Kenya’s Martin Mathathi fulfilled his role as the race favourite and won the 68th Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, in 1:00:11 on Sunday (2).
It was the third-fastest time in the race’s history and just 23 seconds short of the course record set by his compatriot Mekubo Mogusu, who ran 59:48 in 2007.
A pack of eight runners covered the first 5km in 14:17. Just before 10km, Japan’s Kenta Murayama edged ahead of the leading pack and he passed 10km in 28:29 while the chasing pack of five runners – Mathathi, the Japanese pair of Hiroto Inoue and Masato Kiuchi, Kenya’s Daniel Kitonyi and Australia’s defending champion Collis Birmingham were four seconds behind.
Shortly afterwards, Mathathi – the only man in the field to have previously broken one hour for the half marathon – started out in pursuit of Murayama and at 13km he caught his Japanese rival. They pair ran together and passed 15km in 42:48 before Mathathi pulled away from Murayama.
Mathathi continued to push the pace and he passed 20km in 57:06 before crossing the line 39 seconds ahead of the field.
Murayama held on to finish second as the leading local runner in 1:00:50, the third-fastest half marathon ever by a Japanese athlete, but was far from happy with his race. “I was shooting for a low 60 minutes. I lacked the endurance. I feel more disappointed with the race. If I am selected (for the IAAF World Half Marathon team), I want to run aggressively, (in Copenhagen),” commented Murayama later.
With the men's race in Marugame doubling as a Japanese team selection race for the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen on 29 March, with the final decision being made after the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships on 16 February, it would be a surprise if Maruyama didn't make the team travelling to the Danish capital next month.
Inoue finished third in a personal best of 1:01:39 to also stand a chance of selection, while Kitonyi was five seconds further back in fourth place.
Further down the field, Ethiopia’s marathon talent Yemane Adhane Tsegay finished sixth in 1:02:29, while Birmingham was a disappointing 15th in 1:02:40.
Japan’s Eri Makikawa, only 20, was the surprise winner of the women’s race on her competitive debut over the distance, crossing the line in 1:10:27.
Colombia’s Yolanda Caballero pushed the pace in the early stages, covering the first 5km in 16:32. By 10km, passed in 33:12, only Makikawa was able to stay close to Caballero. They ran together though to 15km, with 50:03 being the split, and then the local runner pulled ahead.
Makikawa, who has a 5000m best of 15:45.57, passed 20km in 1:06:54, eight seconds ahead of Caballero.
The lead stretched as the line approached and Makikawa won by 18 seconds as Caballero finished second in 1:10:45, the second-fastest time of her career behind her personal best of 1:10:30.
“Since it was my first race, I was just going to enjoy the race. I never thought I could win the race,” said Makikawa.
Another Japanese runner, Kotomi Takayama, was third in 1:11:19 while Portugal’s Jessica Augusto, the fastest half marathon runner in the field, fell behind the leaders before 10km and finished fourth in 1:11:56.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF