For this year’s edition of the Yokohama Women’s Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, Albina Mayorova set her own pace. And it paid off on Sunday (17) with yet another victory for the Russian in Japan.
Mayorova came from well back before cruising to a nearly three-minute victory in 2:25:55.
“After the World Championships in Moscow, when I had such an unsuccessful race (placing 21st), today I am very happy with the victory,” Mayorova said through an interpreter.
Japan’s Azusa Nojiri, who broke away at the front after 25km only to be caught and passed by Mayorova before the 30km mark, finished second in 2:28:47, while Portugal's Jessica Augusto rode a late spurt to place third in 2:29:11.
Japan's Mizuho Nasukawa, last year's runner-up, was fourth in 2:30:27, followed by Kenyan Philes Ongori in 2:31:21. Ongori was bothered by a leg cramp early in the race and was never close to the front.
For Mayorova, crossing the finish line first at waterfront Yamashita Park in the historic port city held special meaning. The past two years, Mayorova had served as one of the race's pace-setters and had been contractually obliged to drop out early.
“The course is a little different, but I think it was big that I had the experience of running on it twice before,” Mayorova said.
Even with a few tweaks to make the course slightly flatter, the warm 16 C day and gusting winds off the bay kept Mayorova from threatening the course record of 2:23:07 set last year by Kenya's Lydia Cheromei, who won by more than three-and-a-half minutes. Nor did she approach her PB of 2:23:52, which she ran in winning the Nagoya Women's Marathon in March last year.
But the 36-year-old, who was ninth at the 2012 London Olympics, was content with making it four of four titles in Japan, having also captured consecutive wins in Nagano in 2005 and 2006.
“Even though the time was not very good, I know now I can still run and I can run faster,” said Mayorova, who will try to make it a fifth win in Japan when she runs at next February’s Tokyo Marathon.
Ironically, Mayorova chose not make use of the pace-makers, who stuck fairly well with the set objective of 17:20 splits for each 5km up to 20km. She bided her time, hanging back in the trailing group as only a handful of runners opted to go to the front.
“My coach's tactics were to run 1:13 for the half,” Mayorova said. “I was in the group at first, but noticed the pace was too fast. I looked at my watch and slowed down.”
There were just 12 runners in the lead group just one kilometre into the race. By three kilometres, the field had already started to string out with Nasukawa, Noriko Higuchi and Hiroko Shoi setting up behind the three pace-makers, who went through the first 5km in precisely 17:20.
“It was really a strange race,” said South Africa's Rene Kalmer, who finished sixth in 2:32:39. “Everyone was basically running solo.”
Over the next 5km (another 17:20 split), Higuchi, who placed eighth, faded out of the picture while Nojiri moved up to join Nasukawa and Shoi at the front, 25 seconds ahead of a group of six that included Mayorova.
Meanwhile, Japanese hope Remi Nakazato was struggling and showed that she would not escape the slump that she has been in since running a PB 2:24:28 while placing third in Nagoya last year. Nakazato would eventually plod home 10th in 2:42:14.
Shoi, whose corporate team will be disbanded after this season, started to drop back, leaving Nasukawa and Nojiri to share the front-running duties. The only question was whether they were going to make it a two-woman race or burn out along the way.
Nojiri went through the halfway point in 1:13:02, a few steps ahead of Nasukawa. Shoi was already 33 seconds back and on the verge of being caught by Augusto, who finished seventh at the London Olympics.
Mayorova, who timed 1:13:45 at the half, had begun making her way up the ladder and soon passed both Shoi and Augusto. The Russian blazed through the 20km to 25km split in 16:50 – the only sub-17-minute split of the race – and was just 16 seconds behind Nojiri, who had started to pull away from Nasukawa, at the 25km mark.
At 26.4km, Mayorova passed Nasukawa and had her sights on Nojiri. Like a fisherman pulling in a big catch, she gradually reeled in the Japanese and was shoulder-to-shoulder before 29km. Nojiri stuck with the Russian for a few strides, but at the 30km mark, Mayorova was six seconds ahead and pulling away for good.
“When I passed Nojiri, I thought that she couldn't go any faster,” Mayorova said. “But I knew it was going to be very tough for me also. So only after 35km, I realised I could win.”
The 31-year-old Nojiri is still adjusting to life as an independent runner after opting out of Japan's corporate team system. And all of this has come just six years after she gave up a career as a cross-country skier to take up the Marathon, thinking it gave her a better shot at making an Olympic team. She has a personal best of 2:24:57 and has already made a Japanese team for the World Championships.
“I trained differently for this Marathon and wasn't sure how I would run. I was a little uneasy,” Nojiri said. “But it was an enjoyable Marathon.
“I wanted to be in the running until the end, but I wasn’t strong enough. I want to be competitive with Mayorova and other foreign runners up to the finish, so I will train harder.”
There was no catching Mayorova, although she said she wasn’t as comfortable as she might have looked.
“At the end I was very tired and I had cramps several times. I wanted to go faster, but I just couldn't.”
Ongori, who spent eight years in Japan at Yamanashi Gakuin High School and the Hokuren corporate team before leaving in 2010, said a cramp in her right calf in the first kilometre made her nearly drop out.
“I really thought about it and I wanted to stop at 10km. But I thought, 'Why did I come to Japan?' So I just wanted to finish.”
Ken Marantz for the IAAF
1 Albina Mayorova (RUS) 2:25:55
2 Azusa Nojiri (JPN) 2:28:47
3 Jessica Augusto (POR) 2:29:11
4 Mizuho Nasukawa (JPN) 2:30:27
5 Philes Ongori (KEN) 2:31:21
6 Rene Kalmer (RSA) 2:32:39
7 Freya Ross (GBR) 2:35:19
8 Noriko Higuchi (JPN) 2:37:56
9 Eri Okubo (JPN) 2:40:02
10 Remi Nakazato (JPN) 2:42:14