translated and edited by Brett Larner
2014 Asian Games men's marathon bronze medalist and civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi, 28, ran the Mar. 22 Kumagaya Sakura Half Marathon in Kumagaya, Saitama as a special guest. Running away from the field he scored the win in 1:04:41, his fastest time so far this year and showing that he is making progress in his recovery from the injury that has troubled him since late December. "For the shape I'm in now, that was a good race," he said afterward.
Speaking honestly about the progression of the race, Kawauchi said, "Early on a pack came together with student runners from Daito Bunka University and some familiar faces from the general division. I wasn't particularly planning on trying to run away from them, but....." Mid-race he picked up the pace slightly, and one by one the others in the lead group fell off until he was left all by himself around 9 km.
Kawauchi sprained his left ankle while running in late December. He continued running on it before it had healed, and possibly due to the strain on his ankle he developed pain in his left calf while running the Feb. 22 Fukaya City Half Marathon where he slowed to a personal worst 1:13:36. His ankle and calf have now healed, but in Kumagaya, Kawauchi said, "I had a little pain on the outside of my foot, some lingering effects from these three months." Given that situation, he looked happy with his winning time.
As the original ankle sprain refused to completely heal over those months, Kawauchi bought a large number of products off the Internet that looked useful for helping with recovery from overuse. "I bought a bunch of things like different kinds of compression socks and electrical stimulation therapy machines that looked like they'd be effective," he said. "I'm sure some of the stuff I bought was probably useless, but I'm not really in a situation where I can complain about that...." With a laugh he added, "I spent thousands of dollars on all of it, so now I have to go win some prize money in an overseas race."
But even though he is out of the woods with his injury and the road ahead is looking bright, Kawauchi has become increasingly concerned about the selection process for next year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics team. His plan was to sit out the selection races for this year's World Championships, working on his training himself and scoring his place on the Olympic team at December's Fukuoka International Marathon selection race. "I consider being competitive more important than time, so I thought that winning Fukuoka would be the best way to go," he said of his plan. "2:02 is impossible for today's Japanese athletes, but in a race where competition is the emphasis you have a shot even with a 2:06." As a result, the development plan he put together for 2015 involved him competing overseas against a wide variety of athletes as much as possible.
However, earlier this month in the selection for the Beijing World Championships women's marathon team, Tomomi Tanaka (27, Team Daiichi Seimei), the only Japanese athlete male or female to win one of the major selection races, was left off the team in favor of Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) who ran 18 seconds faster for 3rd in another selection race. "Looking at the women's selection process it's clear that they are prioritizing time," Kawauchi said. "If that's the case then it is a disadvantage to run Fukuoka."
At the other two men's Olympic selection races, Tokyo and Lake Biwa, pacemakers run until 30 km, but in Fukuoka pacers only go until 20 km [purportedly at the insistence of sponsors who want less airtime showing African pacers running in front of the Japanese pack]. Naturally, that difference of 10 km without pacers affects the runners' times as they back off the pace and focus on racing each other. "If Fukuoka were kind enough to extend their pacers' duties to 30 km it would be great, but if not I will probably have to look at shifting plans [to make the Olympic team] to the Tokyo Marathon or Lake Biwa," he said. After his injury forced him to back off plans to run a fast time at the Seoul International Marathon this month Kawauchi's plan was to make the Olympics in Fukuoka and then to return to Seoul next year to go for time. He doesn't want to be forced to change those plans again, but Kawauchi is giving himself until the summer to make a final decision about which race to run.
With regard to the National Corporate Federation's recent announcement of a 100 million yen bonus [~$1 million USD at normal exchange rates] for a new Japanese national record in the marathon Kawauchi said, "In the marathon they should go earn that racing in prize money races overseas. That bonus money should be going into race walking and other minor sports where they have a chance of winning a gold medal."