Skip to main content

National Championship Ekiden Season Starts Sunday

by Brett Larner

National Championship ekiden season starts this Sunday, over a month's worth of the year's best racing with no less than eleven major races, almost all of them televised nationwide.  The action starts with the 23rd edition of the National Junior High School Ekiden in Yamaguchi, separate boys' and girls' races marking the national-level debuts for a lot of future talent, many of whom will feature again a month later in the season's final major ekiden.  Simultaneously, the National Corporate Women's Ekiden starts far to the north in Sendai, the main event of the year for the women's corporate league teams in a revised format this year.  Gone are the November regional qualifier ekidens that prevent so many of Japan's runners from racing fall marathons in other countries, replaced with a seeded bracket for top-placing teams at Nationals with a single nationwide qualifying race for the second-tier teams.

A week later Kyoto hosts the National High School Ekiden Championships, once again featuring a luxurious commercial-free nationwide broadcast thanks to government broadcaster NHK.  The boys' race is of special note this year with defending champion Sera H.S., all-time #4 last year in 2:02:39 for the 7-stage, 42.195 km Kyoto course, looking ready to challenge the legendary 2:01:32 course record set in 2004 by the Samuel Wanjiru-era Sendai Ikuei H.S.

The Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden, the season-ending national champion race for university women, is the last major race of 2015 in Japan, with a new date of Dec. 30 that puts it into the massively popular New Year's holiday ekiden-watching window.  With an exciting uphill course in the foothills of Mt. Fuji it's bound to keep getting more and more popular.

After a day's break championship ekiden season continues bright and early on Jan. 1 with the New Year Ekiden national corporate men's ekiden.  The New Year Ekiden has been riding a wave of quality and popularity with the influx in the last two years of the leading edge of the swell of talent at the university level.  The Asahi Kasei corporate team pulled off a massive recruiting coup this year and could field an all-Japanese winning team made up almost entirely of first-year pros, most notably 22-year-old 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama.

Overshadowing the New Year Ekiden is the biggest and best of them all, the two-day Hakone Ekiden university men's ekiden, nominally a Kanto region race but in reality a de facto national-level event given its universities' pull on high school talent, and on fans' love, across the country.  This year looks set to be something special, the culmination of the long-term development plan of Susumu Hara, head coach of defending champion Aoyama Gakuin University.  Hakone has been the core of JRN's work for the last eight years, the only English-language source for accurate background and coverage of one of the world's most important races, and you can expect more of the same this year.

After a breather the season comes to an end with the Jan. 17 National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto and Jan. 24 National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima.  Both races feature teams from every Japanese prefecture, each team made up of top junior high school, high school, university and corporate league runners, a great format where kids get the priceless experience of handing off to Olympian teammates running for the honor of being able to call their home prefecture the capital of Japanese long distance for the year to come.  A lot of future stars make their big breakthroughs here, especially on the men's race's high school-only leading stage, and like the National High School Ekiden it's all broadcast live and commercial-free.

Also on the 24th, the Kitakyushu Invitational Women's Ekiden forms a coda for the women's season, another cool format that pits top high school, university and corporate teams from across the country against each other with the longest stage divided in two for the high school teams so that they can compete with the university and pro women.  A men's equivalent would be very, very popular.

Look for detailed coverage of all these races on JRN in the weeks to come.

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Bruce said…
I have posted the team average 5k and 3k marks for the 56 boys and 56 girls qualifying teams.
http://www.athletic.net/CrossCountry/Results/Meet.aspx?Meet=116522

will post race results in spare moments during holiday festivities.
Bruce

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 …

Kawauchi Breaks Sub-2:20 World Record in Sub-Zero Temperatures

Battling freezing temperatures and wind chill that took things down to -23C, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran a 2018 world-leading 2:18:59 at the Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, taking 30 minutes off the course record and breaking American Doug Kurtis' historic sub-2:20 world record with his 76th career sub-2:20.

Kawauchi spent Dec. 29 to 31 training on the Boston Marathon course ahead of his upcoming appearance as part of the John Hancock Elite Athlete Team and planned to run Marshfield at the tail end of his trip. The Marshfield Road Runners club, organizers of the marathon, had their longstanding race USATF certified ahead of his appearance.


Wearing full-length tights in a marathon for the first time, in Marshfield Kawauchi planned to run the first of the hilly course's two laps in 1:09 flat to give himself room to work with in breaking 2:20. But in the wind and cold he struggled to stay on pace, ice crystals coating his face as he hit halfway in 1:10:29…

Aoyama Gakuin Runs Down Toyo for Fourth-Straight Hakone Ekiden Title

In a rare reversal of Day One standings, Aoyama Gakuin University ran down Toyo University early in on Day Two to win its fourth-straight Hakone Ekiden title. At both the Izumo Ekiden and National University Men's Ekiden this season, Toyo struggled to cope with the absence of its entire senior class due to injury, running up front much of the way but lacking the depth to keep the lead in the final stages. Hakone played out like an opera-scale version of the same familiar story, its brilliant Day One win backlit by the headlights of rapidly approaching fate.

Second on Day Two's opening stage, the 20.8 km Sixth Stage with around 800 m elevation loss, both of the last two years, AGU 3rd-year Yuji Onoda just missed the course record en route as he ran down Toyo's Shunsuke Imanishi and put AGU almost a minute ahead by the time he handed off. AGU's next two runners Keisuke Hayashi and Yuta Shimoda both won their stages, Hayashi, a relative unknown on the roster, running 1:0…