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Second Again, Arata Fujiwara Evaluates the 2010 Tokyo Marathon

interview by Brett Larner
translated by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

Part four of a five-part interview. Running in miserable conditions at the 2010 Tokyo Marathon, Arata Fujiwara came 2nd in Tokyo for the second time in his career. The next day, a badly limping Fujiwara generously met with JRN at a favorite bar of his to talk about the race, training, future, and what went wrong and right. Part four of the interview below focuses on this year's race. Part five talks about Fujiwara's motivations, his training for Tokyo, and the Japanese corporate running system compared with the situation in Africa, Europe and the United States.

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Congratulations on your first marathon in the 2:10’s.

(laughs) Thanks, yeah, I broke through the wall.

Having seen your last four marathons, when I watched the video of this year’s Tokyo Marathon I felt that it was the first time you had run like a marathoner, like you really understood the marathon. Compared to your last five marathons what was different for you this time?

The biggest difference, talking about my condition, was that I felt that my good form was more stable. When I’ve had bad marathons I haven’t been able to figure out the right form and the right approach before I came to the starting line. This time my condition was pretty stable at the New Year Ekiden and before that the Nittai University Time Trials, so I thought that with this form there was no mistake, I was going to have a good one. That was the biggest difference. Having found the right form and movement I knew that if I kept them when I went to the starting line I would have a good race, and that’s what this marathon was about for me.

What kind of strategy did you have coming into the race?

This time, I was more focused on peaking properly than on getting my body stronger. My training this year was solid and consistent, but rather than saying, “I need more stamina, so let’s work on that,” or, “I don’t have enough speed so I need more speedwork,” I focused on keeping an overall good feeling and peaking properly. When I was on the start line I knew I was at least 80 or 90% of my maximum.

Before the race you had said you wanted to go for a fast time, but when you got up yesterday and saw the weather what changed in your plans?

Well, in the first 10 km we went out at around 15:10 to 15:15 [per 5 km] pace so I thought that if we kept going like that we’d break 2:10. I never expected it to get that messy, though. That kind of weather was really damaging. I didn’t have much time to get ready for the cold but I did what I could. I bought waterproof spray for my singlet, but I don’t know if it worked or not. There’s a kind of waterproof lining you can buy to put in a backpack when it’s raining. I went to an outdoors shop and bought one, then cut out squares and sewed them on to the front and back of my singlet under the bib numbers. I didn’t really want to cut up a windbreaker for that, so I just bought a bag. It worked really well. When I saw the weather I thought, “What should I do?” and that was the best I could come up with. It only cost about 1500 or 1600 yen so I didn’t feel too guilty about cutting it up.

Compared to your other marathons it seemed that you were running more under control the whole time.

That’s right. At first I was watching Atsushi Sato, but it made me get nervous and tighten up. While I was up near the front in the first 10 km I was watching him but it felt like his back was watching me. (laughs) So I moved somewhere where I couldn’t see him, back at the very rear of the pack in 20th or 30th. I didn’t want to see him. (laughs)

At the pre-race press conference when you heard some of Sato’s training you said that you wished you hadn’t heard it.

Yes, you don’t really want to hear about other people’s training. (laughs)

At the Hibiya intersection just before 21 km you were running wide of the pack on the left and looked very relaxed.

Yes, that was when I was feeling the most relaxed and comfortable. I was thinking, “Oh man, this is comfortable. I feel great today!” But then when I looked at the time and saw how slow we were going it kind of killed my enthusiasm. “It’s comfortable because we’re going really slow!” (laughs)

At that point you threw away your water bottle and then it looked like you waved to somebody.

What happened there was that I was running to the left of the pack and I was going to throw my bottle away, but all the amateur runners were there going the other way. Usually you’d just throw it off to the side, but with the amateurs on my left and the lead pack on my right there was nowhere to throw it so I threw it kind of ahead and to the left. Right into one of the TV broadcast motorcycles. “Damn it!” (laughs) It hit between the tires so it was a little dangerous and I just waved to apologize.

Around 26 km the rain changed to snow. What did you think when it started snowing?

“Nobody told me it was going to snow today!” (laughs) When I had checked the weather it said rain but nothing about it changing to snow. I was prepared for cold rain, but it was a little different when it became snow. I was thinking, “Hey, hey, hey, what is this?” It was quite a shock. At that point, 26 km, it was still pretty slow, but at 28 km Akinori Shibutani took off [at 3:00/km pace]. When I’m running 16 minutes per 5 km pace my breathing isn’t usually very heavy. When Shibutani sped up the pack gradually picked it up in response. My breathing got louder and I thought, “OK, now things are heating up.”

When Shibutani took off at 28 km what did you think?

Well, I didn’t really think Shibutani was the kind of runner who could run away from us, so I thought he was going way too hard. Sometimes when things get difficult you go faster, and the way he took off that’s how it seemed. The pack seemed to have the consensus not to go with him but just to spend some time gradually reeling him back in without working too hard. I felt the same way, just to go bit by bit over two or three km and then there would be no question of him getting away.

After the pack retook Shibutani around 30.5 km Salim Kipsang and a few others made small surges, but you didn’t try to follow any of them. In the last interview you had talked about that kind of strategy and it seemed pretty clear this time that you were running completely according to what you had said.

When someone breaks away from the pack you more or less just know from the group dynamic whether or not you should follow them. The toughest surge this time was Masakazu Fujiwara’s attack [at 33 km] after Kipsang’s spurt [at 31.5 km]. That was a genuine, serious move, but I didn’t feel that way about Kipsang’s. His surge just proved that he didn’t have the energy to follow through. I used the word before, but the pack had a kind of group consensus not to respond to his surge. Somehow you just instinctively know, “This guy’s not going to be able to keep that up.” If you react to those fake surges every time you just waste energy, so I stayed at the back of the pack where it’s easiest to run and observed what was going on.

When Masakazu surged at 33 km Sato went after him but you waited in the pack. What were you thinking at that point?

Yes, that was dangerous. Dangerous in the sense that it was perfectly possible that he could have kept going like that. When you make a move it’s scary if someone comes after you, so when Sato did I thought they would probably come back to the pack again. But what was notable about the spurt was that when he went and Sato chased after him, Masakazu slowed down and went to the rear of the pack again under his own control. I thought, “He’s in control of the race. Danger.”

Right after that, around 34.5 km, you went to the front of the pack for the first time with Joseph Mwaniki.

What? Really? I was leading? I don’t remember that at all. Maybe if I saw the video. My mind wasn’t working well at that point of the race, maybe because of the cold. I didn’t try to surge or anything. I think maybe the pace that Masakazu and Atsushi had built just carried on and that I rode it to the front, but to be honest at that point my legs were in a lot of pain. It was much worse than the spasms I had two years ago. It hurt a lot and I was really afraid it was going to go bad. I thought, “This is pretty serious. I don’t think I can make it to the finish like this.”

At the 35 km water station you almost fell twice. Was that what was going on?

At 35 km it was getting bad, but this was more what I said before about my mind not working right. I had completely forgotten that the elite water stations were every 5 km. When I saw it I thought, “Oh, a water station.” My drink was on the second table so it came pretty quickly and I had to react. It was pretty hard to move fast enough and I lost my balance and almost fell. This time I barely got any of my drinks. My hands were so cold that I couldn’t pick up the bottles, and then I started forgetting that the water stations were coming. When I almost fell it wasn’t because of the leg pain, though.

From 30.5 km to Tsukuda Bridge at 36 km the race was very tense. You were constantly looking around at the other runners, checking out their form.

I kept wondering, “Who’s got the most left?” I thought it was going to be Mwaniki. Just before Tsukuda Bridge he was running beautifully and his legs were moving well, so I thought, “It’s going to be him.” My legs were in bad shape, so actually everybody else looked good. (laughs) I was counting how many people were left in the pack. My legs felt really, really bad at that point, so I thought I might finish last out of that pack and I was trying to figure out which place I would come in. That’s why I was looking around. I was kind of a wimp. My mind was a bit fuzzy at that point so when I was looking around I couldn’t count the numbers very well. I had to concentrate on counting, “1, 2, 3, 4…”

So you were concerned about Mwaniki?

Yes, Mwaniki and Kipsang. But Rachid Kisri was the one. A veteran like that, at that age, running a 2:06, someone like that has a lot of skill at running the marathon. I thought that if I followed him up to some point I wouldn’t make any mistakes, so up to 30 km he was the one I was thinking about the most. When Shibutani surged, when Sato was chasing after people, when Masakazu went for it, each time I kept wondering, “How is Kisri reacting?” and kept an eye on him. Kipsang always seemed like he wanted to run away from us, but Kisri was always acting like he was looking for the best way to position himself in the pack. I thought following him would be the best way to save energy.

With the weather this year people like Kensuke Takahashi and Julius Gitahi started losing contact with the lead pack after only about 3 km. Was there anyone you were surprised not to see in the pack in those late stages?

The only person who surprised me was Yuki Kawauchi. More than being surprised that someone wasn’t there, I was surprised that he WAS there. I knew his name, because at Fukuoka he went with Tomoyuki Sato from Asahi Kasei at 3:00/km pace. He lasted about 20 km at that pace and I think he beat Sato in the end, so I had the impression that he was working hard in his running. When he was in the pack in Tokyo at first I was thinking, “Hey, it’s Kawauchi. Hmmn, I wonder how long this kid’s going to last?” (laughs) Then he was there until the very end! Watching him from behind, his running was very beautiful and I thought he might pull it off, but of course I have my pride too so I wasn’t going to let him. Thanks to him I found some extra power. He has a lot of guts in the marathon. He was the biggest surprise.

Masakazu Fujiwara was feeling great this time. Were you surprised by that?

At the New Year Ekiden this year he ran 1:03:40 or 1:03:50 [for 22.3 km]. I only beat him by about 10 seconds, so I knew that with a 1:03 there he was coming into Tokyo in great shape. I was marking him throughout the race too. All the way between Hibiya and Shinagawa I was watching him. He hasn’t been able to run properly for seven years because of injuries and other troubles, but he’s still a great runner so I knew I should look out for him and in the end he beat me.

When Masakazu made his final move at the 40 km water station it looked like you were having some kind of trouble. You took your drink and were all the way in back, and suddenly your face looked like you were in a lot of pain.

That was because of my legs. Right when I was drinking and feeling the worst everyone went into their last spurt, so for a minute there I thought it was over. “I don’t think I can survive this,” I was thinking. First Masakazu went, then Atsushi. Right when the pace sped up I had halfway given up and I didn’t know whether I had a surge left in me. I moved up near the front part of the pack at that time and nobody else was really trying to go after Masakazu, so I decided, “OK, let’s just try with what we have,” and then tried to go after them. It was a pretty dangerous moment, but I bet on the side of my legs surviving. That was the moment I made the final decision. Over the time I spent catching up, the uphill, the downhill with 1 km to go, the left-hand turn, even with just 500 m to go I didn’t know what was going to happen to my legs.

During all that did you think you could still retake Masakazu?

When he took off I hadn’t made a decision yet. When I finally did he was already far away. After finishing I had a little regret that I should have gone with him.

Going up the last hill at 41 km you were right behind Sato, then on the downhill with 1 km to go you went past him.

Uphills are hard. (laughs) People usually rest after an uphill, so that’s the best time to pass them. I’m usually more defensive while going up hills. On downhills as long as your footing is firm and stable you can speed up, so a long time beforehand I was planning to use it for a spurt. I don’t remember exactly, but that’s why I surged on the downhill. I thought, “Maybe if I go really hard I’ll be able to catch Masakazu,” but it didn’t work out.

Passing somebody like Sato, with his fast 10000 m, half marathon and marathon times, with a kilometer still to go, you must have felt some stress about staying ahead of him the whole way.

I don’t think the last spurt in a marathon really has that much to do with your speed. It’s not about how much speed you have as much as how much endurance you have. Just because I don’t have the kind of 10000 m speed he does it didn’t mean that I had no chance against him. My 5000 m PB is around 13:40, so to my mind I have speed. For example, in a 5000 m race, if it gets down to the last 1000 m and there are only Atsushi, Takayuki Matsumiya and me left then OK, I don’t have any chance, but the last spurt in a marathon isn’t about that kind of speed. It also has a component of stamina. I might not have the 10000 m time, but in the marathon not having that kind of top-end speed isn’t really a disadvantage. Everyone says, “Fujiwara doesn’t have any speed, he just runs marathons,” but I just think, “Well, that’s OK, isn’t it?” It makes it easier to race against them so I just let them say it. I don’t really react to that kind of evaluation. If they say, “Your marathon time is great but you don't have any speed,” I just take it as a compliment. In my understanding of things, I have speed. I’d love to run a 2:05. If you think about it it’s just under 3:00/km pace. If I have to run a half marathon just under that pace it’s so easy. It may sound too simplistic, but I think if you can do it in a half marathon, why not in a marathon?

You didn’t manage to win this one, but do you feel satisfied with your run? What will you take away from it?

Of course I’m really disappointed I didn’t win, especially to someone else named Fujiwara. That’s tough. But my legs really hurt this time, like to the point where I didn’t know if I was going to crash or not, so I think finishing 2nd in that kind of condition was the best I could hope for. On that point, I’m pretty happy. I almost pulled a muscle in my leg, and today I think that there is a small pull in there somewhere. I wasn’t happy with the fact that I had leg problems and I should have trained to prevent that kind of situation. But since it happened I think I made the right choices in the race itself. At the same time now I wish I could have gone with Masakazu. Next time.

Is there anything else you think you could have done differently or any regrets?

There are a lot of isolated memories, but before the race I intended to win. I knew that if I won I would have a chance to talk to Mayor Shintaro Ishihara, so I read his famous essay “My Life and the People of Those Times.” I was really well-prepared, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him because 2nd place doesn’t really matter. (laughs)

Look for the fifth and final part of Fujiwara's interview tomorrow.

© 2010 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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