Jake Robertson will make his long-awaited debut over 26.2 miles when he lines up for the Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday (4), but the New Zealander faces a tough field at the IAAF Gold Label road race.
As well as a strong international line-up, the race has plenty of domestic interest as it is one of the qualifying races for Japan’s 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.
The weather, however, could be a problem for the runners on Sunday with temperatures expected to reach 20C.
Robertson has a half marathon PB of 1:00:01 which he recorded twice: at the 2017 Lisbon Half Marathon and at the 2018 Houston Half Marathon. He had been planning to make his marathon debut in Fukuoka last year, but he had to pull out just weeks before race day.
His 5000m best of 13:15.54 and 10,000m PB of 27:45.46 suggests he may be capable of breaking the New Zealand record of 2:08:59 set by Rod Dixon in 1983. Whether that will happen on his debut marathon, though, is another matter entirely.
Three men in the field have sub-2:07 marathon PBs: Kenya’s Ezekiel Chebii, Ethiopia’s Abera Kuma and Switzerland’s Tadesse Abraham.
Kuma’s 2:05:56 PB, set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, makes him the fastest in the field. He came within a minute of that mark as recently as last year when clocking 2:06:44 in Valencia. But his track PBs of 13:00.15 for 5000m and 26:52.85 for 10,000m suggest he may be capable of a faster marathon time.
Chebii, the defending champion, set his personal best of 2:06:07 at the 2016 Amsterdam Marathon. He will be aiming to become the first man to successfully defend a Lake Biwa title since Martin Fiz in 2000.
Since setting a Swiss record of 2:06:40 at the 2016 Seoul Marathon, Abraham finished seventh at the Olympics in 2:11:42 and fifth at the 2017 New York City Marathon in 2:12:01.
Italy’s 2014 European champion Daniele Meucci may be known for being a good championship performer, but he finished second at the 2015 Lake Biwa Marathon and so knows the course. If the race is slow due to the unseasonably warm weather, it could even play into his hands.
Three Japanese men in the field have a sub-2:10 marathon best: Takuya Noguchi, Takuya Fukatsu and Fumihiro Maruyama.
Noguchi has twice contested the Lake Biwa Marathon, finishing fifth in 2015 with 2:12:29. His marathon personal best of 2:08:59 was recorded when he won the 2017 Gold Coast Marathon.
Fukatsu and Maruyama battled it out in the final stages of the 2016 Lake Biwa Marathon, eventually finishing fifth and sixth respectively with PBs of 2:09:31 and 2:09:39. However, neither runner has recorded a sub-2:10 marathon since then.
Yuta Shitara made a major, albeit expected, breakthrough at the recent Tokyo Marathon. This weekend all eyes will be on Kenya Murayama to see if he can make a similar step up in class.
Like Shitara, Murayama has a twin brother who is also a runner. In fact, Kota holds the Japanese 10,000m record. Kenta is also fast at 10,000m with a best of 27:39.95. His only marathon was in Tokyo last year where he finished 30th in 2:16:58, blaming his performance on the brand new shoes he was wearing.
Assuming he has learned from that experience, Murayama could be set to fulfil his marathon potential on Sunday.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Abera Kuma (ETH) 2:05:56
Ezekiel Chebii (KEN) 2:06:07
Tadesse Abraham (SUI) 2:06:40
Albert Korir (KEN) 2:08:40
Takuya Noguchi (JPN) 2:08:59
Melaku Abera (ETH) 2:09:27
Takuya Fukatsu (JPN) 2:09:31
Fumihiro Maruyama (JPN) 2:09:39
Yoshiki Takenouchi (JPN) 2:10:01
Michael Githaei (KEN) 2:10:46
Taiga Ito (JPN) 2:10:52
Daniele Meucci (ITA) 2:10:56
Mohammed Ziani (MAR) 2:13:40
Samson Gebreyohannes (ERI) 2:14:25
Kenta Murayama (JPN) 2:16:58
Jake Robertson (NZL) debut
Macharia Ndirangu (KEN) debut