Ethiopia’s Bazu Worku broke away from Kenya’s defending champion Vincent Kipruto with less than two kilometres to go to win the 69th edition of Lake Biwa Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, in 2:09:10 on Sunday (2).
It was Worku’s fourth marathon win in five outings since the start of last year, having also won in Houston both in 2013 and in January this year, as well as the 2013 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, USA, and he also finished second in the Marathon Eindhoven in October.
No less than 62 runners were in the lead pack at 5km, reached in 15:10, and this big group was down to 40 men by 10km, passed in 30:07.
The leading pack was whittled down further to 28 runners by 15km, reached in 45:03. At that point, potential podium contenders, Kenya’s James Mwangi, Morocco’s Hafid Chani and Japan’s Noritaka Fujiyama had already fallen away.
Just before 20km, which was reached in 1:00:04, the big surprise was that Kenya’s Joseph Gitau, the 2012 Fukuoka Marathon champion in 2:06:58, had also fallen off the lead pack. After the Japanese pair of Yuki Kawauchi and Yoshinori Oda also left the lead pack in the next few kilometres, by 26km only nine runners, including two pace makers, were left at the front.
The three pacemakers exited the race at 30km, which left just three men running together at the front: Kipruto, Worku and later Japan’s Satoru Sasaki who caught up with the leading pair at 33km.
Most people expected Kipruto and Worku, the two fastest men in the field, to speed up in the final quarter of the race, with a hope of seeing Wilson Kipsang’s three-year-old course record of 2:06:13 being broken.
But surprisingly, the leading trio played cat-and-mouse with each other over the next 10km. The 30-35km 5km split was covered in a pedestrian 15:50 and 35km was reached in 1:46:19. The 35-40km section was even slower at 16:06, with the time at 40km being 2:02:25.
Worku went through a bad patch just after 35km and was briefly left behind by Sasaki and Kipruto but then worked his way back to catch the leaders one kilometre later, and then made his decisive surge just after 40km.
Worku weather worries
“I had a problem with bad blister on my left heel,” Bazu explained at the post-race press conference, showing off his damaged foot.
“Although the wind was not a problem for me, the humidity was,” he added, trying to explain why the times were relatively modest. Coming from arid Ethiopia, Worku was not ready for the humid Japanese conditions after it rained the night before and was cloudy at the start.
Sasaki passed Kipruto on the track 300m from the finish and was second in 2:09:47, nearly two minutes faster than his previous personal best of 2:11:28.
“The pace was quite good until 30km and I also had a lot left at that point, so I could not be completely happy because I could have run a faster time. However, since I, at least, achieved my foremost goal of running a sub-2:10 marathon, I have to say that I am content,” said Sasaki.
The defending champion Kipruto finished a disappointed third in 2:09:54. When Bazu Worku surged Kipruto had no response and he took 7:29 for the final 2.195km.
Japan’s big hope Yuki Kawauchi started to fall off the lead pack just beyond 22km, but he still ran a tenacious and well-timed race and picked off the faltering runners one by one in the final 10km to eventually finish fourth in 2:10:38.
Two weeks ago, the prolific Kawauchi won the Kumamoto Castle Marathon in 2:10:14.
Before the Lake Biwa race, the legendary marathon runner Toshihiko Seko, a former Lake Biwa winner himself, criticized Kawauchi's racing programme and plans. “If he wants to run 2:07 (in Lake Biwa), then he should not have run the Kumamoto marathon so hard.”
Seko’s comments turned into grim reality at about 20km, when Kawauchi started to grimace a lot. “The race was hard for me already at 10km. I was sweating profusely already by then,” admitted Kawauchi.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF