translated by Brett Larner
The Tsukuba Marathon in Tsukuba, Ibaraki will feature the country's first wave start system at its 35th running on Nov. 22, staggering the race's start based on entrants' declared times. The move is intended to reduce congestion and risk of falling at the start, and experts from Tsukuba University will study its effects.
Currently, almost all domestic Japanese marathons feature a single start. In many races with 10,000 or more entrants it can take more than 10 minutes for the last runners to cross the start line. Official results utilize gross time, the time from the starting gun to when the runner crosses the finish line, but with the growth of mass participation the large discrepancy between gross time and net time, a runner's actual time from the start line to the finish line as determined by timing chips, has become an increasing problem. Another is that the congestion at the start means that runners usually can't get into their target pace until many kilometers have passed.
A wave start groups runners based on their pre-declared times, with groups starting sequentially beginning with the fastest. Reducing the number of runners starting together cuts down on the time loss at the start, and by grouping runners of similar ability together there is a lower risk of interference and collisions due to different paces.
This year's Tsukuba Marathon will feature three groups starting in 10 minute intervals beginning at 9:00 a.m. Each group will have from 2800 to 6500 runners. Tsukuba University professor of physical education Kenji Nabekura will study the system's outcome. "A 5 minute reduction of loss time at the start is likely," said Professor Nabekura. "If this approach becomes the norm racing will be a far more comfortable experience." The university will also study the visibility of distance marks and aid stations from the runners' point of view and the effects of road closure plans based on research into traffic volume.