Kenya’s Jason Mbote head the list for the 63rd annual Beppu-Oita Marathon, which is also known as Betsudai Marathon, but a lot of local attention has been focused on how Masato Imai will perform ahead in the IAAF Silver Label Road Race on Sunday (2).
Last year, Yuki Kawauchi pulled away from Kentaro Nakamoto to win in a course record of 2:08:15, breaking the mark of 2:08:30 which had stood after 17 years. Mbote, who has the marathon personal best of 2:07:37, is one of four runners who have a realistic chance of improving it further.
Mbote recorded his personal best in the 2008 Seoul Marathon and has another sub-2:08 marathon to his credit, 2:07:51 in the 2007 Amsterdam Marathon, three other sub-2:09 marathons as well as three more sub-2:10 marathons. In his most recent marathon, the 2013 Seoul Marathon last November, he was fourth with 2:09:48 and since he previously served as a pacemaker in Beppu on four occasions, Mbote is familiar with the course.
The second fastest runner in the field is Kazuhiro Maeda, who recorded 2:08:00 marathon when he finished fourth in the 2013 Tokyo Marathon.
It was 38 seconds improvement of his previous best of 2:08:38 recorded when he finished sixth in the same race a year before. Although his marathons overseas in the last two years – 17th in 2013 World Championships, and 15th in 2012 Amsterdam Marathon – were far from satisfactory, his domestic marathons in 2012 and 2013 were both superb.
He said recently that his goal is to win the Beppu-Oita Marathon in a sub2:08 time. Maeda has run the Beppu-Oita marathon before. In 2011, he was third with 2:10:29.
Mongolia's road warrior
Mongolia’s Ser-Od Bat-Ochir is third fastest man in the field and a familiar face in Japanese races.
His personal best of 2:09:00 came when he won the 2013 Hofu Marathon last December. It was more than two minutes better than his previous best of 2:11:05, recorded in the 2012 Beppu-Oita Marathon.
Three other runners - Yuko Matsumiya who recorded 2:09:18 in 2005 Lake Biwa Marathon, Tomoyuki Sato who recorded 2:09:43 in 2004 Tokyo Marathon, and Masashi Hayashi who recorded 2:09:55 in 2012 Lake Biwa Marathon - have personal bests under 2:10.
For 33 years old Sato, Beppu-Oita marathon will be his final marathon of his career.
However, Masato Imai, who recorded 2:10:29 in 2013 Tokyo Marathon, could prove to be the surprise package.
Imai is known for his aggressive running style and he has been promising that it will be no different in his next marathon in Beppu. In his college days he was known as a ‘mountain god’, for he excelled on the steep uphill stage of famed Hakone Ekiden, the collegiate ekiden from Tokyo to Hakone and back.
Although he has excelled in ekidens, Imai has yet to truly fulfill his promise at the marathon. In his last marathon, the 2013 New York Marathon, he was sixth with 2:10:45.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF