Defending Fukuoka International Marathon champion Patrick Makau will be targeting a third consecutive victory at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race on Sunday (4).
In its 70-year history, only four runners – USA’s Frank Shorter, Canada’s Jerome Drayton, Japan’s Toshihiko Seko and Ethiopia’s Gezahegne Abera – have won the Fukuoka Marathon more than twice. Among them, only Shorter and Seko have won this race three times in a row. Makau, having won this race for the past two years, has a chance to match them.
The course record of 2:05:18 was set by Tsegaye Kebede in 2009. Among the fastest marathons in the world, only Rotterdam has an older course record, so a new standard in Fukuoka is perhaps overdue.
Three runners in this year’s elite field – including former world record-holder Makau – have PBs faster than the course record. Kenya’s James Kwambai, with a best of 2:04:27, and Yemane Tsegaye, with a best of 2:04:48, are the other two.
“My condition is good and I am prepared to run well on Sunday,” said Makau at the pre-race press conference. “I think it is possible to run around 2:06 to 2:07 on Sunday.” He added that Tsegaye and Kwambai seem to be his toughest opponents and that he might make his move early instead of leaving it until the very end.
“How I race depends on Sunday’s weather,” said Tsegaye. “Even after the pace makers drop out (they are scheduled to cover 3:00 kilometres until 30km), I would like to keep up the pace.”
Other invited runners from abroad are Cuthbert Nyasango with a best of 2:09:52, Eritrea’s Amanuel Mesel with a personal best of 2:08:17 and Poland’s Henryk Szost with a best of 2:07:39. Szost has run the Fukuoka Marathon three times and always finished better than sixth and faster than 2:10:03. Nyasango and Mesel both contested the Fukuoka Marathon last year, with Nyasango finishing 15th and Mesel failing to finish.
Once called the unofficial world championships before the advent of the IAAF World Championships in 1983, this year’s race is one of the qualifying races for Japanese athletes targeting the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
Of the Japanese athletes set to compete on Sunday, only Kazuhiro Maeda and Yuki Kawauchi have PBs faster than 2:09, but a recent calf injury for Kawauchi may mean that he might not be at his absolute best, while Maeda has not run faster than 2:11 since 2013.
Maeda made the World Championships team in 2009, 2013 and 2015, but his best performance in Fukuoka is a sixth-place finish in 2011 in 2:11:46. Kawauchi, who made the 2011 World Championships team, has contested the Fukuoka marathon six times with his best performance being a third-place finish in 2013 in 2:09:05.
Tomoya Adachi, Chiharu Takada and Yoshiki Otsuka – all of whom recorded their personal bests in Fukuoka – will also be vying for the coveted spots on the team. And there’s always a chance of a new Japanese runner coming out of the woodwork to claim a spot on the team.
“I have been injury free for the past year, so my training volume is at least 2000km greater than the average year,” said Adachi. “In the past three months I have done five or six 40km runs in about 2:15. I am keying off Kawauchi because I know he will be tenacious.”
Kawauchi, who is coming back from an injury, said: “I am pain free but I missed my half marathon work out at the Ageo Half as well as my interval work out.”
Historically, Japan-based Kenyans have run well in Fukuoka. Martin Mathathi, Joseph Gitau and Josephat Ndambiri have won the Fukuoka Marathon in the past five years while running for corporate-sponsored Japanese teams.
This year, four Africans who run for Japanese corporate teams are invited: Benjamin Ngandu, Melaku Abera, Yared Asmerom and marathon debutant Paul Kuira, who has a half-marathon PB of 59:47.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Patrick Makau (KEN) 2:03:38
James Kwambai (KEN) 2:04:27
Yemane Tsegay (ETH) 2:04:48
Yared Asmerom (ERI) 2:07:27
Henryk Szost (POL) 2:07:39
Kazuhiro Maeda (JPN) 2:08:00
Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:08:14
Amanuel Mesel (ERI) 2:08:17
Benjamin Ngandu (KEN) 2:09:18
Melaku Abera (ETH) 2:09:27
Cuthbert Nyasango (ZIM) 2:09:52
Tomoya Adachi (JPN) 2:09:59
Chiharu Takada (JPN) 2:10:03
Yoshiki Otsuka (JPN) 2:11:40
Paul Kuira (KEN) debut