Why Are Japanese Marathoners So Good?


Kenyan Dickson Chumba was the primary individual to cross the end line in Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon, however the day actually belonged to Japanese working.
Yuta Shitara, a 26-year-old who seemed like he was fading dangerous with roughly 10Okay to go, pulled a Lazarus and began a late-race surge that didn’t finish till he’d crossed the end line in 2nd place (the highest-ever end by a Japanese man in a Marathon Major) in 2:06:11. With that point, Shitara eclipsed Toshinari Takaoka’s nationwide document from 2002, and earned a bonus of 100 million yen. That’s $934,457. For comparability, the winner of the Boston Marathon, which is the Marathon Major with the largest purse, receives $150,000 and a bonus of $50,000 if she or he breaks the world document.

But the race was a lot deeper than Shitara. A slew of Japanese males turned in profession performances. Japan put six runners within the high ten within the males’s race, and had 9 runners who ran sooner than 2:10. Yes, 9. After a fast perusal of the fastest-ever marathon times, I discovered that solely 17 American males in historical past have ever gone sub 2:10. On a record-eligible course (i.e. not Boston) that quantity shrinks to 11. Much as I’d like Dathan Ritzenhein or Abdi Abdirahman, whose marathon PRs date again to 2012 and 2006 respectively, to show me unsuitable once they run the Boston Marathon this April, I believe Galen Rupp is the one American marathoner who’s at the moment able to placing up that type of time.
As Japan gets ready to host the following summer time Olympics, the nation appears to have discovered the magic system for producing world-class degree marathoners. What’s the key to their success? To discover out, I reached out to Adharanand Finn, creator of The Way of the Runner: A Journey Into the Fabled World of Japanese Running, a undertaking for which Finn spent a yr touring round Japan attempting to achieve perception into some of the running-besotted cultures on Earth.

Marathoning Has Been Big in Japan for a Long Time

“Japan has this incredible history of marathon running. It goes back a long way. It was really a post-war thing. After the second World War, the country was devastated and they were looking for ways to get everybody back on their feet and they started running ekidens and marathons. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, the Japanese were having a marathon boom, whereas in the West it only happened in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, and in East Africa it didn’t happen until the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. The Japanese were dominating in the ‘50s and into the ‘60s. For example, in 1965, ten of the top eleven fastest marathons in the world were run by Japanese men. In 1966, it was 15 of the top 17. Those are the kind of stats that the Kenyans are running these days.”

The Most Prestigious Ekiden is Japan’s Superbowl

“The ekiden races are long-distance relay races, the place every leg is often a couple of half-marathon in distance. The greatest ekiden, the Hakone Ekiden, is the largest sporting occasion of the yr in Japan—the entire nation involves a standstill. Baseball general as a sport is greater, however this 1 occasion dwarfs all the pieces else. It’s on January 2nd and 3rd, and everybody within the nation sits down to look at. I’d say that, for many runners in Japan, to be on the staff that wins that race could be greater than profitable an Olympic medal.”

It Matters That They’re Hosting the Olympics

“I think the reason why suddenly there’s been an upturn in performance in Japanese marathoning is that the Olympics are coming up. The marathon is going to be the biggest Olympic event for Japan. So there’s a lot of pressure from the federation and Olympic committee in the country to get focused on the marathon and forget the ekiden for a while. (Writer’s note: offering a million dollar purse for setting the national record should help.) So Japanese runners have been given much more freedom in training. They’ve set up this national program to find the best runners and get them purely focused on the marathon. That’s been a big change in the last few years.”

Top Japanese Runners Often Fly Under the Radar

“There are a few the explanation why the Japanese have been type of invisible in that 3rd slot of world class marathoning—behind the Kenyans and Ethiopians. One was that they’d go to races like London and Boston they usually’d end 3rd or fourth, or 5th and 6th. But they’d by no means be within the lead pack, as a result of the Kenyans would go off tremendous quick and numerous them would drop off close to the tip. Nobody’s specializing in who’s coming in fourth or 5th, except you’re from that nation. Also: working is so large in Japan, that for high runners it’s way more value their whereas to run in Japan. They all run for company groups for Japanese corporations. Part of the explanation these corporations set these groups up is for workers to have one thing to really feel proud about. The Japanese races are so fashionable and so massive—and never simply Tokyo. There’s the Fukuoka International Marathon, the Lake Biwa Marathon, the Osaka Women’s Marathon—this stuff are as large as the massive sports activities finals within the U.S.”

Running Can Be a Viable Career Choice

“Part of the reason they have so many good runners is because of these corporate teams. There’s about 60 teams, 30 for men, 30 for women. Each team has about 20, full-time, paid athletes. So that works out to be about 1,200 full-time, elite long-distance runners. The traditional model is that a company sets up an ekiden team and the runners are part of the team, but also regular employees. Once their running career is finished, they carry on in the company with their office job. They basically have a job for life, even though they are brought into the company because of their running. At one of the corporate teams I went to, they rotated their runners around the company, so everyone would get a chance to meet them. There was a real sense of pride and belonging with the team. It’s morphing a little bit, but, in Japan, if you’re a talented runner in college, at a level that in the U.S. or in Europe you wouldn’t be good enough to make a career out of it, in Japan it can still be a way into work.”

Runners in Japan Live a Comfortable Life

“Even though it’s all supposed to be all amateur at that level, I spoke to coaches of high school running teams who said that they couldn’t compete because their schools weren’t giving them enough funds to buy the athletes. So there’s a lot of bartering going on even on the high school level, so I’m sure the top athletes are getting paid well. Runners in Japan are living a comfortable life. They’re also big stars–they can’t go down the street without having to sign autographs. They are like a basketball players in the U.S.”
So there it’s. Clearly, the reply to America’s marathoning woes is that extra wealthy corporations want to start out placing distance runners on their payroll. 

(Editor references)

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