It's still kind of hard to believe that it's come and gone, but you couldn't have asked for a more symbolic choice to win the Fukuoka International Marathon's final running. Coming to Japan from Kenya in his teens to attend Fukuoka Daiichi High School, finding guidance from Olympic marathoner Arata Fujiwara and working his way up the Fukuoka podium every year, Michael Githae (Suzuki) came through to become the final Fukuoka champion in 2:07:51.
In JRN's Inside the Outside - When the World Came to Fukuoka Githae said, "This is my last chance. I'm going to run my best." Just before the start of the race Fujiwara, a 3rd-placer and twice sub-2:10 in Fukuoka, told JRN, "He's really confident. I think his training was better last year when he ran 2:08, but he really believes he's going to do it this time. In these conditions I think it'll go around 2:07:30, which would be in his favor."
The pace went out hotter than that, with a 14:47 first 5 km and hitting halfway in 1:02:42, just off Tsegaye Kebede's 2:05:18 CR pace. But even at that pace it was a big group up front, 16 at halfway not including the pacers. Yuta Shitara (Honda) was a surprise early casualty, stopping abruptly just after 20 km without any sign of trouble. And needless to say, a lot of the rest were killed off in the second half by that kind of opening pace, but at the same time 8 of the top 10 ended up being people who went with it.
Githae, who set his PB of 2:08:17 when he finished 4th last year, stayed right up in it, making a break for it just after the pacers stopped at 30 km. Looking at the splits it looks more like he just slowed down less than everyone else, but in terms of the actual mechanics of the race it was a clean break, one that nobody else could answer and that carried him on to the win with a 26-second PB.
The early pace hurt people enough that out of the people who went with the front pack, only Githae and runner-up Kyohei Hosoya (Kurosaki Harima), 2:06:35 in Lake Biwa last spring, were able to go under 16 minutes from 35 to 40 km. Hosoya staggered around the last lap of the track and fell across the finish line in 2:08:16, just holding off James Rungaru (Chuo Hatsujo) who took 4 minutes off his best for 3rd in 2:08:25. Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko), 2:07:38 last year in Fukuoka, caught 2:06:45 man Ryu Takaku (Yakult) in the home straight for 4th in 2:08:33, Takaku losing his balance trying to respond and falling a few meters before the finish line, then getting up to stagger in and and fall again in 2:08:38 for 5th.
Another 2:06 guy Daisuke Uekado (Otsuka Seiyaku) was 6th in 2:08:56. A tough day for all but the Kenyans, but despite the die-off in pace for the most part the guys with the fastest Pas were the ones who filled the podium. Kohei Futaoka (Chudenko) and Masaya Taguchi (Honda) both ran sub-2:10 PBs for 7th and 8th, Futaoka coming up from the second pack with the most impressive finish of the day, running 15:30 from 35 to 40 km and 6:32 from there to the end.
Post-race Githae was passionate and glowing with pride. "I was 100% sure I was going to perform in this race," he said. "I came here to win the race, and I won the race. I'm very happy for it." Asked at the post-race press conference how it felt to be the final Fukuoka champion he answered, "In every race there is a person who won the first time the race was held. The person who won that race remains in history. So having won this race, being the last race in Fukuoka, the history will remain. Somebody from Kenya, somebody who came and studied at Fukuoka Daiichi H.S., won this race. And it's Michael Githae who won this race. It will remain in history, it will be something for the future, and someday I can tell my kids, 'I went to Japan, and there was a race in Fukuoka, and I won that race.' It's something, from my heart."
Githae became Fukuoka's last winner, but one other runner earned a distinction today. Closing the arc that began in 1947 with Toshikazu Wada's inaugural win, Ryo Kaneko (Saitama Namerakawa RC) was the last man across the last finish line, turning and bowing when he stopped the clock in 2:30:43. And with that, 75 years of history was at its end, a relic of past times fading away even as the sun rose in Valencia.
In the coming days we'll write something more about Fukuoka's legacy, but as the crowds of locals and fans from across the country lining the streets began to break up and drift away one last time in the afternoon sun it was the perfect ending. An adopted local from abroad who kept the Fukuoka International Marathon true to its name and put its final punctuation in place with Japanese knowhow. Sometimes real-life stories do have happy endings.
75th Fukuoka International Marathon
Fukuoka, 05 Dec. 2021
1. Michael Githae (Suzuki) - 2:07:51 - PB
2. Kyohei Hosoya (Kurosaki Harima) - 2:08:16
3. James Rungaru (Chuo Hatsujo) - 2:08:25 - PB
4. Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko) - 2:08:33
5. Ryu Takaku (Yakult) - 2:08:38
6. Daisuke Uekado (Otsuka Seigaku) - 2:08:56
7. Kohei Futaoka (Chudenko) - 2:09:14 - PB
8. Masaya Taguchi (Honda) - 2:09:35 - PB
9. Toshiki Sadakata (Mitsubishi Juko) - 2:10:31
10. Takuma Kumagai (Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:10:41 - PB
11. Ryota Komori (NTN) - 2:11:32
12. Yuki Kawauchi (ANDS) - 2:11:33
13. Asuka Tanaka (Runlife) - 2:11:58
14. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:12:06
15. Yusuke Tobimatsu (Hioki City Hall) - 2:13:24
16. Yuto Yamaki (SG Holdings) - 2:13:25
17. Jo Fukuda (NN Running Team) - 2:13:34
18. Shuho Dairokuno (Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:45
19. Kento Otsu (Toyota Kyushu) - 2:13:57
20. Taira Kato (Shindengen Kogyo) - 2:14:16
21. Tsuyoshi Yotsuki (Toyota SC) - 2:14:31
22. Shoma Yamamoto (NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:14:38
23. Kazuya Azegami (Toyota) - 2:15:47
24. Takaki Mori (Montblanc) - 2:16:13
25. Toru Somiya (Mitsuji Club) - 2:16:15
80. Ryo Kaneko (Saitama Namerakawa RC) - 2:30:43
DNF - Nicholas Kosimbei (YKK)
DNF - Paul Kuira (JR Higashi Nihon)
DNF - Yuta Shitara (Honda)
photo © 2021 Mika Tokairin, all rights reserved