Skip to main content

Ekiden Season Hits Peak With National Women's and Men's Ekidens

by Brett Larner

Ekiden season never really ends, but championship season hits its peak this weekend and next with the Jan. 11 National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto and Jan. 18 National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima.  Both races feature teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures, made up of the best pro, collegiate, high school and junior high school runners from each region, and both are broadcast live and commercial-free nationwide by NHK.  Follow @JRNLive for live coverage of both starting at 12:30 each day.

At the 33rd running of the National Women's Ekiden defending champion Kyoto comes in with seven wins in the last ten years and home ground advantage on the nine-stage, 42.195 km course.  Its team is missing its magic ingredient, last year's Fourth Stage course record setter Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu), but features veteran Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) and 2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) along with 2014 National University Ekiden winner Ritsumeikan University's Nanako Kanno and four members of 2014 National High School Ekiden runner-up Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. including stage winners Fukiko Ando and Maako Konishi.

The last team to beat Kyoto, Kanagawa, had to run a course record 2:14:55 to do it in 2013.  This year's Kanagawa team is a good one, led by pros Rui Aoyama (Team Univ. Ent.) and Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) supported by top-level collegiate Maki Izumida (Rikkyo Univ.) and several strong high school and junior runners, but it doesn't look like it has the potential to outrun Kyoto or the other top competition.

Chief among those is 2012 national champion Osaka.  Led by Sayuri Oka of 2014 National Corporate Women's Ekiden runner-up Daihatsu and Ritsumeikan University's Natsuki Omori, Osaka's lineup includes six members of 2014 National High School Ekiden champion Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. including 2014 Youth Olympics 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu, and her younger sister, last year's Third Stage winner Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin J.H.S.).  With a combination like this Osaka looks like the favorite to stop a Kyoto repeat.

The other big competition comes from last year's runner-up Gunma, which features four members of 2014 National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd-placer Yamada Denki including stage winners Yuika Mori and Sakiho Tsutsui, and five members of 2014 National High School Ekiden 3rd-placer Tokiwa H.S. including prestigious First Stage winner Harumi Okamoto.

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Yuta Shitara Breaks Japanese Men's Half Marathon National Record in Berlin Marathon Tuneup at Usti nad Labem Half

A week after his 28:55 at the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10 km and just eight days out from the Berlin Marathon, Yuta Shitara (Honda) made the great leap forward, taking 8 seconds off Atsushi Sato's 2007 half marathon Japanese national record, finishing 8th at the Czech Republic's Usti nad Labem Half Marathon.

Shitara is probably most well-known outside Japan for going through halfway under 62 minutes during his marathon debut at this year's Tokyo Marathon and still ending up with a 2:09:27, but he's been turning heads in Japan since his second year at Toyo University when he broke a stage record at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden and outkicked the U.S.A.'s Dathan Ritzenhein to finish in 1:01:48 at the NYC Half two months later, until this year the fastest time ever by a Japanese man on U.S soil.

Three weeks before Tokyo this year he ran a 1:01:19 PB at the Marugame Half. Many people would call that a solid tuneup three weeks out from a serious marathon, but eight days? In P…

Hattori Becomes Third-Straight Japanese Men's Sydney Marathon Winner

Following within 24 hours of Yuki Kawauchi's win at the BMW Oslo Marathon and Yuta Shitara's national record at the Usti nad Labem Half Marathon, Shota Hattori (Honda) made it an overseas hat trick for men from Japan's Saitama prefecture when he won the Sydney Marathon in 2:15:16. Having debuted at February's Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon with a 2:14:19 for 2nd, Hattori outlasted Ethiopian Werkuneh Seyoum Aboye, Kenyan Sammy Kigen Korir (Kenya) and compatriot Ryoma Takeuchi (Hitachi Butsuryu) to become the third-straight Japanese men's Sydney champ, winning by a margin of 20 seconds over Aboye.

Congratulations to Shota Hattori, male winner of the Blackmores Marathon – with a time of 02:15:16. #SydneyRunningFestivalpic.twitter.com/R47w8TCG2X — SydneyRunFestival (@officialbsrf) September 17, 2017
No Japanese women made the podium in the marathon, but in the accompanying half marathon both the men's and women's races saw Japanese runners-up. In the men's …

Ayuko Suzuki Leaves for Altitude Training in Boulder Motivated for the Marathon

2017 London World Championships 5000 m and 10000 m runner Ayuko Suzuki (25, Japan Post) left from Narita Airport on Sept. 18 for altitude training in Boulder, Colorado.

Two days earlier at a half marathon in Czech Republic, Yuta Shitara (25, Honda), like Suzuki born in 1991, broke the 10-year-old Japanese men's half marathon national record in a time of 1:00:17. "It's a big motivation to see an athlete the same age as me doing something like that," she said. Showing her determination to be one of her generation's leaders, she added, "I'll be 28 [at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics], right in my prime mentally and physically. I want to run big too."

In the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics Suzuki has the marathon in sight along with the track. "I need to run a half marathon and marathon somewhere once to check [how well they suit me]," she said. "Coach and I will be talking about it." If everything goes according to plan, December's Sanyo …