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Imai and Kawauchi Ready for TCS New York City Marathon

by Brett Larner

The TCS New York City Marathon is a major draw for amateur Japanese marathon tourists, but due to conflicts with the fall regional qualifiers for the year-ending national corporate ekiden championships it rarely sees top-level Japanese elites in its field.  Last year was an exception, with London Olympian Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), former Hakone Ekiden star Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) and rebel government clerk Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) all lining up.  Shigetomo and Kawauchi ran only decently, each finishing 11th, but Imai, famous in Japan as a hill specialist, finished 6th in 2:10:45, a solid time on the NYC course and the best-ever there by a Japanese man.  This year both Imai and Kawauchi are back for more and better.

Since last year both Imai and Kawauchi were named to the JAAF's new National Team development program.  After hovering at the 2:10 level for the last three years Imai, coached by Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita and a former training partner of Beijing gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru, took a step
forward with his first sub-2:10, running 2:09:30 for second at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon.  Over the summer he was reasonably strong, winning the late-July Shibetsu Half Marathon for the second year in a row in 1:04:07, 43 seconds slower that his 2013 win.  On Sept. 9 both he and Kawauchi ran the JAAF-mandated National Team 40 km time trial, jointly dropping the rest of Japan's best men at 35 km and racing each other to the finish.  In the final kilometer Imai outkicked Kawauchi for the win, a rare sight diminished only by the fact that Kawauchi had won the City to Surf Perth Marathon just 9 days earlier.  Three weeks later the only real crack in Imai's year appeared in his final tuneup race for New York when he finished 3rd in the Fukuoka Prefecture 10-Mile Championships in 49:29, the slowest of his four times running there by nearly a minute and a half.

After going sub-2:10 twice in two weeks last December Kawauchi, returning to New York with support from JRN, has had another busy year, with five course record marathon wins, a bronze medal at October's Asian Games marathon, a 50 km national record, and a 2:09:36 at May's Hamburg Marathon to become the first Japanese man to go sub-2:10 seven times in his career.  The TCS New York City Marathon will be his tenth of thirteen planned marathons this year and his fortieth career marathon.  In accepting an offer from the New York Road Runners to come back this year Kawauchi specifically asked that they also bring Imai back, and he has set beating Imai's time from last year as his minimum goal.

Sub-2:10 marathons are uncommon in New York, with no more than two or three men running that fast there most years, and even less so for Japanese men abroad.  Of the 146 sub-2:10 marathons so far in Japanese men's history only 22 have been done on foreign soil.  The forecast for strong headwinds on Sunday don't look encouraging for fast times, putting a question mark on the joint attack on the incredible 2:05:06 course record by its holder Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya) and training partner Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) but a smile on the faces of both Imai and Kawauchi.  By career PB Kawauchi is ranked 10th in the field and Imai 15th.  By fastest performance in the last two years Kawauchi ranks 6th and Imai 10th.  By 2014 times Imai climbs to 5th with Kawauchi holding at 6th.  Both are strong on hills and undulations, and with Imai having proved himself in New York last year and Kawauchi having gone to Hamburg specifically to work out the problems he has experienced racing with jet lag both look like solid contenders for top five.  If the wind holds things back for a slower race or the later stages turn into a bloodbath from a large group of the best going at CR pace early with Kipsang and Mutai, who knows what might happen?

text and photo (c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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Kawauchi Wins 7th-Straight Okinoshima 50 km

Running the Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon on his late father's home island of Oki for the eighth year in a row, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran 2:52:55 to win it for the seventh straight time. Starting strong on the relatively flat first 10 km where he clocked 33:26, low-2:47 pace, Kawauchi slowed to just over 2:50 pace on the course's toughest hills between 10 and 30 km. A sub-2:50 was still in range at that point, but over the last 20 km he faded further to finish in the second-slowest of his Okinoshima wins.



The day before the race Kawauchi paced children in Okinoshima's kids' run. Following that he greeted participants and local supporters at an expo event where he was hailed onstage as the Boston Marathon winner. As per his usual routine, his next race will be the July 1 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia.

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Kipchirchir and Chebii Take on Three Gold Coast Winners

The men's race at Australia's Gold Coast Marathon is usually a Kenya-Japan head-to-head, Kenya taking six wins and Japan three in the last ten years. With not a single Ethiopian in the field for this year's 40th edition it looks set for it to happen yet again.

Sub-2:10 Kenyans Victor Kipchirchir, Douglas Chebii, Philip Sanga and the Japan-based Michael Githae will line up to take on three of the race's last four winners, 2017 champ Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta), 2015-16 winner and course record holder Kenneth Mungara (Kenya) and 2013 champ and perpetual top three placer Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't). Give the advantage to team Kenya in this bout, but as Noguchi and Kawauchi have proven Gold Coast is a race where Japanese men are legit contenders.

With the window for getting qualifying times for next year's MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials starting to close, the powers that be in Japan have taken note of the success of Noguchi and Kawauchi on the Gold Coast…

The Kawauchi Counter

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
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
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
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …