First-timers brought most of the day's best action to the 73rd running of the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon. Unseasonably hot temperatures meant times were never really in the cards, and a slow opening 10 km left a pack of over 40 together until well into the race. Early casualties included 2:09:31 man Takuya Fukatsu (Asahi Kasei), Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu) and Tadesse Abraham (Switzerland), but it wasn't until the second half that things started to get complicated.
With the pace staying true to a high-2:07 finish time people fell off the pack in twos and threes after rounding the turnaround point just past halfway, but what made this race unusual was that they kept coming back. 2:07:39 man Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu), 2017 Gold Coast Marathon winner Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta) and last year's Ehime Marathon runner-up Yohei Suzuki (Aisan Kogyo) fell off together, then came back together, then fell off again. European champion Daniele Meucci (Italy) was there, then gone, then back, then gone again, and then coming back in the final kilometers. 2016 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Melaku Abera (Ethiopia/Kurosaki Harima) went through the same cycle. The debuting Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu) was one of the last three Japanese men left among the lead pack, then dropped away and was overtaken by the Imai trio, then surged ahead again.
It was way more turnover in position than you'd usually see in a marathon of this caliber, but through it all New Zealand's Jake Robertson, like Nakamura running the marathon for the first time, appeared to be calmly biding his time, waiting until after 31 km to go to the front for the first time in response to a move from Japan's Shinobu Kubota (Toyota). Robertson looked like he had the gears and reserve to run away with it, but like his twin brother Zane in his half marathon debut in Marugame Robertson found himself unexpectedly challenged by a relatively unknown debuting Japan-based Kenyan.
With a 1:00:30 half marathon best to his name, 23-year-old Macharia Ndirangu (Aichi Seiko) attacked hard with 5 km to go. Only Albert Korir (Kenya) was able to follow, Robertson losing ground second by second over the next three kilometers. At 40 km Ndirangu attacked again, dropping Korir and sailing in to take the title in 2:07:53, recording the fastest closing split in the field. Korir was next in a PB of 2:08:17, holding off Robertson whose 2:08:26 debut time took over 30 seconds off the ancient New Zealand national record. Following Yuta Shitara's national record at last weekend's Tokyo Marathon it was the second week in a row that a twin set a national record at one of Japan's major marathons.
In the wake of Robertson's move and Ndirangu's response Kubota slipped off their pace, slowing dramatically as first Meucci, then Nakamura, then Imai, then Noguchi came up from behind. All of them were conscious of where they stood relative to the qualifying standards for the MGC Race, Japan's new 2020 Olympic trials. Sub-2:08:30, or in the top three Japanese and sub-2:11:00, or in the top six Japanese and sub-2:10:00 was what it was going to take. As Nakamura shook Imai off and began to run down stragglers ahead it was clear he was cutting it close, so close that it wasn't obvious until the last 400 m on the track whether he was going to make the 2:11:00 standard. But in the back straight defending champ Ezekiel Chebii (Kenya) provided just the stimulus Nakamura needed, Nakamura kicking past him and almost catching Meucci to finish his first marathon in 2:10:51 and make the MGC Race.
Imai was the next Japanese man across the line in 2:11:38, so disappointed and spent that he couldn't talk after the race. Noguchi followed in 2:11:48, both missing MGC Race qualification by less than a minute. No other Japanese men cleared 2:14, a disappointing turn after a reasonable first half with nineteen Japanese men on sub-2:10 pace and especially so when backlit by last Sunday's record-breaking Tokyo Marathon.
Perhaps the biggest loser among the Japanese was two-time defending New Year Ekiden national champion team Asahi Kasei, the most old-school and conservative organization on the circuit. Asahi Kasei had four men on the entry list, 2:08 runner Satoru Sasaki, 2:09 men Fukatsu and Fumihiro Maruyama, and 1:00:50 half marathoner Kenta Murayama. Sasaki was a DNS shortly before the race, Fukatsu a DNF after losing touch with the lead group in the first 10 km, and Murayama and Maruyama both ran PW times over 2:15. The contrast between the success of Yuta Shitara's innovative approach in his national record last weekend and the total failure of the old-fashioned Asahi Kasei approach couldn't have been starker. While last week cast a glow that still shines across the Japanese distance world, with the exception of Nakamura's modest breakthrough this week showed that there is still a long way to go.
73rd Lake Biwa Mainichi MarathonOtsu, Shiga, 3/4/18
click here for complete results and splits
1. Macharia Ndirangu (Kenya/Aichi Seiko) - 2:07:53 - debut
2. Albert Korir (Kenya) - 2:08:17 - PB
3. Jake Robertson (New Zealand) - 2:08:26 - NR, debut
4. Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:09:21 - PB
5. Abera Kuma (Ehtiopia) - 2:09:31
6. Daniele Meucci (Italy) - 2:10:45 - PB
7. Shogo Nakamura (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:10:51 - debut
8. Ezekiel Chebii (Kenya) - 2:11:00
9. Masato Imai (Japan/Toyota Kyushu) - 2:11:38
10. Takuya Noguchi (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:11:48
11. Melaku Abera (Ethiopia/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:14:38
12. Keisuke Tanaka (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:14:50
13. Kenya Sonota (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:53 - debut
14. Yohei Suzuki (Japan/Aisan Kogyo) - 2:15:16
15. Taku Fujimoto (Japan/Toyota) - 2:15:30 - debut
16. Shuji Matsuo (Japan/Chudenko) - 2:15:41
17. Fumihiro Maruyama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:59
18. Ryohei Nishiyama (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 2:16:00
19. Samson Gebreyohannes (Eritrea) - 2:16:53
20. Bradley Croker (Australia) - 2:17:28 - PB
21. Kenta Murayama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:17:43
22. Takuma Kumagai (Japan/Sumitomo Denko) - 2:18:12 - debut
23. Jo Fukuda (Japan/Nishitetsu) - 2:18:16
24. Hidenori Nagai (Japan/DeNA) - 2:18:31
25. Sho Matsumoto (Japan/Nikkei Business) - 2:18:39
26. Keita Shitara (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:18:39 - PB
27. Shota Yamada (Japan/Press Kogyo) - 2:18:59
28. Shinobu Kubota (Japan/Toyota) - 2:19:18
29. Taiga Ito (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:19:47
30. Yoshiki Takenouchi (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:20:29
43. Mohammed Zani (Morocco) - 2:23:16
44. Scott Bauhs (U.S.A.) - 2:23:35
51. Wataru Tochigi (Japan/Juntendo Univ.) - 2:24:32 - debut
53. Yuki Matsumura (Japan/Honda) - 2:25:01 - debut
73. Tomoyuki Morita (Japan/Kanebo) - 2:28:46
113. Tadashi Suzuki (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:35:58
DNF - Tadesse Abraham (Switzerland)
DNF - Takuya Fukatsu (Japan/Asahi Kasei)
DNF - Yuta Oikawa (Japan/YKK)
© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved