translated by Brett Larner
The first school in the Hakone Ekiden's 93-year history to win both three Hakone titles in a row and all three of the Big Three University Ekidens in a single season, on Jan. 13 Aoyama Gakuin University members including star senior Tadashi Isshiki and 2:11:34 under-20 marathon national record holder Yuta Shimoda trained together with 2016 Aoyama Gakuin graduate "God of the Mountain III" Daichi Kamino (Konica Minolta) in Futtsu, Chiba for upcoming marathons. Ten days after their historic feat the strongest team in university distance running is aiming for a mountain loftier than Hakone's peak.
The 13th was the first day of Aoyama Gakuin's marathon training camp in Futtsu, with participants starting off with a 32.195 km run. Two days later on the final day of the camp they will run 42.195 km. At three days and two nights it's a short but dense program. Four Aoyama Gakuin runners are taking part: Shimoda and third-year Yuki Nakamura in training for the Feb. 26 Tokyo Marathon, Isshiki for the Mar. 5 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, and fourth-year Shunpei Oda for the Mar. 5 Shizuoka Marathon. Training together with his younger former teammates and exchanging motivation, Kamino plans to make his marathon debut next season. Independent runner Aritaka Kajiwara, 28, who ran the Hakone Ekiden four years in a row as part of the Kanto Region Select Team while at Shoin University, is also part of the training group.
Aoyama Gakuin head coach Susumu Hara, 49, boasted, "It's no exaggeration to say that this is the young Japanese national training camp. From this group will come athletes of the stature of the great Toshihiko Seko who can go head-to-head with the best in the world at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics." Having achieved the unprecedented "double triple" in just his ninth Hakone Ekiden, this renegade coach, a powerful "shot in the arm" of the Japanese athletics world, promises to deliver the same kind of great leap forward to marathon fans that he did for fans of the ekiden.