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Karemi Breaks Okukuma Half Marathon Course Record

As championship ekiden season wraps up Japan’s athletes have started the transition to the winter road season, with four decently competitive half marathons highlighting the first half of January.

At the hilly Okukuma Half Marathon, locally-based Africans Jeremiah Thuku Karemi (Toyota Kyushu) and Melaku Abera (Kurosaki Harima) duked it out one-on-one, Karemi through in a series of surges in the last 5 km before breaking away decisively with 1 km to go. Crossing the finish line in 1:01:48, Karemi took nearly two minutes off the course record with Abera just under 62 for 2nd.

2nd on the Hakone Ekiden’s Seventh Stage less than two weeks ago, Masanori Sumida (Nittai Univ.) outran corporate league competition Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) and Shohei Kurata (GMO) to take the top Japanese spot at 4th in 1:03:11. Spending most of the race behind a pack led by 2015 National Univeristy Half Marathon champion Tadashi Isshiki (GMO) and 2:07:39 marathoner Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu), Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) outkicked the entire group to take 7th overall in 1:03:28, his fastest time in five straight years racing Okukuma.

In the past Okukuma has only had a 5 km on offer for women, won this time in 16:35 by Tokai Prep Fukuoka high schooler Miyaka Sugata. This year the race added a women’s half marathon, Yomogi Akasaka of 2017 National University Women’s Ekiden champ Meijo University taking the inaugural title in 1:13:36. 42-year-old Mari Ozaki (Noritz) showed no signs of slowing down, taking 3rd in 1:14:43.

The women’s race was the highlight at the Oita City Half Marathon, where 22-year-old Seina Yamanaka (Ehime Ginko) took 1st in 1:14:45. Local high schoolers Rika Ichihara (Nippon Bunri Prep H.S.) and Shunsuke Sato (Tsurusaki Kogyo H.S.) topped the 10 km, Ichihara winning the girls’ race in 34:41 and Saito cracking 30 minutes to win the boys’ race in 29:59.

Usually held a week before Okukuma, the Takanezawa Half Marathon was hurt by windy conditions and the absence of 2018 Hakone Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University, whose B-team has made up most of Takanezawa’s elite field in recent years. Shun Yuzawa of 2017 Izumo Ekiden winner Tokai University took the top spot in 1:04:30, the only runner to break 66 minutes.

Better depth was to be found at Tokyo’s Hi-Tech Half Marathon, where independent Hideyuki Ikegami followed up his breakthrough 2:13:41 PB at November’s Osaka Marathon with a win in 1:04:39, his second time winning after outrunning Yuki Kawauchi in 2014. Another independent, Kaoru Nagao won the women’s race in 1:16:56. Osaka women’s winner Yumiko Kinoshita (SWAC) was 8th in only 1:20:46.

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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