Give it up for Hiromi Katakai. 6.7k into 10.9k stage at Queens Ekiden national championships today she had some kind of problem with her shoes, kicked them off, ran the rest of way in socks, and still beat 6 people. 33:32 10k split vs. road 10k PB of 33:52. True grit. pic.twitter.com/seN9NTrj01— Japan Running News (@JRNLive) November 22, 2020
The 2020 Queens Ekiden, the season-ending national championships race for Japan's corporate women, was about as good an example as you could ask for of why it takes an entire team to win a top-level ekiden, not just a couple of star runners. Princess Ekiden qualifying race winner Sekisui Kagaku hoped that the addition of middle distance national champion Ran Urabe and half marathon national record holder Hitomi Niiya to its roster would be enough to knock out defending champ Japan Post and take its first-ever national title. Over the first half of the six-stage, 42.195 km race things went according to plan, leading runner Sayaka Sato putting Sekisui Kagaku in 3rd, Urabe moving them up to 2nd, and Niiya delivering a 33:20 course record for the 10.9 km Third Stage, splitting 30:31 for 10 km en route, taking 1:10 off the CR and putting Sekisui 55 seconds out front.
Japan Post stayed steady after losing the leading position that its first runner Ririka Hironaka had given it, staying within a minute of Sekisui after losing touch and keeping it realistic for Olympic marathon team member Ayuko Suzuki to retake the lead on the 10.0 km Fifth Stage in a stage-winning 32:18, just off the CR. Anchor Hikari Onishi picked up a 29-second lead from Suzuki for the 6.795 Sixth Stage, but instead of playing it safe she hammered out a 21:13 stage win to bring Japan Post home in a 2:13:34 course record for its second-straight national title.
While Japan Post kept calm and carried on with the business of recovering from Niiya's blazing run, none of Sekisui's second half members made the top ten on their stages. All they could do was watch Japan Post come back up and then fade away into the distance ahead, hanging on to 2nd but finishing over a minute behind in 2:14:50. It was a measure of how good Niiya's run was that Japan Post's third runner Rina Nabeshima also broke the stage record but was over a minute slower in 34:25.
In her 20th and self-professed final time running the Queens Ekiden, 5000 m national record holder Kayoko Fukushi ran up to her legacy. Anchoring Wacoal for the first time, Fukushi started in 6th and wasted no time running down women literally half her age. She improbably moved up as high as 3rd, but on the final lap of the track the last woman she had passed, Akane Yabushita (Toyota Jidoshokki) came back with a hard kick to catch Fukushi just before the line. Toyota Jidoshokki was 3rd in 2:15:36, Wacoal next in 2:15:37, with Fukushi scoring the 2nd-fastest time on the stage 4 seconds behind Japan Post's Onishi.
Dark horse Yamada Holdings ran as expected, in 3rd through the first half and dropping gradually to 6th by race's end. With an eight-deep podium, top eight earning places at next year's Queens without having to run the qualifier, Panasonic, Kyudenko, Daihatsu had a brutal battle over the last two stages to try to run down 7th-place Shiseido and squeeze into the last two places. Panasonic got there first off a strong anchor run from Sakiko Naito, taking 7th with Kyudenko 16 seconds back in 8th. Last year's 2nd-placer Daihatsu was the unlucky 9th-place team, 9 seconds behind Kyudenko and knocked back to the qualifier next season. Despite hovering between 5th and 7th the entire race, Shiseido fell to 12th after a disastrous anchor run from star runner Tomoka Kimura.
Further back, Rosemary Wanjiru (Starts), 4th in the 10000 m at last year's World Championships, turned in the other course record of the day, clipping 1 second off the 3.6 km Fourth Stage to win it in 10:53. DNFs have become a regular thing in the top-level women's ekidens in the last few years, but while it didn't happen this time there was one freak happening. 6.7 into the 10.9 km Fourth Stage, Hiromi Katakai (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) abruptly stopped, kicked off both shoes, then kept running the last 4.2 km in her socks. She must have been having some problems going on as she had already been losing ground, but despite running almost half of the stage in socks she was still the 16th-fastest of the 22 women on the stage, running 36:33, equivalent to 33:32 for a road 10 km 20 seconds faster than her official road 10 km best, and only lost five places. Japanese media reported later that Katakai was examined by doctors afterward and had no broken bones or other serious issues beyond some cuts and scrapes on her feet. Give her some kind of award for pure grittiness.
With no National Women's Ekiden this coming January this was pretty much it for most of the women in the race for the year, with maybe a track time trial or two still to come. For the top end, Hironaka, Niiya, and others at the front of their stage standings, the National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 10000 m and 3000 mSC are less than two weeks away on Dec. 4 in Osaka. Based on today the chances look pretty good for seeing at least one national record there.
40th National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships
Sendai, Miyagi, 22 Nov. 2020
22 teams, 6 teams, 42.195 km
Top Team Results - top 8 qualify for 2021 Queens Ekiden
1. Japan Post - 2:13:34 - CR
2. Sekisui Kagaku - 2:14:50
3. Toyota Jidoshokki - 2:15:36
4. Wacoal - 2:15:37
5. Denso - 2:16:03
6. Yamada Holdings - 2:16:08
7. Panasonic - 2:16:59
8. Kyudenko - 2:17:15
9. Daihatsu - 2:17:24
10. Edion - 2:17:43
11. Tenmaya - 2:17:51
12. Shiseido - 2:17:59
Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage (7.6 km)
1. Ririka Hironaka (Japan Post) - 23:21
2. Maho Shimizu (Yamada Holdings) - 23:52
3. Sayaka Sato (Sekisui Kagaku) - 23:53
Second Stage (3.3 km)
1. Ran Urabe (Sekisui Kagaku) - 10:18
2. Kasumi Nishihara (Yamada Holdings) - 10:22
2. Chinatsu Takeda (Daihatsu) - 10:22
Third Stage (10.9 km)
1. Hitomi Niiya (Sekisui Kagaku) - 33:20 - CR
2. Rina Nabeshima (Japan Post) - 34:25 (CR)
3. Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) - 34:38
Fourth Stage (3.6 km)
1. Ruth Wanjiru (Starts) - 10:53 - CR
2. Tabitha Kamau (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 10:56
3. Helen Ekarare (Toyota Jidoshokki) - 10:57
Fifth Stage (10.0 km)
1. Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) - 32:13
2. Shuri Ogasawara (Denso) - 32:40
3. Mana Taniguchi (Wacoal) - 32:47
Sixth Stage (6.795 km)
1. Hikari Onishi (Japan Post) - 21:13
2. Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) - 21:17
3. Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) - 21:25
© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved