by Brett Larner
With favorite Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) operating at less than 100% due to injury and illness last month and his rival Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) a late scratch after coming down with a bad fever just before the race Sunday's Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon was wide open for its 53rd running. 18 men including Kawauchi went through halfway in 1:04:57, on track for a shot at the 2:11:05 course record, before the field began to thin. Born just three days apart and both making their marathon debuts at age 30, Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Norikazu Kato (Team Yakult) emerged to break away together, running side by side until nearly 35 km before Kitajima, braving 30 km/hr headwinds, broke free to take the win in 2:12:28.
Kato faded more than a minute off Kitajima's pace to take 2nd in 2:13:34, just holding off 23-year old Hiroki Yamagishi (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) who was another 20 seconds back in 3rd. For the first time in its history Nobeoka also featured a women's race, Yuka Hakoyama (Team Wacoal) leading the field of 27 with a 2:39:34 win.
Kawauchi, on the mend from a bad ankle sprain in late December followed by a cold, said pre-race that he hoped to make top eight and followed through with an 8th-place finish in 2:15:16, tying Ethiopian great Abebe Mekonnen's world records of 34 career sub-2:16 marathons and 36 career sub-2:17s. Kawauchi plans to break both records at next weekend's Kochi Ryoma Marathon.
Wind was also a major issue at one of the weekend's high-level marathons further up the Kyushu coast. In its first edition last year the Kitakyushu Marathon saw winning times of 2:17 and 2:31. Defending men's champion Shinji Tateishi (Fukuoka T&F Assoc.) led early, but with changing weather mid-race he rounded the 31 km turnaround to face a sustained headwind of over 40 km/hr and temperatures falling to near freezing over the entire final seaside 11 km. Unable to fight the wind he fell to an 11th-place finish in 2:39:15. In his place, Koichiro Yamanaka, a bronze medalist in the marathon at the Deaflympics, stepped up to take 1st in 2:29:41. Women's winner Chika Tawara, a 2:40:00 marathoner, collapsed from exhaustion and the cold after crossing the line in 2:51:11.
To the east in Shikoku the men's race at the 53rd Ehime Marathon went out at course record pace before fading with likewise worsening conditions. Local Sohei Wada, a former member of the disbanded Shikoku Denryoku corporate team, outlasted his corporate and university competition to win in 2:21:42. In the women's race 22-year-old Marie Yamakawa, a student at the local Matsuyama University, took the win in her marathon debut in 2:43:33.
Next to Nobeoka, the weekend's fastest results came far to the northeast in Iwaki, Fukushima. Cancelled last year due to heavy snow, this year's Iwaki Sunshine Marathon saw Shun Suzuki (Nanyo City Hall) and Yuki Konno (Musashino Gakuin Univ.) battle it out over a tough, hilly course to both break the course record. Suzuki got the win in 2:19:01 with Konno, set to join the Comody Iida corporate team in April after his graduation, just back in 2:19:20. New Zealand's Victoria Beck won the women's race in 2:47:38 by a margin of nearly 4 minutes.
(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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