Tokyo-based running Industry conglomerate Rbies recently launched the Marathon Challenge Cup (MCC) series, a grouping of 33 domestic marathons across the country. In the 2017 season 19 of those member races saw a total of 23 new course records. The only person to set multiple new course records was Yoshitomi. Along with these records, at December’s Honolulu Marathon, February’s Tokyo Marathon and April’s Boston Marathon Yoshitomi finished as the top Japanese woman. MCC series director Eiichi Kinjo, 50, praised Yoshitomi, saying, "Yoshitomi is a prominent athlete even at the national level.”
A member of Nagasaki’s Memolead corporate team, Yoshitomi trains alone near her parents’ flower farm in Fujimachi, Saga. Running on the tough hills of the local mountain roads she averages 20 km a day, sometimes running up to 50 km in training for key races. From the end of last year through Tokyo in February she raced almost every weekend. “Races are the best training,” she says of her approach. Every day before practice she spends the day in a hothouse filled with flowers, the interaction with nature raising her heart rate.
In her 20s, when most runners at their peak, Yoshitomi had long periods when she couldn't focus her mind and body on running. After graduating from Kashima Jitsugyo H.S. in 2002 she joined the Sanix corporate team in Fukuoka, but after two years of injuries that kept her from performing up to the level she’d imagined she quit the team. “I wanted to run, but I couldn’t,” she reflects. “Even so, I knew it was something I loved.” Returning to her parents’ home her desire to run remained undimmed, and in 2006 when her former Sanix coach Morio Shigematsu, the 1965 Boston Marathon winner, contacted her she began training and racing again. Just six months later, though, the Sanix team was disbanded due to economic issues at the company.
Yoshitomi returned home yet again and went back to running by herself. In 2009 she joined the First Dream club team established by Shigematsu. At First Dream she relearned the joy of running with friends, but this happiness was tempered later the same year when her oldest brother Masanori, also a national-level runner, passed away. “I thought a lot about giving up running,” she admits. “But I’d come to love running with my friends, and whenever I produced results I was always glad I hadn’t given up. That cycle keeps repeating itself.”
Maintaining the determination underlying her running, two years ago Yoshitomi joined the Memolead team thanks to an introduction from Shigematsu. Working out an arrangement that allowed her to train and receive stipends to support it while continuing to work in her family's business, now in her thirties Yoshitomi finally found herself with a situation and environment that would make her competitive. After running 2:33 marathons on back to back weekends at the end of January and beginning of February Yoshitomi ran a PB of 2:30:16 at February’s Tokyo Marathon. “I finally dropped a good time, so I thought, ‘Let’s keep doing this a while longer,’” she says. “I have to break 2:30 somehow.”
“I know you can go sub-2:30.” Whenever things were down those are the words Shigematsu would say to give her a gentle push in the back. She's still full of competitive drive. Finally finding a way to make her running dreams a reality, this late-blooming runner next takes on June’s Stockholm Marathon in Sweden.
translated by Brett Larner
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