Kenya’s Lucy Kabuu is the leading name in the women-only elite field for the first Saitama International Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, on Sunday 15 November.
Kabuu, now 31, finished in the top 10 in the 10,000m at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. A good run in Tokyo’s north western suburb will help promote her chances of representing her country again at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
She has a personal best of 2:19:34, set when finishing second at the 2012 Dubai Marathon on her debut over the classic distance, and was close to that mark on her return to Dubai in January this year, her last marathon, when she ran 2:20:21.
Kabuu will get plenty of cheers during the race as she is a relatively well-known face locally, having graduated from a Japanese high school.
Ethiopia’s Askale Tafa and Atsede Baysa can boast of personal bests of 2:21:31 and 2:22:03 respectively.
Tafa set her best time back in 2008 and has not run faster than 2:26:00 since 2012. Her last marathon was also in Dubai this year when she finished a modest 18th in 2:29:37.
Baysa ran her best when winning the 2012 Chicago Marathon. She was slightly faster than her compatriot in Dubai this year when finishing one place in front of Tafa in 2:27:24.
Also lining up alongside Kabuu will be compatriots Rebecca Kangogo Chesire and Sylvia Kibet.
Kibet, the two-time world 5000m silver medallist, made a good marathon debut in Hamburg when she finished second in 2:26:16. Now knowing a little bit more about what is required to race well over 26.2 miles, Kibet could be ready to make another step forward.
Kangogo Chesire has twice run faster than 2:26 this year. She finished 13th in Dubai in a personal best of 2:25:22 and went close to that time when she finished second in the Ottawa Marathon in May in 2:25:41.
The fastest European in the race will be Olympic bronze medallist Tatyana Arkhipova, who rose to the occasion and set her personal best of 2:23:29 in that race.
The Japanese entries are headed, at least on time, by 36-year-old former national record holder Yoko Shibui who ran 2:19:41 back in 2004.
On current form, the leading local contender could be Aki Odagiri, who ran a personal best 2:30:24 in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon earlier this year.
No Japanese woman in the Saitama elite field has run faster than 2:30 since 2012 but Odagiri is only 25 and clearly on an upward curve.
The Saitama International Marathon effectively takes the place on the international calendar of the nearby Yokohama International Women’s Marathon, which ceased after last year’s edition.
Although the Saitama elite filed is a women-only affair, there is also an associated mass participation race open to both genders.
The course is slightly undulating but has a very flat stretch between 21 and 30 kilometres, and is potentially fast, depending on weather conditions. It is close to sea level, starting and finishing in the Saitama Super Arena.
Phil Minshull and organisers for the IAAF