translated and edited by Brett Larner
In thin air between 1500 m and 1700 m, the Kawauchi brothers ran together over tough challenging hills of Nagano. With their mother Mika Kawauchi, 51, watching, her oldest son Yuki, 28, won the June 14 Venus Half Marathon in 1:10:39. A day earlier on the 13th, Yuki and the older of his two younger brothers, Yoshiki, 24, ran the neighboring Megamiko Cup Ekiden, a warmup for the Venus Half, together with friends as part of the four-member "Team Kawamoto," raising the excitement level at the race with a come-from-behind win.
The Kawauchi brothers ran the ekiden together with two friends, brothers Ryusuke and Yuta Sakamoto, 35 and 28, respectively, combining their family names to create the Team Kawamoto name. With each member running the same 2.3 km loop, Yoshiki started the second stage in 5th, running 6:58 and passing four people to take the lead before handing off to Yuki, who blazed a 6:33 split and opened a huge lead that helped Team Kawamoto take the win in 29:11. Spectators around the handoff area shook their heads in admiration, saying, "So fast!" and "Their form is so light and beautiful!" as they watched the Kawauchi brothers, whose running seemed from a different dimension. It was the first time in their lives that Yoshiki had handed off the tasuki to his older brother in an ekiden. "I've handed off to my brother's impersonator M. Takashi before, but it's different when you're dealing with the real thing," Yoshiki said excitedly after his run. "I was kind of nervous."
Click here for a great pic of the brothers' handoff.
On the 14th Yuki ran the Venus Half side-by-side with last year's winner Junichi Ushiyama, 31, until near the 17 km point, but Ushiyama stayed close even after that to make it a tough race all the way to the end. "Mr. Ushiyama works at Chino City Hall, so I definitely did not want to lose to a fellow civil servant," Yuki said of his winning run. "There were major hills on the course. Even though I was running under 3 minutes per km on the downhills, on the last uphill with about 2 km to go my pace slowed to about 4:20."
In a familiar sight, Yuki collapsed just after crossing the finish line in the half marathon, gasping for breath as he lay on the ground. A nearby woman watching the race gave him a bottle of sports drink, and after taking repeated drinks from it he slowly got back to his feet, bowing deeply and smiling to surrounding fans who showered him with congratulations on his win. Yoshiki finished 13th in 1:24:09, a personal worst, but he was upbeat as he said, "Hills get pretty intense when you run in thinner air at this kind of altitude. This was awesome training."
The Venus Half Marathon was Yuki's 28th race of the year. Six of those have been marathons, with wins at January's Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon, February's Kochi Ryoma Marathon and May's Kurobe Meisui Marathon and a season-best 2:12:13 while finishing 2nd at April's Zurich Marathon. His blueprint for the year leading up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics centers on "winning December's Fukuoka International Marathon [Olympic selection race], then breaking my PB [2:08:14] at the Seoul International Marathon next March before taking on the Olympics," he said.
This Sunday, June 21, the brothers' battlefield shifts from the Shinshu Highlands to the islands of the Sea of Japan as Yuki returns to the Okinoshima Ultramarathon to run its hilly 50 km race. In memory of their father Ashio Kawauchi, who was born on the island of Okinoshima and passed away 10 years ago at age 59, this year all three Kawauchi brothers will run the race's tenth edition, Yoshiki in the 100 km division and their youngest brother Koki joining Yuki in the 50 km. "It's a strange coincidence, but the Okinoshima Ultra started the year our father passed away," said Yoshiki. "This will be my first ultra so I'm going to give it everything I've got." Like the eldest brother he is, Yuki tried to hide his concern for his younger siblings as he said, "Not just me, but if Yoshiki and Koki have great runs too the people of the island will be very excited."