by Brett Larner
Japan's highest-level winter half marathon, the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon took a little bit of a hit this year at the hands of the World Half Marathon Championships. With the World Half moved to March, the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, held the third weekend of March, were bumped back a month to Feb. 16, just two weeks after Marugame. With both the men's and women's races at the Corporate Championships counting toward World Half selection but only the men's race in Marugame counting many corporate league runners gave Marugame a miss this year, especially on the women's side. It's no surprise, then, that only one corporate runner finished in the top four in either the men's or women's races.
Suzuki Hamamatsu AC, a former corporate team that quit the league a few years ago to let its runners focus on things other than ekidens and now occupies a unique position in the club team world, was the big winner of the day as members Martin Mathathi and, in her first half marathon, Eri Makikawa, won the men's and women's races in solid times of 1:00:11 and 1:10:27.
Mathathi, winner of December's Fukuoka International Marathon and due up to run April's London Marathon, spent most of the race locked in battle with 2013 National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University's 20-year-old ace third-year Kenta Murayama. After the lead pack went through 5 km in 14:17 Murayama, who ran 1:01:19, the fastest time ever by a Japanese 19-year-old, at last year's Marugame, went to the front and opened a lead at national record pace. At 10 km he was 4 seconds ahead of the chase pack of Mathathi, last year's winner Collis Birmingham (Australia), 2013 National University 5000 m and 10000 m champion Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Nihon Univ.), 21-year-old Hiroto Inoue of Hakone Ekiden DNF-hit Yamanashi Gakuin University, and 2014 New Year Ekiden champion team Konica Minolta's ace rookie Masato Kikuchi.
Mathathi dropped the others to catch up to Murayama and the pair each other through 15 km in 42:48, seconds off the 15 km Japanese national record and on pace for the half marathon national record. Kitonyi and Inoue were 30 seconds back, having shaken off Kikuchi and Birmingham. Murayama stayed with Mathathi through 16 km but then faltered , the same point at which he got into trouble at last year's Marugame, the New York City Half Marathon a month later, and last month's Hakone Ekiden Second Stage. Mathathi kept on steadily to take the win in a world-leading 1:00:11, the third-fastest winning time in Marugame history and a quiet message to the competition in London. He may be virtually out of sight here in Japan, but don't expect that to be the case come April.
But the biggest news of the race came from Murayama. He was next across the line in 1:00:50, the third-fastest time ever by a Japanese man, the best-ever by a Japanese university runner and bettering the age 20 record held by corporate league rival Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) by 3 seconds. A resounding follow-up to last year's Marugame and a stellar ekiden season that saw him set course records at two of the Big Three university ekidens, his time cut off more than half the distance to the national record of 1:00:25 and, having the talent, motivation and courage, with just a little more self-control in the early going he'll no doubt get there soon.
Inoue surprisingly dropped the debuting Kitonyi for 3rd in 1:01:39, the best time ever by a Japanese 21-year-old, with Kitonyi five seconds back in 1:01:44. Kikuchi rounded out the top five in 1:01:50 as the first corporate league runner across the line, meaning that Murayama and Inoue are a lock for the World Half team along with the top one or two from the upcoming Corporate Half and, potentially, one of the top three men from last summer's National Track and Field Championships 10000 m. Birmingham faded to 15th in 1:02:40, with a total of 26 men breaking 1:03. American Jeffrey Eggleston narrowly missed joining them, 26th in a PB of 1:03:00. Noteworthy further down the field was Tomoki Kawamura of 2013 National High School Ekiden champions Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S., who ran a high school national record 1:04:08 for 59th.
The women's race played out similarly, with a seven-woman lead pack at 5 km shaking down to two pairs, Makikawa and Colombian national record holder Yolanda Caballero up front and corporate league runners Kotomi Takayama (Team Sysmex) and Misato Horie (Team Noritz) 9 seconds back by 10 km. Makikawa and Caballero were together until after 15 km before Makikawa hit it, opening an 8-second lead by 20 km and 10 more seconds from there to the finish. Caballero was a comfortable 2nd in 1:10:45, 15 seconds off her national record. Takayama took 3rd in a PB 1:11:19, but further back pre-race favorite Jessica Augusto (Portugal) ran down Horie, side-by-side after 15 km and getting 4th by a lean with both women clocking 1:11:57.
68th Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon
Marugame, Takamatsu, 2/2/14
click here for complete results
1. Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:00:11
2. Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:00:50 - PB
3. Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:39 -PB
4. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Nihon Univ.) - 1:01:44 - debut
5. Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:01:50 - PB
6. Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) - 1:02:29
7. Yuki Oshikawa (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 1:02:30 - PB
8. Hiromitsu Kakuage (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:30
9. Taichi Takase (Team JFE Steel) - 1:02:32 - PB
10. Masatoshi Kikuchi (Team Fujitsu) - 1:02:34
11. Tomohiro Tanigawa (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:35
12. Wataru Ueno (Team Honda) - 1:02:39 - PB
13. Yuta Katsumata (Nittai Univ.) - 1:02:39 - PB
14. Shusei Ohashi (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:02:39 - PB
15. Collis Birmingham (Australia) - 1:02:40
16. Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:42 - PB
17. Hidehito Takamine (Team Fujitsu) - 1:02:42 - PB
18. Yusuke Nishiyama (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:43 - PB
19. Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.) - 1:02:44 - PB
20. Ryotaro Nitta (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:45
21. Naohiro Yamada (Team YKK) - 1:02:48
22. Takuya Noguchi (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:50 - PB
23. Shota Inoue (Team Toyota) - 1:02:51 - PB
24. Tatsumi Abe (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:55 - PB
25. Ryotaro Otani (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:57 - PB
27. Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A.) - 1:03:00 - PB
59. Tomoki Kawamura (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) - 1:04:08 - H.S. NR
67. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 1:04:43
140. Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) - 1:09:09
1. Eri Makikawa (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:10:27 - debut
2. Yolanda Caballero (Colombia) - 1:10:45
3. Kotomi Takayama (Team Sysmex) - 1:11:19 - PB
4. Jessica Augusto (Portugal) - 1:11:57
5. Misato Horie (Team Noritz) - 1:11:57
6. Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:12:44 - debut
7. Ayame Takaki (Meijo Univ.) - 1:13:29
8. Seong Eun Kim (South Korea) - 1:13:56
9. Chika Nakama (Team Aichi Denki) - 1:14:03
10. Aiko Sakata (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 1:14:08
DNF - Aleksandra Duliba (Belarus)
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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