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Kosgei and Kipchoge Win Tokyo Marathon With 3rd-Fastest Times Ever, Hug and Kina Win Wheelchair Race

The Tokyo Marathon returned to the streets of the nation's capital Sunday with both a mass participation field of 20,000 and a world-class elite race for the first time in three years. Three of the four divisions in the race had the world record holder in their respective category, and all three put in dominant performances to take the win. 

Men's wheelchair marathon world record holder and double Paralympic gold medalist Marcel Hug of Switzerland soloed a 1:22:16 to beat Japanese national record holder Tomoki Suzuki by almost 7 minutes. Men's marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge delivered one of the best performances of his career, taking command before all the pacers had dropped and pushing through headwinds over the final kilometers to win in 2:02:40, the 3rd-fastest record-legal time ever, fastest on Japanese soil, and fastest so far this year. And that despite a wrong turn when the police guide escort went the wrong way on a new section of course near 10 km that probably cost at least 10 seconds.

Women's marathon world record holder Brigid Kosgei ran an almost identical race to Kipchoge's, putting away her last competitor on the trip down to the final turnaround point and coming in with a 2:16:02, again the 3rd-fastest record-legal time ever, fastest on Japanese soil, and fastest in the world so far this year. The lone division without its world record holder on the starting line, the women's wheelchair race, saw Japanese national record holder Tsubasa Kina just off her own event record for the win in 1:40:21 by an almost 5-minute margin.

There's a lot more to be said about all these races, and a lot of it has already been said elsewhere. Instead of repeating it, here are a few observations, in no particular order.

The London Marathon being held this fall instead of its usual springtime date opened the door for Kosgei and Kipchoge to run Tokyo, and in that respect it's not likely we'll see their JPN all-comers records go down anytime soon. 

One other world record holder, women's 60+ record holder Mariko Yugeta, did it again, running 3:04:16, the fastest-ever by a 63-year-old by 3 minutes. Yugeta had injury problems over the winter and ran Tokyo as a fitness test for April's Boston Marathon, where she hopes to meet her lifelong inspiration Joan Benoit Samuelson.

As I wrote before the race, the new configuration of the Tokyo course, with two more 90˚ corners in the first km and yet another 180˚ turn added around 10 km, impacted the wheelchair athletes more than the runners, with Hug missing Suzuki's event record by 24 seconds and Kina her own event record by 21 seconds. The additions all came early in the first half, which pushed the rollingest part of the course further toward 30 km, and made the Tokyo course look increasingly shoehorned by constraints. There's still room for it to be better both in terms of record potential and scenery for the masses.

Both the top Japanese athletes in the marathon, husband and wife duo Kengo Suzuki and Mao Ichiyama, made serious efforts to go after the national records, and while both fell short they each impressed. Suzuki held back in the second men's pack instead of going with Kipchoge, and when the pacers were unable to get up to speed to keep him in range of his 2:04:56 NR he went after it himself. When he ran the 2:04:56 he waited until after 35 km to move, but this time he went into action just past halfway. He was still on NR pace at 35 km, but while he faded in the headwind at the end his 2:05:28 was still the second-best ever by a Japanese man, bettering Suguru Osako's best by 1 second. The earlier move represented a progression in Suzuki's range, and an ability to perform under the pressure of coming into a major race as the NR holder.

Ichiyama ran most of the race on NR pace in a quartet including American half marathon NR holder Sara Hall, both pursuing identical records of 2:19:12. Neither she nor Hall was able to go home with the NR, but Ichiyama showed outstanding tenacity in the late stages of the race, particularly by outlasting half marathon NR holder Hitomi Niiya to take top JPN honors in 2:21:02 for 6th. Both she and Suzuki failed to achieve big targets, but neither was afraid to take risks to go after them, and in that regard this was no failure. Both showed that they're at the top of the domestic game. They also scored the fastest-ever combined time for a married couple in the same race, 4:26:30.

Shoe tech changes in the last 5 or so years have had an impact to the point that it's not really meaningful to compare records from pre-2017ish to those from today. Since 2018, 11 different Japanese women have broken national records from 1500 m to the marathon at least 15 times, and 8 different Japanese men have done the same at least 9 times. As Hiroaki Oyagi, head coach of Komazawa University and of 2020 Olympic marathon trials winner Shogo Nakamura and 27:23 collegian Ren Tazawa explained last year after Komazawa's win at the 2021 Hakone Ekiden, the shoes' effect comes not just in terms of a direct boost in a race but also in the ability to do higher-quality training with better recovery and reduced risk of injury. With all that in mind, it shows how badass Mizuki Noguchi was that even with all that advantage the best of today still can't come within a minute of the 2:19:12 Japanese women's marathon record she set 17 years ago.

Lake Biwa last year had 40 Japanese men sub-2:10. At the time I wrote that this was a fluke due to the other spring Japanese marathons, Beppu-Oita, Nobeoka, and Tokyo, not having happened. Noboeka was canceled again this year, but between Beppu-Oita and Osaka, Lake Biwa's replacement, 22 Japanese men broke 2:10 in February. Another 20 did it today in Tokyo, so that assessment of the Lake Biwa results was pretty much on the money. The inflation of times these days is pretty obvious, with 2:07 now the norm for the top layer of men the way 2:09 used to be and 2:21 like 2:23 was for women, and anything faster being truly exceptional like in the days when even a 2:08 or 2:22 was news.

That said, it hasn't really gotten easier for many of the people who've run under 2:07, or close to it, to duplicate it. Performances today of the 10 fastest Japanese men on the entry list (and pre-race best):

Kengo Suzuki - 2:05:28 (2:04:56)
Hidekazu Hijikata - 2:08:02 (2:06:26)
Ryu Takaku - 2:11:01 (2:06:45)
Hiroto Inoue - 2:08:33 (2:06:47)
Daisuke Uekado - 2:10:57 (2:06:54)
Toshiki Sadakata - 2:08:33 (2:07:05)
Yuya Yoshida - 2:09:20 (2:07:05)
Masato Kikuchi - 2:14:58 (2:07:20)
Kento Kikutani - 2:07:55 (2:07:26)
Yuta Shimoda - 2:08:35 (2:07:27)

Unsponsored Asuka Tanaka ran 2:11:09 in his latest attempt to get under 2:10. "I wanted to go out a little more conservatively, but everybody went with the 2:58/km pack so I didn't have any choice," he told JRN post-race. Tanaka lasted at that pace through 15 km before dropping off. That pack run mentality, the shinkansen effect, is another key element of the depth seen today and at other Japanese races these days.

Selection for Japan's marathon teams for the Oregon World Championships is complicated, but Tokyo was the last race under consideration for men, with just Nagoya next weekend remaining for women. The top man and woman on the new JMC rankings will be named to the team, with the remaining two places to be determined by the JAAF from among people who finished under 2:07:53 and 2:23:18 in the top 2 Japanese spots in the designated qualifying races. 

For men, Suzuki is a lock, with Kyohei Hosoya, 2:06:35 for 3rd in Lake Biwa last year and 2:08:16 for 2nd overall and top Japanese in Fukuoka last year, the probable pick for the 2nd spot. The third spot is a tougher choice, with Osaka winner Gaku Hoshi, 2:07:31 in his debut, the most likely choice but Beppu-Oita winner Yusuke Nishiyama, 2:07:47 in his debut, today's 2nd Japanese man Kenya Sonota, 2:07:23, and one or two others also possible. 

For women, Ichiyama should replace Osaka Women's winner Mizuki Matsuda at the top of the JMC and pick up the guaranteed spot, but Matsuda will almost definitely get one of the others. The 3rd spot depends completely on what happens in Nagoya next week, but with favorite Yuka Ando having run one of the fastest-ever Japanese half marathons last month chances are good it'll be her. If she falters, the top woman there, Niiya, and Mao Uesugi, runner-up in Osaka Women's in 2:22:29, are the most likely candidates. Any way you line them up, they're both going to be good teams, if they don't get run into the ground between now and Worlds.

We're also into the qualification round for Japan's 2024 MGC Olympic marathon trials, the hardest marathon in the world to get into. 18 men and 6 women had already qualified before Tokyo, and joining them after today are another 8 men and 3 women, namely Suzuki, Sonota, Shun Yuzawa, Kikutani, Hijikata, veteran Yuki Sato, Sadakata and Masaya Taguchi for men, and Ichiyama, Niiya and first-timer Kaori Morita for women. Up to 6 women could qualify in Nagoya, bringing numbers closer to parity than what we saw at the 2020 trials.

And that's it about it. For mass-participation runners who've had races canceled for over two years now with no end yet in sight to the bureaucratic timidity behind the decisions to cancel, Tokyo going ahead was about the biggest hit of optimism they could have asked for. And getting to see some of the all-time greats running some of their all-time best right there on the streets of Tokyo, whether as they ran in the opposite direction, from along the sidewalks, or from at home on TV, made it that much brighter. There are a lot of things to worry about right now beyond just the pandemic, but for these few hours at least there was reason to be happy.

Tokyo Marathon 2021

Tokyo, 6 Mar. 2022

Women's Wheelchair
1. Tsubasa Kina (Ryukyu Sports Support) - 1:40:21
2. Wakako Tsuchida (Will Raise) - 1:44:58

Men's Wheelchair
1. Marcel Hug (Switzerland) - 1:22:16
2. Tomoki Suzuki (Toyota) - 1:29:12
3. Hiroki Nishida (Baccarat Pacific) - 1:29:55
4. Masayuki Higuchi (Japan) - 1:29:55
5. Ryota Yoshida (SUS) - 1:30:07
6. Johnboy Smith (Great Britain) - 1:31:05
7. Kota Hokinoue (Yahoo) - 1:32:08
8. Sho Watanabe (Toppan) - 1:33:14
9. Masazumi Soejima (Socio Soejima) - 1:33:27
10. Ryuichi Kawamuro (Honda AC) - 1:36:43

Women's Marathon
1. Brigid Kosgei (Kenya) - 2:16:02 - ACR, WL
2. Ashete Bekere (Ethiopia) - 2:17:58 - PB
3. Gotytom Gebreslase (Ethiopia) - 2:18:18 - PB
4. Angela Tanui (Kenya) - 2:18:42
5. Hiwot Gebrekidan (Ethiopia) - 2:19:10 - PB
6. Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) - 2:21:02
7. Hitomi Niiya (Sekisui Kagaku) - 2:21:17 - PB
8. Sara Hall (U.S.A.) - 2:22:56
9. Helen Bekele (Ethiopia) - 2:24:33
10. Kaori Morita (Panasonic) - 2:27:38 - debut
11. Rika Kaseda (Daihatsu) - 2:28:29 - debut
12. Miharu Shimokado (SID Group) - 2:29:20
13. Shiho Kaneshige (GRlab Kanto) - 2:29:26
14. Yui Okada (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:30:03 - PB
15. Hitomi Mizuguchi (Uniqlo) - 2:32:47
16. Chiaki Morikawa (SBI) - 2:35:06
17. Tomomi Sawahata (Sawahatas) - 2:36:08
18. Mai Fujisawa (Hokkaido Excel AC) - 2:38:46
19. Akane Sekino (Comodi Iida) - 2:39:39
20. Miho Nakata (Chiba T&F Assoc.) - 2:39:51 - PB
21. Miyuki Takano (SID Group) - 2:42:35 - PB
22. Eri Suzuki (Akita T&F Assoc.) - 2:42:43
23. Shinobu Ayabe (Dream AC) - 2:43:57
24. Miki Morita (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:45:07 - PB
25. Hitomi Kondo (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:46:34
69. Mariko Yugeta (Ogose Ishikawa Ganka) - 3:04:16 - age 63 WR

Men's Marathon
1. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) - 2:02:40 - ACR, WL
2. Amos Kipruto (Kenya) - 2:03:13 - PB
3. Tamirat Tola (Ethiopia) - 2:04:14
4. Kengo Suzuki (Fujitsu) - 2:05:28
5. Shura Kitata (Ethiopia) - 2:06:12
6. Laban Korir (Kenya) - 2:06:37
7. Kenya Sonota (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:07:23 - PB
8. Shun Yuzawa (SG Holdings) - 2:07:31 - PB
9. Kento Kikutani (Toyota Boshoku) - 2:07:55
10. Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki) - 2:07:55
11. Hidekazu Hijikata (Honda) - 2:08:02
12. Jonathan Korir (Kenya) - 2:08:04
13. Yuki Sato (SG Holdings) - 2:08:17 - PB
14. Keisuke Hayashi (GMO) - 2:08:21 - PB
15. Kensuke Horio (Toyota) - 2:08:25 - PB
16. Daiji Kawai (Toenec) - 2:08:31 - PB
17. Hiroto Inoue (Mitsubishi Juko) - 2:08:33
18. Toshiki Sadakata (Mitsubishi Juko) - 2:08:33
19. Yuta Shimoda (GMO) - 2:08:35
20. Kazuma Kubo (Nishitetsu) - 2:08:48 - PB
21. Akira Tomiyasu (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:08:55 - PB
22. Naoki Koyama (Honda) - 2:08:59 - debut
23. Shoma Hosoya (Teikyo Univ.) - 2:09:18 - debut
24. Yuya Yoshida (GMO) - 2:09:20
25. Masaya Taguchi (Honda) - 2:09:27 - PB
26. Atsumi Ashiwa (Honda) - 2:09:41
27. Junnosuke Matsuo (NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:09:48 - PB
28. Toshihiro Kenmotsu (NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:10:29 - PB
29. Naoya Sakuda (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:10:43
30. Kento Otsu (Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:45
32. Daisuke Uekado (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:10:57
34. Ryu Takaku (Yakult) - 2:11:01
35. Asuka Tanaka (Runlife) - 2:11:09
44. Masaki Sakuda (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:13:34
50. Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta) - 2:14:58
52. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Track Tokyo) - 2:15:19
98. Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) - 2:23:10
DNF - Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia)

© 2022 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Kyle S. said…
I was really impressed by the poise Suzuki showed in this race, especially when he left the pacers around halfway to chase his record on his own. Even though he wasn't able to improve on his national record, joining Suguru Osako as the only Japanese man to go twice under 2:06 is no joke. The duel between Ichiyama and Niiya for top Japanese woman was also cool, though I wish we could have seen more of it on the broadcast. While it would have been logistically difficult, I think adjusting the schedule to allow for a dual broadcast like the one done for the MGC races could have given room for the women's race to shine.

As always, thanks for all the work you do in bringing Japanese running to the world. Your presence for the English-language commentary was much appreciated.
Stefan said…
Mao Ichiyama and Hitomi Niiya ran superbly. It was a welcome return to top form for both of them and bodes well for the rest of the year. The only negative I have to say is the tv coverage where there was very little focus on the women. It's a shame especially when you have Brigid Kosgei running the 3rd fastest time in history. This needs to be addressed.
Brett Larner said…
I agree completely. They already have NTV and Fuji doing the broadcast in alternate years. Why not have one handle the men's race and one the women's race like at the MGC, and alternate which does which every year? Seems like a win for everyone.
RigaJags said…
Unfortunately I couldn't watch the race on video, I was following the leaderboard on the website.

Quality races it seems and thanks for the article.

Kengo Suzuki is cementing himself as the top marathon runner in Japan. I think he has a good chance at lowering the NR again.

Can I ask what happened to Hiroto Inoue? He was up there with Kengo Suzuki till around 25-30 km and then he suddenly fell off.
Now reading the splits seems like he had a couple of bad 5k with a good one in between those and then a solid finish.
Being a 2:06 guy I was hoping he could help Suzuki pushing each other but seems like a couple of rough stretches around 30k made him play fell down the board and catch up again a little over the last 15 km.

Depth was once again impressive but I would like to highlight Naoki Koyama with a verty nice debut and especially Shoma Hosoya: after winning the 5th stage at Hakone in January (with a 3rd all time stage) at his debut marathon going 2:09:18 is definitely impressive.

Andrew Armiger said…
Wonderful recap, thank you for doing this!

Plenty of intriguing outcomes from this race. Really looking forward to see how Suzuki does in Eugene plus what comes next for Niiya and Ichiyama.

Love the comment about Noguchi, I'd also class Takahashi with her.
Stefan said…
If anyone is interested I found a wonderful YouTube video of the race following the leading women runners. I believe the headcam was on a runner designated to follow Mao Ichiyama. I was so happy to find this as you will see a lot of footage of Sara Hall and Hitomi Niiya too. It is the best footage I've ever seen of professional athletes in a race situation.

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