It's another big weekend on the track and roads. Two weeks out from the National Track and Field Championships long distance segment, the top tier of men not racing there will be at the Hachioji Long Distance Meet in Tokyo's western suburbs for nine heats of men's 10000 m. The whole meet is being livestreamed for the first time starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday Japan time, with JRN's Mika Tokairin MCing a commentary crew that includes track and ekiden great Tsuyoshi Ugachi.
The B-heat is the main event, with 22 of the top Japan-based Kenyans on the list including Richard Kimunyan Yator (Hitachi Butsuryu) and Andrew Lorot (Subaru). With only one stage at the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden national championships open to non-citizens, many of the Kenyans will be squaring off against their corporate sponsor teammates so coaches can make an informed decision about who gets to run come Jan. 1. Interesting Japanese entrants include #1 collegiate half marathoner Shoya Kawase (Kogakkan Univ.) and former Komazawa University ekiden heavyweight Shinobu Kubota (Toyota), back in form last weekend at the Chubu Region Corporate Ekiden after a long injury.
Also on the track Saturday are the Chugoku Region Corporate Time Trials in Hiroshima, the Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials in Saitama, and the Waseda University Time Trials also in Saitama. Chugoku has three heats of men's 10000 m on the menu with notable names including former Yamanashi Gakuin University star Dominic Nyairo (NTT Nishi Nihon). Heisei Kokusai has enough overflow from Hachioji that its twelve 10000 m heats are spilling over onto Sunday. The biggest names there are three of New Year Ekiden champ Asahi Kasei's big guns, Akira Aizawa, Shuho Dairokuno and Takashi Ichida, in the 5000 m A-heat ahead of planned runs in the 10000 m at Nationals. Waseda has its Hakone-bound team running 10000 m along with athletes from rival universities including Meiji University.
In Kanagawa, the long distance segment of May's postponed Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships and the annual Kanto Region University Time Trials meet have been combined into one massive two-day meet over the back half of the long weekend. The faster end of the field will race Sunday with men's and women's 5000 m, 10000 m and 10000 mRW on the program. Monday's program has ten heats of men's 10000 m and one women's 10000 m.
On the roads the main action is Sunday's Queens Ekiden, the season-ending corporate women's national championships. Last year Japan Post led start-to-finish off a course record-breaking opening run by Ririka Hironaka. Hironaka cracked 15 minutes for 5000 m earlier this fall and is stronger than ever, but one of its other main stars, Olympic marathon team member Ayuko Suzuki, has been out most of the year with injury and leaves Japan Post vulnerable to last year's Honami Maeda-led 4th-placer Tenmaya, Wacoal and others at the front end of the field.
The main question is whether Princess Ekiden winner Sekisui Kagaku is up to the job of making it to the top here. Sekisui Kagaku won Princess, the qualifying race for the national championships, last year but finished only 9th at Queens and missed the eight-deep podium. Since then they've added half marathon NR holder Hitomi Niiya and last year's double 800 m and 1500 m national champ Ran Urabe to their lineup, which was more than enough to give them the win again at Princess this season. But beyond that pair and its previous leader Sayaka Sato the team's roster thins out quickly. They usually say that one star or a couple of good runners can't win an ekiden against a more complete team, so we'll probably be seeing that put to the test come Sunday. Look for Yamada Holdings to be a dark horse for the podium in the complete team category.
The Queens Ekiden site will have live shots from the exchange zones during the race, but it doesn't look like there's an official livestream of the TBS broadcast. TBS will have the race on starting at 11:50 a.m. Sunday Japan time. If you're not in Japan, options like mov3.co, iTVer, and TVJapanLive that might work, and unofficial streams tend to pop up on Youtube once the race gets underway. We'll be doing English commentary on @JRNLive as usual. See you then.