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Fast Times in Tachikawa, National Records in Nagoya, Bounasr on Top at Lake Biwa - Weekend Road Racing Highlights

All three of Sunday's main road races saw quality times thanks to a combination of deep fields, good conditions and the promise of national team spots.

First up at the National University Men's Half Marathon Championships in western Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park, Hakone Ekiden Fourth Stage course record breaker Akira Aizawa (Toyo Univ.) led the top three under 62 minutes in a skillfully controlled 1:01:45. With places on the team for this summer's Napoli World University Games team at stake Aizawa waited until near the end to take advantage of the final hills to break free of the pack.

Runner-up Taisei Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.) and 3rd-placer Tatsuhiko Ito (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) both cleared 62 minutes for the first time, Nakamura in 1:01:51 and Ito in 1:01:52, Ito's mark especially newsworthy from the still fresh new Tokyo Kokusai program. Teammates Hidekazu Hijikata and Yuhei Urano (Koku Gakuin Univ.) were both just over the 62-minute mark to round out the probable lineup for the Napoli team. Kenyan corporate leaguer Charles Ndungu (Komori Corp.) just beat Urano for 5th in his last race before joining the Nihon University team.

The Nagoya Women's Marathon saw two national records. Winner Helalia Johannes ran a Namibian record of 2:22:25, taking three and a half minutes off her 7-year-old PB to improbably take down heavyweight Kenyan favorites Valary Jemeli and Visiline Jepkesho. As in Tachikawa the cards were on the table from the beginning, the pacers taking it out on mid-2:22 pace with only the winner sustaining. Jepkesho took 2nd in 2:22:58, with Jemeli just back in 2:23:01.

Japanese half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal), rallying from a fall and DNF in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, lasted longest before fading but was run down by the only Japanese woman in the field already qualified for September's MGC Race 2020 Olympic marathon trials, Reia Iwade (Under Armour). Iwade achieved her goal of a new PB, breaking 2:24 for the first time in 2:23:52 for 5th. Fukushi held on for 2:24:09 and 8th, the first of five women in Nagoya to join Iwade among the MGC qualifiers. As the last full-on qualifying race the results brought a collective sigh of relief, bringing up the number of women to qualify from nine to fourteen. A little further back, Rachel Cliff finished 15th in 2:26:56, a new Canadian national record.

Like Nagoya the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon was the last full qualifying event for the MGC Race. The pace was very steadily in the low-2:08 range the entire way, allowing the large Japanese men's lead pack and group of six key African-born athletes to stay together much longer than in last week's way faster Tokyo Marathon. The first one to make a move after the pacers stopped was #1-ranked Japanese man Kenji Yamamoto (Mazda), along with Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) one of the two people in the race already MGC-certified. All six main internationals went with him, joined shortly by surprise guest Daiji Kawai (Toenec) with a 2:23:13 best to his name.

Kawai looked like he might hang on, but a few surges and feints soon dropped him. A few more surges including another by Yamamoto broke the pack up further, and it quickly shook down to a head-to-head between Moroccan Salah-Eddine Bounasr and Ethiopian Asefa Tefera over the last 3 km. Tefera took the lead heading onto the track, but Bounasr came back to outkick him over the last 200 m for the win in 2:07:52. South Africa's Stephen Mokoka closed hard to almost run Tefera down, but the Ethiopian hung on for 2nd in 2:07:56 to Mokoka's 2:07:58 for 3rd.

Once dropped Yamamoto faded badly over the final 3 km, managing to take 6 seconds off his best for 2:08:42 for 7th but clearly disappointed. Kawauchi was 8th in 2:09:21, probably enough to score him a spot at the Doha World Championships. Kawai was run down by Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta), no relation to Kenji, Yamamoto taking 10th in 2:10:33 and Kawai 11th in a massive PB of 2:10:50. By clearing 2:11 they both the MGC Race cut, bringing the men's qualifier total to thirty.

The results in Tokyo last week were a bit anomalous due to the high casualty rate from the fast pace, but what was noticeable between Nagoya and Lake Biwa was that the runners who had already qualified for the MGC Race took the top spots in both races, Iwade in Nagoya and Yamamoto and Kawauchi at Lake Biwa. You could probably count Fukushi in that too as she almost certainly would have qualified in Osaka if she hadn't fallen. This suggests that the real contenders are mostly the ones who got it early on, that it's pretty much at the bottom of the barrel as far as people who could have qualified.

It's not quite the end of the window; people have until the end of April to hit the wildcard standards, 2:08:30 or a two-race 2:11:00 average for men and 2:24:00 or 2:28:00 for two races for women. We'll for sure be seeing a few people trying one last time in Nagano and abroad in April, but there aren't likely to be more than a handful of additions. Whether they can do it in a last-ditch attempt and then turn it around in time for September where they'll have to race the people who got it out of the way early is another question.

National University Men's Half Marathon Championships

Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, 3/10/19

1. Akira Aizawa (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:45
2. Taisei Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:51
3. Tatsuhiko Ito (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:01:52
4. Hidekazu Hijikata (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:02
5. Charles Ndungu (Komori Corp.) - 1:02:12
6. Yuhei Urano (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:14
7. Junnosuke Matsuo (Tokai Univ.) - 1:02:24
8. Ichitaka Yamashita (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:36
9. Issei Iwasa (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:02:39
10. Tatsuya Maruyama (Matsudo T&F Assoc.) - 1:02:42

Nagoya Women's Marathon

Nagoya, Aichi, 3/10/19
complete results

1. Helalia Johannes (Namibia) - 2:22:25 - NR
2. Visiline Jepkesho (Kenya) - 2:22:58
3. Valary Jemeli (Kenya) - 2:23:01
4. Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) - 2:23:33
5. Reia Iwade (Japan/Under Armour) - 2:23:52
6. Monica Jepkoech (Kenya) - 2:23:59
7. Sara Dossena (Italy) - 2:24:00
8. Kayoko Fukushi (Japan/Wacoal) - 2:24:09
9. Miyuki Uehara (Japan/Daiichi Seimei) - 2:24:19
10. Sairi Maeda (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:25:25
11. Mizuki Tanimoto (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:25:28
12. Ayano Ikemitsu (Japan/Kagoshima Ginko) - 2:26:07
13. Zhixuan Li (China) - 2:26:15
14. Ellie Pashley (Australia) - 2:26:21
15. Rachel Cliff (Canada) - 2:26:56 - NR
DNF - Kaori Yoshida (Japan/Team RxL)

Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon

Otsu, Shiga, 3/10/19
complete results

1. Salah-Eddine Bounasr (Morocco) - 2:07:52
2. Asefa Tefera (Ethiopia) - 2:07:56
3. Stephen Mokoka (South Africa) - 2:07:58
4. Benson Seurei (Bahrain) - 2:08:08
5. Deribe Robi (Ethiopia) - 2:08:11
6. Alphonce Felix Simbu (Tanzania) - 2:08:27
7. Kenji Yamamoto (Japan/Mazda) - 2:08:42
8. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:09:21
9. Ezekiel Cheboitibin (Kenya/Sunbelx) - 2:09:58
10. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:10:33
11. Daiji Kawai (Japan/Toenec) - 2:10:50
12. Yuta Takahashi (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:11:25
13. Tsubasa Hayakawa (Japan/Toyota) - 2:12:01
14. Yusuke Ogura (Japan/Yakult) - 2:12:10
15. Yukio Fujimura (Japan/Sumitomo Denko) - 2:12:13
25. Nick Earl (Great Britain) - 2:14:38
26. Julian Spence (Australia) - 2:14:42
DNF - Abiyot Abinet (Ethiopia/Yachiyo Kogyo)
DNF - Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC)
DNF - Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan/Honda)
DNF - Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea)
DNF - Macharia Ndirangu (Kenya/Aichi Seiko)
DNF - Ernest Ngeno (Kenya)

© 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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j said…
Gabriel Geay was pacemaker, Ernest Ngeno was DNF

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Naoki Okamotoage: 35
sponsor: Chugoku Denryoku
graduated from: Tottori Chuo Ikuei H.S., Meiji University

best time inside MGC window:
2:11:29, 1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon

PB: 2:11:29, 1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon

other PBs:
5000 m: 13:37.71 (2009) 10000 m: 28:05.84 (2011) half marathon: 1:02:16 (2009)

marathons inside MGC window (Aug. 1 2017 – April 30 2019)
DNF, 2019 Beppu-Oita Marathon
1st, 2018 Hokkaido Marathon, 2:11:29 – PB
DNF, 2018 Boston Marathon

other major results:
4th, 2019 Shibetsu Half Marathon, 1:03:53
2nd, 2019 New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.4 km), 1:05:13
1st, 2018 Chugoku Corporate Ekiden Sixth Stage (19.0 km), 56:25 – CR
1st, 2018 Ome 30 km Road Race, 1:33:09
21st, 2017 Tokyo Marathon, 2:13:53

We’re picking Okamoto as our official dark horse of the men’s race. The second-oldest man in a field, Okamoto is a journeyman corporate leaguer who never broke 2:12 and whose PBs all came a decade ago. But, nearing the end of his career, over the last two years he has really come on…

One Month Until the Japanese Olympic Marathon Trials

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