2020 Hakone Ekiden 3rd-placer Koku Gakuin University, 4th-place Teikyo University and 15th-place Hosei University held a joint 20 km time trial in Chiba on Nov. 14. Toyo University star fourth-year Kazuya Nishiyama also took part, winning in 58:53. Teikyo fourth-year Sora Masuda was next in 59:35, with Hosei second-year Yuki Kawakami 3rd in 59:37.
Before and after the time trial each team operated independently as a team, taking appropriate measures against coronavirus infection. The time trial itself let runners from each school push each other and gave a real sense of actual competition. Afterward Teikyo head coach Takayuki Nakano, 57, commented, "Just because you've done the training it doesn't mean there will be a race. We have to remember to be grateful for the opportunities we have. And that we're all friends."
Saitama's Ageo City Half Marathon, one of the most important races in the buildup to the Hakone Ekiden, was originally scheduled for Nov. 15 but was canceled in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. In its place, the universities involved in the time trial organized it in the same style as an actual 20 km road race. Each school registered up to 16 and fielded up to 10 runners primarily from the second tier of their rosters.
Nishiyama was the only Toyo runner to take part. In order to recover mentally from his 11th-place performance on the important Seventh Stage earlier this month at the National University Ekiden, Nishiyama led the 20 km right from the start. After going through 10 km in 29:40 he picked it up to 29:13 for the second half to finish in an excellent 58:53, equivalent to a 1:02:07 half marathon. Having followed back to back 20 km and 30 km training runs on the 11th and 12th it was an excellent session on tired legs. Nishiyama was positive about his performance saying, "I was pretty depressed after Nationals, but I kept to my training. I'm grateful that they let me run today. I feel confident again."
Next up Nishiyama will run the 10000 m in the Dec. 4 National Track and Field Championships. After that is Hakone. His first two years at Toyo Nishiyama won Hakone's highly competitive First Stage, but during his third year he was 10th on the Izumo Ekiden's First Stage, 11th on the Fifth Stage at Nationals, and 14th back on Hakone's First Stage. His 11th-place finish on Nationals' Seventh Stage this month makes four-straight major university ekidens where he hasn't been able to perform up to ability. "At the National Championships my goal is to break my 28:03.94 PB and make the top eight," Nishiyama said. "At Hakone I want to make up for everything in those last few ekidens."
The only runners to hang with Nishiyama through 10 km, Teikyo's Masuda and Hosei's Kawakami both made their presences felt. "Masuda has ability, but he hasn't run the Hakone Ekiden yet," said coach Nakano of his fourth-year athlete. "I want him to do his best here at the end." Hosei head coach Tomoo Tsubota, 43, was positive about Kawakami's good run, saying, "He ran well at the Hakone qualifier too. This run will have given him more confidence." Koku Gakuin head coach Yasuhiro Maeda, 42, was satisfied with his team's performance, saying, "This was a high-level session."
Less than seven weeks remain until the 2021 Hakone Ekiden. A stellar race awaits to welcome in the new year.
translated by Brett Larner