Skip to main content

Suzuki Delivers on Anchor Stage for Aichi Prefecture's First-Ever National Women's Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner
video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK

One of the only bright lights for Japanese long distance at last summer's Beijing World Championships, 2015 national corporate 10000 m champion Ayuko Suzuki delivered an incredible anchor run in Kyoto on Sunday, making up more than a minute and a half over 10 km to give Aichi its first-ever National Women's Ekiden title.  The peak of the women's ekiden season, the National Women's Ekiden features teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures all made up of top local junior high school, high school, university, club and pro runners.

The race got off the track start and onto the roads safely without any falls, but a few km into the 6.0 km First Stage Naoko Koizumi (Niigata), a stage record setter at last month's National Corporate Women's Ekiden, tripped in the front row and went down.  The lead pack went by before Koizumi could get to her feet, but she quickly shot back to the front row in time for the big move from last year's First Stage winner Yuka Ando (Shizuoka).  Fresh off a solid 1:09:51 half marathon debut a few weeks ago at the Sanyo Ladies Half, Ando had no trouble holding off the competition to put Shizuoka into the Second Stage in 1st.  Favorite Kyoto was 7 seconds back in 6th, with last year's winner Osaka 26 seconds behind in 21st amidst top-level teams Hyogo, Aichi and Gunma.

Kyoto's next runner Fukiko Ando put the team 3 seconds out front on the 4.0 km Second Stage, a lead that stretched out to 6 seconds on the 3.0 km Third Stage, but on the 4.0 km Fourth Stage Hyogo's Kotona Ota ran a stage best 12:52 to overtake Kyoto's Kureha Seki and take over the lead by a second.  Heading into the second half of the race Aki Manabe turned Kyoto's luck back around with a Fifth Stage win and a lead of 15 seconds over Hyogo, a lead that Kyoto's next three runners stretched out to 1:13 partly thanks to a stage record-tying run from junior high schooler Ayaka Murao on the 3.0 km Eighth Stage.

Kyoto anchor Yukiko Okuno started the 10.0 km Ninth Stage 5 seconds up on overall course record pace with a reasonable margin of safety, but behind her the race had set up for something dramatic.  Yamada Denki corporate teammates Shiho Takechi (Hyogo) and Kasumi Nishihara (Gunma) started three seconds apart, 2015 national 10000 m champion Nishihara quickly making up the gap and the two working together to try to cut down the 73-second distance to Okuno.  As the kilometers went by they were making up 10 seconds per km, but even when it was clear they were going to catch Okuno the race's outcome was getting less and less so.

Starting 21 seconds behind Nishihara, Suzuki was advancing on the two chasers even as they made up the ground to the leader.  Nishihara lost touch with Takechi and was immediately swallowed up by Suzuki who stared straight ahead with determination and focus.  At 8 km Suzuki went by Takechi, and 400 m later she flew past Okuno to take the lead.  Never looking back, she narrowly missed tripping over a spectator's dog heading onto the track but had no trouble pushing on to give Aichi its first-ever national title in 2:16:02, her time of 31:30 putting Suzuki at all-time #4 for the 10.0 km stage.

Takechi overtook Okuno for 2nd at 8.7 km and held that position the rest of the way, crossing the line in 2:16:22.  Okuno was next onto the track but was run down by a hard-kicking Nishihara who gave Gunma 3rd in 2:16:28, a disappointed Okuno coming through 7 seconds later.  The top six teams all beat last year's winning time of 2:17:26.  Tokyo moved up to 6th in 2:17:25 thanks to a sensational run from anchor Hanami Sekine, a teammate of Suzuki's at the young Japan Post corporate team.  As amazing as Suzuki's performance was Sekine was 12 seconds faster, replacing Suzuki at all-time #4 in 31:18.  The pair's domination of the stage had strong implications for Japan Post's future in the corporate leagues.

Further back on the anchor stage, Rio Olympics marathon team member Mai Ito ran 32:38, the 17th-fastest time in the 47-deep field, to bring Tokushima home in 32nd.  Amateur Hiroko Yoshitomi ran 34:03 to anchor the Saga team in 38th after having set a course record at the Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon last Sunday and then winning the Imari Half Marathon the next day on Monday's national holiday.

Some women will line up one more time next weekend at the Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden, but for most today's race marked the end of ekiden season before shifting focus to open road races through the end of March.  The men's counterpart race, the National Men's Ekiden, takes place next Sunday in Hiroshima with a live commercial-free broadcast on NHK.  JRN will cover the race live @JRNLive.

34th National Women's Ekiden
Kyoto, 1/17/16
47 teams, 9 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Aichi - 2:16:02
2. Hyogo - 2:16:22
3. Gunma - 2:16:28
4. Kyoto - 2:16:35
5. Chiba - 2:16:59
6. Tokyo - 2:17:25
7. Fukuoka - 2:17:39
8. Nagasaki - 2:17:47
9. Kanagawa - 2:17:52
10. Shizuoka - 2:17:58

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage - 6.0 km
1. Yuka Ando (Shizuoka) - 19:19
2. Yukari Abe (Saitama) - 19:24
3. Sae Hanada (Fukuoka) - 19:25

Second Stage - 4.0 km
1. Rika Kaseda (Chiba) - 12:36
1. Nana Kuraoka (Fukushima) - 12:36
3. Yuna Wada (Nagano) - 12:37
3. Fukiko Ando (Kyoto) - 12:37

Third Stage - 3.0 km
1. Aika Nishihara (Ehime) - 9:20 - all-time #7
1. Ririka Hinonaka (Nagasaki) - 9:20 - all-time #7
3. Shuri Ogasawara (Ishikawa) - 9:23
3. Yuki Kanemitsu (Okayama) - 9:23

Fourth Stage - 4.0 km
1. Kotona Ota (Hyogo) - 12:52
2. Risa Shibuya (Akita) - 12:55
3. Yuka Mukai (Hiroshima) - 12:55

Fifth Stage - 4.1075 km
1. Aki Manabe (Kyoto) - 13:03
2. Kumi Ogura (Aichi) - 13:16
3. Natsuko Goto (Chiba) - 13:18

Sixth Stage - 4.0875 km
1. Sakiho Tsutsui (Gunma) - 12:37 - CR
2. Yumika Katayama (Kyoto) - 12:50
3. Yumi Yoshikawa (Aichi) - 12:57

Seventh Stage - 4.0 km
1. Yukari Wada (Kyoto) - 12:31
2. Yuka Mukai (Aichi) - 12:36
3. Madoka Mitsueda (Kagoshima) - 12:39

Eighth Stage - 3.0 km
1. Ayaka Murao (Kyoto) - 9:41 - CR tie
2. Ayuka Kazama (Chiba) - 9:53 - all-time #5
3. Akari Yamamoto (Okayama) - 9:55 - all-time #10

Ninth Stage - 10.0 km
1. Hanami Sekine (Tokyo) - 31:18 - all-time #4
2. Ayuko Suzuki (Aichi) - 31:30 - all-time #5
3. Mao Kiyota (Shizuoka) - 31:55 

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Most-Read This Week

Kawauchi and Kiyara Live Up to Expectations With Wan Jin Shi Wins

Returning to Taiwan's Wan Jin Shi Marathon after having first run it in 2016, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran 2:14:12 to score his fourth-straight marathon win in a third-straight wire-to-wire solo performance. Choosing the hilly Wan Jin Shi Marathon as his final main tuneup for next month's Boston Marathon, Kawauchi came out swinging, leading an all-African pack of seven by almost 10 seconds after the tough uphill opening 5 km and stretching that out to over two minutes by the turnaround point at halfway.

On track to break the 2:13:05 course record by more than two minutes. under sunny skies with temperatures climbing to 22C and nearly 80% humidity Kawauchi began to slow incrementally. Behind him, Johnstone Kibet Maiyo (Kenya) and Aredome Tiuyay Degefa (Ethiopia) separated from the chase pack and began to push each other in pursuit of the top spot. With every 5 km split the gap to Kawauchi narrowed. At 40 km Maiyo threw down to get rid of Degefa, blasting the dow…

Katanishi Scores Best-Ever Japanese Collegiate Placing at United Airlines NYC Half

Wearing bib #21 on his 21st birthday, 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi (Komazawa University) turned in the best-ever Japanese collegiate placing at the United Airlines NYC Half, taking 7th in 1:03:05 just 26 seconds off the win.

Katanishi and his Komazawa teammate Shogo Ise earned invites to the NYC Half by taking the top two Japanese collegiate spots at last November's Ageo City Half Marathon. Off the tougher new New York course both Katanishi and Ise ran in the lead group for the first two-thirds of the race, Ise near the front and Katanishi biding his time at the back of the pack. When the first real move came on the uphill approaching Times Square Katanishi was quick to reposition himself into the top three just off the shoulder of leader Dathan Ritzenhein (U.S.A.), staying in the action and looking smooth through the first set of Central Park hills. "I just took the early part easy and watched the others and what was going," Kat…

Kawauchi and Kiyara Headline Wan Jin Shi Marathon

Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) returns to Taiwan's Wan Jin Shi Marathon this Sunday for his marathon of the post-Yuta Shitara era. The runner-up in Wan Jin Shi in 2016, Kawauchi is ranked #1 in the field and comes to Wan Jin Shi with wins in his last three marathons but faces a solid field including fellow sub-2:10 man Peter Kiplagat Sitenei, last year's runner-up Tsegaye Debele (Ethiopia), and the only man to beat him last time around, 2016 winner and course record holder William Chebon Chebor (Kenya). Kawauchi plans to use the hilly race as a tune-up for his main marathon of the spring season, April's Boston Marathon.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Rael Kiyara Nguriatukei (Kenya), winner of the 2012 Hamburg Marathon before being stripped of her title and suspended for a positive post-race test for norandrosterone, has the fastest recent time in the women's field with a 2:26:22 winning time at last year's Chongqing Marathon. Close behind is Chemtai …