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Back on the Track, A New Ekiden and No Rest for Kawauchi - Weekend Preview

by Brett Larner

Earlier this year when Oregon-training then-future 3000 m national record holder Suguru Osako (Team Nissin Shokuhin) ran in a U.S. track meet its webcast announcer, talking about Osako's PBs, said in a mocking tone of voice, "Who runs track in November?"  The answer, of course, is just about every elite Japan-based runner.

November is full of track time trial meets that coaches use to assess fitness within their rosters ahead of the mid-December to mid-January national championship ekiden season.  One of the biggest happens on Saturday, the Hachioji Long Distance time trials meet in Tokyo's western suburbs featuring seven men's 10000 m heats packed with much of the top talent in the country.  The A-heat features 18 of the best Japan-based Africans paced by sub-27 man Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC), young sub-28 Japanese athletes Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), Keita Shitara (Team Konica Minolta), Yuta Shitara (Team Honda) and Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei) plus nine others hoping to join them.  The other 6 heats, staggered in 10-second target time increments, all feature Japan-based Kenyan pacers like 2013 World XC junior silver medalist Leonard Barsoton (Team Nissin Shokuhin) leading mixed pro and collegiate fields.  Quality track time trial meets are scheduled far to the west in Nagasaki, mid-country at Chukyo University, and northwest of Tokyo at Heisei Kokusai University in Saitama.  If you consider yourself a serious runner here, there's a pretty good chance you'll be running track in November.

Many college-aged women who aren't will instead be north of Tokyo in Tochigi at the Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden, a brand-new event and welcome addition to the university women's calendar.  14 teams are entered for the one-way, uphill race that is looking to build up some of the buzz that surrounds the Hakone Ekiden's legendary uphill Fifth Stage.  With 6 stages totalling only 23.4 km it'll be over in a relative flash, but at 875 m of climb it's a tough course, especially on its own Fifth Stage which climbs roughly 400 m in 3.5 km.  The #1 women's university team in eastern Japan, Daito Bunka University, is fielding a lineup featuring A-listers Mari Tayama and Eri Utsunomiya, and national-level Osaka Geidai University and Chuo University likewise have some of their big names on their entry list, so in its first running the Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden looks set for a good race.

The weekend's other main event comes in Saitama at the newish Koedo Kawagoe Half Marathon.  A week after a 2:12:59 course record at the Fukuchiyama Marathon, two weeks after a career third-best 1:02:55 at the Ageo City Half Marathon and four weeks after a disappointing turn at the TCS New York City Marathon, Kawagoe course record holder Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) returns to give his 1:04:44 record from last year a go in a tuneup for a shot at a 2:07 marathon next month.  Look for coverage of these and other events throughout the weekend here on JRN.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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