Skip to main content

Locals Reflect on the End of the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon

For half a century, the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon has been held along the shores of Lake Biwa in Otsu, Shiga. Locals have long given it their full support, turning out as volunteers and to cheer. We talked to them about their memories of the historic race ahead of its final running before moving back to its original home in Osaka.

Kikuji Kawamura, 85, a former Otsu municipal employee who has been a part of the race's operational team for decades, is known locally as a living encyclopedia of every aspect of the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon. In 1965, the year after the Tokyo Olympics, a friend asked him to help accurately measure the course's 42.195 km distance. The winner that year for the second time was two-time Olympic marathon gold medalist and famed barefoot runner Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. Kawamura has vivid recollections of talking to Bikila there.

"Before the race Abebe was warming up in the stadium and I noticed how skinny his legs were," Kawamura says. "I asked him which one was thinner and he grinned and stuck out one of his legs for me to check them. I couldn't believe that they were only about as thick as my arms, but strong and supple like an antelope's legs. I was surprised that this was the build of a world-class marathoner."

After meeting Bikila, Kawamura became fascinated by the marathon and started working seriously with the event's operations team. He worked on making changes to the course, seeking to facilitate better athlete performances by cutting the sharpest hills and pushing for more of the course to be run along the flat lakeside. But runners still had to contend with the strong winds known to blow down toward the lake from the western face of the nearby mountains. 

Aiming to mitigate the effects of the wind in the late stages of the race, Kawamura spent time independently researching the typical wind patterns at different times and locations to find the ideal timing and configuration. Finding that the wind tended to increase after 2:00 p.m., he recommended changing the start time from noon to morning, and suggested tweaks to the course to minimize athlete exposure. "I tried a range of things to create the ideal environment for the athletes," he says. "I was really happy to see good times run there and proud to see the event's name and reputation spread."

Thanks to the efforts of Kawamura and others on his team, the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon became well known in Japan and abroad as a fast course and attracted many top-level competitors. With this year's race being the final edition to be held in Shiga prefecture Kawamura has a bit of a sense of something left unfinished. "This was a race where people qualified for the Olympics," he says. "I've seen firsthand all the anguish and joy of the athletes who've run Lake Biwa, and it makes me sad that I won't see that again." 

Ryusuke Harada, 77, is another local resident who will be sad to see the race go. As a volunteer, Harada has worked in course-side security for over 50 years. Harada is in charge of security at the difficult spot known as Hiratsu Pass at 13 km and again at 28 km after the turnaround. "That spot has an elevation difference of about 7 m, and you can see its effects on the athletes' faces," Harada says. The second time through Hiratsu Pass is often where people will make a move, and whenever it comes on the TV broadcast Harada, who lives close by, feels a thrill of pride. 

Due to the coronavirus crisis people have been asked not to come cheer along the course, but Harada will be in charge of security on that part of the course as usual so that athletes can run in safety. He wants to keep the memory of the race's last edition in Shiga alive in his heart. "The Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon made more people aware of Lake Biwa than anything else so I'll be sad to see it go," he says. "But all the same I want to make sure the race goes off without any problems so that we can add one last piece to its eternal beauty."

As the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon reaches its final milestone, the two men's words remind us of just how much respect and love the local people have had for it over the decades. Watch the final running in its entirety live and ad-free on NHK starting at 9:15 a.m. this Sunday.

source article: 
interviews by Yuki Matsumoto, NHK Otsu Bureau
translated by Brett Larner

Buy Me A Coffee


Anonymous said…
Thanks for this. Interesting to hear the local stories. Sad to see it go

Most-Read This Week

25-Year-Old Kyohei Hosoya Targeting Paris Olympics Marathon

It's a fast new world in Japanese men's marathoning, and one of its exciting new stars comes to it straight out of Kyushu. His name is Kyohei Hosoya  (25, Kurosaki Harima). In just his second marathon he ran 2:06:35 for 3rd at February's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon , ranking him at all-time Japanese #6. In college he was mostly sidelined with injury, but since joining the corporate leagues his abilities have come into full flower. Now, with the 2024 Paris Olympics in his sights, he's poised to make another great leap forward. When the race in Lake Biwa began Hosoya was just an unknown 25-year-old, but when he hit the finish line he'd inked his name on the list of top candidates for the Paris Olympics. What once was just a dream is now a realistic goal. "I'd had some vague hopes before about representing Japan," he said, "but now that feeling is burning bright."  Someone who has been involved with Hosoya's athletic career had often told hi

High School 5000 m NR Holder Kosuke Ishida Enters Toyo University

Toyo University 's entrance ceremonies for the 2021-22 academic year took place Apr. 6 in Tokyo. Kosuke Ishida , the 5000 m high school boys' national record holder with a best of 13:34.74, was among the incoming first-years. He will be guided by head coach  Toshiyuki Sakai , 44, who at Toyo previously coached 10000 m national record holder Akira Aizawa , former half marathon and marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara , Tokyo Olympics marathon team member Yuma Hattori , 2:06:45 marathoner Ryu Takaku  and many other top-level talents. Through a statement issued by the university, Ishida said that he is aiming to make to the 5000 m at the 2024 Paris Olympics during his senior year. "This spring I've entered Toyo University," Ishida wrote. "The reason I chose Toyo University is that I want to become a world-class athlete, and I wanted head coach Toshiyuki Sakai to help me get there. My goals while a student at Toyo are to make the 5000 m at the 2024 Olymp

Yugeta Betters Own 60+ World Record

Women's 60+ marathon world record holder Mariko Yugeta , 62, bettered her 2:52:13 record Saturday at Tokyo's Itabashi Trial Marathon . Part of the Trial Marathon Series, a nationwide series of professionally-operated uncertified micro-races that has popped up during the coronavirus pandemic, the Itabashi Trial Marathon covered almost 17 laps of a flat 2.5 km course along the Arakawa River on Tokyo's northern border.  Yugeta went out at just under 4:00/km, going through halfway in 1:24:04 and making it to 30 km in 2:00:08 before her pace started to slip. Ultimately she ran 2:52:01, 1st among the 21 female finishers and 14th overall . "That's it for marathons for this season," she told JRN post-race. "I didn't make it to sub-2:50, but I'll be training hard to go for it at the Tokyo Marathon this fall." text and photo © 2021 Brett Larner, all rights reserved