translated and edited by Brett Larner
Things are tough all over for the civil servant runner. 2014 Asian Games marathon bronze medalist Yuki Kawauchi (27, Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran the 82nd edition of the six-stage, 42.195 km Saitama Ekiden on Feb. 1. Running its longest stage, the 12.1 km Third Stage, Kawauchi clocked 3:15 slower than his own course record, timed at 39:28 for 6th on the stage but still advancing the Saitama Prefectural Government team from 12th to 9th.
Kawauchi sat out last weekend's Okumusashi Ekiden to let the ankle he sprained late last year heal. The pain from the sprain has dissipated to "minor discomfort," but although the wind was strong in Saitama, more than any lingering discomfort in his ankle this time he was set back by coming down with a cold on Jan. 28. "I've been sleeping nine hours a night but have a cough and runny nose," he said. After finishing the Third Stage he could be seen coughing violently and ashen-faced. "I've only been jogging for the last month and have lost a lot of speed, so my breathing was labored even in the first half. I was getting dragged along by high school students," he said. "It was a really tough race, but I knew that without me the Saitama team wouldn't have been able to get the tasuki all the way from the start to finish so I gave them the best running I could." After Kawauchi's run the Saitama team slipped back to 12th by the end of the race, but both that and its final time of 2:23:11 were improvements over last year's 2:27:13 18th-place finish.
Although he is not in perfect condition, Kawauchi is not considering changing his upcoming race plans. He intends to run both the Feb. 8 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon and the Feb. 15 Kochi Ryoma Marathon, his first time doing back-to-back full marathons. "The problem is that I've lost fitness because I haven't been able to train properly," he said. "I could fake the distance today, but you can't fake the distance in a full marathon. I want to use Nobeoka to get back into shape and then really go for it in Kochi. If I can get back to a certain level then we'll see what happens. Today was good speed practice. I think the benefits will follow."
Kawauchi is sitting out the selection races for this August's Beijing World Championships, setting as his main goal for the year winning December's Fukuoka International Marathon to earn a place on the team for next year's Rio de Janiero Olympics. "My goal there is to win, period. Up to now I've been focused on time, saying I'm going to run 2:07 and then not doing it. I'm never going to run 2:02 or 2:03, but I can still learn better racing, to be stronger in the competition." The main reason he sat out the World Championships selection races was to focus on honing his competitive abilities by racing internationally as much as possible. "Looking at the other races," he said, "if you're that happy to be the top Japanese finisher I wonder whether you can really be competitive at the international level. There is a lot of pressure on you once you make a Japanese national team. In terms of a result it's nice if you're the best Japanese, but I want to go in with a higher mindset than that."