translated and edited by Brett Larner
4,544 people were entered in the 29th Ohtawara Marathon in Ohtawara, Tochigi on the Nov. 23 national holiday. Takahiro Gunji (25, Team Komori Corp.) won the men's division in 2:22:56, with Hiroko Yoshitomi (32, Team Memolead) winning the women's division for the second year in a row in 2:37:20. Both runners were awarded the Sponichi Cup.
Gunji came from far behind to score his first Ohtwara win in the last kilometer. Five minutes behind the leader at halfway, he left the chase pack near 30 km and began to pick up the pace. Running into a strong headwind Gunji was discouraged by the distance to the leader, but, he said, "People on the side of the road kept shouting at me not to give up." Doing exactly that, he drew closer and closer to the lead and around 41 km moved into the top position. It was a dramatic way to win his first marathon, but, he said, "When I won it felt strange, more like 'What?!?' than 'Alright!'"
Yoshitomi put more than five minutes on 2nd place to pick up her second-straight win, running alone from start to finish in a masterpiece performance that shut out all competition. "I slowed down a bit in the second half, but I didn't give in to the wind and kept running strong," she commented. Having felt the pressure to repeat last year's win she laughed as she said, "I was totally relieved when it was finally over." In May she joined a corporate league team in order to be able to focus on her training. Her next race will be January's Osaka International Women's Marathon. "I'm aiming to break 2:30 there," she said.
Far to the southwest in Fukuchiyama, Kyoto, 10,000 people were entered in the 26th Fukuchiyama Marathon. Koki Kawauchi (Team Monteroza), the younger brother of course record holder Yuki Kawauchi, won the men's race in 2:27:22. Koki ran the race after his older brother told him, "The crowd support in Fukuchiyama is really strong. It's a great event."
The race started at 10:30 a.m. with temperatures of 9 degrees and a north-northeasterly headwind bringing dark clouds and light rain that turned the first half into a waiting game. The eleven contenders in the lead pack ran conservatively until the turnaround, when the wind shifted from headwind to tailwind and Kawauchi and one other athlete pulled away. "I got on board and rode the wind," he said.
His lone remaining rival Yosuke Maeda (Panasonic E) put on a surge around 30 km that put him 12 seconds ahead of Kawauchi by 35 km, but Kawauchi came back and by 37 km was right behind Maeda. His older brother had told Kawauchi, "The uphill in the last 2 km is tough," and knowing that he wasn't strong on uphills he told himself, "I have to drop him here," and attacked. With a single sudden move he was away, running alone the rest of the way to the finish win.
Kawauchi has won five marathons to date, but last month at the Toyama Marathon he was 2nd for the first time. "I never knew how disappointing finishing 2nd was, and I wanted to get some revenge in Fukuchiyama," he smiled in satisfaction. Joining him on the winners' podium, Saki Tokoro (Kansai Gaikokugo Univ.) won the women's race in 2:50:24.