Running in his debut over the distance, Kenyan Samuel Ndungu won the 67th annual Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday clocking 2:07:04.
The performance in this IAAF Gold Label Road Race by Ndungu, who joined the Japanese corporation Aichi Steel in April of 2007, was likely the second fastest debut on Japanese soil, behind the late Sammy Wanjiru who ran 2:06:39 at the 2007 Fukuoka Marathon in his debut.
“It was a little cold at the beginning but my body started to warm up after 20Km, so I pushed from there,” said Ndungu, who was a pace maker last year. Ndungu won last year’s Marugame Half Marathon with personal best of 1:00:55. However unlike defending Fukuoka Marathon champion Josphat Ndambiri, who has a sub-27:00 10,000m best, Ndungu’s 5000m best is 13:28.44 and 10000m best is 27:48.03. Thus, it was doubtful that anybody expected him to run 2:07 in his debut.
Behind Ndungu, Henryk Szost set a new Polish record of 2:07:39 in second place, while Abdellah Taghrafet of Morocco was third in 2:08:37.
An even bigger surprise than Ndungu’s victory was Ryo Yamamoto’s fourth place finish. More importantly for him, he was first Japanese in the race and thus likely to be selected for the Olympic Marathon team. His time was a huge personal best of 2:08:44, more than a three minutes improvement from his previous 2:12:10 best.
“I was just chasing and chasing,” Yamamoto said. “I was not ready to run with the leaders when the real racing started at 25Km, so I decided to run my race and was just hoping that the leaders would come back to me. When I was getting closer (to the Japanese in front of me) I kept on chanting ‘Olympics, Olympics’ in my heart and kept on pushing.”
Along with Arata Fujiwara who was the first Japanese in last week’s Tokyo Marathon with 2:07:48, Yamamoto is likely to be selected for London. But who would be the third Japanese on the team? Is it going to be either Kentaro Nakamoto, who was second Japanese in Lake Biwa with 2:08:53, or Kazuo Maeda who was second Japanese in Tokyo Marathon with 2:08:38?
With the Olympic team berth on the line, the race for the first Japanese changed twice in the last 5Km of the race. Hiroyuki Horibata, who was seventh in the 2011 World Championships, seemed to be in driver’s seat at 35Km, but then he was passed by Kentaro Nakamoto at 37.9Km. After that Nakamoto, tenth in Daegu, seemed to be in the driver’s seat. However, behind him Yamamoto was steadily gaining. Yamamoto caught the fading Nakamoto on the track with 400 metres to go and won the all-important race within the race. The team will be announced in eight days, a day after the Nagoya Women’s Marathon next Sunday.
Of the top ten finishers, nine set either personal bests or contested their marathon debut. The three debutantes were winner Ndungu, Tomoyuki Morita, who finished sixth and Takehiro Deki, a college junior, who finished ninth.
The two fastest runners in the field – Nicholas Manza and Bekena Daba – both dropped out.
How the race unfolded:
The first kilometre was covered in 3:05, the second in 3:02, slower than the designated three minute for kilometre pace requested. But then the pace icked up. After the huge pack of 58 runners passed 5Km in 15:08, Yukihiro Kitaoka, 2010 Asian Games silver medalist, was the first major contender to lose contact. The lead pack was still huge (55 runners) at 10Km. As the runners headed south, the wind was mostly behind them. At 15Km (45:13) one of the pace makers, Kawaminami, left the race leaving three to forge on. A pack of 42 covered 20Km in 1:00:22. At the half marathon (1:03:38) another pace maker left the race, leaving two Kenyans, Isaac Macharia and Boniface Kirui, in front. After the turn around point, the lead pack started to stretch out, despite the slower pace of 3:07 from 21 to 22Km. After 23Km the pace picked up thanks to the tail wind, but was too much for Tomoyuki Sato as he fell behind the leaders.
At 25Km (1:15:23), both pace makers left the race and thus real racing has started. Manza and Daba, as expected started to push. Nearing 26Km (2:51 for 25 to 26Km), Daba of Ethiopia pulled ahead by more than 10m, and the lead pack began to stretch out to two groups. Masao Imai, a former collegiate Ekiden super-star and one of the favourites, was left behind the second group. One of the surprise in the seven men first chase pack was Takehiro Deki, the star of Hakone (college) Ekiden. Deki, who reportedly hadn’t trained beyond 30Km, but holding on well. At 28.6Km, Ndungu took the lead. As they headed toward the stadium, the wind was now against them, but the eight-man lead pack covered the 25K to 30Km (1:30:14) in 14:51. The chase pack (15 seconds behind at 30K but stretched to 20 seconds by 31.5Km) consists of five runners and includes Kentaro Nakamoto, one of the favorite to make the Japanese Olympic team.
After 31Km water station, Ndungu started to pull ahead while Manza and Deki fell behind. By 31.7Km Ndungu who covered 31 to 32Km in 2:55, pulled ahead and continued to extend his lead, followed by Taghrafet, Szost, Kebenei, Horibata and Daba.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Weather: Rain; temperature: 5.6C; humidity: 80% at 1PM (30 min after the start)
1. Samuel Ndungu (KEN) 2:07:04 Debut
2. Henryk Szost (POL) 2:07:39 POL record
3. Abdellah Taghrafet (MAR) 2:08:37
4. Ryo Yamamoto 2:08:44 Personal Best
5. Kentaro Nakamoto 2:08:53 Personal Best
6. Tomoyuki Morita 2:09:12 Debut
7. Takashi Horiguchi 2:09:16 Personal Best
8. Masashi Hayashi 2:09:55 Personal Best
9. Takeshiro Deki 2:10:02 Debut
10. Ernest Kebenei (KEN) 2:10:04 Personal Best
11. Hiroyuki Horibata 2:10:05
12. Ruggero Pertile (ITA) 2:10:06
13. Suehiro Ishikawa 2:11:13
14. Tomoyuki Sato 2:12:19
15. Naoki Okamoto 2:12:31
DNF - Bekana Daba (ETH), Nicholas Manza (KEN), Dylan Wykes (CAN) , Abdullah Mestaf (FRA), Lee Troop (AUS), Gedion Ngatuny (KEN), James Mwangi (KEN)
10Km 30:12 (15:04)
15Km 45:13 (15:01)
20Km 1:00:22 (15:09)
25Km 1:15:23 (15:01)
30Km 1:30:14 (14:51)
35Km 1:45:10 (14:56) Ndungu
1:45:26 (15:12) Taghrafet
1:45:26 (15:12) Szost
1:45:34 (15:20) Kebenei
1:45:43 (15:29) Horibata
40Km 2:00:30 (15:20) Ndungu
2:00:53 (15:27) Szost
2:01:24 (15:58) Taghrafet
2:01:46 (15:46) Nakamoto
2:01:55 (15:54) Yamamoto
2:01:58 (15:57) Horiguchi
Finish 2:07:04 (6:34) Ndungu
2:07:39 (6:46) Szost
2:08:37 (7:13) Taghrafet
2:08:44 (6:49) Yamamoto