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Fast High Schoolers, A National Record, and Kawauchi in an Ekiden - Weekend Road Race Roundup

by Brett Larner

The Osaka International Women's Marathon and Osaka Half Marathon were the weekend's main races, but across the country there was plenty of other action on the roads.  Highlights:

  • In Yamagata, Sakata Minami High School 10th-grader Masato Arao ran 29:27 for 2nd at the Yamagata Prefecture Winter Road Race 10 km, one second behind winner Shuhei Moriya.  Arao's time was 21 seconds faster than the best-ever track 10000 m time by a Japanese 10th-grade boy, Keigo Iijima's 29:48.25.
  • Now in semi-retirement and working as an assistant coach for the Hitachi women's corporate team, former high school star Satoru Kitamura won the men's 10 km at Ibaraki's 65th Katsuta Marathon in 30:06.  Hitachi women defended their titles in both the 10 km and marathon, Ryo Koido winning the 10 km in 33:16 and Kana Kurosawa the marathon in 2:43:03 and both slightly faster than last year.  The men's marathon, by contrast, was very slow.  After a 2:13:15 course record by Shingo Igarashi last year, the winning time this year was 2:22:09 by debuting Juntendo University student Hiroki Kai.  Runner-up last year in 2:15:05, Naoki Inoue was again 2nd in 2:23:13.
  • At Tokyo's Shinjuku City Half Marathon, T20-classified runner Ryo Kaneko won overall in the men's race.  His time of 1:09:31 took 5 seconds off his own T20 national record of 1:09:36. Post-race Kaneko said, "My personal goal is to run 1:08.  I'll keep running until I reach my limit."
  • After having been beaten by national champion high school team Sera H.S. last year, the Mazda corporate men's team stepped up its game this year at the 80th running of the Chugoku Yamaguchi Ekiden to win by more than three minutes.  Mazda's win came in large part thanks to its Ethiopian pair Bekele Shiferaw and Teressa Nyakora.  Shiferaw won the opening stage by 4 seconds over JFE Steel Kenyan Charles Ndirangu, with Nyakora setting a new course record of 34:36 for the 11.9 km Third Stage.  African-born athletes won four of the race's seven stages, a rarity on today's ekiden circuit where restrictions on non-Japanese athletes are common.  The Japanese performance of the day came from Hayato Sonoda of the Kurosaki Harima team who followed up his 2:10:40 breakthrough in Fukuoka by running the 15.9 km Sixth Stage 36 seconds faster than the next-fastest Japanese man on the stage, the biggest margin recorded by any Japanese runner in the ekiden.
  • At the 63rd running of Saitama's Okumusashi Ekiden, Tokyo Kokusai University made up for missing the Hakone Ekiden by downing the Police Department team for the win.  Tokyo Kokusai runners won the third through fifth stages, putting them too far away for the Police to catch even with a new 9.3 km Sixth Stage record of 27:28 by Police anchor Tatsunori Sato.  Running for the Saitama Prefectural Government team, Yuki Kawauchi was only 9th on the 4.3 km Third Stage in 13:16 after coming down with a cold the day before the race.  Post-race Kawauchi told reporters that he plans to try to break his marathon PB of 2:08:14 this spring in preparation for August's London World Championships, for which he is the leading contender for the Japanese team after the first selection race.  "I'm doing everything that needs to be done," he said.  "I am training with the intention of being chosen to represent Japan.  But if other athletes outperform me in terms of results [in the remaining selection races], that would be a good thing."

© 2017 Brett Larner
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