If you consult the Association of Road Racing Statisticians website, you’ll find that of the 100 fastest half marathons run in 2016, there is one Japanese runner who breaks the top 100 for men (84th) while three Japanese women have run the 73rd, 91st, and 92nd fastest half marathons this year.
Japan is one of the few countries outside of Africa to make multiple appearances on that list. To be really impressed by the state of Japanse running, however, one needs to examine the sheer depth of the competition at a race within Japan.
A prime example is the Ageo City Half Marathon run on November 20th, where 361 runners in the men’s race recorded a sub-1:10 finish in a field of 444. That’s 81% of the field. Winner Rintaro Takeda recorded a 1:01:59 (a personal best). By contrast, at the Copenhagen Half Marathon in September, where the fastest half marathon of 2016 was run by Kenya’s James Wangari (59:07), 37 runners managed to break 1:10 in a significantly larger field.
Ageo is not an outlier. The Marugame Half Marathon, run in February, saw 137 runners break 1:10. At that race, 8 of the 10 fastest half marathon times by Japanese runners in 2016 were recorded.
The field of runners at Ageo consisted primarily of university runners tuning up for the Hakone Ekiden, which will be run on January 2-3. The Ekiden is a long distance relay race with each runner covering various distances ranging anywhere from six legs totalling 12k at the elementary level to the monstrous Round Kyushu Ekiden, which sees 72 segments cover 1064 kilometres.
The Hakone Ekiden brings together top university Ekiden teams from the Tokyo region to cover 217k over two days. It’s Japan’s biggest sporting event, commanding an audience share comparable to the Super Bowl in the US.
- Ravi Singh