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Comparing D1 Pre-Nationals and the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier

With both American and Japanese university students well into their fall seasons, two major events took place Saturday. Near Madison, Wisconsin, the D1 Pre-Nationals cross-country meet and in Tachikawa, Tokyo the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier half marathon. At Pre-Nats men ran 8 km on a looping XC course with a maximum elevation difference of around 30 m. The field was split into two main races, Cardinal and White, with a total of 69 teams, and an additional Grey race handling some overflow. Teams ran up to seven members, with the top five scoring on cumulative placing. A total of 474 athletes finished the two main races, with five DNF.

At the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier, known as the Yosenkai, the distance was lengthened from 20 km to the half marathon distance this year, on a paved net-uphill course with a maximum elevation difference of about 20 m, most of that in the hilly final 8 km through Showa Kinen Park. 39 second-tier teams fielded up to twelve runners, with the top ten scoring on cumulative time. The eleven fastest teams would join the ten first-tier schools already seeded for January's season-ending Hakone Ekiden. 456 runners finished the Yosenkai, with one DNF.

The difference in scoring put more emphasis on time at the Yosenkai, where winner Komazawa University became the first team in Yosenkai history to break 3:00/km for the average of its ten scoring men. Komazawa should really be classified among the ten first-tier teams that don't have to run the Yosenkai, but a blowup at Hakone this year meant it was sent down to re-qualify and the difference between it and the rest of the second-tier programs was pretty clear. All ten of Komazawa's scorers went under 1:03:30 for the half marathon, averaging 1:02:59.8, with its two non-scoring members also breaking 1:04:00. 2nd and 3rd-place teams Juntendo University and Kanagawa University averaged under 3:02/km, with the 4th through 8th-place teams all breaking 3:03/km.

Combining the Cardinal and White race results, White race winner Brigham Young University averaged 2:59.7/km. Cardinal race winner Northern Arizona University was also a fraction of a second under, its average time rounding to 3:00/km. Stanford University and the University of Washington both averaged under 3:02/km, with only one other team, the University of Colorado, breaking 3:03/km. Again, Pre-Nats averages were for five scoring runners over 8 km each, while Yosenkai averages were for ten scoring runners over a half marathon each.

At the individual level, Pre-Nats Cardinal race top two Grant Fisher (Stanford) and Tyler Day (Northern Arizona) both averaged 2:58.6/km, with White Race winner Rory Linkletter (BYU) averaging 2:59.3/km. Yosenkai winner Josphat Ledama Kisaisa (Obirin) averaged 2:52.7/km, with runner-up Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo) averaging 2:54.5/km. Had Fisher been able to sustain the same pace for the half marathon distance the resulting time, 1:02:48, would have been good for 14th in the Yosenkai.

Runners at the Yosenkai were going for time while those at Pre-Nats were racing for place and road racing is a different thing from cross-country, but the difference in results was still striking. It's not hard to see the possible connection to post-collegiate results in the two countries. Japan has 29 men under 2:12 in the marathon this year versus only one American., while the U.S. has 30 men under 3:40 in the 1500 m to Japan's one and 15 under 13:30 in the 5000 m to one Japanese man.

A growing number of Japanese university men are opting to spend time in the United States to take advantage of the focus on shorter distances, with immediate payoffs including the 3:38.65 by Shoma Funatsu (Chuo Univ.) and indoor mile national record by Ryoji Tatezawa (Tokai Univ.) earlier this year. In the same way, more Americans spending time in Japan to learn from its emphasis on longer distances might be one answer to the lack of depth in current American marathoning.

© 2018 Brett Larner

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TokyoRacer said…
That's extremely interesting. Knew about the half marathon and 1500m differences, but didn't realize there was such a difference in the 5000m times.
Andrew Armiger said…
Nice analysis, I always enjoy this comparison. There is certainly far less encouragement towards road racing and marathon in the sport's culture in the US.

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