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Tokai and AGU Rematch - National University Men's Ekiden Championships Preview



Following October's season-opening Izumo Ekiden and world record-breaking Yosenkai 20 km, the university men's ekiden season continues Sunday with the National University Men's Ekiden Championships. 12 top regional teams from across the country will face off with the 15 best in the Tokyo-centric Kanto Region on an 8-stage course from Nagoya to Mie totalling 106.8 km. TV Asahi will broadcast the complete race starting at 7:00 local time on Sunday. International viewers can try mov3.co for streaming, with other options to be found here.

At Izumo the up-and-coming Tokai University squad took down defending champion Aoyama Gakuin University, head coach Hayashi Morozumi's cross-country-based methodology having overtaken the innovative systematic approach of AGU's Susumu Hara that had made AGU into the dominant team of the era. AGU is likewise the defending champion at Nationals, but the longer average stage lengths at Nationals play to Tokai's strengths and it will take a perfect run from AGU to defend their title.

No other team is in the same league as the two favorites, both of which have top eight 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon averages under 14 minutes, 29 minutes and 63 minutes. On paper Yamanashi Gakuin University is a clear 3rd, but with a roster largely on the comeback from injuries earlier this year YGU was only 4th at the Yosenkai, the Hakone Ekiden qualifier for 2nd-tier teams. With Hakone the main prize expect head coach Masahito Ueda to prioritize peaking there. Making the six-deep podium and scoring a seeded spot in the 2018 Nationals field will be a good day for YGU.

6th, 7th and 9th at Izumo, Kanagawa University, Komazawa University and Waseda University make up the next tier of likely podium candidates. 2011-2014 national champion Komazawa's current lineup is solid over 5000 m and has good half marathon credentials, but its lack of quality 10000 m times hurts its chances at Nationals more than at Izumo. 2010 national champion Waseda is in the opposite situation, strongest over 10000 m with weaker 5000 m and half marathon marks, and should do better than its Izumo performance. Kanagawa is on the rise, the only team apart from Tokai and AGU with top eight averages under 14 minutes and 29 minutes for 5000 m and 10000 m, the only thing holding it back being a lack of achievement over half marathon. But with only the anchor stage approaching that kind of distance at 19.7 km Kanagawa could do very well indeed, especially if 2017 National University Half Marathon champion Kengo Suzuki is back from the injury that kept him on the bench at Izumo.

Seven other teams are within reach of the podium if any of the top six falters. 2015 national champion Toyo University leads this group, 3rd most of the way at Izumo before dropping to 5th on the anchor stage. Toyo is hurt by the absence of all but one of its fourth-years due to injury but is boosted by a strong younger contingent led by sub-29 first-years Kazuya Nishiyama and Hirotsugu Yoshikawa. Yosenkai runner-up Daito Bunka University is the other good bet to contend for top six, with Izumo surprise 4th-placer Juntendo University, led by Rio Olympian Kazuya Shiojiri, a solid pick for darkhorse. Yosenkai winner Teikyo University is strong over the half marathon but lacks the kind of 5000 m and 10000 m track record to be likely to factor into the main action at Nationals.

Shiojiri is the fastest man in the field over 5000 m with a best of 13:33.14. Five men, three of them from Tokai, have bests under 13:45.00. YGU's Kenyan Dominic Nyairo leads both the 10000 m and half marathon rankings, the only man entered to have broken 28 minutes or 61 minutes. AGU fourth-year Kazuki Tamura is the best all-around runner in the race, making the top ten lists over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon with PBs of 13:43.22, 28:18.31 and 1:01:56. With a new stage record to his name at Izumo and a win on the Second Stage at last year's Nationals look for him to play a key role in AGU's duel with Tokai.

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Fukushi Leads Wacoal to Top of Wild National Corporate Women's Ekiden Qualifier

In one of the wildest elite-level ekidens in memory, half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi ran her best race in almost 3 years to anchor the Wacoal team to the win at the Princess Ekiden, the qualifying race for next month's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships.

The field of 27 teams raced 6 stages totaling 42.195 km for one of 14 spots at Nationals alongside last year's top 8. Things were complicated by the disqualification of 2017 national champion Universal Entertainment, which found itself back at the Princess Ekiden to requalify. Sayaka Sato got things off to a good start for Sekisui Kagaku, winning the 7.0 km First Stage in 22:36 just off the CR. 4 seconds back was Shiori Yano, whose Canon AC Kyushu team missed Nationals by a minute last year. and another 5 seconds behind was Miku Daido of the debuting Iwatani Sangyo team.



Coached by marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi's former coach Hisakazu Hirose, Iwatani Sangyo's next …

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …

Weekend Road Race Roundup

Saturday's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier half marathon was the main event of the weekend, but between that and early ekiden season track time trials across the country there were a few other notable results at home and abroad.

In Sendai, the second running of the Tohoku Miyagi Fukko Marathon took place, an event launched last year to commemorate those lost in the 2011 tsunami and to show the area's recovery. In its first running organizers brought in then-future 2:06 man Hiroto Inoue to lead the field. This year it was 2017 Gold Coast Marathon winnerTakuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta), who took more than 5 minutes off the course record with a workout-effort 2:18:37 for the win. Aki Odagiri (Takemura Seisakusho) won the women's race in 2:46:07.

In Toyama, 2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran the Namerikawa Hotaruika Half Marathon a week after a disappointing run at the Chicago Marathon. Running completely solo he won in 1:05:18, beating 2nd place b…