win the winter." To protect its legacy of ten overall Hakone wins, the prestigious Nittai University is not afraid of new challenges that take it even beyond.
As usual, Nittai arrived in Yamagata on Aug. 8 for primary training at Zhao Onsen and Zhao Bodaira, breaking camp after morning practice on Aug. 18. Team members had the rest of the day to spend as they like and to figure out how to get themselves to their scheduled assembly at Sendai Port at 6:30 p.m. "If you can't think about everything for yourself as an athlete, you'll never be strong," says head coach Kenji Beppu, 48. From Sendai the team boarded a ferry bound for Hokkaido, where it would go straight on into the next stage of its training camp.
Up to this point it's the same schedule they've always had, but this year the camp will be stretched out an extra three weeks. For the first time, the Nittai team will run the Hokkaido Marathon, scheduled for Aug. 31. They will run as a pack at a predetermined pace until 30 km, free to run the remaining 12.195 km however they like. The target for members' final finish times is between 2:20 and 2:30.
Nittai's captain for its 2013 Hakone Ekiden win, Shota Hattori, 22, graduated this spring and is now running for the Honda corporate team. "Up until last year we had a strong individual runner who could affect the outcome of the race all by himself," says this year's captain Hikaru Kato, a senior. "This season every single one of us needs to deliver his absolute best." To build the strength needed for the winter's greatest road relay, Nittai University will seek to conquer the summer's 42.195 km.