Patrick Makau on his way to victory in the 2014 Fukuoka International Marathon (© Takefumi Tsutsui - Agence SHOT)
Patrick Makau shrugged off almost two years of injuries woes and racing disappointments to win the 68th edition of the famous Fukuoka Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in 2:08:22 on Sunday (7).
It was about two minutes adrift of what Makau had said before the race that he was hoping to run, and almost five minutes shy of his former world record and personal best of 2:03:38 set in the 2011 Berlin Marathon, but Makau told local reporters that he was still happy with his performance and his return to winning ways after struggling to find his best form since his win at the 2012 Frankfurt Marathon.
Breaking away from Mongolia’s Ser-Od Bat-Ochir at about 38 kilometres, Makau became the fourth successive Kenyan to win at the Japanese race and he took his tally to five victories in 11 outings.
In excellent conditions, with temperatures hovering about eight degrees Celsius and little wind, Ethiopia’s Raji Assefa came through strongly in the final kilometres to finish second in 2:08:48, the second-fastest time of his career after his personal best of 2:06:24.
Bat-Ochir, who broke the race open after 30km, was third with a national record of 2:08:50, improving his own mark by 10 seconds.
A pack of about 30 runners passed the 5km check point in 15:16 before the pace picked up. The leaders covered the subsequent 5km sections in 15:04, 14:57 and 15:01.
After passing the halfway point in 1:03:37, the pace makers dropped out and, consequently, the pace slowed down.
Poland’s Henryk Szost and Eritrean record-holder Yared Asmeron took over the lead briefly from halfway, then local runner Masakazu Fujiwara pushed the pace after 23 kilometres but the leading group was still 20-strong.
Szost and Asmeron then went back into the lead, but the pace was still sluggish, with 25km being reached in 1:15:40.
The race finally got going after 30km, passed in 1:31:10, after an injection of pace by Bat-Ochir.
Only Asmeron was able to initially cover the Mongolian’s move but the former soon fell back and Bat-Ochir was alone in front.
However, after 32km, Makau and Assefa broke away from the pack and started to chase down the leader and they quickly caught Bat-Ochir. The threesome of Makau, Assefa and Bat-Ochir then passed 35km in 1:46:23.
Just before 37km, Bat-Ochir made another surge and soon he was alone in front again but one kilometre down the road it Makau’s turn to make his own effort, which took him past Bat-Ochir. Makau passed the 40km point in 2:01:43 and he was never challenged from that point.
Fujiwara finished fourth in 2:09:06 and, as he was the first Japanese home in what was a domestic IAAF World Championships qualifying race, he has staked a claim for a place on the plane to Beijing next summer.
Tomoya Adachi finished fifth with personal best of 2:09:59, thus finally breaking 2:10 for the first time at the marathon after seven attempts.
By contrast, local star Kentaro Nakamoto – sixth at the London 2012 Olympic Games and fifth at the 2013 World Championships – who never finished worse than 10th in a marathon before, came home in 12th place while Kenya’s Martin Mathathi fell off the pace early and was a modest 21st.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Patrick Makau (KEN) 2:08:22
2 Raji Assefa (ETH) 2:08:48
3 Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (MGL) 2:08:50
4 Masakazu Fujiwara (JPN) 2:09:06
5 Tomoya Adachi (JPN) 2:09:59
6 Henryk Szost (POL) 2:10:02
7 Chiharu Takada (JPN) 2:10:03
8 Yared Asmerom (ERI) 2:10:09
9 Tsuyoshi Ugachi (JPN) 2:10:50
10 Mekubo Mogusu (KEN) 2:11:29