What a wild race.
With warmer than usual temps forecast and its fastest two foreign runners out the plan was for the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, the last chance for Japanese men to make the Rio Olympics marathon team, to go out at a reasonable 3:02/km, 2:08:00 pace. That went straight out the window as amateur runner Shota Kamioka went ahead of the pacers heading off the track onto the road, pulling Kenyan pacer Samuel Kosgei and the rest of the internationals behind him through 1 km in 2:55. Japanese pacers Yuta Shitara and Akihiko Tsumurai ignored Kamioka, taking the main part of the field out closer to target pace. Long after he was gone Kamioka had an impact on the race, Kosgei splitting 14:57 for the first 5 km instead of the target 15:10. Tsumurai and Shitara hit it in 15:03, still faster than planned but more achievable for a group of mostly 2:08 to 2:11 men.
Relatively unknown Ethiopian Shura Kitata, just 19 years old, ran on Kosgei's shoulder and seemed to be the one forcing him to go faster. After the lead group, Kosgei, Kitata, Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda), Lucas Rotich (Kenya), Kassa Mekashaw (Ethiopia/Team Yachiyo Kogyo), Alphonse Simbu (Tanzania) and lone non-African Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN), hit 10 km in 29:51, 2:05:57 pace, Kitata unexpectedly exploded away from them. Covering the next 5 km in 14:40, 2:03:46 pace, he built a lead that stretched out to more than 45 seconds before the inevitable happened after 25 km.
Further back in the massive mostly-Japanese main pack, sub-2:10 man Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) fell at an early drink table when #1-ranked Japanese man Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) inexplicably zoomed diagonally in front of him. Adachi quickly got back up but never seemed to really recover and sank far down the field to finish just under 2:20. Another amateur runner, Taichi Takase, sprinted out in front of the Japanese pack and then almost fell as his calves cramped, sending him onto the side of the road and out of the race. The remaining 20 or so runners went through 15 km in 45:18, 2:07:26 pace, before Polish national record holder Henryk Szost likewise pulled off the course and sat down on the curb. Fan favorite Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), showing early signs of strain, faded from the front row of the pack to its rear before joining the stream slipping away from where the race was happening.
Kitata went through halfway in 1:02:35, on track for the fastest-ever marathon on Japanese soil, but behind him #1-ranked Rotich began to hunt him down. Bat-Ochir, Mekashaw and Mutai, then pacer Kosgei were all left behind as Rotich went on the offense, Simbu the only one to follow. Kosgei faded back to join the Japanese chase group, conveniently timing it just before the final pacer Shitara was scheduled to leave them at 25 km. After Shitara stepped off the Japanese pack, now on 2:08:11 pace, consisted of top-level men Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda), the moderately-experienced Ryo Ishida (SDF Academy), Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei), and talented first-timers Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) and Hiroto Inoue (Team Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki). Ishita, with just a 2:13:52 to his name, was the first to go, followed shortly by the debuting Inoue, while Maruyama looked like he could barely hold himself back. The group got a boost from catching Ethiopian Mekashaw, who abruptly stopped after getting overtaken.
Back up front, Rotich and Simbu made contact with the badly fading Kitata just after 29 km, but Kitata was having none of it and responded with a surge that put him back in front by a few seconds in time to hit the 30 km mark in 1st. It didn't last, though. Soon he was in free-fall, Rotich and Simbu racing for the win and Kitata in laboring with a target on his back for the people behind him. People who were getting restless. Mirroring Arata Fujiwara's move in Tokyo last weekend, Kitajima, the 2015 Sydney Marathon winner, dropped pacer Kosgei coming up to 30 km. And mirroring the surge from Tokyo first-timer Yuma Hattori, Maruyama shot away the second he crossed 30 km. A 1:01:15 half-marathoner with a 1:29:34 30 km to his name, incredibly smooth and powerful and looking like he was born for this day Maruyama went 2:55 for the 31st km to run down Mutai and Kitata and open a gap of 15 seconds over the chase group of Kitajima, Ishikawa and Fukatsu. Nakamoto, the favorite to make the Rio team, couldn't follow.
Maruyama looking very strong but this is a long way out for a surge in debut. pic.twitter.com/Evsse1Y2jc— Japan Running News (@JRNLive) March 6, 2016
But just like Hattori found out in Tokyo, a hard surge at 30 km in your marathon debut is not necessarily the smartest move. After 35 km Maruyama stalled, while Kitajima, Ishikawa and Fukatsu all took turns surging to try to close the gap. Overtaking both Mutai and Kitata, Ishikawa caught Maruyama near 39.5 km. Kitajima, left behind with a sideache, recovered and went by Fukatsu, then Maruyama. Fukatsu caught Maruyama, and with Ishikawa still in range it looked like a four-way sprint finish for two Olympic team spots might be in the works.
With less than 2 km to go Rotich dropped Simbu, and, now in sight of them, Kitajima retook Ishikawa. Still holding his side, Kitajima kept pushing forward all the way onto the track, and with a massive kick he caught Simbu on the last corner. Rotich took the win in 2:09:11, commenting post-race that he thought it was a good time given the warm conditions. Kitajima was next in a 3-minute+ PB of 2:09:16 with Simbu also running a big PB of 2:09:19 for 3rd. Ishikawa, like Kitajima a graduate of Toyo University, took 4th in 2:09:25, Fukatsu hanging on for 5th in a PB 2:09:31.
Maruyama kept pushing even after he started to pay for his early surge and came home in 6th with a solid debut of 2:09:39, just beating the debut times of marathon NR holder Toshinari Takaoka and half marathon NR holder Atsushi Sato in the record books. Kitata paid much more dearly, dropping to 16th in 2:16:09. Nakamoto, the top Japanese man in the London Olympics and Moscow World Championships, was 7th onto the track, but like the ghost of marathons past Kawauchi hauled on just behind him, catching Nakamoto with 300 m to go and stealing 7th in 2:11:53, his best time since before his December, 2014 ankle injury.
JAAF executives were quick to express their disappointment with the Japanese men's times, but after the bizarre results in Tokyo last weekend four Japanese men sub-2:10 in a dramatic and exciting race should be cause for a sigh of relief. The JAAF has rarely been more inscrutable than with its current selection procedures, but it seems likely that the Rio team will be made up of the top Japanese man in Fukuoka, Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) with a 2:08:56, Kitajima and Ishikawa. As far as anything can be sure, Sasaki is on for sure. Kitajima, who only started marathoning last year, has two 2:12 wins and now a 2:09 best to his name. Ishikawa has run 2:09 in three of his last four marathons with the other being a 2:10:24 in Berlin. All three are over 30, but they all ran great races regardless of the times and there would be no shame in a team with that lineup. All three also went to university in Saitama, a minor consolation to Kawauchi even if he is not one of them. The powers that be at the JAAF will announce their fates on Mar. 17.
71st Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
Otsu, Shiga, 3/6/16
click here for complete results
1. Lucas Rotich (Kenya) - 2:09:11
2. Hisanori Kitajima (Japan/Yasukawa Denki) - 2:09:16 - PB
3. Alphonce Felix Simbu (Tanzania) - 2:09:19 - PB
4. Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan/Honda) - 2:09:25
5. Takuya Fukatsu (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:31 - PB
6. Fumihiro Maruyama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:39 - debut
7. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:11:53
8. Kentaro Nakamoto (Japan/Yasukawa Denki) - 2:12:06
9. Hiroto Inoue (Japan/Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 2:12:56 - debut
10. Soji Ikeda (Japan/Yakult) - 2:13:27
11. Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda) - 2:14:57
12. Takayuki Matsumiya (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 2:14:58
13. Hideaki Tamura (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:00
14. Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:42
15. Dishon Karukuwa Maina (Kenya/Omokoawa Zaimokuten) - 2:15:42
16. Shura Kitata (Ethiopia) - 2:16:09
17. Noriaki Takahashi (Japan/DeNA) - 2:16:18
18. Hiroyuki Sasaki (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:16:32 - debut
19. Jun Sato (Japan/Waseda Univ.) - 2:16:33 - debut
20. Norikazu Kato (Japan/Yakult) - 2:17:09
21. Kohei Ogino (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:17:14
22. Ryosuke Fukuyama (Japan/Honda) - 2:17:37
23. Naoki Okamoto (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:17:47
24. Kota Otani (Japan/JFE Steel) - 2:17:53
25. Masanori Sakai (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:17:54
26. Kazuhiro Maeda (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:17:56
33. Yusei Nakao (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:18:53
36. Tomoya Adachi (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:19:08
44. Ryo Ishita (Japan/SDF Academy) - 2:21:09
52. Ryuji Kashiwabara (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:22:15
58. Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:22:42
62. Yuichiro Ueno (Japan/DeNA) - 2:23:09
63. Kazuki Tomaru (Japan/Toyota) - 2:23:13
88. Yu Chiba (Japan/Honda) - 2:27:04
92. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/NTN) - 2:27:30
164. Mok Ying Ren (Singapore) - 2:34:47
DNF - Liam Adams (Australia)
DNF - Sho Matsumoto (Japan/Nikkei Business)
DNF - Kassa Mekashaw (Ethiopia/Yachiyo Kogyo)
DNF - Henryk Szost (Poland)
DNF - Taichi Takase (Japan/Volver)
© 2016 Brett Larner
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