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Thoroughbred Nakao's Tokyo Run Born From the Seeds of Failure

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translated and edited by Brett Larner

Yusei Nakao (25, Team Toyota Boshoku) keeps a notebook of his failures. In it is written the memory of his greatest loss, his second attempt at the marathon at last year's Biwako Mainichi Marathon. Running as a general division entrant, Nakao began to develop blisters from his shoes after only 5 km. He thought partway through the race of dropping out but told himself, "If you don't finish then you won't be able to next time either." Slogging his way on through the full 42.195 km, he finished 124th. Nakao keeps the memory alive as a warning to himself. "It's still paying me dividends," he says, marking that day as the true start of his career as a marathon runner.

For Nakao, bitterness is as important as sweetness in shaping his life and training as a professional runner. "I play the game by clearing little goals one by one. I'm careful about meals and getting enough sleep, and I try to absolutely never miss even a single workout." With this attention to detail, last year marked Nakao's big step up in the half marathon.

Just 2 months after his failure in Biwako Nakao was the top Japanese finisher and 2nd overall in May's Sendai International Half Marathon, earning a spot on the national team for the World Half Marathon Championships in Brazil with a 1:02:00 PB run. He finished 5th overall in Brazil, the top Japanese finisher. Placing so well and clocking a time just seconds off his PB while facing the pressure of his first time running on a national team gave Nakao tremendous self-confidence.

"Do you want to become stronger? No matter how strong the athlete, if you do not face hardship you cannot be come stronger." In his first year of university Nakao had the chance to go on a week-long training camp with Team Kanebo, where marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka told him these words. Believing in their meaning, a year later Nakao opted to try to make a new start for himself in Tokyo, quitting university to join a professional jitsugyodan team. "What Takaoka told me is important to me even now," says Nakao.

A major source of pressure in Nakao's life has always been his father's legacy. Takayuki Nakao (70), was the first Japanese man to break 2:20 in the marathon. His father's name was a heavy burden on the younger Nakao until he became a professional, but now he says, "It makes me proud." Showing his father his improvement is one of his great motivations. "I beat his 5000 m time when I was in high school and his 10000 m time when I turned pro," smiles Nakao. "If I can break his marathon time it would be the best." Takayuki Nakao laughs in return, countering with, "Well, he might break my marathon time, but I set the national record four times. I don't think he's going to be able to match that!"

As he gets ready for Tokyo, Yusei Nakao says, "My goal is ride the stream hard right to the top. No matter who else I'll be facing, if I don't believe I can win then I won't. I'm really happy to get the chance to run with great athletes like Takaoka and Ogata, but I want to run my own race. I'm in better shape than I expected. I'm ready. In February I ran 900 km. That might not really be very much, but I had a good result in the half marathon [Nakao won the Feb. 22 Inuyama Half Marathon] so I think I can just ride the same wave. I just need to polish up my speed and then I'll be feeling even better. If I can give it 100% then I think a good time will follow." Beyond that, if Nakao can surpass his father's best time the momentum may well carry him straight on to the World Championships.

Yusei Nakao - Born Feb. 28, 1984 in Aichi Pref. 168 cm, 53 kg. Played soccer through junior high school, then switched to running in high school. Attended Teikyo University but quit in May his 2nd year to join Team JR Higashi Nihon. In 2006 he switched to Team Toyota Boshoku. In May, 2008 he was 2nd in the Sendai International Half Marathon, then finished 5th in October's World Half Marathon Championships. In February, 2009 he won the Inuyama Half Marathon.

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