Skip to main content

Hakone Ekiden Champ Aoyama Gakuin University Student Managers Run 42.195 km to Check Course Before Full-Team Training Run

http://www.asahi.com/articles/ASH9Z01PPH9YOIPE039.html

by Shizuka Kaneshima
translated by Brett Larner

2015 Hakone Ekiden champion Aoyama Gakuin University wrapped up its primary training camp for the upcoming Big Three University Ekiden season with its annual 42.195 km team run.  Surprisingly, even team members not even considering doing a marathon were smiling and laughing as they ran.  Making it possible behind the scenes of this unique training run were the preparation and support of the team's student managers.

Their hard work started the day before this annual tradition took place.  While the team's runners had lunch and rested up for that evening's practice session the managers gathered in front of the team's lodgings.  For some reason they looked unhappy.  "We're going to go run the course now to check it out," third-year Ibuki Yoshida said.  This was the fourth year that the team was doing the 42.195 km run.  The course was the same every year.  Why did they need to go see it again?  "We have to check whether there are any potholes or whether any of the kilometer mark signs on the side of the road are missing," he said.  No kidding.  But if you want to check for trouble spots why not do it by bicycle?  There's no need for everyone to run it, right?  "Well," laughed Yoshida, "there's kind of silent peer pressure from the runners that we should have to enjoy suffering like they do too."

All five male student managers are former runners, but all have been off running for different amounts of time.  The longest-serving among them, fourth-year Hitoshi Mine, has been a manager for two years.  Yoshida became a manager after the Hakone Ekiden in January this year and has mostly not run since then.  Team captain Daichi Kamino smiled down from a window in the team's rooms as the five started their long slog over the course.  As they ground it out, the team's female student managers were also busy getting ready for the main workout.  Head coach Susumu Hara had said, "Just 35 or 40 km is not good enough.  Even if it's not official it's very important to actually cover the actual full marathon distance."  Taking that to heart, the women used a measuring device to count off exactly 195 m, stretching a roll of toilet paper across the mark as a finish line tape. 

Back out on the roads, early on in the male managers' run they were smiling and waving.  According to leader Ryo Uchimura, a fourth-year, "Hitoshi was the most energetic one when we started, but he was the first one to die."  3 hours and 45 minutes after they started all five finished the run more or less on schedule.  Yoshida slumped to the ground and had trouble making it up the steps back inside the team's residence.  He and the other four were all filled with a deep sense of accomplishment after finishing the workout a day earlier than the athletes on the team, but the female managers were quick to yank them back to reality.  "Hey, you have to work tomorrow too, so get it together and stop sitting around!" they scolded the men.

Truth.  Making sure that all the runners on the team could safely complete the full marathon distance the next day was one of the managers' biggest responsibilities.  Uchimura was scheduled to lead the runners by bicycle with the other four male managers covering drink station duties, handing off bottles to the large pack of athletes running 4:00/km pace at every station.

The next morning, sure enough, Yoshida was in a world of hurt.  "I can't move my legs..." he moaned before the decision was made to leave him behind at the accommodations.  "If you can't work for the main workout then why are you even here?" the female managers said as they shot him icy cold glares.  In his absence one of the women with no experience as a runner struggled to fill his place, gasping for breath as she paced the team's men at water stations to get their bottles to them.

When their run was finished the entire team posed for a memorial picture while their heightened sense of unity was still fresh and vital.  They asked me to take the picture.  A sea of smiles just as fresh and vital.  But I couldn't help thinking, "I'd like to ask all the managers to be in this picture too."

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Toyo University Leads Defending Champ Aoyama Gakuin on Hakone Ekiden Day One

The team that brought Japan's greatest race into the modern era with its historic 2012 sub-3 min/km win, Toyo University came out swinging to win Day One of the 2018 Hakone Ekiden.

Intensely popular with fans, Toyo has struggled this season with its entire senior class out with injury. With its fate in the hands of its younger members Toyo 1st-year Kazuya Nishiyama, freshly 19 in November, stepped up and took control of the race with both hands. Midway through the fast First Stage Nishiyama surged hard to go out front alone, 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi (Komazawa Univ.) and relative unknown Yuhei Urano (Koku Gakuin Univ.) the only ones to try to go with him. Nishiyama covered the 21.3 km stage in 1:02:16, equivalent to a 1:01:40 half marathon, with Urano and Katanishi around 15 seconds back. 3-time defending champ Aoyama Gakuin University was 25 seconds behind in 5th at the first exchange, 2017 Izumo Ekiden winner Tokai University another …

Kiplagat, Ichiyama, Tadese and Shitara Lead Marugame Half Elite Field

The Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon is always one of Japan's deepest races of the year on the men's side, its 2012 running setting a world record for the most men under 64 minutes in a single half marathon in history. On the women's side the field is always smaller but still home to the 1:07:26 Japanese national record set by Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) back in 2006.

Edna Kiplagat (Kenya), Sara Hall (U.S.A.) and Betsy Saina (Kenya) lead the women's international field, two-time defending champ Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) giving Marugame a miss this year. Fresh off a 1:09:14 PB at last month's Sanyo Ladies Half, Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) leads a trio of Japanese women with recent sub-1:10 times, something that has become a puzzling rarity lately. Fukushi is also back, her recent best of 1:12:04 a long way from her best days.

Speaking of which, world record holder Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) will be looking to break 60 minutes for the first time since 2015. His toughest…

Cheboitibin, Kiprono and Sonoda Top Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Elite Entries

With just over two weeks to go the organizers of the Feb. 4 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon have released their elite field for this year's race. With its history as an elite men-only race Beppu-Oita's women's field is still tiny given its status as an IAAF silver label race, but this year promises a good race between two local 2:32 women, 2016 winner Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) and Yuka Takemoto (Canon AC Kyushu), that should see the 2:39:57 course record fall. Defending champ Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) also returns with a 2:38:43 PB from last fall that puts her range of the course record as well.

The men's race is heavier-duty, with a spot in the MGC Race Tokyo Olympic Trials available to the top Japanese man under 2:11:00 and to up to five others if they clear 2:10. Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) and Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) are the only Japanese men in the field to have run those kinds of times in the last couple of years, and with support from 2:09~2:10 men