Mao Ichiyama winning the Osaka Women's Marathon (© Toshikazu Hirayama/Agence SHOT)
Mao Ichiyama broke the event record at the 40th Osaka Women’s Marathon on Sunday, clocking 2:21:11 in the first World Athletics Label road race of 2021.
The 23-year-old’s performance eclipsed the old event record of 2:21:18 set by Mizuki Noguchi in 2003 over the city-wide course. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s race took place over a flat 2.8-kilometre loop course in Nagai Park around Nagai stadium, the venue of 2007 World Athletics Championships.
“First of all, I could not thank the organisers enough for making this race possible,” said Ichiyama, who was named to Japan’s Olympic marathon squad last year.
In the lead-up to Sunday, the race was billed as an assault on Noguchi’s 2:19:12 national record set at the 2005 Berlin Marathon. Ichiyama started well and was on pace for nearly 25 kilometres, covering the half marathon in 1:09:35 and reaching 25 kilometres in 1:22:38. However, Ichiyama said, “the race was getting harder around 25 kilometres.”
Her five-kilometres splits, which hovered around 16:30 through the midway point, creeped up over 17 minutes after 25 kilometres. By the 35th kilometre she was forced to change her goal to sub-2:20 and then to a personal best (2:20:29). Her 2:21:11 was nonetheless the second fastest performance of her career.
“I was hoping set a national record, but I was not fit enough for it,” Ichiyama added. “I am very disappointed, but I now know what it takes to run the national record.”
Three male pacemakers including Yuki Kawauchi led Ichiyama and Honami Maeda, the winner of Olympic Trial Marathon in September 2019, at national record pace: the first kilometre in 3:13, five kilometres in 16:32, and 10 in 33:00. But after the 12th km Maeda started to drift back and nearing kilometre 14 was completely dropped by Ichiyama.
One kilometre later Ichiyama was alone in front with the two male pacemakers as she forged on with her national record bid. It was a unique set up, with male pacemakers in a women only race.
“Selected to be a pace maker for this important race is quite a privilege for me,” Kawauchi said. “I also realise I have a great responsibility.” Over the very flat course, the pace stayed mostly around 3:17 to 3:19 per kilometre for more than half the race, but Ichiyama slowed despite Kawauchi’s encouragement. The pacers led Ichiyama all the way to the entrance of Nagai Stadium.
Maeda finished second with 2:23:30, clipping eight seconds from her previous best. The next two finishers, Yukari Abe (2:24:41) and Mao Uesugi (2:24:52), also produced notable improvements. Both arrived in Osaka with PBs of 2:28:02. Ayumi Hagiwara was fifth in her debut over the distance, clocking 2:26:15.
Ken Nakamura for World Athletics
Leading results (all athletes JPN):
Conditions: cloudy, temperature 10.2C, humidity 50%, almost no wind
1. Mao Ichiyama 2:21:11, event record (previous 2:21:18, Mizuki Noguchi, 2003)
2. Honami Maeda 2:23:30 PB
3. Yukari Abe 2:24:41 PB
4. Mao Uesugi 2:24:52 PB
5. Ayumi Hagiwara 2:26:15 Debut
6. Mirai Waku 2:26:42
5km - 16:32
10km - 33:00 (16:28)
15km - 49:27 (16:27)
20km - 1:05:58 (16:31)
Half - 1:09:35
25km - 1:22:38 (16:40)
30km - 1:39:40 (17:02)
35km - 1:56:48 (17:08)
40km - 2:13:47 (16:59)
Finish - 2:21:11 (7:24)