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Beppu-Oita, Marugame and More - Weekend Preview

by Brett Larner

Japan's short post-ekiden road season gets up to full speed this weekend.  The second of four selection races for the three spots on the London World Championships men's marathon team happens at the Sunday's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon.  Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is the leading contender for the team after a 2:09:11 for 3rd at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, a time that puts a bullseye on his back for the best men in Beppu-Oita and the other races to come.

It's rare to see someone make a national team from Beppu-Oita, but a win there in a time better than Kawauchi's would probably put someone ahead of him in priority for the team.  With a 2:09:39 debut last year at Lake Biwa the talented but injury-prone Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) is the favorite to do just that, but Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki), Ryo Kiname (Team MHPS), Kento Otsu (Team Toyota Kyushu) and debuting Toyota teammates Minato Oishi and Tsubasa Hayakawa all have the potential to do the same.  For his part, after an ekiden last weekend Kawauchi told reporters, "I'm training based on the assumption that I'm going to be chosen for the team, but if other athletes surpass me in terms of their results it would be a good thing."  Internationals in Beppu-Oita include Felix Keny (Kenya), Dereje Debele (Ethiopia) and Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A.).  Try mov3.co for live streaming of TBS' broadcast starting at 11:50 local time on Sunday.

Earlier Sunday morning, the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon promises an incredible men's race and almost as good a women's race.  The women's race features three of the top ten in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics marathon, silver medalist and defending champion Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain), 6th-placer Shalane Flanagan (U.S.A.) and 9th-placer Amy Cragg (U.S.A.). 2016 National Corporate Half Marathon champion Miho Shimizu (Team Hokuren) leads Japanese hopes.

The men's race features five international men with recent sub-61 performances led by Kenneth Kipkemoi (Kenya) with a 59:01 at the 2014 Valencia Half Marathon.  But for Japanese fans it's all about the domestic race where a solid attempt at the 1:00:25 Japanese national record is in the works. On the entry list are 5000 m national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project), 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), 1:00:53 man Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), sub-62 twins Keita Shitara (Team Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Team Honda), Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage star Daichi Kamino (Team Konica Minolta), 2017 New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage winner Takashi Ichida (Team Asahi Kasei) and many, many more.  Rain is forecast for Sunday afternoon, and if it holds off this may be the day Japan finally gets its first sub-60.

Also Sunday, the Kanagawa Half Marathon and Moriya Half Marathon feature large numbers of Hakone Ekiden universities every year.  Three-time Hakone champ Aoyama Gakuin University in particular has made Kanagawa a priority in recent years, and you can expect to see some of the better people on its roster racing top men from Waseda University and Komazawa University among others.  Local Nittai University tends to send its runners further north to Moriya.

After running Saitama's Okumusashi Ekiden last weekend with a cold, Kawauchi will be back in action Sunday in another local ekiden, the Saitama Ekiden where he will again run as part of the Saitama Prefectural Government team.  Kawauchi has run the Third Stage at the Saitama Ekiden every year since 2013 and in 2014 set its course record of 36:13 for 11.9 km.  It has since been lengthened to 12.1 km, but chances are good he'll be on Third again this year.

© 2017 Brett Larner
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Kawauchi Breaks Nobeyama Ultra Course Record

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How it Happened

Ancient History I went to Wesleyan University, where the legend of four-time Boston Marathon champ and Wes alum Bill Rodgers hung heavy over the cross-country team. Inspired by Koichi Morishita and Young-Cho Hwang’s duel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I ran my first marathon in 1993, qualifying for Boston ’94 where Bill was kind enough to sign a star-struck 20-year-old me’s bib number at the expo.

Three years later I moved to Japan for grad school, and through a long string of coincidences I came across a teenaged kid named Yuki Kawauchi down at my neighborhood track. I never imagined he’d become what he is, but right from the start there was just something different about him. After his 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon he called me up and asked me to help him get into races abroad. He’d finished 3rd on the brutal downhill Sixth Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and given how he’d run the hills in the last 6 km at Tokyo ’11 I thought he’d do well at Boston or New York. “If M…

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Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
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              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …