Breaking away from the lead pack after 22Km, Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia won the Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday.
The Lake Biwa Marathon, this year celebrating its 65th edition, is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Although Tsegay, who was fourth at last year’s World Championships, was only 21 seconds behind course course record pace at 30Km, the weather was less than ideal forcing The Ethiopian to slow down in the final part of the race before reaching the finish in 2:09:34. The time was not very fast, but it was fourth straight sub-2:10 run for Tsegay, who has a 2:06:30 career best.
“I want to run the course record, so I increased the pace after the half way, but the weather was not good for me, and I had some problems,” Tsegay said.
Tomoyuki Sato, who was a dismal 31st at the Fukuoka Marathon, came back with a vengeance and finished a strong second with 2:10:07, the fourth fastest time of his career.
“I am happy to be the first Japanese, which was my goal for the day. I am not happy with my time, but I was able to break away from the chase pack despite some bad patches during the race, so it was a good race for me although I won’t give myself an ‘A’ grade,” said Sato.
Abraham Tadesse and Yukihiro Kitaoka ran together during the last part of the race before Tadesse broke away to finisht third in 2:10:46 ahead of Kitaoka, who clocked 2:10:51 in his Marathon debut.
194 runners started the race under light rain. The first notable event was that the pace makers almost forgot to exit the Ojiyama stadium after 1 and ¾ laps around the track. The lead pack of 39 runners passed 5Km in 15:10, on the pre-race plan. After passing the 10Km in 30:21, the first contender to lose contact was Takeshi Hamano, who has a marathon best of 2:09:18. The 15Km split for the lead pack of 33 runners was 45:35, and it was turning into the race of attrition. Soon after 20Km (60:41), Masaya Shimizu, fourth last year, started to drift behind the lead pack which now numbered 25. Then with the urging from Tsegay, the pace makers increased the pace (2:54 for 22 to 23Km) and the lead pack started to break apart. Soon three pace makers and Yemane Tsegay led the race, with South African Hendrick Ramaala several metres behind. The pace (2:57 for 23 to 24Km) continued to be hot, and Ramaala was absorbed by the chase pack, which was led by Tomoyuki Sato.
Pace maker Stephen Mokoka dropped out at 25Km (1:15:41) leaving Yemane and two pace makers (Samuel Ndungu and Wilson Chebet) in front with a 10-second lead.
Around 29Km, Ramaala and Tomoya Shimizu began to fall behind the chase pack. When Ndungu, the pace maker, dropped out at 30Km (1:30:31), Tsegay was now alone, leading the chase pack by 48 seconds. Tsegay continued to lead the race, but he was slowing down markedly, needing 15:40 to cover 30 to 35Km, but still carried a 70-second lead.
With Sato pushing, the remaining pursuers began to gain on Tsegay, but at the same time, the pack was falling apart. First before 37Km, Satoshi Yoshii fell behind, followed by Ken-ichiro Setoguchi and then Naoto Yoneda, leaving just three - Sato, Tadesse and Kitaoka - in the chase. While he kept slowing, Tsegay managed to hold on while the real estate ran out on Sato as he finished second 33 seconds back, but ahead of Tadesse and Kitaoka.
“I am happy to attain my goal of running 2:10 marathon,” said Kitaoka. “I went for a broke from the start. Although it started to get tough after 30Km, I am happy to run the race as if it was an extension of a half marathon.”
Kitaoka was followed by another marathon debutante, Naoto Yoneda was fifth in 2:11:00.
A sense of crisis was rampant in Japanese marathoning circles after last December’s Fukuoka Marathon when Japanese failed to crack top eight. But after the Tokyo marathon where Japanese occupied the top five slots and Lake Biwa where Sato finished second and two debutantes finished fourth and fifth, the future of the Japanese marathon scene is little brighter.