Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ueno, Arai Win in Kumamoto, Cheboitibin and Utsunomiya Take Ome

by Brett Larner


Both of the world's two main 30 km races took place in Japan today.  In the morning, to the south in Kumamoto the Kumanichi Road Race held its 61st edition, the first since last year's powerful earthquakes caused heavy damage in the area.  2009 double 1500 m and 5000 m champion Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) went out fast, close to 30 km national record pace at 10 km in 29:27 and still on track for a 1:28 time at 20 km in 59:11.  Over the last 10 km Ueno slowed dramatically, taking 31:06 to reach the finish line in 1:30:17, but even so his margin of victory over runner-up Ryu Takaku (Team Yakult) was more than a minute.

The women's race was closer, with last year's 4th-placer Sakie Arai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) outrunning corporate leaguers Rie Uchida (Otsuka Seiyaku) and Yoko Miyauchi (Team Hokuren) by just 8 seconds to win in a PB of 1:46:29 just three weeks after running a PB of 2:34:40 at the Osaka International Women's Marathon.  In the associated mass-participation marathon division another collegiate runner, Tokyo Nogyo University fourth-year Haruki Okayama won the men's race in 2:22:45 with local Chigusa Yoshimatsu taking the women's title in 2:56:20.


Just after Kumanichi finished, the 51st edition of the Ome Road Race began in Tokyo's western hills. Almost all of the fan attention was on the debuting Daichi Kamino (Team Konica Minolta), a major star of the Hakone Ekiden thanks to his hill running prowess before his graduation last year.  Sparring mostly with last year's top two Yuki Oshikawa (Team Toyota Kyushu) and Michael Githae (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and with Githae's fellow Kenyan Ezekiel Cheboitibin (Team Toho Refining), Kamino was patient on the uphill first half before springing into action after rounding the turnaround point and starting the trip back down.  Oshikawa quickly lost touch, but after 20 km Kamino had trouble sustaining his attack and began to drop back from Cheboitibin and Githae.  It was soon clear that he wasn't coming back, and in the final kilometers Cheboitibin pulled away to become the first Kenyan winner in Ome history as he crossed the finish line in 1:30:49.

5th last year in the women's race, Ami Utsunomiya (Canon AC Kyushu) led the entire race to win in a PB of 1:46:24.  Track star Azusa Sumi (Team Universal Entertainment) was a non-factor in her debut, 43 seconds behind Utsunomiya at 5 km and dropping out soon afterward.  Sumi's teammate Mai Shinozuka had better luck in the women's 10 km, winning in 33:53, with Yutaro Takeda (Tokyo Jitsugyo H.S.) joining her on the podium as he won the high school boys' 10 km in 30:57.

61st Kumanichi Road Race
Kumamoto, 2/19/17

Men's 30 km
1. Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) - 1:30:17
2. Ryu Takaku (Yakult) - 1:31:18
3. Keisuke Sago (Yasukawa Denki) - 1:31:39
4. Shoya Okuno (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:31:49
5. Shota Yamaguchi (Fujitsu) - 1:31:59

Women's 30 km
1. Sakie Arai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 1:46:29
2. Rie Uchida (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:46:37

Men's Marathon
1. Haruki Okayama (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 2:22:45

Women's Marathon
1. Chigusa Yoshimatsu (Kumamoto T&F Assoc.) - 2:56:20


51st Ome Road Race
Ome, Tokyo, 2/19/17
click here for complete results

Men's 30 km 
1. Ezekiel Cheboitibin (Kenya/Toho Refining) - 1:30:49
2. Michael Gitahe (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:30:55
3. Daichi Kamino (Konica Minolta) - 1:31:33
4. Yuki Oshikawa (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:31:38
5. Hiroki Sugawa (DeNA RC) - 1:33:50
-----
12. Zach Hine (U.S.A.) - 1:37:20

Women's 30 km
1. Ami Utsunomiya (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:46:24
-----
DNF - Azusa Sumi (Univ. Ent.)

High School Boys' 10 km
1. Yutaro Takeda (Tokyo Jitsugyo H.S.) - 30:57

Women's 10 km
1. Mai Shinozuka (Univ. Ent.) - 33:53
2. Mao Komoto (Hachioji H.S.) - 34:43
3. Saki Yoshimizu (Univ. Ent.) - 34:56

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Kampala 2017: Kenya Names Team for World X-Country Championships'

http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1446534/kampala-2017-kenya-names-team-world-country-championships

The Tokyo-based Leonard Barsoton (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) are regulars on the Yoyogi Park XC loop when they are in town.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

'Tokyo 2020: The Heat Factor'

https://sportifycities.com/tokyo-2020-heat-factor/

An interesting read on the issues facing athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held October 10~24 rather than at the peak of summer heat and humidity as the 2020 Games will be.

A Flatter Course for the Post-Truth Era - Running the New Tokyo Marathon Course

by Brett Larner

For its first ten years as a mass participation event the Tokyo Marathon had a good course, downhill through the first 10 km, mostly flat for the next 25 km, its unique cross shape minimizing the effect of wind from any direction but the east.  But its last 6 km were unpopular with everyone, elite and amateur alike, drab, with sparse crowds, a series of bridges and hills almost exactly once every kilometer from 36 km to the end, and a finish line hidden away like an embarrassment on the docks behind an isolated convention center on an island in the bay.  Every year the elite race took a hit over the hills in the last 6 km, and it wasn't much fun for the masses either.

Last March the Tokyo Marathon organizers announced with fanfare a new course aimed at eliminating these problems and making it faster.  Billed as a flat speed course, the new configuration reshuffled much of the old course but cut the depressing last 6 km and replaced it with a new mid-race foray into uncharted land east of the Sumida River.  A week and a day out from Tokyo's eleventh running, JRN set out to find the new lay of the land.


The new course keeps the start in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and follows the old course through the downhills to 7 km.


At 7 km, just before the old course reached its most scenic segment along the outer perimeter of the Imperial Palace, the new course turns left and heads toward Kanda Station for 1.5 km.


At 8.5 km a righthand turn leads to Nihonbashi, a once-historic bridge and neighborhood now buried under the shadows of highway overpasses built for the 1964 Olympics.


The bridge itself is still there, and while surfaced with cobblestones and representing the first real addition of up-and-down to the course it's a privilege to run across it, something until now reserved only for the twenty-odd men on the anchor stage of the legendary Hakone Ekiden.


At 10 km the course rejoins its former self.  Where the old course headed through Ginza just after halfway before turning right to head to the Asakusa turnaround, the new course meets it from the opposite direction to turn left before following the same route to Asakusa.  In years past the Ginza/Nihonbashi section of the course, roughly halfway through 25 km, often saw the first action in the race up front.  That section will now come much earlier, just past 10 km.


The old course made an out-and-back up to Asakusa, breaching 30 km en route before making it back to Ginza.  The new course makes the pilgrimage to Asakusa but on the way back just after 16 km diverts to cross the Sumida and head out through territory previously reserved only for sumo wrestlers to a 180' turnaround at 20.5 km.  The Monzen-Nakacho neighborhood surrounding the turnaround point is a highlight of the new course.


Just over 8 km out and back from the Kuramaebashi bridge on the River Sumida, this is the section that is supposed to be a flattened improvement over the time-and-soul-destroying last 6 km of the old course.  The problem is, it's not flatter.  Just like the old course's series of bridges and bumps every kilometer over its terminal 6, the new course has six bridges and bumps on the way to the turnaround.  Then you have to run them again.  With the exception of the return trip up Kuramaebashi near 24 km none of them is especially demanding, but there are twelve of them, not six, packed into 8 km versus the old 6 km format.  According to a nonscientific look at GPS data, their combined climb is around 15 m greater than for the hilly part of the former course.  It's not much, but it's enough to call any claim of this course being flatter a misrepresentation.

The question is, will it be faster?  The hills on the old course weren't terrible but came at the worst possible time.  From the Nihonbashi intersection just before 29 km on the return trip all the way to the finish, the new course is almost totally flat.  Describing this section as flatter and faster would be accurate, as would saying that overall the course has shifted its hills from the end of the race to the middle.  Will that make it faster?  Maybe.  With few corners and only a 180' turnaround at Shinagawa Station just after 35 km there's nothing to stop someone who handles the mid-race hills well from getting into a rhythm that carries them to a very fast time.  Nothing except wind, which could be more of an issue on this course than the old one if it blows from the north or south.


Right after 41 km the course makes a quick right and then, with 1 km to go, a left.  For almost a kilometer runners will go straight ahead down a fashionable, tree-lined boulevard, worlds away from the old finish in quality and appropriateness for the event's stature.  The entire last kilometer is surfaced with brick and cobblestone, a rarity in Tokyo, but as a relatively new installation they are smooth and flat and shouldn't present any problems. More of a potential problem are the tall buildings lining both sides of the road. If there's any wind at all they will turn the last kilometer into a wind tunnel.


At the end of the last kilometer straightway runners explode into wide open space between the Imperial Palace and the Marunouchi red brick side of Tokyo Station.  It's very nice and scenic, but to maximize the effect the Tokyo Marathon organizers have opted to make runners take a sharp left with 100 m or less to go to the finish line.  That may make for prettier pictures at the finish line, but as an elite event it's dropping the ball.  Runners won't be visible from the finish until almost literally the very last moment, and if there's any kind of exciting head-to-head race at the end it will be interrupted by the last-second turn.  It's not a perfect course yet, but on net the changes look to be a good step in the right direction.  How it plays out in action and whether the changes are going to result in the outcomes the organizers are hoping for remains to be seen next Sunday.

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, February 17, 2017

Kamino's 30 km Debut in Ome Highlights Weekend Action

by Brett Larner

This weekend is a lull in the middle of Japan's seven-week elite marathon season, but there's still plenty going on.  Both of its main 30 km road races, Kumamoto's Kumanichi 30 km and Tokyo's Ome 30 km, the world's two greatest races at the distance, happen Sunday.

Run in conjunction with the mass participation Kumamoto-jo Marathon, the Kumanichi 30 km is an elite-only event with small men's and women's fields and the home of Takayuki Matsumiya's 1:28:00 national record.  Toyo University graduate Ryu Takaku (Team Yakult) leads the field with a 1:30:32 in Kumanichi three years ago.  Current Toyo runner Shun Sakuraoka and past 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) are his main competition.  Mami Onuki (Team Sysmex) has the best 30 km time in the women's field, 1:46:37 for 2nd in last year's race, but the favorite may be the debuting Ayumi Kubo (Team Kagoshima Ginko), a 1:11:29 half marathoner.

The Ome 30 km is a longstanding mass participation event with over 15,000 participants and the women's national record, Mizuki Noguchi's stellar pre-Olympic gold 1:39:09 from 2004.  Most fans will be focused on Ome this weekend to see the 30 km debut of ultra-popular former Hakone Ekiden star Daichi Kamino (Team Konica Minolta).  Ome has a tough and hilly course that plays to Kamino's strengths, and with a bonus of over $25,000 USD on the line for beating Toshihiko Seko's 1:29:23 Ome time he has extra motivation to hit it hard.  And it may be leading to something bigger.

Ome has a longstanding relationship with the Boston Marathon, the top Japanese man in Ome getting an invitation to run Boston and top Americans in Boston likewise getting invited to run Ome the following year.  Back in the day this meant the big names, but it has been a long time since either country's best ran the other's race, the invitations usually ending up in the hands of 2nd or 3rd-tier runners.  Kamino has been talking a marathon debut next season, but he has been building up nicely enough this one.  In December he ran 46:38 for 2nd behind Kenyan Charles Ndirangu (Team JFE Steel) at the Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler.  After two good ekiden runs in January he ran a 1:01:04 half marathon PB for top Japanese man at the Feb. 5 Marugame Half.  When Seko ran his 1:29:23 in the 1981 Ome he went on to win Boston two months later in 2:09:27. The hills of the Boston course are ideal for Kamino's abilities. His teammate Tomohiro Tanigawa debuted in Boston off a solid Ome run in 2013. If Kamino breaks Seko's time, could he we see him follow Seko to Boston?

The Ome women's race is always small, but this year it has a debut almost as exciting as Kamino's lined up.  All-time Japanese junior #3 for 5000 m at 15:17.62, Azusa Sumi (Team Universal Entertainment), now age 20, is set to run her first-ever race longer than 12 km.  Sumi ran well this ekiden season, running 32:38 for 10.0 km at January's National Women's Ekiden and 36:36 for 11.7 km a week later at the Kita-Kyushu Invitational Women's Ekiden, her longest-ever race up to now.  It's a big jump from there to 30 km, especially on a hilly course, but Sumi wouldn't be taking it on if she wasn't ready.

Cross country is a minor part of the sport in Japan, with just two major races on the calendar.  Rebranded to sound cooler, the X-Run Chiba 2017 also goes down Sunday.  Serving as the Junior High School cross country championships, this year X-Run Chiba features distances all the way up to 20 km in the open division.  Most elites will opt for the Fukuoka International Cross Country meet next week, rebranded last year as the National Cross Country Championships, but it'll be interesting to see how a 20 km cross country race goes over.

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Negesse, Chebii and Sasaki Lead Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon Field

by Brett Larner

The Mar. 5 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Biwako for short, is the last of the four races used to choose the three members of the Japanese men's marathon team for August's London World Championships.  Two of the three members of last summer's Rio de Janeiro Olympic team top the list of Japanese men in the race, Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) with a 2:08:56 in Fukuoka 2015 and Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) with 2:09:25 last year at Lake Biwa. The pair are the only Japanese athletes in the field with recent sub-2:10 times, a few steps ahead of six 2:10-11 men including the high-potential Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota).  Four others led by 2014 Asian Games silver medalist Kohei Matsumura (Team MHPS) have broken 2:10 in the past but would need a solid comeback to factor.  With the possible exception of Matsumura one of the five debuting sub-63 half marathoners may be more likely to end up in the front-end action, the prime candidate being 2017 New Year Ekiden Sixth Stage course record breaker Hiroshi Ichida (Team Asahi Kasei).

The international field is led by Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia), Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii (Kenya) and Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/Team JFE Steel). Negesse won the 2015 Tokyo Marathon but last year was caught up in the meldonium ban and sat out the rest of the year.  Chebii is a two-time winner of the Madrid Marathon and ran his PB of 2:06:07 in his last marathon, last fall's Amsterdam Marathon.  The Japan-based Ndirangu is fresh off a quality run for 3rd at last weekend's National Corporate Half Marathon and looks ready for his marathon debut.  Other sub-2:10 internationals include Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea), Yihuniligh Adane (Ethiopia) and past Lake Biwa winner Vincent Kipruto (Kenya).

The Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon will be broadcast live and commercial-free on NHK starting at 12:30 p.m. Japan time on the 5th.  In its other race broadcasts this season NHK has offered free four channel live streaming available internationally on its website.  JRN will also cover the race live on Twitter @JRNLive.  Check back closer to race date for more info.

72nd Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
Elite Field Highlights
Otsu, Shiga, 3/5/17
click here for complete field listing
times listed are best within last three years except where noted

Endeshaw Negesse (Ethiopia) - 2:06:00 (Tokyo 2015)
Ezekiel Kiptoo Chebii (Kenya) - 2:06:07 (Amsterdam 2016)
Satoru Sasaki (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:08:56 (Fukuoka Int'l 2015)
Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea) - 2:09:16 (Frankfurt 2015)
Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan/Honda) - 2:09:25 (Lake Biwa 2016)
Yihuniligh Adane (Ethiopia) - 2:09:48 (Dubai 2016)
Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) - 2:09:54 (Lake Biwa 2014)
Hayato Sonoda (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:10:40 (Fukuoka Int'l 2016)
Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda) - 2:10:42 (Hannover 2015)
Kazuki Tomaru (Japan/Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Berlin 2014)
Tomoyuki Morita (Japan/Kanebo) - 2:11:41 (Tokyo 2015)
Tadashi Isshiki (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:11:45 (Tokyo 2016)
Chihiro Miyawaki (Japan/Toyota) - 2:11:50 (Tokyo 2014)
Rui Yonezawa (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:59 (Lake Biwa 2014)
Taiki Yoshimura (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:19 (Hofu 2016)
Hiroki Yamagishi (Japan/GMO) - 2:12:27 (Tokyo 2016)
Kohei Matsumura (Japan/MHPS) - 2:12:39 (Incheon 2014)
Norikazu Kato (Japan/Yakult) - 2:13:34 (Nobeoka 2015)
Yu Chiba (Japan/Honda) - 2:13:44 (Riga 2014)
Byron Piedra (Ecuador) - 2:14:12 (Rio de Janeiro 2016)
Aritaka Kajiwara (Japan/Atsugi T&F Assoc.) - 2:14:27 (Fukuoka Int'l 2016)
Masanori Sakai (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:14:52 (Berlin 2015)
Takayuki Matsumiya (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 2:14:58 (Lake Biwa 2016)
Hideaki Tamura (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:00 (Lake Biwa 2016)
Mourad Maroufit (Morocco) - 2:15:24 (Guangzhou 2016)
Takumi Kiyotani (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:15:31 (Lake Biwa 2015)
Koshi Watanabe (Japan/Subaru) - 2:15:36 (Osaka 2016)
Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:42 (Lake Biwa 2016)
Tyler Andrews (U.S.A.) - 2:15:52 (Albany 2016)
Hiroyuki Horibata (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:08:24 (Fukuoka Int'l 2012)

Debut
Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/JFE Steel) - 1:00:18 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
El Hassan El Abbassi (Bahrain) - 1:02:16 (Marrakech Half 2016)
Keita Baba (Japan/Honda) - 1:02:23 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
Hiroshi Ichida (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:25 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Shuji Matsuo (Japan/Chudenko) - 1:02:25 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
Yuta Oikawa (Japan/YKK) - 1:02:40 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2016)
Ryuji Okada (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:02:48 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Last-Place Finisher Named Winner After Entire Rest of Field Disqualified

http://news.tv-asahi.co.jp/news_society/articles/000094362.html

translated by Brett Larner

262 out of 263 participants in a road race were disqualified after they were misdirected, with only one person running the correct course.  The mishap occurred at a race in Kasaoka, Okayama on Feb. 5.  According to city officials, in the children's 3 km division the field of 263 elementary school students from 3rd grade through 6th grade was misdirected.  262 of them ran the wrong way, with the first child to finish covering what was estimated to be less than 2 km in 6:51. Followed by a staff member, only the last-place child ran the correct course to complete the full 3 km distance.  All the other children were disqualified, and city officials decided to honor the lone finisher as the winner.