by Brett Larner
It's one of the busiest weekends of the year across Japan, with three major road races, regional championship corporate ekiden action, two big track meets and even some overseas collegiates.
The biggest race on the schedule is Sunday's Ageo City Half Marathon in Ageo, Saitama, a local race used by coaches of university teams bound for Japan's most prestigious sporting event, January's Hakone Ekiden, to pare down their rosters to the final candidates for their Hakone lineups. As a result Ageo regularly features jaw-dropping numbers, with close to 200 going under 1:06 and 4~500 under 1:10. In a program put together by JRN, for the last three years the NYC Half Marathon has invited the top two Japanese collegiates in Ageo to its race in March, and in 2013 the invite had a measurable impact. In its first 25 years Ageo saw 36 people break 1:03. At last year's 26th running 18 more runners, all Japanese collegiates, broke 1:03.
Defending champion Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) will be back in pursuit of another shot in New York, and 2012 winner Kenta Murayama and 2013 National University Half Marathon champion Shogo Nakamura, both members of four-time National University Ekiden winner Komazawa University and of the Japanese National Team at the 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships, are also on the entry list. There's no telling who will actually start, but given the steady stream of record-breaking depth and quality in Japan since Tokyo won the 2020 Olympic bid it's safe to say that it's going to be another incredible day in Ageo no matter who ends up on the podium. Local hero Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) will also make a return to competition in Ageo for the first time since running the TCS New York City Marathon two weeks ago. JRN will be onhand to cover the race live. Follow @JRNHeadlines and @JRNLive for more.
Next on the list is the Yokohama International Women's Marathon, going out with a bang after just six runnings by welcoming 2012 London Olympics gold medalist Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia) back to Japan. Yokohama has always been something of a dinosaur, an attempt to hold on to something outdated as times change, bumped down from Tokyo to Yokohama as the new Tokyo Marathon shouldered aside the historic Tokyo International Women's Marathon, and while it is disappointing it's not really surprising that it never caught on and will be sent down again to Saitama next year, where it is due to be subsumed into a mass-participation race in 2016.
The formerly Japan-based Gelana makes for a good last hurrah along with fellow former Japan residents Philes Ongori (Kenya) and Caroline Rotich (Kenya), both of whom enigmatically have PBs of 2:23:22. Joining them are the Euro cadre of Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine), Marisa Barros (Portugal), Zivile Balciunaitie (Lithuania) and Alina Prokopeva (Russia), and Irvette Van Zyl (South Africa). Japanese hopes lie primarily in former teammates Azusa Nojiri (Hiratsuka Lease), an independent who won August's Hokkaido Marathon, and two-time National Corporate Half Marathon champion Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), running her second marathon after debuting in 2:26:05 in Nagoya this year. The most interesting Japanese woman may be Reia Iwade (Team Noritz), maing her debut at age 19 after a 1:09:45 half marathon at the Sanyo Ladies Half last December just after her birthday. Follow @JRNLive for live coverage throughout the race.
Speaking of Sanyo, traditionally a year-end highlight producing many of the year's top Japanese women's times, this year it has moved to mid-November and now sits opposite Yokohama. As a consequence its half marathon has taken a serious hit in quality. Mattie Suver (U.S.A.) and Charlotte Purdue (Great Britain) face a weak domestic field with only two Japanese women, Shoko Mori (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Asami Furuse (Team Kyocera), holding bests under 1:15. Better quality is to be found in Sanyo's 10 km division, where Japan-based Kenyans Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) and Felista Wanjugu (Team Univ. Ent.) lead 2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi and her Wacoal teammates Yuka Hakoyama, Mao Kuroda and Ai Migita and others.
Japanese women are also to be found abroad this weekend as once again members of the Meijo University women's ekiden team will run the Netherlands' Zevenheuvelenloop road race. Road action is rounded out by regional qualifying ekidens for the corporate men's New Year Ekiden national championships. Across Japan, men's corporate teams in the Chubu, Chugoku, Hokuriku and Kansai regions will be racing to make the New Year cut, following last weekend's East Japan regional qualifier. And for those not running in any of the races above, major track time trials will also happen at Nittai University in Yokohama and Ecopa Stadium further west in Shizuoka. JRN will bring you results and coverage of all these events through the weekend and into next week.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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