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Kipsang Talking Loud and Aga Mumbling Bold - Tokyo Marathon Preview

After stepping up to the big leagues last year with course records in the 2:03 and 2:19 range, the Tokyo Marathon hopes to go one better this year. Men's course record setter Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) is back, stepping up from a 2:03:50 prediction for Tokyo in January to a 2:02:50 world record prediction at Friday's pre-race press conference. In the unmentioned absence of women's course record breaker Sarah Chepchirchir the top-ranked woman is Ruti Aga (Ethiopia), coming in hot off a 1:06:39 win last month in Houston and turning heads at the press conference with a boldly mumbled 2:18:00 prediction.

Management for both Kipsang and Aga were skeptical to JRN of their athletes' predictions, people from each camp saying times two minutes slower would be more likely, one minute slower in a best-case scenario. But whatever the prediction, Kipsang was clear to fellow past champs Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) and Dickson Chumba (Kenya) about one thing: he wants a more conservative fi…
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Kenyans Kabuu, Jemeli and Cheyech Lead Nagoya Women's Marathon Field

The Nagoya Women's Marathon is the largest women-only marathon in the world, one with a long history as an elite race and adapting to the times with a mass-participation field of 20,000. The last few years it has seen a series of dynamic, high-level performances by top Japanese women, from Sairi Maeda's 2:22:48 in 2015 to the 2:23:19 to 2:23:20 sprint finish battle between Tomomi Tanaka and Rei Ohara in 2016 to Yuka Ando's stellar 2:21:36 debut and teammate Mao Kiyota's 2:23:47 breakthrough last year.

Maeda, Ohara and Kiyota all return this year to face the Kenyan trio of Lucy Kabuu, Valary Jemeli and Flomena Cheyech Daniel. Kabuu went to high school in Japan before moving on to the big leagues, but she hasn't finished a marathon since her 2:20:21 in Dubai 2015. Cheyech also used to be based in Japan as is a familiar face here, winning the last two Saitama International Marathons. Jemeli is making her Japanese debut, and with a 2:21:57 win in Prague and a 2:20:53 …

Kawauchi Takes Six Minutes Off Kitakyushu Marathon Course Record to Lead Weekend Results

After a seven-week break from the marathon, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) scored his third-straight marathon win, second-straight course record and came just shy of a third-straight negative split as he ran a completely solo 2:11:46 to take almost six minutes off the Kitakyushu Marathon course record. Following up on negative split wins at December's Hofu Yomiuri Marathon and January's Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, the latter a course record by half an hour, Kawauchi was on his own in the first 100 m in Kitakyushu and never looked back.

In the hilly first 10 km his pace fluctuated from high-2:12 to high-2:10, but once Kawauchi got into the flatter section of the course he settled out on track for a high-2:11 to low-2:12 time. After a 1:05:51 split at halfway he slowed slightly on the outbound trip to the turnaround near 31 km, but picking it up again after 35 km he marked a 6:34 from 40 km to the finish to stop the clock at 2:11:46,  a 1:05:55 second half …

Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden Discontinued Due to Falling Participation

Organized by the city of Nikko every November since 2014, the all-uhill Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden has been discontinued. Likewise, the mass-participation Nikko Highway Marathon running up Nikko's famous tree-lined Nikko-Utsunomiya Road has also been discontinued. For both races, participation rates have been lower than expected and on a downward trend.

According to organizers and the city government, the Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden was created with the intention of it becoming a high-profile event for university women like the Hakone Ekiden is for university men, but fewer top-level universities than expected showed interest in running it. The number of teams peaked at 18 in 2015, but last year it fell to record low levels with only 13 teams from 12 schools.

The Nikko Highway Marathon was billed as featuring a course normally accessible only by car. The field size was set at a maximum of 8000, but in its first edition in 2014 it had only 3400 runners. This fell to…

Kobe Marathon Elevated to IAAF Bronze Label Status

The organizers of the Kobe Marathon announced on Feb. 13 that the race has been awarded IAAF Bronze Label status ahead of its 8th edition this November. The distinction is a mark of international recognition of the organizers' efforts to put on a world-class event that at last year's 7th running featured an international-quality elite field and was supported by 7500 volunteers. According to organizers and the JAAF, Kobe is the tenth event in Japan to acquire a label. It is the first mass-participation marathon without strict entry standards in Western Japan to earn the honor.

The IAAF awards three labels, Gold, Silver and Bronze, to marathons, half marathons and other road races. Requirements for label status include a specified number of international athletes in the elite field, strict anti-doping testing, adequate aid stations, and prompt publication of results and other information in English. Organizers cited the Gold Label London Marathon (U.K.), the Silver Label Daegu …

Chebii Returns - Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon Elite Field

Defending champ Ezekiel Chebii (Kenya) returns to lead the field for the Mar. 4 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon. Chebii is one of three men in the field with recent 2:06 times, his 2:06:07 in Amsterdam two years ago leading Tadesse Abraham (Switzerland) and Abera Kuma (Ethiopia) to form a clear trio of favorites.

Making up the second pack are four current sub-2:10 Japanese men, 2017 Gold Coast winner Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta), Rio Olympian Satoru Sasaki (Asahi Kasei), and Sasaki's teammates Takuya Fukatsu and Fumihiro Maruyama. The addition of sub-61 half marathoner Kenta Murayama in his second shot at the marathon after a failed debut in Tokyo two years ago makes for a formidable quartet of men from 2017 and 2018 New Year Ekiden national champion Asahi Kasei all aligned in training and talent.

With Japan's depth it's never surprising to see a relatively anonymous runner make a breakthrough and factor into the action. Yoshiki Takenouchi (NTT Nishi Nihon) was one of the …

Yamazaki, Ndirangu, Kamulu and Shitara Top Weekend Road Racing Action

Snow and cold impacted road races across Japan over the weekend, but at the top level almost every event went off as planned. In his marathon debut, Shota Yamazaki (Yakult) downed two-time defending champ Ryoichi Matsuo and debuting training partner Takumi Honda of the locally-based New Year Ekiden national champion Asahi Kasei corporate team to take the top spot at the Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon in a three-way sprint finish.

Shaking off first-timer Keisuke Tanaka (Fujitsu) late in the race, Yamazaki did all the work in the lead trio with the Asahi Kasei duo hanging off both of his shoulders. Hitting a bridge with 750 m to go Honda surged into the lead with Matsuo following. Yamazaki fell back, looking behind him with 500 m to go and seeming to have settled for 3rd. At 400 m to go Matsuo went to the front and looked to be on track to become only the second man to win Nobeoka three times, but as the pair rounded the final corner Yamazaki came back with a kick that left both his riv…