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18-Year-Old Miura Breaks Osako's U20 Half Marathon Record to Lead Juntendo University to Hakone Ekiden Qualifier Win

Cold rain couldn't hold back the fast times at Saturday's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai half marathon, the qualifying race for January's Hakone Ekiden university men's championships and the first major elite-level road race held in Japan during the coronavirus era. Held on a 2.6 km loop around an airbase runway in western Tokyo's Tachikawa suburb, 46 university teams from the greater Tokyo area fielded teams of 10 to 12 runners at the Yosenkai, with each team's 10 fast men scoring and the 10 fastest teams joining the top 10 from this year's Hakone Ekiden to make up the field for next year's Hakone.

Temperatures at the start were 12˚C, and with the rain letting up just before the gun conditions were actually pretty good through the first half of the race. Last year's runner-up Vincent Raimoi (Kokushikan Univ.) took an all-Kenyan lead quartet out hard on sub-60 pace, going through 5 km in 14:05 and 10 km in 28:14 before slowing as the rain returned in the second half. With one lap of the course to go 2019 Ageo City half Marathon winner Joseph Razimi Lemeteki (Takushoku) surged, breaking away from the quartet to take the overall win in 1:00:13. Raimoi was 2nd again 1:00:21, with newcomer Noah Kiplimo (Nihon Yakka Univ.) 3rd in 1:00:23 and James Bunuka (Surugadai Univ.) 4th in 1:00:34.

Behind the talented leaders, a chase group of 7 came together including last year's 4th-placer Charles Ndungu (Nihon Univ.) and 5000 m U20 national record holder Yamato Yoshii (Chuo Univ.). The group went through 5 km in 14:13, 59:59 pace for the 18-year-old Yoshi in his half marathon debut. Right after 10 km Ndungu abruptly tied up and pulled to the side, continuing on but ultimately taking 48th in 1:02:48, a devastating blow to Nihon's team score. From there until just past 15 km the remaining six in the chase pack slowed somewhat, but when they were caught by another pack that included U20 and collegiate 3000 mSC national record holder Ryuji Miura (Juntendo Univ.) things got rolling again.

Like Yoshii an 18-year-old first-year making his half debut, Miura sat patiently off Yoshii's shoulder after making contact, waiting as the pack bided its time. At the bell lap Shunya Kikuchi (Josai Univ.) surged hard to break free of the group of now more than a dozen. Takumi Saruhashi (Tsukuba Univ.) likewise broke away, but when Miura made a move to follow Yoshii struggled to match his closing speed. In the home straight Miura overtook Saruhashi for 5th, his time of 1:01:41 beating future 5000 m and marathon national record holder Suguru Osako's U20 national record and Asian U20 area best by 6 seconds. The next 8 all went under 62 minutes, Yoshii tying Osako's old record at 1:01:47 for 10th.

Miura's opening 5k split of 14:37, 1:01:41 pace bang on, had put him a full 24 seconds behind Yoshii at that point in the race, In post-race comments Miura thanked the older guys on his team for holding him back and making sure he went out at a comfortable pace so that he'd have something left at the end. Yoshii was bitterly disappointed in his post-race interview, saying that he had felt good early but that it had gotten harder midway and he'd had nothing left when Miura attacked. Both said they'd learned a lot.

Juntendo University's second man Yusaku Nomura was in the sub-62 group behind Miura, and with its 10th man Yudai Noguchi running 1:02:40 it had no trouble taking the team title in 10:23:34, an average of 1:02:21 for 10 scorers and the only team in the field to actually put all 10 under 63. Chuo University, Josai University and Kanagawa University took 2nd through 4th, all of them going under 10:30:00, meaning a sub-1:03 average for then 10 scorers.  For Josai it meant a return to Hakone after missing out last year, along with 7th-place Yamanashi Gakuin University and 10th-place Senshu University.

Qualifying last year for the first time in 26 years, Tsukuba University was the unlucky 11th-placer, missing out on Hakone qualification by 18 seconds, 1.8 second per runner over the half marathon distance, despite sub-62 runs from seniors Saruhashi and Kento Nishi. It had to sting. Also falling from grace, Hakone regular Chuo Gakuin University had an unexpected meltdown as it finished 12th  19 seconds behind Tsukuba. 11th the last two years, Reitaku University was 13th this year. Completing the triad of teams knocked out of the Hakone loop, old school Nihon University was only 18th in 10:43:14, something bad enough that it can't be pinned only on Ndungu having had problems.

With a flatter course that in particular took out the rolling hills and 180˚ turns in the second half of the regular Yosenkai course, cool conditions, a new generation of shoes and pent-up racing energy the depth of quality at this year's Yosenkai was everything you would have expected. In individual results:

sub-61: 4
sub-62: 13
sub-63: 60
sub-64: 173
sub-65: 246
sub-66: 308
sub-67: 360

All college kids, all but 8 Japanese, all from the greater Tokyo area. And the best 10 university teams weren't even there, having already qualified by finishing in the top 10 at Hakone this year. Team results were just as stunning. As key Japanese athletics blogger @soutarou_t pointed out, the top 3 teams were all faster than Komazawa University's record on the regular Yosenkai course, the top 14 teams were all faster than the 2nd place team when Komazawa set the record two years ago, and the top 20 teams were all faster than last year's Yosenkai winner Tokyo Kokusai University. Everyone knew it would be close between about 8th and 15th, but not many expected it to have been this good.

The fact that the Yosenkai was able to go ahead at all was a big encouragement for the rest of championship ekiden season, which this time around started today and ends with Hakone, the usual season opening Izumo Ekiden and season ending National Women's Ekiden and National Men's Ekiden having already been canceled. Assuming everything goes ahead, the next meetup on the schedule for university men will be the Nov. 1 National University Ekiden. We'll see there if the big guns on the Hakone scene can match the kind of step up the rest of the best showed today.

Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Half Marathon

Qualifying race for 2021 Hakone Ekiden
Tachikawa, Tokyo, 17 Oct. 2020
46 university teams of 10~12 runners each
teams scored by cumulative time of first 10 finishers
complete results

Top Individual Results
1. Joseph Razini Lemeteki (2nd yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 1:00:13 - PB
2. Vincent Raimoi (3rd yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:21
3. Noah Kiplimo (2nd yr., Nihon Yakka Univ.) - 1:00:23 - PB
4. James Bunuka (3rd yr., Surugadai Univ.) - 1:00:34 - PB
5. Ryuji Miura (1st yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:01:41 - U20 NR, debut
6. Takumi Saruhashi (4th yr., Tsukuba Univ) - 1:01:43 - PB
7. Yohei Ikeda (4th yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:01:44
8. Shunya Kikuchi (4th yr., Josai Univ.) - 1:01:45 - PB
9. Kento Nishi (4th yr., Tsukuba Univ.) - 1:01:46 - PB
10. Yamato Yoshii (1st yr., Chuo Univ.) - 1:01:47 - debut
11. Takashi Nanba (4th yr., Reitaku Univ.) - 1:01:47 - PB
12. Yuasku Nomura (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:01:51 - PB
13. Takuma Sunaoka (3rd yr., Josai Univ.) - 1:01:52 - PB
14. Kodai Murakami (2nd yr., Jobu Univ.) - 1:02:01 - PB
15. Koki Kamata (3rd yr., Hosei Univ.) - 1:02:03 - PB
16. Keigo Kurihara (3rd yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:03 - PB
17. Daiki Nomimura (3rd yr., Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:02:06 - PB
18. Iori Sugawara (4th yr., Josai Univ.) - 1:02:06 - PB
19. Paul Onyiego (3rd yr., Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:07 - PB
20. Nagiya Mori (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 1:02:08 - PB
21. Kazuki Ishii (1st yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:02:09 - debut
22. Tamaki Fujimoto (2nd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:02:13 - PB
23. Shura Shiino (3rd yr., Reitaku Univ.) - 1:02:19 - PB
24. Tatusya Iyoda (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:02:22 - PB
25. Takuro Miura (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 1:02:27 - PB
50. Ginga Takahashi (1st yr., Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:02:48 - debut
100. Kotaro Maeyama (4th yr., Obirin Univ.) - 1:03:23
150. Hyuma Abe (1st yr., Tokyo Univ. Grad School) - 1:03:48 - PB
200. Tatsuya Ichinose (3rd yr., Asia Univ.) - 1:04:14
250. Yukimasa Baku (2nd yr., Obirin Univ.) - 1:05:05
300. Naoki Yamada (4th yr., Nihon Yakka Univ.) - 1:05:47
350. Shota Ikezawa (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) - 1:06:41
400. Hyuto Sugiyama (1st yr., Shonan Koga Univ.) - 1:08:46
450. Ryutaro Abe (1st yr., Takasaki Keizai Univ.) - 1:11:35
500. Ryotaro Tanaka (Hitotsubashi Univ.) - 1:14:26

Top Team Results - top ten teams qualify for 2021 Hakone Ekiden
1. Juntendo University - 10:23:34
2. Chuo University - 10:26:13
3. Josai University - 10:29:37
4. Kanagawa University - 10:29:59
5. Kokushikan University - 10:30:38
6. Nittai University - 10:30:49
7. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 10:30:50
8. Hosei University - 10:33:31
9. Takushoku University - 10:33:46
10. Senshu University - 10:33:59
11. Tsukuba University - 10:34:17
12. Chuo Gakuin University - 10:34:36
13. Reitaku University - 10:36:07
14. Jobu University - 10:36:44
15. Surugadai University - 10:38:05

© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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CK said…
...And there has even been speculation that Brett set a pb getting back to his computer and posting this speedy report. (Thanks as always.)
Brett Larner said…
Thanks, it's nice to have a race to report on.

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