It's Sunday, June 24. At the western end of Japan's main island of Honshu the competition at the Yamaguchi National Track and Field Championships has been heating up. On this day alone, the final day of the Championships, the national records have fallen in both the men's 110 m hurdles and men's discus throw. On the very same day, far to the northeast of Yamaguchi at Lake Saroma, Hokkaido, another new record was born. After standing for 20 years, the 100 km ultramarathon world record has finally fallen. The man who accomplished this deed is Nao Kazami (Aisan Kogyo).
The previous world record of 6:13:33 was set at Lake Saroma by Takahiro Sunada (Sekisui Kagaku) in 1998. Kazami improved that mark by more than four minutes with a new record of 6:09:14. "I was targeting place more than time," said Kazami of the race where he needed to finish in the top four to have a chance of being selected for the Japanese national team for this year's Croatia World Championships. After a high-paced first half Kazami lost touch with the leaders near 50 km and dropped back to 4th, but maintaining his own pace he managed to keep the lead trio in sight. At 70 km he returned to the front, then abruptly broke free to run away for the win and the superb new record.
Kazami runs while working a full-time job. He regularly trains in Aichi Kenkonomori Park in Obu, Aichi, a popular spot for local runners thanks to its multitude of running trails. It might be too much to call him Mr. Misfortune, but looking back on his career as an athlete it's safe to say Kazami has had his share of setbacks.
A member of Komazawa University's ekiden team during its strongest era as a repeat winner at the Hakone Ekiden, Kazami made Komazawa's Hakone entry roster four years in a row but never got to realize his dream of actually running in it. Even though he was only an alternate, as a fourth-year he had the extra disappointment of seeing Komazawa's Hakone Ekiden winning streak come to an end at four years. After joining the Aisan Kogyo corporate team following his graduation he got to run in the Chubu Region Corporate Ekiden and New Year Ekiden national championships, but he retired from the team after just four years without accomplishing any major achievements.
But where most other athletes would have given up at that point Kazami persevered. After retiring from the Aisan Kogyo team Kazami built a daily schedule around his full-time job with the company, running every morning at 5:00 a.m. and after he finished work for the day. He has run as much as 50 km on a regular weekday workday. This accumulation of value was what led him to the 100 km world record.
The September issue of Running Magazine Courir that went on sale July 21 features a long-form interview with Kazami. It also features talks with his coach at Komazawa, Hiroaki Oyagi, as well as with former world record holder Sunada. Amateur runners everywhere can find tips and inspiration in Kazami's approach to training and racing while holding down an ordinary full-time job.
Translator's note: As today is 100 days since the Boston Marathon, a little-known fact: Kazami ran Boston this year prior to setting the 100 km WR at Lake Saroma. After starting off well he began to have problems with cold after 10 km, then went into a medical area between 15 and 20 km to warm up for nearly an hour and a half. Eventually he started running again, plugging along to finish in 3:47:02 for 12,618th overall.
translated by Brett Larner