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Osako Going for NR #3, the National Corporate Half, Arciniaga Returns to Ome and Kawauchi Goes for WR - Weekend Preview

by Brett Larner

It's another busy weekend on the roads in Japan.  One runner who won't be part of it is one of its best, Oregon-based Suguru Osako (Team Nissin Shokuhin).  Osako has set national records for 3000 m and indoor 2 miles since affiliating with the Nike Oregon Project and is set to run Saturday's Millrose Games Paavo Nurmi 5000 m.  There is no official Japanese NR for indoor 5000 m, but the JAAF has a blank waiting for whatever time he runs.  Considering that his indoor 2 mile NR of 8:16.47 two weeks ago broke the outdoor NR by 8 seconds that could end up being a very decent one.

The biggest race back home is Sunday's National Corporate Half Marathon Championships.  The men's race has a fantastic field, featuring all-time Japanese #4 Chihiro Miyawaki (1:00:53, Team Toyota), all-time Japanese #5 Masato Kikuchi (1:00:57, Team Konica Minolta), sub-61 Japan-based Kenyans Jacob Wanjuki (1:00:55, Team Aichi Seiko) and Daniel Gitau (1:00:59, Team Fujitsu), eight men with 1:01 bests led by Keita Shitara (1:01:20, Team Konica Minolta), and at least two dozen more at the 1:02 level.  Of special note is Charles Ndirangu (Team JFE Steel), making his debut off a win at last weekend's muddy Chiba International XC Meet.

The women's field is split between the half marathon and 10 km.  Now 20, Reia Iwade (Team Noritz) leads the half after setting an under-20 marathon NR of 2:27:21 in Yokohama last year at age 19.  Not far off her 1:09:45 best is Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko) with a 1:09:49 best last month in Osaka, and Mai Ito (1:10:00, Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Sayo Nomura (1:10:03, Team Daiichi Seimei).  The 10 km features five women with sub-33 track bests led by Yuki Mitsunobu (Team Denso) in 32:15.45.

The weekend also features both of Japan's elite 30 km road races.  Last year at the Kumanichi 30 km, 20-year-old Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) took the race out at world record pace, clocking almost identical splits to the lead group at the same-day National Corporate Half through 15 km before fading but still recording a 1:28:52 national collegiate record, the third-best time ever by a Japanese man.  This year his younger brother Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.), also going into the race aged 20, leads a field that includes rival Shin Kimura (Meiji Univ.), past 5000 m national champion Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu), Mongolian marathon national record holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Team NTN) and more.  With multiple sub-63 half marathons to his name Hattori comes in with considerably more experience over longer distances than his older brother did, and with Kimura talking about going for the older Hattori's record it could be another fast year.  Five women round out the Kumanichi elite field led by Mao Kuroda (Team Wacoal) in a tune-up for her marathon debut next month at the Asics L.A. Marathon.

The Ome 30 km in the mountains west of Tokyo is a bigger race than Kumanichi but features a smaller elite field.  Nick Arciniaga (U.S.A.) returns as the favorite after finishing 5th in 2009, his toughest competition likely to be the injury-prone Kohei Ogino (Team Fujitsu) and Shinichiro Nakamura (Waseda Univ.).  2:37 marathoners Akane Mutazaki (Team Edion) and Megumi Amako (Canon AC Kyushu) top the women's field.  As part of a long-standing relationship between the two races, the top Japanese finishers in both divisions stand to earn invites to run April's Boston Marathon.

Two years ago Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) won Kumanichi's 30 km division in one of the most overlooked performances of his career.  Last year he declined to run again, instead asking to join the mass-participation amateur Kumamotojo Marathon that has accompanied the 30 km for several years now.  In that race he blazed a completely solo 2:10:14, the performance he considers by far his best of the year.  This year Kawauchi has opted to run the Kochi Ryoma Marathon, another amateur-level race with a couple of tough hills.  Kawauchi lost most of January to a bad ankle sprain and a cold, meaning he is far behind his fitness goals for this point in the season. 

Last weekend he ran 2:15:16 for 8th at the Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon, where his original pre-sprain target had been the 2:11:05 course record.  Nevertheless, his run was good enough for him to tie Ethiopian great Abebe Mekonnen's world records of 34 career sub-2:16 marathons and 36 sub-2:17.  Kochi Ryoma this weekend will be Kawauchi's first stab at marathons on back-to-back weekends, but with his recovery going smoothly he stands a good chance of surpassing Mekonnen to become the first person in history to run sub-2:16 35 times in his life.  From Osako to Kawauchi, with a possible addition at Kumanichi, it looks like it could be a record-setting weekend.

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
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Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
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