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Kawauchi Ties Sub-2:20 World Record, Kato Crushes Course Record In Hofu Yomiuri Marathon Wins

Two weeks to the day after running 2:10:53 at the Fukuoka International Marathon, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) wrapped his 2017 with a win, running one of the few negative splits of his career to win the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon for the third time in 2:10:03. Women's winner Misako Kato (Kyudenko), a 1:09:49 half marathon, soloed an almost perfectly paced 2:28:12 to take 3 minutes off her PB and 7 1/2 minutes off the course record. Further back, Rio Paralympics T12 marathon silver medalist Misato Michishita broke the own world record in her category with a time of 2:56:14.

Watch a complete replay of the race here.


Pacers Taiga Ito and Melaku Abera, both of whom ran Fukuoka alongside Kawauchi, were tasked with taking the field out in 3:06/km, 2:10:48 pace. Pre-race Kawauchi told JRN, "If they'd run 3:04 I ccoul definitely, 100%, go faster than I did in Fukuoka. In cold and windy conditions things went in his favor in the early going with 5 and 10 km splits of 15:19 and 30:44. Uncharacteristically wearing sunglasses, Kawauchi was right on the pacers the whole way. On his shoulders, fellow civil servant runner Tatsunori Hamasaki (Nanjo City Hall) with a 2:12:12 best from his earlier career in the corporate leagues, and Tadashi Isshiki (GMO), a former National University Half Marathon champion who debuted in 2:11:45 his junior year at three-time Hakone Ekiden champ Aoyama Gakuin University.


Past 10 km the pace slowed to the planned 3:06/km, hitting halfway on track to the second in 1:05:24. The ranks thinned from nearly 20 to 10 by the time Abera stepped off at 30 km, and Kawauchi wasted no time in culling them further. Surging ahead he immediately dropped all but Hamasaki, Isshiki and Isshiki's debuting teammate Shohei Kurata (GMO). In his 76 marathons to date Kawauchi had never looked as calm and in control so late in the race, and he remained unfazed as Hamasaki went by to take the lead. Hamasaki's move was short lived but enough to get rid of Kurata and make it a three-way race with 10 km to go, two civil servants who ran the Hakone Ekiden as lowly members of the Kanto Region Select Team against a Hakone star corporate leaguer.

Was there a hint of team tactics? Maybe. When Hamasaki's momentum stalled Kawauchi went by him, and, just as Isshiki looked like he was starting to struggle with the faster pace, Hamasaki attacked again. Isshiki let go, and it was down to the outsider pair up front. There wasn't much question about the outcome. Taking advantage of a short hill near 33.5 km Kawauchi got down to business, dropping his pace down to 3:00~01/km and saying goodbye to Hamasaki.

From a 2:10:48 at halfway his projected finish time got closer and closer to a sub-2:10, Kawauchi staying calm, focused and strong, with none of his usual late-race grimacing. From 35 km to 40 km he split 15:04, one of the fastest splits in his career at that point in the race, and putting him right on the cusp of going under 2:10 for the 13th time. Coming onto the track for a final lap to the finish line he bore down with everything he had, stopping the clock in 2:10:03 but showing no disappointment post-race, only elation at the win and animation in his compliments to his competitors. In doing so he became the fifth man to qualify for the MGC Race 2020 Olympic Trials marathon, the first to get in through the two-race average wildcard qualification. Post-race he earned praise from no less than Olympic silver medalist Paul Tanui (Kenya):


In his fourth marathon in the last six weeks Kawauchi's run was his 20th time going under 2:11, putting him one race away from tying Ethiopian great Tsegaye Kebede's record of 21. His 75th time breaking 2:20, it also tied the record held by American Doug Kurtis, a longtime goal of Kawauchi's. Kurtis is often credited with 76 sub-2:20s, but according to the list of his results in the ARRS database he achieved sub-2:20 marks 75 times, with a 76th race clocked officially at 2:20:00. Kurtis did not respond to requests for clarification of the apparent discrepancy, leaving his verifiable record of 75 equalled today. Considering that Kawauchi's fastest 50 km race was run at 2:18:30 marathon pace, it's safe to say Kurtis' mark was equalled either way. Kawauchi will seek to better it in two weeks at the Jan. 1 Marshfield New Year 's Day Marathon in Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Hamasaki gutted out the final kilometers alone and was rewarded with a 2:11:26 PB, his first time clearing IAAF silver label status. Maybe the biggest surprise of the day wasn't far behind him. With Isshiki expected to take 3rd, crowds at the stadium were surprised to see 28-year-old amateur club runner Asuka Tanaka (Yutori Running Club) hit the track after Hamasaki. Tanaka debuted at February's Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon in 2:20:44, going on to win November's mass-participation Fukuoka Marathon in 2:20:05. Here he dropped an almost 8-minute PB of 2:12:17 for 3rd, easily jumping to the top tier of non-corporate league runners in Japan.

The next three runners all cleared 2:13 in new PBs, Kurata overtaking Isshiki for 7th in a quality 2:13:16 debut. The fast times extended deep into the field, 728 runners total, 710 men and 18 women, breaking 3 hours in a field of just over 2000. With Hofu taking place just two weeks before the New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships it rarely sees top-level corporate league men line up, but even so the quality of the runs by the non-corporate league men who took the top five spots, the success of people doing what they want to do because it's what they like doing, was a welcome high note on which to end a year that was both encouraging and discouraging for the future of Japanese men's distance running.

48th Hofu Yomiuri Marathon

Hofu, Yamaguchi, 12/17/17
click here for complete results

Women
1. Misaki Kato (Kyudenko) - 2:28:12 - CR, PB
2. Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall) - 2:39:56
3. Noriko Sato (First Dream AC) - 2:46:59

Men
1. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:10:03
2. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Nanjo City Hall) - 2:11:26 - PB
3. Asuka Tanaka (Yutori Running Club) - 2:12:17 - PB
4. Shinichi Yamashita (Takigahara SDF Base) - 2:12:32 - PB
5. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:12:36 - PB
6. Shogo Kanezane (Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:58 - PB
7. Shohei Kurata (GMO) - 2:13:16 - debut
8. Tadashi Isshiki (GMO) - 2:15:43
9. Boniface Kirui (Kenya) - 2:18:30
10. Yuki Yagi (Yagi Running Team) - 2:18:41 - PB

start and 19 km photos by Akko, © 2017, all rights reserved
other photos by M. Kawaguchi, © 2017, all rights reserved
text © 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Comments

Metts said…
Always amazed at the amateur depth and quality in Japan. I think most of the big marathons are around 2% of the total field which are sub 3. This one around 36%. I know its apples and oranges, because of the emphasis on high quality running in Japan, but there were only around 575 sub 3's in all, in my present country of residence in 2016.

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