Kenya’s former world record holder Patrick Makau retained his Fukuoka Marathon title in 2:08:18 on Sunday (6), and became the first man to get back-to-back wins at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race since Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede did so in 2008 and 2009.
“It was a good race for me. It was also a challenging race because of good runners from Kenya and Ethiopia,” said Makau, who enjoyed near perfect weather for marathon running: complete cloud cover with temperature at the start of 12.9 degrees Celsius, humidity of 61 per cent and virtually windless conditions.
“After the (two) pacemakers dropped out at 25km, everyone was waiting to see who was going to take over the lead,” explained Makau.
Until the 25km point – with splits of 5km in 15:06, 10km 30:00, 15km 45:05, 20km 60:08 and halfway in 1:03:29 – the runners were on course for a time about 2:07:00 or possibly even a bit quicker given the growing trend for negative splits in major marathons.
However, the pace then abruptly slackened to 3:07 for the next kilometre and never really recovered except for a few brief surges.
After 30km was passed in 1:30:49, with 10km to go at 32km, the lead pack was down to Makau, his Kenyan compatriot Bernard Koech, Ethiopia’s Feleke and local Japanese hope Satoru Sasaki.
Just before 35km, Koech accelerated to leave all his three rivals temporarily behind. However, Makau quickly covered the break and moved up to join Koech.
Just after 37km, and with less than 5km left in the race, Makau made his own move and clinched his victory in the 69th edition of the famous Japanese race, eventually coming home four seconds faster than his 2014 win.
“In Kenya, we put a marker at say five kilometres to go and practice surging at the maker,” Makau explained after the race. But once Makau left Koech behind, he did not push the pace anymore and seemingly did just enough to win the race.
To put Makau’s wining time into context with contemporary standards, 2:08:18 is the same time that Australia’s Rob De Castella ran at the 1981 Fukuoka Marathon which, 34 years ago, was a world best performance.
“Next year, I would like to run 2:05,” said Makau, who will be 31 next March. If I can do that, it will be a good time for my age.
Feleke finishes fast
Behind Makau, Feleke passed Koech just after 39km to finish second in 2:08:31. The Ethiopian has now finished first or second in all of his completed marathons since October 2010.
Sasaki also overtook the flagging Koech in the closing stages of the race to finish third in 2:08:56, with Koech coming home fourth in 2:09:43.
"I was hoping to run faster, perhaps low 2:08, and I knew I could run such time based on the training I have done," said a slightly disgruntled Sasaki. "I was happier when I broke 2:10 for the first time in the 2014 Lake Biwa Marathon, because I was satisfied with that race."
Nevertheless, Sasaki might have done enough to have gained a place on the Japanese team going to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The Fukuoka Marathon is one of several domestic qualifying races for the Japanese Olympic team, with the Tokyo Marathon in February and Lake Biwa Marathon next March still to come.
Kenya’s world record-holder Dennis Kimetto, who had announced his intention prior to the race to make a big impression after failing to finish at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, incurred a slight injury to his right thigh at about two kilometres and fell away from the leading pack shortly afterwards, dropping out of the race just after five kilometres.
Other runners to have disappointing outings included the well-known Japanese runner Yuki Kawauchi, who lost contact with the leaders after 11 kilometres and eventually finished eighth in 2:12:48 in what was one of the qualifying races for the Japanese Olympic team.
Kenya’s 2013 Fukuoka Marathon champion Martin Mathathi on this occasion finished 15th in 2:18:00.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF