Former Nagano Marathon winners Beatrice Toroitich and Pauline Wangui will return to the IAAF Bronze Label road race on Sunday (16) in a bid to regain their titles.
Toroitich won in Nagano in 2015 in 2:34:02, having finished second in 2013. The 36-year-old Kenyan set her PB of 2:27:41 at the 2012 Hamburg Marathon, while her most recent effort over 26.2 miles was a 2:32:25 run in Prague last year.
Compatriot Wangui was the 2012 Nagano winner. The 33-year-old, who represented Kenya at the 2008 World Half Marathon Championships, set a marathon PB of 2:30:49 in Seville last year.
The Kenyan duo will face stiff opposition from an Ethiopian who is making her Nagano Marathon debut. Tigist Girma has reached the podium in six of her seven marathons to date. The 24-year-old won in Beirut in 2016 and returned to the Lebanese capital last year, clocking a PB of 2:29:05 to finish second.
The Nagano Marathon hasn’t had a Japanese winner of the women’s race since 2001, but there are several women entered for this year’s edition who appear capable of challenging for victory.
Aki Otagiri was the top Japanese finisher in 2017, placing fourth. Her PB of 2:30:24, set at the 2015 Nagoya Marathon, also makes her the fastest of the domestic entrants.
Asami Furuse ran a PB of 2:30:44 last year, making her one of the fastest Japanese women in this year’s field. This, however, will be her third marathon within 12 weeks, following runs of 2:33:58 in Osaka in January and 2:36:34 in Kagoshima in March.
Saki Tokoro was the winner in Kagoshima, clocking a PB of 2:33:41. She is entered for Nagano but, like Furuse, will be running just six weeks after her latest marathon effort.
Yumiko Kinoshita might not be the fastest in the women’s field, but she has plenty of experience of running in Nagano. She finished fourth in 2014, third in 2015 and sixth last year. She recorded a PB of 2:34:38 in Osaka last year.
As is the case in the women’s race, a trio of overseas runners boast the fastest PBs but they will face a promising Japanese contingent.
Ethiopia’s Abdela Gobena set his PB of 2:09:45 just five months ago when finishing fourth at the Seoul Marathon. More recently, he finished fourth in Marrakech at the end of January in 2:13:24. He is yet to win a marathon but has made it on to the podium in Beirut, Barcelona and Milan.
Julius Keter’s last race was a 2:09:55 PB in Santiago de Chile in April 2017. The 29-year-old Kenyan has raced extensively in the USA, Mexico and South America, but this weekend’s race will be his first in Japan.
Ugandan Olympian Jackson Kiprop set his PB of 2:09:32 when winning in Mumbai in 2013 in what was his debut at the distance. The 31-year-old finished 10th at both the 2013 and 2015 IAAF World Championships, while his most recent run was a 2:12:45 clocking at last year’s Amsterdam Marathon.
Shoya Osaki appears to be the most promising of the Japanese entrants. He has contested only three marathons to date but has improved with each one. After a 2:18:27 debut in 2016, he improved to 2:12:07 at last year’s Lake Biwa Marathon and then placed sixth at the Gold Coast Marathon in 2:11:03.
Shinichi Yamashita and Kohei Futaoka have also set recent PBs. Yamashita chopped four minutes off his PB at the Hofu Marathon in December, clocking 2:12:32, while Futaoka made his marathon debut at the Beppu-Oita Marathon in February, finishing in 2:13:28.
The race dates back to 1999 and commemorates the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, held in Nagano. As is always the case at this event, numerous sporting greats are invited to take part in some capacity. This year’s guest line-up includes 2000 Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi, world 100km record-holder Takahiro Sunada and 2009 Tokyo Marathon champion Mizuho Nasukawa.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF