Mika Yoshikawa of Japan (© Getty Images)
For the first time in 26 years, Kanagawa prefecture won the 31st annual Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden – a nine-stage marathon distance (42.195km) ekiden – in Kyoto on Sunday (13).
The teams consist of a mixture of junior high school, high school, college as well as professional runners, who run for corporate-sponsored track teams. A “who’s who” of distance running in Japan, Olympic and World Championships medallists have at some point in their career competed in this ekiden.
Kanagawa was never too far off the lead. They were sixth after the first stage, 28 seconds behind the leader, but moved up to second place and 21 seconds behind the leader after second stage. After staying close in the next three stages, from the sixth stage onwards Kanagawa contended for the top spot with Hyogo and the defending champion Osaka.
Kanagawa finally took over the lead in the ninth and the final stage thanks to 2012 Olympian Mika Yoshikawa and won with 2:14:55, a competition record. Coincidentally Maki Izumida – daughter of Yuki Tamura, the anchor for Kanagawa prefecture 26 years ago – ran the fifth stage for victorious Kanagawa team.
Hyogo finished second, while defending champions Osaka was third. Each of the top eight teams improved their best time in this ekiden, perhaps helped by ideal racing weather of 7.5°C with no wind.
How the race unfolded
Stage 1 – 6km
Miyuki Uehara, a high school runner from Kagoshima, took the lead immediately and was alone in front just 4.7km into the stage. For the first time in seven years, when Hitomi Niiya (who ran anchor today) recorded the stage best, a high school runner recorded the fastest time in this opening stage. She also recorded the second-fastest time (19:00) in history for this stage.
“I am surprised to run the fastest stage, I just ran my own race,” said Uehara, who finished eighth in the 3000m at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships and clocked a PB of 15:47.88 last year at age 16. “I was aiming for around 19:20, so I am very happy with my time.”
At the end of the stage: Kagoshima 19:00, Okayama 19:11, Gunma 19:23, Aichi 19:25.
Stage 2 – 4km
Akari Outa of Okayama passed Misuzu Nakahara of Kagoshima to take over the lead 1.2km into the stage, and continued to extend the lead throughout the stage, while Momoko Akiyama of Kanagawa moved her team up from sixth to second.
At the end of the stage (10km): Okayama 31:42, Kanagawa 32:03, Aichi 32:04, Mie 32:10.
Stage 3 – 3km (junior high school runners only)
Nozomi Takamatsu-Musembi of Osaka, daughter of 2:12 Kenyan marathon runner Maxwell Musembi, moved her team from eighth to second while recording a stage record of 9:10. “I missed my time goal, but I’m happy with the stage record,” said Takamatsu-Musembi. “I heard my father cheering from me from the side but I didn’t see him running alongside me on the side walk.”
At the end of the stage (13km): Okayama 41:23, Osaka 41:32, Hyogo 41:34, Kanagawa 41:46.
Stage 4 – 4km
Rie Kawauchi of Okayama kept her team in the lead, while Ayumi Sakaida of Osaka and Akane Yabushita of Hyogo kept their team in second and third, respectively.
At the end of the stage (17km): Okayama 54:26, Osaka 54:36, Hyogo 54:39, Kanagawa 54:41.
Stage 5 – 4.1075km
Hazuki Omori of Osaka cut Okayama’s lead to three seconds.
At the end of the stage (21.1075km): Okayama 1:07:33, Osaka 1:07:38, Hyogo 1:07:49, Kanagawa 1:07:51.
Stage 6 – 4.0875km
A lot of position changes took place in this stage. First, 1.3km into the stage Ayaka Matsumoto of Osaka passed Sakurako Yamoto of Okayama to take the lead. Yui Fukuda of Hyogo and Kaori Morita of Kanagawa also passed Okayama, and 2.5km into the stage they joined Matsumoto to form the lead group. Then 500m later, Fukuda broke away from the lead group.
At the end of the stage (25.195km): Hyogo 1:20:43, Osaka 1:20:46, Kanagawa 1:20:47, Chiba 1:21:28.
Stage 7 – 4km
Mizuki Matsuda of Osaka caught Misaki Hayashida of Hyogo to share the lead, while Shiori Morita of Kanagawa later joined the leaders to form the lead group. In the closing stage Matsuda pushed the pace to leave Hayashida and Morita behind.
At the end of the stage (29.195km): Osaka 1:33:09, Kanagawa 1:33:19, Hyogo 1:33:20, Chiba 1:34:15.
Stage 8 – 3km (junior high school runners only)
Nearing 2km into the stage Yuri Kinoshita of Kanagawa drew level with the leaders, but Osaka retook the lead again with the relay point in sight.
At the end of the stage (32.195km): Osaka 1:43:15, Kanagawa 1:43:16, Hyogo 1:43:25, Chiba 1:44:29.
Stage 9 – 10km
Less than 400m into the stage, 2012 Olympian Mika Yoshikawa of Kanagawa moved to the front and continued to extend her lead throughout the stage. Yuriko Kobayashi of Hyogo, a medallist at both the IAAF World Youth and IAAF World Junior Championships, was expected to challenge Yoshikawa but she never did after her leg cramped up. Hitomi Niiya of Chiba, another 2012 Olympian, was too far back to challenge for the lead.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Kanagawa 2:14:55
2 Hyogo 2:15:18
3 Osaka 2:15:24
4 Chiba 2:15:46
5 Shizuoka 2:16:36
6 Aichi 2:17:17
7 Gunma 2:18:05
8 Tokyo 2:18:19
9 Kyoto 2:18:29
10 Okayama 2:18:35
1 – 6km
Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima) 19:00
Rei Ohara (Okayama) 19:11
Eina Yokozawa (Gunma) 19:23
Ayuko Suzuki (Aichi) 19:25
2 – 4km
Akari Outa (Okayama) 12:31
Momoko Akiyama (Kanagawa) 12:35
Mai Ishibashi (Mie) 12:35
3 – 3km
Nozomi Takamatsu-Musembi (Osaka) 9:10 (stage record)
Fukiko Ando (Hyogo) 9:19
4 – 4km
Akiko Matsuyama (Kanagawa) 12:55
Mao Kiyota (Shizuoka) 12:58
Rie Kawauchi (Okayama) 13:03
5 – 4.1095km
Hazuki Omori (Osaka) 13:02
Tomoyo Adachi (Okayama) 13:07
Yurie Doi (Chiba) 13:09
6 – 4.0875km
Yui Fukuda (Hyogo) 12:54
Kaori Morita (Kanagawa) 12:56
7 – 4km
Mizuki Matsuda (Osaka) 12:23
Shiori Morita (Kanagawa) 12:32
8 – 3km
Yuki Ishino (Shizuoka) 9:54
Rena Shinozaki (Gunma) 9:55
9 – 10km
Hitomi Niiya (Chiba) 31:17
Mika Yoshikawa (Kanagawa) 31:39
Yuriko Kobayashi (Hyogo) 31:53
Ayumi Hagiwara (Shizuoka) 31:58
Yuka Kakimi (Tokyo) 32:07
Yuka Tokuda (Osaka) 32:09
Sayo Nomura (Gifu) 32:09
Yuko Watanabe (Hiroshima) 32:12
Yuko Mizuguchi (Mie) 32:25